A Long-Term Plan: Massachusetts’ Education Action AgendaBy Jill Anderson
In June, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick unveiled the Education Action Agenda — a new education plan designed to raise achievement of all students as measured against global benchmarks and to help prepare them to compete successfully in the global economy by 2020.
After almost a year of work undertaken by the Readiness Project — a statewide initiative (chaired by HGSE Professor Thomas Payzant) involving more than 200 educators, business leaders, and community leaders to develop a strategic blueprint for the next phase of education reform that was — the plan incorporates vast changes from K-12 to higher education. The initiatives outlined in the plan include lengthening the school day and year, implementation of a statewide teacher contract, consolidation of school districts, and increasing needs-based financial aid in the 2010 budget.
“The Governor’s Education Action Agenda has been very well received and does call for a major overhaul of our public education system,” says Massachusetts Secretary of Education and HGSE Senior Lecturer Paul Reville. “In order to realize this vision, it will take leadership, persistence, resources, and a long-term plan.” Reville recently discussed some of the agenda’s potential impact on Massachusetts education.
Q. Why do you consider these policies vital to changing Massachusetts education?
A. We’re trying to convert a late 19th/early 20th century education system into a vehicle for meeting the demands of the 21st century and preparing students for success in today’s brave, new world. Inevitably, changes at this scale will challenge the existing order, the status quo. What’s encouraging is the widespread recognition we find that our system of education, as currently structured, is not getting the job done. We have too many achievement gaps, too many students dropping out of school, too many students not being challenged, and too many [students] not being prepared for the jobs of the future. If the education sector, as we know it, is to survive and thrive, it must show the capacity to dramatically improve. Our reform agenda challenges the system to reform from the inside out.
Q. Is one policy more important or necessary to create a more global education system in the state?
A. There are no silver bullets or single plans that will make all the difference. Broadly speaking, we need to concentrate on improving the quality of teaching so that all students can learn at high levels. To accomplish this, we must help teachers build their skills and knowledge, refine our curricula, and pay much more attention to preparing children to come to school genuinely “ready to learn.” By this I mean that we must pay much more attention to what’s going on in the lives of children — especially children who are disadvantaged by poverty — that prevents them from taking advantage from even optimized learning environments. Poverty and educational achievement still closely correlate in our society. Education reform was supposed to end that correlation once and for all. In that regard, we’ve failed. This next round of reform must squarely and courageously address what it will take to educate all our children, all means all, to high levels.
Q. If implemented, what will Massachusetts schools look like in 2020?
A. Education will play a much more substantial role in the lives of children but there will be less distinction between schooling and other forms of learning. Schools will provide each child with the quantity and quality of schooling they need to learn at 21st century levels. We will have an education system that differentiates between students and finds every child where he or she is in the early years, then gives her the understanding, guidance, increasing academic challenge, and support necessary to traverse each level of our education system successfully, ultimately emerging — after some years of post secondary education — ready for success in a job and in our economy, as a citizen, the head of a family, and a lifelong learner.
Q. Do you anticipate many more states following in Massachusetts footsteps and considering dramatic changes in education policy?
A. The nation is watching us. Most states realize that the reforms of the 1990s, while necessary, were by no means sufficient to achieve our goals of all students at proficiency. Therefore, I expect we will see other states making bold attempts to do better. Our future as a society, is at stake.
To read more about the report, visit: http://www.mass.gov/Agov3/docs/Readiness%20Final%20Report.pdf