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Streamlining Education Governance: Five Questions With Paul Reville

Earlier this year, Lecturer Paul Reville was appointed by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick to head a pre-K–12 task force focused on providing the administration with feedback on potential policy initiatives. The task force has examined many issues related to “streamlining education governance in Massachusetts,†such as creating a more comprehensive and integrated pre-K–16 system. Reville recently discussed some of the education policy challenges facing Massachusetts and other states.

Q: What is the importance of the task force for Massachusetts education and state governance?

A: For the first time in a while, Massachusetts has called upon educators to have input in developing education policies. There’s been a high degree of alienation between the K–12 field and policymakers in education. This is an opportunity to reestablish a constructive conversation among parties with interest in education policy. It’s a positive effort that will bear fruit in the quality of the administration’s policy proposals.

Since the onset of the “standards†movement in the early ’90s, we’ve witnessed a tremendous increase in the responsibility and power of all states ― especially in Massachusetts ― to guide education in local communities. However, our governance structures do not reflect the state’s new leadership role. In order to create a more efficient and effective state education system, we need to build a more integrated, comprehensive governance structure which breaks down existing “silos†and fosters collaboration between the various education sectors from early childhood all the way through higher education. Accomplishing this means overcoming formidable political and organizational challenges.

Q: What are some of the challenges for Massachusetts related to education reform?

A: The economy is changing. Twenty years ago, we worried about losing low-skilled, low-knowledge jobs, but now we’re losing mid- and high-level jobs to other economies. This trend and other forms of international competition coupled with persistent achievement gaps in spite of recent reforms – all of this- raises profound questions about where our education system should be headed. It’s clear that the current generation of standards-based reforms, while necessary and yielding some progress, has been nowhere near sufficient to achieve the kind of ambitious goals, such as universal “proficiency†set by idealistic reformers. The question for reformers is, simply put, “What next?â€

Q: How have accountability requirements affected schools?

A: Despite establishing standards, assessments, and accountability mechanisms, the distribution of educational achievement still shows substantial gaps that correlate with socioeconomic status. The question is how do we close those achievement gaps?

Some of our accountability instruments are fairly primitive tools, blunt instruments that are sometimes harmful. We have been weak on building the capacity of teachers to meet the radical new, high standards that are now embodied in policy as well as aspirations. We need to concentrate on assisting schools to improve the quality of teaching and learning by providing expert guidance, quality professional development, and the time necessary to use data to improve instructional practice. We also need to assist struggling students not only academically, but by offering the social, medical, and emotional supports they need to come to school ready to learn each day.

The positive side of accountability is it has forced us to confront the gap between our ideals and reality. Data now demonstrates quite clearly what this gap is. Policymakers are now coming to grips with the reality that if we want all students to attain proficiency, we’ve got to work harder, differently, deeper, and in a more coordinated fashion to get students, and their teachers, the help they need to attain those high standards.

Q: Is this why many states — including Massachusetts with the recent development of Commonwealth Pilot Schools — have allowed schools to break away from a more traditional structure?

A: State governments are exploring new ways to help schools improve student learning. States recognize their own limitations in what they can do to help local schools. The Commonwealth Pilot Schools model, for example, gives greater autonomy and some additional support to help schools turn around their own performances. This approach contrasts with other strategies where states either take over underperforming schools or provide a series of very directive interventions. States have recognized that they don’t have the capacity or expertise to take over many schools. A lot of schools aren’t performing up to standard, but we haven’t grappled with what it takes to get underperforming schools up to par. For instance, what types of interventions and supports would be helpful? There are isolated examples of successful turnarounds, but we haven’t systematically gone after that knowledge or built the resources necessary to deliver the necessary support.

Q: What about solutions to some of the problems that exist from education reform?

A: As a result of standards-based reform and the assessments, we are more focused than ever before on the quality of instruction, but instruction isn’t the only thing. There are other elements like the various impacts of poverty; motivational issues; the need for social, medical, and emotional supports for children; and the lack of outside enrichment activities to contribute to poor children’s capacity to learn at high levels. We have to attend to these matters and simultaneously concentrate on how to develop our greatest asset, the people who work in the system — the frontline workers, the teachers. We must redouble our efforts to assist teachers, within the limits of existing resources, to develop their capacities to educate each and every child to a high level.


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