Benjamin Forman gives support for education reform at Ways and Means Committee Hearing

The Gateway Cities Vision for Dynamic Community-Wide Learning Systems
February 25, 2014

Transcript of Remarks:

Chair Candaras, Chair Kulik, and members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to share testimony this morning on strategies for investing in education in FY 2015.

For the last seven years, MassINC has been focused on the growth and renewal of Gateway Cities, urban centers that are vital to our Commonwealth both as engines in regional economies and the places from which a great many of our residents are attempting to fight their way into the state’s middle class.

With the Massachusetts economy leading the way in the shift toward high-skilled industries, we have called upon our education systems to prepare a much higher proportion of residents for advanced training. In addition to tackling this challenge, we are also asking Gateway City schools to respond to growing concentrations of poverty. Over the last two decades, the share of students enrolled in these districts who are low-income has risen from less than half to more than two-thirds.

Gateway Cities educate one-quarter of all students in Massachusetts. In many of the state’s regional economies, they produce a far higher share of the workforce. Concentrating poverty in Gateway Cities reduces the competitiveness of these regions and creates a self-reinforcing cycle in which educational disadvantage slows economic mobility. I believe this pattern helps explain why Massachusetts has moved over the last few decades from among US states with the most equal income distributions to one of the states with the highest inequality.

If I can emphasize one point this afternoon, it is this: We must complement our efforts to close socioeconomic achievement gaps with policies that reverse the concentration of poverty in our Gateway Cities. We cannot accept the concentration of disadvantage as the long term state for our urban public schools. Communities with limited resources to serve a high poverty population will perpetually fail to adequately support all of their students. Moreover, cities with concentrated poverty in their public schools will struggle to attract the middle class residents that they need for strong municipal finances. Without schools that draw middle class families, Gateway Cities will have difficulty making the most of their urban assets to attract new investment. This will have real long-term consequences for the state, as development in these dense urban centers served by existing infrastructure will be crucial to accommodating future growth and development.

With these concerns in mind, I urge members of the committee to make educational investments in models that help disadvantaged students excel AND provide unique learning opportunities that are attractive to middle class families. Over the last year, MassINC has worked with Gateway City leaders to identify strategies that fall within this sweet spot. Not only are there a surprising number of approaches that meet both criteria, Gateway Cities have worked very hard in recent years to pilot many of these models, which means they are well-positioned to bring them to scale.

Pre-K expansion is a fundamental building block

The early education investments in the Governor’s budget proposal are one example of an investment that would support low-income students and draw middle class families.

Leaders all over the country are calling with increasing urgency for new state and federal investments that help disadvantaged students develop the early literacy skills to keep pace with the demands of today’s more rigorous curriculum. Investments that increase access are urgently needed in Gateway Cities, where only about half of children age three and four are enrolled in pre-k. (To put this figure into perspective, more than two-thirds of children in this age group are enrolled in Boston). With so many students starting behind, Gateway City schools are consumed by the task of catching them up, often at the expense of students who enter better prepared. Because preschool enrollment tracks closely with income, this reality makes it difficult to provide strong economically-integrated educational experiences.

Gateway Cities are working hard to develop the infrastructure to provide all children with high-quality early learning opportunities. They are forming community-wide early literacy coalitions, increasing professional development for early educators, and aligning curricula and assessment with private providers for seamless transitions to kindergarten. This work is critical to ensure return on state investment as we expand access to income-eligible families. Efforts to build capacity also position Gateway Cities to sell these systems as an asset to middle class working families, who place great value in quality and affordable early care and education.

The Governor’s FY15 request would make high-quality early learning accessible to more Gateway City students. However, even if all of the additional 2,400 pre-k seats in the Governor’s FY15 budget request went to Gateway City students, we would only be able to provide access to one out of 10 Gateway City three- and four-year-olds who aren’t currently getting a pre-k experience. Going forward, we must search for new funding models to follow the lead of other states and expand pre-k further and faster in high poverty districts.

Extended learning time positions newcomers to succeed

Gateway Cites are in the midst of receiving the largest wave of immigrants that they have seen since early in the last century. One in three Gateway City students now comes from families who are new to America. Research shows that many of these youth will need additional learning time to accelerate their acquisition of academic English, which is necessary to gain the higher-level skills today’s employers demand.

Gateway Cities are working hard to offer this extra time through new summer enrichment academies for English Language Learners. A Harvard researcher examining the implementation of these programs reports very positive preliminary findings. The Governor’s budget supports these efforts by increasing funding for this program (7009-6400) by $500,000.

H2 also includes a $4 million increases to the ELT Grant line item (7061-9412). As a whole-school reform model, expanded learning time may have particular power for schools that serve a high percentage of English language learners. While research on expanded learning time schools is somewhat limited so far, studies have found outsized gains for students with limited English proficiency who receive additional instruction. For example, research on the impact of full-day kindergarten shows the additional time provides larger benefits for students with limited English. A rigorous evaluation of KIPP Academy charters, which depend heavily on a longer school day for success, found that English-language learners gain disproportionately large benefits from attending these schools. In the last academic year, Gateway Cities had 47 K-12 schools where students whose first language was not English made up more than two-thirds of enrollment. Of these 47 schools, just two received state support for expanded learning time.

In addition to giving English Language Learners more time in a targeted way, we should also be looking at investments that position Gateway Cities to make their linguistic and cultural diversity an asset to families looking for experiences that prepare their children for our global economy. The dual language immersion schools many Gateway Cities are forming are a perfect example of the investments we should prioritize. While these schools are often sought after by middle class families, research shows that low-income students and English-language learners derive particularly large benefits from this school model. Modest start-up support for Gateway Cities building these complicated schools could provide strong long-term returns.

Investments in existing Gateway City assets will prepare students for college and career

The most recent data show that just one out of five Gateway City students graduates high school and completes a post-secondary degree or credential. These figures make it clear that too many students will be underprepared for a Massachusetts economy in which 70 percent of all jobs will require post-secondary training. This is particularly disappointing given that Gateway Cities are home to a variety of institutions that should be an advantage in preparing residents for college and career. These assets include vocational schools, state colleges and universities, regional workforce development organizations, and major employers. Gateway Cities working to leverage these assets need two forms of support.

The first is funding for early college programs. The report of the 2012 Taskforce on College and Career Readiness singles out dual enrollment as a vehicle for giving more students exposure to public college and universities. Many of our competitor states are providing students with these experiences and compelling research shows that they help disadvantaged students increase both high school and college degree completion. The Governor’s budget introduces a new $750,000 line item for Early College High Schools (7009-6406), a form of dual enrollment with intensive assistance for at-risk students that many Gateway Cities are working to develop. These grant funds would provide helpful start-up support, but communities undertaking this work must have a stable funding mechanism to bring these programs to scale, as recommended by both the College and Career Readiness Taskforce and by an advisory group on early college design convened by the state Departments of Higher Education and Elementary and Secondary Education.

The second form of funding Gateway Cities require is resources for experiences that give students exposure to the workplace. Work-based learning programs help teens understand the skills they will need to develop in order to successfully pursue their career interests. The Taskforce on College and Career Readiness called for providing more work-based learning opportunities through the School Career Connecting Activities program (7027-0019). H2 level funds this line item. With the development of the Gateway City Career Academies, resources to develop relationships with employers and prepare them for work-based learning placements will become even more essential.

Funding for systems to foster social and emotional growth could generate strong returns

Gateway City education leaders see an urgent need to create learning environments that foster the social and emotional growth of students. This need is related to the support many students require to overcome traumas associated with growing up in poverty. But educators also recognize that all students must strengthen their social and emotional skills to excel. The stresses from academic life, personal interactions in diverse environments, and a workplace in which change is constant all put heightened value on social and emotional capacities.

Governor Patrick’s 2011 Gateway City education agenda included a $3.6 million investment to establish student support councils and place student support counselors in schools to coordinate the provision of support services. Similarly, a taskforce established by the Legislature in 2008 to examine behavioral health in public schools recommended establishing a “Centers of Excellence” grant program to support the development of social and emotional learning systems. The absence of state funding for building these systems is notable given the very solid research that shows these approaches increase both academic and nonacademic performance and reduce special education costs.

Helping Gateway Cities achieve their vision will benefit taxpayers across the state

Gateway City educators have labored to develop many innovative models with modest resources. Their successes inspire them to go further and deeper, creating dynamic community-wide learning systems that will provide more students and families with a coherent set of cradle-to-career educational supports. Bringing this Vision to life would provide enormous benefit to taxpayers across the state. Two-thirds of the tax base in Gateway Cities is residential. Depressed home values and concentrated poverty mean that these communities receive more than half of all state education aid—$2 billion annually.

We appreciate the many deserving demands on the state’s resources and the extremely difficult decisions that this committee must make every year in allocating limited funds. As you consider investment in our Gateway Cities, we encourage you to seek out opportunities that will produce true fiscal returns. By both improving the preparedness of the youth who will be called upon to replace aging workers and by increasing the residential tax base of Gateway Cities, the investments outlined above offer that unique promise.

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