Next Generation Education Accountability in New Bedford

Recapping Our Third Community Conversation

Gateway City leaders from the South Coast gathered on Monday for a conversation on the power of education accountability to advance a shared vision for educational excellence in inclusive urban districts. With the proposed ESSA implementation framework DESE shared with the state board last week, this conversation took on added urgency.

As we’ve made our way around the state convening these Gateway City forums, it’s been interesting to see how different communities approach common themes. Here are four takes on the New Bedford dialogue, comparing and contrasting with past forums in Lowell and Worcester:

  1. “Diversity as a resource.” A theme that was stated so powerfully by Lowell High’s Onotse Omoyeni (watch her compelling testimony (13:14) in this video), came out equally strong in New Bedford. Community’s members celebrated New Bedford’s rich diversity as an asset and argued that this dimension of school quality should be captured by integrating school climate measures that detect how well students are learning alongside peers from different backgrounds.
  2. Parent engagement. Parent engagement has been a hot topic (listen to Marie Morse from the Worcester Public Schools (1:39) in this video) at all three forums. New Bedford leaders spent a good portion of the morning talking about how parent engagement was central to school quality. They considered ways that an accountability system could measure parent involvement and reward schools for their efforts to engage families.
  3. Local Accountability. While there was clear consensus that schools could improve family engagement, they also noted that New Bedford parents need the community’s support nurturing their youth. Leaders from community-based organizations talked about how they were working with the district to better align their efforts and reinforce what was happening in the classroom in out-of-school time programs. This thread stuck out as a clear opportunity for local accountability initiatives. When Gateway Cities go above and beyond traditional notions of schooling to better serve youth, which they often do, formalizing strategic priorities, broadly communicating them with the public, and identifying and tracking performance measures is critical to drawing resources into priority initiatives and achieving the intended results.
  4. “Equity and excellence.” Gateway City leaders clearly have mixed feelings about school turnaround efforts, but there is no disputing that there are circumstances that require dramatic intervention. Superintendent Durkin encouraged all of those in attendance to appreciate the “commitment to equity and excellence for all” that undergirds state and federal efforts to put in place strong accountability systems. In her powerful closing remarks, she called upon community leaders to recognize that accountability has been central to the significant gains the New Bedford Public Schools have made over the past several years.

This quick summary doesn’t capture all of the complexity and nuance we heard in New Bedford. We strongly encourage those who were unable to join to view the videos below, which capture each segment of the program in its entirety. Also check out all of the thoughtful comments leaders offered in writing.

Thank you to our partners, the Public Policy Center at UMass Dartmouth and the Department of Elementary & Secondary Education, and all of the New Bedford-area leaders who made this important dialogue possible.


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