Talking workforce development innovation at the State House

The Gateway Cities Journal

The topic was workforce development at the Gateway Cities Legislative Caucus last week. MassINC shared recent research findings showing one in five Gateway City residents is struggling in the labor market, working in very low-wage employment, unemployed, or no longer actively seeking a job. A slightly larger share of the young adult Gateway City population, almost one in six residents age 16 to 24, is either not enrolled in school and not working, or they hold low-wage jobs with little hope for advancement and they are not continuing their education.A number of experts joined the discussion at the State House to talk about how innovative change will be required to address these challenges.

Change starts with developing a true understanding of whether our workforce development strategies are making a difference. With limited resources, information on program effectiveness is crucial; currently we know appallingly little. Legislation (S. 674) introduced this session by Senator Donnelly with support from the Workforce Solutions Group will tie wage record data to education data. With the passage of this bill, Massachusetts could join a growing number of states that look at how well graduates fare in the labor market to improve schools and allocate investment in training programs.

In November 2016, MassINC published three case studies, each examples of collaborative Gateway City leadership, as well as an “action guide” as a helpful playbook for local leaders looking to engage in efforts to transform these systems. This analysis is perhaps even more relevant today than it was just a few months ago, as we are presented with the opportunity to reflect college and career readiness as a priority worthy of a measure in our state accountability system. It was on this theme that the conversation turned to ESSA.

Current high school accountability measures provide little indication of student readiness for college and career. For the most part, schools are held accountable for high school graduation rates and proficiency on tests taken in tenth grade that provide a very weak signal of whether students are prepared for more rigorous post-secondary coursework.

Findings from MassINC’s workforce development study clearly show that Gateway City residents with only a high school degree struggle in the labor market, with most in low-wage work and many not working at all.

Many states are proposing ESSA plans that offer much more robust accountability at the high school level to ensure that students are prepared for success after graduation. In Connecticut and Maryland, the percentage of students who go on to post-secondary education is a measure of high school quality. Many states are also looking at career readiness. For instance, Kentucky’s system rewards schools for graduating students with industry-recognized credentials that have demonstrated value in the labor market. Colorado is developing assessments to determine whether students are ready to pursue work in the career pathways they have personally selected.

The need for more robust measures became clear as the Barr Foundation’s Jenny Curtin spoke to the caucus about work underway to rethink high schools, pointing to recent redesign efforts in Holyoke as one model. The new model will ensure that every student crafts a unique pathway toward college and career success. For example, more than half of Holyoke High freshman now take an exploratory course at Dean Technical School that introduces them to a variety of career pathways. Unfortunately, neither our current accountability system, nor the state’s proposed redesign would encourage this kind of outside the box thinking.

In speaking to the caucus about the role of community colleges preparing Gateway City students for success, North Shore Community College President Pat Gentile made it clear how important it is for Gateway City high schools to make a greater effort to graduate students ready to immediately land jobs with decent wages.

Ninety percent of her students at NCCC are working and 60 percent are caring for dependents as they pursue their post-secondary degrees. Completing their coursework is difficult given their economic circumstances: nearly 70 percent struggling with food and/or housing insecurity.

For Gateway Cities, workforce development is an essential component of economic growth. MassINC heard this echoed in every city we visited in the past two months to discuss the opportunities presented by ESSA. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has released a full draft of the state plan, and with that has opened a public comment period which will run through March 9.

We encourage you to read the plan and share your thought via the survey – including the need to borrow from leading states and incorporate direct measures of college and career readiness in the future.

– Ben Forman


A poll conducted by the Rennie Center finds Massachusetts residents are not confident that students graduating high school are being adequately prepared for college and careers.

The Worcester school administration announces plans to establish a district-wide task force to address chronic absenteeism.

Worcester School Committee members approve plans to start a new advanced academy at Burncoat Middle School this fall.

Students at Worcester East Middle School love the Let’s GO! Program, and it’s here to stay.

Fall River applies for funding from the Massachusetts School Building Authority to upgrade the Watson and the Tansey Schools.

The Massachusetts School Building Authority gives early greenlight to two new Springfield schools, and several other repair projects.

New solar energy contract to save Attleboro schools $100,000 a year in electric costs.


Democrat Jay Gonzalez, a former member of the Patrick Administration, announces run for governor.

Controversial city police officer will seek Mayor’s office in Lawrence.


Gateway cities rally for social justice in the Boston Women’s March.

Essays by Politicians

Mayor Brian P. Sullivan: “Westfield’s economy is growing, healthy”.

Mayor Domenic J. Sarno: “Springfield rising to new heights”

Secretary Jay Ash and CEO of MassDevelopment Marty Jones outline the new Site Readiness program.


Wary of tax code changes from the Trump administration, members of the House and Senate move to make the New Markets Tax Credit (NMTC) program permanent.

Springfield establishes committee to address police-community relations.

Sen. Eric Lesser ascends to chair of Gateway Cities Caucus.

Statehouse bill calls for creation of a Clean Energy Workforce Development Fund to develop renewable energy jobs in Gateway Cities.

Peabody program to offer tax breaks to developers and landlords who create market-rate housing units.

Economic Development

When people migrate to chase economic opportunity, they often leave behind heath care facilities necessary for creating routes out of poverty.

New research shows that the neighborhood you live in affects your physical and health and general rate of aging.

Aaron Renn addresses issues with highway infrastructure spending, and how driverless vehicles will affect this equation in his new Manhattan Institute report.

Haverhill and Methuen will share $82,667.00 from the Shannon Grant program to fund summer programs for kids to keep them off the street and out of trouble.

Communities and People

The Massachusetts Cultural Council honored Nancy Donahue for her lasting contributions to the arts in the Greater Lowell area.

New Bedford Resident Samantha Johnson who was a semi-finalist on America’s Got Talent 2015 says she wrote “We Run This, (With Pride)” to reflect her affection for her home city.

With federal grant money in tow, Lynn turns to an aggressive anti-tuberculosis strategy.

Lawrence Mayor seeks to get 1000 guns off the street with gun buyback program.

Two New Bedford city councilors proposed dueling names for a city “pocket park.”

The owners of land in Brockton that had been targeted for siting a controversial power plant have put the property up for sale, signaling an end to the disputed project.


Attleboro applies for $400,000 in gambling mitigation funds to help design a public safety dispatch center.


The Massachusetts Communities Action Network is organizing congregations to help shelter illegal immigrants put at risk by the Trump administration.

Many Lynn residents participated in the national protest movement “A Day without Immigrants”— stage large scale walk-outs.

Haverhill City Councilor Andy Vargas says he received reports that US Immigration and Customs Enforcement was conducting raids in the city, but ICE denies it.

Several Worcester restaurants shut down to participate in the nationwide “Day Without Immigrants” protest.

Owners of the more than 7,700 farms in Massachusetts say migrant workers are key to operation, with foreign-born workers making up nearly 73 percent of the seasonal labor force through government visas.

Haverhill officials will challenge immigration order.


GateHouse Media, whose parent company was bought last week by a Japanese bank, reports a 50 percent drop in profit for 2016 but company officials say they’re in position to buy up more papers even after making further cuts.

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