Incomplete Grade

Massachusetts Education Reform at 15

Published Date : May 28, 2009
Author(s) : tomdownes and jeffzabel

In a world defined by rapid change and increasing global competition, education must be a top priority for Massachusetts and the nation. Fifteen years ago, Massachusetts made a bold commitment to raise the educational standards of all children in Massachusetts with the passage of the 1993 Massachusetts Education Reform Act (MERA). Since then, the state has more than doubled its investments in local aid to schools while also creating standards and assessments to measure the progress. These standards have become national models of rigor and quality.

Today, as the nation is looking to replicate the successes of Education Reform in Massachusetts, the time is ripe to analyze the results of the state’s investment, while also asking what the priorities of the next generation of education reform should be.

This research provides new evidence that the state’s investment has had a clear and significant impact on student achievement. Education Reform has been successful in raising the achievement of students in previously low-spending districts. Without Education Reform, the achievement gap would be larger than it is today. Nonetheless, the achievement gap still looms large. We have yet to reach the goal of educating every student to achieve high standards. Given the scale of the state’s investment, these findings suggest that doing more of the same will not close the achievement gap.

Over the last 15 years, there have been significant changes in the characteristics of Massachusetts public school students. Most notably, the share of low-income students has grown considerably. Increasingly, low-income students are becoming concentrated in certain school districts. In some districts, more than three-quarters of the students are low-income. There has been the growth of Limited English Proficient (LEP) students in some districts as well. Education leaders face important questions about how public policy can most effectively help these students succeed at higher levels.

As Education Reform has been implemented, there has been an accumulating body of evidence about successful practices of high-performing schools that educate predominantly low-income students. In general, these schools use different methods from those of the typical public school. Their guiding premise is that low-income students will require a more intensive education experience than middle-class students. They need more time in class, better-trained teachers, and a rigorous curriculum to enable them to achieve at high levels.

Even with all of these reforms, there are still tough questions to be asked about the limits of schools. No school, principal, or teacher can substitute for a child’s parents and their responsibilities. Education begins at home, and unless we can bring parents and communities into the process, the impact of any reforms will be limited.

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