Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Nearly caucus time! 2014 candidates for Governor on education

As much as November feels forever away, it is nearly caucus time for the state races, and so we're due for a look at the education positions of those running for Governor of Massachusetts.
As only the two major parties have caucuses, we'll stick with them, and, as it happens, we can only look at the Democrats, as you'll see in a moment.

Disclaimers: I am not supporting anyone at this point. I have met both Avellone and Grossman (he several times). And, as per usual, this is just me speaking here. I welcome better and more updated information, should anyone wish to provide it.

Up for the Democrats (in alphabetical order and double-checked with Wikipedia):

And for the Republicans:
So, GOP, let's get on education as an issue, eh?

Going back to the Democrats, and sticking with alphabetical order:
Avellone, once we wade through the "greatest responsibility/teachers are super" bit, is best summed up as marching right in line with current federal ed policy. Two biggest issues? Achievement gap and college and career ready. Fixing those? After early childhood and extended day--which you'll see is a common theme, and which we'll get back to below--we have these terribly familiar ideas:
  • Enact a competitive funding program for K-12 education innovation in at risk or poorly performing school districts
  • Identify high-performing charter schools and incorporate successful strategies into all school programs, harnessing the benefits from these centers of innovation
Hey, look at that: a MASSACHUSETTS RACE TO THE TOP! Because, yes, competitive funding is a great Democratic progressive, wait. It isn't. It was a terrible idea on the federal level, it is a WORSE idea on the state level, and maybe we've got an issue that someone should be raising in debates here?
And lauding charters as "centers of innovation"? And those would be which charter schools exactly where? Since "incorporating successful strategies into all school programs" would presumably (if you read any of my notes from last week) mean leaving out educating students who are learning English, have special education needs, and the like, I can see this being a giant failure as a public education strategy.
For my School Committee readers, we do get this, regarding low performing districts: "(e)nabling the School Committees to guide the planning process for these school districts." This may just be my being bitter, but, to me, that sounds a lot like "we'll let you do your job." It's probably intended as a gesture at a local control argument.
He's also pro-Common Core--gutsy, as most don't mention it--and pushing STEM and vocational ed, as is about everyone.
On the things that set him apart, I'd say some seriously terrible ideas here.

Berwick, in his "say good stuff about education" bit that opens this section, does something different in tackling education as essentially the foundation of civilization, which is in contrast to hearing it spoken of as enabling us to be globally competitive. His bit about teachers makes it clear that someone's been listening to them:
excellence surfaces only in institutional cultures built on teamwork, collaboration, and total involvement, not on “carrot-and-stick” management or enforced compliance with simplistic standards
Berwick's early education section--and here I suspect you hear a pediatrician talking--actually starts at birth! In fact, it starts before with pre-natal nutrition! Finally, someone who isn't starting preschool at age 3!
In the K-12 section, I'm not clear on what this means: "We need a new wave of uncompromising commitment to absolutely universal access to the best schooling and related supports." That could mean nothing more complicated than "all schools should be great," but that's also the sort of language that cloaks voucher and charter expansion support, but of which are failed strategies. That would be good to clear up.
We also get some bows to innovation and to STEM, but without talk of funding, which is a problem, as in most cases, it isn't that schools don't want to keep up; it's that they can't afford to. Also one use of "win-win" which is a -1 in my book
He has a fairly nuanced view of charter schools: buys the bit on innovation, but gets that they aren't serving all kids and wants to hold them to that responsibility, and gets the sapping of resources. So, somewhat mixed on that one.
So on Berwick, I see some hopeful signs, and someone in that campaign is listening, but some weaknesses in clarity and plan.

Coakley has a website that makes you click several times to get to education, and then leaves you with downloading a position paper on it. The paper opens by talking about poverty, which is a hopeful sign that maybe we're not going have another ungrounded conversation about the achievement gap...
...except it doesn't. Instead it jumps into preschool access, which is important, but not working on the issue of poverty directly, as the chief executive of the state should. We do expansion of preschool as the early childhood piece.
And on to expanded day. I realize that this is hip right now--so hip that it was required of all Level 4 turnaround schools!--but, please, let's get a grip. First of all, of Worcester's first two Level 4 schools, one was expanded day and had been for YEARS when it went Level 4. That doesn't magically raise test scores. And for more examples, you can look back over to Jersey Jazzman's response to Governor Christie making the same proposal in his New Jersey State of the State address last month.
Extended day doesn't, for me, pass the John Dewey test, either:
“What the best and wisest parent wants for his child, that must we want for all the children of the community. Anything less is unlovely, and left unchecked, destroys our democracy.”
Finally, Coakley proposes a resource worker and additional school counselors in every school,  which, were it funded, are excellent proposals.
Thus, good on poverty 'though potentially missing the point, weak on the expanded day bit, good on expanded counselors. I was sort of expecting more when I had to download a paper.

Grossman starts with economic growth and security as reasons for education...sigh. You all are running for Constitutional office! How about continuing democracy?
We start right off with money--more for K-12, more for higher ed--which could be good, 'though I'd be interested in "from where?" and "distributed how?" This would also be an EXCELLENT place for someone to advocate for reconsidering the foundation formula, which is $2.1 billion underfunded, at last look.
Schools "digital learning ready" by 2016 is not entirely surprising, since the state keeps trying to drag MSBA into the battle over who is going to pay for upgrading technology for PARCC. Beyond the question of how we'll pay for it, there is the question also of what we're going to do with it, and you might also remember that Worcester, for example, is looking as much at upgrading staffing and training as it is at technology.
Vocational schools--I saw a news report that specifically this was about equipment at them--and preschool here again. STEM as well, but with a twist:
...he believes we also need to emphasize the role of the arts and humanities in empowering young people and teaching them the creative problem-solving skills they need to thrive in today’s innovation economy.
And the English majors rejoiced.
There's a bit here about financial education (which could be good or could be another state mandate) and also this:
 ...they want to hire people who not only are trained in their discipline but also understand the importance of communication skills and entrepreneurial thinking. Employers want to hire people who are able to engage effectively in collaborative projects
That's in a section about internships, but it would be GREAT if someone could point out that our current emphasis on testing and a standardized education leads away, rather than towards, this end.
On Grossman, we've got some bits that are vague, a bit of hope mostly on language, but missing the poverty connection to education.
And my compliments to whomever on Grossman's staff made the highlighting function on the website the campaign's orange.

Kayyem, who keeps invading my Twitter feed being touted as a progressive, has probably the most lingo-heavy education section of those here: college/career, innovation, "aligning learning objectives," and so on.
Kayyem has a whole section on the opportunity--not achievement!--gap and explicitly links it with issues of poverty like a living wage!
Increase in preschool, including increase in funding, though just preschool not early ed, as above.
After the section on community college, we then get a section on redesigning high school...?
Redesigning high school curricula< to build on common core standards and emphasize concepts and lessons that are important for college and workplace success
I realize that I've spent more time than many in meetings hearing about redesigning and realigning curricula over the past few years, but just what does Kayyem think has been happening in schools since the state adopted the Common Core? Already happening!
And this:
In the same way that Massachusetts has led the way in establishing rigorous academic standards, we will also institute a set of complimentary 21st century skill standards to equip our children for productive citizenship in their communities and future workplaces.  While such standards would span the pipeline, skill building would be deeply emphasized during the high school years.
Has anyone over there read the state standards (either one: the previous ones, or the ones under the Common Core)?  They're full of skills that are being developed and tested. The "academic standards" are just about knowing who fought in the Civil War (and why); they're also about being able to add and construct a logical argument and write a solid paragraph...also, from having been in those meetings, any suggestion that what we need are EVEN MORE STANDARDS is going to be met with rebellion, and it's going to start in superintendents' offices!
More here on being ready to work out of high schools and more Advanced Placement courses (something which is being looked at more critically) before a section that looks as though no one is talking to local ed officials:
Develop statewide guidelines for local school choice systems and school governance practices to increase equitable access to quality schools and ensure equitable participation by all parents in matters pertaining to their children’s education.
 Now, I don't actually know what they mean by this, but it sure does have a lot of the language that means increased charter schools and vouchers (cloaked in equity language) when it's been used in much of the country. I hope I'm wrong, but this:
 First, opportunities begin with choice and equitable access to quality schools.  Massachusetts features some of the best elementary and secondary schools in the country.  It also features some notorious school quality deserts where, to the surprise of few, many of the state’s most disadvantaged families live.  If we are going to close the opportunity gap for these families, it begins by giving them the same choices that those in more affluent communities have.  While we cannot always guarantee access to the best schools in Massachusetts, we can do a much better job of making sure that the families who need the best educational options can compete for and access them more consistently.
..doesn't sound like it. Bad news.
The rest of this section reads like a who's who of increased state mandates including this last:
Create mandates for shared accountability across school types to promote local education systems that are unified and seamless
Does that somehow mean that we'd be jointly "accountable" with our local charter schools? With private schools? And are we ever going to see the end of this notion that the state is the best decision maker on such things?
Thus Kayyem, while I was really hopeful on that opportunity gap, a mess of things that make more work and that don't work.

Clearly, any of you who are going to caucuses are going to make your decisions based on more than education. Please do remember, 'though, that the Governor not only appoints the Secretary of Education; he also appoints the Board of Ed and proposes the budget. Choose wisely.
And again, I welcome corrections, clarifications, and additional information.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

ON the live debate this afternoon, Grossman thinks the past 20 years under ed reform was a success. Juliette Kayem said don't fight the common core! Many of the candidates acted like common core and testing were a done deal "the law of the land." Berwick was the only one that didn't talk about standards but talked about more and better teacher training.