Monday, January 1, 2018

Five Massachusetts education hopes for 2018

I tweeted this out this morning, but I believe the thread is broken a few places, so...
  1. I hope we don't get a terrible Commissioner. I haven't seen nearly as much attention paid to this as one would hope; it's a powerful position that could screw up a whole lot. I'm not sure that the political side (particularly the Legislature) appreciates just how much power the Commissioner has, especially stemming from the 2011 Act Relative to the Achievement Gap. Maybe, at the time, the thought was that they were just giving that power to Mitchell Chester; Commissioner Chester is gone, but the power remains. Most notably, this, of course, is state receivership, on a Board vote but on the Commissioner's recommendation. The general direction of the Department, though, stems from the Commissioner (I know I'm not alone in seeing and feeling a difference in the past six months). Where things are going well, I don't want to see them go badly; where things are improving, I want to see them continue to do so. Where the Department lately has conceded that maybe they don't know the answer, I want to hang onto figuring things out. The new Commissioner has the authority to send this all in a very different direction. 

  2. Let's get S. 223 out of the Joint Committee on Education and passed. Let's pass an FY19 budget that changes the foundation budget. I can't say it better than Horace Mann: 
  3. If [Massachusetts] would continue to mount higher and higher towards the summit of prosperity, she must continue the means by which her present elevation has been gained.
    (Report to the Board of Education, 1849)
    We didn't do that by wooing Amazon, or by giving tax breaks to GE, or any of the other wild goose chases we've seen the political leadership indulging in lately: we invested in education for everybody. We did it early--remember, we passed the taxation of "visible estate" in 1646 and then required public schools the following year--and we expanded what it means often, usually ahead of the rest of the country. We have to recognize something more like actual costs. We're billions off, and that hurts kids more than anyone.

  4. We need to start paying more attention to western and north central Massachusetts. The Berkshires have wrangled a report, and Superintendent Thomas and others in north central are talking about merged services. We have fewer and fewer kids spread out over a lot of space. And those towns have just as much as a sense of self and of place as anywhere east of 495. I don't have an answer, but we need more than The Berkshire Eagle and the western legislative delegation paying attention.

  5. Dare I mention the state accountability system? I'm honestly a little reluctant to say it too loudly, lest we scare it off. I hope the Board doesn't mess up changes to the worse; I hope the new Commissioner doesn't trample over what progress has been made. My other hope (and plea) is to the field: stop trying to recreate rankings! I know we can't (no matter how much we yell!) get the Globe to knock it off (and see my liveblog from the last meeting for Acting Commissioner Wulfson's ruefulness on that account), but let's stop recreating the trap ourselves. I can't count the number of articles I read from this spring in which superintendents, principals, school committee members, parents, and others essentially said, "yes, we know there are no levels for elementary schools, but how did we do compared to the guys next door?" This round isn't on DESE: Knock it off. If we're going to say that the level system hurts us, that we need support rather than judgment, that we're more than test scores, then we have to follow through when it is left to us on the ground. My bet is we get another "no new levels" on the high schools this spring (that's a guess): don't do this again. And while we're talking about "more than scores," go tell DESE about what you want in a school and district report card.
  6. Less sniping, more actual thoughtful discussions. School committees have taught me that there is a very broad array of people involved in education in Massachusetts; the usual assumptions about Massachusetts being a blue state don't always bear out. Very few people involved in  Massachusetts education actively want things to be worse for kids (there are policy makers who don't, in my view, care). When we resort to our trenches, flinging accusations of who never listens, or who just wants to blow up the system, or who is just a shill, we don't get anywhere. And I see a lot of that. And it's exhausting. I hope to see less next year. 

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