Mass. Panelists Urge School Reforms, but Differ on Some Issues
After a six-month review of the state's public schools, the Massachusetts Committee on Education issued a report last month calling for far-reaching improvements in the education system. But the proposal's full implementation may already be threatened by the committee's failure to reach a consensus on several key items.
The 73-page report, which was produced by the co-chairmen of the legislature's Joint Education Committee, recommends increasing the state's share of the cost of education, lengthening the school day or year, raising teachers' salaries, revising the teacher-certification and tenure laws, and requiring districts to develop a comprehensive curriculum and school-approval plan.
The committee estimates that full implementation of the reform package would cost the state about $400 million over the next three years. ''There is no question that we are fundamentally altering the traditional relationship between the state and its local schools," said Representative James G. Collins, co-chairman of the Joint Education Committee.
However, both his co-chairman on the committee that spearheaded the study and Gov. Michael S. Dukakis have said they do not support all of the report's recommendations.
In a dissenting statement accompanying the report, Senator Gerard D'Amico said the overall reform package establishes "a reasonable framework around which a progressive program to revitalize public education can be formed." But he cited clear differences with Representative Collins over proposals to lengthen the school year, allow early teacher retirement, repeal the teacher-tenure law, and revise the state funding formula.
Governor Dukakis, who had cooperated with the legislature's review of the state's school system, said that some of the proposals require additional analysis and others "are beyond the Commonwealth's immediate financial needs." He said his differences with the committee's report are over the "means for achieving what we all agree are common goals: that Massachusetts have the best public schools in the nation."
Despite the differences of opinion, school-reform legislation will be introduced this month and hearings on the bills are planned , according to Peter T. Blanchard, public-affairs specialist for the Joint Committee on Education.
Mr. Blanchard said the members of the education committee "are hoping the bills will be acted on by the end of June so that the reforms could begin" by the start of the school year.
During the committee's examination of the schools, it collected testimony from more than 400 people at five public hearings held throughout the state. The committee also conducted six special seminars to collect information on curriculum and assessment, professional development, computer technology, learning environments, and school finance, according to the report.
Based on its findings, the committee recommended improvements that would assure public-school graduates are able "to read, write, compute, understand computers and other new technologies, think critically, appreciate art, and continue to learn throughout their entire lives," the report explained. The committee's recommendations are as follows:
Curriculum and school planning. Each school district would be required to draw up a comprehensive curriculum and school plan involving parents, teachers, administrators and other community members. (The report does not propose a required core curriculum.)
The Massachusetts Board of Education would accredit each district's plan every five years after on-site visits by accreditation committees, according to the report. The Joint Education Committee would have approval power over the accreditation regulations of the state board.
Assessment and testing. The committee argues that a statewide assessment program would provide parents with information on how well schools are serving their children, and teachers and administrators would know their schools' weaknesses so they could be corrected. The report contends that the current basic-skills testing program "is not yet fulfilling its mission and should be strengthened." The committee recommends statewide testing of 4th and 9th graders to determine the need for remediation.
The report also recommends that a state scholarship program be established that would provide $1,000 college-aid grants to outstanding high-school students.
Early-childhood education. School districts would be required to offer a "development-readiness program" for all children entering school; those that had not developed necessary cognitive and affective skills would remain in an extended kindergarten program until they were ready for 1st grade. The committee recommends establishing a series of incentive grants for early-chilhood-education programs that serve low-income families.
Professional development. The committee recommends extending teachers' work time by 10 percent and increasing salaries commensurate with their revised work schedules. The committee also recommends that the state tenure law be repealed and replaced with a "fair and impartial review" process with3binding arbitration.
Teachers with 20 to 30 years of service would be given the option of retiring with compensation based on years of service, according to the proposals. The committee also would empower the state board to offer one-time employment bonuses to teachers certified in shortage areas and to develop teacher-evaluation guidelines.
Computer technology. The committee recommends that the state provide about $15 million annually to establish a program to help school districts purchase or lease computer equipment and software.
School districts would be required to develop a comprehensive program for training teachers in the uses of computers in the schools. Such plans would be approved by the state board, which would make grants for planning and software available to eligible districts.
Educational innovations. The committee recommends the creation of a foundation to promote, develop, and evaluate innovative educational programs.
School districts would be eligible for grants to promote business-school collaboration, parental-involvement projects, and alternative-education programs.
School finance. State aid to education would be increased from 37 percent to 50 percent of total school funding, according to the report. The committee also recommended that the legislature approve a new funding law that would earmark state appropriations for the schools.