Mitchell Chester, the hard-charging Massachusetts education commissioner who put in place some of the country’s most ambitious school improvement efforts and led his state through battles over common standards and a raucous testing opt-out movement, died June 26. He was 65.
Local media outlets reported that he had been battling cancer.
One of the country’s longest-serving state education chiefs, Chester was appointed by the state school board in 2008. Over the next decade, he led the state, one of the highest-performing in the nation, through a number of changes, including implementation of its federal waiver of elements of the No Child Left Behind Act, its controversial approval of the Common Core State Standards, and the adoption of the aligned standardized test from the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. In November 2015, the state designed its own test.
The state also instituted an improvement process for its lowest-performing schools that involved state and local officials, a model now being replicated across the country.
“Mitchell was incredibly passionate about children, and he would always bring the discussion back to whether we were helping kids, especially those children who need the most support,” said Chris Minnich, the executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers. “We have lost an incredible leader today.”
Chester often went toe-to-toe with the state teachers’ union over testing and school turnaround efforts.
He began his career as an elementary teacher and worked in the Connecticut and Ohio education departments, as well as the Philadelphia schools.
A version of this article appeared in the July 19, 2017 edition of Education Week as Obituary