Bedford resident; board member, Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education
Consider this: Only about half of Massachusetts students read and do math at grade level. Fewer than half will go on to earn a professional certificate or college degree if today’s trend continues, based on state data. Those numbers are staggering in a state where an estimated 72 percent of jobs will require a career certificate or college degree by 2020.
As state policymakers consider a significant increase in spending on public education, they must tie spending to measures that will close the socioeconomic and racial achievement gaps that underlie these statistics, rob students of opportunities to thrive and prosper, and threaten the state’s economic well-being.
More money is needed, but additional funding alone will not dramatically change these statistics. We already have schools achieving tremendous results for our vulnerable students. The secret to their success is not money — it is the work of the educators in their buildings and the innovative strategies these talented professionals are using to better serve students. We must create the conditions to promote and enable this good work to flourish across all school districts.
That means setting aside some portion of new funding to support and spur innovation in our schools. An innovation fund would expand the good work already happening, particularly in schools struggling the most. It also means giving school leaders the autonomy they need to make financial decisions that are in the best interest of the students in their buildings and providing them with specialized training and support that will improve their financial management abilities and leadership skills. How can we ask these leaders to do better, but fail to give them the tools they need to succeed?
New money should also be tied to greater transparency in how it is spent. More and better information on school spending will help us understand what schools that are generating the most impact with new spending are doing to achieve those results and share these approaches with schools across the state.
As state leaders debate “how much” to increase funding for our schools, they must also consider how that money will be spent to ensure maximum impact on student learning.
Kathleen M. Larrivey
Brockton public school teacher; executive board member, Brockton Education Association
I have been a middle school teacher in Brockton for the past 21 years, and I know from firsthand experience that our students deserve more than the Commonwealth’s current educational funding levels have provided. What we don’t need are any more top-down mandates and bureaucratic red tape from the state.
Our experience in Brockton is common among Gateway cities in Massachusetts that are struggling to serve students with limited resources. In the school where I work, we have been using the same English textbook in four to five classes each year for more than two decades. Our social studies and science texts were published long before the state curricular standards changed — and are therefore mostly useless. Our math department does not even have a textbook for students to use as a reference. Our technology access is limited and is shared across disciplines. How can our students develop 21st-century skills with such badly outdated materials?
Students deserve appropriate class sizes. Special Education students and English Language Learners should not be in classes of nearly 30 children, nor should our youngest learners. Students also should not be in rooms crowded with 20 percent more children than the space was designed for. But those are some of the challenging conditions we are seeing in my school.
Adequate funding to meet students’ social and emotional needs is also lacking. In my building, for example, we have one adjustment counselor to see to the emotional needs of over 700 students, many of whom face issues that were unheard of in years past. Our students surely deserve better.
Tying necessary funds to new state mandates will do nothing to improve the quality of education for our students. I have seen many initiatives come and go over the years, only to be replaced by the next “big thing” in education. Often these underfunded mandates get in the way of teachers doing their jobs effectively. Working in the classroom every day, we know what our students need. Provide us with the necessary resources and let us do our jobs without tying us up in red tape.
Our students can’t wait!
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