Local districts can meet community needs
Re “The Senate’s bad play on education bill” (Editorial, Oct. 15): The disagreement over accountability language in the education funding bill is simple: Do state officials know better what should happen in schools, or do local educators?
If state officials have all the answers, it makes sense for them to overrule local decisions and impose policies. That’s the approach since No Child Left Behind, and results are lackluster.
In contrast, people who know the children by name have good ideas about how to help them learn.
The original language of the bill was ambiguous. It said local districts should change their plans to suit the state. But what if districts decide their plans are better? The Senate amendment makes clear that the state advises but local people decide.
Local leaders aren’t always perfect but, unlike with the state education board, there are democratic mechanisms in place if locals don’t agree with leadership: They can vote for change, join school advisory councils, or run for school board or other office. The experience of the last 20 years — a narrower curriculum, wider achievement gaps — proves that state mandates aren’t the answer.
The Senate amendment made it so that local plans respond to a district’s needs by requiring local leaders to listen to the community. I urge the House to agree.
The author is a member of the testing policy subcommittee of Citizens for Public Schools.
Accountability on local level is key to school improvement
The Globe editorial board (“The Senate’s bad play on education bill”) misunderstood my statement that the Senate education funding bill “strengthens local accountability.” I meant that the Senate bill increases accountability to local parents, educators, and community members by engaging them in developing plans to reduce achievement gaps. For the first time, our bill gives a formal role in those plans to school improvement councils, parent advisory committees for special education and English learner students, and school committees.
MassINC’s extensive work with Gateway Cities concluded that accountability at the local level — involving school councils and school committees — was key to improvement. Similarly, Nick Donohue wrote in the Globe Magazine recently (“What all schools can learn from failing ones,” Oct. 6), “Engaging parents, students, and teachers to address the inequities of a district . . . would have helped, because people closest to the action know things outsiders don’t.”
The bill retains the state role in setting targets and intervening in “low-performing” schools and districts. The consensus remains: a strong commitment to adequate and equitable funding of education.
More power for state bureaucracy is not the answer
The education bill being debated by the Legislature is a transformative step toward equitable school funding. However, the Globe views it as an excuse to go backward by stripping power from districts and democratically elected school committees. Superintendents ensure accountability across district levels. School committees provide accountability locally. The state education commissioner, the Executive Office of Education, and other boards safeguard accountability at the state and federal levels.
Large urban districts, such as Fall River, work closely with state education officials. The state-level accountability described by the Globe already exists. Equally important is the local accountability that comes from school committees. Restricting local control only exacerbates the act of people throwing up their hands and saying, “Public education is not my problem.”
Parents, teachers, community partners, and school committees know what our children need to succeed. In Fall River, investing in extended time, classroom paraprofessionals, social-emotional supports, and technology, and reducing class size, are core turnaround strategies. This is the tight-loose coupling of democracy — centralized accountability standards with site-based decisions for solutions.
Decades of high-stakes testing and sanctioning “underperforming” schools with increased state oversight have not closed achievement gaps. The answer is not more power for state bureaucracy and disenfranchising local government. If we want a future of accelerated achievement and prosperity for all students, our strategy must be to adequately and equitably fund our public schools. Local communities are counting on the House to quickly pass the outstanding bill that was already approved by the Senate unanimously.
The writer served as Massachusetts secretary of education from 2013 to 2015.