GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

December 17, 2012

Column: State education strategy aims at success for all

My View
Mitchell D. Chester

---- — If you look at the achievement markers for Massachusetts public school students, the results are astounding.

Massachusetts students and teachers are not only performing at a high level, but continuously improving. Our accomplishments are a direct result of Gov. Deval Patrick’s leadership and the administration’s deep investment in K-12 education.

Newly released international test scores place Massachusetts among the world leaders in eighth-grade mathematics and science achievement. On the heralded TIMSS assessment, Massachusetts eighth-graders trail only their peers in Singapore in science achievement. In math achievement, Massachusetts eighth-graders trail only their peers in four leading Asian countries.

The administration’s K-12 education agenda is aimed at closing proficiency gaps, particularly in the gateway cities, and ensuring that all students are ready for the opportunities that await them after high school. To meet these ambitious goals, we are implementing four primary strategies in classrooms, schools, and school districts across the state.

First, we are strengthening curriculum, instruction, and assessment. This year, schools are implementing the new Massachusetts curriculum frameworks in English language arts and mathematics, which incorporate the common core standards but are customized for Massachusetts. The frameworks have added rigor, clarity, and focus to the state’s already high standards. We are adopting new standards for English language proficiency and providing professional development to teachers of English language learners to ensure those students have a pathway to high achievement. Massachusetts is also collaborating with two dozen other states to build a new generation of assessments for all students.

Second, we are improving the effectiveness of our educator workforce. The single most important factor in a child’s academic success is having high quality teachers, and we have the best teachers in the country in Massachusetts. The state’s new educator evaluation system places student learning at the center, and is fundamentally about supporting the professional growth and development of all teachers and administrators.

Third, we are working to turn around our lowest performing schools and districts. We have identified 43 schools in greatest need of rapid improvement that have developed and are implementing accelerated turnaround plans. But for students in these and many other schools, academic support alone is not sufficient. Schools must work in partnership with community agencies and families to provide students with greater socio-emotional supports that are essential to sustaining a healthy learning environment.

Our most significant district turnaround effort is in the city of Lawrence. The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education placed the Lawrence Public Schools into state receivership one year ago, based on a long history of chronic underperformance and ineffective leadership and governance. Turning around a school, let alone an entire district, is not easy. But we owe it to the students and families in those 43 schools and in the city of Lawrence to change a persistent pattern of low achievement and expectations.

Fourth, we are piloting ways for schools across the commonwealth to use data to inform instruction and technology to improve teaching and learning. Digital learning has an important role to play in reform, as part of a larger, classroom-based approach to curriculum delivery.

The best education today is happening in Massachusetts. The Patrick-Murray administration’s investment in public education is paying huge dividends. But we can’t be complacent lest we jeopardize the remarkable gains made over the past decade. We owe it to our students and their families, and to the commonwealth’s future, to prepare all Massachusetts public school students for success after high school.

Mitchell D. Chester is the commissioner of elementary and secondary education for Massachusetts.