ROMNEY FILES COMPREHENSIVE EDUCATION REFORM PACKAGE
Seeks to put Massachusetts students on top on the national and international stage
Every middle and high school student in Massachusetts would get a laptop computer, the state would add 1,000 new math and science teachers and the best teachers would be eligible for $5,000 bonuses under education reform legislation filed today by Governor Mitt Romney.
Romney promised to lay out an education reform plan in his State of the State speech in January, and the filing of today's legislation represents the most far-reaching attempt to improve education in Massachusetts since the Education Reform Act of 1993.
The legislation would cost $46 million in Fiscal Year 2006 and $143 million in Fiscal Year 2007.
The Governor's proposal sets several primary performance goals for Massachusetts schools: to enter the top tier of international rankings; to excel at the national level; to ensure the top five per cent of high school graduates are among the best educated math and science graduates in the world; and to close the gap between the top and bottom students by 50 per cent by the year 2014.
"If we're serious about keeping our kids at the forefront of a highly challenging and competitive world economy, then we have to take the necessary steps to energize our education system," said Romney.
The legislation promotes math and science excellence through the creation of the Commonwealth Teaching Corps to encourage individuals to become math and science teachers; calls for the establishment of Math and Science Academies throughout the state; and contains an initiative to provide laptops to middle and high school students.
Romney said that competing in the global economy requires students to have high tech skills that can be acquired by using laptop computers for daily schoolwork. Under the Governor's plan, the state would spend $54 million to equip each middle and high school student with a laptop that they will be able to keep.
The idea for this program came from One Laptop per Child, a non-profit organization started by MIT Media Lab faculty. Said Nicholas Negroponte, the founding chairman of the MIT Media Lab: "One laptop per child will empower and engage children by making education and living seamless."
Under Romney's proposal, computers would be sufficiently inexpensive, costing approximately $100, but still feature full-color screens and be capable of many of the same tasks as more expensive machines. In Fiscal Year 2007, the first three grades would be outfitted, followed by three more grades the next year.
In all, 500,000 students would receive laptops under the Romney initiative.
The Governor's bill also leverages the teaching powers of the Commonwealth's private sector to create new job-oriented pathways for students by establishing applied academic schools that merge academics with occupational training. The bill also accelerates much-needed remedial action in failing schools by shortening the time in which schools may be designated in "turnaround status," and giving superintendents in those underperforming schools extraordinary powers to improve learning.
Additionally, the bill calls for awarding $65 million to teachers statewide who are part of the Commonwealth Teaching Corps, or who teach Advanced Placement math and science courses, or who receive exemplary evaluations.
Romney's proposal would also require all public high schools in the Commonwealth to offer Advanced Placement (AP) courses in calculus, chemistry, biology and physics. Smaller schools that do not have enough students to fill AP classes could satisfy this requirement online.
Significant changes in teacher evaluation are also being proposed. Evaluations would be removed from the collective bargaining process, and would instead be based on improvement in student performance and peer review. Teacher evaluations will determine performance pay, the need for teacher training, or in certain cases, the dismissal of bad teachers.
To further promote science and math education at the high school level, Romney's plan would establish at least seven math and science academies in cities with populations of 90,000 or more. These academies are patterned on the successful Massachusetts Academy of Math and Science in Worcester, and would feature accelerated training in math, science and engineering.
To bring career-oriented training to public schools, the plan establishes applied academics within high schools, offering students a chance to combine academic courses with occupational training. Students would pursue certificates of proficiency in areas such as medical services, hospitality, business management and information technology.
By maintaining links to the employer community, applied academics will help students acquire a strong skill set prior to joining the workforce, according to Romney.
"Governor Romney's education reform plan addresses the single biggest challenge for our state's economy, which is supplying the pipeline of skilled workers that technology employers need for sustained future growth," said Massachusetts High Technology Council President Christopher R. Anderson. "The Governor's plan rightly focuses on attracting and retaining the best math and science teachers, while giving them the support and tools they need to prepare students for the competitive global economy."
The legislation offers strong support to so-called "turnaround" schools, which are schools that have not shown significant performance improvement over three consecutive years. The legislation proposes to cut in half to three years the time required to be designated a turnaround school. Currently, this process can take up to six years.
A turnaround designation provides extraordinary powers to the superintendent in the ability to reassign personnel, implement teacher testing and dismiss unqualified teachers. Schools that do not improve within two years could be placed under different management.
"We are gratified that the Governor's education package incorporates so many of the goals and recommendations leading citizens have supported in the Great Schools Campaign," said Paul Grogan, president of the Boston Foundation and co-chair of the Great Schools Campaign, an effort led by community leaders to advance education reform. "With significant and targeted new money linked to incentives for teachers, more flexibility and reform, we can make Massachusetts an international leader in math and science and a national model for turnarounds of our lowest performing schools."
To prepare parents to take an active role in their child's education, Romney's plan also requires elementary schools to offer voluntary parental preparation classes as part of Kindergarten registration. For parents that use state-funded childcare services, attendance in at least one parental preparation class is mandatory.
The Romney bill provides appropriate state oversight by creating an Executive Office of Education, led by a Secretary of Education. Additionally, the bill would remove administrators from union representation. Low performing districts would be exempted from the charter school cap and the burdensome Educational Quality and Accountability (EQA) audit system would be streamlined to focus on constructive management criticism for districts with turnaround schools.
"We have heard from hundreds of educators who want to spend more time educating kids in the classroom and less time on bureaucratic paperwork," said Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey, referring to the EQA audit change. "This proposal answers their call for reform."
"I congratulate Governor Romney on his wide-reaching reform plan, and call on all of us in the Commonwealth to recognize that the time for the state's first phase of education reform has come and gone," said state Education Commissioner David P. Driscoll. "Today it is time for a new, more aggressive phase in which the future success of our students takes top priority."