Hearing of the State's Joint Committee on Education
ROMNEY TESTIFIES ON EDUCATION REFORM
Calling education "an essential investment" in the state's future, Governor Mitt Romney today appeared before the Legislature's Joint Committee on Education to outline his reform proposals to bolster Massachusetts schools and improve student performance across the board.
Romney also introduced into the record written testimony in support of his legislation from former IBM Corporation Chairman and CEO Louis V. Gerstner Jr., who founded the Teaching Commission, a non-profit diverse group comprising 19 leaders in government, business and education committed to raising student performance by transforming America's teaching profession.
"The world is growing more competitive every day, and it's no secret that skills, education and knowledge will be crucial to success in the workforce of the 21st century," said Romney. "Unless our kids are fully prepared to meet the challenges that lie ahead, Massachusetts will fall behind in the competition for the best jobs."
To keep Massachusetts competitive, Romney filed comprehensive education reform legislation in September that would promote math and science excellence, close the achievement gap among students and enhance the quality and professionalism of teachers through incentives and training.
"If we don't recognize our best students and provide them with the intellectual tools and support they need to advance, we won't be able to keep up with other nations that are doing everything they can to promote excellence in education," said Romney.
To help students excel in math and science, Romney would provide free laptop computers to all middle and high school students and establish seven specialized math and science academies in the state's seven largest cities. Additionally, all high schools would be required to offer Advanced Placement courses in calculus, chemistry, biology and physics and high school students could receive credit for math and science courses taken at local colleges.
Under the Romney plan, teachers in the Commonwealth would be eligible for annual bonuses ranging from $2,500 to $15,000. Significant new investments in teacher development and recruitment are planned, including the hiring of 1,000 highly qualified math and science teachers as part of a new "Commonwealth Teaching Corps" that would be eligible for specific $5,000 annual bonuses. Teachers whose Advanced Placement math and science students demonstrate measured achievement could also receive up to a $5,000 annual bonus.
"I believe that our best teachers are underpaid and should be rewarded for the extra effort they bring to the classroom and the results they deliver for our students," said Romney. "Teachers should be compensated according to their ability to produce real results, not solely on the number of years they've been on the job. If we want to attract ambitious teachers, we need to treat teaching as a profession."
Romney said Massachusetts has come a long way as a result of previous education reform efforts and pointed to the results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress exams as evidence of this success. In 2005 the exam ranked the state's 4th and 8th graders as the best in the nation in both reading and math.
However, Romney said while Massachusetts leads the nation, we are falling behind other countries, and he urged the committee to pursue new reforms to prevent Massachusetts from giving up any ground. He said such reforms are especially important for those students who are falling behind.
Romney also pointed to data showing a persistent gap separating some of the states most disadvantaged students from their peers in other school districts.
To prevent students from falling further behind, Romney would cut in half from six years to three years the amount of time necessary to intervene in low-performing "turnaround" districts. A turnaround designation provides extraordinary powers to the superintendent including the ability to reassign personnel, implement teacher testing and dismiss unqualified teachers.
"The reality is that there are too many schools that have failed to make satisfactory progress, and it is taking too long to get them the help that they need," said Romney.
Under the Romney bill, schools that do not show improve within two years could be placed under different management or reconstituted as charter schools. Romney pledged to provide funding in his upcoming Fiscal Year 2007 budget for turnaround partners, math and science training and other professional development initiatives for teachers in turnaround schools.
To prepare parents to take an active role in their child's education, the plan 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.