Massachusetts has made dramatic gains in student achievement over the past twenty years through the systematic implementation of cutting edge reforms. Today, our students lead the nation on national and international assessments.
Although the state’s performance is impressive and envied by many, it’s simply not enough. Nearly 40% of students entering our public colleges need remediation, socio-economic achievement gaps persist, skills gaps are widening, and the unrelenting demands of a global economy continue to raise the bar for our schools and our students.
These factors threaten the Commonwealth’s leadership positions in education and the innovation economy. As other states and nations adopt innovative new approaches and experience faster rates of improvement in student achievement, Massachusetts risks falling behind.
Twenty years ago, Massachusetts adopted a model for education reform that became the aspiration of other states. We have an extraordinary opportunity to lead once again by building on our strong foundation and adopting proven innovations and initiatives that will prepare all students to be globally competitive.
Over the next two years MBAE will wage a campaign to ensure Massachusetts seizes this leadership opportunity and raises student achievement. As a first step, MBAE has retained Brightlines, a team of international education experts led by Sir Michael Barber, to assess the performance of Massachusetts schools and identify the initiatives and innovations that are producing the greatest results in the Commonwealth and around the world. With this information and with input that is being gathered from the state’s education, policy and business leaders, we will identify what actions and new innovations will lead to the transformative change that is needed and mobilize support for adoption of a new education agenda.
Please join us in this effort.
Read MBAE’s press release announcing this effort.
Three years ago, MBAE and the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) issued a report on Boston Public School policies that have an impact on teacher quality. Our conclusion was that while the district had many smart, strategic policies already in place, there were actions that could be taken to help the district do more to attract and retain effective teachers.
The very first recommendation was to “Give principals full authority to interview and hire all teachers, regardless of whether the teacher is new to the district, transferring voluntarily or transferring as a result of excess. Teachers should never be guaranteed a position.”
So, we applaud the action taken by Boston Public Schools Interim Superintendent John McDonough last week to “enable all schools to fill positions with the very best teachers. “ According to the Superintendent’s October 31 Newsletter, “At a recent professional development session, we asked our school leaders to share best practices with each other and also with our central office teams. Again and again, they expressed the importance of attracting and retaining a diverse group of talented teachers as the most critical element that drives positive school change.
This is something we have all known for years. We have great teachers in our schools. We also know that when there is a vacancy, our own systems often put barriers in place that can make it difficult to attract, hire and place the best people — either from within the district or outside of it.”
One of the primary barriers, cited in the NCTQ report, is the hiring timelines that forced Boston to miss the window when the most talented and diverse pool of educators are making decisions about which position to accept. The district was waiting far too long to extend offers to qualified candidates – with only 9% having been hired by June. “Last year BPS hired 57 percent of our new-to-BPS teachers in August, just weeks before the new school year begins. Nearly 30 percent joined our team in July.”
The Superintendent clearly stated his committment to making offers in the winter and spring rather than late summer. “Doing so will make us more competitive. We will attract top talent and will be in a stronger position to recruit and hire a diverse pool of educators who will help strengthen every school. To accomplish this we are providing all schools the autonomy to open-post every available position in the next hiring cycle. This will give current teachers a much better opportunity to consider and apply for open positions throughout the district, just as it will give top-talent external candidates the chance to truly compete for roles here in Boston. The alternative is to continue to allow other cities and charter schools the chance to make offers to talented teachers months before we do.”
The issue of “excessed” teachers – those who are not matched with an open position – is still a challenge. According to the newsletter, “Under the new process, the approximately 300 teachers who are annually placed in our excess pool will be given assistance with resume-building so they can compete more effectively for open positions. We will also provide targeted professional development based on subject-area needs. Teachers who are not matched against vacancies will be assigned in a suitable professional capacity and will remain eligible to fill vacancies as they occur.” How this plays out will be a significant factor in whether the plan meets the goal of ensuring there is a highly effective teacher in every classroom, every year.
It is very encouraging that the Superintendent is taking this action. His newsletter indicates that the district is building on new flexibility in its current contract to extend hiring authorities to every school! This is great news for Boston’s children – and something we think should be the policy of every district!
MBAE and NCTQ also reviewed the teacher policies of the Springfield Public Schools – read more about the October 2011 report!
According to the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, Massachusetts’ current state science standards are “clearly superior” to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) which were issued earlier this year. The Fordham report spurred a counter-statement by the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), continuing the ongoing debate about the quality of the NGSS. The wide-ranging debate underscores the need for Massachusetts to proceed carefully when evaluating the NGSS and our own current standards.
The Fordham Institute report “Exemplary Science Standards: How Does Your State Compare?” compares the standards of 38 states with the NGSS and “exemplary” standards of three other states – one of them Massachusetts. The report draws on earlier papers by the Fordham Institute, including its “Final Evaluation of the Next Generation Science Standards,” and “The State of Science Standards 2012.” The institute’s panel of seven experts rated the NGSS a “C” overall, citing numerous content issues, and some problems with lack of rigor and clarity. Massachusetts’ current standards were graded an “A-.”
Fordham’s evaluation of the NGSS cites the omission of essential content, lack of clarity, failure to include important elements in early grades, specific errors, a focus on practice over knowledge, and concerns over “assessment boundaries” limiting teachers’ willingness to go behind material that will be tested. The Massachusetts current standards received full marks for “clarity and specificity” and high marks for “content and rigor,” with noted minor omissions and occasional lack of detail.
The analysis has received criticism, including from the National Science Teachers Association. The NSTA argues that the NGSS is based upon a “current and robust body of research” and contains a “teachable number of core ideas,” while stating that the Fordham reports are “based on personal opinions” and lacking “substantive research.” NSTA points out that “science education leaders, educators, and others from 26 states led the charge to develop and write the new science standards with input from thousands in the science and science education community, including science teachers. This unprecedented involvement of so many groups and individuals–especially those who will be charged with implementing the standards in the classroom–sends a strong message about the promise of and support for NGSS.”
Standards articulate what students should know and be able to do in each grade level. Massachusetts’ science, technology, and engineering (STE) standards set consistent benchmarks for biology, chemistry, physics and engineering across the state. The state’s current process of revision is heavily focused on whether the NGSS, or a modified version of those standards, should be adopted. The STE revision is an opportunity for improvement, and the Commonwealth should be careful that any changes it makes are beneficial to students and achievable by educators. MBAE would argue there is a major omission in both the NGSS and our current STE standards – the lack of critical elements of computer science, as we have noted in past posts.
The current revision of STE standards comes at a critical time. Our continued position as a national leader in education and our ability to compete on an international scale will be determined by the expectations we set and the opportunities we provide. Strong, comprehensive standards are needed to prepare our students for the STEM opportunities in our workforce, and to ensure all students are informed, technologically literate citizens. Massachusetts must ensure that any action it takes on STE standards meets this critical need.
Science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education is a critical component to developing a globally competitive workforce. Business leaders across industries agree: Investing to ensure a pipeline of workers skilled in STEM competencies is a workforce issue, an economic development issue, and a business imperative. In fact, the same could be said for early childhood education. A growing body of research suggests that developing STEM proficiency starts much earlier than high school, middle school, or even elementary school. STEM education starts in the earliest years of a child’s life, even before they reach kindergarten.
This powerful link between STEM and early childhood education was the subject of webinar recently hosted by ReadyNation, a national initiative to “amplify the voice of business leaders in support of early childhood policies that strengthen our economy and workforce.” The webinar, entitled “Start Early with STEM,” featured presentations by Dr. Greg J. Duncan, distinguished professor, School of Education at the University of California, Irvine; Marcy Reed, President & CEO of National Grid Massachusetts; and myself, JD Chesloff, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Business Roundtable and a board member of MBAE. Their message was clear: The best way to ensure return on STEM investments is to start at the beginning: with very young children.
Research confirms that the brain is particularly receptive to learning math and logic between the ages of 1 and 4. This is telling, considering that the Washington Post recently reported that 1 in 5 adults lacks the math competence expected of a middle-schooler. In fact, Raytheon, one of the great employers of STEM professionals in Massachusetts, conducted a survey of 1,000 middle-schoolers from across the country and asked them if they would rather do their math homework or eat broccoli. The winner…with 56% of the vote? Eat broccoli. Go figure.
Greg Duncan’s research has concluded that early math concepts are the most powerful predictors of later learning. As he pointed out during the webinar, his research has found that early math skills (controlling IQ) correlated most strongly with future school achievement, and that children with persistently low K-5 math skills are more likely to drop out of high school and are considerably less likely to attend college.
More high school dropouts and fewer college attendees mean fewer workers in the pipeline, particularly for high demand STEM jobs. In the next 10 years, STEM jobs will grow by 17%, compared to 9.8% for all other occupations. And across the US, all occupations, there are 3.6 people for every 1 job. In STEM, there is 1 person for every 1.9 jobs. So supply is low, demand is high and there is a mismatch between projected future jobs requiring STEM skills and the projected supply of qualified workers to fill them.
Marcy Reed highlighted this problem in her presentation. As she noted, “We depend on engineers to help shape the future of energy, but there is a shortage of engineers entering the workforce. So, we’re preparing today for tomorrow’s engineering workforce by investing in STEM. Investing in STEM is a social responsibility and starts with early education.”
Young children are natural are natural-born scientists and engineers. High-quality early-learning environments provide children with the opportunity to build upon their natural inclination to explore, to build, and to question. As I pointed out during the webinar to support Marcy’s point, concepts at the heart of STEM—curiosity, creativity, collaboration, critical thinking—are in demand by employers. They also happen to be innate in young children.
ReadyNation has figured this out, and focuses its efforts on researching a wide variety of early childhood issues, communicating their findings, and mobilizing business leaders and activists to build support for early investments. Their recent brief, “Tomorrow’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Workforce Starts with Early Education,” discusses why business should support STEM in the early years, highlights what businesses are currently doing to support early STEM, and provides examples of what young children can learn before kindergarten.
Massachusetts is making great progress in linking the two agendas. The Department of Early Education and Care is integrating STEM into its Quality Rating and Improvement System and professional development for its teachers, for example. And the implementation strategy for the state STEM initiative, called the @Scale program, has a specific focus on early childhood education. This infiltration strategy is one that I highlighted during the webinar and one that holds great promise for moving this agenda forward. This work must continue in earnest.
During the webinar, I concluded that to remain competitive in the global economy, investment is needed to ensure a workforce pipeline skilled in STEM competencies. This is important to our long term competitiveness because today’s young children are tomorrow’s workforce. Workers who are fluent in math and other STEM competencies will be more prepared and qualified to fill the jobs that our innovation economy demands. And the best way to shore up that pipeline is to start investing in it early.
JD Chesloff is Executive Director of the Massachusetts Business Roundtable and a board member of MBAE
This month New York City became the first district in the nation to release reports on how teacher preparation programs relate to performance in the classroom. The Teacher Preparation Program Reports, released by the NYC Department of Education, evaluated the twelve programs that supplied the most teachers to the NYC education system from 2008 to 2012. The scorecards aim to foster dialogue about teacher preparation and the system’s needs. New York City’s initiative provides a valuable model for other systems, and Massachusetts should consider conducting similar research into our own teacher prep programs. Given the critical role of teacher effectiveness in student learning, teacher preparation should be a high priority for any school system – and we need outcome data to steer programs in the right direction.
MBAE has been a consistent advocate for increased accountability for Massachusetts’ teacher prep programs, and supported the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) review of programs across the nation, including 35 institutions in Massachusetts. That report, as discussed previously, dismally concluded that teacher prep programs nationwide had become “an industry of mediocrity,” doing little to prepare teachers for the classroom. NCTQ’s research indicated an astonishing lack of relation nationwide between teachers’ preparation and student learning growth.
The New York data makes further investigation into Massachusetts’ programs all the more important. Obviously the point of teacher prep programs is to train effective teachers and therefore increase student learning – and it looks like not all programs are succeeding in that goal. NCTQ attributes the lack of correlation between teacher preparation and student learning to the huge variability of programs nationwide, many of them low quality. This makes it critical that Massachusetts administrators and education leaders have resources to help inform their hiring decisions of program graduates.
This accountability would aid hiring and ultimately help programs improve, by adding to the dialogue about teacher prep and spurring programs to adjust to the system’s needs. While the NCTQ report is a valuable resource, the researchers struggled to collect complete data from many programs due to lack of cooperation. Having a district or state-conducted study would provide outcome data and a more complete picture – and make it clear that the Commonwealth is serious about improving teacher preparation.
Gathering this data isn’t meant as a “gotcha-type thing,” as NYC schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott explained at a press conference. It’s a tool to steer conversations about teacher prep, and to help prep programs and school systems to work together to coordinate their programming and needs. Gathering additional data, as did NYC, on the number of teachers working in high-need schools and pursuing high-need licenses (e.g. math) would allow teacher prep programs to identify demand for certain curricula and focus their resources on developing these areas.
Teachers are our most valuable resource for our students’ education. Other states have recognized this and evaluated in-state prep programs, starting with Louisiana’s development of an assessment model in 2004. It’s time for Massachusetts to focus on providing teachers with the programming they need to be best prepared for their time in the classroom – and the way to motivate changes in programming is to have public data on the program results, so potential teachers know which programs to pick, administrators can consider programs when making hiring decisions, and the programs themselves can adjust to our state’s needs.