Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education
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Accountability Mistake Impacts Charter Schools

MBAE has been a strong supporter of developing assessments that give students and their families an honest measure of whether a child is performing at grade level.  This is essential to ensure a student is on track to graduate ready to pursue college, career or other pathways without need for remediation before they start.  We believe that such assessment data is also of value in education – as it is in other sectors – to measure progress, inform decisions and drive improvements.

So, we were strongly opposed to the action taken by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) in June to increase the weight of “growth” against “performance” for purposes of the district accountability system.  In our testimony, we argued that this move “gives the public a false impression about the quality of public schools”.  Because this action skews the classification of the districts performing among the lowest 10% in Massachusetts, it also had potential for significant repercussions for charter school caps in urban districts.

Unfortunately, our concerns became reality earlier this month when charter school proposals in Brockton and Fitchburg, already moving through the state’s rigorous application process, were summarily dismissed because the “growth” in those Gateway Cities disqualified them for additional charter seats.   As we told the BESE in June, “It is incomprehensible that some communities where students are scoring well but there is little growth could become eligible for charter school seats while underperforming communities where growth may be high because the starting point was so low, reach the cap limit.”

We agree with Boston Globe columnist Larry Harmon that “High growth on test scores is praiseworthy. But it shouldn’t be confused with high achievement on student tests, especially when the gains are measured from very low starting points. And in some cases, even those gains were insignificant.”  Look at the 2014 MCAS scores compared to prior years for Brockton and Fitchburg and decide for yourself.  Are you satisfied with this level of growth?  Does it warrant eliminating choices such as those offered by charter schools?

If, as some charter school opponents who hailed the move have said, there wasn’t a need for these alternatives in districts like Brockton and Fitchburg, then why should they fear giving parents this option?  The existence of charter schools is not a condemnation of district schools.  We need “both/and” not “either/or”.   The good news is that the BESE recognizes the absurdity of this situation enough to have placed a vote on waivers for the Brockton and Fitchburg applications on the agenda for the November 25th meeting.  A public hearing will be scheduled in advance of that date.  Perhaps this is an opportunity not only to urge action in the interest of students and families in those two cities, but also to insist on reversal of the decision that caused the problem in the first place.

84% of Teachers Enthusiastic About Common Core Implementation

The results of a national survey released by Scholastic late last week show that 84% of teachers who have been using the Common Core State Standards for more than a year are enthusiastic about their implementation. More teachers feel better prepared to teach Common Core standards than last year (8% increase), and a greater percentage say implementation is going well (6% increase).

This year’s poll is a follow-up to last year’s in which Scholastic surveyed 20,000 teachers nationwide about the Common Core.  In that poll, 70% of teachers in Massachusetts were enthusiastic about implementation of the standards in the classroom. (This year’s results did not include a state-by-state breakdown.) This finding was consistent with a previous poll of Massachusetts teachers from the Massachusetts Teachers Association and Teach Plus in which 70% who received training said they believe the standards will help their students succeed.

Critical to the success of the learning standards that focus on critical thinking and problem solving skills, is effective implementation and that requires high quality teacher training and professional development.  In the Scholastic survey, teachers said aligned instructional materials (86%), quality professional development (84%) and opportunities to collaborate (78%) are essential to successful implementation.

A Boston Globe Magazine story rightly highlights the need for effective teacher training on the standards.  The story features programs from Teach Plus that are led by teachers. Teach Plus also recently led a workshop on the Common Core-aligned PARCC exam, which is being piloted in about 60% of Massachusetts districts this school year.

Ensuring the standards are effectively implemented should be the primary focus of the education discussion. MBAE supports teachers, the work they’ve done over the past three years, and the work they continue to do because their professional development is vital to student achievement.

A Closer Look: What Common Core Polls Really Show

On the surface, poll results released this week seem to indicate that public support for the Common Core State Standards is slipping.

Yet, a closer look at four recent polls tells another story, and alarmingly, that misinformation about the standards is widespread, effecting the outcome of polls, and rendering them inaccurate.

While the PDK/Gallup poll shows 60% of respondents in opposition to Common Core because they believe it will limit teachers’ flexibility in the classroom, EdWeek’s Research Center survey found that 69% of teachers think Common Core standards will improve their instruction and classroom practice. 65% also believe it will improve student learning, and Republican pollster Dave Winston found 62% of teachers approve of their state’s adoption of the Common Core, showing no change from a poll done in March.

The Common Core label is now a polarizing term, but most people do indeed support high standards. When asked if they support high academic standards across states, without mention of “Common Core,” Education Next found support soaring from 53% to 68%.

Proponents of the Common Core State Standards can also learn from these polls that a disconnect still exists between public perception of the standards and what they actually are. Education Next found many respondents believe the Common Core takes away local control and gives it to the federal government. Only a little over a third, 36%, know that adopting Common Core was not a federal mandate, 15% know that the federal government cannot access student data, and less than half understand that curriculum is decided on at the local district level.

Teachers are closest to the action when it comes to Common Core implementation and need our support for smooth and effective implementation of the standards in their classrooms. Their local vantage point of what is happening in schools provides them with a wealth of information, oftentimes more accurate that what can be learned from TV, radio, and news outlets, making them a critical source of information for the general public.

Education and Workforce Preparedness

Our friends at Achieve, Inc. have given us permission to reprint their excellent materials when we see information that will be of interest to the Massachusetts business community.  This commentary focuses on the workforce issues that are of concern to all of us and appeared in Achieve’s Perspective Newsletter yesterday.

The U.S. workforce has undergone significant changes in the past few decades. The development of new, innovative technologies, the shift to a knowledge-based economy, and the growth of the global marketplace mean employers across all industries are putting a higher premium on skilled and educated workers than ever before.

Business leaders understand the importance of qualified talent. According to the 2013 Business Roundtable (BRT) report Taking Action on Education and Workforce Preparedness, “a nation’s capacity to develop a skilled, prepared workforce is inextricably linked to the quality of its education system.” The report suggests that such a workforce is the cornerstone of economic competitiveness.

Yet, during a related survey of BRT members, more than 95 percent of CEOs indicated that their companies have suffered from a lack of qualified talent.  (69% of Massachusetts employers reported difficulty filling jobs in the poll recently conducted for MBAE, Associated Industries of Massachusetts and the Massachusetts Business Roundtable.)  The report went on to reveal that “the long-term negative impacts of this ‘skills gap’ on workers, families, businesses, governments and the economy are potentially profound and far reaching.”

Additionally, the 2014 Corporate Learning Factbook published by Bersin and Deloitte reports that U.S. spending on corporate training surpassed $70 million last year. More than 70 percent of the companies surveyed cite a “capabilities gap” as the reason for spending on training, and many of the respondents report that a new hire still needs three to five years of experience before becoming a fully productive member of the company.

To help business leaders think more strategically about their support for college and career readiness, Achieve has collaborated with the GE Foundation and AT&T, along with Chevron, the Prudential and Travelers Foundations, and Alcoa to create the Business Center for a College and Career Ready America. Through the Business Center’s suite of featured tools and resources, the site explores college and career readiness in economic terms and examines issues of competitiveness, the skills gap, STEM training, and more through the lens of America’s education-to-workforce pipeline. The Business Center advocates college and career readiness for all students.

You can download the #BizEdu mobile app via Google Play or the Apple Store, and follow the Business Center @Biz4Edu on Twitter. 

Tech Bond Bill to Help Modernize Schools

A bond bill for government technology worth $1 billion, including $38 million for a public school district broadband access improvement grant program, has been approved by the Massachusetts House and Senate and now goes to Governor Patrick for his signature. H 4355 is a vital piece of legislation as Massachusetts public schools catch up to the 21st century. The funding for schools will be a boost to those districts lacking basic broadband access and will help level the playing field with other districts fortunate to have more resources. And while Massachusetts has been a pioneer on many education fronts, overall, the Commonwealth has lagged behind other states in the use of modern technology in schools.

School districts that have yet to decide if they will administer PARCC or MCAS in the coming school year should take note of yesterday’s developments. One concern about the PARCC exam has been access to the technology required to give an online test. While there is a paper-and-pencil version available for at least the 2014-2015 school year, it is expected that all schools will eventually want to gain the benefits of administering the exam entirely online, should the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education vote to sunset MCAS in favor of PARCC next fall. Even if we stay with MCAS, it will be updated to meet modern testing specifications. Online exams are undoubtedly in our future.

The funding, however, which includes a competitive matching grant component, is not just about assessments. It’s about Massachusetts’ commitment to providing the highest quality public education possible. We cannot continue to lead the nation if other states are providing their students with the resources needed to succeed in the 21st century classroom and beyond. Our economy thrives on innovation, much of it driven by constantly changing technology, and we owe it to our public school students to expose them to what they might find in a modern workplace.

Enacting this bill, now on its way to the Governor’s desk, is a step forward for Massachusetts and Massachusetts public education. We thank all the legislators who worked on this bill and applaud the Massachusetts State Senate on their 40-0 vote in favor.

Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education