Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education
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Foundation Budget Review – An Opportunity to Update Funding System

The Foundation Budget Review Commission held its sixth and last public hearing on the re-examination of the Chapter 70 school finance law on March 9th in Boston.  MBAE testified for funding strategies that will make effective use of resources to support a high quality education system that prepares all students to engage successfully in a global economy and society.

MBAE offered recommendations to the Commission which align with our blueprint for a world class education system, The New Opportunity to Lead.  The report, released last year, assessed progress over the past two decades and proposed action for the future based on evidence of what is working around the world.  School funding is a critical lever for all other efforts and initiatives designed to improve schools and student outcomes.

MBAE’s recommendations to the Commission, are rooted in the belief that all students can achieve at the levels necessary to succeed.  We are convinced that changes to the education funding system are required to meet the needs of every student and to provide the added support necessary for those facing obstacles based on language, poverty or other special needs.   To achieve the goal of additional funds for students who require more services, MBAE’s position is that the funds allocated for those students must also be delegated to the schools they attend.  Educators at these schools are in the best position to meet the needs of the student population they serve and should be given greater authority to determine how that money is spent.

In addition, funding must be structured to achieve specific outcomes, such as learning goals set by the state for 4th grade reading levels, graduation rates, and similar expectations, rather than be tied to existing programs.  Finally, Massachusetts must find new ways to assess the effectiveness of public funding for education in order to demonstrate value for taxpayers’ investment and justify further increases in spending.  To achieve this goal, we recommend productivity reviews of schools and districts that ensure every dollar of taxpayers’ money is being used effectively.

These recommendations for student-centered funding; outcomes-based distribution and accountability; and productive investment are aimed at updating our funding strategies to be fair and equitable; help students acquire the knowledge and skills required for a successful future; and ensure we have the talent and workforce our 21st century economy demands.

Co-chaired by Joint Committee on Education Co-Chairs Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz and Representative Alice Peisch, the Foundation Budget Review Commission is due to issue its report in June.  MBAE is represented on the Commission by Board Member Joe Esposito, a CPA and former School Committee member who has served as Chair of the state’s Accountability and Assistance Advisory Council and as a member of its predecessor organization, the Education Management Audit Council (EMAC).  Joe brings professional expertise and knowledge of the state’s governance system to this role and we appreciate the time and energy he has devoted to it.


MBAE Report  – School Funding Reality:  A Bargain Not Kept How is the Foundation Budget Working

Department of Elementary and Secondary Education “Report on the Status of the Public Education Financing System in Massachusetts” July 2013

Foundation Budget Review Commission Members

Massachusetts Municipal Association – Foundation Budget Review Commission Resources Page -Hearing Testimony

Massachusetts Budget & Policy Center – Demystifying Chapter 70

Education Resource Strategies – School Funding Tools – For evaluating funding effectiveness

PARCC Test Fairness and Security

The business community relies heavily on data for measuring and understanding its performance and opportunities.  So, it is no surprise that MBAE has strongly supported the effective use of data to improve instruction and assess the performance of many aspects of our education system.  Regardless of why or how data is collected, it is paramount that student privacy is protected and that aggregate data for schools and districts is secure and safe from unauthorized use.  For this reason, we’ve paid close attention to concerns raised about data and privacy during the field tests of the PARCC assessments.

Opponents of college- and career- ready standards established by the Common Core State Standards, and related assessments, have taken to social media to chastise test developer Pearson for “spying” on students.  They charge Pearson with monitoring student cyberspace activity during the test.

Pearson has issued a statement in response, providing answers to critical questions and saying it is:

“contractually required by states to monitor public conversations on social media to ensure that no assessment information that is secure and not public is improperly disclosed.”

“The security of a test is critical to ensure fairness for all students and teachers and to ensure that the results of any assessment are trustworthy and valid,” the statement said. “But when test questions or elements are posted publicly to the Internet, we are obligated to alert PARCC states.”

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has a policy on collection and use of student data, and the practices for PARCC are similar to what has been in place during the administration of the MCAS exams.  The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC), has also posted its policy on test fairness and security and addressed it in a recent newsletter.  PARCC also points out that the practices it is using are standard for tests such as the SAT and ACT.

When past controversies have arisen over student education data, we have looked to the National Data Quality Campaign for objective information and expert advice about effective use of data to improve student achievement.  The organization has many resources on safeguarding student privacy and issued a statement that emphasized,

“In fact, states using the assessments designed by the consortia (PARCC is one) don’t have any different federal reporting requirements than states using other assessments or other academic standards.”

It is important for parents and all citizens to be vigilant about data safety.  We must also, however, look for verifiable factual information before assuming that every allegation raised about this controversial issue is accurate.

MCAS v PARCC as Indicators of College and Career Readiness

MBAEReport_CoverThis year, Massachusetts will make a decision as monumental as the one made in 1993 when the Commonwealth adopted standards-based education reforms that propelled us to the top of the nation on many measures of student achievement.  Our choice will be whether to continue with the state’s own Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) tests or to replace it with the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC) exams being field-tested in schools this spring.  The decision will be made by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE), which could also propose another course of action.

This is not a new process.  Since education standards, known as the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks, were put in place two decades ago to set common benchmarks for student learning across the state, these have been regularly updated along with the associated MCAS tests.  The most recent version of our standards has been implemented in schools since 2011.  Now, it is time to make sure our assessments are aligned with what is being taught and what students are expected to learn.

The stakes are high for employers who depend on a well-educated and highly skilled workforce to thrive and grow.  What Massachusetts chooses to assess inevitably influences what is taught in schools, how it is taught, which curriculum and materials are used, and, ultimately, whether students graduate ready to succeed.  It is apparent from our high remediation rates at public colleges and universities, and the skills gap that employers contend with daily, that our current measures are not aligned with college and career expectations.

MBAE commissioned this study to determine how well the MCAS and PARCC exams actually indicate college- and career- readiness, what we consider the most important value provided by these tests. We hope this study can focus attention on the need to ensure assessments are aligned with the demands our students will face after high school graduation.  Read the documents below to learn why it is essential that we move beyond “proficiency” as a goal, and instead educate ALL students to be  “future ready” – prepared to succeed on any path they pursue.

Executive Summary

Full Report

Press Release

Learn more about

Building on What Works

BWWClogo_webMassachusetts’ economic vitality and  leadership in innovation depend on the state staying ahead of the national curve in education.  The business community must do all we can to keep our foot on the pedal of progress.  Over the past two decades, we have learned a lot about what all students need to excel.

Unfortunately those opportunities have not been consistently experienced in all of our schools. It’s our obligation to ensure that all children in Massachusetts – no matter who they are or where they live— have access to the innovative learning models that will prepare them for life.

That’s why MBAE is pleased to be part of a new group of mayors, educators, advocates, and business leaders that is working to incentivize and empower communities to provide more students with the kind of teaching and learning that will prepare them to succeed. We are calling for targeted investments in high-quality early childhood education, expanded learning time, and efforts to redesign schools to creatively deploy teacher talent, technology, and public resources.

Our proposal creates a competitive and accountable fund for communities committed to producing tangible results for kids. This approach is the right next step for Massachusetts because it is tightly focused on shared priorities, it is competitive, completely voluntary, targeted to communities with the greatest need, and fiscally responsible. While new leaders on Beacon Hill chart a course forward, this is an immediate step they can take to empower communities and establish a stronger foundation for our kids and their futures.

We hear it all the time – “Massachusetts is consistently the highest performing state on most national measures and ranks among the top performers on international comparisons as well.”  But our progress has slowed, and despite the innovation generated by our thriving high technology and world-class university sectors, we are doing little to encourage similar innovation by PreK-12 educators in the use of time and space, mastery based progression and other approaches to student centered learning.  Meanwhile, utilization of technology in education is literally decades behind almost every other sector.  See our New Opportunity to Lead agenda for more information!

The Building on What Works coalition proposal can jumpstart the creation of demonstrations that can scale rapidly and successfully, providing the opportunity for multiple school models (charter, district, innovation, pilot, etc.) across district lines to come together and collectively support each other’s efforts to improve educational opportunities for students.

Investment in the future can’t stop because fiscal times are tough.  Education is an essential solution to the problems we face.  With a modest investment we can keep the momentum going, build a more sustainable workforce pipeline, and invest in our children and our communities.

Read More:  Press Release and FAQs

Presidential Politics and the Common Core

Karen Nussle, Executive Director of the Collaborative for Student Success recently shared some information we think is worth repeating.  This blog post draws heavily on that information.

With the 2016 presidential campaign already gaining steam, some presidential candidates who originally supported Common Core are now having to explain .

In Iowa last weekend, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who in late 2013, famously implored Common Core backers to “rebrand it, refocus it, but don’t retreat,” argued the state initiative began as “governor-controlled” but is now a federal overreach.

Similarly, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal suggests his new stance on Common Core is the result of federal overreach under the Race to the Top initiative, which in 2011 awarded his state with a $17.4 million grant in exchange for adopting high standards. He makes this argument even though he applied for the grant three times, and in the two years after it was awarded, he never perceived a federal overreach.

Race to the Top provided one-time conditional and competitive grants that were completely voluntary. States had to demonstrate they were implementing “college and career ready” standards, but adopting Common Core was not the only route to doing this.  Participation in Common Core cannot be both voluntary and coerced.

Not all GOP candidates are changing their positions.  Ohio Gov. John Kasich appeared on Fox News Sunday, and criticized GOP leaders for choosing political expediency over good policy:

“These were governors who helped create the Common Core,” he said.

“The Common Core was written by state education superintendents and local principals. In my state of Ohio, we want higher standards for our children, and those standards are set and the curriculum is set by local school boards,” he added. “Barack Obama doesn’t set it. The state of Ohio doesn’t set it. It is local school boards driving better education, higher standards, created by local school boards.”

As many critics – elected and otherwise – remain silent on what they would propose as an alternative to the Common Core State Standards, Nussle has suggested the questions below.  These are some important questions that deserve a response from politicians who have flip-flopped on Common Core:

  1. Are we setting high enough expectations for students today?
  2. Is your concern with the Common Core Standards themselves, or with the federal role? That is, if states could be assured that they have complete autonomy on setting standards, could you support standards like the Common Core?
  3. Have you read the entire Standards document yourself?
  4. Are you satisfied with the academic standards states were using before Common Core came along?
  5. Why does it matter which standards a state uses?
  6. Do you see any benefits from states using the same (or very similar) standards and tests, or are we better off as a country with 50 distinct standards?
  7. If states set their own standards, how do you think this should be done? Who should be responsible for deciding what’s in them?
  8. Given that Common Core is a state-initiated effort, what specific federal steps would you take as President to repeal the Standards in the 43 states that have voluntarily adopted them?
  9. You say Common Core has become a federally controlled program, but as recently as XX years ago, you didn’t feel the same way. Can you tell me exactly what you loved about Common Core when you were full-square behind it, and what new factors exist today that weren’t present when you supported Common Core?
  10. Do you believe it’s possible for a state to create a set of Standards that both bear no resemblance to Common Core, and adequately prepare students for college and career readiness?

The truth is that while the politics around Common Core may have become more challenging to navigate, the standards haven’t changed: states are still in complete control. Most political leaders and educators are resisting pressure to revert to lower standards – not because Washington is compelling them, but because the standards raise the bar for our students.

Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education