Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education

Governor’s Education Funding Plan Needs More Work

Whether or not you agree with the revenue proposals in Governor Patrick’s FY14 state budget, business leaders can support the priority given to improving education from pre-K through higher ed.  A high quality education system is an engine of economic growth.  In his arguments for new education revenue and spending, the governor rightly reminds us that Massachusetts is not on pace to sufficiently prepare all students for the jobs that exist now or those that will be created in the coming years.  Getting us on track will require hard choices and firm commitment over the long haul.  The financial constraints confronted by the state, by schools and by families require us to consider new approaches to how we fund and operate our schools and educate our students.

Our first school finance challenge is to determine whether the significant investment taxpayers already make in education is being used effectively and to ensure that spending decisions are based on strong evidence of what is working – not simply what we’ve been doing in the past.  That’s why MBAE supports the establishment of a Foundation Budget Review Commission (a provision of the Education Reform Act of 1993) as proposed by Joint Committee on Education Co-Chairs Rep. Alice Peisch and Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz and Rep. Jason Lewis.

The persistent challenges we face, however, cannot be solved by money alone.   Great teachers and school leaders are the key to improving student outcomes.  We must transform our teacher preparation programs, evaluation and compensation systems to ensure the best and brightest are in every classroom across the state.  In addition, the digital revolution which has transformed many other industries is now at the door of education.  How to use technology to support teachers, improve student outcomes, and leverage shrinking budgets is a key question for policy makers and educators today.

We are not convinced that money is the problem – or the solution – when it comes to closing achievement gaps and graduating every student ready for their future.  But, we are committed to finding out.  The business community has great expertise in these matters and we need your help to identify the most effective and efficient ways to utilize education resources to reach these goals.  We’re glad that the governor has issued the call to focus on this discussion and urge you to join MBAE in being part of the conversation.  Contact us to get involved!

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For analysis of the FY14 Budget from two of MBAE’s partner business organizations, read the statement from Associated Industries of Massachusetts and information from the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation.

You can also find information about the education section of the budget proposal in the Massachusetts Budget & Policy Center’s Budget Monitor.

 

Is Massachusetts on Track to Meet Race to the Top Goals?

One year ago, Massachusetts was awarded a $250 million Race to the Top grant that required implementation of far-reaching and some controversial policies with the goal of completing the unfinished work of education reform – closing achievement gaps and raising student achievement to the levels demanded by our global economy.  One year later, what has been accomplished?  Are we meeting benchmarks and are we on track to deliver results?  What has changed in Massachusetts classrooms?

The Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education is answering these critical questions.  Year One, Race to the Top in Massachusetts: An Education Progress Report, finds that while the State has largely met its promises for Year One, its ability to meet the overall goals of the Race to the Top agenda will hinge on whether schools and districts fulfill their individual commitments to the state’s vision and whether the state has the capacity to assist districts in meeting this expectation.  The report tracks progress on several key initiatives, including implementation of the Common Core State Standards and a new evaluation system for teachers and administrators, and outlines the successes and challenges of Massachusetts’ first year of Race to the Top.

Highlights of our findings include:

  • Quality control needs to be strengthened.  The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education must  focus not only on whether districts meet goals and benchmarks, but more importantly on how well they do the job.
  • Focusing on getting great teachers and great leaders in every school is the foundation of meeting every other Race to the Top goal.  The state must prioritize the creation of a specialized corps of teachers and principals to turn around low performing schools.
  • The state needs ongoing indicators throughout the school year to measure whether district implementationof the Common Core State Standards is actually occuring.
  • In the area of using data systems to improve instruction, the state needs to make up for delays due to procurement and staffing.  The focus should be on creating tools for teachers to analyze and use their students’ data.

This report was made possible with support from EMC Corporation and Associated Industries of Massachusetts.

Over $2 billion in federal ARRA money has been awarded to MA, where has it all gone?

At the beginning of the year, I raised concerns about whether ARRA funds are really making a difference in advancing education reform efforts in Massachusetts.  Since then, I’ve dug deeper into where all the money has gone and I’ve found that we are still waiting for investments in reform efforts that will create long lasting results.

Massachusetts received approximately $994.2 million through the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund (SFSF), the largest source of ARRA funding to enter the state.  With this money, Massachusetts promised it would implement specific education reform initiatives, yet approximately $856.8 million has been spent on, and the rest allocated to, offsetting budget shortfalls and ensuring that school districts receive foundation-level funding.

While it is praiseworthy that we have increased fiscal stability in the K-12 and higher education systems, I’m concerned that the State is left with a small fraction of the original funding to achieve critical reform objectives.  Will the $250 million Race to the Top award and a couple of other smaller grants like the Teacher Incentive Fund and the Investing in Innovation grants, be enough to fulfill the promises made to establish a longitudinal data system; enhance the quality of academic assessments and standards; increase teacher effectiveness; and turn around the lowest performing schools?

SFSF money was meant to be spent quickly and to stabilize budgets, yet spending decisions could and should have been made strategically in order to also meet reform objectives.  Unfortunately, federal guidelines did not require, but rather, simply encouraged local education agencies to use resources in ways most likely to advance the four education reform assurances.  As a result, state and federal reporting provides little information about whether districts spent their money to meet reform objectives or to simply fill in budget holes.

It’s been about seven months since Massachusetts was awarded the $250 million Race to the Top funding and it’s still unclear how the money has been spent or how the state plans on monitoring and reporting Massachusetts’ progress in implementing all that it promised in its winning proposal.  We must keep pressure on our state to ensure reform goals are met.  If we don’t, we will have missed a great opportunity to make the necessary impact on improving our education system and raising student achievement for every child in the Commonwealth.

FY 2012 Budget Shows Promise and Pause for Ed Reform

With the Governor’s release of his FY2012 budget, it is encouraging to see education as one of his top priorities.  By increasing education funding by 5%, the Governor is clearly committed to sustaining the state’s leadership in student achievement.  However, what’s left unanswered for me is how much of this additional state money is really building our education system rather than simply replacing the loss of funds from other sources?

The good news is, some of it will address previously unmet needs.  About $4.8 million new money will go to non-Chapter 70 aid for K-12 education.  Most notably, about $3 million of that will go to supporting achievement gap related programs.  Our state continues to face pervasive disparities between student achievement and this new fund brings urgency and necessary attention to addressing these disparities.  In addition, the $4.8 million new money provides increased funding for programs including MCAS low-scoring student support and targeted intervention in underperforming schools.

What’s unclear is how far the $140 million increase in Chapter 70 aid will go in advancing new education reforms rather than simply keeping up with inflation and rising health care costs in each district.  According to Mass Budget, although the $140 million is an increase over last year’s appropriation, the amount is actually $81 million below the current FY2011 total funding level, including federal funds.  In no way do I want to diminish the feat of maintaining education fund levels, especially during tough economic times, but it seems that the increase in education funding won’t go as far as some of the public pronouncements may imply.

What’s worse is that state accountability is underfunded again this year.  From FY 2011’s final budget to FY 2012’s budget, funding for the state’s district school accountability work only increased by $3,621 from $939,083 to $942,704.  For years, MBAE has fought to protect the $3 million previously allocated to the Office of Education Quality and Accountability (EQA) and sufficient funds for its successor agency – the School and District Accountability and Assistance – to meet its statutory mandate of at least 40 district reviews.  With over $8 billion going into education each year, we need a strong accountability system that ensures that the money is spent effectively and does what it claims to do to benefit our students.  Accountability should be a key priority and it’s disappointing to see that the budget does not reflect that.

To end on a brighter note, I applaud the Governor’s health care reform proposals that will provide tools to help cities and municipalities better manage their health care costs and achieve potential cost-savings of more than $94 million in year one.  It has become apparent that health care costs are a paramount education issue, as highlighted by our school funding report, and it’s encouraging to see the Governor address this head on.

The proposed budget looks promising but also has some holes in it.  I will be watching with great interest as the budget debate goes forward.

ARRA: Just a Quick Fix or Long-Term Reform?

With a projected $1.5 billion to $2 billion budget gap this year, there will be scrutiny of past spending as the Massachusetts legislature begins its new session with balancing the budget at the top of its agenda.

It’s been almost two years since the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) was signed into law but what do we have to show for it?  ARRA included more than $70 billion in funding for public elementary and secondary schools and institutions of higher education, which is more than the entire annual budget of the US Department of Education; yet, according to a report by the Bellwether Education Partners, most districts around the country have made little education reform progress with this money.

The report finds that districts have used these funds to simply maintain their status quo by filling in gaps where state and local budgets were cut to preserve existing programs, services, and educator jobs.  For example, in Massachusetts, the state used its State Fiscal Stabilization Fund (SFSF) under ARRA to cover the $412 million cut from its state aid to K-12 schools.  Nonetheless, Massachusetts is also cited as among the few states that sets a good example.  According to the report, for example, Boston used ARRA funds to make one-time investments it would not have otherwise been able to make on a new literacy strategy designed to improve literacy and language acquisition for English language learners.

Additionally, Boston took advantage of ARRA funds to help smooth the transition to new spending patterns and cost structures by exploring a multi-year budgeting cycle that would allow for better enrollment and budget forecasts and by working towards reducing the number of small and under-enrolled schools.  As a result, leaders expect to free up millions of dollars.  Boston demonstrates that there are innovative ways that districts can use ARRA money in order to find efficiencies and implement new programs that they were unable to do before due to a lack of resources.

The Bellwether report found that most districts, by using ARRA funds to meet current fiscal challenges and current spending patterns, will face even greater budget challenges in the future when ARRA money runs out.  Instead, schools should look to districts like Boston that are using ARRA funds strategically to advance reform goals and emulate their practices.  The Bellwether report also identifies key themes throughout the nation that characterize where districts stand under ARRA and discusses the implications that these themes have on education policy.

With time and money quickly running out, this report is a little disheartening.  So much money has been allocated to education under ARRA, yet, there doesn’t seem to be a huge breakthrough in education reform as a result.  I hope that this report will awaken districts across the nation and encourage them to reevaluate how they spend education funds in the future.  Now is a time of great opportunity for districts to change the course of education reform and begin reform initiatives that will last long after ARRA funds run out.

Read the full report here and keep track of ARRA funds in Massachusetts, MBAE regularly updates its chart of key funding opportunities the state has been awarded available through ARRA here!

Massachusetts Leads the Way on New Tests

The usual critics have come forward to warn that the state’s leadership of a consortium that will be developing assessments tied to the Common Core State Standards is the end of MCAS.  This judgment is premature given  newspaper reports that quote state leaders contradicting this conclusion and a strong statement by Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester that “…if the PARCC assessments are not stronger than MCAS, we will not hesitate to walk away.” Further, Massachusetts Secretary of Education, Paul Reville, has released a statement wherein he states that as a matter of state law “There will always be an MCAS”.

MBAE Executive Director, Linda Noonan, was at the American Diploma Project meeting when U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, announced that the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) would receive a $170 million grant to develop the next generation of assessments. PARCC is a consortium of states chaired by Massachusetts Commissioner Mitchell Chester, and led by a governing board of 10 states and the District of Columbia. Florida serves as the “fiscal agent” for the group, which will partner with Achieve, to develop assessments based on the Common Core State Standards.

Two different consortia received awards under the federal governments Race to the Top: Assessments Program. PARCC and the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) will create comprehensive testing regimes with testing in grades 3-8 and at least one testing period in high school. While SBAC is engaged in perfecting the end-of-course exam through the use of adaptive computer testing, PARCC is using a combination of end-of-course exams and “through-course” assessments which will provide educators with information on student progress through the year. One of the goals, as expressed in PARCC’s grant application is for “Teachers [to] have an assessment system that provides as much for them as it asks from them.”

Participation in an assessment consortium was one way that states could garner points in the Race to the Top application. In the first round of Race to the Top six different consortia were joined by applicants, with some states participating in all six. Ultimately, only three consortia applied for funding, PARCC, SBAC, and the State Consortium on Board Examination Systems (SCOBES) which was competing for a smaller award which would fund solely high school course assessments.

While the main Race to the Top program stole the headlines and energized a nationwide education reform effort, the assessment competition is a critical part of ensuring that the reforms discussed today have a lasting impact in the future. Massachusetts’ Race to the Top plans envision an expansive and powerful teaching and learning system that will allow teachers to access near real time data on student progress and help better prepare students for life after high school. This effort hinges on having assessments that are integrated into courses, are anchored in college and career readiness goals, and do more than call on students to answer multiple choice questions and fill out bubble sheets.

The MCAS is an important tool for evaluating whether or not students have achieved proficiency in basic skills, but was not meant to serve as a test of college and career readiness, course mastery, or an interim measure of student progress. In it’s 2008 report, Educating a 21st Century Workforce, MBAE called for the creation of college and career benchmarked assessments, as well as a system of end-of-course assessments that would test subject matter mastery. We are hopeful that Massachusetts’ leading role in PARCC will allow Massachusetts to gain partners and funds to develop the next generation of assessments, while maintaining its strong commitment to rigorous standards and assessments.

‘Surprises’ in Race to the Top

As the Deputy Director at MBAE, one of the main projects has been tracking, evaluating, and summarizing the education stimulus programs of which Race to the Top (RTTT) is, by far, the most high profile. As such, I’ve gotten quite familiar with the program, the state’s application, and the reporting around both.

So, when my colleague, Linda, referred to this as a cynical post, I’d like to think that it’s not because I’m an overtly cynical person, just that I’m too immersed in the details to be as swept up in celebration. Not to say that there isn’t cause for celebration. Massachusetts has announced over $400 million (between Race to the Top and EduJobs) in additional education funding just last week. Further, as a winning state, Massachusetts has a powerful  four year plan for education reform – with significant investments in data infrastructure and policy change that will outlast the four year grant.

Now, however, the focus is on winners, losers, and the future of the Race to the Top program. In Round 1, most losing states accepted reviewer criticism and looked forward to Round 2 where more grants would be awarded. Unfortunately, in Round 2 there’s not much looking forward, and a lot more controversy around the loss. Notably absent from the winner’s circle were Colorado and Louisiana, two states that had made newsworthy strides towards reforming their education systems. New Jersey’s Commissioner of Education has lost his job in the wake of an application error that cost the state 5 points and $400 million. These specific cases sidestep the overall eastern state bias of the results, with Hawaii, a state that opted for teacher furloughs to balance its education budget, the only winner west of the Mississippi.

None of the above should diminish the impact of the Race to the Top program which has achieved remarkable results from relatively limited funds. And, with any luck, it won’t. Multiple states have crafted education reform agendas, changed laws and regulations, and generally ‘enjoyed’ a resurgence of education reform advocacy.

It seems to me, however, that a third round of Race to the Top – or integration of an annual RTTT into the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) – is unlikely at best and a replay of the sweeping changes brought about by the ‘09-’10 competition – impossible. The winning states have got their money, and, as was the case for the Round 1 winners, are probably ineligible to compete in later rounds. The losing states fall into 2 categories – those that never entered the competition in the first place (and aren’t going to become fans now) and those that just got burned by the Round 2 results. Neither group is likely to back further competitive funding for states with better “grant writers”. With the passage of the EduJobs bill (which had a budget almost twice that of Race to the Top) states and schools have a clear example of an alternate route to the federal funds that everyone will be clamoring for as the stimulus money runs dry in FY11 and FY12.

Again, the impact of Race to the Top on the education reform landscape has been monumental, and here in Massachusetts it has the potential to pay huge dividends – but for states that ran and lost, it will be quite some time before they’ll run again…

Massachusetts Wins in Race to the Top!

We won!  The long wait and speculation is over – AP is reporting that Massachusetts has been designated a winner in the second round of Race to the Top!  Other winners are DC, FL, GA, HI, MD, NC, NY, OH and RI!  Official announcement from the U.S. Department of Education hasn’t been made yet, but MBAE is thrilled that the state has this opportunity to accelerate education reform and the money is going to be a big help, too.

There was disappointment and horror in the Bay State when Massachusetts, with a national reputation for high quality education, lost out to Tennessee and Delaware in Phase 1 of Race to the Top.  But, it provided the kick in the pants we needed to change a process-oriented laundry list into a more coherent vision setting specific goals to meet measurable outcomes.

With the blogosphere and Twitter frenzy about the leaks, the rumors and the news, there is a lot more to come!  At the moment, it appears we may have gotten our full $250 million request.

MBAE is most excited about those programs that hold the greatest promise for improving Massachusetts education systems to guarantee every child graduates ready for college, career and citizenship:

  • MassCore, a comprehensive college/career preparatory curriculum that will become the default curriculum in the state’s high schools;
  • Common Core standards and assessments supplemented with Massachusetts’ specific standards will ensure that our state’s are still one of the most rigorous in the nation;
  • Educator evaluation and compensation systems capable of recognizing and developing effective teachers through appropriate use of student performance data and other measures;
  • Dropout prevention programs, including an Early Warning Information System, to provide early identification and support that can lead to improved statewide practices;
  • A Turnaround Corps of teachers and school leaders trained and committed to improving underperforming schools will provide targeted assistance to the schools most in need.

The Race to the Top program has created unprecedented energy and activity in education reform across the country.  Massachusetts should step up to a leadership role in this movement and take advantage of the momentum that can carry the state forward until every student in the Commonwealth gets a high quality education!

Massachusetts Organizations Win Millions Investing in Innovation

Update: The Department of Education has made their official announcement of the i3 grant winners – no changes from the leaked report, but they have posted a summary of characteristics of the winners as well as answers to frequently asked questions about the highest rated applicants.

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The U.S. Department of Education has announced 49 winners in its $650 million Investing in Innovation (i3) grant program. The i3 program, part of the larger American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), delivered three ‘tiers’ of grants:

  • “Scale-up” grants of $50 million for programs that have the potential to reach hundreds of thousands of students and have strong evidence of success;
  • “Validation” grants of $30 million are for programs with “good evidence” of their impact that are ready to expand and increase their evidence base; and
  • “Development” grants of $5 million are available to support programs that have a high potential for success but need further study.

Over 2,000 organizations submitted letters of intent to apply, and the Department ultimately received 1,698 applications. Of these, only 49 applications were chosen as ‘winners’. This list of winners was leaked on August 4th and Education Week posted a list of the highest rated applications. There is some hedging around referring to these organizations as ‘winners’ because the i3 program requires all grantees to raise matching funds equal to 20% of the grant. The highest ranked applicants have until September 8th, 2010 to raise the funds or receive a waiver from the Department of Education.

There were only four winners for the largest, Scale Up, grants – Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP), Ohio State University’s Reading Recovery Program, the Success for All Foundation, and Teach for America. In Massachusetts  five organizations received grants.  The President and Fellows of Harvard College have won a $12 million Validation Grant for Project READS. The Bay State Reading Institute, Boston Plan for Excellence, Achievement Network, and Plymouth Public Schools each qualified for a $5 million Development Grant.

You can find further information about the various applicants and applications on the Investing in Innovation Data page.

Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education