In the Constitution adopted in 1780 and in force today, the people of Massachusetts recognized that the “opportunities and advantages of education” were “necessary for the preservation of their rights had liberties,” and directed the representatives of the people to “cherish the interests of literature and the sciences, and all seminaries of them; especially … public schools.” But 200 years later, in 1983, A Nation at Risk warned that the “the educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity [in the nation’s public schools] that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people.”
The Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education (MBAE) was established twenty-five years ago to stem that “tide of mediocrity” in the public schools of the Commonwealth The business leaders who founded MBAE recognized that a well-educated citizenry is essential, not only (or even primarily) to create a pool of skilled employees or customers with money in their pockets, but to sustain the knowledgeable democratic communities in which we all want to live and raise our children. MBAE’s Every Child A Winner (1991) provided the framework for the Massachusetts Education Reform Act of 1993. The implementation of that statute drove improvements in public education to the point that Massachusetts now has the best performing students in the nation, as measured by national and international standardized test results.
But despite these real gains, the steady progress that characterized two decades of education reform in Massachusetts has stalled. We have not closed stubborn achievement gaps between rich and poor, and even our best students lack the knowledge and skills of their counterparts in other advanced countries.
And the stakes are, if anything, even higher than they were when A Nation at Risk sounded the alarm. Demand for skilled talent is intense around the globe. By 2020, the Georgetown Center for Education and the Workforce projects a shortfall of up to 18 million highly skilled workers will exist in advanced economies, including the United States, which could have 1.5 million too few college-educated workers. This challenge is of particular concern in Massachusetts where our knowledge and innovation-based economy is dependent on a well-educated workforce and where demand for workers with postsecondary degrees now outpaces the supply. In STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) disciplines alone, 36,000 fewer associate and baccalaureate degrees will be granted than the Massachusetts workforce will need by 2020.
Massachusetts must face the challenge we face today and not rest on its laurels. To that end, MBAE will promote a plan for the transformation of public education to meet that challenge.
Our plan is deeply influenced by a study being released today. MBAE commissioned Sir Michael Barber and his colleagues at Brightlines to prepare a report that addressed two questions: where does Massachusetts stand against the best educational systems in the world, and what would it take for Massachusetts to become the best in the world at educating students for informed citizenship and productive employment in the 21st Century.