| 
  • If you are citizen of an European Union member nation, you may not use this service unless you are at least 16 years old.

  • Files spread between Dropbox, Google Drive, Gmail, Slack, and more? Dokkio, a new product from the PBworks team, integrates and organizes them for you. Try it for free today.

View
 

Committee on Education and the Workforce

Page history last edited by PBworks 13 years ago

U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Education and the Workforce

Hearing on "High School Reform: Examining State and Local Efforts"

05-17-2005

 

Mr. Chairman, Members of the Committee,

 

I want to start by commending the Committee for your decision to engage in what I consider to be the greatest challenge facing our nation – how to remain the world leader in intellectual capital. Slowly, yet systematically, the advantage the United States has in producing and retaining the thought leaders of our world has been eroded. We are, I believe, at an inflection point that will determine whether America remains a strong and viable leader in a global world economy or whether, like Great Britain before us, we will allow other countries to become the drivers of innovation while the United States slowly fades into a nation of shopkeepers.

 

If we are to remain the global leader in innovation, we must have a strong educational and research and development system at every level. The attention that we have given to K-8 education over the last few years, and the attention that is now being given to early childhood education, provides the foundation for our high school and higher education systems. Now, however, it is time to turn focused attention on high school reform – and ensure that the pipeline of students going from our high schools into our colleges and universities are ready to compete on a world stage in the critical areas of math and science. I also commend the Committee for recognizing that this is neither a partisan nor a regional issue, but a national one, and I am pleased that Governor Tom Vilsack is here with me today on this panel.

 

Massachusetts has been a leader in education for the past decade. Our efforts actually pre-dated the No Child Left Behind act, and served as the basis for much of that legislation. We have been called the "poster child of NCLB", and I’m pleased to report that our schools in Massachusetts are making terrific progress, with 90% meeting or exceeding NCLB requirements. I applaud you for being steadfast in holding the nation’s schools to higher standards. Today, I want to talk about how we might do even better.

 

The progress we’ve made in Massachusetts is due to our landmark Education Reform Act of 1993. There are four major elements of that law: funding, standards, assessment, and accountability.

 

First, to pave the way for what followed, we made a commitment to funding our schools in a more equitable way. We put a formula in place that determined a "foundation" or minimum level of funding for each student, and another formula to determine how much of that cost should be borne by state versus local government. Over ten years, we increased state aid to education in Massachusetts by $2.2 billion. This was an average growth rate of 8.5% per year, two to three times faster than the growth of the rest of state government. Even through the recent fiscal crisis, we have maintained our commitment to fund every community at that foundation level or above.

 

This eliminated the gap in per pupil spending between high poverty and low poverty districts. According to Education Trust, Massachusetts now leads the country in spending more in high poverty communities.

 

Next, we set clear statewide standards for all students at every grade level. We are seen as a national leader in curriculum frameworks, and are proud to have set some of the highest standards in the nation.

 

Then, we implemented a statewide assessment system- called the MCAS- that tests students on the statewide standards. This includes elementary schools – as in NCLB – but also high schools. Critics of standardized testing say it leads to "teaching to the test," but we believe a good test is worth teaching to. Our 10th grade math exam tests for understanding in algebra, geometry, and statistics, among other areas. It includes both well-crafted multiple choice questions, as well as open-ended questions, where students must show their work – just like any good classroom test. Since algebra is in many ways the gateway to higher learning, it is important that both middle and high school testing stress algebra, to drive early course-taking.

 

For science and technology, we test all elementary and middle school students, and we are also now piloting state tests in high school. We offer subject tests in biology and chemistry for 10th-grade students who have taken these courses. We also offer state exams for 9th and 10th graders on introductory physics and on technology and engineering, which I believe is quite notable. In previous generations, students typically took physics in grade 12, if at all, and the curriculum rarely featured technology and engineering. We believe our assessment program will start to drive instruction toward introducing physics at an earlier level – which is critical, since it is the basis of all modern science, the foundation for chemistry and biology. Similarly, technology and engineering will enter the curriculum – and help motivate students who have a natural hands-on interest in building and inventing things.

 

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, education reform must feature accountability. This includes both student accountability and adult accountability.

 

Since the class of 2003, passing the 10th-grade MCAS in both English and Math has been a graduation requirement, and we now have 96% of our high school students reaching that goal. If I had to single out one feature that has played the greatest role in mobilizing our system and focusing attention on academic achievement, particularly in disadvantaged districts, this would be it. We faced a lot of opposition, particularly from the teachers’ unions and some suburban districts, when we first implemented the test as a graduation requirement, but thanks to a firm bipartisan commitment by Democratic legislative leaders and Republican governors, we stayed the course.

 

This took some guts – and a lot of faith in our students and teachers -- because the early pilot test results were not promising. As this chart shows, half the students were failing the math exam. But in the run-up to 2001, when the 10th-grade tests started counting for graduation, things changed. Students and teachers focused their efforts; schools changed practices in myriad ways, including such measures as double-blocks in math and English. The state appropriated tens of millions of dollars for remedial programs – including after-school and summer programs – to make up for deficiencies that existed before standards took hold. The result of this concerted effort was a dramatic improvement, particularly in our urban districts. There was a huge 20-percentage point jump in 2001, when students, teachers, and the state knew it was going to matter. The picture is similar for English.

 

So, I would urge other states that are facing similar challenges to stay the course. NCLB does not require you to institute a graduation requirement, but it has proven to be critical to improvement in Massachusetts.

 

Realizing that other skills besides English and math are critical, especially in my state’s high tech economy, I recently asked our Board of Education to add science to our high school graduation requirements, and the Class of 2010 will be the first that must pass at least one of the science subject exams I mentioned, in order to graduate.

 

In addition to student accountability, of course we need a system for adult accountability, to track both school and district performance. It was one of the first approved under NCLB, just a year after passage of the law, and is now a national model.

 

With all this good news, it might be tempting to declare victory, but while we may be leading the country, the bad news is we’re lagging the world.

 

Compared to other industrialized countries, our Massachusetts graduation requirement is the equivalent of an eighth grade education. On an international scorecard, U.S. 4th graders start out in the middle of the pack on math, then fall to the bottom third by 8th grade, and by 12th grade we’re among the worst 10%. As a recent story in Education Week put it, if this were the US medals count in the Olympics, it would be a national embarrassment.

 

Amazingly, these rankings don’t even include the countries that are our real competition. India and China, in the words of Tom Friedman’s latest book, just brought three billion more people onto the playing field.

 

If we are going to compete in the global economy, we have to set our education goals higher. Gone are the days of a manufacturing-based economy when an eighth grade education was enough. The new millennium demands a higher educational standard for our children, and the speed with which we reach that standard will define the future of this country.

 

Sadly, I am not the first to say this. In fact, very similar calls for education reform are almost constant, dating back to the 1800’s. The difference is the pace of change. Until now, we could afford to move slowly, to tinker, to experiment, to work around the edges of our educational system. Today, our economy is transforming itself at a blistering pace, and our schools are stuck at the starting line.

 

So what do we do? Some will say we need to spend more money, and certainly that can help. In Massachusetts we brought all low-spending districts up to a foundation level of spending, which helped those districts achieve the results I’ve described. But beyond a certain point, we’ve found that, after controlling for demographics, there is no correlation between spending and student performance.

 

For example, the city of Cambridge spends almost twice the state average on each of their students, and they still score in the bottom 10%.

 

So, you might say, well then it’s the demographics. Poor and minority kids in urban communities just can’t be expected to do as well as their suburban counterparts.

 

Well, we’ve found that that is simply not the case either. In fact, in one Massachusetts community, and in many others just like it, you can find two schools with similar demographics and similar funding that are getting dramatically different results.

 

One school has just 3% of its students scoring proficient in math, but the other, with very similar students, has 74%. Similarly, at the high school level, Springfield’s Sabis International Charter School has reached over 60% proficiency in math. We have a few other urban high schools that are achieving 90% math proficiency rates, despite high concentrations of poverty. This includes both district and charter schools, such as Worcester’s University Park Campus School and Boston’s Academy of the Pacific Rim charter school. We have to ask what leads to this high level of achievement. What secrets to success do these schools hold?

 

The interesting thing is they’re not really secrets. We’ve found that most studies of successful schools -- both district and charter schools -- have five key criteria in common, and they’re not going to surprise you. Good leaders, great teachers, data-driven decision-making, parent involvement, and high expectations for all students are at the top of every list.

 

These may seem obvious, but in too many districts they’re not the focus. The challenge is making sure schools know that those are the things that will make the difference, and getting the management tools and skilled staff in place to focus on them.

 

First, good leaders. I’ve seen a lot of organizations rise and fall, and I’ll tell you that their fortunes follow the ability of the leader. Schools are desperately in need of qualified, competent people who are front and center focusing on the goals of that school’s students, and making sure that message gets through to every person in that school- the teachers, the kids, the librarians, the guidance counselors. Everyone needs to know what’s expected of them to make that school successful and help every kid reach their full potential. But high expectations are only as good as the manager’s ability to make necessary changes, and unless we give school managers the tools to lead their schools – freedom from overly prescriptive union contracts and excessive bureaucratic constraints -- we can’t expect to attract the best people.

 

Next, great teachers, and the same really goes for them. If we don’t give them the opportunities and rewards they expect and deserve, we can’t expect to attract and retain the most talented among us to teach. A recent report by the Education Trust concluded that "money alone will not ensure that more students reach high standards -- or that we will close the achievement gap . . . states and schools need to reform the way teachers are educated, assigned, evaluated, and paid." I couldn’t agree more. We have a teaching crisis in America, both in terms of quantity and quality. In Massachusetts, almost a third of our teachers will retire in the next five years, and we just don’t have the people coming in to replace them.

 

We especially need to improve the math and science preparation of our teachers. Massachusetts has raised standards for teacher licensure, through testing for subject knowledge, particularly for middle and high school teachers. And we have brought mid-career high-tech professionals into the classroom, both as career-changers and as resources for our teachers. But for elementary teachers, where the focus has rightly been on literacy instruction, subject knowledge in math and science is often weak. We need to bring that up through strong math and science courses appropriate for prospective elementary school teachers. Some of our arts and sciences faculty have begun to develop these courses, but we need all of our new teachers to take them. It’s not good enough for our 4th-graders to run in the middle of the international pack: we need them to be tops in math and science, to have a good start for the rest of the race.

 

Teaching is less and less attractive to bright students fresh out of college – particularly in math and science -- who are used to working in a team-oriented, performance-driven environment. Our schools today are set up in a manufacturing model, where teachers teach in isolation from their colleagues, aren’t given the support or information they need to be successful, and have no opportunities for advancement or better pay unless they leave the classroom for administration. We’ve actually set up a system that discourages new teachers from coming in, and only provides incentives for the best teachers to leave the classroom. To attract and retain better teachers, we need to make teaching a profession again. We need to reward performance, and give teachers opportunities to take on new responsibilities without having to leave the classroom altogether.

 

Teachers have proven that when given the opportunity to work with school leaders, in devising creative solutions, free from rigid work rules, they will set high performance standards for themselves and their colleagues and put the needs of their students first. Yet the structure the teaching profession operates under in this country treats them as if they are line employees at a manufacturing plant turning out uniform widgets, rather than professionals managing complex and ever-changing responsibilities. In Boston, we recently reached a new low on this front. Even after 97% of the Gardner School’s teachers voted to convert their school to a form of charter school, the teachers’ union vetoed the change. Without explanation, the union President blocked what the whole faculty of that school had agreed was best for its students. I wonder how we can let this continue. I wonder how any union contract can provide that kind of authority. I wonder why union negotiations never include hot debates about how well we want our students to do that year, or what level of performance we expect from our teachers. Instead, we spend endless hours bargaining over exactly what minute of the day teachers will stop work, or what step or lane in the salary grid they can reach by what year. These contracts give teachers no flexibility to adapt to the unique needs of their students or school and no incentive to excel. The profession of teaching has slowly been transformed into just another job – something we can’t afford if we are to retain our lead against our global competitors.

 

The third element of success is good data, and I know this will seem mundane, but it amazes me that something we see as fundamental in making business decisions is not viewed as equally critical in education. Teachers need better information in a real-time way to help them gear their instruction to each of their students. We have systems now that can tell you what level a student comes in at, where she should be at the end of the year, and how well she’s hitting all the marks in between. Good data is important for all our students, including our best and brightest students, so teachers are aware of their potential and don’t neglect them in an effort to get other kids over the minimum standard.

 

Fourth, parents are every child’s first teacher, and their involvement is critical to every student’s success. In Massachusetts, I’ve proposed mandatory parental involvement through our state’s child care system, and encouraged schools to find other ways to get the right messages out there- what kind of TV to watch, how important it is to read to your children, and to help them with their homework.

 

Finally, and most importantly, we have to set high expectations for all of our children, and make sure those expectations are understood and aligned from the Superintendent right down to the classroom teacher. We’ve added another reason to reach higher in Massachusetts recently. I urged our Board of Higher Education to create the John and Abigail Adams Scholarship, and now every high school student who scores in the top 25% of the state on the MCAS, and in the top 25% for their school, can go to any state college or the University of Massachusetts tuition-free. These scholarships will give all students a reason to try harder, and reward our best and brightest for their achievements.

 

We have made great strides in Massachusetts over the past 10 years in ensuring that all students reach a minimum standard. We have successfully raised the floor, but the time has come to raise the ceiling, and start focusing as much effort on our highest achievers –and also those in the middle -- as we have on our lowest. We need better leaders, more opportunities for teachers to be supported and rewarded for the work they do, and more parents getting involved. We need every student to have all the skills they need to get them ready for the challenges of the new economy.

 

Thank you, and I’d be happy to take questions.

Comments (0)

You don't have permission to comment on this page.