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Public Education In Massachusetts: What It Will Take To Stay On Top

We must create the conditions to unleash greatness. (Send me adrift/ flickr)MoreCloseclosemore
We must create the conditions to unleash greatness. (Send me adrift/ flickr)

If Boston’s bid for the Olympics has taught us anything, it’s that Massachusetts citizens prefer facts over fantasy. When it comes to public policy decisions that impact future generations, we don’t drink the Kool Aid. Instead, we want to understand its key ingredients and what effect it will have on our health as we age.

We are a knowledge-thirsty state, which is why brain power and innovation drive our economy. But if we are to remain on the world stage in terms of knowledge and original thinking, we must face this fact: Massachusetts’ position in academic achievement is not keeping pace with the best-performing education systems around the globe.

Massachusetts’ position in academic achievement is not keeping pace with the best-performing education systems around the globe.

Over the past two years, the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education, which represents the business community’s interests in public education, consulted with world-renowned education experts and examined systems in other countries that are advancing, particularly in terms of skills preparedness. The result of the examination was a blue print for education redesign called “The New Opportunity to Lead.” It started by asking us to challenge our own perceptions of greatness.

To be sure, we should be proud of our past performance and our ranking relative to other states. But the 2013 National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) results  indicate that Massachusetts’ performance in fourth grade reading has actually declined. The 10 year improvement trends in NAEP show the Bay State in the middle of the pack. International comparisons from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) show that Massachusetts is a long way behind the world’s top performing systems, and without significant acceleration, we can expect to stand still in rank order.

To be a global leader 20 years from now will require a higher percentage of students topping the international tables for tests in core academic subjects. It will also require that all young people leave Massachusetts’ school systems genuinely college and career ready with the competencies needed for lifelong learning and active citizenship. On that score we are a long way off our mark.

A survey conducted for us by MassINC indicated that 69 percent of Massachusetts employers say they are having difficulty hiring employees with the right skills for the positions they have available. By 2020, 72 percent of jobs in Massachusetts will require a career certificate or college degree, yet 38 percent of students entering Massachusetts public colleges and universities are unprepared for college level work. What these facts tell us is that our education pipeline is inadequate for future needs, and the threat that poses to our economy should be far more concerning than holding on to past records.

you can mandate adequacy, but you cannot mandate greatness.

One of the most important insights we got from the study was that you can mandate adequacy, but you cannot mandate greatness. Instead, you must create the right conditions to unleash it. This involves giving schools greater flexibility, supporting peer learning, improving teacher preparedness, and creating new opportunities for teacher advancement.

Massachusetts citizens and leaders have to decide how willing we are to do what it takes to stay among the top of the world on education. We have to confront whether we are bold enough to evolve and move beyond our past glory. MBAE welcomes everyone who had the vision to look to the future — whether in support or opposition of the Olympics — and invites you to join us in seizing the opportunity we have to ensure our students a world class education by 2024.

Related:

Bill Walczak Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Bill Walczak is CEO of the South End Community Health Center. He is also the chairman of the board of the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education.

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