Changes in state education policy possible – BayStateBanner | Team Cansler

With just five months left in Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration, Baker and Secretary of Education James Peyser made a move that raised eyebrows by replacing two members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE), the body that governs state policy votes and decides who will serve as Commissioner of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE).

Both outgoing members, Amanda Fernandez and James Morton, had lapsed terms, but politicians often leave government posts vacant in the months leading up to a new government as a courtesy.

Their successors, business consultant Farzana Mohamed and Tricia Canavan, CEO of a non-profit economic development organization, both come from the business world.

Baker and Peyser’s move in July effectively put the stamp of the outgoing administration on state education policy for at least the next few years, and diminished Governor-elect Maura Healey’s ability to influence critical decisions, such as whether Baker-appointed Jeff Riley is to be retained as Education Commissioner – a power that rests in the hands of BESE members.

“If Baker and Peyser had been gentlemen, they would have ignored it [the board members’] The term had expired,” said American Federation of Teachers President Beth Kontos.

Kontos noted that both members opposed placing Boston Public Schools (BPS) under receivership, a move that would have seen DESE remove the district from the control of the BPS superintendent and school board and appoint a superintendent, Riley would report.

Regardless of the reason for her dismissal, Fernandez’s case came rather abruptly. She reportedly received a call from Peyser telling her that her term had ended and that she was not to attend the June 28 board meeting.

Then, in August, the board voted to increase the minimum score for the state MCAS exam to meet state degree requirements, enforcing another policy change for the Healey administration to implement and possess.

Kontos sees the policy change coming in the 11th hour of Baker and Peyser’s eight-year term as an attempt to redouble the principles of corporate education reform they have long supported — using MCAS exam scores as the primary means of measuring effectiveness used by schools and school districts and drive school takeovers in the predominantly low-income, low-scoring schools.

“I think under the Baker administration, they are pro-test, pro-punishment and pro-corporate,” Kontos said.

What will DESE do?

On her campaign website, Healey has staked out positions that conflict with those who have supported Baker and Peyser. The website notes that Healey opposed Polling Question 2 of 2016, which would have removed the charter school cap in Massachusetts. Baker supported the question, which lost by a wide margin at the ballot box.

Healey also says she supports the Massachusetts Consortium for Innovative Education Assessment, a group trying to move beyond the state’s current focus on the MCAS exam as the primary means of assessing schools and districts.

With the recent board appointments, Baker and Peyser’s philosophy could endure for a while longer.

DESE is facing major challenges. The agency has placed three entire school districts under receivership – Lawrence, Holyoke and Southbridge. DESE has also placed a cohort of schools in Springfield in what it calls an empowerment zone, where schools are largely free from county control. But so far none of the interventions have resulted in substantial progress. Students at the nine Springfield Empowerment Zone Partnership Tests schools are well below the county average, and Southbridge, Holyoke, and Lawrence (which have been in receivership for more than 10 years) are all in the bottom 10% of schools statewide by DESE’s own metrics.

Jack Schneider, a professor of education at UMass Lowell, attributes the agency’s failure to get a handle on the counties it has placed under receivership to the thinking behind the Achievement Gap Act of 2010, which gave DESE the authority , to place schools and districts under receivership.

“The assumption is that the state has more capacity than it really has — that the state can understand what’s happening in the districts and in the schools,” Schneider said. “The state has limited ability to intervene if it thinks what’s happening is problematic.”

Schneider is not alone in his skepticism about the effectiveness of DESE. When board members of Riley and BESE threatened Mayor Michelle Wu over the summer with intervention at BPS in response to long-standing problems of justice and inadequate services for students with disabilities, many publicly questioned the state agency’s ability to serve a district with almost 50,000 students.

emphasis on testing

The testing and interventions DESE is conducting are part of a broader education reform movement driven largely by people in the business community, many of whom are executives and consultants who work with large corporations and believe that schools are run more like corporations should.

Well-informed think tanks are spinning ideas like the Center for Reinventing Education’s portfolio model, which Boston signed on to in the early years of former Mayor Martin Walsh’s tenure. This model envisioned that schools in a district should be managed like a stock portfolio, with schools where students perform poorly on standardized tests closed, while schools with higher test scores would receive more investment.

Schneider said the education reform movement ultimately blames teachers and schools for poor test scores, regardless of the broader correlation between test scores and parental income or other factors that come into play outside the school building.

“One of the basic assumptions of enterprise education reform over the past three decades is that educators are not doing their best,” he said. “Test-based accountability assumes that more pressure on schools leads to better outcomes.”

While Boston officials moved away from the reform models of enterprise formation in the later years of the Walsh administration, the movement’s core tenets—audit and accountability—are still potent at the state level.

Kontos and other union officials say school districts that serve severely impoverished populations would be better served if they had the resources necessary to implement proven strategies, such as B. a universal pre-kindergarten.

This is another area where Healey has expressed her views. On her campaign website, she pledged to support federal funding for early childhood education and care and said she supports free childcare for the state’s lowest-income families.

More importantly, she supports full funding for the Student Opportunity Act, a bill that would pump hundreds of millions of dollars in educational aid into the lowest-income counties.

Schneider said Healey may be ready to make a clean break with education policies that state officials have experimented with during previous administrations.

“I don’t think she has any preconceived ideas about the best way to strengthen schools,” he said. “I think there’s a lot of potential to overcome what we’ve been stuck with for the past three decades.”

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