BOSTON – Massachusetts Education Reform Act co-author and former Senate President Tom Birmingham praised the historic success that has been achieved because the law was enacted in 1993, but expressed concern that the Commonwealth is veering from basic principles of the law that produced that success in a State House event marking the 25th anniversary of the Education Reform Act.
Describing the day the balance was signed, Birmingham, the Distinguished Senior Fellow in Education at Pioneer Institute, said “If you had explained that over 90 % of our students would pass MCAS and now we might have 13 consecutive many years of improvement on SAT scores, or that our students would rank first in the nation in every category on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) between 2005 and 2019, and that they would place at or close to the top on gold-standard international math and science tests like Trends in International Science and math Study, I would have thought you were unrealistically optimistic.”
Birmingham noted the Education Reform Act also created charter public schools, which he called “the very best public schools in America at closing achievement gaps” and urged that charters “be permitted to grow modestly without legislative or regulatory obstruction.”
Despite its complexity, Birmingham said what the law states could essentially be reduced to 2 core principles: A massive infusion of state dollars into public schools to acquire high standards and accountability all education stakeholders.
But Birmingham said he is discomforted by recent developments related to both core principles. Regarding funding, he noted the inflation-adjusted education appropriation is one of the same as in 2002. Also, he expressed concern about growing disparities, citing figures from a recent Boston Globe article that Brockton currently spends about $14,000 per student annually while Weston spends $24,000.
In terms of standards and accountability, Birmingham was troubled by the decision to exchange our high-quality academic standards and MCAS tests with inferior Common Core standards and aligned tests referred to as PARCC. He called MCAS 2.0 “a rebranded form of PARCC” and said he fears that Common Core and also the new tests have led to Massachusetts being among a minority of states to see negative growth on NAEP in recent years.
“Why Massachusetts would accept getting the same English, math or science standards and rebranded PARCC tests just like Arkansas and Louisiana, whose students could not possibly meet Massachusetts performance levels is puzzling in my experience,” Birmingham said.