Monday, March 24, 2014

Report Finds Massachusetts Education System Needs Major Overhaul to Prepare Students to Compete in Global Economy

A comprehensive assessment of the Commonwealth’s education system sounds the alarm that student achievement has levelled off and the state risks falling behind global competitors who are outpacing the Commonwealth in educating a highly skilled workforce and informed, engaged citizens.

The report, “The New Opportunity to Lead: A Vision for Education in Massachusetts in the Next 20 Years,” concludes that districts, schools and instruction must be transformed if students are to compete successfully in the global economy and if Massachusetts is to remain a hub of innovation.

The report takes aim at Massachusetts’ persistent education achievement gaps and growing workforce skills gaps, two dangerous trends business leaders say will threaten the long-term economic well-being of the Commonwealth.

Recent standardized test results suggest that the state’s rate of improvement has slowed and in some cases stalled; the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NEAP) results indicate that Massachusetts’ performance in 4th grade reading has actually slipped backwards in the last two years. The 10-year improvement trends in NAEP between 2003 and 2013 show Massachusetts in the middle, not the front, of the pack in the U.S.

International comparisons from the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) show that Massachusetts is a long way behind the world’s top performing systems. Meanwhile, other nations, including Poland and Germany are making faster progress and could surpass Massachusetts in the coming years.

The report calls for a new approach to education reform, one that moves away from state mandates and compliance to one that drives authority and accountability down to the schools and creates the conditions in which schools continuously advance their own performance. It proposes collaboration to support integration of technology, improving teaching skills and expanding blended learning.  

The report finds that with the state’s unique assets – a large and vibrant technology sector, a centuries-old commitment to excellence in public education, and a home to some of the world’s leading colleges and universities – it has an opportunity to lead the world in education.  The report recommends the state take bold steps to transform the education system including:

· Giving autonomy, including budget and staffing authority, to schools and school leaders including the flexibility to choose among school models that best meet student needs, eliminating the need for a charter school cap and encouraging innovation;
· Initiating a district redesign competition that will lead to new models of district operation fit for the 21st century and consistent with growing school autonomy.
· Developing and adopting new models of schooling that are student-centered and personalized: where students can learn anytime, anywhere; where teaching is more tailored to student needs and aspirations; where students play a more active role in their own learning; and where they move ahead once they master relevant knowledge and skills.
· Establishing a state-wide network to provide opportunities to enable gifted and talented students, whatever their background, to excel in a wide range of fields.
· Focusing on the importance of teachers through aggressive recruitment, intense in-classroom training, higher standards for licensure and re-evaluation of tenure, new career ladders that support master teachers and a more systematic approach to identifying, developing and deploying strong principals.
· Incentivizing the rapid development and application of innovative technologies that close the gap between what students are taught and what they need to know and do in the 21st century with an Accelerated Learning Challenge, bringing together educators, the State’s growing education technology innovators and venture capitalists to develop new pedagogical tools.
· Investing in high-quality universal pre-K education and expanding extended learning time with longer days and years, especially in low-income communities.
· Prioritizing implementation of new assessments of college and career readiness.

The report identifies and includes recommendations for addressing six “gaps” that currently exist in Massachusetts schools including a top talent gap, which refers to the gap between top-performing students in Massachusetts and top-performing students in the best-performing countries in the world.

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