Massachusetts Education Reform Act co-author and Former Massachusetts Senate President Tom Birmingham, who now serves as a distinguished senior fellow in education at the Pioneer Institute, spoke at an event at the Massachusetts State House marking the education reform act’s 25th Anniversary.
Birmingham praised the historic success that has been achieved since the law was enacted in 1993:
If you had told me then that more than 90 percent of our students would pass MCAS and that we would have 13 consecutive years of improvement on SAT scores, or that our students would rank first in the nation in every category and in every grade tested on NAEP between 2005 and 2013, and that they would place at or near the top on gold-standard international math and science tests like the TIMSS, I would have thought you were unrealistically optimistic. We all had ambitious hopes for education reform on that day 25 years ago, but I doubt any of us would have dared to predict the historic successes we have actually enjoyed under the Act.
He shared what K-12 education in Massachusetts was like before the bill:
Before 1993, we witnessed the grossest disparities in spending on our public schools. In some districts we were spending more than $10,000 per child per annum and in others we were spending $3,000. In those circumstances to pretend that we were affording our children anything remotely approaching equal educational opportunity was nothing short of fraudulent.
And the academic quality of education was materially different in virtually every school district across the Commonwealth. Partly as a result of those disparities in spending, the state did precious little to insist on uniform standards. Pre-1993 there were but two state-imposed requirements to get a high school diploma: one year of American history and four years of gym. Clearly a testament more to the lobbying prowess of gym teachers than to any coherent pedagogical vision.
But the Education Reform Act strove to change all this; to change the state funding mechanism and the academic expectations for all our students. I believe we have largely succeeded.
Addressing Massachusetts current standards and tests he said:
With regard to standards and tests, we have jettisoned our tried and true reliance on higher-quality academic standards and MCAS and replaced them with inferior Common Core standards and PARCC testing. It’s worth noting that the PARCC consortia has now lost over two-thirds of its member states; hardly a ringing endorsement. I fear the implementation of Common Core and MCAS 2.0, which is a rebranded version of PARCC, has contributed to Massachusetts being a negative growth state on NAEP reading and math between 2011 and 2015.
Why Massachusetts would settle for having the same English, math, or science standards and rebranded PARCC tests as do Arkansas or Louisiana, whose students could not possible meet Massachusetts performance levels, is puzzling to me. The Common Core and its PARCC-style testing regime represent one of those rare instances where what may be good for the nation as a whole is bad for Massachusetts.
Read his full remarks here.