Education Reform Act of 2009

The Joint Committee on Education released its draft education reform bill on Tuesday afternoon.   Further below I have reproduced a committee summary of the legislation.    Click  here for the committee’s section-by-section analysis and here for the full text of the bill.

I will say now that I do expect to vote for the bill, but elements of it are still in flux, so input is still meaningful.

Here is my overall perspective:  There are a lot of things that one could reform about education — goals, methods, funding, technology — but this legislation speaks to only dimension:  Control.   The bill’s major features make it easier for the state to intervene in low-performing districts by creating charter schools and/or by taking over school systems entirely.

I don’t feel that charter schools are a magic bullet.   They tend to do roughly the same things that regular district schools do. But, I do feel that parents and kids in low performing districts deserve to have additional choices.   Additional choices and flexibility seem like necessary things to introduce.

Some have made the point that if additional flexibility is a good thing for charters, it is probably good for every school.  The legislation does create a new voluntary option for local districts called “innovation schools”.   This offers districts with the consent of their teachers a way to create new models.

Some have felt that charters cream the most motivated families out of urban school systems.  The bill imposes new burdens on charters that will require them to recruit in a more representative way.

The current draft does not make structural changes in the charter funding system, but there may be funding changes in the final version.


Education Reform Act of 2009

(Committee Summary distributed by Chair Marty Walz)

Innovation Schools

This bill creates Innovation Schools.  These are district schools with increased autonomy and flexibility in all aspects of their operation.  Any school in any district may take advantage of this new model, and the funding of these schools is the same as for any other school in the district.

  • The school committee, superintendent and teachers union collaborate on the development of these schools.
  • 2/3 of the affected faculty are required to approve the school’s innovation plan in the case of a school conversion.  In the case of a new school, the teachers union will negotiate contract modifications.
  • Schools adopting this model may have an advisory board of trustees and engage in private fundraising.
  • These schools may be created by a wide variety of groups and individuals, including: parents, teachers, superintendents, school committees and non-profit organizations.

Underperforming and Chronically Underperforming Schools

This bill specifically addresses schools at Level 4 and Level 5 in the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Accountability and Assistance System.  In both of these types of schools, the planning process described below is open to the public and done in a collaborative manner with community participation.  The goal is to encourage community collaboration and support for turnaround efforts in schools. The pool of schools eligible for Level 4 or Level 5 status consists of the lowest 20% of schools statewide as measured by the combined Composite Performance Index (CPI), which is the combined performance of students on English Language Arts and Math MCAS.  At any given time, no more than 5% of the state’s schools can be designated as Level 4 or Level 5.  This means that of the 1,849 schools in the commonwealth, no more than 92 can be designated at any one time.

  • Underperforming Schools (Level 4)
    • Superintendents are given the tools necessary to improve schools, before the state steps in at Level 5.
    • Superintendents may reopen the contract with any union and renegotiate in good faith for a period of 40 days, after which time the affected employees have 10 days to ratify.
      • If there is no agreement or ratification, a superintendent will be allowed to implement the last, best offer.
      • Superintendents may also renegotiate the principal’s contract.
      • When contracts are renegotiated, compensation and benefits cannot be reduced unless there is a proportionate reduction in hours.
    • A superintendent may, in consultation with the union, require that all employees in the school reapply for their jobs.  A person who is not rehired has 1 year on the payroll to obtain an open position in the district.  The employee may also engage in professional development in that year.  An employee is terminated if s/he has not been hired into an open position within that year.
    • Superintendents may choose an external receiver to assist in the turnaround.
    • The bill provides a process by which the commissioner will annually evaluate the superintendent’s progress.  At the yearly evaluation, the commissioner may require changes to the innovation plan to increase the school’s pace of improvement.
    • After 3 years, the commissioner may recommend Level 5 status, allow the superintendent to continue implementation of the plan, recommend an external receiver, or remove the school from Level 4 status.
  • Chronically Underperforming Schools (Level 5)
    • The commissioner develops the school’s innovation plan and sends in targeted assistance, gives the plan to the superintendent to implement, or appoints an external receiver to implement the plan.
    • Implementation is for 3 years, after which time the school’s progress is reviewed.
    • The innovation plan components are the same as at Level 4, with the exception of negotiations to reopen collective bargaining agreements.  At Level 5, the commissioner can suspend provisions of a contract without a period of renegotiation.
    • A school must go through Level 4 before being designated a Level 5 school.
  • Possible Funding for Turnaround Efforts in Underperforming and Chronically Underperforming Schools
    • There is currently a line item in the budget for targeted assistance for underperforming schools.  The fiscal year 2010 appropriation is $6.9 million.
    • Due to programmatic changes to Title 1, Massachusetts will receive $20 million annually to use for targeted assistance to underperforming schools.  This is not tied to federal stimulus funding and is expected to be ongoing.
    • Race to the Top funding, if Massachusetts receives a grant, may be targeted for the turnaround of underperforming schools.

Chronically Underperforming Districts

Districts that are chronically underperforming are at Level 5 in the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s Accountability and Assistance System.  These districts have failed to address widespread deficiencies relating to one or more district standards.

  • The lowest 5% of districts as measured by combined CPI are eligible for Level 5 status, and no more than 2% of districts at any given time can be designated as such.  Consequently, of the 299 districts in the Commonwealth, no more than 6 can be designated as chronically underperforming at any one time.
  • For chronically underperforming districts, this bill requires the board of elementary and secondary education to appoint a receiver to address the areas which caused the chronic underperformance.
  • The bill specifies that the efforts are targeted on the school(s) and policies that caused the district’s chronic underperformance.

Charter School Caps

The current charter school law contains the following caps: no more than 72 Commonwealth Charter Schools; no more than 48 Horace Mann Charter Schools; no more than 4% of the total statewide school population may be enrolled in charter schools; and no more than 9% of a district’s net school spending can be sent to a Commonwealth Charter School.  There are currently 7 Horace Mann Charter Schools and 53 Commonwealth Charter Schools.

  • This bill removes the cap on the statewide population that can be enrolled in a charter school.
  • This bill eliminates the caps on the number of Horace Mann and Commonwealth Charters that may exist.
  • This bill lifts the spending cap on Commonwealth Charter Schools to 18% of net school spending in the lowest 10% performing districts, as measured by 2 years of combined CPI.  This cap is phased in over time, increasing to 12% in fiscal year 2011 and increasing 1% each year thereafter until reaching 18%.
    • Districts currently approaching their cap which are in lowest 10%: Boston, Holyoke, Lawrence, Lowell, Malden, Springfield, Worcester.
    • In Boston, a 3% increase will allow for an additional 2,600 seats in fiscal year 2011.
    • The bill includes language for a district moving out of the lowest 10%: charter schools in existence are grandfathered and the net school spending cap remains at the level in place when the district is no longer scoring in the lowest 10% for two consecutive years.

Commonwealth Charter School Accountability

This bill addresses many of the concerns regarding Commonwealth Charter Schools with respect to the populations of students served, the application process and requirements imposed by Commonwealth Charter Schools that are seen as a way to “weed out” students.

  • This bill requires charter schools to develop recruitment and retention plans which include annual benchmarks for recruitment activities, populations of students seeking to enroll in the school, and retention activities.  Recruitment and retention activities are focused on limited English proficient students, low-income students, special education students, students at risk of dropping out, students who have dropped out, other at-risk students, and low achieving students.  Progress on recruitment and retention efforts will be a factor for the board of elementary and secondary education to consider at the time of charter renewal.
  • Currently, some charter schools take children off an existing waitlist as a vacancy occurs in the school.  However, some schools do not fill vacancies, with the result being that children never get off the waitlist to attend the school.  This bill requires charter schools to fill vacant seats as they occur, other than in grade 12, if they occur before February 15.  If the vacancy occurs after February 15, the school must fill it the following September in the same cohort of students.
  • In addition to current law which prohibits pre-lottery interviews for the purposes of screening children, this bill prohibits parental contracts, mandatory volunteer time by parents and mandatory attendance at meetings from being conditions of enrollment at charter schools.
  • This bill imposes stricter reporting requirements around student and teacher attrition and retention and demographic information.

Commonwealth Charter School Funding and Facilities

Currently, charter school tuition is paid for by the sending district.  Tuition is made up of 3 components: per pupil foundation component, per pupil above foundation spending and facilities aid.  A district is reimbursed for its increased costs at the rate of 100% in the first year the cost is incurred; 60% in the second year and 40% in the third year.  Districts currently provide or pay for the transportation of charter school students.

  • The reimbursement language has not been changed from current law.  There is an urgency to reporting this bill out of committee favorably, and these complicated issues are being worked on by the House and Senate Committees on Ways and Means.  The reimbursement mechanism is pending further analysis.
  • The tuition components for charter schools have not been changed from current law.
  • This bill requires charter schools that transport their students on their own to collaborate with the district on cost effective transportation measures.
  • This bill ensures that charter networks cannot transfer money between schools in different districts but allows for transfers between schools in the same district.
  • The legislation imposes a cap on the amount of tuition that can be kept from one year to the next.  Any public money over 20% of a charter school’s operating budget and planned capital budget for the following school year is returned to the state and the district in proportion to the Chapter 70/local aid share.  Excluded from the 20% calculation are the following:  money used to save for a capital purchase, the 4th quarter tuition payment, and money necessary to guarantee a bank loan.
  • Language in the bill provides that when chapter 70 aid is cut, the charter school foundation budget tuition component is cut proportionately.
  • In order to achieve efficiencies in providing services or making purchases, charter schools may become members of educational collaborative and access bulk purchasing arrangements.
  • This bill allows charter schools to be able to access some of the benefits provided by the School Building Authority.
    • At the request of and upon payment by the Commonwealth Charter School, the SBA shall make available its needs assessment tool, so charter schools with capital needs can have a greater understanding of their costs.
    • When a charter school files an application with the department of elementary and secondary education, it may request from the School Building Authority a list of vacant facilities in the district in which the charter is being sought.
    • If a district has an SBA-assisted facility that has excess capacity, before it is sold or leased, the district must make a good faith offer to a charter school in the district for the market price of the facility.  If a charter school does occupy the facility, the SBA will consider that use to remain in the definition of assisted facility, and will not seek to recoup payments from the district.  This gives the district a financial incentive to collaborate with the charter school on excess space.

Published by Will Brownsberger

Will Brownsberger is State Senator from the Second Suffolk and Middlesex District.

22 replies on “Education Reform Act of 2009”

  1. Dear Representative Brownsberger,

    I would like to express my opposition to this latest Ed. Reform act, as well as my disappointment with your tentative support of the bill.

    This act is a direct assault on teachers’ collective bargaining and due process rights; and as s a public school teacher, I am offended that it treats educators as part of the problem, not a part of the solution. The presumption is that public schools in MA are failing because of poor teaching, collective bargaining rights, and union protections (they are not; we are consistently rankied among the top 5 nationally).

    There is no evidence to support the claim that teachers, their contracts and their unions are the reason for failing or underperforming schools. On the contrary, would you expect that excellent and highly qualified teaching candidates will rush to teach in schools that are being restructured by the state, and where there are no job guaranteees? We already have a teacher shortage in MA–I do not believe that this type of legislation will do anything to attract excellence to the profession.

    Although you state that Charter schools are not a “silver bullet,” but that they provide choices (my paraphrasing; I hope I got it right), the jury is still out on the effectiveness of charter schools. As far as I can tell, the primary reason for any successes among charter schools is that they have the right to reject or dismiss students…not that they do a better job educating our students. I am strongly opposed to expanding charter schools to the extent that this bill allows.

    Finally, this act is being rammed through the legislature on the eve of a recess. I would hope that enacting changes as drastic as this would be done only after careful consideration and thoughtful, public debate. I will be watching the votes of my representatives very closely on this one. I strongly encourage you to vote against this measure, and work to involve educators in a thoughtful discussion.

    Thank you for listening,

  2. Hey Nate, Thanks for weighing in!

    I don’t see charters as being about getting away from collective bargaining. Charter schools can and have been unionized. Charter schools are about getting away from dysfunctional school systems more broadly — weak school committees and management teams, often more importantly than weak teachers.

    I’d be the first to agree that when kids aren’t learning, it isn’t necessarily the teacher’s fault or even the school’s fault. Kids have a lot of things going on in their lives outside the building. But if a system is failing consistently, it’s worth shaking things up and seeing if something better might come out — these are systems that have outcomes can’t get too much worse.

    1. In my experience as a teacher (and with many friends in the profession as well), I would agree with you that underperforming schools are often the result of poor management rather than poor teaching. But this bill would give the superintendents practically dictatorial powers. Does that solve the problem? Maybe we could frame the discussion this way: Why doesn’t this bill allow the state to remove underperforming superintendents?

      Also, I wish that charter schools provided the choices that you allude to, but I am not convinced. Aside from the research that BGoodman points out above, the charter school movement is not about establishing choices, it’s about making money. Across the state, the business model is as follows: Find a district that has high per-pupil expenditures and propose a charter school there. Like a parasite, the charter school will try to draw away as many students as possible in an effort to be profitable. In order to ensure success (in terms of test schores, etc.) the charter school will reject underperforming students and seek to attract the best students; in essence skimming the cream off the top of the district.
      By lifting the cap on charter schools, I’m afraid that we will be opening the floodgates, and districts that have decided to invest in their students will be the primary targets.

      1. This is a fair critique of some charters. I definitely get the idea of cherry picking districts and kids — either for corporate profit or just for career advancement. But, I am influenced by the sense of urban legislators that their constituents want these options.

        Re the dicatorial powers, I’ll be giving this feature of the bill a close look.

        1. By way of introduction, I am a Cambridge public school parent and member of the school council in my children’s elementary school. So while no means an expert, I am a pretty involved and, I think, well-informed parent. I think that improving urban public education in the Commonwealth is an absolute first-order priority, but I have real reservations about this bill from what I have managed to learn about it.

          The bill would make the lowest-scoring 20% of schools and 5% percent of districts eligible to be declared “underperforming” based on MCAS reading and math scores. The problem with this, it seems to me, is that there will always be a lowest-performing 20% or 5%, even if schools and districts are improving. Jack Welch famously fired the lowest-performing 10% of GE employees every year. That solution might work for certain types of corporations (though Jack Welch is now known to have manipulated the numbers at GE to achieve illusory earnings growth year after year), but schools are not corporations and it is pointless to try to run them that way, the illusions of many not especially knowledgeable business executives notwithstanding. Incidentally, I wonder how many business executives—who, if they are smart enough, think long and hard about the kinds of metrics they focus on in managing their businesses—have any serious understanding of the limitations of standardized testing for evaluating the progress of students and schools. (Notice that I say “limitations,” not “uselessness”—I am not an anti-testing fanatic.)

          I am also concerned that the criteria for determining which schools and districts will be declared “underperforming” and “chronically underperforming” are subjective and capable of being abused by those whose blanket solution for underperforming public schools is privatization. Plenty of wooly-headed academic economists and their acolytes in worlds of business and politics believe that the profit motive is sufficient to motivate desirable change in any kind of human endeavor, but nobody who has ever spent any time in a school or with teachers believes this. I can believe that urban legislators are so desperate for a solution to “underperforming” schools that they are willing to buy this malarkey, but I wonder how many of them give the care and attention to the content of legislation (especially bills that are being given the rush treatment this one is) as you do, Rep. Brownsberger. I admire the conscientiousness with which you do your job and I thank you for it.

          1. Dan,

            Thank you very much for these valuable thoughts.

            My strong sense is that many of the urban legislators who support additional charters are listening closely to their constituents who desperately want alternatives — they are not listening to economists.

            I agree that there is a lot of hogwash out there in the academic discussion of education issues. One of the biggest fallacies is that educational failures are always the teacher’s fault or the school’s fault. Yet, asking schools to bring every child along is a good ask — it makes it much harder to abandon kids. I’ve heard from a lot of parents how valuable the standards have been in focusing attention on the needs of their children.

            Re the concern about unfairness in the choice of metric, I think that most reasonable metrics turn out to be highly correlated. You are going to pick more or less the same set of schools for attention whether you look at MCAS, graduation rates, other test results, or even school violence or teen pregnancy. It’s important to say that those schools are not “bad schools”. Too often we talk about identifying the “worst schools.” No, those schools may be doing great work against long odds. But they are nonetheless the schools where we aren’t taking kids where they need to go and therefore change is worth trying.

  3. Will, thanks for the opportunity to comment.

    Charter Schools are not silver bullets. Recent research locally and nationally provide little evidence of their effectiveness.
    see: and

    Why are we making such a big investment in something that has such poor results. We have had Charter schools in MA for 16 years. Only a very small group has benefited and the students remaining in the traditional schools have born the cost.

    There are volumes and volumes of research articles on the multitude of factors that contribute to the achievement gap. It is a complex issue with education being only one important variables. For educational reform efforts to have a meaningful impact they must work hand in hand with new economic and social policies.
    see bg

      1. Are they looking for any alternatives or better schools? The Innovation schools look like a much better alternative than charter schools because all students in the school or district will benefit from them. Mass. is legally and morally bound to provide free and appropriate educations to all of its students. I’m not willing to let the state off the hook by offering dubious “alternatives.”

        1. My sense is that in many communities families looking for a good education have lost confidence in their municipally operated school system. I think they feel it makes sense to offer charter alternatives as well as avenues for improvement within the school system.

      2. Legislators from Urban districts are desperate – and for good reason. They want a silver bullet.
        It is easy to accept simple solutions to complex problems

  4. Will,

    We already know that the students who perform poorly in school are often tied to parents who don’t follow up with them on homework, reading with them and encouraging them to be focused on their school work.

    There is only so much the teachers can do in a the short school day and I would suggest that if you need to focus on charter schools as a solution, we design charter schools that the parents go to after a regular day in public school with their children to teach them how to study, read, and search for answers to the questions they have.

    Without parental commitment to follow through with their children after school, it is a hard hill to climb even for the children that try their hardest.

    Assistance and motivation by parents would increase the children’s rate of success significantly. And this would, in the long run, cost the taxpayer less and have stronger results.


      1. We are not currently training parents of unsuccessful students on how to help their children and holding the parents accountable. Seriously, if you invest in a training program for parents instead of or in addition to students, you stand a better shot at being successful. We know that it is very hard for a parent who can’t read or do higher level math to help their children so let’s break the cycle and educate them both together. I’d volunteer in an urban community to help parents at night if the system would set something up to allow me to do it. I’m betting a bunch of us would be willing to help you. Sometimes you just need someone to cheerlead the parents!

        1. Actually, there are quite a few programs oriented to fatherhood and motherhood, but unfortunately, my sense is that they really aren’t at the necessary scale. If you want to get involved personally, we can probably hook you up.

  5. I don’t think it is about choice it’s about who your parents are and how the dice is rolled. More involved parents will place their kids in the lottery and then the choice is made by Lady Luck.
    Moreover, given the funding formula, for every one maybe lucky student there are two certain losers.

      1. My comment related to the funding formula. Charter school tuition is about twice the cost of funding for a regular( non sped , non voc) student. So there is a significant impact on the quality of education for those student who remain in the traditional school.

  6. Representative Brownsberger-

    Thank you for the opportunity to provide input on the latest version of the Education Reform package. Although I applaud the administration and the education committee for their intentional focus on closing the achievement gap through re-tooling underperforming schools, I have two thoughts on how the legislation could be improved.

    First, I have to agree with Nate in that the portion of the legislation that deals the turn around of underperforming schools places an unbelievable amount of power with school superintendents. As the daughter of a recently retired public school teacher with 40 plus years of experience in the classroom, I grew up hearing stories about administrators who made poor decisions that negatively impacted the teaching staff, school culture and ultimately the students themselves, due to the disconnect between them and the work of teachers. Clearly this is likely the exception rather than the rule, but at least raises the point that there could be cases where the superintendent is part of the problem, and as such, should not wield as much power as is set forth in the bill. Further, as someone who has student taught with excellent lead teachers, it would be a missed opportunity not to engage these talented professionals as partners in the turn around efforts.

    Second, as others have stated in their comments, the issues at hand are very complex, and require an all hands on deck approach to making significant progress on educational outcomes for young people. With that in mind, I think it would be in the interest of all involved to include at least one representative from any youth serving organizations functioning within an underperforming school in the stakeholder group convened by the superintendent and the commissioner to provide recommendations for the school’s innovation plan. Organizations that are already working within schools care deeply about the success of students, and have significant value to add to the conversation around student outcomes, as well as additional resources to bring to the table.

    1. One good thing about the bill is that does follow your second suggestion and require the involvement of local social service organizations in development of turnaround plans.

      I take your point on the first suggestion and this will get considerable attention in the redraft of the legislation. The amended senate version, which already made changes in this area, is not yet available online.

  7. diettIvc28e Y yo que pensé que me estabas dando permiso pa ir a ver tan gran calidad de filme!!!! jajajaja Que aquí solo puedo ir a ver lo que tu me das permiso a ver, que cuesta una buena pasta el cine neoyorquino y hay que ir sobre seguro, jeje

Comments are closed.