Education Reform — Final Passage

Early Thursday evening the House completed final approval of the Education Reform bill. It is “on the Governor’s Desk” and a signing is scheduled for Monday morning at 11AM at the Children’s Museum, 300 Congress St., Boston.

Click here for the full text of the bill. See my earlier posts in this thread for more background on where the bill came from.

While the outline of the bill has remained basically constant, in the last turns in the conference committee, the bill changed in several ways that further reduced the comfort level of teacher unions (who weren’t thrilled with the bill from the outset). They came out hard against it, leafleting the building in the final hours and as a result, the bill passed with a narrower margin than might be expected for a bill that had bipartisan leadership support. The final tally in the House was 97 to 47 — this was an up or down vote to approve the draft worked out by the House-Senate conference committee.

Some of the changes from the House version which I summarized here two weeks ago were:

  • The universe of schools that can be placed under extraordinary supervision as ‘under-performing’ or ‘chronically under-performing’ went up from 3% to 4% and they can be chosen from lowest 20% rather than the lowest 15%.
  • The primary responsibility for developing a turnaround plan will reside with the superintendent in ‘under-performing’ schools. The last house draft had moved this power up to the commissioner of education — a move which seemed to offer some protection against local arbitrariness.
  • If the turnaround plan changes collective bargaining agreements in ways which unions do not agree to, then the plan will be submitted to a quick arbitration process with the commissioner empowered to ‘resolve all outstanding issues’ if the process does not close in a timely way. This provision was an issue during the floor process on the House side. It appears that the final conference language was worse from the union perspective than the House language.
  • In schools under supervision, teachers, even those with professional status, may be fired under a “good cause” standard — a standard which is understood by advocates to lead to easier dismissals than “just cause”.
  • The bill further loosens the combination of caps on charter schools by removing the cap on total statewide enrollment — the cap on the number of charters remains the same and the permitted increases in charter spending in the lowest performing district remain as they were in the House bill.
  • The bill increases the total amount of reimbursement available from the state to a district that loses money to a charter school, but spreads it out further. Current law gives a school 100% reimbursement in the first year, 60% in the second, 40% in the third. The new law would give 100% in the first year then 25% for the next five years. It’s not obvious which schedule a school district would prefer.

At the end of the day, I voted for the bill. I feel that notwithstanding the changes, the risk of real unfairness to employees is low — I think that the visibility built in to the planning process in turnarounds, the appeals to the commissioner and various arbitration elements will make it quite unlikely that teachers will be railroaded. The changes will apply in relatively few schools in with the worst outcomes. In these schools, on balance, I think that it is reasonable to make it easier for changes to occur. Finally, we can hope that the passage of the bill will increase our share of “Race to the Top” funds.

I continue to believe that poor school outcomes are driven more by things that occur outside the classroom — parental and peer support for learning, housing stability, peace and quiet in the family in the evening hours — than by school or teacher performance. I would not join the Governor in calling this bill “the beginning of the end of the achievement gap.” But it may make a difference and let’s hope that the leaders of our educational system use the tools we have given them fairly and to greatest possible benefit to children.

Published by Will Brownsberger

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

8 replies on “Education Reform — Final Passage”

  1. Thank you, Will, for your consistently accurate summaries of the bill as it moved along and for offering us the opportunity to respond to it on this blog. I’m especially thankful for your huge efforts to hear from front-line teachers. I know your vote was considerate of all stake holders although I disagree with your final choice.

    To me, a teacher, this bill represents two giant steps forward for those at the top – charter schools, Reville, Chester, and superintendents who have overseen these under-performing schools for years; and all the consultants who stand to make a fortune. I only hope some good will come from it for the students.

    I would be interested to know the reasoning behind the punishing changes most recently made to the bill. It most definitely had nothing to do with data about education. I would also like to know exactly what teachers’ unions have done to earn so much blame for under-achieving schools. We keep hearing that they block change but never hear the details of their dastardly deeds. Were they demanding the kinds of perks charter schools get?

    Disappointed but not at all surprised, I am looking ahead to our discussions about more meaningful education policy reforms.


  2. Cogent and clear as always. Thank you, Will. Can you point us to the text of the final bill in case we want to look at the detail?

    Moving responsibility up to the Commissioner from the superintendents would have traded possible arbitrariness at the local level for certain zealotry in the Commissioner’s office, if we are to learn anything from the Gloucester debacle, where local concerns and data seem to have been ignored in a Commissioner-level drive for charters at any cost. Better, I think, to leave the plans in locally accountable hands with state oversight.

    Two questions: how are we going to know whether this bill succeeds in improving education? What are the expected outcomes and measures, and who’s in charge of tracking them?

    1. I’ve tucked a link to the full into the post now.

      Under the bill, school turnaround plans are to include measurable annual goals (see for examples line 417 and following). The Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education has responsibility for evaluating goal attainment and generally has the authority to measure educational outcomes through the MCAS and other tools. Overall, of course, the evaluation challenge is huge — how do you really link the outcomes back to specific actions when there are so many moving parts.

  3. I don’t understand this part Will Can you expand on this: “The bill further loosens the combination of caps on charter schools by removing the cap on total statewide enrollment — the cap on the number of charters remains the same and the permitted increases in charter spending in the lowest performing district remain as they were in the House bill.”
    Will, thank you for the info. There is so much spin and too many sound bites. I really appreciate your open and honest communication. bg

    1. Thanks, B.

      There a several different limits on charter schools:

      • + A specified maximum number of charter schools statewide — 72 Commonwealth charters and 48 Horace Mann schools. Currently, there are 55 Commonwealth Charters and 7 Horace Mann Schools. This cap was not raised by the bill, but see below.
      • + A specified maximum enrollment in charters statewide — set at 4% of the total statewide school population — this limit was removed by the bill.
      • + A limit on the amount of school spending by any district that goes to charters — the bill raised this limit from 9% to 18% but only in the lowest scoring districts; to the extent that new charters in those districts result from this increase, they don’t count against the statewide cap on the number of schools. The districts that are likely to be affected by this change are Boston, Holyoke, Lawrence, Lowell, Malden, Springfield and Worcester.
  4. If the charter schools in under performing districts do not impact the total number of charter schools permitted statewide, does that mean that communities like Arlington are more likely to get a charter school?

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