Lessons from a Successful State

Recently, we observed that despite having similar demographics to Connecticut–Massachusetts has both a narrower achievement gap and a low-income population that outperforms Connecticut’s on some key national assessments.  Furthermore, Massachusetts’ non low-income students rank first in the nation on many national assessments.  So, how has Massachusetts managed to achieve these enviable gains in student performance for both low-income and non-low-income students? What Massachusetts Has Been Doing Right:In 1993, Massachusetts passed an Education Reform Act, a major reform package, the implementation of which focused on (amongst other things):

    • improving educator quality by developing professional expectations for teachers and school leaders, and linking these expectations to recertification;
    • increasing state assistance in turning around “underperforming schools”, and increased intervention authority for “chronically underperforming schools”; and
    • increasing funding for the neediest schools by creating a “foundation budget”, which defined adequate funding for districts based on standards about how a school should function; this budget rose and fell with changes in the student population, and with percentages of low-income students. The foundation budget was also gradually increased over time, and had almost doubled by 2007.

 Since 1993, Massachusetts has consistently improved its protocol for turning around low-achieving schools and districts.  It introduced a system for clearly identifying schools and districts by performance, and, in 2010, passed additional legislation that granted the Commissioner of Education the authority to intervene in underperforming schools and districts that fail to turn around within three years.  In the first year under this new framework, twenty-two out of the thirty-five targeted schools had made significant gains in student achievement.

If these concepts – (a) raising expectations for teachers and tying performance to recertification; (b) creating a framework for intervention with authority to overcome barriers to turnaround in the lowest performing schools; and (c) increasing funding to the neediest districts – sound familiar to you, it’s because they are the same types of reforms that Governor Malloy had proposed in his original education reform bill, Senate Bill 24. As you may know, the disappointing substitute language put forth by the Education Committee has significantly weakened these reform efforts with respect to teacher evaluations and the turnaround framework.  But did you realize that the Appropriations Committee has also significantly weakened Governor Malloy’s proposal by decreasing much of the funding that the bill had allocated toward these reforms?

While the Appropriation Committee recognized the importance of directing funds to low-achieving districts by keeping the conditional funding intact, they weakened Connecticut’s capacity to turn around our lowest-achieving schools by cutting the allocated funding by roughly 70%. Given Massachusetts’ significant financial investments in low-achieving districts and schools to support the successful implementation of adopted reforms, Connecticut should reinstate the adequate levels of funding initially allocated for intervention in our lowest-achieving schools and districts in order to ensure that we begin to make similar strides in improving student achievement in our lowest-achieving schools.

If you agree, tell your elected official what changes you think are needed so all of Connecticut’s children are provided with the high-quality education they deserve.