Max and facts just don’t go together.
That’s Max as in Page, who as president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association is leading the union effort to nix the state’s graduation exam.
Over time, I’ve admittedly become a tad dubious about Max.
Why? Well, let’s begin with his first appearance as MTA president before the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, during which Page delivered a scornful lecture dismissing as a capitalist preoccupation the notion that our public schools should be concerned with readying students for work and college. That left me wondering whether the university leftist had any understanding of the actual world.
Or the factual world. Until The Boston Globe editorial board called him on it, Page was vastly overstating the number of students who have been kept from graduating solely because they had failed the MCAS.
So it was with a certain skepticism that I sat down recently to watch an online debate over the MCAS between Page and Ed Lambert, executive director of the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education, an organization that was a driving force behind the Massachusetts Education Reform Act of 1993. Under that landmark law, the state paired a large increase in education dollars with higher educational standards and accountability. The MCAS exam, which requires that students demonstrate a sophomore-year competence in math, English, and science to graduate high school, is the instrument that ensures that accountability.
On the good news front, Page does now seem to be regularly using the correct figure for the number of high school seniors denied a diploma only because they failed the MCAS: about 700 a year.
Alas, however, he’s on to other tricks.
After Lambert mentioned that MBAE had been “founded by Paul Reville,” who went on to become state secretary of education under governor Deval Patrick, and is now a highly regarded professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Page quoted Reville in a way that might lead the unwary to think Reville opposed the MCAS as a graduation requirement.
Said Page: “We agree with the person that Ed just mentioned, Paul Reville, who said in 2021, ‘Now generally, psychometricians agree that it’s improper — inappropriate — to attach high stakes to a single test.’ ”
For the record, Reville is firmly pro-MCAS. Further, as Lambert quickly noted, he numbers among the five former state education officials who wrote a July Globe guest column decrying the effort to eliminate the MCAS as a graduation exam.
So I asked Reville about Page’s comment.
“I was disappointed to learn recently that in spite of my repeated, public declarations of support for maintaining MCAS and its stakes, Max chose to deliberately mislead audiences on my position,” Reville responded. “There just seems to be a pattern of playing fast and loose with the truth in order to draw support for their campaign to diminish accountability.”
Page didn’t respond to my request for an explanation, but as I see it, the possibilities here are essentially two. Perhaps he wasn’t aware of Reville’s actual position. Alternatively, Page may have calculated that he could undercut the pro-MCAS case by noting that the cofounder of MBAE had offered a general observation about testing that could be construed as in philosophical accord with the MTA’s opposition to the graduation exam.
The first possibility would bespeak woeful ignorance. As for the second, it would be more than a little squirrelly to cite Reville’s comment without also noting that the former education secretary actually supports the MCAS as a graduation exam.
Back to the debate. Lambert noted, accurately, that eliminating the graduation test would mean there would be no uniform standard of assessment and therefore no guarantee that a high school diploma in one district meant the same thing as a diploma from another.
Page tried to make it seem otherwise, but after Globe education reporter and debate moderator Mandy McLaren pressed him repeatedly, the MTA president eventually acknowledged it would be a matter of trusting teachers to make sure their students met state standards.
Indeed, trust the teachers was his basic pitch throughout.
“No one is more trusted on education issues than our public school educators,” he said, offering an elegiac overview of their efforts. “So that’s why I think it’s so important for us to listen to what the state’s trusted educators are saying about the MCAS.”
Hmm. Given that Page is the union voice of many of those teachers, the real question should be this: Can we trust what the MTA president says when it comes to the MCAS?
So far, the answer there is a clear no.
Still, Page should thank Lambert for debating. After all, he came away from their exchange with one well-cleaned clock.