Mass. education commissioner to release plan to move public schools out of stagnation
Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley, after wrapping up his first full school year on the job, plans to present his vision on Tuesday for moving public education ahead in Massachusetts, placing an emphasis on expanding promising initiatives.
His goal is to generate new momentum to push public schools out of a period of stagnation, according to his 14-page plan, “Our Way Forward.” Riley, who oversees elementary and secondary education, created the plan after visiting more than 100 schools across the state in urban, suburban, and rural areas and after meeting with other stakeholders, such as teacher unions, business leaders, philanthropists, and families.
“The reality is, when you look at national metrics, we have been flat for a decade and other states are catching up,” he said in an interview.
For instance in his plan he cited national data from a report, “#1 for Some,” that showed Massachusetts had the eighth highest four-year graduation rates for white students in 2016, but ranked 43rd in the nation for four-year graduation rates for Latino students.
Plan highlights include:
Promote deeper learning. He noted in his plan that “there is evidence that deeper learning experiences are more common in affluent communities and honors-track classes — school settings to which our underprivileged students, English learners, and students with disabilities do not always have equitable access. We must work together to ensure these types of engaging deeper learning experiences are accessible to all students.” He suggested, among other things, developing statewide models of engaging classroom activities.
Address students’ social and emotional needs. Regardless if Riley was in an urban, suburban, or rural school, he repeatedly fielded concerns that students are arriving to school with a host of emotional wellness and health needs at even younger ages. He called for more mental and physical health supports for students.
Boost teacher diversity. In a state where students of color comprise 40 percent of public-school enrollment statewide, teachers of color make up just 8 percent of the teaching force, Riley notes. Work in this area is already underway. The department this spring awarded almost $2 million in grants to more than a dozen districts to come up with their own approaches to recruiting and retaining a diverse workforce.
Expand student tutoring. Riley is proposing to expand opportunities for students to receive tutoring during the February and April vacations under a program called Acceleration Academies, which he started in Boston when he worked there and later brought the idea to Lawrence when he led that system. The academies are like an intensive boot camp to get students ready for upcoming MCAS tests.
Increase family home visits. Teachers at some schools across the state visit their students and their families in their home so they can build stronger relationships that, in turn, will hopefully have a positive impact on student attendance and achievement. Riley would like to see more schools adopt this program.
Encourage labor-management partnerships. Riley points to a 2014 report by the Center for American Progress, a nonpartisan research group that identifies “progressive and pragmatic solutions,” that found formal partnerships between teacher unions and school administrators can increase achievement among disadvantaged students.
Foster collaboration between the state and districts. “[The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education] will always be a regulatory organization,” Riley writes. “Yet I know from my time in schools and districts . . . that in some areas our compliance oversight could be less burdensome.” Over the next year, the agency will review and streamline some procedures. It will also find ways to “incentivize communities to adopt and accelerate best-in-class teaching practices and supports for students,” according to the plan.
Launch a new education innovation incubator. Riley is proposing the creation of the Kaleidoscope Collective for Learning, which will be like a research and development hub for educators, schools, and districts. Starting this fall, those groups can apply to participate.