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Scot Lehigh

Patrick’s education proposal should reform more

In his Wednesday state of the state speech, Governor Patrick claimed his education proposals will help the state prepare for the challenges of the future.

So why is he avoiding strategies that work? And make no mistake: That’s just what Patrick is doing. Although the governor wants credit for courage because he’s calling for more revenue, he’s taking a pass on the contentious issue of whether to raise the cap on charter schools again.

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What’s more, so far at least, his approach to K-12 is to add significantly more money to the current system without demanding big or substantial reforms in exchange.

It’s as though the governor thinks that enough has already been done on the reform front. That failing has made education reformers skeptical about what Patrick clearly hoped would be seen as a clarion call on education.

“We think the early education and the higher-ed proposals he has put forward have great value, but the K-12 funding increase is not highly targeted or based on strong evidence of what is working,” says Linda Noonan, executive director of the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education. “We need a strategic approach that links accountability to performance.”

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The governor’s reform reluctance will come into greater focus today, as a coalition of business and civic leaders and charter-school proponents bring their own education plan to the fore.

The Race to the Top Coalition, which includes an array of private-sector leaders and prominent business associations, is calling for eliminating the charter cap completely in districts whose student performance puts them in the lowest 10 percent statewide.

That would mean there could be as many Commonwealth and district-run charters as there’s demand for in cities like Athol, Boston, Chelsea, Holyoke, Lawrence, Lowell, Springfield, and Worcester. A number of those communities are currently at or close to the charter cap.

The coalition’s bill would also extend the important turnaround tools established in 2010 to a wider range of unperforming schools, giving districts more power to override collective bargaining constraints in some schools that have ranked in the lowest 20 percent for two consecutive years.

The coalition’s theme, then, is simple: Do more of what works.

“Why are we limiting practices that are obviously working?” says Paul Grogan, president of the Boston Foundation and a leader in the movement. “It just makes no sense.”

He’s right about that. Yet the Patrick administration doesn’t seem interested in those reforms. After the governor’s speech, I asked Secretary of Education Matt Malone about the concern that Patrick wasn’t trying to leverage new reforms.

“I think the details have yet to be worked out on some of those things,” he replied.

So would the administration support lifting the charter cap again?

“We are going to work on the priorities the governor has laid out tonight,” Malone said.

Translation: No.

“We’ve seen what works, but the proven model is not even a part of his education plan,” notes Dom Slowey, spokesman for the Massachusetts Charter Public School Association.

Patrick’s proposals fall short on other important issues as well. He could emulate President Obama and use a Race to the Top-like approach to catalyze change. That could mean, say, requiring more student learning time and teacher planning time as a precondition for new money.

He could push to remove the matter of a school’s schedule from collective bargaining.

He could try to leverage acceptance of a mutual consent hiring and assignment process, which means a principal would have to agree before a teacher gets a job in his or her building.

This could be a fertile year for reform, a year that builds off past successes.

But if that’s to happen, it will apparently be despite Governor Patrick, and not because of him.

And that’s a shame.

Scot Lehigh can be reached at lehigh@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeScotLehigh.
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