The Education Reform Act
Across the land there is a growing
agreement that insisting on results-oriented reform
tied to achievement standards is the first step in developing
schools that work for the twenty-first century. Marc
Tucker, formerly of the Carnegie Foundation and currently
affiliated with the National Center on Education and
the Economy, has called for the definition of national
education goals with assessment processes appropriate
to local and state needs. His vision of clear goals
is shared by the National Governors Association, former
President Bush, President Clinton, and the vast majority
of states (Teacher Magazine, April 1991, p. 52). Reform
activities in Massachusetts during the 1990s mirrored
the national agenda.
The Massachusetts legislature once
again began grappling with school reform in early 1991
when the newly-appointed chairman of the Education Committee,
Mark Roosevelt of Boston, took up the cause of school
improvement as had the previous chairman, Nicholas Paleologos
of Woburn, in 1985, and as had his predecessor, James
Collins of Amherst, in 1984. On the Senate side, Education
Committee Chairman Tom Birmingham pushed reform.
Some insiders felt that this time it
would be relatively easy to pass needed changes. The
business community, which had been largely unengaged
in previous efforts, was involved from the beginning.
John Rennie, CEO of Pacer Systems, Inc., a successful
high technology company located north of Boston, formed
an education advocacy group, The Massachusetts Business
Alliance for Education (MBAE). Many of the state's top
companies joined in the effort to improve the schools.
(For more information, see John Rennie, "A Thoughtful
Approach to Education Reform," New England Journal of
Public Policy (Summer/Fall 1987).
After almost two years of work, the
MBAE bill did become law. The major feature of the law
was that improved student achievement was the goal.
Previous reforms had focused on changing processes,
not on improving outcomes. Another element of the legislation
was to give more state aid for local education costs.
Over 7 years, billions of dollars in new aid were to
be distributed to local systems. Along with this new
money came an obligation for local governments to maintain
funding at a certain level. In other words, a municipality
could not cut its contribution to school spending because
the state is giving more. This all is intended to set
a level of "foundation funding" - the amount it takes
to provide adequate educational services that each district
must spend. The idea is to help equalize spending between
a town like Dalton which spent around $4,000 per pupil
and a town like Weston which is over $8,000.
Other aspects of the reform law included:
technically eliminating tenure for teachers and removing
principals from teacher bargaining units thus making
them more independent; reducing the power of school
committees on day-to-day management issues and giving
more power to superintendents; ordering the creation
of school site councils (for school based management
and decision-making) for each school in the Commonwealth;
authorizing charter schools that operate independently
of local school district and union rules; making it
possible to remove disruptive students from classrooms
by expulsion; and developing curriculum guidelines about
what students should know that eventually would be translated
into graduation standards. Progress would be assessed
annually via standardized MCAS tests (Massachusetts
Comprehensive Assessment System) tests.
After seven years of increased funding
and three years of statewide MCAS assessments, it is
not clear how much student achievement has improved.
Time will tell whether the Education Reform Act of 1993
succeeds in improving the education of Massachusetts
> Education Reform