the blog of Carol Burris

John King does not tell the whole story of Massachusetts’ reform

Lately, John B. King, the commissioner of New York has said we cannot change course because Massachusetts had reforms, and now they have great student performance. It is true–the state is a national leader. And that is why King should pay attention to how they achieved their success.

Either John King does not know how Massachusetts went about reform, or he is coyly not bothering to mention reform implementation.  Massachusetts did not rush in, changing standards and testing.  The implementation of their reforms was slow, deliberate and thoughtful. But don’t take my word for it, here is what scholar Aaron Pallas of Teachers College had to say….

I’m no expert on this, but in looking at Massachusetts’ development of ELA curricular frameworks, there was legislation in 1993 leading to an ELA framework in 1997, a revision in 2001, an update in 2004, and a revision in 2010. I can’t speak to what preceded the 1997 framework, but everything thereafter was incremental. And the curricular frameworks are conceptually independent from the assessment system. When MCAS started, there was testing in grades 4, 8 and 10, and the class of 2003 was the first in which passing the 10th grade MCAS was a requirement for high school graduation. Two-thirds of the sophomores who took the test in the spring of 2001 passed on their first try. The Boston Globe reports that 62% of 3rd graders scored proficient or advanced in English in 2001. I’m not seeing any reporting on the standards being too high or the tests too hard, but the pass rates clearly were much higher than what we saw statewide on the Common Core-aligned assessments administered last spring.

In addition, the state made a serious commitment to increased funding–from 1.3 billion to 4.2 billion–from the beginning of reform until now.

The same deliberate and thoughtful phase-in of reform is evident in their teacher evaluation plan–there are no numbers or “scores”, there is field testing and revision, teacher evaluations are CONFIDENTIAL and this year, for the first time, only 50% of all staff must be evaluated using the plan. Full implementation will come later.

Educators know that successful reform is thoughtfully enacted and monitored and adjusted as appropriate. That is what leaders do.

For my thoughts on the leadership of the New York State Education Department, please read here and here.

Commissioner King, spend some time studying Massachusetts’ leadership if you want Massachusetts success.

2 Responses to “John King does not tell the whole story of Massachusetts’ reform”

  1. Barbara Madeloni


    There is even more that King doesn’t tell, including that the reforms in Massachusetts have not served poor students and students of color. This report from Citizens for Public Schools speaks to the ways Ed Reform has not worked in Massachusetts. While NY has come at students and teachers with a hammer, Massachusetts has been more stealth. When MCAS was first made a graduation requirement school committees voted to graduate students without their having passed the MCAS. The department of education threatened to rescind the licenses of principals who signed off on those diplomas. That effectively silenced the opposition. Since then we have had the water of reform rising at different levels in different districts, with our urban schools taking the brunt. But this year, with a new teacher evaluation system and teachers feeling the reality of Common Core and the coming PARCC, we are seeing how the system is rigged against us and our students. Our curriculum frameworks, of which you write, are being tossed aside for common core standards and the tests that come with them. I am proud to be an educator in Massachusetts and stand with excellent colleagues, but not for the reasons King or any of the reforms speak to–no matter how accurately or not.

    barbara madeloni


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