Mass Insight invites stakeholders to reflect on Education Reform 20 Years Later

Ed Reform Panel

Panelists l-r
Tito Jackston, Boston City Councilor
Mitchell Chester, Massachusetts Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education
Tripp Jones, Managing Director, New Profit, Inc.
Jane Swift, Former Governor of Massachusetts
William Guenther, CEO and Founder, Mass Insight
Jim Peyser, Partner, NewSchools Ventures Fund
Michael Contompasis, Former Superindtendent Boston Public Schools
Matthew Malone, Massachusetts Secretary of Education

BOSTON – The state must act with urgency to address the challenges that remain after two decades of successful education reform efforts in order to ensure that all students are being prepared for college and career success, said a panel of education leaders on Thursday.


Education Reform Report: Making Progress...Challenges Remain
Massachusetts Education Reform: Lessons Learned
College Success: The New Metric

Event Summary

Twenty years after the Massachusetts Educational Reform Act was passed, the state has built one of the best educational systems in the country, yet it still struggles to close significant and persistent achievement gaps, according to the panel.

“I am very hopeful that after 20 years, we are ready to double-down and really focus on some significant additional challenges,” said former Gov. Jane Swift, speaking during a forum held Thursday at the Massachusetts State House about the 20th anniversary of the state’s landmark Education Reform Act.

Mass Insight Education, a Boston nonprofit that works to close educational achievement gaps, hosted the forum, which also featured state Education Secretary Matt Malone, state Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester, former Boston School Superintendent Michael Contompasis, and Boston City Councilor Tito Jackson as well as Tripp Jones, managing director at New Profit, Inc., and Jim Peyser, partner at NewSchools Venture Fund.

All of the panelists agreed that there was much to celebrate from the first two decades of education reform in Massachusetts, including a marked increase in the number of students achieving proficiency on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System, or MCAS, and the state’s continued dominance on national standardized tests such as the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

Despite those successes, however, too many students are graduating from high school unprepared for the rigors of college, said Chester, who pointed out that almost 40 percent of the state’s high school graduates who enroll in college are placed in at least one remedial course.

And too many students are being left behind all together, according to Jackson: “This is the civil rights issue of our time, which is this gap, not only in achievement but also in access,” said Jackson.

Swift echoed Jackson’s point about access: Swift said she went to a high school that did not offer Advanced Placement courses and found herself at a distinct disadvantage when she got to college – a disadvantage she sees replicated today in students who enroll in college without having had access to a rigorous high school curriculum.

“The AP initiative (at Mass Insight) and the specific focus in bringing those programs into schools who haven’t traditionally offered them and forcing schools who have traditionally offered them to think of them as being more broadly available to all students rather than to just that elite group of students is critically, critically important,” said Swift.

To address the remaining challenges, the state needs to be much more focused on growing what works, according to Peyser.

“We need to be unashamed to acknowledge that some things actually are effective, some things are producing great results, and we have to do whatever it takes to get more of that,” said Peyser, who pointed to the expansion of successful urban charter schools as one example.

And, he continued, “There are other things that we’re doing – and the AP program among them – that we need to say, ‘Hey, this works. How do we get more of it?’”

According to Malone, the state is paying increasing attention to the connections between its K-12 and higher education systems, and under the leadership of Chester and Higher Education Commissioner Richard Freeland, is improving the alignment between the systems to ensure that students are prepared for college and career success.

“College success is critical, but we’re not going to fix that by focusing on college,” said Malone. “We’re going to start correcting that by starting with early childhood, continuing the reforms and the work at K-12, and really getting right community colleges and higher ed.”

William Guenther, chairman and CEO of Mass Insight, said that only 10 percent of low-income student earn a bachelor’s degree by their mid-to-late 20s – a statistic that hasn’t budged in 40 years. Nationally, only 30 percent of all Americans aged 25 to 29 have bachelor’s degrees, according to Guenther.

“We have an opportunity to make a difference,” said Guenther. “College success – it is the mantra, it is the metric, it’s what we should be focused on for a lot more kids. And Advanced Placement is the platform we can use to get students there. It’s the middle class ticket to a competitive college, and it’s the ticket we want to give to more low-income and minority students.”