MEP board members testify before MA Joint Committee on Education [Transcript]

Mass. State HouseIn May 2013, MEP Board members Paul Toner, MTA President, Tom Gosnell, AFT MA President, and Tom Scott, M.A.S.S. Executive Director testified with before the Joint Committee on Education with respect to the 2013 Bill H.464, “An Act relative to improving student achievement.” Below is a transcript of their testimony.

Read the full text of the bill here.

To:   The Joint Committee on Education 
From: Paul Toner, President, Massachusetts Teachers Association
      Tom Gosnell, President, American Federation of Teachers, Massachusetts
      Richard Stutman, President, Boston Teachers Union
      Tom Scott, Executive Director, Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents
Date: May 7, 2013
RE:   Bill H.464 Joint Testimony

As you are aware, Massachusetts’ state school and district accountability system places schools and districts on a five-level scale, ranking the highest performing in Level 1 and lowest performing in Level 5. This system was implemented as a result of the enactment of the 2010 Act Relative to the Achievement Gap, which provides tools, rules, and supports for the state to help improve outcomes for students attending schools and districts in Levels 4 and 5.

Designed to measure the progress schools and districts are making toward helping all students reach high levels of achievement, the present system is used to appropriately target interventions and support – but only after schools have been classified as Level 4 or Level 5. Thus, the question: “Why are we waiting until the school is classified as Level 4 to intervene?” We believe that H 464 filed by Rep. Alice Peisch (D-Wellesley), House Chair of the Joint Committee on Education, appropriately addresses that question by acknowledging that something must be done to stop the slide from Level 3 to Level 4 by proposing a system of early intervention.

This legislation establishes a foundation for a long-term collaborative partnership between the local school administration and the local teachers’ union. Centered around school improvement, student achievement, and teacher quality, Rep. Peisch’s legislation seeks to improve and encourage the collaborative development of significant school redesign plans locally from the inside and to give these plans time to work. We believe it is important to promote the development of redesign plans that focus on additional time, targeted professional development, school based leadership and peer assistance and review models. This will enhance and expand opportunities for collaborative planning, decision-making, problem solving, and the ways teachers interact and schools are organized. We support legislation that provides the framework and flexibility for the administration and the union to work together to foster more effective teaching, increase student learning and fix their school together proactively. Unlike some other approaches to addressing this very complex problem, we are committed to working collaboratively, as witnessed by the unprecedented support from the various stakeholder groups sitting together at this table – Massachusetts Teachers Association, American Federation of Teachers MA, Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents, and the Boston Teachers Union. We are all committed to working together with Rep. Peisch to improve the legislation and advance its passage into law.

At this time, roughly 20 percent of the 1900 schools in Massachusetts are designated as Level 3. Some are higher performing and just a few decimal points away from Level 2 status. Others are in the lowest percentile of Level 3 and before too long, without a strong redesign plan and assistance, they will inevitably drop lower. With adequate resources, the DESE would have the financial resources to address any and all problems in all of these nearly 400 schools which require additional assistance. However, in this era of increasingly finite resources, this legislation offers all of us an opportunity to work constructively together to develop creative and sustainable alternatives to helping the lowest performing Level 3 schools make progress at a rate that is acceptable to all and beneficial to our students. In difficult fiscal times, this approach is a smart, sensible, and creative approach to streamline bureaucracy and put change in the hands of educators, parents and local districts where it belongs.

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