Education reform has been one of Massachusetts’ greatest success stories of recent decades. It has put the state’s students at the very top in the nation by virtually all measures of achievement. It’s played a major role in attracting high-paying jobs, because employers recognize that Massachusetts’ commitment to educating students continues. There’s no resting on laurels here. Much work remains to be done, especially in closing the achievement gap, and Massachusetts can’t shrink from it. Too much depends on the state’s maintaining its reputation for excellence by developing new mechanisms for improving its public schools.
That’s why it’s disturbing — but not entirely surprising — that the latest education-reform bill is languishing in the Legislature. Critics, led by some very well-funded teachers’ unions, are trying to portray education reform as “teacher bashing,” and to redefine what has been an unprecedented, straight-from-the-heart commitment to public education as an attempt to defund public schools. It’s a deeply unfair charge, but sobering enough that some legislators are taking it seriously.
If so, they should look closely at what’s happening in Lawrence. In 2011, concerned about the terminally poor performance of students in the very low-income district, state officials implemented “turnaround” provisions that had been authorized in the previous education-reform bill, in 2010. The results, in just two years, have been astounding: Sudden jumps of between 10 and 17 points in all grades in the percentage of students proficient in math; an 8-point jump in the four-year graduation rate; and a single-year plunge in the dropout rate from 8.6 percent in 2011 to 5.9 percent in 2012.