Yesterday Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick laid out a four-point educational agenda for his second term – and we were delighted to see that ensuring that children read proficiently by the end of third grade was the first item on his list.
“First,” Patrick said, “every child must read well by the third grade. Three-quarters of children who struggle with reading in third grade will continue to struggle academically, greatly reducing their chances of graduating high school, going to college or successfully participating in our high-skill economy. I want you to go to work now on developing the best ways to address this early in a child’s academic career. In my next budget, I will propose a pilot program for kindergarten literacy readiness.”
Patrick spoke at an education summit at the University of Massachusetts/Boston that in word and substance reflected the birth-to-college focus of education governance in the commonwealth. Lieutenant Governor Tim Murray addressed the audience, as did Paul Reville, secretary of the Executive Office of Education. Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz (D-Boston) and Representative Alice Peisch (D-Wellesley), co-chairs of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Education also attended the summit.
The three break-out sessions – on teacher quality, student support, and college and career readiness – were conducted as joint board meetings attended by representatives of the Boards of Early Education and Care (EEC), Elementary and Secondary Education (ESE), and Higher Education (DHE). DHE Commissioner Richard Freeland attended the session on teacher quality. EEC Commissioner Sherri Killins attended the student support session. ESE Commissioner Mitchell Chester attended the session on college and career readiness.
After noting with pride that Massachusetts leads the nation in education, Patrick turned to unfinished business: the lingering achievement gap. “There is more we can do and more we must do,” he said. “At our current pace, we won’t close the achievement gap until the start of the next century.”
Patrick addressed the opportunity gap that underlies the achievement gap.
“This for me is personal. I have told you before about growing up on the South Side of Chicago. Everything was broken: broken sidewalks, broken lives. The schools were overcrowded, under-resourced, sometimes violent. And yes, thanks to great teachers and other adults, and a scholarship to Milton Academy in 1970, I got my break,” the governor said.
“But what I rarely talk about, and you also all know, is that there were lots of other kids on the South Side of Chicago just like me: just as wide-eyed and hopeful, just as eager to learn, just as curious and ambitious, but who got no break. And you know that still today for every one of me there are thousands of others in Massachusetts neighborhoods hoping for a break, entitled to one, in fact. To repeat, they are ours, too.”
His efforts, he said, would focus on the state’s Gateway Cities. “We cannot be truly successful as a state in closing achievement gaps,” he said, “unless we succeed in Brockton, Fall River, Lawrence, Holyoke, Fitchburg and Pittsfield.”
In addition to reading proficiency, the other three elements of Patrick’s four-point agenda are:
- “All children need a healthy start.” To address issues outside of school — mental health, family violence, housing instability, poor nutrition – that affect student learning, Patrick proposed establishing student support councils and student support counselors for predominantly low-income schools.
- “Student-first education must trump the system of adult convenience.” Patrick said he wants to move away from a one-size-fits-all model and target the needs of individual students. For example, he proposed establishing English learning summer camps for children whose first language is not English.
- “We must prepare students for lifelong success.” The governor defined success as landing and holding a “21st century job,” “being an informed citizen,” and “being prepared to be the head of a family.” He said he will step up support for vocational and technical schools and improve community colleges’ alignment with regional economic needs. He proposed piloting career academies to help high school students explore careers through experiential and applied learning.
Patrick said he will include investments in this plan in the fiscal year 2013 budget he files with the Legislature in January. He also proposed developing an innovation fund, “a public private means by which we can approach businesses, individuals, unions, foundations and others to leverage public money to invest in new experiments in the classroom, experiments that reach the children we are leaving behind.”
In closing, Patrick issued a call to action.
“We have the chance here to provide an opportunity to every child in Massachusetts, a chance to show them that in the face of an uncertain future we were willing to act and to lead, to preserve for them what our parents and grandparents gave to us,” he said. “I want history to record that we in our time stood up for the American Dream and made it real in Massachusetts for a generation to come. Let’s get to work.”