A new coalition held an event at the State House last week and asked legislators to create powerful new educational opportunities for children.
The Building on What Works Coalition unites educators, business leaders, and elected officials who want to root out educational inequality and give all the state’s children the educational experiences they will need to thrive in our 21st century economy.
The coalition is calling for the state’s fiscal year 2016 budget to invest $75 million in a fund that communities could use to take one or more of the following steps:
• expand access to high-quality, birth-to-age-5 early learning opportunities
• expand K-12 learning time by making school days or school years longer, and,
• design innovative learning systems that draw on educators’ talents as well as on technology and public resources
The fund would be made available to communities where more than 50 percent of the students served are high-need.
“We need legislative action that builds on what we know works,” Chris Martes, president and CEO of Strategies for Children, said. “This proposal is a cost-effective way to prepare more of our students for lifelong success.”
Martes is a co-chair of the Building on What Works coalition along with Fitchburg Mayor Lisa Wong; Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll; Chris Gabrieli, Co-Founder of Massachusetts 2020; Linda Noonan, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education; and Tripp Jones, Board Member of MassINC.
This is the first time that these organizations have come together to jointly support the same budget proposal.
“We think it’s critical that we not lose any momentum,” Tripp Jones said at the State House event.
“Even when you’re cutting, you need to be investing in certain crucial things,” Gabrieli said, explaining that despite the state’s budget shortfall, $75 million was a reasonable amount to spend on evidence-based practices deployed by communities that are eager to innovate.
For Mayors Driscoll and Wong, this is a logical next step that builds on the work they did with their fellow Gateway Cities to develop a vision for “Dynamic Community-Wide Learning Systems.”
“My community know what it wants: high-quality pre-K, expanded learning time, and a path to redesign schools for the future,” Wong said in a press statement. “The fund would allow us to be strategic about investing in those areas.”
“We’re focusing on things that work,” Driscoll said pointing out that early education and increased learning time can dramatically change a child’s trajectory, helping to get third graders reading at grade level.
“This proposal gets us away from the one-size-fits-all proposal,” Linda Noonan said, adding that educators cannot do all the work of educational innovation on their own.
“We have to go all over the world to find those employees who work for us,” John Stuart said at the event, adding that more Massachusetts children should learn the skills they need to fill high-tech jobs. Stuart is the senior vice president of global education at the software company PTC and a long-time member of the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education.
“There’s no more exciting place to be today than urban education,” Andre Ravenelle, superintendent of the Fitchburg Public Schools, said at the event. He added that it would be a powerful resource to have a new funding source to finance innovations. “This proposal holds our feet to the fire.”
A Competitive Program Based on Accountability
More than 60 communities — including Boston, Brockton, Fall River, Fitchburg, Methuen, Provincetown, Somerville, Wareham and Yarmouth —would be eligible to apply and compete for funding.
Awards would “be made by a highly qualified public-private board to ensure independence and transparency,” a coalition document explains.
Proposals would be judged on:
• Strategic quality: integrated, comprehensive approaches would be prioritized.
• Potential for effectiveness: priority would be given to plans that are most likely to succeed.
• Innovative design: innovative proposals would get added consideration.
Communities would also be held accountable for their outcomes. As the coalition explains, “To maintain funding, the awardee must make measurable gains over three years and sustain success. The awardee must work with the state department(s) to outline the specific early indications of success across four dimensions:”
• academic outcomes
• social-emotional/non-cognitive outcomes
• kindergarten readiness (for plans with an early education component), and,
• work readiness, post-secondary enrollment, and persistence (for plans with a secondary school component)
“This is absolutely what I would do if I were still a superintendent,” Strategies Chris Martes said. “I would look at individuals kids and individual schools and invest in innovations for them.”
And let Governor Charlie Baker and your state legislators know that Massachusetts’ children deserve a strategic investment in their long-term success.