Blog: Rethinking the role of the state in improving schools and communities

In 2010, almost 20 years after the groundbreaking Massachusetts Education Reform Act, the state took bold action to re-commit to the work of school and district improvement.  The 2010 legislation fixed its sights on school and district turnaround and the newly empowered Commissioner saw an opportunity to dramatically improve the education and the future for the kids of Lawrence (see our case study for more).

A lot has been written since then about the increase in student achievement (here, here, and here) and the ground breaking new teacher’s contract negotiated with the local AFT chapter (here and here). But what about what we can learn from the larger Lawrence experience?

This piece from the Boston Globe starts to get at this question. At the end, Scot Lehigh opines, “[The Commissioner’s] you-fix-it-or-I-will stance leaves both Boston and Springfield with an opportunity. Gutsy leaders could use the urgency to galvanize community support for dramatic change. Contrariwise, risk-averse, capital-preserving pols could strike a populist city-versus-state pose by siding with neighborhood activists, all the while leaving the hard school-improvement effort to [the Commissioner].”

We have seen that unions and management can arrive at an agreement that benefits not only both sides of the negotiating table but also students in the classroom. We know that local voice can be welcomed, listened to, and used in a governance structure other than the traditionally elected school committee. We know that even the worst districts have promising bright spots that can shine brighter under different conditions. We know that there are teachers that relish the opportunity to make decisions about the kind of school that they work in. And we know that high quality school operators can be a part of rather than apart from the overall strategy.

The tools are there. The proof is there. Now it is up to communities to decide if they want to move towards great schools for all kids.