Monday, June 23, 2008

Deval's big money "Readiness Project"

Today, Governor Deval Patrick issued a press release announcing his education reform initiative. While the report on which it was based is not yet available, I did want to look at the plan as Deval has presented it. It is an ambitious set of ideas that demands money and space beyond what is already needed, and well beyond what funding is available. There's one really bad idea (first up), but other than that it's mainly good stuff. Of course, the devil is in the details, and it is in the policy details that education usually gets jobbed. So far, here's what we know from the press release (original in italics):

  • Comprehensive, statewide child and youth data and reporting system that would lead to development of a "Readiness Passport" for every child and youth enrolled in Massachusetts schools. I do not know if this will be in addition to, or simply replacing, the MCAS "report card" for student, school, and district. What it does sound like is the typical understanding among politicians that more paperwork is the key to improving schools. Every student will get a new id number, and all education staff will be expected to fill out new forms and arrange new folders rather than, you know, do their job. Re-work the MCAS if you want this...I don't need some campaign gimmick that goes along with this initiative's brand.

  • Immediately create, by means of an executive order, a Task Force to establish a statewide birth-to-school age strategy to ensure the healthy development of children. Worthy idea, but I'm unsure of the money source, and surprised that this is being given to education rather than health.

  • Continue to work toward reducing class size in K–2 classrooms in high-needs school districts. Sure. How? Who pays for the teachers? Where do the other classes meet? Plenty of schools have "class" in the cafeteria or gym.

  • Increase availability and accessibility of state Adult Basic Education and English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) programs. Again, nice idea. Money? People?

  • Launch an Urban Schools Early Warning and Dropout Prevention Pilot. I'm disappointed that this approach is limited to urban schools. Anyone familiar with education through visiting schools -- rather than watching movies -- knows that there are plenty of rural and suburban schools with dropout issues as real as urban schools. They're on their own, it seems.

  • Place Student Support Coordinator(s) in every low-income school to assist teachers, connect students and their families. Again, a good idea. Not sure where the money comes from.

  • Establish a Commonwealth Child and Youth Readiness Cabinet Seems harmless enough.

  • Achieve universal pre-kindergarten, beginning with the FY 2010 budget. I have no idea where the money comes from, or where the children go. Where is this going to be housed?

  • Continue state support for high-quality, full-day kindergarten in every high-need district. Universal pre-kindergarten, but not universal full-day kindergarten? What?

Can't fault this on a lack of ambition. We're talking more people, more space, more paperwork...more money. This "readiness passport" gimmick is the only manifestly bad idea on this list, but one thing they all have in common is a demand for more funds. I worry that this will become another No Child Left Behind...a list of new obligations without the money attached. And this doesn't get into his new union-busting proposals, or other dreams.

One last word. On Patrick's side is a crew of people called "readiness representatives", who signed up to promote his plan starting months ago. They were trolling for more "readiness reps" at the breakout session on public education at the Massachusetts Democratic Convention. Few things have brought home to me the blind faith Patrick continues to inspire in some people that he had people ready to promote his plan...without even knowing what it was.

1 comment:

Ryan Adams said...

This certainly does disappoint me.

There isn't adequate funding to maintain services already. Districts across the state are closing schools and public libraries - and we're talking about expanding services? I'd love to expand services too, in addition to maintaining the status quo, but that's not possible without paying much more in taxes. I'm certainly not opposed to paying for it, but I don't see the Governor making that argument. And it'll be a tough one to make.

I'd rather him focus on the far less politically sexy issue, but far more important, of fixing the current mess. Fixing Chapter 70 and making a few small fixes here and there would go a long way toward solving the actual education issues in this state. Then we could move on to facing the socioeconomic issues which are far more often the bigger barrier.