Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Education in Massachusetts

Jay Tea blogged on Wizbang A few years ago, in a rare act of sanity, Massachusetts enacted an educational reform that actually seemed it would help students succeed. They instituted the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System, a series of standardized tests that students would have to pass to graduate from the 5th, 8th, and 12th grades respectively. There was, naturally, a bit of controversy over it, but overall it's been pretty successful. Students who failed the test had to re-take it or repeat a grade until they proved they had learned enough of what was expected of them.

Sounds reasonable. When I went to school, we had to pass tests or we did not graduate.
This week, the New Bedford, Massachusetts school committee decided that "mandatory" didn't really mean that. They announced that students who met all the other graduation requirements but failed the MCAS would be awarded "general diplomas" and sent forth from their high schools as graduates. Governor Romney was not amused.He immediately called upon state education officials to hit the New Bedford School Committee where it hurts -- in the wallet. Apparently the district gets about $100 million a year (a staggering amount, to my mind), and Romney says that some or all of that should be withheld if they don't actually OBEY THE LAW.
Three cheers for Governor Romney
The Boston Globe has a bit more sympathetic version of the story, with extensive quotes from backers of the plan. (Big surprise there; as I recall, the Glob was a staunch opponent of MCAS in the first place.) One quote from New Bedford's mayor, Scott Lang, leaped out at me:
''Cutting off our funding will only exacerbate the problem," he said. ''I am not looking for a confrontation, I am looking for a solution from them."
What about teaching the kids to read, write, and do arithmetic.
One person has a solution: Representative Antonio F.D. Cabral (D-New Bedford) has filed a bill to allow communities to award diplomas to those who fail MCAS. In other words, he wants to make MCAS optional. I think that's a stupid idea, but it is at least more principled than simply ignoring the law.
I agree that it is better to change the law, rather than just ignoring it, but maybe a better idea would be to teach the kids how to read and write, and maybe they could pass the test.
Here's a suggestion, Mr. Mayor: you've got the problem, you work on a solution. Either change the law (like Representative Cabral is proposing, or live with it.

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