Time for Bold Education Reforms to Move Massachusetts Forward
By Roy Nascimento
Special to the Sentinel & Enterprise
The North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce has long been a champion of education and has been actively engaged in supporting our schools. We recognize that the quality and accessibility of public education is critical to the health and prosperity of our state and regional economy. We would, therefore, like to commend Governor Baker and our legislative leaders for looking to address education reform in this legislative session. It has been twenty six years since the state last did so, and we believe that there is no issue more critical to our state and its future.
As Beacon Hill moves forward with discussions on how to best improve our schools, the chamber would like to present five recommendations for consideration. These proposals were developed, with input from educators, by a taskforce of employers convened through the Chamber. Much of the final report -- titled Build North Central and published last month -- focuses on our K-12 institutions. Public schools have a substantial impact on the skills and careers the state’s students pursue.
School funding: Much of the discussion so far has focused on providing additional funding -- of up to and over $2 billion -- and adjusting the formula that the state uses to support school systems. It has be 26 years since the formula was first developed, so we agree that it is time to explore reforms and look to new investments into our schools. However, any new funding should be accompanied by meaningful reforms with increased focus on career readiness and greater support for underachieving school systems. Meaningful reforms should be a condition to providing additional funding.
College and career readiness: Reforms should encourage an emphasis on creating career pathways in the schools and promote both college and career routes. Currently, high school success rates are measured heavily by college admissions, leading to curriculums that promote college preparation over other options, such as vocational training. State leaders should look at reforms that will better align school success with workforce needs. Partnerships with schools and employers should be incentivized by the state to ensure alignment with the students’ career interests and the skills necessary to succeed in the workplace.
Expand experiential learning: We are staunch proponents of work-based learning which, provided alongside rigorous college-level coursework, has proven to be effective in preparing students for success academically and in the workforce. Programs such as internships, co-ops, apprenticeships strengthen the educational experience, help our schools engage local employers, and provide meaningful introductions to career opportunities. State leaders should look for ways to expand work based learning in the schools, granting every high school student access to some type of experiential learning prior to graduation. The taskforce also recommends that career introduction programs be offered in the middle school to allow exploration of potential career opportunities before they and their parents begin discussing high-school coursework.
Expand access to vocational-technical education: Vocational-technical schools in our state serve as models of how to best integrate academics with career preparation. Employers value the high caliber graduates coming out of these increasingly premier institutions, who leave prepared for both college and the workforce. This, in turn, has greatly increased competition for class space, leading to long wait-lists among those seeking admission. Reforms should include increased access to high-quality vocational education, achieved through expanding our technical schools; introducing vocational-technical elements into our conventional schools; and supporting partnerships between our high schools and our community colleges to fill the gap.
High school credentialing: Industry-recognized credentials are often used by employers to certify that an applicant has the appropriate level of skills to qualify for a particular job. State leaders should look for ways to encourage school systems to introduce high-school credentialing courses that are linked to the demands in the labor market. Students who earn industry certifications, which are often “stackable,” are then better prepared to find high-demand, high paying jobs directly out of high school or to continue their education in a chosen career.
We support the continuing dialogue that incorporates the concerns of students, parents, employers and educators and prepares our youth to succeed and our state to excel in today’s competitive environment.
Roy Nascimento is president and CEO of the North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce.