Parents Urge Focus on Education Quality
BOSTON —Urban parents turned out in the rain Tuesday to demand improvements in the quality of public education, not just an increase in state aid to schools.
The Legislature and Gov. Charlie Baker this year appear poised to commit to a multi-year effort to boost education funding, but there’s less certainty about education reforms that might go with the extra dollars to ensure that schools are meeting standards and held accountable for academic performance.
“So many of us have been through the public school system and we know what it’s like to be underserved and we’re here to say enough is enough,” said Keri Rodrigues, founding president and mom-in-chief of Massachusetts Parents United (MPU), leading a large group of parents, including many immigrants, at the rally outside the State House. “Yes, we need more money for education, but we need it to be spent better.”
A growing advocacy group, MPU says it has more than 7,000 active members and represents urban parents, with chapters in Boston, Lawrence, Lowell, Springfield, Holyoke, Lynn, Salem and New Bedford. The group’s members are focused on issues like teacher quality and diversity, holding local officials accountable for the ways education dollars are spent, and ensuring that schools have modern technology and buildings.
Education Secretary James Peyser spoke to the group outside the State House. He told them that public education in Massachusetts is “seen as number one in the country,” but he pointed to problems such as educational achievement that has “flattened out,” a third grade reading proficiency rate of just 50 percent, employers who can’t find skilled workers, too many students arriving at college but still needing remedial courses, and “unacceptably high” achievement gaps among low-income students and students of color.
The people who assembled a 1993 education reform law understood the importance of matching investments with accountability and higher expectations about results, Peyser said. “As we begin to have a conversation around another education bill we need to take that same view,” he said. “It needs to be not just about the money. It needs to be about how that money is spent.”
Peyser urged parents to demand five things: a multi-year commitment to expanded Chapter 70 school funding and charter school reimbursements, new resources for early college and career pathway initiatives, flexibility for the state education commissioner to ensure “real change” in districts that are struggling to close achievement gaps, broader availability of empowerment zone models like one that’s being used in Springfield to improve low-performing schools, and enhanced accountability to ensure that results are achieved.
The education advocacy and lobbying will pick up again on Thursday afternoon, when thousands of people will be “storming” the State House to demand bigger increases in education spending.