Gateway Cities Agenda for Schools
12/14/2011- The Berkshire Eagle
Massachusetts's record of educational achievement is second to none and a model for the nation. Our students consistently score at the top of the charts on national and even international tests. Massachusetts has much to celebrate, yet achievement gaps, deep and persistent ones, tell us that the work of education reform is far from finished. All students are not yet achieving at high levels.
Last month, in an address to the education community, Governor Patrick challenged us to do more. He called on us to do more for those children still stuck in persistent achievement gaps typically found among poor children, students with disabilities, those who speak English as a second language and frequently, students of color. These students are heavily concentrated in the commonwealth's Gateway cities, like Pittsfield, which are home to many of our immigrants, low-income students, English Language Learners and others whom we can be serving better. The challenges faced by students, their families and educators in the Gateway Cities are daunting.
So how will we reach these children?
The governor has given us a clear plan, a Gateway Cities Agenda, centered on five core principles. First and foremost is a renewed commitment to high standards and accountability in our education system. At the heart of that commitment is a call to get every child to reading proficiency by grade three. To this end, we will pilot
Kindergarten Readiness Literacy Programs in Gateway City Districts, designed to support at-risk students with an intensive program between pre-K and kindergarten, placing special emphasis on early literacy development.
Secondly, this plan calls for a host of student supports to ensure all students come to school healthy and ready to learn. Out-of-school factors, negative consequences of poverty, often prevent students from learning. Nearly 55 percent of students in Pittsfield come from low-income families and the additional challenges these children often face are significant. To combat these obstacles, we will create Student Support Councils in Gateway Cities and provide Student Support Counselors to predominantly low-income schools. These counselors will focus their efforts on assisting students and their families in solving problems and eliminating barriers that get in the way of student learning.
Thirdly, the governor's plan demands that we individualize learning to target students' particular needs. Schools should give students the quantity and quality of instruction they need to meet high standards. The current "one size fits all" school system does not work for many of our students. Some need more time and teaching to meet their particular learning challenges. Consequently, the governor's plan will pilot Summer English Learning Camps, designed to give English Language Learners (ELLs) the additional time and instruction needed to learn English while keeping pace in academic subjects.
The governor's plan also sets new expectations for college and career readiness, introducing secondary students to multiple success pathways early in high school. To this end, the Gateway Cities Agenda will establish high school career academies in several Gateway Cities that will offer high school students the opportunity for early career exploration, more applied learning and a variety of motivating educational experiences. Only seventy-five percent of Pittsfield students graduate high school in four years. We need to better demonstrate for these students how the skills they are learning in school can apply to meaningful work in the real world, and increasing early access to career education can help us do that.
Finally, the governor called on us to innovate. To seed and incentivize innovation, we will establish a statewide Commonwealth Education Innovation Fund, a public-private fund-raising partnership that will strengthen our capacity to meet 21st century education challenges by providing the education sector with the kind of "research and development" function common in the world of business. This fund will not be limited to the Gateway Cities.
Taken together, these five principles and action strategies form a frontal assault on achievement gaps while building a foundation for a 21st century education system. With these strategies and tools, Massachusetts will continue its pioneering leadership in education by making sure that all of our children are prepared for success.
Paul Reville is the Secretary of Education for Massachusetts.