The New Opportunity to Lead: A vision for education in Massachusetts in the next 20 years

Every state in America would benefit from something like this—an honest appraisal of the present condition of its K–12 education combined with a bold, even arresting vision of how it should change over the next two decades.

The Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education was born in response to A Nation at Risk and, with a foreword-looking 1991 report, pointed the way toward the Bay State's much-praised education-reform act two years later.

What happened thereafter is widely known: with an entire suite of reforms in place (centered, I believe, on strong academic standards, a steadfast high-stakes assessment system, more rigorous requirements for teachers, and one of the country's better—though small—charter-school programs), the “Massachusetts Miracle” propelled that state to a level of educational performance that rivaled leading nations elsewhere on the globe.

The past few years, however, have seen some stagnation and backsliding on the ed-reform front in the Bay State, and the MBAE recognized that the time has come for a new kick in the pants. So they engaged Sir Michael Barber and his Brightlines colleague Simon Day to prepare a status report and road map to the future.

The result is now out, all 120 pages of it, and even a jaded report reader might fairly term it thrilling. It acknowledges the stagnation problem and depicts six gaps as the main challenges facing Massachusetts. To wit, the employability gap (a.k.a. the dearth of needed skills for success in the modern economy); the knowledge gap (lack of crucial Hirsch-style content); the achievement gap (similar to NCLB concerns); the opportunity gap (poor kids don’t get a fair shake); the global gap (MA will lose its international ranking as countries with strong education systems forge ahead); and the top-talent gap (the failure to address the education needs of gifted youngsters).

For each of these gaps, an audacious but convincing set of remedies is proposed.

I've no idea whether the Bay State has the will, the leadership, or the resources to move as far educationally in the decades ahead as it did during the past twenty years. If it follows the Barber–Day recommendations, however, it could indeed lead the world.

Congrats to the MBAE. And eat your hearts out, other states. Better still, get a move on!

SOURCE: Michael Barber and Simon Day, The New Opportunity to Lead: A vision for education in Massachusetts in the next 20 years (Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education & Brightlines, March 2014).

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