Details a Plan to Aid Troubled Schools
by Frank Phillips, Boston Globe, October 29, 2003
For more articles like this
Saying he is
"very, very troubled" over educational achievement gaps,
Governor Mitt Romney wants to encourage underperforming school
districts to improve by offering them full-day kindergarten,
greater leeway in firing decisions, and merit pay for teachers.
Romney, in an interview yesterday with Globe editors and
reporters, said he would like to offer full-day kindergarten to
children in underperforming school districts if the parents
agreed to attend weekend classes where they would learn ways to
help their children in school.
As part of his initiative, Romney said, he is creating a
14-member education task force today headed by Paul Grogan,
president of the Boston Foundation, that the governor hopes will
address the lagging MCAS scores in the state's worst school
districts with a host of innovative ideas, some of which he said
will "challenge the education establishment."
"What troubles me most is the achievement gap," said Romney, who
is scheduled to outline his proposals and the formation of the
task force at an educational conference in Marlborough today.
"Those things make me very, very troubled."
But Romney made clear he will push for structural changes and is
not inclined to funnel more money to the districts, with the
exception perhaps of expanded kindergarten programs. He noted
that per-pupil spending is about equal across the state.
"We can't go on just saying the same old thing -- continuing to
do the same thing and expecting a different result is foolish,"
Romney said. "And we are going to have to take a different
approach to improve those schools."
Romney said he is not dictating what the Grogan panel should
propose, but he did offer suggestions.
"I would have full-day kindergarten in our troubled districts,
but have it contingent upon parents attending an education
preparation course," Romney said.
"I want parents in troubled districts to understand how they
need to be partners in the education process with the teachers,
with the administration, and with their child . . .," Romney
Michele Brooks, director of the Boston Parent Organizing
Network, was intrigued by the governor's ideas for full-day
kindergarten and help for parents. But she wondered how he would
pay for the initiative, and hoped the weekend training program
for parents would not be punitive.
"I would have to see how it could be done, because I think it
has its merits," Brooks said in a telephone interview. "I think
parents need support in understanding how they can help their
children, and that is very important for student success."
The governor also said he wants to give underperforming
districts greater authority to challenge the "education
establishment," including adopting some of the flexible policies
used by successful charter schools. He said that may include
merit pay for the best-performing teachers and giving local
school authorities the right to fire teachers who aren't meeting
"I believe we also need to provide additional compensation to
people who take on tough urban teaching jobs," Romney said. "I'd
love there to be some kind of merit pay for our very best
performers, particularly in these troubled districts."
The average annual teacher pay in Boston is about $62,000 this
year, according to school officials. The average in
Massachusetts was about $49,200 in 2001-02, according to the
state Department of Education.
"I just think we have to make sure we are putting our kids and
our teachers first and the education establishment has to take a
back seat," Romney said. He defined the "education
establishment" as primarily the unions and some of the
administrators in the system. He said part of that challenge
would involve reviewing the jobs that administrators and
principals are doing in underperforming districts.
"I anticipate that in those troubled districts, we might want to
see a review of the principals and the superintendents to make
sure we have the right people in charge. And then I would give
them the ability to hire and fire," the governor said. "Probably
not the entire faculty."
Romney did not single out the underperforming districts by name.
The education commissioner next month is expected to recommend
to the state Board of Education which districts should be called
underperforming, with schools in Holyoke, North Adams, and
Winchendon and Joseph P. Keefe Technical School in Framingham
Edward Doherty, assistant to the president of the 20,000-member
Massachusetts Federation of Teachers, questioned some of
Romney's suggestions. Merit pay has failed elsewhere, Doherty
said, and the federal No Child Left Behind Act already provides
much leeway for principals to let go of teachers who are not
deemed "highly qualified." Doherty said he hopes teachers sit on
the governor's proposed task force.
"Most people that are working in the field of public education
would disagree with four out of five proposals the governor
suggested, but the idea of a task force -- as long as it has
people that represent teachers in this state -- is important,"
Romney did not reveal who else he will appoint to the task force
he will announce today, but aides said the group will include
educators and civic leaders.
Grogan's group is expected to report back to Romney by the end
of the year.
On other issues:
Romney said he is backing off his proposal to reorganize the
public University of Massachusetts system and eliminate the
president's office. The decisive vote in the Senate, the general
opposition against the plan, and the uncertainty it would create
in attracting a new UMass president persuaded him to drop it. "I
will not bring it up again," he said.
He took a partisan swipe at US Senator John F. Kerry by coining
the term "Kerryism" to describe a convoluted answer. Noting the
Massachusetts Democrat's struggle to square his vote for the
Iraq war resolution last year with his opposition to President
Bush's funding to rebuild Iraq, Romney suggested he himself may
be accused of a "Kerryism" when explaining why he now is keenly
interested in the search for a UMass president.
back to the top ~
back to Breaking News
~ back to