Yesterday, Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin transmitted to the state legislature An Act to Promote Excellence in Public Schools. The proposed initiative, if passed, would make necessary changes to state law to ensure every public school in Massachusetts gives effectiveness a more prominent role than seniority in decisions regarding teacher assignments and layoffs. This very concept not only has significant support from Massachusetts voters (with a recent UMASS Amherst poll showing 85% of voters approving), it is a critical next step to closing the achievement gap and providing every child in Massachusetts, regardless of their background or zip code, access to a great education.
Massachusetts has always been a leader in public education; we had the nation’s first public high school and consistently rank high on national and international assessments. Yet, we still have incredible inequities within our schools. The large achievement gaps that separate low-income students and students of color from their peers clearly demonstrate that we are failing too many of our kids in too many of our schools.
Massachusetts is my home. I was born and raised in Fall River, and I have always been proud of the strong value our Commonwealth places on education. As the first person in my family to graduate from college, I experienced the power that a quality education has to change students’ lives and increase their chances to succeed. And in my years as a teacher in one of the nation’s toughest school districts, I saw firsthand the power that teachers have to transform kids’ lives.
After graduating from Boston College, I taught 6th grade math and science in East Oakland. One of my students entered my classroom years behind his peers and far behind where he needed to be to succeed. To cope with the embarrassment of not being able to read, he would often act out in class, which led many adults in previous years to give up on him. I couldn’t accept that. Instead of writing him off, I pushed him, encouraged him, told him he would succeed, and raised his and my expectations for what he could become. And he rose to the occasion. In just one year, he grew academically at an astonishing pace, proving to himself and the school that he could achieve. If he had continued down that path, with a great teacher pushing him to achieve every year, he would have been back on track with his peers in just a few years. Unfortunately, the school system failed him. He wasn’t pushed, wasn’t supported, wasn’t challenged, and as a result, he’s no longer with us. He suffered the same fate too many of the kids we fail face when he dropped out of school and his life was taken at a young age due to gang violence.
I hold the story of this child – a young person who had a real chance to succeed if adults in the school system hadn’t failed him – close to me every day as I advocate to improve our public schools. He proved that if we give children a chance, and push them to be the best they can be, they can achieve.
That’s why I am proud of the work Stand for Children has done since 2003 to improve public schools across the Commonwealth, including leveraging more than $1.35 billion for our public school classrooms and helping to pass health benefit reform legislation, allowing communities throughout Massachusetts to save millions of dollars that helped to save teachers’ jobs, upgrade classroom technology and ultimately build better, improved schools for Massachusetts’ children.
I am also proud that Stand for Children launched the Great Teachers Great Schools campaign last fall, a statewide effort to ensure every child in Massachusetts has access to an effective teacher. An Act to Promote Excellence in Public Schools is the centerpiece of the Great Teachers Great Schools campaign. If enacted, the initiative would ensure public schools put performance first when deciding which teachers to retain during layoffs and create clear, consistent and fair guidelines for public schools across the Commonwealth for assigning and retaining teachers.
Yesterday, as Secretary Galvin prepared to transmit the initiative to the State House, we launched a new website for the Great Teachers Great Schools campaign to inform, engage and mobilize voters to take action on this important issue. I invite you to learn more about this campaign at www.greatteachersgreatschools.org, where you can watch a video that features parents, teachers and school leaders from Massachusetts speaking about the significance of putting performance first in teacher assignment decisions.
Now that the initiative has been presented to the legislature, lawmakers have an opportunity to do what an overwhelming majority of Massachusetts voters support – ensure our schools promote and recognize teachers based on performance, not just seniority. Whether a teacher started 25 years ago or yesterday, we should show them the respect they deserve for mastering their craft and getting results for all children. In passing the changes to state law in the proposed initiative, lawmakers will ensure no child spends another minute in a classroom where they are not learning, living up to the longstanding and deeply-held Massachusetts value of providing a great education to all children.
I look forward to working with our elected leaders, parents, teachers, students and advocates in the coming months to accomplish this for our kids. Please join us – to learn more, get involved and take action, please visit the Great Teachers Great Schools website today and help us achieve this victory for all children in Massachusetts.