State urged to spend $90m on worst schools

Tracy Jan
March 11, 2005

A coalition of business, civic, and education leaders, including urban school superintendents, called on the governor and state Legislature yesterday to declare a state of emergency and pump nearly $30 million a year into the worst schools in Massachusetts for the next three years.

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The coalition wants the state to target 115 low-performing schools in two dozen school districts and give each school about $250,000 a year to help raise test scores in three years. The schools, which represent 5 percent of the state's public schools, have already been deemed underperforming by the state or the US Department of Education based on students' MCAS scores and other factors.

Mass Insight Education, a nonprofit education-research group based in Boston, helped set up the coalition. Yesterday's announcement was made about a month after the coalition unveiled its plan for a second wave of education change for the state. Besides aiming to fix failing schools, the group also calls for raising the percentage of students scoring in the advanced categories on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System exam.

Coalition members, who say the state has moved too slowly to improve failing schools, fear legislators won't act fast enough now that a key court case has been decided. Last month, the Supreme Judicial Court dismissed a lawsuit filed by students and their families seeking more money for poor school systems, many of which have low-performing schools. State officials say they're not ignoring the failing schools, but first need to figure out how much money is available.

Boston, the state's largest school system, has 27 schools on the coalition's list of failing schools, while Springfield has 20. Other systems with targeted schools include Brockton, Cambridge, Lowell, and Worcester. About 70,000 students attend the schools on the list.

''Not only are these schools not working, they're not showing any improvement," said the coalition's Paul Grogan, president of the Boston Foundation. ''We simply can't tolerate that any longer."

Instead of school-by-school intervention, the coalition urged the state Education Department to form a collaborative of failing schools and work with superintendents to figure out the best approaches. The schools themselves, using money from the state, would pick from various strategies, including a longer school day or extra pay for good teachers.

Representative Patricia A. Haddad, Education Committee chairwoman, called the proposal intriguing but said it is too early in the budget process to commit a set amount of money. ''We should be helping these lowest-performing schools," Haddad said, ''but just putting another list out there before we are able to say to them, 'Here is what we can do to help you' was kind of inappropriate."

Governor Mitt Romney has asked the Legislature for an additional $2 million to aid failing schools, said Ann Reale, Romney's senior policy adviser.

A list of the coalition's targeted schools is at massinsight.com.


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