ONE COMMONWEALTH AGENDA
Reimagining Learning from Birth to Beyond High School
Imagine a Commonwealth that sees every student as a whole person–where our educational system delivers for all, meets each student where they are, and helps each navigate to what they need for growth. Where we ensure that each learner has access to educators and opportunities that help them discover their passions, voice and talents, and nurture those to their highest potential. Where the goal is not standardization but personalization, and the creation of multiple pathways to success. This concept of a holistic approach to each learner is at the core of Danielle’s philosophy and agenda for education.
For too long, we have accepted success on average while having some of the starkest racial, regional, and socioeconomic disparities. Our one-size-fits-all education system ends up inadequately serving many of our students, not identifying the needs and the potential of all of our children, and pushing too many of them out of schools altogether. It also leaves our Commonwealth’s businesses and non-profit organizations struggling to tap fully into the Commonwealth’s talent. This all got much worse under the pressure of the pandemic.
It doesn’t have to be this way. For the health and prosperity of our Commonwealth, we need the contributions and talents of each and every resident, and pathways to success suitable to each person. That is why Danielle’s agenda will prioritize: uniting excellence and equity through student-centered supports; building a strong foundation for every child through affordable, accessible early education; fostering safe, supportive and healthy environments for learning; supporting diverse pathways to post-high school success; and restoring dignity and good working conditions for educators and effective family engagement.
An Allen administration will invest in the foundations of a One Commonwealth educational system that organizes around the principle that schools should meet learners where they are and give them what they need to support their success; a system that restores the joy of learning; and a system that supports all learners in finding their pathway to fulfillment in the workplace, civic life, and community.
The agenda below is the outcome of community collaboration at every level. It was developed in discussion with educators, families, caretakers, learners, and policy experts across the state. Most importantly, we listened to so many of our fellow citizens who have experienced real disappointment and anxiety in trying to secure the well-being and growth of their children in our schools. We also listened to educators who seek to bring creativity and innovation to their teaching practice but find obstacles in the way. Thanks to their wisdom and insight, we have an education agenda that will significantly improve the lives of millions of Bay Staters. But work to refine this agenda remains: we’ll continue to engage with communities across Massachusetts so that all voices are heard in our efforts to knit the Commonwealth together.
This agenda is just the beginning of the process. As we seek stakeholder engagement across the Commonwealth in the months ahead, the next critical ingredient we need is YOU. Together, we can ensure the growth of our economy and the shared, inclusive benefits of that prosperity.
My mom’s a librarian; my dad, a college professor. They raised my brother Marc and me to believe in our own voices and be ready to lift them up on behalf of others. They always told us our education would be our only inheritance but would keep us free.
I was greedy. I took as much of that inheritance as I could put my hands on. Eventually, I earned multiple advanced degrees. I know firsthand how education is the foundation for empowerment and personal fulfillment. This is true for all levels of education; apprenticeships, vocational education, 2 and 4 year college education, skill-based bootcamps, and lifelong learning.
I also know how hard my parents worked to make sure the paths available to me were personalized to my needs, passions, and abilities. When a school principal told my parents on a kindergarten admissions visit that I would never be any good at math, they yanked me out of that school. My dad ran for school board to make sure my public high school would offer the courses my mom and dad knew we needed.
Every child deserves that sort of investment in their pathway to success. Parents and caretakers all over the Commonwealth are making investments like this. The Commonwealth should meet and match their care and concern to see the whole learner.
Together, as One Commonwealth, we can ensure that high-quality education isn’t an accident of birth, but a birthright and an investment in the future of our Commonwealth. We can build stronger education systems to help every learner find their pathway to success, the pathway that is right for them.
UNITE EXCELLENCE AND EQUITY THROUGH STUDENT-CENTERED SUPPORTS
The Massachusetts approach to school governance and improvement has been based on the belief that if we set high standards, and evaluate against those standards, THEN “all educators will become more effective, all students will have more equitable access to great educators, AND student outcomes will improve.” This has led to a focus on averages and standardization. The focal point has been high-stakes tests. These tests have forced a narrowing and standardization of pathways of instruction. Test results are closely correlated with parental education and income. And while our current system has led to some of the highest average math and reading scores in the country, we also have some of the largest disparities in attainment and achievement by race, income, language, disability, and geography.
This accountability system as a whole is known as MCAS (the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment system), but the tests at the center of it have also come to be known as “the MCAS.” Currently there is widespread public opinion that it is time to get rid of “the MCAS,” meaning the test. Yet this goal is often heard by policy makers as a desire to get rid of the accountability system as a whole. This causes great confusion in our debate about education in Massachusetts and contributes to the challenge of moving beyond our current approach to a new, more effective accountability system that can unite excellence and equity.
It is time to put students at the center of our approach to education. Doing so does not mean abandoning accountability, nor does it mean abandoning standards. It does, however, mean abandoning standardization. We can enable the development of multiple pathways to success linked to robust and meaningful standards defining achievement. Advancements in performance- and portfolio-based assessments and micro-credentialing, with badges earned for the mastery of specific competencies, allow us to maintain accountability while also creating personalized approaches to learning that reflect the diverse needs and potential of our students.
- First, we will make uniting excellence and equity our top educational goal. This requires re-setting the terms for success in our educational system to reflect personalization rather than standardization. To do so, we will mount a Commission on the Future of Education in Massachusetts aimed at achieving a next generation articulation of our goals that captures the objective of achieving high success on average, in comparison to other states, and a high floor and a narrower spread of achievement and attainment between the floor and median.
- We will also develop a next generation strategy for accountability. Residents of the Commonwealth invest significant resources in our schools. We deserve clear reporting back of how well our schools are doing at delivering student achievement. Accountability frameworks and the ability to make comparisons across districts are critical to the success of Massachusetts schools. Yet accountability frameworks need not stifle the joy of learning, so fundamental to student engagement, attainment, and achievement. The field of educational assessment has made significant progress in the development of accountability frameworks using competency-based assessment, performance and task-based assessment, portfolio-based assessment, and micro-credentialing. We will harness the potential of these new approaches to reform our accountability system in support of student- and teacher-centered success, fueled by restoration of the joy of learning to the classroom.
- While this longer-term strategy is taking form, we will work to ensure that every child has a customized learning plan and an advocate to help them take advantage of all available supports and opportunities to realize their aspirations. Part of this work will require tightening the relationship between DESE and DCF to ensure that all children in our foster care system are receiving the learning supports they need. We will also expand individual tutoring, one of the most important tools for helping learners close achievement gaps and achieve success.
- We will also complete the broadband infrastructure in the Commonwealth and expand professional development in support of high-quality online instruction, with an eye to supporting increased flexibility for educational strategies throughout the Commonwealth, and especially in rural communities.
- We will also pursue enactment of legislation to expand opportunities to demonstrate academic achievement required to graduate high school, making the GED and other pathways more readily available to those for whom existing MCAS testing structures do not provide a pathway to success. One size doesn’t fit all, and our system needs to reorganize around the principle that schools “meet learners where they are and give them what they need to support their success.”
BUILD A STRONG FOUNDATION FOR EVERY CHILD THROUGH AFFORDABLE, ACCESSIBLE EARLY EDUCATION
The ages from 0-5 lay a foundation for future educational achievement. Yet Massachusetts has the most expensive childcare in the county. This is driving young families away from the Commonwealth, hindering women’s workforce participation, and restricting access to valuable educational opportunities for young children.
We will ensure every child and family has access to affordable, high-quality early education and care.
- The Allen administration will prioritize Universal High Quality Early Education and Care. We can get started with The Common Start Legislation. As summarized by the Common Start Coalition, the Common Start legislation would “establish a system of affordable, high-quality early education and child care for all Massachusetts families, over a 5-year timeline. The legislation would cover early education, care for children from birth through age 5, and after- and out-of-school time for children ages 5-12 and for children with special needs through age 15.” The bill’s framework uses a combination of direct-to-provider funding and ongoing family financial assistance to reduce costs to families while fairly compensating providers–child care centers, private homes, and schools– for the true cost of providing quality care.
- Building Universal High Quality Early Education is the best pathway to achieving universal access to affordable childcare. Massachusetts has the highest childcare costs in the country. This drives women out of the workforce and young families away from the state. By building universal high quality early education we not only help our young learners, but also families, workers, employers, and our state’s economy.
FOSTER SAFE, SUPPORTIVE AND HEALTHY ENVIRONMENTS FOR LEARNING
Too many of our schools lack suitable infrastructure to support physical and mental health in K-12 settings. Schools may not have access to the health personnel they need, and the physical infrastructure of our school buildings is often antiquated and unable to provide a healthy learning and teaching environment, for learners and educators, as the pandemic has made clear.
The time is here to prioritize critical investments in education infrastructure – including mental health resources and healthy facilities – in our use of federal COVID relief funds and ongoing annual budgets.
- The Allen administration will work to tighten the links between a strengthened public health infrastructure and our schools. The goal will be to increase the capacity of schools to serve as anchors for community health. Health is a necessary foundation for learning and some schools already provide important health-services for students, from nutrition to dental and eyesight checks. The COVID pandemic has brought the work of school health personnel to another level of intensity and highlighted how important it is to have health personnel in all schools; robust relationships with public health offices and community health centers; and healthy buildings.
- As part of this effort, we will ensure every student has access to behavioral health supports – including mental health and substance use disorder resources, as well as violence prevention and disruption resources, and other critical health foundations – through increased health personnel in schools and strengthened partnerships with modernized public health offices Commonwealth-wide.
- We will also accelerate the timetable for upgrading school facilities across the Commonwealth to achieve alignment with healthy building and green building standards, with targeted investments for those schools where the needs for upgrades are most significant.
- These important investments can be undertaken now with ARPA relief funding, and evaluated for impact, to support decisions about ongoing priorities and investments. Further work to revise funding formulae to address the challenges facing rural communities will also be important to achieving these goals. Finally, passage of the Fair Share Amendment would provide ongoing support for education and transportation. The Amendment would add an income tax surcharge of 4% on income earned above $20,000 a week. This Amendment is needed as a critical investment in our shared prosperity and pathways of opportunity. Its passage would light the spirit of One Commonwealth.
SUPPORT DIVERSE PATHWAYS TO POST-HIGH SCHOOL SUCCESS
At the time that our current approach to our educational system was developed, more than two decades ago, the world was a very different place than it is today. Previously, a high school diploma was the end of a person’s education. Today, it is increasingly a step on the path to postsecondary success. More than three-fifths of all jobs require some form of postsecondary education, and the number is even higher in the fastest growing and highest paying sectors of our rapidly changing labor market.
Also, at the time our current educational system was developed, educational policymakers had begun to lose sight of the importance of civic education to all aspects of student success– personal, vocational, and civic. Civic education was squeezed out in favor of STEM education rather than creating space for both of these critical investments.
We need a system that supports all learners in finding their pathway to fulfillment in civic life, the workplace, and community after high-school. Doing so requires forming earlier connections between education, civic engagement, and career paths; strengthening pipelines to diverse post-secondary learning opportunities; and making additional education affordable for all.
- To set our students up for long-term personal, civic, and vocational success, we will make sure the connection between education, civic life, and careers is woven into our system across K-12.
- We will increase our investments in the Civics Trust Fund in support of civic learning in the Commonwealth, and seek opportunities to implement the recommendations of the Educating for American Democracy Roadmap, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education and National Endowment for the Humanities.
- We will remove school resource officers from schools and invest in restorative justice programs to break the school-prison-pipeline and build a school-to-voting booth pipeline with a Commonwealth-wide program of paid service opportunities for adolescents (ages 10-16).
- As a part of the Commission on the Future of Education in Massachusetts, we will establish a School to Career Initiative to develop a strategic plan for improved integration and more innovation in incorporating field experiences and curricula that educate and inspire students to prepare for meaningful careers. This will involve engaging the business community and closely connecting the development of education strategy to the workforce development efforts in our economic agenda. Integration and scaling up of successful workforce development programs will be an engine for our economy as well as a motor of opportunity.
- We will also recognize apprenticeship programs, vocational tech, and early college programs as powerful parts of our educational system deserving sustained attention. Education is students’ gateway to meaningful participation in the economy. Post high school education is about more than just college. It’s time to recognize that and bring greater visibility and support to apprenticeship programs built by labor unions, vocational-technical schools, and early college opportunities delivered through tele-education.
- We will ensure that higher education is a debt-free option for those who choose to pursue it. We will restore state investment in community colleges and our public university system to at least 2001 levels while also modernizing our community college and public university administrative systems in order to achieve economies of scale. The goal will be to relieve students of undue debt burden so that ultimately students graduate debt-free. While increasing funding, we will also innovate to achieve benefits of scale with system-wide collaboration and leveraging hybrid forms of in-person and online education.
RESTORE DIGNITY AND GOOD WORKING CONDITIONS FOR EDUCATORS AND EFFECTIVE PARENTAL ENGAGEMENT
Schools across the Commonwealth–both public and private–are experiencing high rates of teacher burnout and turnover, and significant challenges to morale. We have historically undervalued the teaching profession, and the pandemic made that worse. Teachers found themselves re-inventing curriculum on the fly; teaching from home while also trying to supervise their own children’s learning from home; subject to inconsistent and frequently changing COVID-response communications and policies; and infrequently engaged in developing solutions suitable to their specific contexts. We face an urgent need to restore dignity and good working conditions for the teaching profession. In addition, schools committees have been beset by problematic, conflict-ridden dynamics, undermining needed community supports for effective schooling.
Effective school leaders are key to achieving a high-morale professional environment for educators as are the quality of educator compensation, career ladders, and professional development supports. Also, high-functioning, effective school committees are an important foundation for healthy family engagement in schools.
- Under an Allen administration, DESE will build a Commonwealth Principals’ Institute that would invest in leadership capacity building for all of our Commonwealth’s schools, with a special focus on ensuring that schools operating in the most challenging contexts have the leadership talent and supports they need. One of the most important things a good principal can do is build a strong corps of educators for a school and provide them with a rewarding professional environment. Educational research has repeatedly shown that the quality of a school principal is the single most important factor impacting the success of students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Thanks to new remote learning and communications technologies and practices, we can build an impactful professional development community for our school leaders, whether regionally or Commonwealth-wide, and help them deliver more for their educators and learners.
- In further support of restoring dignity to the education profession, an Allen administration will also strengthen pay and supports for those who work in our schools, starting with paraprofessionals (such as teaching and classroom assistants). We will also strengthen educator pipelines with the goal of further diversifying our corps of educators.
- Finally, we will support school committees across the Commonwealth with tools of good governance, from conflict resolution techniques to deliberative polling processes to support for strengthened family engagement practices. And an Allen Administration will work to restore local control of schools for communities that have been under receivership.
Housing, health, transportation, schools, jobs, justice, climate, community, and empowerment. These are the pieces of a livable life, and they have to fit together for life to be livable. What’s more, every person in Massachusetts deserves not just a livable life but an opportunity to build their best life. These are the building blocks every single one of us needs in order to have a foundation to stand on and live a healthy life. A personalized education should give people possibilities of self-development, flexibility, responsibility, fulfillment, readiness for civic participation, and clear career paths. Building an education system designed around the combination of accountability and personalization means first asking what people dream, imagine, and desire – and building the foundation from there.