Thirty years is a long time.
Back in 1993, the World Wide Web was in its infancy. The European Union was a newborn. Don Ameche and Frank Zappa passed away. (Were those two ever photographed together?)
Closer to home, one of the biggest stories of 1993 was Gov. William Weld’s signing of the Education Reform Act, which pumped billions into the K-12 schools, created charter schools, required a high-stakes MCAS test to stop the grim practice of graduating kids without basic job skills, and triggered an era of dramatic improvement in public education.
There’s been plenty of change for the better since then. Women and minorities are better represented on Beacon Hill. Gay couples are no longer treated as second-class citizens. And the Big Dig fixed our downtown traffic problems.
OK, forget about that last one. Come to think of it, the Big Dig is emblematic of how perceptive French writer Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr was when he noted in 1849: “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”
Traffic is worse than ever. The spiraling MBTA could sure use a chunk of the billions we sank into the Dig. One of the state’s chronic problems, income inequality, remains a major issue, heightened by sky-high housing costs and the NIMBYism that helps perpetuate it.
And those landmark ed reform gains? All but gone, with National Assessment of Educational Progress (NEAP) math and reading scores slipping before the pandemic and cratering since back to 1992 levels.
It’s not just us. The scores are dropping nationwide. Pick your issue – criminal justice, policing, market economics, civil rights – and there’s a history of reform efforts that sometimes work for awhile, then plateau and fade. Over a century ago the history of education was termed “a chronicle of fads.” If the pendulum doesn’t swing on its own, there are plenty of hands standing by to give it a push.
Here and now, that would be the Massachusetts Teachers Association, the state’s largest teacher union. The oxymoronically-titled “fact sheet” touting the oxymoronically-named “Thrive Act” atop their legislative agenda might be unintentionally hilarious if it wasn’t so toxic.
The MCAS test and “associated accountability measures have undermined our public education system for far too long,” it claims, as if the utter lack of accountability and mechanisms for identifying failing teachers and classrooms weren’t at the core of the system’s pre-ed reform failures. While the linkage of MCAS passage to graduation has been controversial, the notion that we needed a way to figure out where the problems were is not, outside of the fever swamp of MTA leadership.
What are we going to do about it? To her credit, Gov. Maura Healey has told her staunch MTA supporters their push to overturn state law banning teacher strikes is a non-starter. But she’s ambiguous about the fate of MCAS. And give the MTA their due – they may hate accountability, competition and, by definition, the families and children who get screwed by their status quo, but they know how to play politics.
And if there’s one thing the past 30 years have reminded us about reform, it’s that Yeats was right: “Things fall apart; the center cannot hold.”
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