Did We Get $2.8-Billion in Results?

We are entering the seventh year of Education Reform here in Massachusetts. There has been a lot of press lately regarding, among other things, teacher testing, the MCAS tests, and school funding. Too much information, at times, to absorb at once.

So what does it all mean? What's going on these days with education in Massachusetts, and, specifically, Westfield?

Well, for one thing, drop-out rates statewide did not increase last year. And, the statewide rates have slowly dropped since 1994, to the 1997-1998 average of 3.4 percent. That's a good thing, though I'm sure we'd all like the drop-out rates to drop even further.

The bad news is, Westfield has experienced an increased drop-out rate over the past reporting period, at both the High School and the Vocational High School. The good news is that the rates have risen only because the rates for the last reporting period were low to begin with, below the state average for both schools.

In fact, taking a look at the figures over the past five years, the total drop-out rate for Westfield schools has decreased again. Again, that's a good thing. And, still again, we'd like to see it drop even lower, of course.

Another item of educational note is the percentage of high school graduates going on to attend college. Massachusetts high schools showed a very slight drop in graduates intending to attend college after the 1998 school year, a decrease of less than half a percent.

Over the last 20 years, however, the rate of students intending to attend college has increased from 51 percent to the current total of 72 percent statewide. This is a good thing, too, and shows that we've all done a better job with education in Massachusetts, from teachers to administrators to legislators, securing more money for schools and for education reform.

Westfield High School, especially, has done a fantastic job of producing college-bound students. Fully 84 percent of Westfield High School graduates intend to attend a 4-year or 2-year school, compared to the state average of 72 percent.

Westfield High School has twice as many students bound for 2-year public schools as the state average. This is a tribute to the strength of the community colleges in our area, such as Springfield Technical Community College and Holyoke Community College.

These schools also enjoy a special relationship with our state college system, and many of their students go on to pursue 4-year degrees at other colleges. In fact, after two successful years at our community colleges, students are guaranteed admission to our state college and university system.

As far as student testing is concerned, the MCAS (Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System) is here to stay. The test has its detractors, and has sparked controversy in schools and at the State House.

But educators and administrators, as well as government officials, are determined to make this test work. In the short run, the rigorous standards of the MCAS have given Massachusetts students lower test-results than other states in the nation, using different testing systems.

This may look bad now but, in the long run, these higher standards will help to ensure that our public school graduates will be better educated, and better prepared for college or the ever-more specialized workforce of the coming century.

So, hopefully, once all the kinks and flaws are worked out, the MCAS will < be the standard for the nation, and Massachusetts will once again be leading the way.

Here's another item for you to consider-do smaller class sizes improve the education of the students in those classes? Many teachers will say yes, and common sense dictates that, the fewer the students per each teacher, the more attention can be paid to each student, and the better they will < perform in and out of class.

The state of Tennessee just completed a 14-year test on their STAR program-the Tennessee Student/Teacher Achievement Ratio Study. The test included more than 11,000 students in grades K-3, and covered a cross section of schools, and racial and economic backgrounds.

The program tested students in classes of normal size, smaller size, and normal size with an aide, and recorded the dropout rates and test scores of theses students. The study also tracked students after they had left the smaller classes, and entered classes of normal size.

And, in every instance, the students in smaller classes out-performed the students in average sized classes, with or without a teacher's aide. The STAR program proved the importance of smaller class size at the earliest levels of education, and also showed that the benefits of these lower class sizes continued long after the students were placed back in larger classes.

Is Ed Reform working? What do you think? I think we've had a good start.

We've spent more than $2.8 billion already on Ed Reform, and this year's recently approved expenditures will be an increase of $245 million from last year.

Governor Cellucci, Speaker Finneran and Senate President Birmingham all agree, however, that Ed Reform is still a contentious issue, and it will take a lot of hard work on all sides to ensure sufficient educational funding in years to come.

We're not finished with Ed Reform, but we're on the right track. We'll all have to wait and see what happens next year, when it may be an uphill battle to continue spending additional billions to improve our schools.

I don't think we can afford not to continue what we've started. If, indeed, we can prove that spending equals results.

The jury is still out.

All materials copyright 1997 - 2014