Note: This is an article about the board of education for MA, and I thought was really interesting in a number of ways (e.g., a discussion about whether boards should be collegial versus questioning, a discussion about appropriate education standards in our state, etc.).
By Lawrence Harmon
The Boston Globe
June 6, 2010
BOARD OF Education member Sandra Stotsky can be abrasive, blunt, and overbearing. She’s also the best defense Massachusetts has against a decline in educational quality as state officials contemplate adopting national academic standards in place of the strong state frameworks now in place. Stotsky’s term ends June 30. If Governor Deval Patrick reappoints her, it will signal his commitment to no-nonsense education. If he doesn’t, the welcome mat is out for educational faddists.
Being prickly didn’t disqualify previous members of the Board of Education. Former Boston University president John Silber and charter school advocate James Peyser also rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. But their actions reflected a passion for education reform in a state that ranks at or near the top of national and even international measures of student achievement.
A big shift occurred two years ago when Patrick created the position of state education secretary, placing greater responsibility for long-range planning and policy making in the hands of Paul Reville, former chairman of the education board. Patrick started packing the board with deliberate and usually low key types, including IBM executive Maura Banta, former insurance executive Beverly Holmes, and social entrepreneur Gerald Chertavian. The governor’s one controversial pick — Ruth Kaplan — is an anti-MCAS crusader who shares Patrick’s amorphous “whole child’’ philosophy of education. It didn’t take long for a culture of collegiality to replace a culture of questioning on the 11-member board. With two notable exceptions: Stotsky and Thomas Fortmann, a mathematics expert. Both are holdovers from the Mitt Romney administration.
“I’m good at asking people for information that they don’t want to give,’’ said Stotsky,whose career has ranged from grade school teacher to seasoned academic, including deputy commissioner for the state’s Education Department. Now in her 70s, Stotsky still has the energy to stir things up at home while commuting to her job as a professor at the University of Arkansas.
She decries the diminishing concern for academic content on a board that is focused on softer, so-called 21st-century skills such as global awareness and media literacy. Reville and other supporters of the new agenda insist they are meant to complement, not replace or dilute the state’s strong curriculum and high-stakes MCAS exam. But Stotsky doesn’t buy it.
“They’re going to wipe out everything,’’ she predicted.
Stotsky has been fighting against educational decay for decades. She is a veteran of the late 1980s battles in Brookline, where residents rose up against flaky social science teachers and administrators who tried to purge advance placement European history from the high school curriculum in the name of multiculturalism. The experience gave her a healthy suspicion of educational trends that has carried over into her analysis of the so-called common core national standards in math and English.
Stotsky combed a draft of the new standards in a recent Pioneer Institute white paper, finding them “vague’’ and “empty of markers for specific literary and non-literary content.’’ Grade level standards, she noted, even lacked effective examples to guide teachers and test makers.
If the state adopts the national standards, it will enter into a multiyear period of refinement and creation of new student tests. Stotsky’s presence would be invaluable during that process, especially in reading, her academic specialty. Stotsky would also serve as a check on any backsliding in teacher quality. In 2000, she helped create new, tougher licensure standards for the state’s K-12 teachers.
“No decision has been taken yet,’’ Reville said, in regards to Stotsky’s reappointment chances. “It’s the governor’s prerogative.’’
Reville is feeling pressure from various groups over the two expiring seats. He could look for a middle road and recommend the reappointment of the more agreeable Fortmann as a nod to the standards movement while tossing Stotsky overboard. But the best interests of students in Massachusetts demand the reappointment of both Stotsky and Fortmann. It’s fine for Reville to promise that education officials won’t adopt any national standards that do not “meet or exceed the rigor of our current state standards.’’ But the real test comes in whether he will abide those who hold him aggressively to that promise.
Stotsky wouldn’t just prod Reville and the education department. She would turn their world upside down if they were to retreat on standards. And that’s exactly why Patrick should retain her on the board.
My Goal in Blogging
I started this blog in May of 2008, shortly after my election to the School Committee, because I believed it was very important to both provide the community with an opportunity to share their thoughts with me about our schools and to provide me with an opportunity for me to ask questions and share my thoughts and reasoning. I have found the conversation generated on my blog to be extremely helpful to me in learning community views on many issues. I appreciate the many people who have taken the time to share their views. I believe it is critical to the quality of our public schools to have a public discussion of our community priorities, concerns and aspirations.