Ed Reform’s Missing Piece

COMMONWEALTH MAGAZINE, Fall 2007

WHEN MASSACHUSETTS PASSED its education reform law in 1993, everyone expected that the combination of greatly increased funding and high-stakes testing would produce dramatic gains in student achievement. Since then, state aid to public schools has tripled, with most of the new money going to inner-city schools, and the MCAS exams have been put in place. But schools with large numbers of low-income and minority students have made disappointingly little progress.

Massachusetts schools are as good as any in the country at educating children from well-off homes. And there’s been modest progress in the percent of high school students who eventually meet the MCAS graduation requirement. But there’s been virtually no progress in improving the basic skills of minority students in elementary grades. Last year, 65 percent of black third-graders were not proficient in reading. The figure five years ago was 64 percent. In fourth grade, 72 percent of black students fell short in reading last year, down only slightly from 76 percent five years ago; the comparable figures for math were 82 percent and 89 percent. The results for Hispanics are even worse.