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Patrick looks to initiate educational reform

Howard Manly

As Gov. Deval Patrick tells it, his recently unveiled education reform package is quite simple.

“This is about raising the achievement of all students, and the professionalism and support of all teachers,” Patrick told the Banner. “What we are trying to do is create the conditions for the next generation and the generation after that to have the transformative experience that education offered me.”

That is no easy task, given Patrick’s academic journey from Chicago’s South Side to the exclusive Milton Academy and then on to Harvard Law, coupled with the inertia inherent in state and local education bureaucracies.

Patrick concedes that not all of the “provocative” measures he introduced this week will see legislative approval.

“Even if all of the ideas were incorporated, it would be difficult to implement them all at once,” Patrick said. “The system couldn’t absorb that much change. But at least we have a very clear destination and a very clear pathway.”

Appropriately named the “Readiness Project,” Patrick’s education reform bill has been in the works for the last year and is an attempt to overhaul the state’s public education system to help train students to compete in a global economy.

Patrick said the meetings involved more than 200 educators and policy makers, parents and business leaders, superintendents and union officials.

One proposal calls for making credits transferable through the state college, community college and university systems, and allowing high school students to receive credit for classes taken on college campuses.

Another calls for increasing the number of qualified math and science teachers. Still another calls for changing pay scales for those teachers willing to work in urban areas and previously low-achieving public schools. In all, the governor unveiled more than 50 recommendations.

“Great schools don’t happen without great teachers,” Patrick told a crowd of business leaders at EMC Corporation in Hopkinton on Tuesday. “Unlocking their creativity and building their capacity is the key to developing a highly-skilled, global workforce for Massachusetts companies and a highly engaged citizenry for our society.”

Some of the measures require legislative approval, and as such, are bound to be open for lengthy debate. One such proposal is for a new form of public school called a “Readiness school,” which would function like a charter school, with the ability to control its curriculum and hiring decisions.

Unlike a charter school, however, Readiness schools would be controlled by local school boards. That could raise concerns among supporters of charter schools who say their independence helps shield them from the political influence of teacher unions that can pressure local officials.

Problems aside, the education reform package has received high praise from some quarters of the business community.

“The time to drive fundamental, systemic change is now, when Massachusetts leads the country, not when we are falling behind,” said EMC Chairman, President and CEO Joe Tucci in a prepared statement.

“The recommendations … will empower Massachusetts to grow beyond a national leader and into a global leader of innovation, education and competitiveness, giving our students the tools and training to compete and succeed in the 21st century world economy,” added Tucci, a co-chair of the Readiness Project.

It is about that point that Patrick is most enthusiastic — and eloquent.

“The question is whether a 19th century model of public education can serve 21st century students,” Patrick said. “We already know what works. We know that giving teachers autonomy and flexibility to bring creativity to the classroom works. We know that quality early education works. We know that maintaining and raising standards works.”

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.