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Mass. backs bill designed to close education gap

Reynolds Douglass Graves
Mass. backs bill designed to close education gap
Governor Deval Patrick signed an education bill last week that is designed to close the achievement gap between schools in rich and poor communities.  “This will give our neediest students more options and holding charter operations accountable for reaching the students left behind,” Patrick said. (Photo: Governor Deval Patrick’s office)

In a vote Gov. Deval Patrick called “historic,” Massachusetts lawmakers gave a final approval last week to an education bill that is designed to close the achievement gap between schools in richer and poorer communities.

 “It was a happy coincidence that the holiday comes just as we were coming to the deadline,” Patrick said. “It was powerful. We talked about all of the options in the last couple days, and I really wanted to be able to do this signing on this day, because I think that this is so much about Dr. King’s dream and how we extend it to everybody.”

The bill makes it easier for the state to help struggling schools. It also lifts the cap on charter schools in the lowest performing districts. “This will give our neediest students more options and holding charter operations accountable for reaching the students left behind,” Patrick said.

The bill should strengthen the state’s application for $250 million in federal funding through the Obama administration’s Race to the Top initiative.

Patrick said he hoped to use some of the money to encourage longer school days.

The signing of the bill on Monday, Jan. 16, was not only significant because of Massachusetts leading the national charge in education reform, but also a recognition of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s initiatives in education and social justice.  

Gov. Patrick applauded the collaboration of a wide range of individuals and groups that made the education reform a reality.

“I am most excited about the innovation schools, because they give traditional public schools the same kind of opportunities, the same flexibility throughout the day and in the schedule and so forth that you see in the best of the Charter Schools,” Patrick said. “Being able to bring that kind of flexibility to the public schools will greatly benefit educational system in the commonwealth.”

At the bill signing, Massachusetts Secretary of Education Paul Reville referred to Gov. Patrick as “the education governor” and praised his leadership. “From the beginning, the governor charged us with doing something that focuses on innovation and spreading innovation broadly and made it possible to have the flexibility we need to do what needs to be done in schools that were chronically under-performing.”

Reville said though Massachusetts is considered to be a pioneer in education reform, he and other state officials keep in contact with colleagues across the country.

“We have to [keep in touch] because the work we are doing now is holding schools to a much higher standard than we have ever held them to be fore,” Reville said. “We are all learning as we are going along the way, so we need to learn from what they’ve tried — what has and hasn’t worked — and we are in constant conversation with our colleagues across the country.”

Rev. Dr. Gregory G. Groover, Chairperson of the Boston Public Schools, sounded optimistic.

“I think that Martin Luther King would see this as a closer realization of his dream, but also the celebration of his mentor, Benjamin Elijah Mayes, who was the President of Morehouse College. …This is a great day for Mass., and hopefully it will signal to the rest of the country that it will ultimately close the achievement gap.”

 (Associated Press contributed to this story.)