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Ready or Not, Change Coming

July 1, 2008

By Matt Murphy, The Sun, Lowell, Mass.

Jul. 1–BOSTON — New Education Secretary Paul Reville said there is a “sense of urgency” for public schools and all those involved, including teachers, administration and unions, to show they are not too rigid to adapt to the changing needs of students.

Reville visited The Sun yesterday to outline and discuss Gov. Deval Patrick’s sweeping Readiness Project, unveiled last week with more than 50 proposals to reform education over the next 12 years.

One of the guiding principles, Reville said, is to eliminate the achievement gap between impoverished students and those from wealthier families, one of the key failures of the 1993 Education Reform Act.

“We find continuing and disturbingly deep achievement gaps, and I consider that one of the failures of ed reform,” Reville said. “We haven’t eliminated the correlation between poverty and achievement.”

While Reville said there is no silver bullet, he highlighted a number of proposals targeted at helping inner city schools with high number of low-income students, such as Lowell, where about 68 percent of students qualify for free or reduced lunch.

The Readiness Project calls for counselors to be brought into schools to help teachers respond to outside circumstances affecting students ability to learn.

The report also recommends universal pre-kindergarten, extended school days, education services for poorer students from ages zero up to age 3 and financial incentives for teachers to work in troubled urban

districts.

Reville takes over the new Executive Office of Education today, an attempt by Patrick to tie the state’s early-education, K-12, and higher-education systems together. He will spend much of the next four months trying to price out the proposed reforms and determine what the state can afford.

One of the signature efforts of the Readiness Project will be to create so-called Readiness Schools that will give teachers and principals the autonomy of a charter school but remain under the control of the local school boards.

Reville said it is a way to harness the potential for innovation promised by charter schools by giving those working within the system a chance to think outside the box.

But Reville said the leash might be short if schools don’t show a willingness to embrace change.

Members of the charter-school community have been critical of the idea because the report does nothing to promote growth among the charter schools.

Reville said he believes charter schools have become locked in a stalemate with public schools over funding and the fundamental concept of whether charter schools are supposed to be laboratories for the public school system or a long-term alternative.

“Show us you can do it. But if you can’t, we’re going to have to move on, because children’s lives are at stake,” Reville said in a challenge to the public-school community.

Reville said he and other leaders are considering small financial incentives, as well as a moratorium on charter schools for those districts that embrace Readiness Schools.

“This is a genuine attempt to reopen the conversation about what we want to do with our public-education system,” Reville said.

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Copyright (c) 2008, The Sun, Lowell, Mass.

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