Best practice education policy


For decades there has been widespread concern on a bi-partisan basis about how lousy American kids perform on international math and science tests. Those test results have been the basis for much of the critique of American public k-12 education.

There is real concern that the lack of math and science competency  is a real threat to the future of the American economy.

Now comes evidence as reported by the New York Times that American kids can do well on these tests. Turns out if Massachusetts were a country their kids would be global leaders, not laggards, on international math and science tests. The Times reports on the  2011–most recent–TIMSS tests Massachusetts 8th graders ranked second in  the world in science and eight in math.

The TIMSS results are consistent with numerous other rankings with Massachusetts at or near the top of all states in k-12 student outcomes. This, of course, raises the question “how did they do it?”

The Times reports:

“Ed reform” was the Massachusetts Education Reform Act of 1993, passed by a Democratic Legislature and signed by a Republican governor, William F. Weld. The three core components were more money (mostly to the urban schools), ambitious academic standards and a high-stakes test that students had to pass before collecting their high school diplomas. All students were expected to learn algebra before high school. “It was a combination of carrots and sticks,” said David P. Driscoll, deputy education commissioner at the time. Also noteworthy was what the reforms did not include. Parents were not offered vouchers for private schools. The state did not close poorly performing schools, eliminate tenure for teachers or add merit pay. The reforms did allow for some charter schools, but not many. Then the state, by and large, stayed the course.

What jumps out if this is best practice policy–what leads to the student achievement everyone in Michigan claims they want–is how, by and large, Michigan policy makers have done the exact opposite, particularly the last three years.

  • More money for k-12 education there, less here
  • Set high academic standards in 1993 and stay the course there.  Here it is set higher standards later–still not as high as in Massachusetts–and then backslide. With efforts to reduce high school graduation requirements and not to implement the common core.
  • Not offer vouchers for private schools, close poorly performing schools, eliminate tenure and add merit pay, and only allow a few charter schools there. The exact opposite of what has either been done here or is on the to do list of the many state policy makers and the business community.

State policy makers have been great at lecturing local schools districts–and it is primarily districts and not charter schools that are lectured–on the need to follow so-called best practices. Going so far as to tie some funding to implementing best practices. Seems like it is time for us to adopt best practice state policy. Policies that are getting the student achievement outcomes we all want. Massachusetts has developed the framework for best practice state k-12 policies. Its time we reverse course and follow their lead.


About Lou Glazer

Lou Glazer is President and co-founder of Michigan Future, Inc., a non-partisan, non-profit organization. Michigan Future’s mission is to be a source of new ideas on how Michigan can succeed as a world class community in a knowledge-driven economy. Its work is funded by Michigan foundations.