Coming Together to Close the Achievement Gap: Educators Gather to Discuss Condition of Education

On January 25, we released the fifth annual Condition of Education in the Commonwealth report to a room of nearly 300 state leaders, legislators, educators, and community members. This is an opportunity for the education community to reflect on progress made over the past year and recommit to improving outcomes for all students.

The event’s speakers—including former U.S. Secretary of Education John King, Massachusetts Secretary of Education James Peyser, and the Commissioners of the Departments of Early Education and Care, Elementary and Secondary Education, and Higher Education—brought a range of perspectives on the current state of our education system. One common concern was woven throughout their remarks: the need to address the persistent opportunity and achievement gaps.

While Massachusetts has seen progress in school performance, significant disparities based on race and income remain. For example, Massachusetts ranks first in the nation in 4th grade reading overall, but has the second largest gap between reading scores of Hispanic and white students. Meanwhile, only 55% of African American students in Massachusetts pass all 9th grade courses, compared to 87% of their white peers. And African American and Latino Students are nearly twice as likely as their white peers to enroll in developmental/remedial courses in college.

“That first-in-the-country performance can hide the conversation we need to have about equity,” said Secretary King, the event’s keynote speaker.

Under the Obama administration, Secretary King focused on advancing excellence and equity for every student. But long before his days in Washington, he was an educator in Boston.

“Massachusetts has a rich history of progressive education policies rooted in the belief that expanding opportunity and achievement for all students is necessary work,” said Secretary King. “The state has long served as a national model for education improvement, but now is the time for the next chapter of progress. We must work diligently to eliminate opportunity gaps with a focus on both the in-school and out-of-school factors that we know influence student success. If we collectively fail to support and serve our students of color and our students living in poverty, then we jeopardize our nation’s future.”

Secretary Peyser echoed those concerns, calling on the education community to reclaim a sense of urgency and embrace change that will drive higher levels of achievement for all students.

“All of us should be very proud of our accomplishments and well-earned reputation for excellence. Nevertheless, we cannot rest on our laurels,” said Secretary Peyser. “Since education reform came to Massachusetts in 1993, I think we’ve seen all districts improve, but not at an equal rate. There is still more work to be done to strengthen the foundation of our success for all school districts in the Commonwealth.”

Where do we go from here? Secretary King pointed out that we need to use evidence to advance equity. We couldn’t agree more. That’s why our 2018 Condition of Education Action Guide highlights progress made toward closing achievement gaps and looks at how schools and districts are using evidence to drive meaningful and sustainable improvement.

“Leaders in the education field are often eager to move on to the next big idea in education reform, but we need to think beyond quick fixes and focus on how we can implement improvements with fidelity,” said Jennifer Poulos, Associate Director of the Rennie Center. “We must support educators working on the front lines in driving changes that most benefit the students they serve.”

The report identifies a six-part process that schools and districts can use to make lasting improvements. This process, the Rennie Center’s Change Management Framework, promotes a specific, iterative, and purposeful approach to improvement that supports teachers in driving change.

Banking on a cycle of new ideas, not yet tested with data, to catalyze improvement won’t help us close the achievement gap. For Massachusetts to remain a national leader in education, and address persistent challenges in reaching the needs of all students, we must pursue a purposeful approach to reform that is rooted in evidence and driven by educators.