Massachusetts has made significant efforts to improve access to high quality early education and care over the past two decades. But significant challenges remain, particularly in the state’s lowest-income communities. Our 2018 Condition of Education in the Commonwealth report looks at how Springfield increased the number of vulnerable students attending preK and improved the quality of early education by creating a partnership between preschool providers. On June 5, we brought the education and business communities of Western Massachusetts together to delve deeper into the success of Springfield’s early education programming.
It’s no easy task for schools and districts to keep up with the ever-changing world around them. Preparing an increasingly diverse student population for the global and digital economy of tomorrow means setting a new vision for schools. This takes significant planning, resources, and a commitment from the whole community. This year, we had the chance to help the city of Worcester plan for its future. The school system and community came together to chart a new course for Worcester Public Schools by creating the district’s first new strategic plan in 25 years.
Making lasting improvements in classrooms, schools, and districts takes a thoughtful and structured approach. You need to have consensus around the problem you are looking to solve and a clear set of goals your team wants to reach. The next step is to choose a strategy, or intervention, that will help you reach your goal. In this crucial element of our Change Management Framework, the key is to look for a solution that has worked for others and customize it for your unique context.
Well informed decision makers are crucial to improving education for all students. That’s why we run the Massachusetts chapter of the Education Policy Fellowship Program (EPFP). One of seventeen national EPFP sites, we work with about 30 fellows each year during a ten-month professional development program aimed at fostering leadership skills, understanding public policy, and cultivating a network of local, state, and national fellows and alumni. Participants meet monthly and go on a two-day tour focused on Massachusetts civil rights history, a full-day session at the State House, and a four-day conference in Washington, D.C.

Too often, educators tend to tackle problems in isolation, whether in an individual classroom, school, or district. But when we come together to address challenges, we multiply our ideas, expertise, resources, and knowledge. That’s why the Rennie Center is working to harness the power of networks.

Over the past few years, we’ve teamed up with districts and partners across the state on a number of networks aimed at improving education in the Commonwealth. Through these experiences, we’ve worked with several kinds of networks, each with its own unique value.

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.

For the past five years, as part of our Condition of Education in the Commonwealth report, we have been tracking progress on 25 state-level indicators of school performance. We thoughtfully selected these indicators, which span the education pipeline, to provide a snapshot of where our education system is and an indication of where it’s going. We hope our data dashboard can act as a tripwire, alerting education leaders to problems that could otherwise fall through the cracks.
Our Change Management Framework lays out six essential elements to guide improvement in districts, schools, and classrooms. This winter, we're digging into the second step in the process: Establishing Projected Outcomes. The path to lasting improvements must include setting realistic goals and meeting benchmarks along the way. This means constantly asking, "How do we know if it’s working?” and collecting data to find out.
Schools where students feel safe, supported, connected, and engaged are vital to their overall development and ability to learn. A positive climate is linked to increased academic achievement, higher attendance, better psychological health, and lower rates of aggression. Fostering positive school culture starts with understanding how students feel about their learning environment.
If Amazon chooses to make Massachusetts the home of its second headquarters, will our workforce be ready? The majority of local employers report having trouble finding qualified candidates. What will happen if we add 50,000 more jobs? More must be done to prepare students for success after graduation and the education field knows how to do this. The problem is that many schools and districts don’t have the capacity or resources to put effective practices in place.