Future of Mass. Ed. Reform Unclear

K-12 Testing

With the appointment by Governor William Weld of his former gubernatorial opponent John Silber as Chair of the State Board of Education, the future of the Massachusetts Education Reform Act is in question. To accommodate Silber's wishes, Governor Weld has submitted legislation which will drastically change how state education policy is made and potentially revise state testing requirements.


Weld apparently believes the pace of current reforms is too slow, even though the state is only in the second year of a seven-year plan to overhaul education and assessment. The Education Reform Act was hailed by advocates of children s issues for requiring that special education students be tested, and that English language learners be tested in their primary language. The Reform Act was designed to begin with a yearly on-demand exam in three grades, with the expectation of eventually satisfying this requirement with portfolios.


Silber, widely criticized for his autocratic rule as President of Boston University, accepted the position of chair with the condition that the current 17 member Board of Education be slashed to nine members who can be appointed and fired at will (ending their current five year terms). Silber wants special interests, such as a student representative and a member from the Massachusetts business community, removed from the board. He also wants the statutorily mandated monthly meetings eliminated so that he can determine when to meet and whether the meetings will be open to the public.


Governor Weld's bill includes Silber's requests and combines several state offices into a downsized single department of K-12 and higher education. It is unclear when the bill will leave the education committee and be voted on by the legislature.


At his first board meeting in March, Silber stated that testing students in only three grades, 4, 8 and 10, is inadequate and that statewide assessment needs to begin in the second grade. He also commented that the state Education Reform Act's underlying principle that all students are capable of learning at high levels is false and rubbish.