Education Group Analyzes 20 Years of Education Reform, Proposes New Course

Citizens for Public Schools (CPS), a 31-year-old organization dedicated to improving education for Massachusetts children, today released a report on how those children have fared in the 20 years since the Education Reform Act was signed, June 18, 1993.

After reviewing a range of evidence regarding the state’s progress toward achieving equity and excellence in public education, the group found serious shortcomings in two out of three major outcomes of the law—high stakes testing and Commonwealth charter schools. The law brought an influx of more than $2 billion in state funding for public schools, with clear positive results, but the report’s authors found that the funding formula designed to augment and equalize education funding is no longer up to the task.

The group’s primary recommendations include:

  1. Update the Foundation Budget and increase state revenues in a progressive way to provide adequate funding for quality public education, pre-K through higher education.
  1. Stop high-stakes testing and impose a moratorium on the high-stakes uses of the new generation of tests, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) tests, which state authorities are proposing to replace MCAS over the next two years.
  1. Stop the approval or expansion of Commonwealth charters until funding is provided by the state, rather than the local school district, and until problems of student recruitment and retention are resolved.

Lisa Guisbond, vice president of CPS and editor of the report, said a moratorium on the high-stakes use of next-generation tests is the sensible thing to do. “These tests have never been administered on a large scale successfully,” Guisbond said. “Our children should not be the guinea pigs.”

“The funding part of the law has done enormous good, but no economic plan works for 20 years,” said Marilyn J. Segal, CPS Executive Director. “Parts of the funding plan are outdated,” she said. “Costs have risen faster than anticipated and low-income districts are being forced to live with fewer teachers and larger class sizes to make up for the shortfall.

“The whole point was to ensure an adequate education for all children, regardless of where they live. The evidence cited in our report shows we are not on track to accomplish that. The state needs to step up to the plate and deal with this problem,” Segal added.

CPS found that the other two outcomes of the 1993 law, high-stakes testing and charter schools, have not lived up to their promises to improve education for all children, close opportunity gaps and narrow gaps in test outcomes.

“High-stakes testing mandates imposed by federal and state authorities have harmed students by focusing education on preparing for standardized tests rather than educating the whole child to take his or her place in the world,” said Ann O’Halloran, CPS President and a former Massachusetts History Teacher of the Year. “And charter schools appear to help only certain types of students, while taking scarce resources away from schools that educate all students.”

The full report, Twenty Years After Education Reform: Choosing a Path Forward To Equity and Excellence For All, is available here.