Massachusetts Cheating Its Students

Massachusetts Cheating Its Students

© David Burton 2017

Illinois Politics

     My state of Massachusetts has a reputation for being a leader in public education. The need for elementary and Latin schools was decreed in 1647 by the General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The schools they had in mind were a cross between public and private schools. In 1820, Boston was the site of the first public high school in the United States. In 1827, a Massachusetts law made all grades of public school free to all. Massachusetts innovation continued with the state’s first Board of Education formed in 1837, headed by Horace Mann. In 1851, Massachusetts made education compulsory.[1]

     But for the past several years, this reputation has not translated into reality. Today, public education in Massachusetts is being degraded. It is being degraded by its elected officials, by the teachers’ unions in the state and, perhaps most unfortunately, by the citizens of the commonwealth themselves.

     Back in 1993, Massachusetts passed a law that provided a massive increases in state funding with the objectives of: instituting high performance standards, achieving accountability in the public education system, and proving more choices to parents and students. Teachers unions, school committees, school administrators and others in the education establishment liked the funding increase, but not the reforms required by the law. Since then, they have been fighting the reforms, and some 24 years later, little but the money remains. “The sad thing is that the establishment’s success at eliminating reforms has brought a steep decline in the quality of public education in Massachusetts.” (Ref. 2)

     A major contributor to the erosion of the 1993 reforms and the attendant decline in educational quality can be laid at the feet of the teachers’ unions here in Massachusetts. For example, “Boston taxpayers are paying roughly $6 million this year {2015} for 72 teachers no principal wanted to hire.” (Ref. 3) The reason for this is union political power. The Boston Teachers’ Union negotiated agreements with the city that prevents these “unemployable” teachers from being fired. Instead, they are assigned to something called an “excess pool” and put on “special assignment” as “co-teachers” to “improve their performance or relearn their jobs in other teachers’ classrooms”.[3] What all this mumbo-jumbo really means is they aren’t needed or wanted, but can’t be fired. Keeping unneeded or poorly performing teachers on the public payroll simply contributes to a degradation of the educational system.

     The fact that “Boston is forced to shell out millions to pay for teachers no principal wants to hire is the epitome of a system that favors the employment needs of adults over the educational needs of children – or for that matter, the resources of the taxpayers.
      - - -
     “. . . Giving second, third and fourth chances to incompetent adults ignores the critical fact that a school system has one chance to get it right with a kid. If these teachers aren’t needed, they aren’t needed, and the system must be reformed to reflect that.” [Emphasis mine] (Ref. 4)

     Included in that “excess pool” was a teacher who was fired in 2015 after he was accused being a drug dealer and of shooting a student who sold pot for him. The teacher had previously been dropped by a charter school, where he had been disciplined for shoving a student and making inappropriate comments. In spite of this, he was hired by a Boston school and then appointed to a dean’s position at Boston’s English High School.[3] If this were not so sad and true, it would be unbelievable. But again, this is Massachusetts, where teachers’ unions exert considerable power and influence over state and local - predominantly Democratic - politicians in what is the arguably the most Democratic state in the nation.

     Getting back to 1993, once the “combination of money and reforms took hold, state SAT scores rose for 13 consecutive years. In 2005, Massachusetts students became the first ever to finish first in all four categories of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP. They repeated the feat every time the tests were administered through 2013. Scores from the 2007 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, the gold standard international assessment, proved that the commonwealth’s students were globally competitive in math and science, with our eighth-graders tying for first in the world in science. [Emphasis mine]
     “{But t}hen the {reform} retreat began. Accountability was the first domino to fall. In 2008, the Office of Educational Quality and Accountability, which conducted independent, comprehensive audits of school districts, was eliminated.
     “Standards were next. In 2010, Massachusetts adopted national English and math standards known as Common Core that were demonstrably inferior to the commonwealth’s previous standards. [Emphasis mine] A 2017 rebrand has further weakened the mediocre Common Core standards, and recently revamped science standards are also vastly inferior to their predecessors.” (Ref. 2)

     In terms of greater student and parent choice, charter schools were deemed a major contributor. Research showed “that charter schools in the urban areas of Massachusetts have large, positive effects on educational outcomes. The effects are particularly large for disadvantaged students, English learners, special education students, and children who enter charters with low test scores.” (Ref. 5) Largely at the behest of teachers and their unions, Massachusetts politicians had capped the number of charter schools allowed in the commonwealth. This cap severely limits the competition from charter schools which operate without the restraints of union rules and union power over local school boards and municipal authorities – hence the infamous “excess pool” rule in Boston which prevents incompetent teachers from being dismissed. Lifting the charter school cap would allow more students to benefit from charter schools that are improving test scores, college preparation, and college attendance.

     Arguably, “Massachusetts has the nation’s best charter schools, which not only dramatically outperform their district counterparts, but do so among virtually every subgroup, such as low-income and special needs students. Last year {2016} voters rejected what turned out to be a politically unwise statewide ballot initiative that would have increased the number of charters. [Emphasis mine]
     “Today most urban areas in the commonwealth are at or near the statutory cap on charter school enrollment. Diminishing competition from charters marks a return to the policy of granting the establishment a monopoly on public education and hoping they will put our kids first. The failure of that approach is what triggered reform in the first place.
     “Results from the dismantling of education reform have been swift and predictable. Massachusetts students are no longer first in all four categories on NAEP. From 2011 to 2015, state NAEP scores fell in both English and math, with only nine states seeing a bigger drop in English. [Emphasis mine]
     “SAT scores have also dropped significantly, especially in writing. And when it came time for the 2015 administration of the international assessment tests, Massachusetts chose not even to participate.” (Ref. 2)

     Massachusetts once set the standard for public education in this country. High performance standards, accountability, and more choices, along with adequate funding contributed to making this happen. Unfortunately, Massachusetts no longer sets the standard. Teachers, their unions, politicians and, sadly, even citizens of the commonwealth are responsible for this decline. Massachusetts is cheating its students by not providing the best educational opportunities possible. It’s time to place the good of our students in front of that of teachers, union officials, politicians, and disinterested citizenry. The very future of this nation lies in the hands of today’s students. There are many other nations and peoples on this planet who are only too eager to topple America from its first place standing in the world. Today’s American students are the barrier against that happening.



  1. History of Public Schools, EducationBug, Accessed 29 November 2017.
  2. Ed establishment ruining reform, Charles Chieppo and Jamie Gass, Boston Herald, Page 17, 29 November 2017.
  3. TEACHERS IN LIMBO, Jack Encarnacao, Boston Herald, Page 7, 18 March 2015.
  4. Drain ‘excess’ pool , Editorial, Boston Herald, Page 16, 19 March 2015.
  5. Massachusetts charter cap holds back disadvantaged students, Sarah Cohodes and Susan M. Dynarskil, Brookings, 15 September 2016.


7 December 2017 {Article_313; State_17}    
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