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Patrick pitches better education

Governor seeks counsel in Western Mass. education forum

By Katelyn Gendron

Reminder Assistant Editor

WESTFIELD "We're here for a conversation, not a speech," Gov. Deval Patrick said last Wednesday before several hundred students, faculty, administrators and constituents at Westfield State College (WSC). "Please look at this as a beginning of a conversation or as my part in a conversation that's been going on for some time."

Patrick spoke with those at WSC to gain public insight on how to improve education in Massachusetts as well as explain his work toward education reform with the Readiness Project.

The project, which he announced last year, has combined 150 Massachusetts residents of various professions, divided into 13 subcommittees Accountability & Assistance, Curriculum Alignment, Early Education & Care, Education & Technology, Expanded Teaching & Learning Time, High School Plus, Innovative Schools, Long-Term Funding, MCAS (Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System) & Assessments, Public & Private Higher Education, Recruiting & Retaining Educators, Whole Child and UMass & Public Higher Education to create education improvement plans, standards and cost-benefit analyses for the next decade.

Patrick said he is expecting the suggested plans from each subcommittee by the spring.

Before entertaining questions from the crowd, Patrick stressed the importance of quality educators and their role in his life. "Teachers, the great ones, make you feel like you've been touched by fire," he said.

Patrick explained that he is working toward a greater concentration of science and math curriculums, universal access to community or trade skill colleges, all day kindergarten and longer school days. He said he believes these improvements as well as those suggested by the Readiness Project subcommittees will help future generations of students to bridge the skills gap.

Patrick explained that thousands of unemployed persons lack the skills to fill vacant positions throughout the Commonwealth.

During the discussion forum, Patrick aided by Bridgewater State College President Dr. Dana Mohler-Faria, the governor's special advisor for education entertained a variety of questions and comments.

Trudy Knowles, professor of education at WSC, also a member of the Readiness Project's MCAS & Assessment subcommittee, said it's time for officials to dismiss MCAS-focused education. Her comments were met with overwhelming applause from the audience.

Knowles said school systems require more great teachers, not more tests.

Patrick responded by admitting his own weakness at standardized tests. However, he said many parents feel more confident that their children are not being "floated along" as they must pass the MCAS to advance grade levels. Patrick did question if the MCAS itself was the right assessment test for Massachusetts students.

Patrick was also asked about increasing funding for schools by more than what is determined by the Chapter 70 formula. He said he does not believe that the minimal funding for schools is adequate, which is another focus of the Readiness Project.

Several WSC students questioned the governor about the validity and often exorbitant costs of the Massachusetts Tests for Educator Licensure (MTEL). Patrick and Mohler-Faria agreed that assessments and revisions of these tests must be conducted.

Julian Fleron, professor of Mathematics at WSC, spoke passionately about the lack of state funding for higher education and increasing student service fees.

"Are we really going to do something or alls are we going to get is the gratitude of your lips more words!" Fleron said.

Patrick replied by saying that it's not about the size of the check but about making sure that funding is being appropriated for successful programs. He noted his proposed 10-year $2 billion capital bond bill for institutions of higher education throughout the Commonwealth.

Other questions and comments from audience members included decreasing student dropout rates, increased funding for libraries and students with special needs.

Patrick said he is committed to improving public education and filling the "crying need for high-quality teachers." He noted that education reform proposed by the Readiness Project will be "life changing," taking years to implement to ensure that Massachusetts graduates are prepared for the global workforce.