MTA responses to Romney's key education proposals
Governor Mitt Romney discussed education during his State of the State address on Jan. 18 and at a Martin Luther King Day celebration in Boston on Jan. 16. He also recently testified on behalf of his education "reform" proposal, filed in 2005.
Below are some of the governor's comments, pledges and proposals, and MTA's responses to them.
Romney on Funding
The governor has pledged to "substantially increase" Chapter 70 funding for local public schools and to increase other local aid by nearly $200 million. He has not yet said exactly how much he will ask for in Chapter 70 in House 1, which will be filed next week.
We welcome the governor's pledge to increase state spending on education, since that spending has been cut drastically under his watch.
- State spending on schools is now $465 million less than it was in 2002, when inflation and enrollment changes are taken into account. Much more needs to be done to fill the hole that has been dug over the last four years. (Just to keep up with inflation in the coming year, the state will have to spend $125 million more in Chapter 70.)
- In addition, we hope the Governor's budget will restore spending to the many education grant programs that have been cut since he took office, including grants for class size reduction, full-day kindergarten and after-school programs for children struggling to meet state standards.
Romney on Unions and the Achievement Gap
The Boston Globe reported the following news on Jan. 17, 2006:
"Governor Mitt Romney struck an untraditional theme yesterday at Boston's annual breakfast honoring the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King by saying the state's teachers union had fought his efforts to close an ‘achievement gap' between white students and those of color."
The governor is incorrect and hypocritical to accuse teachers' unions of fighting efforts to close the achievement gap. Teachers, administrators and education support professionals spend their working lives trying to help all students succeed. Working on behalf of those educators, the MTA and the Massachusetts Federation of Teacher have made closing the achievement gap a top priority at the same time Governor Romney has presided over drastic budget cuts that make the job much harder to accomplish.
In the governor's speech, he noted that Massachusetts students have the highest test scores in the country in both English and mathematics in grades 4 and 8 – the first state to achieve such success. It is interesting that he blames teachers and their unions for the achievement gap – a gap that exists everywhere there are great gaps in income and opportunity – but does not credit teachers and their unions for this state's remarkable, unprecedented educational accomplishments.
Romney on Merit Pay
The governor's primary plan for closing the achievement gap is to institute a multi-pronged "merit pay" proposal under which the following teachers could receive annual bonuses:
- Up to one-third of teachers in a district, based on student test scores and other yet-to-be-determined measures of success;
- AP math and science teachers whose students' average scores are 3 or better;
- Certain new math and science teachers who do not enter the profession by the traditional route.
While the MTA supports paying teachers more for taking on additional responsibilities, such as mentoring new teachers, we oppose the governor's merit pay proposals as inequitable, divisive and counter-productive.
Researchers Vivian Troen (Brandeis) and Katherine Bowles (Harvard) summed it up succinctly in an op-ed in The Boston Globe (9/28/05): "Governor Mitt Romney, proving the axiom that no bad idea stays dead forever, has proposed a merit pay scheme for teachers that pretends to be a bold new initiative for education reform. While it may be bold, it is far from new. If implemented, it is destined to be an expensive failure."
The MTA believes that the $69 million the governor wants to spend on merit pay would be far better spent on initiatives designed to attract and retain highly qualified teachers in all disciplines, or on programs specifically designed to help disadvantaged students to succeed – such as after-school tutoring and smaller class sizes in the early grades.