MTA summer conference opens with Governor's keynote

Governor Deval Patrick received several standing ovations when he addressed more than 300 MTA members who attended the Opening Session at MTA’s 2010 Summer Conference on Monday, August 9.

Despite the heat in Chapin Hall on the Williams College campus, the atmosphere was upbeat and energetic as the governor spoke before a sea of members dressed in yellow T-shirts emblazed with the red “MTA Activist” logo.

The biggest applause came when the governor, whose re-election has been recommended by the MTA, talked about the ongoing challenge of trying to close the achievement gap in education.

“Teachers are not the problem; poverty is the problem,” he said. “Unions are not the problem either. Anybody who questions that should look at what you accomplished in the Commonwealth in a highly unionized environment.”

Patrick went on to say, “Working together we can beat this problem. We can solve this problem. And we must solve this problem.”

The governor detailed his administration’s accomplishments while at the same time noting that much remains to be done as the state and country struggle to recover from the great recession.

Patrick noted that Massachusetts has the highest health care coverage rate in the country, with 97.5 percent of residents covered. The state is also recovering from the recession at twice the rate of the nation as a whole, infrastructure repairs are under way, and the education budget has largely been spared despite the massive budget deficit over the past two years.

As the governor reviewed the list of accomplishments, two in particular brought the educators in the audience to their feet. Those moments came when he expressed pride in the fact that Massachusetts students are still first in the nation in academic achievement and then when he noted, “You can marry anyone you love in this Commonwealth,” alluding to the gay marriage law.

The governor faced some pointed questions and advice during the question-and-answer period, including a request that he tell U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and President Barack Obama that merit pay is a losing strategy.

Patrick said he is opposed to individual teacher merit pay because teachers have convinced him that is divisive, but said he is open to finding ways of rewarding teams or whole schools that perform especially we

Regarding charter schools, Patrick said he doesn’t believe they are the sole solution, but does think they can be part of the solution as long as they are required to serve the same kinds of students that district schools serve.

Several speakers questioned the Race to the Top mandate that some portion of a teacher’s evaluation be based on student test scores. Patrick and Education Secretary Paul Reville, who also attended the event, said that test scores are a minimal part of the Massachusetts application and there is no plan to use student scores to make high-stakes decisions about teachers.

Patrick emphasized that if such minimal use of scores causes Massachusetts not to win the grant, the state will not waver in its commitment to use them for diagnostic rather than punitive purposes.

Patrick warned the largely receptive audience that if Republican gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker wins in November, MTA members will be worse off four years from now than they are today. Baker has made attacking unions and public employee benefits a centerpiece of his campaign.

The governor closed his remarks by asking for help.

“For us, the second term is about finishing what we started,” he said. “I need your help, your work, your effort and your encouragement.”

MTA Pres. Paul Toner's Remarks