MTA calls for collaborative model for Readiness Schools

The Legislature should adopt a model for Readiness Schools that promotes true collaboration and taps into the expertise of educators in affected communities.

The Massachusetts Teachers Association July 17 called on the Legislature to adopt a model for Readiness Schools that taps into the expertise of educators in affected communities.

The MTA is strongly backing a plan that was developed in conjunction with other key stakeholders -- including representatives of superintendents, principals, school committees and parents -- and has the endorsement of MassPartners for Public Schools. The association plans to work with legislators and the governor in seeking improvements to a Readiness Schools plan filed by the Patrick administration on July 17.

"We are calling on the Legislature to go further and adopt a truly collaborative plan that recognizes our shared view of the urgent need to address the problems faced by underperforming schools," said MTA President Anne Wass.

"Collaboration between teachers, administrators, parents and other stakeholders is an essential ingredient for creating good schools, and the legislation that has been filed does not adequately reflect that. It calls for top-down management, which almost never works."

As the legislation was being drafted, the MTA raised substantive concerns with state Education Secretary Paul Reville about the need for the Readiness Schools process to incorporate the expertise of the teachers who deal with needy students in high-poverty districts every day. The final bill, however, contains an insufficient assurance that all local voices in the affected communities will be heard, does not provide for sufficient input from educators and their unions, and seeks to diminish the collective bargaining process that has helped Massachusetts schools rise to the top in national and international rankings.

"Teachers and their unions have played a leading role in propelling our state to the highest possible place in comparisons with other states, and to a very respectable position in international rankings," Wass said. "We are part of the solution, not the problem, and it is time for that to be fully acknowledged."

The MTA has been an important player in the creation of innovative programs that have meant changes to teacher contracts affecting individual schools, including the Expanded Learning Time Initiative, which has been cited as a national model. It stands prepared to take similar steps in other efforts to improve education, including the development of Readiness Schools.

"U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has said change has to be accomplished with teachers, not done to them," Wass said. "He also noted recently in an Education Week op-ed that during his time as chief executive officer of the Chicago Public Schools, ‘every turnaround school was a traditional public school, operating under the same regulations and union rules as other schools in the system.’

"For more than 160 years, the Massachusetts Teachers Association has highly valued the tradition of excellence that has elevated our schools and helped millions of our students succeed," Wass said. "At the same time, we are ready to change to meet the challenges of the day and the moment. We put children first -- and we are determined to see to it that every single student is given every possible opportunity to succeed."

The MTA, which will oppose the Readiness Schools legislation in its current form, will advocate instead for the MassPartners proposal, which sets forth a demonstrably collaborative approach that is preferable to the state-controlled model introduced today. The MTA believes that Readiness Schools will be more effective if they are based on the following premises from the MassPartners proposal:

Readiness Schools should be part of public school districts, and school committees should have final approval of the establishment of such schools. A role for educators and their unions should be preserved in the process of creating Readiness Schools without allowing either the superintendent or the president of the local union to have veto power.

The MassPartners plan includes the following steps for the creation of each Readiness School:

  • Phase One: The local union and the school committee bargain the Readiness School process.
  • Phase Two: The Readiness School proposal is evaluated by a screening committee composed of all stakeholders identified in Phase One.
  • Phase Three: If the proposal is approved by the screening committee, a Readiness School plan is developed by the design team identified in Phase One.
  • Phase Four: The Readiness School plan is subject to a vote of the teachers at the school in question and a vote by the school committee. The plan could include agreeing to change provisions of the current contract for teachers in that school or freedom from school district policies.

Wass noted that despite the problems with Secretary Reville’s legislation, the dialogue will continue with Governor Patrick and legislative leaders.

"We still have high hopes for the Readiness Schools plan, and we will work with legislators to make it better as it moves through the process," she said. "We will advocate for amendments to foster collaboration and tap into the experience of teachers." 

"As proud as we are of our state’s education system as a whole, we know that some schools and districts need help -- and a lot of it," the MTA president concluded. "We are committed to delivering that assistance and helping all students succeed."