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President Brown Joins Coalition to Reform Public Education

Urban leaders seek to revitalize reform efforts begun in 1993


President Robert A. Brown speaking to freshmen at this year's Matriculation Ceremony. Brown is part of a group called Leaders for Education, which wants to refocus education reform. Photo by Kalman Zabarsky

Concerned that public education is not keeping pace with a fast-changing and increasingly high-tech economy, more than 20 business, civic, and education leaders from around the state, including BU President Robert A. Brown, have joined forces to put education reform back at the top of the state’s agenda.

The group, called Leaders for Education (LFE), wants to preserve and expand initiatives first enacted in 1993 under the Education Reform Act, including the use of Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) testing, the standards-based evaluation of students as a requirement of graduation.

The group backs Governor Deval Patrick’s Readiness Project, a 10-year education plan aimed at better preparing students for jobs in engineering, biotechnology, and health care, among other fields. Patrick’s proposal includes increased spending on public education, including higher salaries for teachers and administrators who work in failing schools, as well as in poorly staffed subject areas, such as the sciences.

“This effort is driven by a sense of urgency and the need for accelerated results,” says LFE Chairman Ronald O’Hanley, president and CEO of BNY Mellon Asset Management and chairman of the board of directors of the Boston Public Library Foundation. “We can take pride in the fact that Massachusetts schools lead the nation by many measures, but we cannot be satisfied knowing we are not keeping up with the pace set by many global measures of academic attainment. We have become complacent at a time when we have to redouble our efforts.”

The group differs with the governor, however, on charter schools, which are autonomous public schools with fewer restrictions from teachers’ unions and considered more capable of innovation. Under state law, no more than 120 can operate at one time, and student enrollment is capped at 4 percent statewide. LFE wants to see those restrictions lifted, while Patrick intends to pursue a hybrid version overseen by a local school district. The coalition plans to meet with the governor and other legislative leaders to advocate its positions, and a subgroup will focus on the Boston public schools and work with Superintendent Carol R. Johnson.

Boston University has a long-standing commitment to public education, particularly in greater Boston. The Boston Scholars program has become one of the largest scholarship programs for urban high school graduates in the country. Last year, after applying and interviewing at the University, 40 Boston public school graduates were selected for four-year, full-tuition scholarships through the Boston Scholars program. The scholarships have a value of $5.8 million.

A few years after the Boston Scholars program was launched, the University took over the administration of the Chelsea public schools when the system, and ultimately the city itself, was on the verge of collapsing under the weight of financial mismanagement and municipal corruption. This past summer, after two decades, BU returned control of the revitalized school district to Chelsea.

Besides Brown, other LFE members include Thomas F. Birmingham, former state Senate president and senior counsel for Edwards, Angell, Palmer & Dodge; Christopher R. Anderson, president of the Massachusetts High Technology Council and former state education board chairman; Charles D. Baker, chief executive officer of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care; Paul Grogan, president of the Boston Foundation; and Jack M. Wilson, president of the University of Massachusetts.

Caleb Daniloff can be reached at cdanilof@bu.edu.


One Comment on President Brown Joins Coalition to Reform Public Education

  • Anonymous on 09.22.2008 at 4:20 pm

    Happy to see this active role in the community

    Kudos to President Brown and the rest of the coalition for taking an active role in this important civic responsibility we all share.

    I encourage everyone in the BU community to support your local school district’s efforts to improve and elect school board members who support revitalization over penny-pinching. Good schools are worth every cent of investment and will pay great dividends by improving the local economy.

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