State Education Board | Globe Editorial

Expertise lost at crucial time

July 29, 2010

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GOVERNOR PATRICK has purged the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education of the two members who held the deepest suspicions of the newly-adopted national Common Core standards in math and English. On a number of other issues, Sandra Stotsky and Thomas Fortmann were the two board members who posed the most challenging questions — in public — to state education officials. In declining to reappoint the two, Patrick sacrificed a diversity of opinion that has served the board well.

The education bureaucracy rolls unimpeded without Stotsky, a prickly expert on English language arts, and Fortmann, an exacting math consultant. Board meetings will be more collegial. But enormous subject expertise has been lost. And it’s the kind of expertise that will be needed as the state aligns the curriculum with the new national standards and seeks to lead national efforts to create new tests.

Patrick’s appointment of Clark University’s James McDermott is sensible, in that he played a key role in developing the state’s English standards in 1993. His classroom experience includes five years at the innovative University Park Campus School in Worcester. Unknown is whether he’ll make his presence felt or simply be absorbed into the board’s low-key operation. The loss of Fortmann, the math expert, may be more damaging. A new member with a deep background in raising academic achievement among non-native English speakers would at least have filled a different niche. But new appointee Vanessa Calderón-Rosado runs a nonprofit focused mainly on low-cost housing — not education — for Latino residents.

The Board of Education recently took a big leap of faith when its members voted to replace the state’s highly respected standards with the national Common Core. The board and state education department made reasonable arguments that the new standards would do a better job at getting Massachusetts students ready for college and careers. While the new standards should lead to great advancements, Patrick has jettisoned the two members most likely to raise a cry at the first sign of retreat.

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