Saying that teachers are the keys to great schools, Governor Deval Patrick unveiled proposals yesterday in his education plan aimed at boosting teacher quality and keeping teachers in the classroom longer.
"We must elevate the profession of teaching," he said during a press conference in Hopkinton, where he outlined another round of initiatives included in his upcoming package of education changes. "We have to attract and retain the best and brightest to lead our classrooms."
Among the proposals: implementing financial rewards for schools that show academic improvement, and higher pay for teachers who work in poor schools and for those who teach subjects such as math, science, and special education that have chronic teacher shortages. Patrick also said that the teacher certification process, which has long been criticized as overly complicated, should be simplified.
The initiatives are the latest to be unveiled as Patrick rolls out pieces of his plan, assembled after 18 months of study by a gubernatorial commission of some 200 educators, administrators, lawmakers, and public policy specialists. On Monday, Patrick detailed a first wave of proposals, including universal kindergarten and a drop-out prevention program. He also said he had appointed a commission to come up with options to pay for the reform plan. The full proposal is expected to be announced today.
Yesterday's proposals received mixed reviews from teachers unions. Some elements were widely embraced, such as the governor's initiative to scale back the onerous state requirements for teaching certification.
"We've been advocating that for years," said Ann Wass, president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, the state's largest teachers union.
"The system is overly bureaucratic and tedious. Some people don't come into the system because of all the hoops they have to jump through."
But Patrick's plan to offer higher pay to combat teacher shortages in hard-to-staff districts and subject areas was more controversial. The Massachusetts Teachers Association, with nearly 108,000 members, has supported the idea of providing extra pay for teachers in hard-to-staff schools, such as those in urban areas, but it opposes paying teachers in one subject area more than others.
However, the American Federation of Teachers, which has 27,000 members in Massachusetts, has supported measures to pay teachers in some subject areas more than others, as well as paying teachers who work in high-poverty schools more.
"We think that's absolutely essential," said Thomas Gosnell, the federation's Massachusetts president.
Another idea likely to be hotly debated is Patrick's proposal to provide financial rewards for schools that show academic improvement.
Incoming Education Secretary Paul Reville said yesterday that it was not clear how the achievement would be calculated, but that "it's not likely it would be based exclusively on the MCAS."
While Gosnell and Ann Wass, president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, said they were not opposed to the idea of rewarding schools that show academic achievement, both said that such programs have not shown significant results.
"Shouldn't schools that aren't improving be given resources?" Wass asked.
Patrick also talked about what are likely to be some of the more controversial parts of his plan: urging some of the state's 391 school districts to consolidate and implementing a statewide teachers contract, instead of negotiating on a town-by-town basis.
"Why not ask the question, whether there are some efficiencies and savings we can capture . . . and apply those savings to the teaching of young people," he said.
Reville said in a phone interview yesterday that he would look at possible incentives to encourage school district consolidation in Massachusetts.
The state has offered incentives in the past, but has not always fulfilled the promises it made to communities that regionalized. Wachusett Regional, which was formed in 1955 and enrolls students from the towns of Holden, Paxton, Princeton, Rutland, and Sterling, never received all of the state money promised for increased transportation costs, said Cynthia Bazinet, a School Committee member there.
Such experiences could deter other communities from regionalizing, she said.
"Out transportation costs are enormous," she said. "And we've never been reimbursed in the manner promised."
Tania deLuzuriaga can be reached at email@example.com.