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Patrick unveils extensive education plan for next decade

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Tania deLuzuriaga
Globe Staff / June 26, 2008

Governor Deval Patrick unveiled his sweeping education initiative yesterday, a 55-point plan he hopes will act as a blueprint for legislative and administrative action for the next decade.

With far-reaching proposals that seek reforms from early-childhood education to the state's universities, the 40-page report says the state's education system must change dramatically to prepare students for a global economy.

But even as Patrick talked about "a new day" for Massachusetts students, some raised questions about the state's ability to fund the plan in a nose-diving economy and about the roadblocks it could face from powerful teachers unions and lawmakers with sharply differing views.

"A lot of the proposals are going to be controversial, and there are going to be extremes in the discussion," said Representative Patricia A. Haddad, a Somerset Democrat who cochairs the Joint Committee on Education.

"The governor has to sell this on a grand scale to people in the communities," she said. "They have to endorse this."

Senate President Therese Murray and Representative Robert A. DeLeo, the House Ways and Means Committee chairman, declined to comment on the governor's proposal. Murray's office said the senator had not yet been briefed on it, while aides in DeLeo's office said they didn't have enough information.

Several lawmakers, including House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi, lauded Patrick yesterday for coming up with a roadmap for the next decade.

"The governor's office has said they want to work with the Legislature to develop a timeline on this," said David Guarino, a spokesman for DiMasi. "No doubt there are some hot-button issues in here, but the speaker agrees they are worth taking on."

But some of the governor's proposals, like lengthening the school day and year, consolidating school districts, and implementing a statewide teacher contract, could face resistance from influential special interest groups such as teachers unions and charter school advocates.

Several lawmakers interviewed yesterday said that taking on the unions and implementing a statewide teacher contract will be one of Patrick's toughest political fights.

"The idea that local communities will give up control of those issues, I think will be a big battle," said Senator Edward M. Augustus Jr., outgoing vice chairman of the Education Committee.

In a speech yesterday at the John F. Kennedy Library, Patrick said potential opponents need to keep in mind what's in the best interest of children.

"You must accept the challenge that every child is your responsibility, even when he or she is not your child," he said. "An achievement gap matters, even when it's not your community; an opportunity gap matters, even when it's not your chance; a skills gap matters, even when your own kids are all grown up and fully employed. We all have a stake in a better future."

Many of the governor's proposals for prekindergarten to 12th grade, such as those aimed at closing achievement gaps, better preparing teachers, and reducing the number of school districts in the state, were unveiled earlier this week.

But the report issued yesterday provides fresh details and outlines a few new initiatives. For example, the plan contains a host of recommendations for higher education. They include: closing the pay gap between faculty at Massachusetts colleges and universities and those at peer institutions in other states; increasing needs-based financial aid in the 2010 budget; guaranteeing that credits will be transferable between the state's public higher-education institutions; and supporting legislation that would allow children of undocumented immigrants to pay in-state rates at public colleges and universities.

The report also lists a series of goals for the state to meet by 2020.

The goals include having a high-quality education and care system for children, beginning at birth, that will enable a smooth transition to school; reducing the high school dropout rate to less than 10 percent; and having 90 percent of high school graduates ready for college without needing to take remedial classes.

Slightly more than 80 percent of Massachusetts students finished high school in four years last year, according to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Thirty-seven percent of students who graduated from high school in 2005 and went on to a state college or university required at least one remedial class, according to a government report issued earlier this year.

Over the next six months, a grass-roots effort the governor's office launched will promote the changes to local school committees and city councils, a Patrick spokesman said. And Patrick will hold public forums on the topic around the state.

"We need people to go out to communities to make the case that if you want prosperity for your children, then don't continue to think we can get there with yesterday's tools," Paul Reville, the state's incoming secretary of education, said yesterday. "We have to create a sense that this is urgent."

Tania deLuzuriaga can be reached at deluzuriaga@globe.com.

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