Education Reform


1978-1993 | 1994-1998 | 1999-2003

The Department of Education's Common Core of Learning set broad learning goals for all K-12 students. The document noted that "it is essential that all students be held to high standards of achievement in reading, writing, speaking standard English, mathematics and science, history and the arts."

Publicly funded, but not subject to local school board control, charter schools represented an innovative new approach to public education. Many of the schools proved so popular that they had to create extensive waiting lists. Throughout the decade, more and more charter schools would open their doors.

With input from educators statewide, the Department of Education accepted and endorsed curriculum frameworks in mathematics, science/technology, the arts, health, and world languages. The frameworks established what a student should know and be able to do in each subject area.

In his first meeting as Chairman of the Massachusetts Board of Education, John Silber suggested that allowing broad participation in the creation of curriculum frameworks would lead to "the lowest common denominator." Shortly thereafter, he ordered revision of all existing curriculum frameworks.

At the recommendation of Chairman Silber, the Board of Education voted to give all high school seniors the GED test in April or May of 1997. According to Silber, the test would help identify academic deficiencies in the public school. Two months later, under a firestorm of criticism, the Board withdrew the proposal.

The Board of Education approved new English/language arts frameworks. Among the revisions to the newest version of the frameworks was an increased emphasis on phonics as a way of teaching reading. By 2000, these frameworks would be ready for another revision.

Voting 6-3, the Board of Education approved revised history/social science guidelines. This version of the frameworks represented further revisions to frameworks prepared by board members Abigail Thernstrom, James Peyser, and Alexis Vagianos. Thernstrom expressed concern over what she called a "bad news about America" theme in the approved frameworks. Soon, the frameworks would re-enter the revision process.

Among other ed reform initiatives, the Fall River district added 118 new positions, increased its budget for textbooks from $221,000 to $755,000, started a new elementary reading and writing program, and opened a center for professional development. The school's 1996 Massachusetts Educational Assessment Program test results showed significant improvement over the previous year.

From this point forward, all new Massachusetts teachers would be required to pass two tests to become certified to teach in Massachusetts public schools: knowledge of subject content, and communication/literacy skills. Current teachers who were provisionally certified, or who sought certification in a new field, also needed to pass the subject matter test.

Fourth, eighth, and tenth grade students across Massachusetts took the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) tests for the first time. Students were tested in mathematics, science and technology, and English language arts. Some students, parents, and educators criticized the test as overlong, too demanding, and superficial.

Test results of the Spring, 1998 MCAS tests showed the vast majority of students performing at "Needs Improvement" or "Failing" levels. Minority children failed the tests at particularly high rates. "The MCAS, as it is right now, is a method of sanctioning students for not knowing what they haven't been taught," said Miren Uriarte, a senior researcher at UMass Boston.

1978-1993 | 1994-1998 | 1999-2003