09/26/2011

Teacher-Led Reform Shines in Massachusetts

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Teacher-led reform, trust and collaboration took the spotlight in Massachusetts this month when Gov. Deval Patrick and state officials announced results from the 2011 Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) at a Lowell school that has put these approaches to spectacular use.

The MCAS announcement was held at Lowell's Charlotte M. Murkland Elementary School on Sept. 20. Identified as one of the state's lowest-performing schools just a year ago, the school has demonstrated a stunning rise in student achievement since then. In a single year, the portion of students scoring proficient or advanced in English language arts increased by 13 percentage points and in math by a staggering 20 percentage points. Students improved at a faster pace than their peers statewide, especially in math.

"This is what it looks like when a school embraces teacher-centered education reform," says Paul Georges, president of the United Teachers of Lowell. "We had an outstanding process, and it has resulted in fantastic gains in student achievement."

The Murkland school redesign, which began three years ago, included from the outset educators as well as representatives from the United Teachers of Lowell. Teachers and paraprofessionals who were involved in the process were given the additional responsibility of taking key information back to their colleagues. The redesign has also involved a deep restructuring of the way that teaching and learning take place, with the emphasis at the school shifting away from individual classrooms and toward a shared responsibility for all students.

Professional development is also key, and "we've embraced a model that says that teachers are leaders but they're also learners," explains Kate McLaughlin, a math coach at Lowell's Bailey and Lincoln schools as well as vice president of the United Teachers of Lowell.

Massachusetts also commended 127 schools statewide for narrowing student performance gaps, demonstrating strong gains on state assessments, or shedding the federal improvement designation, the Boston Globe reports. "The gains exhibited at Murkland Elementary demonstrate that when we focus efforts on providing schools with the tools they need, our students will rise to the challenge and progress will be made in closing achievement gaps," Gov. Patrick said in a statement. [Jennifer Berkshire/AFT Massachusetts, Boston Globe]

September 26, 2011