Saturday, August 31, 2013

Dear Legislature: Take a Time Out!

Earlier this summer I headed to the Statehouse with almost 80 Massachusetts superintendents to urge legislators, state education officials, and Federal lawmakers to curtail new education laws and reforms that we believe are getting in the way of student learning.

I join my colleagues today in support of House Bills 459, 512, 528, and 375.  It is timely and necessary to review redundant and inconsistent laws and rules and to take a “time out” from additional legislation, as proposed in HB 375, that has burdened schools with both funded and unfunded mandates, eroded local control, and obstructed educational growth and achievement.

It is has become crystal clear that the sheer volume and dissonance of reforms, requirements, and laws generated by the DESE, state agencies, and Federal Departments of Education, Justice, and Agriculture are crowding out innovation, excitement, and common sense in our schools. The growing political, economic, and social agenda imposed on our schools has become a nightmare of confusing and burdensome regulations and rules that are often impossible to implement.  Well-meaning policies are preventing teachers and principals from doing what they know to be in the best interest of children and their families.

For example, new Federal school lunch rules enforced this past school year, following on the heels of Massachusetts DPH nutrition rules imposed only the year before, require schools to serve the exact same number of calories at lunch to a Kindergartener as we serve to a 5th grader.  Parents know better than that!  And the result?  Students across the Commonwealth, including in my district and no doubt around the country, are abandoning school lunch programs.

The pace of change and reform is grueling and unrelenting.  Teachers, school staff and principals are increasingly required to address and attend to mandates and initiatives that leave them little time to personalize learning experiences for the children in their charge. Educators fill their day completing checklists, filing paperwork, recording reams of data, and complying with numerous regulations that have minimal benefit and are not improving schools or the student learning experience.

For example, the Legislature wants us to have zero tolerance for bullying.  Bullies and students who threaten or jeopardize the health and safety of others have no place in our schools.  However, beginning in 2014 MGL 37H and 37H1/2 stipulate specific limits on the way principals can discipline students for egregious behavior.  And there is no new funding to pay for alternative educational programs now required by this law.

Teachers, students, and parents don’t know where all of the rules and regulations come from, and they don’t care. They just know their principal is telling them they have one more thing to do that compels them to take an unnecessary step, saps energy away from the classroom, and stifles creativity and learning. Little time and fewer resources are left for the principal to propose or implement educational experiences that she knows are good for young people and necessary for them to become capable, caring citizens and innovative contributors to the global economy.

Of course, we recognize you are responsible only for what happens here in the Massachusetts Legislature, and that is why we urge you to support these bills and work with educators to craft coherent and reasonable legislation that will enhance and empower learning in each Massachusetts school.

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