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Tom Finneran: The Politicians that Made Massachusetts Education Elite

Friday, September 21, 2012

 

Tom Finneran, GoLocalWorcester MINDSETTERâ„¢

One of America’s great political traditions is to berate, belittle, and browbeat elected officials. We find constant fault with their intelligence, we bemoan their integrity, we ridicule their families, we mock their ambitions, and we condemn their judgments. The common denominator in all this is revealed in the oft-expressed, near-universal sentiment which asks—“is this the best we can do?”—as if the qualities of our candidates somehow do not measure up to the qualities of their constituents.

And while it is always great fun to puncture the pretensions of some, more often than not, I choose to avoid the course of easy criticism. Rather, I come to praise them, not condemn them.

A recent news event captures my thinking. Earlier this week the state announced the most recent MCAS results for Massachusetts students. Those results showed further gains for Massachusetts schoolchildren in the subjects of English, math, and science. Those gains continued a string of achievements which have demonstrated that Massachusetts outperforms every other state in the nation. We have done so consistently for several years in a row. In fact it’s amusing to see Deval Patrick taking a bow, as he should, for a string of successes which occurred under Governors Romney, Swift, and Cellucci as well. They all deserve a bow.

In fact, international tests show that Massachusetts students also compete very impressively against their peers and contemporaries in other countries.  And while all of this good news should be celebrated and applauded, it must be borne in mind that such superlative performance was not always the case here in Massachusetts. For far too many years, concerns regarding self-esteem lead to the social promotion of students who were clueless and shamefully ill-prepared for the realities of life beyond school.

Writing about the good, the bad, and the ugly of American education, MCAS, charter schools, and achievement gaps can stimulate great discussion and controversy. Stay tuned for some of that.

Today however, I want you to take a test for which there are only two rules----1) be honest with yourself and 2) remember that we are a family publication of sorts—thus no vile language!

The test consists of names and your reaction to those names—Bulger, Flaherty, Birmingham, Roosevelt, Haley, Rogers, Montigny, Rosenberg, Deleo, Dempsey, Murray, Brewer. Now, let’s throw in some Governors, starting with Bill Weld and continuing all the way to Deval Patrick and Lt. Gov. Tim Murray. Honorable mentions go to Charley Baker, David Driscoll, and many others.

I have no doubt that some of those names spark a visceral if not violent response and that you have already uttered an unprintable vituperative description of their years in office. Yet these are the men and women who, for a string of nearly twenty years, have maintained a commitment to the students of Massachusetts, in the face of incredible political pressure and financial constraints. Of thee I sing indeed.

MCAS/TESTING—always controversial and fraught with class and racial concerns.

FUNDING---always limited, with a thousand other legitimate claims made upon the same dollar.

CHARTER SCHOOLS---seen by many as a direct threat to universal public education, a true American miracle from the mind of John Adams.

TEACHERS UNIONS---always controversial, even unto themselves.

These and other issues are constant never ending migraines for which the paths of least resistance beckon. Yet Bulger, Birmingham, Flaherty, Roosevelt and the rest all practiced a politics that we think is utterly unattainable—they said “yes” to funding, testing, and accountability, and “no” to a lot of nonsense designed to derail our forward progress. They deserve our thanks and our praise. They demonstrated every quality that we say we want in our public leaders--- courage, poise, intelligence, integrity, judgment, and character. In Spike Lee’s words, they did the right thing. And of them I sing.

 

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