AS PREPARED FOR DELIVERY:
Governor Deval L. Patrick
Harvard University AskWith Education Forum
Longfellow Hall, Harvard Univer
sity, 13 Appian Way, Cambridge
Thursday, April 10, 2014

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I love spending time with kids. I love to listen to them say what interests them or worries them, or what they want to be when they grow up. I think I pay attention to kids as a gesture of gratitude to the teachers and church ladies and other adults who paid attention to me, and my hopes and dreams, when I was a kid. The experts in my first campaign used to complain about how much time I “wasted” with young people – until we stumbled upon the reality that many adults came to the campaign through their kids. 

As a parent and a grandparent, I hear optimism and energy, eagerness and hope. As a governor, I hear a call to action. Every one of us has a stake in getting them where they want to go. We have a stake in their readiness. That’s why I have governed with the notion that investments of ideas, time and money in our schools matter – because those investments unlock growth and opportunity for all of us.

It’s not only about money. I had a 6th grade teacher on the South Side of Chicago named Mrs. Quaintance. There were 30 or 40 of us in that class, from the same broken neighborhood and similar broken homes. And yet she held us in rapt attention. She taught us to count and say the greetings in German. She took us to the first opera I’d ever seen. I had no idea what they were singing about (still don’t), but I loved it. She took us to a new movie just out called “The Sound of Music” and used it to teach us about the rise of the Nazis and modern European history. She was the first person who helped me imagine what it might be like to be a citizen of the world. For a kid from the segregated South Side of Chicago in the 50s and 60s, that was a huge gift.

I know resources matter, and that money is a critical resource. But I want to emphasize the importance and impact of innovation, of trying new things. Of all the forces at work in education policy, to me the most powerful is nostalgia. I think we have to stop asking schools and the professionals who serve in them to teach to yesterday when tomorrow is already here. 

I often cite the example of the Orchard Gardens School in Roxbury. A few years ago, no matter how bad things were in a Boston public school, folks would say, “at least we’re not Orchard Gardens.” Poor attendance, low test scores, low self-esteem, disengaged parents. You name it.

I went to visit the first time in 2010 because I learned that the school had embraced nearly all the tools and supports included in our new Achievement Gap Act. They extended the school day so it was based on the workweek and the workday (not the farm day). Students stayed after school for extra support and help with their homework. Many students eat three meals a day there. Exercise, music and art were re-introduced and integrated into the academic curriculum. City Year and other partners help deal with truancy issues, and serve as mentors to students. Through Boston Medical Center, City Connects and other services, whole families are getting their basic needs met through the school. 

In 2010, Orchard Gardens was deemed a Level 4 turnaround school. In 2013, we announced that Orchard Gardens jumped to being a Level 1 school. Students are focused, teachers are accountable and treated as professionals, and parents are re-engaged and proud.

Why does it matter? We need that talent. This state and this country is in the midst of the most profound economic and social global competition in many generations. And we need all our players on the field, ready to play. For 20 years, through a strategy of high stakes and high standards, Massachusetts has been on an ed reform journey. For the last 8 years, we have been number one in the Nation in student achievement. And yet for all that time we’ve had a persistent achievement gap. And the kids stuck in that gap are poor. They speak English as a second language. They have special needs. To have an achievement gap at all is an economic and social problem. But to let it go for so long – that’s a moral question. Those are our children, too. And we owe them their best chance as well.

So, we have work to do. We have work to do to fund the schools adequately and support the professionals who teach in and lead them. We have work to do to encourage and enable more flexible models for classrooms, longer school days and school years. We have work to do to introduce more experiential learning, more art and music and exercise, more mentoring. We have work to do to require more accountability. We have work to do to get the 40,000 3-year-olds off the waitlist and into quality early education programs. And most of all, we have work to do to end the crushing and lasting impact of poverty. Because all kids are our kids. And all kids can excel.

At the end of my first visit to Orchard Gardens a few years ago, the first grade – led by a veteran teacher – gathered to recite for me. After a short poem about multicultural tolerance, they recited much of the “I Have A Dream” speech. When I started to applaud, the teacher said, “not yet.” Then she began to ask those 6- and 7-year olds questions: “What does ‘creed’ mean?” “What does ‘nullification’ mean?” “Where is Stone Mountain?” And as the hands shot up to answer her questions, I realized that she had taught the children not just to memorize but also to comprehend what they had recited. 

Two years ago, twenty first-graders from Orchard Gardens arrived in Washington on what was for most of them their first flight on an airplane. They went to practice reciting the “I Have A Dream” speech one more time, this time under the towering monument honoring Martin Luther King, Jr. on the National Mall. Later that afternoon, they, along with their bashful principal, and their dynamic, loving teacher went to the White House to recite for the President of the United States. 

Watching them run around the South Lawn, burning off nervous energy while they waited, or gawking at the unfamiliar splendor of the interiors, or asking where the bathroom is, or staring in bug-eyed disbelief when President Obama entered the Diplomatic Reception Room, they could have been any 6- or 7-year olds. And yet I am certain that they felt important that day simply because someone made them feel worthy. It was extraordinary that that someone was the president of the United States.  But what matters most is that someone made them feel worthy. They could have been any 6- or 7-year-old; they should be every 6- or 7-year old.

The American Dream belongs to them, as much as to you and me. It’s worth fighting for. It’s worth investing in. And it’s worth sharing responsibility for – because it is still central to who we are.

Thanks for all you do to make that Dream real. Have a productive conference.