Governor Deval L. Patrick
Governor Patrick Hosts Town Hall Forum in Quincy
October 11, 2007
We have done some wonderful things in education reform over the last fourteen years. Those of you who have been involved in this at the ground, or as parents over the last fourteen years will know that we took a big step starting in I think it was 1993, um, was it 1993? To try and bring Massachusetts up to competitive levels all across the Commonwealth. And we have some things to show for that, you may have noticed that we were rated first in the nation on most of the measures on the what's it called? National? That National? NAEP scores. I knew there was an acronym that goes with it. But I'm going to tell you why I think that isn't enough.
One out of five kids who started in last years graduating class didn't finish in last years graduating class. 58% I think it is, of Hispanic kids, 64% of African American kids in the Commonwealth do not graduate, excuse me, graduate in four years, meaning big percentages do not on time. The reason I'm late is because I went by the Odem's house in Dorchester, you know who they are? Their thirteen year old boy was killed last week. Thirteen years old, the youngest of five children. And there's a boy in a family trying to do everything they can to improve themselves and make a better way for their kids. But unless we have longer school days, and afterschool and enrichment programs, then kids like that are going to find themselves in harms way more than any of us should be satisfied with.
The Mayor and the School Committee here do everything they can, but in a whole lot of places and I'm not sure that isn't also true here, kids are paying fees to play on the football team or extra fees to ride the bus. We have uh, what did you say? No bus, alright. If there is a bus then. We have a whole of ways in which the pressure on the property tax is all out of proportion to what folks on fixed income or limited income can pay and it is still not enough to pay for the education we all say we are committed to. And why do we say we are committed to it?
You know, I love being introduced as the "education Governor" and I'm sorry to be so grim but I am affected by where I just was. But every candidate and every Governor and every political person you ever meet says they believe in public education. Who wouldn't? It transformed my life. I've seen that.
I've had an extraordinary experience this year when our youngest child graduated from high school. Eighteen years old and I thought what a difference in her life experience at that point compared to mine at that point. Because I grew up in a neighborhood like the Odem's neighborhood. Broken in a lot of ways that neighborhood was, but I had a great education. My daughter, very different experience from mine growing up. I shared a room with my mother and my sister and my grandparents, and a set of bunk beds, so you would go from the top bunk to the bottom bunk to the floor every third night, on the floor. My daughter has had her own room all of her life. By the time she got to high school, now when I got to high school at Milton Academy through a wonderful program, it was like a different planet for me. By the time she got to high school, she had traveled on three different continents, knew how to use and pronounce a concierge, and had shaken hands with the President of the United States in the White House. How does that happen in one generation?
Education is how that happens. Education. And I have had enough of simply asking ourselves whether we are willing to accept as much education as we are willing to pay for. That's an important question. But it seems to me we should be asking ourselves how much education can make a difference. What outcomes do we want from public education? On all levels. What does that actually cost? It's a secondary and important question what we're willing to spend for it but let us be real with each other on what that actually costs. And then lets start seeing what mechanisms are available to us to pay for that.
What I want is a more comprehensive looking strategy for public education starting before with early education opportunities, for three and four year olds. I want all-day kinder garden in the communities where that makes sense. I want smaller class size, especially in the early grades. And I'm going to upset the kids in the room right now but I want a longer school day. And I'm not just talking about more classroom time although we need that too, but the enrichment opportunities and experiential learning and excursive and music and art. The whole child approach.
I think the question about the length of the school year should be on the table. Some of you I see here were involved in the campaign, I talked about this during the campaign because I believe it, right now, we have a calendar that allows you to get out in time to plant the crops and stay out long enough for you to harvest. You laugh! That's where our school calendar comes from. Well it seems to me appropriate to ask ourselves whether that makes sense in the 21st century. Why not? And how do we connect this up to the demands on all of us from the workplace and the global economy that we are becoming? More math and science required in high school. Access to community college that is free to any comer. If not community college because for not everybody does it make sense, then preparation in a couple of years in an apprentice program for a trade. Because you know what, we have eighty... we have one hundred and twenty five thousand people in Massachusetts looking for work right now, and ninety-thousand vacancies. What's that tell you? People can't find, they say, people with the skills they need to do the jobs we have.
Now let me be clear, I'm not one who believes, I know there are some who do, that education is just about preparing employees. I think education is about preparing citizens. People who are engaged. People who are interested in and curious about the world around them. Who are prepared to engage in constructive and productive ways in main-stream society, but I also appreciate that education is a gateway to a good job. And by the way the stats bare that out. People who finish high school, what's that stat? $800 thousand more? They earn over a lifetime then those who don't. That's on average by the way. Which means a whole bunch of people earn a whole lot more than that. And those who don't finish high school, present a disproportionate drain on social services, everything from food-stamp programs to housing subsidies to homelessness programs. Education can make a difference. Everybody says it, I've lived it, and so have some of you.
So what I'm interested in is what strategies we can put in place to implement some of this vision. I'll put the question more bluntly, is this the right vision in your view? And the thing I'm going to ask you is that if you do believe that this is the right thing to do then come and be a representative of the Readiness Project and help us make it real. Because we're going to have to build the interest in this and the commitment and support for it at the grass roots. And I am invested in that in my own time and I'm asking those of you here that can get behind it to invest in it as well.