Leaders For Education: CEOs form a new organization to move education reform to the top of the state’s agenda

September 11, 2008

For information contact

David Trueblood/The Boston Foundation 617-338-3890

Cort Boulanger/Boulanger Public Affairs 339-222-2422

Wyndham Lewis/Massachusetts High Technology Council 781-890-6482

Boston – Impatient with the pace of education reform 15 years after the historic achievements of 1993, a group of Massachusetts-based leaders has formed a new coalition to provide broad support for further changes in public education—and to put education reform itself back in a primary position at the Statehouse and among the state’s public officials.

The group, called Leaders For Education, is Chaired by Ronald P. O’Hanley, President and CEO of BNY Mellon Asset Management and Chairman of the Boston Public Library. A steering committee of more than 20 CEOs from the business, civic and higher education communities has already formed and the group has begun to expand its membership. In addition, Leaders For Education has a Boston affiliate that will focus specifically on reforms within Boston’s public school system.

Specific recommendations by the group are drawn from Leaders For Education’s charter, which emphasizes the following principles:

  • Preserve and expand effective reforms put into place as the result of the achievements of 1993, including the use of MCAS, the standards-based evaluation of students as a requirement of graduation, and the role of charter schools as an option for students;  
  • Raise expectations for schools, educators and students based on the changing demands of the economy; and  
  • Invest in meaningful innovation.

“This effort is driven by a sense of urgency and the need for accelerated results,” said O’Hanley. “We can take pride in the fact that Massachusetts schools lead the nation by many measures, but we cannot be satisfied knowing we are not keeping up with the pace set by many global measures of academic attainment. We have become complacent at a time when we have to redouble our efforts.”

“We are failing too many children every day—and the clock is ticking,” said Paul S. Grogan, President and CEO of the Boston Foundation . “We fail to equip many urban and minority students with the basic skills they need to thrive in an economy that increasingly requires a college degree or higher-level technical training.”

“It is imperative that the Commonwealth’s education system leads the world, not just the nation,” said Christopher R. Anderson, President of the Massachusetts High Technology Council, former Chairman of the State Board of Education, and a founding member of the Leaders For Education. “The status quo will not adequately prepare students for a career in the global economy. It is critical for the employer community to pursue an aggressive common agenda that results in higher achievement for teachers and students.”

In announcing the formation of the new group and its agenda, Leaders For Education expresses broad support for Governor Deval Patrick ’s 10-year education plan, known as the Readiness Project, which was announced in June. Earning particular favor was the idea of Readiness Schools, public schools that would be granted significant autonomy, freedom from certain union rules, as well as control over staffing, curriculum and scheduling, although they would remain accountable to local school committees.

“Leaders For Education members look forward to working with Gov. Patrick and the Legislature on an implementation strategy,” said O’Hanley. “We are well aware of the supportive role the business community played in 1993, and are prepared to provide that support again today.”

However, Leaders For Education stresses the need for more specific implementation plans and timetables—for clear goals that would add scope and scale to the Readiness Project. The Readiness Project calls for 40 Readiness Schools by 2013; Leaders For Education seeks more aggressive goals, both in terms of numbers and in time.

In addition, the group seeks assurance that proven programs will be maintained or expanded even as new strategies are implemented. In particular, members cite the need to maintain MCAS as a requirement for graduation. The group also expresses concerns about attempts to water down the state’s MCAS graduation requirements and calls strongly for greater numbers of charter schools and pilot schools in response to their proven successes and the deep interest parents continue to express in them.

The group seeks to underscore the impact of education reform. While fewer than half Massachusetts students passed the first MCAS exam, last year, 87 percent passed the MCAS 10th grade test and MCAS stands today as the acknowledged gold standard for standards-based testing across the country. They also note that Massachusetts students outperformed students in all other states in the NAEP tests—the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the premier national standard of comparative achievement. In addition, 32,000 students are now served by charter and pilot schools, innovative schools that outperform their peers. However, Leaders For Education members referenced the achievement gap that remains, citing the fact that the 100 lowest performing schools in the Commonwealth enroll more students than the total number enrolled in charters and pilots.

Leaders For Education urges the Administration and the Legislature to:

  • Increase spending and identify efficiencies that could be put into place to lower costs and free resourcesfor investment in educational innovation;
  • Lift the cap that has been imposed on the number of charter schools in the state and promote the development of additional pilot schools, in parallel and in addition to Readiness Schools;
  • Create real targets for Readiness Schools, including timetables for roll-out and numbers of new schools to be created using the Readiness Project in coming years;
  • Introduce differentiated compensation for teachers and school administrators to address the realities of special challenges in subjects that fail to draw sufficient teachers, and the special challenges in failing schools.

Leaders For Education stresses the critical role adequate resources play in the reform agenda. They urge a thorough review of spending within the education system to identify real needs for added support and opportunities for savings.

“Since 2003, more than $500 million has been drawn out of school budgets,” said Thomas F. Birmingham, former President of the Massachusetts State Senate and one of the architects of Education Reform in 1993.

Birmingham and other members of the group question that significant decline in spending at a time when they believe education should be the number one public policy issue in the state. In addition, the group calls for efficiencies that could reduce the cost of education, generating added funds for further investment in innovation. To this end, they urge the Governor’s Readiness Finance Commission to examine the potential savings that could accrue from regionalization, which was seen to have great potential for lowering high and growing structural costs, in areas including the cost of health care, service contracts and supplies.

Leaders For Education grows out of earlier efforts by the Great Schools Campaign/Mass Insight Education, the Massachusetts High Technology Council, and the Boston Foundation, each of which had developed similar strategies for transforming our education system in ways consistent with the global demands of the 21st century. These strategies are fundamental to Massachusetts’s long-term economic interests.

“Our students will compete for jobs in an increasingly global economy, and that means we have to benchmark our system against the best systems in this country, in China, India and around the world,” said William H. Guenther, President of Mass Insight Education and Research Institute. “Massachusetts needs to build on the progress from Education Reform and create a strategy that recruits and trains the best teachers, delivers math and science excellence and sets hard targets for turning around schools that are failing students.”

Several founding members of Leaders For Education have also formed an affinity group called Boston Leaders For Education, to bring the call for more rapid reform to Boston. They expect to build on recent progress, including the development of pilot schools, a national model for urban schools that grants freedom from some union restrictions and autonomy over their individual budgets, curriculums and schedules, and which currently serve about 10 percent of Boston school students.

One of the members of the Boston Leaders For Education is Richard M. Burnes Jr., Co-Founder and General Partner of Charles River Ventures, who spoke to the need for reform in Boston.

“We want to provide support for our new Superintendent and celebrate the qualities she brings to the city,” said Burnes. “Our goal is to help her realize her ambitions on behalf of every student in Boston schools.”

Members of the Coalition 

In addition to Ronald O’Hanley, the Leaders For Education coalition includes a steering committee of more than 20 CEOs It is seeking to significantly expand its membership among CEOs from Boston and the Commonwealth. Current members are:

Christopher R. Anderson – President, Massachusetts High Technology Council; Former Chairman, Massachusetts Board of Education

Charles D. Baker – CEO, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care

John R. Bertucci – Chairman, MKS Instruments

Dennis D. Berkey – President and CEO, Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Thomas F. Birmingham – Senior Counsel, Edwards, Angell, Palmer & Dodge; Former President, Massachusetts State Senate

Robert Brown – President, Boston University

Richard M. Burnes Jr. – Co-founder and General Partner, Charles River Ventures;Boston Leaders For Education

Michael Contompasis – Director, Mayor’s Office of Intergovernmental Relations

Gary T. DiCamillo – President & CEO, GW Premier

Nicholas C. Donohue – President & CEO, Nellie Mae Education Foundation

Paul S. Grogan – President & CEO, The Boston Foundation

William H. Guenther – President, Mass Insight Education & Research Institute

Jackie L. Jenkins-Scott – President, Wheelock College

Cleve L. Killingsworth, Jr. – President & CEO, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts

John J-H. Kim – President and CEO, The District Management Council

Paul F. Levy – President and CEO, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center

Charles L. Longfield – Chief Scientist, Blackbaud Inc.;Boston Leaders For Education

Sherif Nada – Boston Leaders for Education

Paul Sagan – President & CEO, Akamai

Raymond S. Stata – Chairman, Analog Devices

Henri A. Termeer, President, Chairman, & CEO, Genzyme Corporation

Henry M. Thomas III – President & CEO, Urban League of Springfield; Member, Massachusetts Board of Higher Education; Trustee, UMass

Michael Tooke – Boston Leaders For Education

Jack M. Wilson – President, University of Massachusetts