Today Massachusetts students rank at the top on NAEP and outscore students from most other nations-and other states-on TIMSS. But all of that could be changing.Our readers know that Massachusetts is one of ten states currently working to reshape their standards and assessments around the framework put forth by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills. We and many others, including the folks at the Pioneer Institute, a Massachusetts-based think tank, and the editorial boards of both the Boston Globe and Boston Herald, are surprised that a state with such a successful education system would want to imperil it by embracing the latest education fad. And-in part because this effort has come under such withering criticism-we’ve been watching closely to see how the commonwealth implements P21′s program. What we didn’t expect is for the commonwealth’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) to sneak 21st century skills into Massachusetts classrooms basically under cover of night.
Last week the Pioneer Institute learned that bureaucrats at the DESE have snuck 21st century skills into the statewide Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) without telling anyone-effectively changing the content of Massachusetts education without public or legislative input. Last fall DESE incorporated a 21st century skills emphasis into an RFR they issued to update and administer MCAS. They did this without gaining the approval of the state’s chief education policymaking group, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE), or the state legislature. Prospective contractors were required to include in their bids assessments of 21st century skills that are aligned with the hotly debated recommendations of the state’s 21st Century Skills Task Force, even though the BESE has not adopted them. Indeed, the RFP was developed last summer and released last fall, before the BESE had received the task force’s recommendations. The five-year contract for $146 million was just awarded to Measured Progress, an organization that sits on the board of the Partnership for 21st Century Skills.
The state’s two largest newspapers have already registered their shock at DESE’s overreach. A handful of fad-chasing bureaucrats should not be allowed to dictate what Massachusetts students should know and be able to do. This decision cannot stand.