Officials: Funding Fills Only Part of Path to Education Goals
Spending Risks Cited at Briefing
By Katie Lannan
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, FEB. 25, 2020.....A poll the Rennie Center for Education Research and Policy released in December identified three top priorities New Englanders have around public education: changing school funding models, closing achievement gaps, and changing the way students receive their education.
Chad d'Entremont, the Rennie Center's executive director, told Massachusetts lawmakers Tuesday that they "are about one-point-five steps there," now that they are in the early stages of implementing a $1.5 billion rewrite of the state's school finance formula.
"You have started to change the way school funding is administered, through the the Student Opportunity Act, and beyond that, you have introduced arguably one of the most progressive approaches to funding education by explicitly targeting resources at those communities that are most in need," d'Entremont said at a State House briefing. "And while I won't pretend that that will close the achievement gap, it's a really good step in the right direction, but that leaves the question of how do we change the way students receive their education?"
As the funding reform is implemented, he said, policymakers and educators should keep an eye on avoiding "the risk of using new resources to do the same old thing that we know didn't totally work."
To address the variety of factors that prepare students to succeed, d'Entremont said schools will need varied assessment methods aside from standardized testing, to measure non-academic areas like school climate, decision-making and leadership skills, and student engagement.
Rep. Alice Peisch, the House chair of the Education Committee, said measuring student success is "of incredible importance."
"While I don't think anyone can dispute the fact that one needs a certain amount of resources in order to offer a high-quality education to all of our students, using those resources effectively is, to my mind, the most important thing," the Wellesley Democrat said.
Tuesday's briefing highlighted an effort in Methuen, where public school students in grades three through 12 are screened for anxiety and depression.
John Crocker, the director of school mental health and behavioral services at Methuen Public Schools, said all students need some level of support -- like helping them develop mental health literacy and social-emotional skills -- and that the screenings can identify students who may benefit from more targeted or intensive approaches, like group or individual therapy.
Methuen High School counselor Jessica Lowe said the screenings have made school officials aware of students who they did not know were at-risk of or had developed mental health challenges.
The screening process also makes educators and other professionals able to intervene before a student's mental health status reaches a crisis point, Crocker said.
"The more that there can be state support and guidance to do the preventative bit -- just like in health care, we're actually being proactive in sort of addressing these issues -- the better," d'Entremont said.
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