For the first time since his election, Gov. Charlie Baker visited the Berkshires to take a broad but closer look at the county's schools and educational needs.
His Dec. 22 visit included a stop at Berkshire Arts and Technology (BART) Charter Public School in Adams and to Great Barrington to participate in a ceremonial signing of a 17-town, six-school district agreement to share and consolidate services. He also visited The Eagle editorial board in Pittsfield to talk matters of education, workforce development and other issues.
The governor — the product of public K-12 schools, father of three, and state education reform advocate — is most vocal on supporting charter schools and lifting the state's cap on the number of charter schools it has, as a means, he says, of closing the state's still glaring students achievement gaps.
Baker lauded BART's approach to college and career readiness and said, "What's going on at BART is terrific and they've been sustaining that over a course of a fairly long period of time now."
He said "the kids are performing at an exceptionally high level," noting how 100 percent of BART's 10th-grade students, a class of 20 sophomores, scored proficient or advanced on the Spring 2015 English language arts and mathematics exams; only seven schools in the state achieved this result. That school year, just over half the school's population was considered "high needs," with about 40 percent of students classified as "economically disadvantaged."
Baker said, "In a state that's supposed to care so much about the opportunity gap here, we have 20 years [of charter schools], tons of independent research, and tons of families and personal experience that all basically say the same thing — which is in underperforming school districts and low-income districts, charter schools have proven to be enormously effective because of many of the ways they think about what they do in succeeding and educating low-income kids."
In terms of state testing guided by the national Common Core standards, Baker said he's for less assessment and more state control of curriculum. He also said he supported the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education's decision to create a hybrid state exam that combines state and national standards.
"I'm kind of happy where they landed," said Baker. "There's a ton of work to do, obviously, but I'd rather have Massachusetts drive the train on this than somebody else."
The governor said his administration will file a bill this month to help the state to better align the education sector with other sectors, like workforce and economic development.
He described the need to "create a demand side approach, where if you're in part of Massachusetts where the primary interest is in allied health or advanced manufacturing or plastics or whatever it happens to be, the programming that we're funding, either through community colleges or in conjunction with career centers or workforce investment boards is consistent with what people are looking to hire people for."
The governor added, "In terms of creating the strategic and collaborative investment plan that people can sign up for, it doesn't happen, and that's where you're going to create the kind of momentum that's tailored to what we should be doing. We want to build a much more interdisciplinary approach to regional economic investment, because what's going to work out here is going to be much different from what's going to work on the Cape or the Merrimack Valley or Worcester County."