Patrick unveils plans

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The governor outlined the ideas, part of his education "Readiness Project," at a Boys and Girls Club in Boston's Dorchester neighborhood yesterday.

The proposals include an early-warning dropout prevention program to help identify students at risk of leaving school, and the hiring of student coordinators in low-income schools to help children and parents connect with community-based social services.

Other highlights of the 10-year plan include the creation of universal prekindergarten and full-day kindergarten, combining school districts, negotiating a single statewide teachers' contract, and letting students as young as 16 graduate if they pass a test that compares them with competitors from other countries.

One thing Patrick said he would not tamper with is the state MCAS test, which he said would remain a graduation requirement.

The Readiness Project is Patrick's signature effort on education. He said it builds on the state's landmark 1993 Education Reform Act, which poured billions into local school systems during the 1990s.

He would not say how he planned to pay for his proposals, but said "everything is on the table" from new taxes to casino revenues.

In fact, Patrick said the planning for the initiative, which has been in the works for about a year, didn't take into account funding.

"We're building a house; we're building a building. You design it first, then you cost it out," he said. "There's an approach that we could have taken, which is to say we are going to get only so much excellence as we can afford."

Patrick named a special finance commission to come up with ideas about how to pay for the initiative, from possible cost savings to sources for new revenue.

Part of the goal of the education initiative is to close a persistent achievement gap between the state's black and Hispanic students, who generally score lower than white and Asian students on MCAS tests.

Although 10th-graders of all ethnic groups earn their MCAS competency determination on their first try, minorities still lag behind.

Last year, 91 percent of white students and 90 percent of Asians passed both English and math MCAS exams on their first try compared with 73 percent of blacks and 67 percent of Hispanics, according to the state.

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Several of the proposals unveiled yesterday seek to address that gap, including establishing a "birth to school" strategy to encourage the healthy development of low-income children and creating something called a "Readiness passport" to help parents track the progress of their children.

Members of a subcommittee appointed by Patrick that called on the state to eliminate MCAS as a graduation requirement said they were disappointed by his decision to keep the tests.

In a report submitted to the administration, the subcommittee blamed the MCAS for higher minority dropout rates and said the state should adopt a more comprehensive system.

"Based on what Governor Patrick said today, it doesn't sound like they took to heart the letter and spirit of our recommendation," said subcommittee member Lisa Guisbond of the anti-MCAS organization FairTest.

Patrick plans to roll out additional parts of the proposal over the next two days.

Other details of the initiative already have been made public, including the creation of so-called Readiness Schools — public schools that would function like charter schools.

Such schools would have greater freedom to control curriculum and hiring decisions, but would be controlled by local school boards.

Paul Reville, Patrick's chairman of the Board of Education and one of the architects of the Education Reform Act, said the state must help prepare students to compete in an increasingly global economy.

That means taking a look at new ideas, including consolidating some of the state's many individual school districts.

The Massachusetts Teachers Association plans to sit down with state officials to get details on the proposal to negotiate a statewide teachers' contract. The organization was briefed on the idea Friday by administration officials, but given no details, its president, Anne Wass, said.

"It's an issue that hasn't ever really come up until now and there are absolutely no details on it," Wass said. "We have a lot of questions. What do they have in mind? How would it work? What is their interest in pursuing it?"

Wass also said any consolidation of school districts would have to be done carefully to make sure the benefits of local control of schools aren't lost.


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