Thursday morning, I joined Christine Ortiz, MIT professor of engineering and founder of Station1, and Angie Kamath, university dean of continuing education and workforce development at the City University of New York, in a conversation hosted by the Siegel Family Endowment at their beautiful SoHo location in NYC. The theme of the conversation was “The Role of Higher Education in Fostering Inclusive Urban Ecosystems.”
The following is an excerpt from my prepared remarks:
Before students can be ready to come to Elms College, to go to the City University of New York, or to participate in Christine’s innovative Station 1 program, their first hurdle is to get a good K-12 education.
It is uncontested that education is the most important element in both our individual and collective future. The National Science Foundation annually reports on the state of US education, especially in STEM subjects, in terms of our global competitiveness. The U.S. has spent a lot of money at the federal and state levels to improve our educational system. Much progress has been made. Massachusetts leads the national effort in educational improvement. That is Massachusetts as a whole. There is a tale of two Massachusetts educational systems, however. According to the Massachusetts Education Equity Partnership, “Massachusetts is ranked number one in the country with regard to K-12 academic performance, however the level of education that Black and Latino students receive in Massachusetts is more similar to the average student in the lowest performing states than to that of their more privileged peers in Massachusetts.”
The disparity is even more acute in Western Massachusetts. In the three urban centers of Western Massachusetts, Springfield, Holyoke and Chicopee, African American and Hispanic students represent respectively 85.5%, 84.2%, and 42.4%, of all students for the 2018-2019 academic year 1 . Looking at Springfield specifically:
- 67% of third graders do not meet reading expectations.
- 70% of third graders do not meet math proficiency expectations.
- 2017 Grade 10 MCAS and science MCAS assessments were below state averages by double-digit percentages for every tested grade and content area.
While the reasons for the achievement gap are complex, one fact is clear — the entire educational environment, the ecosystem, is important for students to thrive and quality teachers are among the most important positive educational inputs in the K-12 years. Arne Duncan, in his 2018 book How Schools Work, put it this way: “This is not about test scores, knowledge, or even school. It’s about life. [Chetty’s] study showed that the group that had benefited from having good teachers had more options, made better decisions, and had more freedom later in life.”