|Sandra Stotsky should be reappointed to the Board of Education.|
The (blunt) force behind state’s education standards
BOARD OF Education member Sandra Stotsky can be abrasive, blunt, and overbearing. She’s also the best defense Massachusetts has against a decline in educational quality as state officials contemplate adopting national academic standards in place of the strong state frameworks now in place. Stotsky’s term ends June 30. If Governor Deval Patrick reappoints her, it will signal his commitment to no-nonsense education. If he doesn’t, the welcome mat is out for educational faddists.
Being prickly didn’t disqualify previous members of the Board of Education. Former Boston University president John Silber and charter school advocate James Peyser also rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. But their actions reflected a passion for education reform in a state that ranks at or near the top of national and even international measures of student achievement.
A big shift occurred two years ago when Patrick created the position of state education secretary, placing greater responsibility for long-range planning and policy making in the hands of Paul Reville, former chairman of the education board. Patrick started packing the board with deliberate and usually low key types, including
“I’m good at asking people for information that they don’t want to give,’’ said Stotsky,whose career has ranged from grade school teacher to seasoned academic, including deputy commissioner for the state’s Education Department. Now in her 70s, Stotsky still has the energy to stir things up at home while commuting to her job as a professor at the University of Arkansas.
She decries the diminishing concern for academic content on a board that is focused on softer, so-called 21st-century skills such as global awareness and media literacy. Reville and other supporters of the new agenda insist they are meant to complement, not replace or dilute the state’s strong curriculum and high-stakes MCAS exam. But Stotsky doesn’t buy it.
“They’re going to wipe out everything,’’ she predicted.
Stotsky has been fighting against educational decay for decades. She is a veteran of the late 1980s battles in Brookline, where residents rose up against flaky social science teachers and administrators who tried to purge advance placement European history from the high school curriculum in the name of multiculturalism. The experience gave her a healthy suspicion of educational trends that has carried over into her analysis of the so-called common core national standards in math and English.
Stotsky combed a draft of the new standards in a recent Pioneer Institute white paper, finding them “vague’’ and “empty of markers for specific literary and non-literary content.’’ Grade level standards, she noted, even lacked effective examples to guide teachers and test makers.
If the state adopts the national standards, it will enter into a multiyear period of refinement and creation of new student tests. Stotsky’s presence would be invaluable during that process, especially in reading, her academic specialty. Stotsky would also serve as a check on any backsliding in teacher quality. In 2000, she helped create new, tougher licensure standards for the state’s K-12 teachers.
“No decision has been taken yet,’’ Reville said, in regards to Stotsky’s reappointment chances. “It’s the governor’s prerogative.’’
Reville is feeling pressure from various groups over the two expiring seats. He could look for a middle road and recommend the reappointment of the more agreeable Fortmann as a nod to the standards movement while tossing Stotsky overboard. But the best interests of students in Massachusetts demand the reappointment of both Stotsky and Fortmann. It’s fine for Reville to promise that education officials won’t adopt any national standards that do not “meet or exceed the rigor of our current state standards.’’ But the real test comes in whether he will abide those who hold him aggressively to that promise.
Stotsky wouldn’t just prod Reville and the education department. She would turn their world upside down if they were to retreat on standards. And that’s exactly why Patrick should retain her on the board.
Lawrence Harmon can be reached at email@example.com.