The Massachusetts Story

The latest TIMSS test results, which rank student performance in math and science across different countries, included an interesting side note: Students in Massachusetts (Minnesota, too) scored a lot better than the U.S. average and ranked well alongside some top-performing countries. Read the Boston Globe's story here.

I've long wondered what's going on in Massachusetts, which also routinely places first in national math tests, including the 2007 NAEP tests in math and reading for fourth- and eighth-graders. So I asked around.

I talked with Abigail Thernstrom, who served on the state's Board of Education for more than a decade, starting in 1995. She suggested that strong curriculum guidelines and a good exit exam for high school students have helped set the tenor for education there. The state's learning standards have become models for other states and school systems, including the District of Columbia.

"We were really determined to have a system of standards and accountability that was serious and that set a relatively high bar for children to get over," she said.

Education Week's 2008 Quality Counts report also show some social indicators that work in the state's favor. Its "Chance for success" index shows that the level of parent education is highest in the nation. Nearly 60 percent of students have at least one parent with a postsecondary degree (compared to the national average of 43 percent.) The state also comes in near the top in family income and the portion of three- and four-year-olds who are enrolled in preschool.

On the flip side, the report also shows that achievement was not widely distributed. Gaps in performance on the NAEP tests, based on economic indicators, were wider in Massachusetts than almost anywhere else.

By Michael Alison Chandler  |  December 18, 2008; 12:03 PM ET
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The more parents are educated, the more likely the children are to complete higher levels of education, is that right?
Then all the more reason to accept that college is the 'new high school', a basic requirement. Even if it's just a few years at a junior college, keep aiming for more education.
The idea that plumbers and welders don't need college and 'college is not for everyone' has repercussions, then. Plumbers would more likely produce offspring who don't go to college (and don't necessarily become skilled in a trade.)
Since more education usually means an increase in earning power, it still seems like college is a good idea.
The world will still need plumbers and welders. So what's wrong with offering degrees that combine training in those skills with courses in small business management, along with the usual requirements that guarantee a high level of literacy and numeracy?

Posted by: KathyWi | December 18, 2008 8:53 AM | Report abuse

The more luxury cars a household has, the more likely it is to be rich, is that right?

Then all the more reason to accept that luxury cars are the "new basic transportation." Even if it's just an entry level Lexus, keep aiming for more car.

The idea that plumbers and welders don't need luxury cars or that "luxury cars are not for everyone" has repercussions, then. Plumbers would more likely produce offspring who don't drive luxury cars.

Since possession of luxury cars almost invariably means higher income, it still seems like getting a luxury car is a good idea.

Unless I am confusing cause and effect. Which I am. Which, I suggest, KathyWi is also.

College takes years of a person's life, years that person will never get back. College costs money; no one in the business works for free, and someone has to pay them.

Perhaps most perniciously, the idea that most people who matter are going to college allows high schools to have low standards for 9-12, figuring the students will just make it up after they graduate.

Posted by: RogerSweeny | December 24, 2008 12:01 PM | Report abuse

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