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Patrick: Nostalgia, rigidity loom as barriers to ed progress

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By Matt Murphy

STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE

BOSTON — Nostalgia for the “good old days” and the “I-know-better syndrome” are potential obstacles to further progress in education, Gov. Deval Patrick warned Thursday in a speech focused on his education achievements and work remaining for the next governor.

Patrick addressed education leaders, lawmakers and students at Bunker Hill Community College, thanking those with whom he has worked over the past eight years and imploring those in the community to keep pushing.

“Two of the most striking and powerful forces in education policy, as I experience it, are nostalgia and what I would call the ‘I-know-better syndrome … ,” Patrick said. “I’m here to tell you neither is helpful.”

Patrick listed an expansion of early education, an update to the funding formulas for charter and district schools, facility upgrades, and more affordable college options as his favored priorities for the future.

Interest groups too often close themselves off to other ideas, he said, preventing union and charter advocates, for example, or teachers and business leaders from hearing each other’s legitimate concerns about education.

“There are always efforts to draw the schools into politics. But the goal in politics these days is more often to win than to be right. Collaboration is the secret of our success, and the envy of the nation. Please hold fast to that,” Patrick said.

The small audience in an atrium on the campus in Charlestown included Board of Early Education Chairman Jay Gonzalez, Boston Foundation President Paul Grogan, retiring Higher Education Commissioner Richard Freeland, Board of Higher Education Chair Charles Desmond, and Reps. Alice Peisch and Thomas Sannicandro, the House co-chairs of the Education and Higher Education committees. Education Secretary Matthew Malone introduced Patrick after a performance by Orchard Gardens first graders.

Patrick, after the speech, said there was “enough” evidence of both impediments to change in the education policy community to warrant mentioning, but ascribed the failure of an effort to expand charter schools in the Legislature this past summer to timing.

“The challenge with the bill this past session was trying to address the funding issue and that’s a real issue. Like a lot of things in this session, it suffered from really getting the attention of folks at the very end when they were out of time and they had a lot of business backed up,” he said. “But I think it’ll come back and I think they’ll get it done in the next session.”

Patrick never made a serious push to reform the public education funding formula during his time in office, but suggested it wasn’t for lack of interest.

“I’ve brought that up any number of times,” Patrick said. “It’s very delicate and tough to do, each of these formulas, both the charter schools funding formula and Chapter 70 formula, the result of negotiations with all kinds of interests over long periods of time. They get in place and people don’t want to go back to those negotiations for fear they might not go as well.”

While Patrick proudly talked about doubling the cap on charter schools since 2007, he said he did not support making an exception for two proposed charters in Brockton and Fitchburg that were ruled ineligible this month by the Department of Education because they were proposed for districts that no longer fall among the lowest performing in the state.

Patrick said he supports pending applications for three new Horace Mann charters in Salem, Springfield and Boston, which operate in cooperation with host districts and require the approval of local school committees.

In his only mention of the governor’s race, Patrick talked about how his administration since 2013 will have moved 5,000 income-eligible children off the waiting list for early education by the end of the year.

“And if you make the wise choice for governor in a couple of weeks, every child in the Commonwealth will have access to, and the lifetime impact of, early education opportunities,” Patrick said.

Democrat Martha Coakley, who is running against Republican Charlie Baker, has proposed to gradually invest up to $150 million more annually in early education to eliminate the current waiting list of 17,000 children over four years.

Patrick also touted investments in public colleges and universities, improved high school graduation and dropout rates, nation-leading test scores in math, science and reading, and improvement in gaps between white and minority student performance.

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