December 15, 2012

Reville a hard act to follow in Seceratry of Education post

DECEMBER 14, 2012

EDUCATION secretary Paul Reville, who is stepping down from his cabinet post in the Patrick administration, deftly managed to enlist the state’s largest teachers’ union in pursuit of aggressive education reform, with special attention on upgrading urban schools. Governor Patrick has chosen one of the beneficiaries of Reville’s work — outgoing Brockton school superintendent Matthew Malone — to fill the post. He should be a solid choice, as long as he keeps in mind what made Reville successful.

As an urban superintendent with prior teaching and headmaster experience, Malone should need no tutoring on public-school issues. Most of the education action during Patrick’s final two years in office will take place in urban districts, where the state must do more to close the achievement gap between low-income students and their suburban counterparts. Malone should bring special insights to this challenge.

The job doesn’t stop there, however. The education secretary also guides the administration’s policy in both early childhood and higher education, two areas in which Reville excelled and Malone’s experience appears thin. The administration’s efforts to shift the focus of the state’s 15 community colleges toward courses that align with the needs of local industries wasn’t popular with the presidents of the community colleges. But Reville made a compelling economic case for the strategy. Malone will need to carry that message forward.

Charter school proponents are looking skeptically at the selection of Malone, who has been vocal in his efforts to stop a firm called SABIS from siting a charter school in Brockton. Several large cities, including Boston and Lawrence, are at or near the cap on the number of seats they can offer in charter schools. Raising the cap would keep pressure on district schools to adopt charter school-like reforms, such as the longer school day and more hiring flexibility for school principals. Patrick will have made the wrong choice if Malone obstructs charter school expansion in Massachusetts.
Malone’s experience as a school superintendent in both Swampscott and Brockton could help to break current stalemates at the bargaining table over stricter teacher evaluations. Teachers often say, with some justification, that they are reluctant to put their professional fates in the hands of poor managers. Malone’s selection could point to new policies ensuring that principals and headmasters are wisely chosen and up to the task of running schools.

This is a time of shake-up in the Patrick administration, with four cabinet secretaries announcing their decision to step down midway through the governor’s final term. Some, such as Health and Human Services Secretary JudyAnn Bigby, leave behind agencies in flux, after problems as severe as the meningitis outbreak at a state-regulated compounding pharmacy. Malone, however, is not coming in to clean up a mess. His job is to protect and even quicken the reforms and academic improvements that the public has come to expect from the education secretary.


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