Healey administration should insist on measuring equity in education

It's not enough to support expansion of programs geared toward college and career readiness

GOV. HEALEY HAS good work to build upon when it comes to helping students of color enroll and succeed in college. The governor supports expanding “college-in-high school” initiatives as a way of addressing equity issues in college success. Investment in expanding these important programs makes good sense given the demographic and labor force challenges facing the Commonwealth. But to understand the impact of these investments on student life outcomes, the governor also needs to put in place a user-friendly and accessible tracking system to measure the effectiveness of these programs over the long-term.

Massachusetts has long supported a public-private partnership designed to increase the enrollment and success of students of color and students living in poverty in Advanced Placement (AP) STEM and English courses (a partnership supported by Mass Insight). We have a growing early college program and some school districts offer the International Baccalaureate (IB) program. All of these college in high school programs help high school students earn college credits and prepare them for the rigors of two- or four-year post-secondary education.

Achieving educational equity has always been a moral imperative, but it’s becoming an ever-greater economic imperative too. The pandemic has both highlighted and exacerbated longstanding inequities based on race and social class and recent NAEP and MCAS results have laid bare the current extent of achievement gaps that result. At the same time, a recent MassINC report predicts that the state’s working age, college-educated workforce will decline by 192,000 residents by 2030, the result of declining birthrates, slowing immigration, and a larger share of diverse students enrolled in our public schools. An increase in the diversity of the student body matters because as it stands now, students of color are less than half as likely to complete a college degree than their white counterparts.

Achieving real equity means that students from all backgrounds will be able to get and keep good jobs and that wage gaps based on race will significantly narrow. Currently, Massachusetts has enormous wage gaps. Closing these gaps will require that two-year and four-year degrees, as well as industry certifications, are proportionately earned by students of all races. This is a necessity because the wage gaps based on type of degree are substantial, with bachelor degree recipients earning nearly $20,000 more than students that have an associate degree or some college but no degree. It’s not enough to say students of color are earning more degrees as a result of college in high school programs. We need to understand what types of degrees and, even more importantly, the employment and earnings trajectories that result from the state-supported paths that students pursue.

And preparedness for college is even more challenging now, as evidenced by recent testing data and the struggle many current college students are experiencing because of pandemic-related learning gaps. It doesn’t help students to earn college credits in high school if they still need remedial courses when they reach higher ed. The number and type of college degrees and career-based certifications are also important to track.

That is why it’s important for the Healey administration to develop ways to measure the success of college in high school programs, both in the short- and long-term. Measures should, at a minimum, include longitudinal data disaggregated by race, ethnicity, gender, and income, as well as by the type of post-secondary preparation, be it AP, Early College, International Baccalaureate, vocational/technical, or a combination thereof.

When it comes to data, the Healey administration again has some good work to build on. While not yet fully completed, the Massachusetts College and Career Outcomes Dashboard does a nice job of presenting data on many of these topics in one place and in a user-friendly format. The dashboard, developed by the Massachusetts Education-to-Career Data Hub, provides web accessible statewide data on the college and career outcomes of public high school students from high school enrollment and graduation rates, MassCore completion, college persistence, and wage outcomes. However, this database does not track individual student progress longitudinally, which is what is needed to truly judge the success of college in high school programs.

Massachusetts has also built a “P20W” (preschool/K-12/higher education/workforce) data system. Utilizing federal funding and inter-agency agreements, multiple state agencies have collaborated on this project with the goal of pursuing more “impact and student equity” in policymaking. But this system is not accessible to all, nor well utilized by stakeholders, researchers, or policymakers. Gov. Healey should support efforts to improve the transparency and use of the “P20W” system during the upcoming legislative session.

Meet the Author

Susan F. Lusi

President and CEO, Mass Insight Education
Meet the Author
Policymakers rightly champion the launch of new programs to address the education and economic challenges faced by their constituents. But keeping or expanding such programs should rely on reliable and transparent longitudinal data systems that track student progress through school and into the workforce. Moreover, programs should be judged on whether the public purpose is being achieved. Good data systems may not make headlines. However, if the use of data helps us achieve real equity through more informed policymaking over the next decade, that will be news that makes a difference.

Susan F. Lusi is president & CEO and John Schneider is managing director of policy and advocacy at Mass Insight Education & Research.