Let’s test promising achievement-gap closing strategies

We need to apply the state’s innovation mindset to education

MASSACHUSETTS LAST PASSED a major overhaul on public education in 1993. That year, Bill Clinton became president. The World Wide Web began to take off. Whitney Houston’s single “I Will Always Love You’’ held the top spot on the billboard charts. And I was three years old.

My public education was greatly influenced by the resulting infusion of money, accountability, and innovation, as was the educational performance of our entire state, which has regularly topped national rankings since that time.

Despite the important changes in education since 1993, our focus on school improvement has not done enough to address the persistent achievement and opportunity gaps. For low-income students, students of color, and English language learners, we must do better with providing the fundamental supports necessary for them to receive an exceptional academic experience.

Compared to other sectors of our economy, we spend a small fraction of funds in education on evidence-based practices and researching what actually works. Greater Boston is home to dozens of institutions that spend billions each year developing new answers to the biggest questions in biotech, defense, and technology. We cannot afford to have generations pass by in our schools without any of the discipline, investment, and scientific research on improvement that mark those other Massachusetts industries.

Massachusetts is the birthplace of public education. In a state that prides itself on innovation and on its public schools, it is crucial that we make dedicated investments in pilot programs that teach us what new strategies could help us move towards closing achievement and opportunity gaps most effectively.

That’s why I filed a bill to create IDEA grants — innovations demonstrating excellence and achievement. These grants would fund pilot programs in evidence-based practice areas that work towards equity in achievement and opportunity for low-income students and English language learners. When those pilot programs work, we can expand proven programs to the rest of the state—and if our history is any indication, to the rest of the country.

I have also filed a bill to create the Education Finance Reform Data Advisory Commission. This commission would conduct rigorous research on student outcomes and analyze how spending relates to closing achievement and opportunity gaps.

I began my academic journey in the Boston Public Schools, at the William Monroe Trotter School in Roxbury, which later transformed into an “innovation school,” a designation for district public schools that have sought greater flexibility in curriculum, staffing, and the school calendar. My academic passion was sparked further during my time at Roxbury Preparatory Charter School, co-founded by John King, who went on to serve as President Obama’s secretary of education, Keith Motley, the former chancellor of the University of Massachusetts Boston, and Evan Rudall, the former CEO of the Uncommon Schools network.

A few years later, I was fortunate enough to be selected as a member of the inaugural class of the Crimson Summer Academy at Harvard University – an innovative program with a rigorous curriculum for driven high school students who demonstrate a passion for learning and desire to excel. These experiences helped secure a full academic scholarship at Northeastern University and ultimately led me to the State House.

As a product of urban public schools, I am certain that all students can succeed with these kinds of innovative supports. But we also need to ensure that those resources are used effectively to achieve that goal—that they give students in cities like Springfield, Worcester, or in my Roxbury district the same opportunities as kids in wealthier parts of the state.

Meet the Author

Chynah Tyler

State Representative, Massachusetts Legislature
By investing in—and then strenuously evaluating—innovative ideas and programs, we can make sure that today’s three-year-olds all have a legitimate opportunity to succeed and to have Massachusetts schools continue to lead the nation.

Chynah Tyler is the state representative for the 7th Suffolk Suffolk District.