Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Tom Reilly's Platform, 2

Today, Tom Reilly on education. Yesterday, it was his KidSafe program. Those are the two beefiest planks. We'll hit on energy, whih is moderately thought out, and business development, a major platform weakness.

Background

Our cliché of the afternoon is if the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. That theme threads throughout Tom Reilly's campaign for governor. Not to put too fine a point on it, there are distracting scraps in the oddest places reflecting his background as a prosecutor and the commonwealth's ranking law-enforcement official. Bag 'em, cage 'em, stay on their butts forever!

While we're waiting for Reilly to show what he plans for us, we originally went to the Web sites of announced candidates Reilly, Kerry Healey and Deval Patrick. The resulting platform comparison was very lopsided in favor of the complete and detailed Patrick program.

We have no way of proving it (short of actually asking Reilly), but we suspect beneath that dry, funeral-director's face is a very large ego. Not coming close to matching the widely publicized Patrick platform many months later suggests that:
  1. Reilly is so confident in the planks that came from his gut that he has not gotten nor even sought outside advice on the platform.
  2. He is likely underprepared to debate this cobbled-together program, with its many gaping holes.
  3. He may not have the mindset or the contacts to gather adequate advisors for his campaign or a governor's office.
  4. He seems confused about how to clearly separate issues so that he can convince voters that he will act in their interest.

Education at Tom's Core

Reilly puts lot of weight on math and science education to rescue the underserved students -- and Massachusetts -- from slogging in the swamp of declining jobs and a poor economy. In fact, absent an economic plank, this serves, so far, as his recovery plan in disguise.

Tom likes acronyms (his MAP is Massachusetts Action Plan). The education plan is Science + Math Achieve the Rewards of Tomorrow -- S.M.A.R.T. (not SMATROT; although if he were from Boston instead of Springfield, he might have stayed with SMAT).

Click here for a 7-page, large type, PDF of it. The abridged version in press-release format is here.

In unusually effusive terms for him, he says, "What's at stake here is nothing less than the future of our economy and the opportunity for a brighter future for our children. This is about uplifting everyone. Not only creating new jobs and allowing us to better compete in a global economy, but also giving all kids the skills they need to fill jobs that already exist."

The goals are meaningful, but the actions to reach them are pretty vague and may or may not get us there. He wants to:
  • Lead the nation in math and science test scores.
  • Halve the Black and Hispanic MCAS failure rate within five years.
  • Increase high schoolers who major in math and science by 40% in five years and to the top of the nation in 10.
  • Eliminate out-of-field teachers from running math and science classes.
The real goal is to make Massachusetts the destination for companies who want a technical, innovative workforce.

To this Boomer, this is a flashback, if you pardon the expression, to the Sputnik era. A generation of us were squeezed into the science and math sausage machine. The drive was not economic, rather political. We could not let those terrible Reds beat us to the moon and beyond. Spoon!

The commonwealth is suffering from exiting companies, underperforming students, job creation at the national nadir. Top-flight education, particularly in math and science is a long-overdue therapy.

Tom's Tack

Reilly figures to attack this by building better teachers, inspiring students to get technical, and bringing businesses as partners for everyone's mutual benefit. This is the most Democratic-Party type goals Reilly has ever espoused.

The gist of his therapy is:
  • Teachers: ROTC-style college scholarships to major in math or science, and then teach in public schools for five years.
  • Teachers: Elementary teachers could get grants to study math and science.
  • Students: Statewide group of minority and female mentors in math and science.
  • Students: Internships in state agencies for the 50 top high-school whizzes.
  • Students: PR to show related careers and inspire students.
  • Students: Encourage (somehow) more colleges to offer science masters degrees.
  • Students: Annual prizes for college students "who conduct the research projects with the best potential for the business world."
  • Business: Regional business/school alliances to flog science and math careers.
  • Business: Tax incentives to "volunteer" employees to tutor or teach in public schools.
There's also a metrics program to measuresuccessess and failures and a summit of business and agencies to further the goals.

Beyond S.M.A.R.T., Reilly brings out his tool belt for education. Unfortunately, he's back to the hammer.

In fairness, his record is that of a law dude. His points to keeping kids safe at school and on the Internet. Even his jobs program is a subset of his Safe Neighborhood Initiative.

None of the three leading candidates has much experience in education, but Tom's approach is typically law-enforcement heavy. He certainly could have tried to see the bigger picture.

Grading Tom

In his January speech at his alma mater, he recognized that the highest item on his list would be "growing our economy and creating jobs." When he got to the crucial education reform, he listed what became S.M.A.R.T. and "turning around our failing schools and closing achievement gaps between rich and poor, black and white."

He claimed that, "No Governor has ever made public higher education a real priority. I will." He said the commonwealth "needs a strategic, long-range vision for the next decade and beyond. I want to launch that vision. And stay around long enough to put it in place."

From here, that looks like quite a long-term commitment, from both his side and that of the voters.

You're not going to get savvy, professionally developed teacher in one or two or probably five years. Growing little innovators from elementary students is basically a 16-year process before they can even enter the workforce and learn to do something useful. Convincing businesses to help roll their own future workers takes a lot of time, effort, tax incentives, and smooth talking. We can have no idea whether he is the education evangelist to do that.

In the end, the real payback would be a radically strengthened economy here, if he can pull it off and if his proposals are adequate. What is disguised as education reform is really infrastructure rebuilding.

It took Massachusetts a long time of ignoring problems with schools, colleges, training, and employers to dig the hole we're in. Reilly has some fine mid-term and long-term goals. His methods are pretty vague and of questionable efficacy. Plus if we go his way, we need to stick with it for that decade and beyond. That may be a realistic schedule, but he's going to have to convince voters as well as all those other constituencies.

Part one of Reilly's reality is here and part three is here.


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