Education Commissioner David P. Driscoll and James A. Peyser, chairman of the state Board of Education – both newly appointed – now have an opportunity to take education reform to a successful conclusion.
The new team should strive to banish the often rancorous atmosphere that prevailed under the leadership of the previous chairman, John R. Silber.
The board and the commissioner have a full agenda as reform moves into its vital standards and accountability phase.
Improving the dismal first-round scores on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System tests and holding local school districts responsible for their failings are top priorities.
The list also includes revamping bilingual education, widely acknowledged to be a failure in its current form.
Noting the lack of success in attempting to change bilingual education, Driscoll suggests the Legislature approve waivers for communities that want to experiment with alternatives. That makes sense as a stop-gap measure.
In addition, new regulations are needed for special education – another system that has gotten out of hand. With nearly 17 percent of the state’s public school children enrolled in the program, Massachusetts leads the nation in special education entitlements.
Much depends on how successfully Peyser – whose educational philosophy is rooted in the private sector – can collaborate with Driscoll, a product of the public education establishment.
The teachers union greeted Peyser’s appointment with expressions of horror. That is bad strategy. A road to confrontation is a road to chaos.
Peyser enjoys the support of those who believe that accountability is the lifeblood of a reform movement that has cost taxpayers billions of dollars. That includes key members of the Board of Education who had supported Driscoll for commissioner but otherwise are in tune with the new chairman’s progressive thinking.
Actually, Peyser’s ideas are similar to Silber’s. But his style is kinder and gentler – and that can make a difference.
If the Peyser-Driscoll combo jells into a real team, it will be good for public education in Massachusetts.