During my time as a teacher at an alternative school and while serving as a dean at Middlesex Community College, the Commonwealth's largest community college, I witnessed firsthand the impact education has on an individual and a family. Massachusetts, where the first public schools in America were established, has always made education a priority. I believe we must treat education as an investment in our future, as it also the key to our nation's global competitiveness, affecting everything from the economy to clean energy.
Massachusetts, and the Third District in particular, have seen a renaissance of science and technology innovation in recent years, and a large part of that boom is due to the integration of government, industry and educational institutions.
My job in Congress is to help support the education funding pipeline from early education to higher education.
I supported federal funding during the recession to keep good teachers in the classroom. Schools need smaller class sizes and more qualified teachers. We need to work collaboratively with teachers so they have the resources and incentives to improve the performance of students, teachers, and schools. The federal government should be a strategic partner that assists state and local communities, not an entity that issues mandates from on high. Schools need smaller class sizes and more qualified teachers. Teachers ought to be paid more and given more support. They do invaluable work and that is one way to attract more and better teachers to our public schools, particularly the most challenging schools. Teachers should be given the resources and incentives to improve themselves if they are failing. And ineffective teachers who do not improve should be removed.
The diverse Third District is made up of small suburban communities and old industrial cities where public education dollars play a critical role in helping all of our children gain the skills they need to succeed in our knowledge-based economy and in helping newcomers integrate into our American society.
A quality education is the foundation upon which we create a vibrant society and economy, and I am fully committed to building an educational system that will help us realize our individual and national goals.
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ELEMENTARY AND SECONDARY EDUCATION
NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND
Since coming to Congress, I have heard from many teachers, school administrators, and parents in the District regarding the No Child Left Behind Act and its unintended impact on our communities.
Despite its laudable goals, No Child Left Behind has fallen short in many important ways. Some states have lowered their education standards in order to dodge the sanctions in this law. Others have struggled to fulfill the law's mandates without the needed funding to achieve those results, particularly in low-income areas where resources are scarce. As a result, school districts have been unable to keep up with the goals this legislation set out to achieve.
Research suggests that, more than class size or textbooks, teaching method or technology, or even the curriculum, what makes a difference in student achievement is the quality of the teacher. While I believe that teachers should be evaluated and held accountable for their performance, evaluations ought to take multiple factors into account, not focus solely on student test scores. Children come to school from very different families, social and economic circumstances, and with very different abilities and skill levels. If we punish good teachers for factors outside their control, we risk losing them. Instead, we should reward good teachers who work in challenging communities.
We have learned that the law places too much emphasis on test scores as a measure of success leading to a diminished focus on other critical disciplines like history and science. It failed to take into account the huge gains some schools made in student achievement, labeling them as "failing" and subjecting them to a series of mounting sanctions when they did not deserve that designation.
In September of 2011, President Obama announced that states could apply for flexibility waivers from the strict provisions in No Child Left Behind if they show that students are meeting certain educational goals. Massachusetts applied for one of these waivers and this waiver was granted. But these waivers are not a substitute for reform.
We need a new bipartisan education reform bill that will fix the problems with No Child Left Behind. Every child should have the chance to pursue all of the opportunities this country has to offer, beginning with the solid foundation of a quality education. We must create a culture in which a standardized test is not the only measure of success in schools, and I will continue to work at the federal level to bring us closer to that goal by supporting reforms to No Child Left Behind.
RACE TO THE TOP
I supported Massachusetts's applications for Race to the Top funding and am thrilled we are a recipient of these funds. This program was designed to encourage innovation in school improvement.
I will be keeping a close eye on the results of the change made to our education policies in the state as a result of this grant to ensure that we build on what is working and eliminate what is not.
I support charter schools; I think they have a critical role to play in education reform. However, the funding formula is broken and the state needs to develop funding mechanisms that do not disadvantage district schools.
Charter schools should not be used as a way to avoid having to meet education standards.
EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION AND SPECIAL NEEDS
I have consistently supported universal pre-school and Head Start, including urging the Budget Committee to make full-funding Head Start a top priority.
I voted for the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act, which awards grants to states that improve early education standards and practices, build an effective workforce, and improve the school readiness of young children.
I have consistently supported funding for the Reach Out and Read program, which helps foster a love of reading in young children by providing books to their parents at well-baby and well-child pediatric visits, and the Reading Is Fundamental program, which delivers free books and literacy resources to children and families.
The renaissance of science and technology innovation we are seeing in Massachusetts is the result of the Commonwealth's strong educational resources, unwavering public and private support, but most of all, the bright young minds generating the ideas of tomorrow. Nowhere else is this more apparent than here in the Third District. For example, in January, 2013 a high school senior from Boxborough was chosen as a finalist for the Intel Science Talent Search 2013, exemplifying the capabilities and possibilities inherent in this next generation of scientific pioneers. And also in 2013, Montachusett Regional Vocational Technical School in Fitchburg finished second in the national CyberPatriot Competition!
As a member of the Congressional STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Caucus, I recognize the critical role that science, technology, engineering and math education play in preparing American students for the jobs of the 21st century. I understand the value of ensuring that our children, and especially our young women, have adequate training in math and science.
Today, an understanding of scientific and mathematical principles, a working knowledge of computer hardware and software, and the problem solving skills developed by courses in STEM are necessary for a growing number of jobs. I hear from employers throughout the district about the need for STEM-educated workers to remain competitive in a global economy.
Read about some of the innovation going on at institutions around the Third District!
I was proud to support the America COMPETES Act, signed into law in 2011, which coordinated federal STEM education programs and funded academic programs to increase the number of qualified STEM teachers who will train the next generation of scientists and researchers. In the 112th Congress, I cosponsored a number of bills to improve STEM education, including legislation to create a refundable tax credit for students pursuing undergraduate degrees in STEM education and legislation to incent partnerships in renewable energy as part of a comprehensive program to enhance STEM instruction in high school and college.
I will continue to support expanding STEM initiatives throughout our educational system, from young children first developing an interest in science to adult workers seeking to sharpen their skills to take advantage of opportunities in clean energy technology.
Going to school is about more than just learning a curriculum; it is about having a nurturing space to grow, learn and mature into a healthy and responsible citizen.
Federally supported child nutrition programs and initiatives reach more than 40 million children nationwide and aim to improve children's health, increase access for low-income children to nutritious meals and snacks, and help support the agricultural economy.
I was proud to support the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which was signed into law by President Obama on December 13, 2010.
This law expands and improves upon child nutrition programs that provide meals to millions of children in schools and child care centers as well as nutrition assistance to pregnant women and their newborns. While the bill is not perfect, this bipartisan legislation represents the most significant improvements to these programs in more than 30 years, and takes several important steps to fight childhood obesity and hunger.
In the 112th Congress, I fought repeated attempts by House Republicans to gut the SNAP (food stamp) program by $33 billion. The SNAP program feeds more than 15 million children nationwide, and reduces by half the number of children each year that would otherwise face extreme poverty and hunger.
HIGHER EDUCATION AND STUDENT LOANS
Having served as a dean at Middlesex Community College, the Commonwealth's largest community college, and knowing its impact on my own family, I have seen how higher education is the key to American ingenuity and innovation and to a productive civil society. In particular, I've seen how federal student aid programs can mean the difference between whether a student is able to attend college or not. An educated employee has access to better employment opportunities and higher pay, while an educated America enhances the nation's productivity and leadership in the global economy.
Unfortunately, increases in college tuition and cuts to financial aid have created barriers to higher education for many students. At a time when so many Americans are struggling to make ends meet, students are being forced to borrow unprecedented sums of money, often at extremely high interest rates, to finance their education, leaving many students unable to afford college.High tuition and borrowing costs puts college beyond reach for many and serves as a substantial disincentive for students to pursue a college degree.
I was proud to vote in favor of the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act (SAFRA), which was signed into law by President Obama in March 2010. SAFRA represents one of the largest investments in student aid in history. By ending wasteful overpayments to student loan lenders, SAFRA was able to increase the maximum Pell Grant scholarship to $5,550 in 2010 and to $5,975 by 2019. Students from the Fifth District will see a dramatic increase in their Pell grant awards over the next 10 years. Additionally, the law strengthens the Perkins Loan program by expanding it to every U.S. college campus. The remaining portion of funds was used for deficit reduction.
The law also simplifies the FAFSA form, something that had long been requested by financial aid counselors and parents. The new law changes a previously onerous process into a simple one, ensuring that parents only need the information from their yearly tax returns to complete the form.
Additionally, SAFRA invests $1.5 billion to allow borrowers to cap their monthly federal student loan payments at 10 percent of their discretionary income for new borrowers after 2014.
On June 29, 2012, I voted for compromise legislation that the President has now signed into law that will keep the interest rate on federally subsidized student loans at 3.4 percent for the next year. I understand that this is a temporary fix and that we must do more to reduce the costs of higher education in this country.
I have joined my colleagues in supporting federal funding for the TRIO programs, which help disadvantaged, first-generation college attendees, and individuals with disabilities prepare for and succeed in high school and college.
There are few issues as vital to our economic future as developing a trained and educated workforce. The first public schools in America were established in Massachusetts; in fact, our state's Constitution specifically includes education as an obligation of the Commonwealth. I will continue to help strengthen our schools by ensuring that the federal government is a strategic partner, assisting state and local communities.