More than a hundred students, parents, educators, community activists, union leaders, researchers, and concerned citizens – many wearing blue Thrive Act t-shirts in solidarity – descended on the State House on Oct. 4 in a passionate display of support for the Thrive Act, a landmark education bill that was given a hearing that day before the Joint Committee on Education.
By early next year, if not sooner, the committee will make a recommendation on the bill to the Legislature. The ideal result is for the committee to give the bill a favorable report.
“Passing the Thrive Act is the equivalent of proclaiming to the nation from the dome of this beautiful State House: The painful, destructive era of test-blame-shame-and-punish is over,” said AFT Massachusetts President Beth Kontos in her written testimony. “There is a better way to do things, and Massachusetts will once again show the way.”
Kontos was among the dozens of speakers who testified on the Thrive Act at the Oct. 4 hearing, “the overwhelming majority” of whom were in favor of the bill, according to a news story from WBUR.
Also lending their voices to the cause were the following AFT Massachusetts leaders and members: Chelsea Teachers Union President Kathryn Anderson; Lawrence Teachers Union President Kim Barry; United Teachers of Lowell officers Mickie Dumont and Pina Maggio; Boston Teachers Union (BTU) President Jessica Tang; BTU educators Nikita DeBarros, Seamus Hill, Samantha Laney, Christine Langhoff (retired), Bailey Morse, Leila Parks, Matt Ruggiero, and Ibolya Toth. Natasha Moore, a Boston Public Schools parent (and BTU staffer), provided poignant testimony as well.
Testifiers spoke powerfully and personally about the harms and injustices caused by the high-stakes use of MCAS to rank and label schools, strip communities of democratic control through state takeover schemes, blame and shame educators for systemic educational shortcomings, and deny diplomas to students based on a single standardized test. Collectively, speakers effectively made the case for why the Thrive Act offers a better way forward for schools and students.
The entire hearing, including all testimonies, can be viewed on the Mass. Legislature’s website.
More About the Thrive Act
The Thrive Act, known formally as An Act Empowering Students and Schools to Thrive, would equip local communities with the tools and resources that students and schools need to succeed, and dramatically reduce the harm caused by the high-stakes, punitive use of standardized tests, such as state takeovers and denying students high school diplomas.
The bill was shaped with substantial input from AFT Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Teachers Association, Citizens for Public Schools, and many other organizations affiliated with the Massachusetts Education Justice Alliance (MEJA). All MEJA-affiliated groups have agreed to make the bill a major legislative priority during the current legislative session.
Specifically, the Thrive Act would:
- End the state’s harmful, failed, and undemocratic practice of taking over entire school districts based on low MCAS scores.
- Provide real help to high-need schools by eliminating the state’s failed and punitive state intervention/takeover system and replacing it with a more democratic and locally driven process for supporting schools and students.
- Establish a modified high school graduation requirement in which coursework as certified by the student’s district would replace the MCAS as the basis for showing student mastery of the skills, competencies, and knowledge required by the state standards.
- Create a special commission with a range of education stakeholders to shape a positive future vision for student/school assessment that is authentic, equitable, and focused on supporting the whole child.
MCAS Ballot Initiative Push Complements Thrive Act Effort
In early September 2023, the AFT Massachusetts Executive Board voted to endorse a proposed ballot initiative that would address one component of the Thrive Act: ending the MCAS-based graduation requirement and replacing it with one based on coursework.
“Our support for the ballot initiative complements our unwavering commitment to all components of the Thrive Act,” said Kontos. “It’s another route to the same policy end on the graduation requirement, and it helps chip away at the punitive, high-stakes nature of the MCAS. At the same, we remain fully committed to passing the Thrive Act in its entirety, and we urge all AFT Massachusetts members to double down on their efforts to get the Thrive Act passed during this legislative session.”
Thrive Act Advocacy Continues
Over the coming months, AFT Massachusetts will continue to work with allies to implement a comprehensive advocacy campaign in support of the Thrive Act. AFT Massachusetts members are central to that effort.
Here are some things you can do today:
- Contact your state representative and senator and ask them to co-sponsor/support the bill. If they’re already co-sponsors, please thank them for their support. Also ask them to send a letter to the Joint Committee on Education urging a favorable report of the bill.
- If you don’t know the names of your state representative and senator, look them up here.
- To see if your state representative has already co-sponsored the bill, go here, and click on the petitioners tab. To see if your state senator is a co-sponsor, go here, and click on the petitioners tab.
- You can call their office or use the Action Alert tool to send an e-mail. If they’ve already co-sponsored the bill, please tailor the letter accordingly.
- Talk with your local union about officially endorsing the Thrive Act and/or setting up an educational forum with local legislators and the community. Local union leaders may contact Jeremy Shenk at AFT Massachusetts, firstname.lastname@example.org, for assistance.
- Encourage your local school committee to endorse the Thrive Act. See here for a sample resolution.
As of October 2023, 69 members of the House and 19 state senators have signed on as co-sponsors of the Thrive Act. AFT Massachusetts appreciates their support and urges their colleagues to sign on as co-sponsors, too.
“It continues to be all hands on deck,” says Kontos. “This is a special opportunity to put our imprint on education for years to come—to move from a deficit model of test and punish to an asset-based model of resources and support. And to a model that supports the whole child—all facets of learning and growth. We must seize the moment and work strenuously in partnership with our allies to make this bill a reality.”