By Anthony D’Ambrosio
The Covid-19 pandemic has taken a devastating toll on our state’s students. Mental health issues have spiked, reaching crisis levels in many school districts. Nearly 300 schools in Massachusetts had chronic absenteeism rates of 30% or higher this past school year. And just last week, the state-wide results for the Spring 2021 MCAS revealed just how far behind academically our students have fallen: only 33% of Massachusetts students in grades 3-8 met expectations for mathematics, compared to 49% in 2019. In English language arts, only 46% of students in grades 3-8 met expectations, compared to 52% in 2019.
The pandemic challenged even the most prepared among us, and I know first-hand that Massachusetts teachers worked tirelessly—and often thanklessly—to guide our students through uncharted waters. However, the data makes clear that—on a policy level—the state government has lost touch with the needs of our students. It should not have taken a global pandemic to force state officials to think about how we should educate students in a 21st century world. Remote learning, equitable access to the Internet and digital learning tools, and the importance of comprehensive STEM education in a technology-oriented economy have been discussed for over a decade. Our state failed to take these developments seriously when it mattered, and our children continue to suffer as a result.
We need several state-wide initiatives to best support Massachusetts students after this most disruptive year of their lives and set them up for long-term success.
First, funds are needed now to remediate the aftermath of Covid-19 on our state’s students, not in 2 or 3 years as is being currently contemplated. If Massachusetts students are unable to make up the lost progress from the last two school years, they will continue to be behind for the rest of their academic careers. Beacon Hill must immediately deploy funds for more tutoring, digital learning aids, and counselling services for all students, especially students with disabilities and ESL students. Additionally, we need a state-wide study on why mathematics proficiency—essential to securing the technology jobs of the future—was specifically undermined by the pandemic’s disruptions.
Second, we need to dramatically expand internship and apprenticeship programs for the Commonwealth’s high schools and community colleges. Connecting Activities, the largest state-wide apprenticeship program for students, provides opportunities for a mere 3.6% of the nearly 300,000 public high school students in Massachusetts each year. This is unacceptable. All Massachusetts students should have the opportunity to gain real-world job experience for the benefit of their futures and our state economy.
In my job as a technology analyst, I have sat across the table from dozens of technology executives. In making hiring decisions, such executives are not only looking for good programmers, but also for people who have managed real-world projects and worked on teams with people of all ages and experience levels. Internships and apprenticeships are two of the best pathways for students to cultivate these skills, and Massachusetts businesses will benefit from the creativity and perspective of our state’s students.
Third, we need to promote equity in school districts so that no child is left behind or disadvantaged. On the Revere School Committee, I spearheaded the creation of a city-wide Equity Advisory Board that works to address issues of disenfranchisement and representation within our public schools. Equity in schools requires, among other things, equitable access to technological resources and universal, affordable broadband Internet for all students. It is unacceptable that, in this district, there are neighborhoods where more than 25% of residents do not have access to the Internet despite living less than five miles away from some of the top research universities in the world. I want to make Massachusetts the first state in the United States to provide universal, affordable, and reliable broadband Internet to all residents. No child should ever have to miss class because he/she/they cannot access the Internet.
We have the rare opportunity rebuild the state’s education system in a way that prepares our children for the challenges and promises of the 21st century economy. Let’s make this moment count.
Anthony D’Ambrosio, BA, Yale; Masters, University of Cambridge and a candidate for State Senate.