- Associated Press - Friday, February 19, 2021

Boston Globe. February 17, 2021.

Editorial: Massachusetts needs to test students to diagnose COVID-19 learning slide

School districts won’t be able to chart a path forward without an accurate measurement of what’s been lost.

More than 300 days have passed since public schools in Massachusetts had to close due to the coronavirus pandemic, resorting instead to remote or hybrid learning programs that have proved inferior for many students. Yet, at least in Massachusetts, there isn’t reliable data to assess the stunted progress and outright learning loss that many students have experienced during this time.

That’s why the announcement last month that a modified version of the MCAS will be administered this year is welcome. Although the MCAS is typically a graduation requirement for individual students and a way of measuring the performance of districts, it won’t serve either of those purposes this year. Instead, state Commissioner of Education Jeffrey Riley told the Globe the test is needed this year to diagnose any learning deficits. “Right now we are hypothesizing that students learning exclusively remotely are probably going to have more gaps than students who are in-person (full time) or in hybrid learning. We need this data to figure that out,” he said.



Indeed, it’s a smart move to test using a modified exam - and use the results to identify the losses districts will need to address. Districts shouldn’t be held accountable for any academic deficits revealed by the tests, but those results can provide a benchmark to gauge how well districts close pandemic-related gaps in the future.

Perhaps the results will only reinforce the obvious: that the pandemic exacerbated existing socioeconomic and racial achievement gaps. Nonetheless, one can’t manage what one can’t measure correctly. The data is needed to shape districts’ recovery response post pandemic, especially given that there are hundreds of millions of dollars coming to the state as part of the latest round of economic relief to help districts and students get back on track.

“There’s about $800 million coming statewide,” said Ed Lambert, executive director of the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education. Lambert said diagnosing learning loss will be critical to determine what to do with the extra federal money. “It can be used to do summer programming, accelerated academies, intense tutoring.”

In other parts of the country, districts are starting to evaluate where students stand after months of remote learning. And some, crucially, are using the data to tailor the response. In Dallas, where school officials administered a test called the Measure of Academic Progress, or MAP, to analyze kids’ academic performance last fall, half of students lost learning in math and a third fell behind in reading. As a result, the district is seeking to add five extra weeks to the school calendar year. In Washington, D.C., similar assessments show that elementary and middle-school students fell four months behind in math and one month behind in reading. A McKinsey study revealed that white students nationwide were set back one to three months in math, but students of color fell behind three to five months.

The academic slide is only going to get worse unless districts, principals, educators, and parents get a handle on the scope of the deficit and use that evidence to plan the next steps. Meanwhile, though, teachers union leaders have been pushing for a permanent pause on standardized testing, such as the MCAS, and say they will continue to push for a legislative vehicle to get rid of the test.

That would be a huge step backwards. We only know the true extent of existing racial and income achievement gaps because of standardized testing. The MCAS has been the only consistent source of data that illuminates disparities among school districts and educational outcomes. “This (the pandemic) shouldn’t be used as an excuse to pursue an agenda that will bring us back to a time when students of color and low-income students were left behind because no one was assessing whether they were getting a quality education or not,” said Lambert.

For some, it might come across as unseemly to talk about students’ learning losses when so many lives have been lost to COVID-19. But the educational future of a whole generation of kids is at stake. The first step for districts and educators to reverse the COVID-19 slide is to learn just how bad it is.

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Connecticut Post. February 17, 2021.

Turning a disability into an opportunity seems virtually impossible, which makes Ken Regan’s story all the more compelling.

As detailed in a story by Hearst Connecticut Media reporter Erin Kayata, Regan was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis 15 years ago. He says it “woke me up to the needs out there.”

For people with disabilities, those needs can be formidable when seeking housing. Doorways are often too narrow to accommodate wheelchairs, light switches are out of reach, and too many buildings lack ramps.

Regan, vice president of the New York-based Regan Development Corp., recognized a business opportunity and a chance to help people.

His company built Ojakian Commons in Simsbury, the first affordable supportive housing development for people with disabilities in New England. The company previously built a similar project in New Jersey.

The project reached beyond boilerplate guidelines by inviting input from people with MS. As a result, Ojakian Commons has automatic door openers, slide-out shelving in closets and cabinets, accessible showers and more. It even provides a shuttle service for residents who don’t drive.

Forty of the units are specifically for people with MS, with seven others reserved for people with other disabilities.

Regan offers takeaways from his experience that other developers should consider.

“In all new construction now, it’s easy to do and the cost of doing it upfront is much less than if you were to go back and try to rework an apartment for accessibility after the fact,” he said. “There’s things, if you think about them upfront before you build buildings, it’s not hugely expensive. There’s no reason at this point anyone building new construction apartments in Connecticut shouldn’t be doing this off the bat. It makes it easier and there’s a very strong demand for this.”

The words “very strong demand” might pique the interest of any developer. No landlord wants an empty apartment, but they are also likely to resist a costly retrofit.

The Hartford Courant reported last week that the new Bear Woods apartments in Canton provide housing for young adults who are developmentally disabled, while the builder is planning a similar facility for older tenants.

These are small, but welcome, measures of progress. Though the Fair Housing Act defines standards for accessibility, so much of existing construction in the Northeast predates its introduction 33 years ago.

The consequences for much of the disabled population is profound. Limited housing options can ultimately put further stress on state and municipal resources as some people are left with few choices beyond shelters or nursing homes.

People with limited housing opportunities also tend to lack the financial resources to challenge policies. That doesn’t mean issues don’t exist. The Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities received 52 complaints from July 1, 2019 and June 30, 2020 related to physical disability.

People with disabilities face obstacles every day. Connecticut cannot deem itself an inclusive state until it offers dignified options on where they can live.

___

Boston Herald. February 19, 2021.

Editorial: No time to take exit ramp for Taxachusetts

House Speaker Ronald Mariano pledged last weekend not to raise taxes on Massachusetts residents - for now.

But the momentum continues to build for boosting taxes on the state’s highest earners.

Right now, “We have no intention of raising taxes,” Mariano, a Quincy Democrat, said Sunday on WCVB-TV’s “On the Record.”

That’s probably because tax revenues to date have exceeded expectations; January posted a $500 million beat beyond the Baker administration’s forecast.

Mariano’s no tax-hike pledge reflects the commitment the governor made last month in his updated $45.6 billion fiscal 2022 budget, which didn’t include any tax increases.

State Rep. James O’Day posited the seemingly contradictory theory that since many sectors of the state’s economy are struggling, more taxes are in order.

But the Worcester Democrat isn’t proposing any broad-based burden on Massachusetts residents. He’s referring to the so-called millionaires tax that will likely be on the state ballot in 2022.

“Look at the stock market, look at Wall Street - they’re killing it while middle America, main street America is definitely hurting,” said O’Day in the Herald this week. Of course, billions of average Americans’ public and private pension funds have also benefited from the market’s rise, but that’s not germane to O’Day’s point.

That populist-sounding “fairshare” constitutionally required amendment would place a question on the 2022 ballot that seeks to impose a 4% surtax on income above $1 million. Currently, every earner is taxed at the same flat rate, 5%.

Supporting lawmakers estimate it could generate an additional $2 billion in annual revenues.

The measure passed by wide margins in a constitutional convention in the last legislative session and will need to do so again in the current session before going before voters in November 2022.

But some Robin-Hood lawmakers might not wait until that constitutional amendment quest runs its course.

State Rep. Mike Connolly could refile a measure that failed in the last budget cycle to raise the tax rate on unearned income such as dividends and long-term capital gains from 5% to 9%.

The Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center projected that would generate an extra $465 million a year, but opponents warn higher taxes could stifle the economy and drive high earners out of the state.

That’s the same argument leveled against the millionaires’ tax, but those 1-percenters don’t engender much sympathy in the Democrat-dominated Legislature.

Those 1-percenters also constitute the entrepreneurial class that creates businesses and provides thousands of jobs for Massachusetts residents.

They may be perceived as cash cows to be exploited by revenue-enhancing Democrats, but they could just move to greener pastures if pushed too far.

That’s happening in other high-tax, overregulated states.

According to Bankrate, Oracle and Hewlett Packard Enterprises have announced plans to move their headquarters from California to more business- and tax-friendly Texas.

And it’s no coincidence that Texas is one of the top five states in population gained from mid-2019 to mid-2020. The others are Florida, North Carolina, Georgia and Arizona.

New Hampshire and Maine are the only New England states that experienced a net population gain in that timeframe.

We’re certain our governor would rather see the state work its way out of any economic hole than further tax the engines of that rebound.

And the welcome mat has already been extended in New Hampshire and all those Sun Belt states.

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Sun Chronicle of Attleboro. February 18, 2021.

Editorial: It’s high school football season… at last

Are you ready for some football?

If you’re a local high school athlete eager to get on the gridiron, you better be.

Just two weeks after Tom Brady claimed his seventh Super Bowl ring, the Massachusetts Interscholastic Association will begin what it calls its Fall II season, which will include football.

Running from Feb. 22 to April 25, the season, which will also include indoor track and cheerleading, is part of the reshuffling the organization which oversees high school athletics in the state has had to do since sports and much of society were shut down last spring by the coronavirus pandemic.

Fall II will be followed in late April by a shortened Spring season featuring baseball, softball and track. And it comes on the heels of what have been largely successful Fall and Winter seasons that have allowed student-athletes to participate in a beloved part of the educational process.

“We made adjustments in the fall and had a successful first season,” MIAA President Jeffrey Granatino said. “We made additional modifications for the winter and our student-athletes have been actively engaged since December. Now we are hopeful that with the guidance from the governor’s office and of (the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs), along with the work of our various committees, that we will be able to have a safe and successful Fall II season.”

Last fall, many may have questioned why high schools were going to allow athletic competition when most classroom instruction was being done remotely. But it appears this experiment by the MIAA and its member high schools has been a success.

Yes, the seasons are shortened, games have been postponed or canceled, spectators have mostly been barred and state tournaments eliminated.

But we agree with Gov. Charlie Baker, who has encouraged classrooms to reopen with safety measures in place, citing research that shows schools that take precautions are not likely to be sources of major spread in the community.

More importantly, kids need to play, and high schools have worked hard to make that happen.

We see sports as a key part of many high school students’ education. The importance of training, discipline and sportsmanship and the need to work as a team are likely to carry over into their adult life.

This year, student-athletes have also received a lesson in adaptability. If they intend to play, athletes need to keep a safe distance from others, observe the many rule changes designed to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and, most importantly, wear a mask at all times, even while competing.

We commend local players, coaches and athletic directors who made the Fall I and Winter seasons a success. And we look forward to the Fall II season.

We are especially happy for high school seniors who may have been denied their final opportunity to compete at any level because of the pandemic. This includes the seniors from Attleboro and North Attleboro high schools, who will face off on the gridiron, just as their brothers, fathers and grandfathers have done for the past century.

So yes, it may still be winter. But we are ready for some football.

___

Salem News. February 18, 2021.

Editorial: An important pollution notice

Transparency is essential for democracy. It’s also pretty important for public health. So we can all be relieved that sewage systems tipping raw and partially treated effluent into our rivers and oceans will be made to alert the public within two hours of a spill, and provide regular updates until the discharges end.

The Legislature passed the law last month, and Gov. Charlie Baker put his name on it Tuesday. Regulators have a year to sort out details of the law, which doesn’t actually take effect until the middle of 2022. But, as Sen. Diana DiZoglio, D-Methuen, said during the virtual bill-signing, it’s an important start.

Under current rules, plant operators must tell people within a day of a spill — an insufficient window, especially when the body of water in question is a source for drinking water or widely used for swimming, boating and fishing.

“I am thrilled this is occurring,” DiZoglio said during Tuesday’s event. “It is a first step, but it is a tremendous step in the right direction.”

Concern about pollution on the Merrimack River, the depository of combined sewer outfalls from five treatment systems along its 117-mile course, built momentum for this years-long effort to get better public notice. But combined sewer and stormwater systems, which spill by design when inundated with rain or snow melt, are a problem across the state.

Massachusetts counts nearly 200 outfall pipes, including into Gloucester Harbor and off that city’s Pavilion Beach. Others pollute Boston Harbor, Lynn Harbor, Mystic River and the Connecticut River, just to name a few. Capping these outfalls - the only real solution to ensuring safe drinking water and recreation - involves many hundreds of millions of dollars, most likely from the federal government.

Doing so is critical, though it doesn’t all have to happen at once.

DiZoglio noted the Greater Lawrence Sanitary District, which serves five communities along the Merrimack, recently got $1 million from the state for back-up generators to limit the number of spills caused by its five overlow pipes.

It’s not a cure-all but it’s progress — much like letting people know when it’s not a good idea to fish or swim in the water.

END

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