Nightly News   |  October 07, 2013

Massachusetts boosts academic success with tough standards

Massachusetts’ test scores are first in the nation, thanks to 1993 reforms. Now they are embracing a new, controversial set of academic standards called Common Core, which has been rolled out in 45 states -- one of the biggest changes this country has seen in education. NBC’s Rehema Ellis reports.

Share This:

This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> this week marks our annual summit looking at the state of education in america . we call it education nation. in its fourth year now. we kicked it off over the weekend with a teacher town hall and continued all day today and will tomorrow, talking about what it takes to help students succeed. tonight we've got a look at a huge change that's coming to america's schools. it's called the common core curriculum. it is not without controversy. our chief education correspondent rehema ellis has our report.

>> reporter: across the country opposition is mounting against a new set of higher academic standards known as the common core which many teachers say are being imposed too quickly. here in chelsea, just outside of boston, they are embracing it.

>> we are learning about volume and mass.

>> reporter: massachusetts toughened its own standards 20 years ago and criticism was fierce .

>> we stayed the course. we tweaked the path every so often but we kept the goal of high academic standards in closing the achievement gap .

>> reporter: today massachusetts test scores rank it first in the nation. if it were a country, 8th graders would rank sixth in math and second in science behind only singapore. do you feel challenged here academically?

>> definitely, yes.

>> challenged to the extreme.

>> reporter: the 1993 reforms included putting more focus and money on urban schools, requiring everyone to take algebra and pass a state test to get a high school diploma .

>> it's working to change the way we are teaching kids. we're asking them to think differently . we are asking teachers to teach them differently.

>> we need to record the data.

>> they're good at helping and explaining things.

>> reporter: given the controversy over how to fix america's schools it's what massachusetts did not do that's also significant. there were no vouchers for private schools , no merit-based pay for teachers, and no automatic shutdowns of failing schools. even in chelsea where students come from 66 countries and speak 35 languages, they are seeing improvement. as i move back, my chart line goes up. so this has to do with mass?

>> yes. because math is part of science as well. math is everywhere.

>> reporter: it's everywhere.

>> everywhere.

>> reporter: teachers focus on hands-on learning.

>> they don't just have to know the science. they have to be able to use it.

>> they help us learn new things every day.

>> reporter: raising the bar for students in the classroom to promote success. i'm here across from the new york public library where nbc's education nation has been taking place and there's been a lot of talk about massachusetts . while massachusetts has had a lot of academic success, people say there is still plenty of work to do. but the big lesson here for states struggling with higher academic standards that are coming with common core , massachusetts went down that road 20 years ago and it's starting to pay off. brian?

>> rehema ellis at our summit headquarters tonight. i will see you back down there tomorrow. thanks.