SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

January 2, 2013

Changing with the times

Mass. High Tech Council focuses on teacher training, lower taxes for small businesses

By Monique Scott
Boston University Statehouse Program

---- — Once mainly focused on issues related to the state’s tax environment, the Massachusetts High Technology Council has shifted emphasis to another item on its longtime to-do list: education opportunities to create the workers needed to attract and keep companies in the state.

“The main goal has always been to build a stronger economy for the commonwealth,” said Christopher Anderson, the president of the 35-year-old organization. “We aim to make Massachusetts the most attractive place to work, live and grow technology businesses.”

Founded in 1977 by 38 CEOs in the fledgling computer and electronics industries, the council was the first of its kind in the state. Through the years, its list of members marked the evolution of the high-tech business sector.

As once-familiar names, such as Wang and Digital Equipment Corp., faded into history, the council adapted. It has built an eclectic list of 100 members, including universities, pharmaceutical companies and financial institutions, as it strives to remain relevant among the many business groups created in the past three decades.

“Lots has changed in a sense, in the outside world, but our mission within has not,” said Jane Stoy, the council’s executive assistant.

Emphasis on parts of that mission has changed. The council once pushed for new school construction, lower taxes for old manufacturing buildings and partnerships with military bases. Now, it focuses on school curriculum and teacher training, lower taxes for small businesses, and efforts to keep the state’s remaining military bases open.

Howard Foley, the council’s first president, planted the idea of a world-class education for Massachusetts students, focusing on methods that affected classroom and school programs. These days, the council is concentrating on ways to help improve underperforming schools.

Anderson, a former chairman for the state Board of Education appointed by former Gov. Mitt Romney, is working closely with teachers and policymakers to create what he hopes will be “a global competitive education system for math and science for Massachusetts public schools.”

To reach that goal, the council is pushing for a system that allows school principals to base teacher pay on performance.

“It’s a K-12 system that employs proven innovative education delivery models, such as charter schools, and provides the chief education officer within each school with the fiscal autonomy and authority to assign and compensate personnel according to the needs and mission of the school,” Anderson said.

The council is also pushing for changes in the ways teachers are recruited and trained, starting with 2006 pilot programs at two underperforming schools in Springfield, Academy Middle School in Fitchburg and Boston English High School.

The council also is pushing extended-day programs, revised teaching standards, new elementary math and science programs, and access to additional teacher training.

“Teachers need professionally gratifying environments in which to work, and this includes access to meaningful and relevant professional development,” Anderson said.

The council has also taken a hand in seeking federal Race to the Top funding that awards states for their educational progress. Anderson sees raising the charter school cap as a route to that destination.

“Our efforts were to continue to support and fund a statewide ballot initiative that would eliminate all existing charter school caps in Massachusetts,” Anderson said.

Although Massachusetts did not win the Race to the Top grant, since 2010, Massachusetts has continuously showed growth. According to the Department of Education, students in nearly all grades showed improvement, with the exception of fifth grade, on the most recent statewide MCAS exam.

“The race to the top is a marathon, not a sprint,” Anderson said. “We have long-term and meaningful benefits for student and teachers.”

Anderson said he believes businesses should want to have a role in government. The council takes on huge responsibilities for the local and state government.

The council still lists tax reform as a priority, focusing on local and state taxes for property owners and investors. The council is producing a State Tax Competitiveness Study, to identify areas where the commonwealth stands in areas such as retaining employees and attracting new opportunities for work and investment.

The council continues its work in advocating for New England’s military bases in the face of expected base closings. It is working with Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray’s Military Asset and Security Strategy Task Force, a collection of state agencies, as well as public and private sector partners who are working to protect the state’s six military bases, especially the sprawling Hanscom Air Force Base that is parts of Bedford, Concord, Lexington and Lincoln.

The council and task forces are working to improve utility costs, cybersecurity and information technology at Hanscom, the only active-duty base in New England. The base provides information technology-based systems that offer battlefield and “situational” awareness for United States war fighters.

Murray said Hanscom and the other limited-duty bases provide an economic boost to the state in employment and research.

“The Massachusetts High Tech Council’s Defense Technology Initiative has been an invaluable partner, delivering critical resources and information about the region’s defense industry and its role with our military bases,” Murray said.

In the next year, the council has set goals to hire more than 3,000 elementary math and science teachers, lower taxes for business owners and investors, and secure the commonwealth’s regular military and National Guard operations.

“The council remains the only technology organization dedicated to action on a public policy agenda of priority to technology employers,” Anderson said.