Secretary of Education Matt Malone
Photo by Bob Duffy
F ormer Brockton School Superintendent Matt Malone was sworn in as the state’s new secretary of education in January. Since
Governor Deval Patrick has announced he won’t be
running for re-election, Malone believes he has less
than two years to make his mark on education in his
Malone has followed an untraditional path to the
state’s top education post. He struggled with dyslexia
while enrolled in the Newton Public Schools, studied
drafting in a vocational program at Newton North
High School and was not expected to go to college.
Defying the predictions, he graduated from college
and became a paraprofessional, a teacher, an assistant
principal, a principal and a superintendent. “I’ve held
every single job you can hold in education, including
sweeping floors,” Malone told MTA Today.
During an interview with MTA communications
specialist Laura Barrett in his office in downtown
Boston in March, Malone talked about how his
experiences have shaped his approach to solving
problems. He also discussed the new educator
evaluation system, the Rethinking Equity and
Teaching for English Language Learners initiative,
the role of unions, charter schools, teacher morale
and other issues, including the Partnership for
Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers
instrument, which will be used to measure
the success of the Common Core curriculum
and is expected to replace the Massachusetts
Comprehensive Assessment System in the future.
His remarks have been edited for brevity and
Q: What is your background in education?
A: I’ve had a bumpy road to get where I am now.
Folks who grew up with me who find out what I am
now shake their head and say, “There’s no way.” I
grew up struggling with dyslexia. I spent a lot of
my educational upbringing in rooms outside the
mainstream, sometimes in rooms in the basement
or the back hallway of the building. I know what
it feels like to be a young student when they say,
“OK everyone, we’re going to pull out your reading
books. Matt you can go with Miss ---- .” And I’d
have to leave. I’ve kind of carried that as a chip on
my shoulder my entire career. Sometimes I felt that I
could never measure up to everyone else who got to
stay in the classroom. So for me, I’ve always fought
for the underdog in education. I made my choice
to work with kids whom maybe no one else was
advocating for. So for me it’s very personal. Dyslexia
made me have to work a lot harder, but I feel it’s also
made me stronger. I think I’m a better leader and a
better father and a better person because of that.
Q: When you spoke at the MTA’s All Presidents’
Meeting in January, you talked about your plan to
focus on initiatives already underway rather than
proposing a lot of new ones. What is your reasoning
on that issue?
A: No state has moved as fast as Massachusetts in
the last five years. It’s been a lot of work and it’s paid
off. But I get how people feel. I think I’ve described
it as drinking water out of a fire hose. I kind of like
the big bang theory — we do it all at once and move
forward. But I’m also cognizant of folks really
wanting to focus on what’s on the plate right now.
And we know what’s on the plate right now. Ed
eval. RETELL. Common Core. PARCC assessment.
We’ve got to get those things right. I don’t want to
see us add more things to the plate.
Q: What role should unions have at the district
and state levels in implementing these and other
A: At the district level, collaboration makes the
difference between victory and defeat. What I mean
by that is you can ram home reform, you can be a
real tough guy and ram it down people’s throats,
and I’ve done that before and I’ve been successful
doing it. It’s just a fight that takes too much time.
So I’ve also learned that if you collaborate and
include the unions as partners in all the initiatives
and ideas from the beginning, you might not agree
on everything, but that open dialogue is an easier
path to implementation. So I would suggest that
we really focus on more collaboration between
the superintendent and the union president and
scale that down to the building representatives and
principals. Sometimes these relationships — let’s
just be honest — they aren’t healthy. We’ve got to
break through that, find some common ground and
work together. If we’re fighting with each other, the
kids are getting hurt. At the state level, there’s some
great collaboration already. The MTA leadership
and I speak all the time — a couple of times a week.
When there’s conversation happening in the policy
world, the MTA is at the table from the beginning.
At the state level, the roles should be similar to those
in a good, effective and strong superintendent/union
Q: How do you think implementation of the
evaluation system is going?
A: I think that the new evaluation system is a
good one. We’ve changed it for everybody, even
superintendents. I like the fact that we’re establishing
goals that are going to be measurable and then we
use those goals as the agreed-upon standards for
how someone’s going to be held accountable. On the
teacher’s side, I think the new process gives much
more rich feedback across a multitude of areas, not
just an observation of a classroom with a checklist.
Q: What advice do you have for people about
implementing measures of student growth?
A: I know there’s a lot of feeling of the unknown
with the use of student assessment results. We
know we’re going to have some assessments like
the MCAS and the PARCC, but also the district-determined ones. I don’t know what that looks like
yet, but philosophically I don’t disagree with it.
Hopefully there are multiple measures we can use. I
think it has been a slow process. This is hard work. I
would stress that it can’t just be one thing. “My kids
didn’t do well on the MCAS, so I won’t get a good
evaluation.” At the end of the day I just tell people,
“Let’s just go through the process and be human
about it.” I’d like to see emphasis on actual products
of student work. That’s very intensive but I think it’s
very important. I sit in classrooms every day. Ninety-eight percent of the teachers in the state perform at
really effective levels. For the small percentage that
aren’t, this isn’t a “gotcha” tool to be used to get rid
of folks, but it’s going to be used to give some honest
feedback. We’ve got to be professional enough to
take the feedback and grow from it.
Q: We are getting some questions about RETELL,
the state’s 45-hour course that many teachers of
English language learners are required to take. We’re
hearing it’s a very heavy workload. Any pearls of
A: I struggled through getting this set up in
Brockton. If you’re working with the union from the
first day you have a better chance of implementing
successfully than if you invite the union in after
you’ve made a bunch of decisions. We had the union
with us from day one around how we were going to
do this. Nothing’s ever smooth, but it was smoother
than it could have been. The course is going to make
everyone a better teacher, so this isn’t something
that’s a waste of time. In Brockton we were able to
find times that made sense to do it, offer it, and then
treat people with respect for going through it. This is
basically a three-credit course, and they are getting
in-service credit for it.
Q: What do you think of “merit pay” or pay for