It’s not a new idea: the belief that public education can fuel economic growth. But it’s one that’s gaining traction, especially in Massachusetts. Twenty-four Gateway Cities across the state have pledged to work together to improve their local economies by building stronger schools and communities. Massachusetts has twenty-six so-called “Gateway Cities,” which are considered to be urban regions that have traditionally provided economic pathways to residents and immigrants.

In 2012, an independent think tank called MassINC kicked off the Gateway City Innovation Institute (GCII), which is arming leaders with research and assistance on economic development opportunities. GCII’s first initiative has been the development of the Gateway Cities Education Vision Project, which involves the development of cross-sector initiatives pursued collaboratively by mayors of Gateway Cities. The goal is to create a 21st century education system that better supports students from early education to higher education.  

Massachusetts Governor Patrick has stated that, while the state leads the country on national measures and even fares well on international assessments in science and math, achievement gaps persist. Which is why his office is aggressively funding the Gateway Cities Education Agenda, which strives to ensure that all students have access to the same resources and can compete for jobs on an equal footing. Gateway Cities tend to serve a disproportionate number of students living in poverty, students of color, students with disabilities, and students who are English language learners (ELLs), making it a natural priority for these markets to lead the country on innovative new models designed to close achievement gaps. Participating Massachusetts cities include: Barnstable, Brockton, Chelsea, Chicopee, Everett, Fall River, Fitchburg, Haverhill, Holyoke, Lawrence, Leominster, Lowell, Lynn, Malden, Methuen, New Bedford, Pittsfield, Quincy, Revere, Salem, Springfield, Taunton, Westfield, and Worcester.

The agenda sets forth five key strategies:

Early Education

Research has shown that young readers battling with literacy in third grade will continue to struggle academically, hobbling their ability to graduate high school, go to college or secure high-paying jobs. Which is why gateway cities are focusing on providing the highest-quality literacy instruction possible during students’ early years. Educators at family child care programs and other early education programs will receive additional resources to further build out literacy-rich classrooms.

Healthy Student Support

The effects of poverty can serve as huge impediments to successful learning. A healthy platform can assist such students to attend school regularly, and arrive in an attentive and motivated mindset. Gateway Cities will address this by creating Student Support Councils and hiring Student Support Counselors, which will work together to provide comprehensive services to low-income families and communities. The Counselors will be placed in high-need schools, and connect students, families, and educators with service providers. The Councils and Counselors will help mitigate the problems that impede attendance, as well as student engagement and achievement.

Differentiated Academic Services and Support

Schools will seek to build a system that accommodates all students, providing every child with the appropriate quantity and quality instruction he/she needs to meet high standards. For example, English language learners may need additional time plus customized instruction to rapidly acquire English skills while keeping pace with their academic subjects. Gateway Cities will seek to operate After-school Enrichment Academies and School Vacation/Saturday Acceleration Academies that provide intensive and targeted instruction to middle and high school English language learners.

Career Readiness

A successful public education system guides students toward colleges or careers early on in the academic process, actively works to provide access to internships, and establishes partnerships with higher education institutions and workforce development partners. Therefore, Gateway Cities will establish Education and Industry Coordinating Councils and support the establishment of high school Career Academies. The Councils will create multiple and seamless pathways to employment, and the Academies will improve students’ readiness for job opportunities and successful careers.

Innovation and Creativity

Gateway Cities will work to creatively promote best practices and build stronger partnerships through the creation of a Commonwealth Education Innovation Fund, a public-private fundraising partnership providing new resources to develop and implement cutting-edge educational strategies in communities across the state.

And Massachusetts cities aren’t the only Gateway Cities to take similar measures; many of the country’s largest Gateway Cities have homed in on addressing the achievement gap. Los Angeles and New York are implementing comparable programs, which seek to better serve the underserved through differentiated services, aggressive early education initiatives, and career readiness. Education is a fundamental right of every person, but the benefits of education extend beyond the individual. Many economists have noted the high correlation between regional economic growth and higher educational attainment, making innovative, next-generation education systems not only an altruistic pursuit, but a monetary one, as well.