Massachusetts Board of Education

The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) is the state education agency responsible for interpreting and implementing laws relevant to public education in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Public education in the Commonwealth is organized according to the regulations adopted by the BESE, which are good faith interpretations of Massachusetts state and federal law. The BESE's responsibilities include granting and renewing charter school applications, developing and implementing the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS), submitting yearly budget proposals for public education to the Massachusetts General Court, setting the standards for and certifying teachers, principals, and superintendents, and monitoring as well as intervening to ameliorate the achievement of underperforming districts in the Commonwealth.


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The board was established in 1837[1] and is the second oldest state board of education in the United States. Governor Edward Everett had recommended the establishment of a board of education in his address to the 1837 legislature's opening session. His brief argument ran as follows:

While nothing can be further from my purpose, than to disparage the common schools as they are, and while a deep sense of personal obligation to them will ever be cherished by me, it must yet be candidly admitted that they are susceptible of great improvements. The school houses might, in many cases, be rendered more commodious. Provision ought to be made for affording the advantages of education, throughout the whole year, to all of a proper age to receive it. Teachers well qualified to give elementary instruction in all the branches of useful knowledge, should be employed; and small school libraries, maps, globes, and requisite scientific apparatus should be furnished. I submit to the Legislature, whether the creation of a board of commissioners of schools, to serve without salary, with authority to appoint a secretary, on a reasonable compensation, to be paid from the school fund, would not be of great utility.[2]

The legislature's Committee on Education, led by Senate chairman Josiah Quincy, Jr. and House chairman James G. Carter, sponsored a bill which was initially soundly defeated in the House. Largely as a result of efforts by Mr. Carter, the bill was eventually passed.[3] Horace Mann, President of the Massachusetts State Senate at the time, was appointed the board's first Secretary.[4]


The BESE is composed of 11 members: 10 are appointed by the governor, including his Secretary of Education, who serves ex officio, and one is a public school student elected by his or her peers. The 11 voting members are: "the chairman of the student advisory council established under this section; 1 representative of a labor organization selected by the governor from a list of 3 nominees provided by the Massachusetts State Labor Council, AFL-CIO; 1 representative of business or industry selected by the governor with a demonstrated commitment to education; 1 representative of parents of school children selected by the governor from a list of 3 nominees provided by the Massachusetts Parent Teachers Association; and 6 members selected by the governor." The Chairperson of the BOE is appointed by the governor. The secretary of the BESE must be approved by a two thirds vote and serves at the Board's pleasure as the chief executive officer, the Chief State School Officer for Elementary and Secondary Education, and the Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education. The Commissioner attends BESE meetings, but does not vote. He is responsible for managing the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and receives a salary which is determined by the Board.

Prior to legislation introduced by Governor Patrick in 2008, the BESE was composed of 9 voting members.

Advisory Councils

A number of Advisory Councils, created by Chapter 15: Section 1G of the General Laws of Massachusetts, support the Board with research, recommendations and in the case of the Student Advisory Council is represented by a voting member of the Board. The advisory councils include:

Adult Basic Education
Arts Education
Community Service Learning
Braille Literacy Advisory Council
Digital Learning Advisory Council
Educational Personnel
English Language Learners/Bilingual Education
Gifted and Talented Education
Global Education
Interdisciplinary Health Education and Human Services
Life Management Skills and Home Economics
Parent and Community Education and Involvement
Racial Imbalance
School and District Accountability and Assistance
Science, Technology/Engineering and Mathematics
Special Education
Student Advisory Council
Vocational Technical Education

Student Membership

The BESE is unique in that 1 of its 9 members is a Massachusetts public school student. Legislation filed in 1971 by Governor Francis W. Sargent created the position. By this same legislation, the Massachusetts State Student Advisory Council was established. The Chairperson of this Council sits as a full voting member on the BESE. Governor Sargent said at the filing of the bill, "If we are to replace confrontation with deliberation and shouting with dialogue, youth must be invited in, not shut out. We have ... a climate where young and old can sit together, talk, and listen."

Current members

Paul Sagan, Chair
James Peyser, Secretary of Education
Jeff Riley, Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education, Secretary to the Board

Katherine Craven, Babson Park
Ed Doherty, Jamaica Plain
Amanda Fernandez
Margaret McKenna
Michael Moriarty
James Morton
Mary Ann Stewart
Marty West

Former members

Horace Mann - First secretary of the board (1837)
Charlie Baker
Maura Banta, Chair, Melrose
Harneen Chernow, Jamaica Plain George S. Boutwell
James G. Carter, Leominster
Gerald Chertavian, Cambridge
Richard E Cohen
Dr. Stanley Z. Koplik
Trevor Frederick
Thomas E. Fortmann, Lexington
Dr. Judith Gill
Beverly Holmes, Springfield
Jeff Howard, Reading
Jody Kelman
Emily Levine
James Madden
Dana Mohler-Faria, Bridgewater
James A. Peyser
Ann Reale, Boston
Paul Reville, Secretary of Education, Worcester
Michael Sentance, Secretary of Education, Concord
Dr. John Silber, Chair, Boston
Sandra L. Stotsky, Brookline
Abigail Thernstrom
Henry M. Thomas, III
Jonathan Urbach

Jeff DeFlavio, Chair Emeritus, State Student Advisory Council
Andrew "AJ" Fajnzylber, Chair Emeritus, State Student Advisory Council
Michael D'Ortenzio Jr., Chair Emeritus, State Student Advisory Council 2010-2012

Ryan Casey, Chair Emeritus, State Student Advisory Council 2012-2013

Daniel Brogan, Chair Emeritus, State Student Advisory Council 2013-2014

Donald Willyard, Chair Emeritus, State Student Advisory Council 2014-2016

Nathan Moore, Chair Emeritus, State Student Advisory Council 2016-2017

Hannah Trimarchi, Chair Emeritus, State Student Advisory Council 2017-18


  1. George Adams (1853). "Education in Massachusetts". Massachusetts Register. Boston: Printed by Damrell and Moore.
  2. Massachusetts General Court records for 1837, Senate #1, Page 17.
  3. Ellwood Patterson Cubberley (1913), "State of Massachusetts", in Paul Monroe (ed.), Cyclopedia of Education, 4, New York: Macmillan, pp. 147–157 via HathiTrust
  4. Martin, George H. (1915). Evolution of the Massachusetts Public School System: a historical sketch. New York: D. Appleton and Company via HathiTrust.

Further reading

  • Massachusetts Board of Education, Annual Report, Boston via HathiTrust 1837-1923, fulltext
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