Barrett Outlines Political Vision for State, Nation

Cantabrigian State Senator Seen as Rising Star But Denies Aspirations for Higher Office

State Sen. Michael J. Barrett '70 says he has no political aspirations.

It's an odd statement coming form a man who has a national reputation as an advocate for school reform. And that's no small feat for a mere state senator.

Comfortably ensconced in his wood-paneled office at the State House, the Cambridge senator--whose district includes Cambridge, Watertown, Belmont and parts of Allston-Brighton--says he cannot chart his political career. Many political supporters, however, say that he is destined for a higher post.

A lawyer and full-time politician, Barrett has earned a reputation not only as a crusader for educational reform but also as a shepherd of one of the country's first gay and lesbian anti-discrimination laws and an unyielding antagonist to Senate President William Bulger.

This reputation coupled with his grassroots approach to politics will be his ticket to a bright political future, Barrett's backers say.


Barrett's political involvement began during his years as an undergraduate. He was intimately involved in the anti-war movement, was a member of the University-wide student-faculty advisory council and was a magna cum laude graduate of the College.

He was elected to the state House of Representatives in 1979 and to the state Senate in 1987. In addition to his state senate duties, Barrett currently serves as vice chair of the education and job training committee of the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Despite hedging about any higher political aspirations in the future, Barrett has a clear political vision for the state, as well as for the nation.

Barrett pushed for lengthening the school year for most of his five-year senate career. Not only has Barrett relentlessly plugged bills for educational reform in the senate, but he also authored an article that launched both his cause and himself into the national spotlight.

"With people worried about the direction of the country, the strength of the economy, and the emerging competition from our friends in Europe and Asia, it is time to give the matter [of a longer school year] another look," wrote Barrett in the November 1990 issue of The Atlantic Monthly.

`World-Class Excellence'

According to the senator, the nation will "not get to world-class excellence" if the public education system remains intact. Barrett advocates longer hours in school, standardized testing, standard minimum expectations for curriculum, a school choice system based on the Cambridge public school system and a unique proposal for an "hour-glass" distribution of authority in the school system.

Under Barrett's hour-glass design, the power to determine curriculum will rest with the parents and with state and national government--taking control away from local school boards.

Barrett warns that unless there is "radical change" in the way the government molds the future of the public schools, private schools will reap a new population of students-- those dissatisfied with declining public education.

But Barrett says the radical change embodied in Christopher Whittle's Edison Project--which would create a chain of affordable private schools nationwide--will rob the public schools of its middle-class "customer base."