Opportunity and Equity

Opportunity and Equity

In the City of Boston we are often reminded that in the long and distinguished history of the Boston Public Schools, our district is regarded as a standard-bearer in urban public education.Without question, the most consequential and critical issue we face as a nation today is the achievement gaps that exist in our schools for Black and Latino males. While great progress has been made in pockets in schools across America, persistent gaps remain in urban schools from Massachusetts to California. Boston won’t wait for someone else to solve this issue for us.

In 2013, BPS embarked on an endeavor to fully understand the barriers to educational opportunity and attainment for Black and Latino male students. The findings were important and found uneven suspension rates and limited access to critical inclusion settings, advanced work classes and exam schools. The report also offered recommendations for changing underlying practices that can improve outcomes for students.  The report delineated recommendations that build on the strengths and values that Black and Latino male students bring to our schools and communities. It also acknowledged the work already underway in BPS to close the gaps, which includes expanded pre-kindergarten, increased inclusive opportunities, changes to our discipline policies that reduce suspensions, investments to diversify our educator pool, and successful re-engagement efforts that have led to an historic low in dropout rates for BPS students.

With that information now in hand, we decided to dive even deeper. Promising Practices and Unfinished Business: Fostering Equity and Excellence for Black and Latino Males is the second phase of the report former Superintendent Carol Johnson commissioned.

Promising Practices highlights effective practices that exist in the profiled schools and identifies opportunities to replicate them more widely. We have the tools – and I believe we are ready – to move from instances of best practices to a system of equity and opportunity for all of our students. Yet, we cannot do it alone. Our work is a collective effort and a continuous effort. It requires community support. It will span - and must withstand - leadership changes.  I have been fortunate to carry the torch - to move from theory to practice many of the report’s recommendations. I know that Dr. Tommy Chang will take to heart the urgency of this matter when he assumes the Superintendency later this year.

Our success lies in understanding who we are as a city, even as populations shift and change; acknowledging that our different experiences make us stronger; and, digging deep to understand and incorporate practices that intentionally draw on cultural responsiveness and expand educational opportunities.  Several partnerships made this work tangible, and we are grateful to the Barr Foundation, the Center for Collaborative Education and the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University for the role each played in developing the study and recommendations.

On behalf of Mayor Martin J. Walsh, the Boston School Committee, our school leaders, teachers, staff,  students and parents, thank you for this tremendous opportunity. Building on a solid history of firsts in education, let us strive to be first again, by leading innovative efforts and practices that foster equity and access for all of our students.

 
Like Phase II, Phase I of the report, Opportunity and Equity, included many recommendations for Boston Public Schools; many of which are already being put in place, including:
  • Expanding early education: Last year a Harvard study found that our pre-k program may be the most effective in the nation at closing achievement gaps. Mayor Martin J. Walsh is leading the effort to dramatically expand BPS early education, which will ensure long-term equity and access for all students at all levels.
  • Teacher diversity action plan and hiring autonomy for schools: We are recruiting and retaining a team of highly-qualified, effective educators that better reflect the diversity of the students we serve. We are extending hiring autonomies to more school leaders and supporting them so they can attract the very best teachers to Boston. Our strategy is working: this fall one in four new teachers identifies as African-American, which is the highest percentage in seven years.
  • Expanding inclusive opportunities: The BPS Inclusive Schools Network is growing. Each year we are adding more schools to the network, which ensures students with disabilities can learn alongside their non-disabled peers. This expansion allows us to offer inclusive opportunities to far more Black and Latino students, who have not had enough access to these programs in the past.
  • Expanding dual-language opportunities and strengthening supports for English Language Learners: Students who are fluent in more than one language are more likely to succeed in the 21st century economy. Whether a student is learning English as a second language or wishes to become fluent in a language other than English, dual-language schools offer a pathway to future success. We are also strengthening the entire support for English Language Learners. In 2014, 88 percent of former English Language Learners have reached proficiency in English Language Arts in 10th grade, compared to 41 percent in 2007.
  • Reducing suspensions and expulsions through a student-led Code of Conduct: We are reducing chronic absenteeism and have changed our policies around discipline thanks to input from students, parents and experts.
We have already seen clear signs of progress: In 2006 the drop-out rate among African-American students in BPS was 10 percent. Since then we have cut it by more than half, to 4.5 percent. For Latino students, in 2006 the drop-out rate was 11 percent. We have since cut it to 5.2 percent. Although these are the lowest levels we have ever recorded, we can and must do so much better.

As a community we agree that every child, regardless of race, income, ability or home language deserves to have the very best public education possible. We are not there yet. We asked the authors of this report to take a tough, hard look at what our students experience so we can confront and defeat inequities that remain. To succeed we must be quick, we must be deliberate and we must be united. 
John McDonough
Interim Superintendent
Boston Public Schools
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