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BOSTON PUBLIC SCHOOLS ANNOUNCES LANDMARK INCLUSIVE EDUCATION PLAN
This Inclusive Education Plan will transform learning outcomes for all students, uphold the right of every student to be educated in the least-restrictive environment.
BOSTON -- Thursday, October 19, 2023 -- Superintendent Mary Skipper announced the landmark Inclusive Education Plan for the Boston Public Schools (BPS). The plan outlines systemic changes across all BPS divisions to close opportunity gaps and give every student access to rigorous and culturally affirming instruction. The plan has a specific focus on multilingual learners, students with disabilities, and multilingual learners with disabilities and our Black and Latinx students who have historically been underserved. It goes beyond the narrow definition of inclusion, usually referring to students with disabilities. Full implementation of the plan will be a multi-year effort with impacts at classroom, school, and District levels. The Superintendent and BPS leadership shared the plan with the Boston School Committee Wednesday at its regular meeting.
Inclusive education requires that every student is offered high-quality, rigorous coursework to be challenged in the classroom, with targeted supports based on their level of need. The plan outlines how the district will provide new resources, staffing, and support to transform classroom instruction. This Inclusive Education Plan -- which was submitted to the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) as part of the Systemic Improvement Plan -- will transform learning outcomes for all students, upholding the right of every student to be educated in the least-restrictive environment.
The plan begins by acknowledging the history of the District which is rooted in systemic racial disparities that historically have limited equitable access and outcomes for particular student groups. This history and current practices have led to Black male students being over three times more likely to be identified with an emotional impairment and disproportionately placed in a substantially separate setting than their peers, and multilingual learners are two and a half times more likely to be identified with a communication disability and disproportionately placed in a substantially separate setting. The Inclusive Education Plan works to ensure students are not separated from their peers and instead offers additional specialized support in inclusive classrooms. By providing a full continuum of services, BPS will ensure that every student and every family has access to a high-quality student experience close to home, regardless of language or disability.
Academic research shows that students with disabilities, including Multilingual Learners, who are educated in inclusive settings have better in-school academic outcomes and improved post-graduate outcomes. Research findings also indicate that students without disabilities who are educated alongside students with disabilities either experience no effects or positive effects on their academic development.
"Getting inclusion right means creating the classroom environments for all our learners to thrive," said Mayor Michelle Wu. "I'm grateful to our Boston Public Schools and educators throughout the district for their continued efforts on equipping every school community with the resources and supports to deliver a rigorous and nurturing academic experience matching every student’s growth."
"Delivering education that uniquely fits the needs of each of our students will ensure our children are empowered to learn in classrooms and feel included with their peers," said Superintendent Mary Skipper. "Our approach will provide each student with a rigorous education that fits their grade level, bringing classrooms districtwide to a higher standard of learning. By shifting our practices to create a system focused on individual student needs and a system that provides a continuum of services at all schools, I am confident we will deliver high-quality learning for all students."
DESE's 2023 Tiered Focused Monitoring report found that some students felt isolated because they lack opportunities to interact with their peers and learn together with students who do not share their linguistic and cultural background. The report states "Furthermore, some students in 'language-specific' or 'multilingual' SEI programs shared during focus groups that they feel isolated within these programs because they do not have opportunities to interact with their English-speaking peers and learn together with students who do not share their linguistic and cultural background. Some students also shared that this structure hinders their English language development and continues to make it difficult to feel a sense of belonging even when they exit these classes." (DESE TFM Report July 17, 2023, p. 7)
The Inclusive Education Plan seeks to increase all students' sense of belonging within their school community, giving all students the opportunity to learn in the least restrictive environment, with appropriate supports.
"The Inclusive Education Plan is a game-changer for Boston Public Schools," said Boston School Committee Chairperson Jeri Robinson. "This is a significant beginning that will help inform us of the work ahead. But, we cannot get distracted in our mission to ensure that every young person in Boston deserves a fair shot at a strong, equitable education. This goal is a mindset shift and is long overdue."
The Inclusive Education Plan outlines systemic changes along four domains: ensuring all students have access to grade-level content and high-quality instructional materials; ensuring the inclusive delivery of interventions, supports, and services tailored to each student's needs and assets; engaging in team-based planning and collaboration at the school and district levels; and resetting district infrastructure with systems of operational support and accountability.
Grade-level learning and high-quality instruction materials
The Inclusive Education Plan ensures all students will have access to rigorous, grade-level material. Native-language access will be available through trained bilingual paraprofessionals, trans-adapted instructional materials, and English as a Second Language (ESL) teachers' strategic use of native language in the classroom. Students with disabilities will have access to specially designed instruction, ensuring access to grade-level curriculum and learning opportunities. All students will receive this standard of rigorous, culturally affirming education. To achieve this district-wide reform, BPS will ensure every school is equipped with high-quality instruction materials, educators and staff will receive additional professional development and support structures, and the district will continue to accelerate its equitable literacy strategy.
Inclusive delivery of interventions, supports, and services
The Inclusive Education Plan seeks to ensure that students have access to tiered interventions to support their access to grade-level content. Multilingual learners must have access to English as a Second Language (ESL) instruction and native language resources to support their learning, and students with disabilities must have access to specialized supports in order to thrive in an inclusive setting alongside their peers. Multilingual learners will only be separated to receive direct ESL instruction that cannot otherwise be received within their class. BPS will also develop training modules and coaching to ensure that individualized education plans (IEPs) for students with disabilities are quantitative and qualitative in development, tailored to each student’s individual assets and needs. Data-driven IEP development and monitoring is essential to reversing the over-identification of Black and brown students and multilingual learners which has disproportionately placed them in substantially separate settings.
To achieve this, general education classrooms will be structured to support various models of teaching and learning. Staffing plans will shift from fixed individual, one-teacher classroom-based models to more flexible, agile teams that support each student in accessing grade-level learning.
Team-based planning and collaboration
BPS will promote team-based planning and collaboration to cultivate a collective responsibility for all students across the school community. Targeted professional development will build the internal capacity of schools and leadership teams to intentionally design and create opportunities for students to be educated in settings aligned with their IEP services and English language development needs. Ahead of the SY24-25 budget cycle, Inclusion Planning Teams at each school are currently working to identify, map, and analyze current service delivery for students with disabilities and multilingual learners and make recommendations for the realignment of resources for implementation at the school level.
Reset district systems of support and accountability
Effective implementation will require operational challenges at the District level to better support each school community, including strategic budgeting, staffing, and space planning. These changes will ultimately provide a full continuum of services within each school community, ensuring that all students and families have access to a high-quality student experience close to home. These systemic changes will be phased in over a period of several years. Planning has begun at every school, and structural changes will be implemented at certain grade levels, at every school, beginning in SY24-25.
The Inclusive Education Plan will be planned and implemented over the next five school years.