In the generations that have followed our city has taken bold steps toward true educational equity. We have also faced significant setbacks and challenges. Sarah Roberts’ fight is not yet won, but we are honored to engage in the struggle.
In 2013 Superintendent Carol R. Johnson commissioned a study to examine the root causes of and potential solutions to the achievement gaps that exist for Black and Latino boys in the Boston Public Schools. Just as in other large cities across the nation, these students tend to consistently have the lowest academic performance on virtually every measure. We believe these students also have the greatest opportunities for success.
Finding solutions will have positive impacts for everyone — and will make the Boston Public Schools the first district in the nation to successfully eliminate these gaps for all students. To succeed, we must be willing to investigate why these challenges have persisted. We must seek out authentic solutions and discuss their implementation openly and honestly with the entire community.
We are grateful to the Barr Foundation for joining our effort, which has allowed us to commission the Center for Collaborative Education and the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University to develop the study we are discussing today. Many people inside and outside BPS provided data and shared their own stories. Their contributions will have a positive impact on our entire community.
- 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.
On behalf of Mayor Martin J. Walsh, the Boston School Committee, our great teachers, school leaders, staff, parents and students, thank you for joining us in the critical work of transforming education. Here in Boston, in the city that launched the struggle for educational equity, we stand ready to set the standard for world-class opportunity and excellence for every student.
Boston Public Schools