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Thursday, November 13, 2014

‘A unifying document to shape the next ten years:’ BPS releases phase one of ‘Opportunity and Equity’ report

‘A unifying document to shape the next ten years:’
BPS releases phase one of ‘Opportunity and Equity’ report
Study explores outcomes for Black and Latino males to learn why achievement and opportunity gaps persist; positions Boston to be the first city to solve long-term national challenge

BOSTON — The Boston Public Schools is positioning itself to lead the nation in improving outcomes for Black and Latino male students after the release of a new report today. More than a year ago, the District commissioned the “Opportunity and Equity” report as part of a long-term strategy to eliminate achievement and opportunity gaps among the subgroups of students that have consistently faced the greatest challenges in Boston and around the country – Black and Latino male students. This report will help BPS and the City of Boston develop fundamental systems changes that will strengthen core practices to better meet the learning needs of all students.

“Every major American city is struggling with these same issues, but Boston will be the city that solves them,” said Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh. “This report is hard-hitting and its findings help us face some tough truths. Black and Latino males are far less likely to score well on assessment tests, far less likely to graduate and far more likely to face suspension. What we have not done, until now, is honestly ask the question ‘why.’ Our school department is doing this transparently, proactively and in partnership with outside experts. Next, as part of our My Brother’s Keeper Initiative we will engage the community in a heartfelt search for the right solutions. This is a unifying document for the next ten years. It speaks volumes to the collaborative spirit and the incredible potential we have here in the city of Boston.”

Today BPS is releasing the first part of an intensive study of outcomes for Black and Latino males, who face the most significant academic challenges in Boston as well as in most major cities across the nation. The report was commissioned by BPS with the support of the Barr Foundation. It was conducted by the Center for Collaborative Education and the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University. It is available on the BPS website at bostonpublicschools.org/opportunity.

Mayor Walsh, Interim Superintendent John McDonough and Chief of Education Turahn Dorsey will join other BPS leaders, report authors and community members for a forum conversation about the findings and recommendation this afternoon. The community can join the conversation on twitter using the hashtag #path2equityBOS.

This Phase I report is part of a larger study, Analyzing Enrollment, Outcomes, and Excel­lent Schools for Black and Latino Male Students in the Boston Public Schools. The second phase report, to be released this spring, will examine practices and policies in four BPS schools in which Black and Latino males perform comparably better than other district schools.

Phase one of the study examines data over four years (school years 2009 through 2012) and focuses on these major areas:

A changing population: The first-ever look at the racial and geographical diversity that exists among Black and Latino students in BPS:
  • BPS’ male population is primarily Black and Latino at 78%. For the first time, in 2012, the Latino male population surpassed the Black male population at BPS, the former making up nearly 40% of the male population and the latter making up 38%. Black and Latino groups are also increasingly diverse, with Black Caribbean, Black African, and Latino Caribbean students being the fastest growing sub-groups.
  • The report findings help showcase the diversity Black and Latino male students, the languages and cultures they bring to the community, and differences in outcomes by region of origin.

Access to educational opportunity and attainment:
The study found significant opportunity gaps for Black and Latino males, including:
  • Suspension rates: BPS suspension rates tend to be highest in middle grades (6-8). In SY2012, the middle school suspension rate for Black male students was 9.4 percent. For Latino male students, it was 7.0 percent. In comparison, the suspension rate for Asian male students in middle school was 2.7 percent, and for White male students, 2.4 percent. The study noted that suspension rates declined by between 5 and 10 percent for these groups between 2009 and 2012.
  • Access to inclusion settings: The study found that Black males have been placed in substantially-separate classes at almost twice the rate of White males, and Latino males were placed in these settings at 1.6 times the rate of White males. Research shows that students in inclusive settings tend to perform at higher levels than students with special needs who are placed in substantially-separate classrooms.
  • Advanced Work Classes: AWC is a full-time program in some BPS schools that offers an accelerated curriculum for students in grades 4-6. Admission is based on an assessment conducted in 3rd grade. AWC is widely considered to be a primary pathway toward exam school admission. The study found that 20.0 percent of White male students and 25.8 percent of Asian students in grades 4-6 are enrolled in AWC compared to 5.9 percent of Black students; and 5.3 percent of Latino students.
  • Exam schools: Admission to the three BPS exam schools is based on student grades and test results from the Independent Schools Entrance Exam. The study found that 45.0 percent of White male students in and 47.8 percent of Asian male students in BPS grades 7-12 are enrolled in Exam Schools, compared to 8.6 percent of Black male students and 8.0 percent of Latino male students.

Recommendations for changing underlying practices to improve outcomes for these students:
The report recommends BPS develop a vision and approach for educating Black and Latino male students that “builds on the strengths and value they bring to our schools and communities,” especially as demographic shifts continue in the city.

Other recommendations will require broad community conversation, including:
  • Convert all grade 4-6 classrooms into AWC classrooms, with high expectations and rigorous coursework;
  • Ensure AWC and exam school enrollment is a better reflection of district enrollment by race/ethnicity, ELL status and family income;
  • Expand the eligibility requirement for exam schools to include a teacher recommendation and writing sample;
  • Restrict exam school enrollment to students who were enrolled in BPS in the fifth grade;
  • Prioritize K0 and K1 enrollment to low-income students and Black and Latino students;
  • Ensure that all 9th grade students are placed in a MassCore curriculum sequence and schedule;
  • Create an added weight for Black and Latino male students under the BPS weighted student funding formula.

BPS is already implementing many of the report’s other recommendations, including:

  • Expand early childhood programs: BPS pre-kindergarten programs are nationally honored as among the most effective in the country at eliminating achievement gaps, and while they have expanded to reach nearly 3,000 students annually, the need is far greater. Mayor Walsh has launched an effort to offer universal pre-k to Boston students in the years ahead.
  • Expand the diversity of the BPS teaching force: This year BPS launched a Teacher Diversity Action Plan to recruit, hire and retain more educators who reflect the diversity of the students we serve. As a result, this fall nearly one in four new teachers hired into BPS identify as African American, the highest percentage in seven years. Thirteen percent identify as Latino.
  • Expand access to inclusive opportunities: The BPS Inclusion Task Force is readying recommendations to help the District achieve this goal. Already BPS has expanded the number of schools offering inclusive opportunities from 26 in 2012 (the period observed in the report) to 56 today.
  • Review special education identification and placement policies: This year BPS reorganized its academic team to strengthen the bridge between special education, English Language Learning, and core academics. The new structure will help BPS ensure students needing support with language acquisition receive the proper services without necessarily shifting to a disability categorization.
  • Identify root causes of student disengagement to cut the drop-out rate: Since 2012, which is the data used in the report, BPS has cut the drop-out rate to historic lows for Black and Latino students, and the overall four-year graduation rate has never been higher. By keeping more students in school and strengthening the high school curriculum we can offer more students a great education in every classroom.
  • Reduce suspensions and expulsions by strengthening proactive approaches to problem solving: BPS, working with students, teachers, parents and experts, adopted a new Code of Conduct that focuses on conflict reduction and progressive discipline. This has helped reduce the suspension and student arrest rate -- with arrests falling from 464 in 2008 to 152 last year.

“This report serves is a foundational study that confirms what we know and what we have yet to fully understand,” said BPS Interim Superintendent John McDonough. “This sets the stage for a transformative, community effort that looks at systemic change. We are issuing this report as a call to action, with a recognition that we have urgent work ahead.”

Boston School Committee Chair Michael O’Neill said the report is required reading for the next BPS Superintendent. “This issue has been long-standing in nature and while we have made many attempts to improve the opportunities for all our youth and especially our Black and Latino students, it’s clear from this report that much more needs to be done if we are truly to be a District of high-performing schools that meet the needs of all our students,” he said. “I thank our past Superintendent, Dr. Carol R. Johnson, for asking for this report and for our Interim Superintendent for his willingness to listen, learn and act with speed immediately on the findings.”

“We’ve known for some time that there are gaps in service and opportunity that are impeding success for Black and Latino boys and young men in Boston, and this is about understanding the challenges and creating a road map to really get at the root issues,” said Turahn Dorsey, Chief of Education for the City of Boston. “BPS should be commended for the work they have already initiated and their willingness to expose persistent challenges and meet them head on.  For the sake of our students' futures, we - the Walsh Administration, our schools and Boston's extended education community - have to fully dedicate ourselves to eliminating identified barriers to school and life success.  This intensive look is the start of a comprehensive evaluation, and the first steps toward greater success.”

“The findings and recommendations in this report require systemic changes that the entire community must own and support,” said Warren Simmons, Executive Director of the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University. “The future success of Boston Public Schools and the City of Boston requires a system that serves all students well, particularly Black and Latino males who constitute nearly half of student enrollment.”

“The Boston Public Schools are growing ever more diverse, with increasing numbers of immigrants and second-language learners comprising the District’s Black and Latino male population,” said Dan French, Executive Director of the Center for Collaborative Education. “In order to successfully educate all of Boston’s students, the District needs to make a commitment to close the opportunity gaps while providing all students with a culturally-responsive, high quality, high-support education.”

In September, Mayor Walsh announced the launch of the ‘My Brother’s Keeper’ Boston Advisory Committee comprised of local leaders and experts, representing public and private businesses, community-based organizations, elected offices, and City of Boston departments. Chaired by Felix G. Arroyo, Chief of Health and Human Services, and John Barros, Chief of Economic Development, the Advisory Committee has a shared goal of identifying opportunities to eliminate barriers and obstacles for Black and Latino boys and young men to succeed in the City’s public schools, workforce, and neighborhoods.  As part of this effort, the City has teamed up with Mass Mentoring Partnership to launch the “Mayor’s Mentoring Movement” with the goal of recruiting 1,000 caring adult mentors over the next two years to support young people – both young boys and girls – in which at least 10% will be City of Boston employees.

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