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Nonprofit set to aid struggling Boston schools

$3m initiative to add resources

Three low-achieving Boston public schools will receive extra money, resources, and support through a new partnership with a Boston education nonprofit.

EdVestors, which has played a critical role in the city’s expansion of the arts in many schools and algebra in the eighth grade, estimates its partnership with the three schools will collectively carry a value of $3 million over three years.

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The 10-year-old organization will announce the three schools next month, after evaluating applications from eight elementary schools.

“While it’s great to give schools more algebra or art, that doesn’t mean the entire fabric of the school has changed,’’ said Laura Perille, executive director of EdVestors. “That’s the real work.’’

The initiative is an attempt to help close a gap in resources available to schools statewide that suffer from low-achievement but that have not been formally identified as “underperforming’’ by the state. That latter category, which includes 11 schools in Boston and 30 others statewide, has received the bulk of new federal money aimed at turning around the worst performing schools.

Yet 266 other schools across Massachusetts, including about 60 in Boston, also scored in the bottom 20 percent on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System exams. Test scores of many of these schools are barely distinguishable from those at the state-designated underperforming schools, but they have fewer opportunities for additional funding and other support.

Inadequate resources have been a growing concern since Massachusetts embarked on an effort two years ago to overhaul its worst schools. A state law enacted then allows no more than 4 percent, or about 70 schools, to be designated as “underperforming’’ at any given time because of limited funds for these efforts.

Just last week, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an education research and policy organization in Washington, D.C., issued a report that knocked Massachusetts for declaring an “extremely small’’ number of schools as underperforming and for not providing enough resources to other low-achieving schools. The report examined how Massachusetts and six other states hold schools accountable for performance.

“Districts are largely left to attend to other struggling schools,’’ the report noted of Massachusetts. “While we can appreciate the reality of limited dollars, a system which lays out a more structured, increasingly extensive series of interventions - supported by the state, district, nonprofits, or other groups - might better address schools along the low-performing continuum.’’

The report did praise Massachusetts for other aspects of its school accountability system, such as requiring students to pass the 10th-grade MCAS in order to graduate. But it concluded that “a more robust structure for addressing low-performing - but not lowest-performing - schools, coupled with stronger educator accountability measures, would go a long way toward making accountability in the Bay State a model for the nation.’’

Boston has been trying to shore up its low-achieving schools using a variety of tactics. In dramatic moves over the last four years, the School Department shut down about a dozen schools for poor performance and replaced two of them with charter schools.

In other cases, the School Department converted the academically struggling Roger Clap Elementary School into an autonomous “innovation’’ school, and merged some low-achieving schools with some higher-achieving ones.

But the School Department is always searching for additional help, and Boston Superintendent Carol R. Johnson said the partnership with EdVestors holds great promise.

“We appreciate the fact that EdVestors brings a level of experience in looking at school change,’’ Johnson said.

Since 2006, EdVestors has analyzed Boston public schools that have achieved rapid gains over a four-year period, awarding the school with the biggest gains each year the Thomas Payzant School on the Move Prize, which comes with $100,000. Now, EdVestors wants to help those schools not seeing such results.

“We are going to work alongside them on a daily basis to help them execute change,’’ Perille said. “This is not ‘we are going to pick three schools and give you a pot of money and expect you to improve.’ ’’

James Vaznis can be reached at jvaznis@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globevaznis.
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