As the quest for a new Boston school superintendent nears an end, the search committee held its final public meeting last week in Dorchester. Parents and members of the community listed the characteristics they want in a new superintendent: someone who has experience dealing with English language learners, someone who can retain and attract teachers of color. Nearly everyone expressed concern about the poor academic performance of black and Latino students in the Boston Public Schools. The new superintendent must focus his or her immediate attention on correcting the wide achievement gaps between these groups and their white and Asian counterparts.
An eye-opening study released two months ago concluded that the school district has become a place where black and Latino males — who make up almost four-fifths of all males in the system — fall short in accessing the most attractive educational opportunities. The study characterized Boston schools as a two-track system: one that provides white and Asian males a pathway to the best secondary schools, and another that leaves black and Latino boys grouped with limited learning opportunities.
The question of what can be done about this inequity — and how significantly the results reflect built-in biases in the BPS tracking regime — should be front and center as the search committee gets ready to conduct interviews. But officials should resist the impulse to eliminate the two tracks entirely; Boston educators should instead expand access to the track that leads to the best opportunities, including exam schools, for black and Latino males.
The study, which was commissioned by former superintendent Carol Johnson, analyzed male students’ academic performance using data from 2009 to 2012. It focused on a handful of indicators, including enrollment in advanced work classes and, subsequently, in exam schools. But the report found that white males were enrolled in the advanced classes at a rate that was between three and four times higher than the rate of black and Latino males. In general, white and Asian males are 20 percent more likely to graduate than black males and 40 percent more likely than Latino males.
The new superintendent should expand the number of available advanced learning opportunities for all its students. But increasing the number of advanced work classrooms alone is not enough to address the glaring achievement gap. The new superintendent needs to look at after-school and summer programs with a proven track record that, if expanded, could increase the pipeline of black and Latino male students going into the advanced work program and into the exam schools.
Such programs would be an important step in addressing a glaring achievement gap that squanders the potential of Boston public school students.