A new state review of Boston Public Schools released on Monday found persistent failures by the district to address longstanding problems, and a chronic inability to move from goal-setting to effective execution, heightening concerns that the state will move to take over city schools.
The report looks at progress made in BPS since 2020, when the state and district signed a formal agreement setting goals for school improvement. The latest review by the state found some areas where improvement has begun to take shape — efforts to recruit more teachers of color have improved, and the district has strengthened its focus on early literacy — but in many other areas, such as student transportation and data tracking and reporting, little has changed since the partnership began.
The new 200-page report, based on hundreds of interviews and three days of site visits, calls for action to “deliver the quality education [BPS] students deserve,” but stops short of prescribing a specific plan for a full or partial takeover of schools. State education officials are expected to discuss possible next steps at Tuesday’s meeting of the state Board of Education.
Here are the review’s key takeaways:
The critical areas where BPS is still failing
The state found transportation issues have worsened since the 2020 review, with 1,148 “uncovered morning routes” in January that impacted approximately 16,000 student rides.
The district lacks a comprehensive master plan for fixing its failing buildings and implementing “transparent, inclusive, and data-informed decision-making process around facilities improvements,” according to the review.
The review also found BPS does not have an “effective or consistent” process when it comes to tracking and responding to complaints made by parents regarding bullying or other safety concerns.
BPS provided inaccurate information to state
The state found student enrollment and withdrawal data reported by BPS and displayed on DESE’s website are “likely inaccurate due to lack of appropriate internal controls at the school and central office levels.”
The district also included two schools with unrenovated bathrooms on a list it provided to the state of 29 schools with completed bathroom renovations — an inaccuracy DESE was able to identify because of recent site visits, according to the review.
Improvement hampered by unstable leadership
The state’s detailed analysis of district turnover found that 37 percent of BPS’ central office leadership — 19 administrators — have left the district since the state conducted its initial review in fall 2019, a pattern that holds back progress. BPS is currently seeking its fifth superintendent since 2013.
One area where the state found the district has made headway is in facility repairs, renovations, and upgrades. Recently, Mayor Michelle Wu announced a $2 billion plan to upgrade school buildings in Boston, but the state has questioned whether the district can maintain momentum, given its “continued leadership instability.”
Minimal progress addressing needs of most vulnerable learners
BPS has shown little to no progress in addressing the needs of students with disabilities, English learners, and students at the district’s lowest-performing schools, according to the review. It specifically addresses Boston’s “lack of urgency” in improving special education services. One particular problem is the high rate of students of color with disabilities being segregated from the rest of their peers.
“Fully 20% of district students are receiving special education services, yet these services remain in disarray,” the review states.
What happens next?
The state education board is scheduled to discuss the report’s findings at its monthly meeting Tuesday, where Wu plans to address the prospect of receivership. It remains unclear whether any solutions will be proposed, but the board in coming weeks could deliver its recommendations. The Boston School Committee is scheduled to meet Wednesday.
The Great Divide team explores educational inequality in Boston and statewide. Sign up to receive our newsletter, and send ideas and tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jenna Russell can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @jrussglobe. Adria Watson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @adriarwatson.