The complexity of overlapping issues contributing to student success — and lack thereof — was beautifully captured in “The Valedictorians Project” (January 20). We applaud your team for spotlighting what is needed to truly help Boston students achieve their potential. Madelyn Disla’s story shares in part the impact of the Janey Scholars Program, created by The Philanthropic Initiative 20 years ago on behalf of an astute donor, who realized many talented youth face nonacademic challenges and challenged us to find a solution. We know firsthand that mentoring and other supports can make a tremendous difference in the lives of talented youth who lack the resources and connections of more affluent families.
Leslie Pine managing partner, The Philanthropic Initiative
While I wasn’t a valedictorian in my BPS high school, I saw myself and my family in these students. I felt sad for what they endured but noticed that a number of them found success at my alma mater, the University of Massachusetts Boston. It offers an excellent education including supports and interventions to those who are underperforming. The university deserves much credit for setting all students on a path to successful academic and professional experiences.
Yolette Ibokette Randolph
I read the article about Boston’s exam schools with great interest (“The Race to Get Into Boston’s Exam Schools,” January 20). I am a graduate of Girls’ Latin School, which became Boston Latin Academy, and a member of the board of directors of the alumnae association. As long as I can recall, the exam schools have been under scrutiny and attack. Although I agree heartily that improvement is needed in Boston public school education across the board, removing opportunities is not the solution. Painting the students of the exam schools as somehow a privileged elite does a disservice to everyone.
Anne Sandstrom Burlington
As a graduate of Girls’ Latin School in 1969, I believe that we can and should do whatever is possible to provide all children in our city with a quality education. That said, the preparation needed to be successful at each of these exam schools must begin during early childhood, and must be provided to all young children and their parents. One prep course in Grade 5 is not the only answer; administering exams in local elementary schools will help ease the testing process.
Linda Coffey Yarmouth Port
Boston’s two-tier school system has its counterpart in New York City, where admission to eight elite high schools is based entirely on the Specialized High Schools Admission Test. Created by state law in 1971, the test has resulted in the enrollment of only 10 percent of black and Hispanic students, even though they constitute 67 percent of the city’s student population. As a result, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is intent on eliminating the exam and using class rank and scores on statewide standardized tests.
Walt Gardner Los Angeles
In Boston, the problem does not start at the high school level, it starts with grammar schools. Without question, the disadvantaged youth of Boston public schools are the biggest losers of this ongoing issue. Although the article points out that many white or Asian students who are admitted to the exam schools do not attend the Boston public grammar schools, and many high achieving students have fled the system altogether, it fails to come to the correct conclusion as to why. The Boston schools, like any other public service/business, offer a product. If no one is buying the product, look at the business. Attract the students who attend private schools back into the system. File to undo the remnants of court ordered busing and allow children to attend their neighborhood grammar school. Re-establish the advance classes and further augment the grammar school standards. Find a BPS superintendent who will do more than maintain the status quo.
Karen Mastrobattista Curran, president, Girls’ Latin School/Boston Latin Academy Association
Obstacles to Opportunity
The story about Michael Blackwood (“A Second Chance on the Other Side of the World,” January 20) corroborates what academic researchers have known for some time — college students from poor families cannot focus only on their own studies because they face pressures, such as the need to help their parents and support their younger siblings, that well-off students do not. Those burdens often translate into the need to “stop out” for a time or to shift from expensive universities to more affordable ones. This is one of the reasons why access to public higher education is so critical. We serve students who come to us as freshmen and those who need an alternative if their first foray into college didn’t turn out as they had hoped and planned. That it takes these students longer to graduate is a sign not of failure but inequality — and their determination should be applauded.
Katherine Newman, interim chancellor, University of Massachusetts Boston
I would like to assure the writers of the article that our state’s public institutions are far from “lesser schools,” unless of course they were referring to the cost of attendance rather than the quality of education. My fellow faculty members throughout our state’s public education institutions are highly educated, engaged, and experienced educators and support staff are trained to assist students experiencing challenges. Higher education is supposed to open doors so a young person’s dreams and aspirations can become reality. Unfortunately, your reporting revealed that many of our private educational institutions have no idea how to do that, beyond offering generous scholarships and empty promises. It’s the “lesser schools” that ultimately get them there.
Rachel Roesler, professor, North Shore Community College
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