Black, Latino males lag in Boston schools
Black and Latino males are facing an educational crisis in Boston, lagging substantially behind their peers on the MCAS, high school graduation rates, and other barometers that lower their prospects for college or workforce success, according to a city-commissioned report being released Thursday.
Collectively, the data paint troubling gaps in achievement that persist more than 40 years after court-ordered desegregation of the city’s school system.
The report also raises questions among researchers about whether the School Department has unintentionally created a two-track system — one that provides white and Asian males with the greatest learning opportunities while black and Latino males are left with woefully diminished access.
For instance, just 8.6 percent of black males and 8 percent of Latino males in the city’s school system were enrolled in its highly regarded exam schools in 2012, compared with 45 percent of white males and 47.8 percent of Asian males.
On the other end of the spectrum, the report said, black and Latino males were far more likely to be enrolled in special education classrooms, where instruction is considered inferior to that in regular classrooms.
Rahn Dorsey, the city’s education chief, called the report “profoundly important,” noting that two-thirds of Boston’s male residents age 19 or younger are black or Latino.
“That is the greater preponderance of young men in the city we have to invest in to make sure Boston is thriving and competitive moving forward,” Dorsey said.
“We really want to know what they are up against and what is working for them so we can better understand the investments we need to make in their lives.”
The report, set to be released during an event at City Year Boston, is believed to be the most comprehensive analysis in recent memory of the performance of black and Latino males in Boston schools on an array of academic measures.
Typically, achievement by the two groups is highlighted within isolated performance measures, such as the annual release of MCAS results in the fall or in high-school graduation rates released each winter.
The report, which examined data between 2009 and 2012, was prepared by the Center for Collaborative Education, a nonprofit in Boston, and the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University.
Former Boston school superintendent Carol R. Johnson ordered the report.
Among some of the findings:
■ Just 22.1 percent of black males and 24.9 percent of Latino males scored proficient or higher on the English MCAS exams in elementary school, compared with 56.9 percent for white males and 48.5 percent for Asian males.
■ 66.9 percent of black males and 60.4 percent of Latino males graduated within four years, compared with 81.5 percent of white males and 90.5 percent of Asian males.
The data reflect a national trend of low achievement among black and Latino males, prompting President Obama earlier this year to launch an educational initiative, “My Brother’s Keeper,” which aims to develop strategies to help the two groups do better in school and throughout their lives.
But the problem is particularly critical in Boston because Massachusetts’ economy relies more on highly skilled workers than most other states, according to the report.
The School Department’s failure to help many black and Latino males acquire the necessary job training could make it more difficult for them to gain long-term employment and lead to unhealthy decisions that could be a drain on the city’s vitality, it states.
Johnny McInnis, president of the Black Educators Alliance of Massachusetts who teaches in Boston, said he feels the school system is making incremental progress in addressing the achievement gap, but has been hamstrung by budget cuts and the lack of broader solutions.
“We are losing people we need who specialize in supporting these students,” he said.
The report does not offer concrete explanations for the lagging achievement of black and Latino males. Dan French, executive director of the Center for Collaborative Education, said it is an area for deeper examination.
Another report earlier this year by the local Black and Latino Collaborative explored the plight of black and Latino males on a number of indicators that affect their well-being beyond the school doors.
That report noted, for instance, that nearly half of those two populations age 19 or younger were on public assistance — twice the rate as whites and Asians.
Ayomide Olumuyiwa, a student representative on the Boston School Committee, said he was unaware that black and Latino males were lagging until it was mentioned at a recent committee meeting.
“It’s just alarming,” said Olumuyiwa, a senior at the O’Bryant School of Math and Science, an exam school in Roxbury. “This is something students wouldn’t find out on their own unless they asked.”
Olumuyiwa self identifies as a first-generation African-American whose parents are from Nigeria. He started off his education in Randolph and then moved to Boston in the seventh grade. He said he recalls that his first math class in Boston covered the same material he had in the fifth grade in Randolph.
“I thought they made a mistake,” Olumuyiwa said.
The latest report offers wide-ranging recommendations, including some that would likely stoke opposition.
For instance, it recommends converting every classroom in grades 4 to 6 into advanced-work programs. The program, a gateway into the exam schools, enrolls few black and Latino males. But the recommendation would probably stir debate about whether all students are ready for that rigor or whether advanced work would be watered down.
Other recommendations endorse efforts already underway, such as expanding early childhood education and the diversity of the teaching force, and stepping up efforts to train teachers on any unintentional biases against others of different races. That latter area could address why black and Latino males are disciplined or suspended at higher rates.
“Youth understand fairness far better than adults,” said Matt Cregor, staff lawyer with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice.