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Boston public school grads exceed charter-school peers

Graduates of Hub’s public schools exceed peers at charter schools

Graduates of city-run high schools in Boston are having better success completing college than their peers from charter schools, according to a new report.

Fifty percent of students who graduated from Boston public high schools in 2007 and enrolled in college had earned a degree or another kind of postsecondary credential within six years, according to the report by the Boston Opportunity Agenda, a partnership between the city and philanthropic organizations.

By contrast, 42 percent of 2007 graduates from Boston charter schools had completed their postsecondary schooling within six years.

The report, released Friday, marks the first time the organization included data for educational institutions that operate independently of the city’s school system. It provides a unique opportunity to assess how the school system stacks up against the independently run charter schools and parochial schools in several areas. (The parochial schools did not provide data on college completion rates.)

Boston’s school system did not compare as favorably on other key barometers, lagging behind, for instance, on third-grade reading proficiency and high school graduation rates.


Representatives of the Boston Opportunity Agenda said they decided to include charter and parochial schools so they could document the educational performance of as many students as possible, regardless of where they go to school, as part of a broad effort to ensure that all students are graduating with the skills necessary to succeed in college and life and to be productive citizens of Boston.

Collectively, the three sectors educate about 93 percent of school-age children in the city. There are 57,000 students enrolled in the city’s school system, 7,500 in Catholic schools, and 7,100 in charter schools.

“This is really about lifting up the entire set of school systems,” said Kristin McSwain, executive director of the Boston Opportunity Agenda.

The organization’s many partners include the Boston Foundation, the Nellie Mae Foundation, the United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley, Catholic Charities, the Lynch Foundation, and the Barr Foundation.


Pulling in data for the three sectors presented some challenges, McSwain said. For instance, the parochial schools use the Stanford 10 assessment exams instead of the MCAS, and not all of them track college completion rates. The Boston Archdiocese plans to start tracking that data for all of its Boston high schools.

Even some data sets that appear to be comparable should be viewed with some caveats, McSwain said.

College completion rates are one of those cases. Charter schools, for instance, send a higher percentage of students to four-year colleges than the city school system, presenting a higher bar for students to secure their postsecondary credentials.

The data focused on 80 graduates of five charter high schools that existed in the city in 2007 who enrolled in college compared with 1,700 graduates of the city’s 27 high schools, including its three exam schools.

“We are very proud of the work that has been done within the Boston public schools that has focused on preparing students for college attainment and that this work has been supported by many people and organizations throughout the city,” said John McDonough, the school system’s interim superintendent.

But McDonough added that the school system needs to help more graduates get through college.

Marc Kenen, executive director of the Massachusetts Charter Public School Association, echoed a similar sentiment.

“All public schools in Boston need to work together to boost college completion rates,” Kenen said. “I think we all have to do better.”


Boston gained national recognition in 2008 when Mayor Thomas M. Menino set an ambitious goal to double the college-completion rates of the city’s high school alumni.

When the goal was set, about 35 percent of the class of 2000 who enrolled in college had earned a post-secondary degree or certificate, such as a license to be an electrician. The effort spawned the Success Boston program, which provides intensive tutoring, counseling, and other support to city high school graduates on college campuses. That extra help will now be extended to some charter high school graduates.

Boston hopes to reach a college completion rate of 70 percent by 2017, an effort strongly supported by Mayor Martin J. Walsh, who touted Success Boston in his State of the City address last week.

More work remains, though, in boosting the number of third-graders who can read. Just 36 percent of third-graders in Boston schools last spring scored proficient in reading on the MCAS, compared to 61 percent for the city’s charter schools.

The parochial schools fell roughly in the middle: 52 percent were deemed proficient readers on the Stanford 10 test last spring.

McDonough said the school system is in the midst of overhauling its elementary school reading curriculum. Its current program, Reading Street, is having success in some schools, but not others, McDonough said.

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