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Boston teachers urged to discuss race, gender

Cultural competency may help black, Latino students improve, report says

Boston schoolteachers and administrators should forgo a “color-blind” approach to educating students and instead engage in conversations about race and gender if they want to close achievement gaps, according to a report being released Tuesday.

The report, which focused on the lagging academic performance of black and Latino males at four Boston schools, found “a reluctance to discuss issues of race” and that “little or no professional development focused on implementation of culturally responsive practices.”

The report was prepared by the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University and the Center for Collaborative Education, an education research and consulting organization in Boston.


“Many adults in the school, while being good intentioned, said they were color blind, ‘I don’t see race,’ ’’ said Andresse St. Rose, senior director of research and policy at the Center for Collaborative Education. “The result of this, especially on black and Latino males, is that they become invisible. They don’t find themselves in the curriculum.”

The report will be released at an event Tuesday evening at Boston Public Schools headquarters. The school department, which commissioned the report and paid for it with money from the Barr Foundation, provided the news media with an advance copy on the condition they not discuss it with anyone aside from school officials and the report’s authors.

Interim Superintendent John McDonough said in an interview Monday that the school system has “a lot of work to do” in adopting strategies at both the district and school level to close achievement gaps — an issue, he said, with which both the state and the nation are also grappling.

“We are acknowledging and owning what is ours and moving forward in order to take it on,” McDonough said.

The report follows up a study released in the fall that found that black and Latino male students lagged substantially behind their peers in educational achievement. The second phase of the analysis attempted to identify effective practices at four schools that could be replicated across the system.


But few schools had MCAS scores among black and Latino male students that were high enough to meet the criteria, and the results at the schools that rose to the top were “mixed at best,” according to the report.

The disappointing outcomes came even though the schools used approaches commonly found at high-achieving schools, such as actively engaging families, tailoring instruction to meet the individual needs of students, establishing a caring culture, and fostering a spirit of collaboration among teachers and administrators, the report said.

“One of the most surprising findings was that not many schools are doing well,” said Rosann Tung, the report’s lead author and director of research and policy at the Annenberg Institute. “Not a single school popped as exceptional.”

The researchers decided to keep the four schools anonymous so staff and students could have frank conversations about what was working and what was not. A lack of cultural competency often percolated up.

For instance, the report cited an example of a school holding a Mexican festival to help incorporate their students’ cultural heritage, but it turned out that none of the students were of Mexican descent. In another school, the report said that some teachers referred to Latino students as “Spanish students,” an outdated term.

Tung applauded the school system for tackling the issue, saying few school systems nationwide have done so.


The report urged the school department to provide more training for teachers and administrators to become more culturally competent and to integrate that knowledge into the curriculum and relationships with students.

Other recommendations included expanding programs that encourage race dialogues, stepping up the hiring of teachers who reflect the student populations in their schools, and forming partnerships with organizations focused on eliminating achievement gaps.

Some of the recommendations build on efforts Boston has reprioritized in the past several years, such as a renewed emphasis on recruiting a more diverse teaching force. McDonough said the school department is reviewing the recommendations.

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