Massachusetts has long been ranked No. 1 on a number of national education benchmarks, including the SAT, but wide gaps in achievement persist in the state among students of different backgrounds, prompting more than a dozen advocacy organizations to form a new coalition to push for more school funding.
The gaps in achievement are extreme, according to a report the Massachusetts Education Equity Partnership plans to release Monday called “Number One for Some: Opportunity & Achievement in Massachusetts.”
For instance, of all the students who took the SAT in 2017, just 27 percent of black students and 31 percent of Latino students met the exam’s college-readiness benchmarks. By comparison, 65 percent of white students and 71 percent of Asian students did.
“When it comes to black and brown children, we are failing,” said Keri Rodriques, founding president of Massachusetts Parents United, a statewide nonprofit. “The time has come for some real action around this.”
The disparity gaps also quietly persist amid the pomp and circumstance of high school commencement, the report found. For instance, 79 percent of black students and 73 percent of Latino students who started as freshmen in 2012 graduated in four years, compared to 92 percent of white students and 93 percent of Asian students.
And in another key measure — third-grade reading — only 29 percent of black and Latino third-graders met or exceeded expectations on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment Exams in 2017, compared to 65 percent of Asian students and 54 percent of white students.
The push comes two months after Beacon Hill lawmakers hit a stalemate in a three-year effort to update the state’s 25-year-old school-funding formula that various reports have found is underestimating the annual cost of public education by hundreds of millions of dollars. A conference committee is planning to iron out the differences, many of which center on calculating the costs of educating students who live in poverty and students who do not speak English fluently.
School funding also bubbled up in the gubernatorial race last week. Democratic nominee Jay Gonzalez pitched the idea of levying a 1.6 percent tax on any endowment that exceeds $1 billion at a private college or university registered as a nonprofit, as a way to fund public education and transportation infrastructure improvements.
Massachusetts Education Equity Partnership plans to lobby the Legislature for changes to school funding, while ensuring the money is targeted toward those students who need it the most. The Education Trust, a national nonprofit that promotes closing opportunity gaps for students of color and those from low-income families, is assisting the coalition with research and the report.
“When we look at the data, children are suffering,” said Marquis Taylor, co-founder and president of Coaching for Change, an after-school program in Fall River and Taunton. “We have to be creative in making them understand they have value and they can make it.”
But he added, “there is no magic bullet” in elevating their achievement.
Along with Massachusetts Parents United and Coaching for Change, the new coalition — Massachusetts Education Equity Partnership — includes the NAACP Boston, Latinos for Education, Amplify Latinx, Educators for Excellence, Higher Ground Boston, Massachusetts Association of Bilingual Educators, Ramos Law, Stand for Children/Massachusetts, Strategies for Children, Teach Plus, the Urban League of Springfield, and the Worcester Education Collaborative.
Formation of the new coalition follows that of a group that has played an instrumental role in advocating for more school funding, the Massachusetts Education Justice Alliance, an alliance of students, parents, community organizations, and educator unions.
Eric Conti, president of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents, welcomed the new effort to help overhaul the school-funding formula. But he emphasized that local school systems need to have flexibility in spending those funds so they can create the best programs to meet the individual needs of students.
And all local systems, he said, need to receive an appropriate level of funding.
“We have to make sure every single kid is counted,” said Conti, who is superintendent of the Burlington school system.
Many educators contend that the current formula may be undercounting students in certain categories, such as economically disadvantaged. That category is based on student households that receive government assistance, but some educators and advocates contend the count overlooks many students in households headed by undocumented immigrants, who are struggling to make ends meet and not collecting government assistance because of their immigration status.
“There can be no excellence without equity,” said Jennifer Davis Carey, executive director of the Worcester Education Collaborative in a statement. “Massachusetts is widely acknowledged as the number-one state when it comes to education, but the fact remains that 25 years after Massachusetts Education Reform Act our education system is providing vastly different opportunities — and producing vastly different outcomes — for low-income students and students of color than their more privileged peers.”