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Boston city councilor renews push for 13th optional year of school

City Councilor Michael Flaherty in 2015.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff/File/Globe Staff

The data are troubling: Nearly half of Boston students who enter college do not graduate within six years, researchers say.

City Councilor Michael Flaherty is pushing something he thinks will help: Year 13, an initiative he said would provide an “extra layer of support” for high school graduates to make it through college.

“Every year we continue to increase our graduation rate, which is good,’’ Flaherty said. “There is the hugs-and-high-five moment when a kid crosses the stage, but it’s not enough to compete for jobs or get through college.”

Flaherty said the extra year of school, which would be voluntary and offered to students who have earned their diplomas, would help them better prepare for college, close the achievement gap, and make the city’s students more competitive.


“Boston boasts of having some of the best colleges and universities in the world,’’ said Flaherty, whose call for a hearing on the matter last week was overwhelmingly supported by his colleagues.

“What good is it if our own students aren’t getting into these schools, and what good is it if companies are coming here and our residents are not getting into these jobs.”

Flaherty, who has been circulating his Year 13 idea for about three years, revived it recently in response to the Globe’s recent Valedictorians Project, which revealed that about a quarter of Boston’s top students from 2005 to 2007 failed to get a bachelor’s degree within six years. None earned a medical degree, and about 40 percent do not make more than $50,000 per year.

Many of the valedictorians said they were stalled or derailed in college due to financial and personal problems — such as homelessness and trauma — and lapses in their high school education. Many have not broken into the many high-tech businesses that are booming around the city.


“Even our valedictorians struggle to get into these [colleges] and stay in these schools,’’ Flaherty said. “That speaks to the need for an intense college preparatory curriculum.”

School officials said they are reviewing Flaherty’s idea and look “forward to a productive conversation with the Boston City Council,’’ according to a statement.

“We are always open to ideas on how to provide better outcomes for the 55,000 students we serve, and are happy to listen to feedback from elected officials and community members to engage in a productive dialogue,” the statement said.

Mayor Martin J. Walsh said he will review Flaherty’s idea once he has received it, according to a statement from the mayor’s office.

“However, he looks forward to working with Councilor Flaherty on ways in which we can strengthen learning opportunities and academic outcomes for our students,’’ the mayor’s statement said.

The Year 13 idea is getting traction at the Boston Teacher’s Union, which represents more than 10,000 members.

“We feel it is an idea that warrants consideration, and we look forward to seeing more details in the lead-up to the hearing,’’ said the union’s president, Jessica Tang.

But Tang said the viability of the idea, like others that could be helpful to students, “may hinge on whether the Legislature takes action to fix the broken and inadequate funding levels for public education, particularly in urban school districts.”

Councilor Annissa Essaibi-George, a former Boston Public Schools teacher and a vocal champion for public education, issued a call to city and school district officials in an opinion piece published in the Globe earlier this month.


She argued that officials should stop wasting millions of dollars “on a bloated bureaucracy in the BPS central office,” give students the opportunity to study serious content seriously, and use “year 13 to improve grades, cover additional content, and better prepare students for college.”

She said the prep year is already in practice, most notably among high school athletes and in nonpublic schools. Those students — on their own or with the urging of a guidance counselor, coach, or family member — take an extra year of school for growth and development and to brush up on their studies prior to college, the councilor said.

It’s done because it’s “recognized that there are real opportunities to improve not just athletics but academics,’’ Essaibi-George said. “So when Michael talks of a Year 13, I think it is something that we should absolutely explore.”

How Year 13 would work is open for discussion.

Essaibi-George questioned whether it would target students who are generally successful in high school but need to sharpen their skills in a few subject areas or students who struggled and need the additional work.

Flaherty suggested the program should be an opportunity for “serious kids who want to compete on a serious level’’ but said he wants to hear other suggestions.

“My hope now is to . . . work with the administration, work with the school department to see if we can make this a reality and maybe bring in the colleges and largest corporations to help,’’ Flaherty said.


Meghan Irons can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @meghanirons.