Every day, miracles are happening in the Boston Public Schools that should be celebrated. Thousands of dedicated teachers, incredible support staff, and talented school leaders pour their hearts and souls into preparing students to succeed. Students from diverse backgrounds, varying home situations, and disparate economic means work to achieve success. Every year, thousands of BPS students and alumni thrive with a strong foundation based in the education they received in our public schools.
We embrace these success stories, but we must also realize that many students are struggling. The Valedictorians Project, published in the Boston Globe Magazine in January, highlighted what data have shown us for years: Even our highest-performing students are not achieving the success for which BPS should have prepared them, and Boston’s schools are failing too many families. We need to improve practice and policy. Let’s get back to work to rewrite this story.
Stop wasting millions of dollars on a bloated bureaucracy in the BPS Central Office. Spend the money where the students are. Invest in real supports in our schools. Shrink class size so children can get the attention they need and explore their curriculum deeply. Stop asking teachers with multiple licenses to pretend they are more than one teacher. Give students the opportunity to study serious content seriously. Add more Advanced Placement and honors classes and allow students to double up on courses to strengthen their transcripts and prepare for college studies. Allow them the opportunity to extend their studies during the summer and create an opportunity for students to add a post-graduate year. Use this year 13 to improve grades, cover additional content, and better prepare students for college.
Make sure schools have full-time nurses, student support services, and libraries that function. We have overworked our teachers and underfunded our nurses.
We don’t provide the full spectrum of enrichments provided by our suburban counterparts for their students. Teach kids math, writing, languages, research, science, and history. And then teach them more of it. Give them a real opportunity to explore the arts. Help them explore vocational and technical education. Give them the tools they need to be successful in life. These are the same skills they need to be successful in college. We need to avoid just dumping curriculum on our kids, but instead make sure they have the tools to explore the content and to experience it.
Stop experimenting with our kids, and allow teachers to teach. We broke up many of our big traditional high schools that were oozing with pride, school spirit, and consistent teachers and staff ,and turned them into “small learning communities” for a few bucks from Bill and Melinda Gates. Take any generous donations and allow our teachers and guidance counselors, who know our kids best, to continue to support them post-graduation. Yes, allow them to hold their students’ hands a little longer.
Hire more guidance counselors who will help kids get into college and then support them into and through those early years when colleges most often fail our kids. We know many hit serious roadblocks in that first year.
Hold the colleges accountable. They need to step up. They are too quick to dump students who don’t make the mark. Even with a full scholarship for Boston’s best and brightest, we know the true cost extends far beyond the tuition bill. Let’s stop pushing our kids to the schools that we know won’t support them.
It is a bold willingness to act by the city, in partnership with the School Committee and BPS, that can make this happen. Our city holds the key to our kids finding the success they deserve. And if we agree change needs to happen, let’s get to it.
Annissa Essaibi-George is chair of the Boston City Council’s Committee on Education.