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BPS gets a ‘needs improvement’ from the state

Boston Public Schools superintendent Brenda Cassellius chats with students in a first grade class at Winship Elementary School in May. Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

The sobering results of the most recent state education assessment make clear that Boston is still failing too many of its children. For a rich city, swimming in tax revenue from new development, that’s nothing short of a scandal.

Out of the 104 Boston schools the state assessed, it found that 42 of them require targeted or broad-based intervention . Only 14 BPS schools were “meeting or exceeding targets,” according to numbers released Tuesday. The assessments are based on standardized test results, along with factors like absenteeism and graduation rates.

In a system where the mayor appoints the school committee and calls the shots, the responsibility for those results lies primarily with one person: Mayor Marty Walsh. He’s had more than five years to put his mark on the schools — without much to show for it.


Boston spends more, per pupil, than the vast majority of Massachusetts school districts. It pays its teachers a higher average salary than all but a handful of districts. But too many students aren’t getting the education they need.

Ominously for Walsh, the state now seems to have the district’s lagging performance on its radar screen. Just a few days before the release of the test results, news emerged that the state would soon launch a review of the district, which can be a prelude to state intervention.

The state downplayed that possibility — but didn’t dismiss it.

“While a district review is necessary under law to place a district into receivership, the report has been used for that purpose in very few instances,” Jacqueline Reis, a state education spokeswoman, told the Globe in a statement. “Our hope is that these reports benefit school superintendents as they develop their strategies as well as inform our assistance efforts.”


As if to reinforce the hint, without making a specific promise, Riley said on Monday the state might take action later this year.

If the state takes over more city schools — or even the district — on Walsh’s watch it would be a major embarrassment. But what’s much worse is hobbling the futures of Boston children. The state shouldn’t let politics get in the way of acting on its review if necessary.

After the results were announced, the district put the best spin on the numbers that it could, touting two schools — the Nathan Hale Elementary School in Roxbury and the Winship Elementary School in Brighton — that earned special state recognition. It’s also encouraging that the new superintendent, Brenda Cassellius, who inherited challenges not of her making, seems to get the task she faces: “While we celebrate the schools making progress today, we must urgently focus our efforts on supporting those in need of more intensive support and attention,” she said in a statement. Cassellius brings years of experience to the job, and the city should be hoping for her success.

Of course, there is no perfect scoring system — for schools, or for students. But the state’s accountability measures have been a hallmark of its successful education reforms, and when they point this clearly to the need for improvement in a school district, it behooves officials and politicians to listen.