Real Talk About Segregation in Boston Public Schools

Many in Boston education circles are suddenly up in arms about two recent Boston Globe articles (here and here) highlighting the city’s continuing problems with racial segregation. As if it’s somehow news that schools in Boston are racially segregated.

What’s concerning is the rush to oversimplify the solution and the attempt to put a “white kid” bandaid on the equity issues facing the city’s Black and Latino kids.

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Because no, reinstituting busing in the city of Boston is not going to happen.

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And frankly, even if it did, it wouldn’t fix the problems facing BPS.

There is enough in these two misguided articles to make your head explode, so let’s take a look.

Here’s the executive summary:

  • White children are not smarter than black and brown children. Parachuting white families into majority “minority” schools will not automatically improve academic performance.
  • Black and Latino children ARE more than capable of achievement. Just because a school is majority “minority” does not make it a failing school.
  • Student diversity is positive and is linked to better student achievement for all students.
  • The segregation in Boston Public Schools has more to do with class and poverty than race, although systemic racism and income inequality perpetuating the cycle of poverty hits communities of color a hell of a lot harder than white families — especially in Boston. If you want to understand why a school might be poor performing, take a look at the income levels of the students’ families before you even think about the racial diversity of the students. Family income will tell you a whole lot more about the educational challenges of the kids than their race.

All of these things are true.

This is also true: People who can afford to buy $3 million condos in Boston are not going to send their children to underperforming schools in the opposite part of the city. They just AREN’T. Ever. No matter how progressive they claim to be. And if you think there is any amount of political pressure you can put on Marty Walsh to make him attempt to force it to happen — you’re nuts.

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(And wasn’t it just last week some people were bemoaning the cost of school transportation?)

Point one: Just because a school is filled with white students, that does not make it a “high performing school.”

Let’s use the Boston Globe example of the Winship as an example.

The academic performance at the Winship is awful.

Like in the 8th percentile in 2016 kind of awful.

BPS itself listed it as a school in danger of state turnaround this past fall.

But the Boston Globe quoted parent Liz Sullivan who says she’s fine with it:

Perhaps she feels lucky because the Winship has twice the average of white children than the average BPS school.

The problem is — the data simply shows us that white does not automatically equal good:

  • Nathan Hale, a Boston Public School in Roxbury, serving children PK-5 is 86% students of color and features a higher ELA performance than the state average.
  • Roxbury Prep, a Commonwealth Public Charter in Roxbury and Dorchester, serving children in grades 5-12 — 98% students of color (founded by President Obama’s Secretary of Education John King) has over 60% of alumni enrolling in college after graduation.
  • Excel Academy, a Commonwealth Charter in Eastie, serving children in grades 5-12 is nearly 80% Latino, and more than +90% of students scored advanced or proficient on the 10th grade MCAS.
  • New Mission HIgh School, a Boston Public School in Hyde Park, serves a population of kids that is more than 95% students of color and is a National Blue Ribbon School.
  • Boston Prep, a Commonwealth Charter in Hyde Park serving children in grades 6-12, is 97% students of color and 100% of graduates accepted to 4 year colleges.
  • Edward M. Kennedy Academy for Health Careers, a Horace Mann Charter School within BPS located in the Fenway — serving grades 9-12, is more than 90% students of color with 95% graduation rate.

The fact of the matter is  we need more diverse schools in the city of Boston — not because white = good school but because we know our children benefit from a learning environment that features students AND TEACHERS of different backgrounds. If we actually want to have societal change when it comes to racism, we need to create spaces for children to interact with other children who are different from them.

Scattering the white kids around the city is not going to change the deep issues we face around poverty — an issue that has a greater impact around our neighborhoods of color. It wasn’t so long ago that the schools in Southie were among the worst in the city — and filled with white kids living in poverty.

The answer is just not that simple and it’s always been a bit of a chicken or egg situation. Fixing economic conditions for families of color in the city of Boston is not an easy nut to crack.

There are schools within the city that provide a high quality education to children regardless of their economic background — some district, but mostly Commonwealth Charters. It seems crazy that we wouldn’t be investing in additional seats in the schools that know how to get it done — instead of making excuses for schools that are failing our kids.

Although Jessica Tang would love to make us believe that simply throwing more money at the problem would fix the problem, throwing more money at broken schools doesn’t lead to better student outcomes — it just leads to broken schools with more money. (And again, for the record, the version of the education bill that the unions have been foaming at the mouth over wouldn’t have brought back an additional dollar to the city of Boston.)

Problems in Boston are much more profound than just lining kids up by color. It’s time to face the facts: BPS isn’t facing a funding deficit, but a leadership deficit.

I mean — do we really want to fix Boston Public Schools?

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If the answer is yes, then we all have to be focused on the need to address the underlying problem of poverty. And THAT will require leadership, creativity and bravery.

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Our the intense focus on racial segregation in the schools does little more than mask the harder issues of income inequality, housing segregation, lack of affordable housing especially for families, recruitment and retention of teachers and administrators of color, and societal racism.

Busing kids all over creation and creating more diverse student bodies is not going to put a more highly skilled teacher in the classroom.

Its not going to solve the issue of childhood poverty.

Great teaching and great schools solves poverty.

Let’s put the money into THAT — not into more buses for white kids.


What do you think?

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