No Excellence Without Equity: Addressing the Massachusetts Achievement Gap Crisis

It was a cloudy and chilly day on Monday — the kind of day that reminds you fall is coming quickly and there’s no escaping talk of leaves changing color, pumpkin everything and what Tommy and the Pats are doing.

But along with the change of seasons, Massachusetts Parents United is proud to be a part of a new season of change — and a new partnership formed around changing the conversation in education and finally addressing why it keeps leaving behind black, brown and low income students behind.

In case you missed it, the school year started and about a million students are now hitting the books in classrooms across the Commonwealth. We’re sure by now someone has already aced their first test and slapped it on the fridge at home.

We’re also equally positive that a student of color is sitting in a classroom with a teacher that lacks content expertise in that subject, is probably white (less than 10% of MA teachers are non-white, yet 40% of student enrollment is non-white), and isn’t thinking about equity in the classroom.

Massachusetts loves to brag about its number one in the nation education system, but let’s be REAL: Education in the Commonwealth is only Number 1 for Some.

We bet you can guess who it ISN’T number ONE for- yep, black, brown and low income students.

So let’s dive into the numbers in a brand new report produced by the newly formed Massachusetts Education Equity Partnership (MEEP), of which MPU is a founding member.  

(Massachusetts Parents United members flooding Governor Baker’s office.)

If you go to this website -> you can check out the entire report. And believe me, YOU WANT TO READ THIS ENTIRE REPORT. Spoiler alert: it’s not great news.

In MA, less than 1 in 3 Black and Latino 4th graders are on grade level in reading, half the rate of the state’s White students.

And only 28% of low income 8th graders are on grade level in math, again half the rate of higher income families.

But wait- there’s more. 1 in 3 English learners don’t graduate on time, and 1 in 7 drop out entirely. Right now 30% of Black and 36% of Latino children grow up in poverty — and as a person who grew up in poverty, let me tell you— it’s pretty awful. Add to that the fact that they have less access to early childhood education and they are more likely to be suspended than their white peers.

Even worse, MA is no longer a state that automatically directs more local and state dollars to the districts serving the most low-income students.

These kids CANNOT catch a break. 

None of this is said lightly. But for some reason in Massachusetts, we take it extremely lightly. We pat ourselves on the back for being “number one in the nation for education” while this plays out in our communities.

It’s truly a disservice to kids that they are less likely to read or do math at grade level on a number of fronts: they are less likely to be ready for college, they are MORE likely to take remedial courses and they are more likely to make LESS money and accumulate less wealth over the course of their lives.

We already know that education is power and the ultimate decider of our long term success- and we’ve created a world where these students don’t get to the starting line as often as their white and affluent peers and won’t enjoy the type of success after they are finished with their education.

And as this is the 25th anniversary of the Mass Education Reform Act (MERA), we should expect that these discrepancies in educational outcomes be gone- but they are not. They persist and they are like anchors holding down these students, who are already experiencing such turmoil in their lives.

They deserve better.

They deserve more than just discussions of more funding.

The deserve more than just a blank check that continues to expand an already broken system without a plan for what to do with the funding.

They deserve more than just empty promises of support from their legislators.

And that’s why the MEEP is here- because we’re going to highlight these outcomes and demand change from the powers that be. Because you don’t get to brag about being number one in education if you are clearly failing thousands of kids in your backyard.

Earlier we referenced Monday and for good reason. Monday we released this report at the State House, along with MPU family members from across Massachusetts and more than a dozen other members of the Partnership. Amplify LatinX, Coaching for Change, Educators for Excellence MA, The Education Trust, Teach Plus MA.

We dropped off copies of this report to EVERY legislator’s office in the building, as well as the Governor’s office. Families from Springfield, Fall River, Boston and other communities were both excited and determined, marching across the halls of the statehouse with a clear purpose- to blanket the building with reports, spark authentic conversations about equity and remind legislators that these statistics are not to be ignored.

If you’re reading this- we already know you care about education. You may have children that fit the description, you may not. But under no circumstances should you walk away from this story without thinking about how this must feel to be one of these students who is being underserved.

This is a call to action- for every family in MA. Join us. Spread the information. Call on your school and your legislator to come to the table and create solutions.

Not blank checks and empty promises.

But real targeted solutions that put equity into the conversation for students that need the most help. This discussion did not end when we left the statehouse- there will be other events in the coming months, and we want YOU to be part of the discussion.

Don’t sit around, step up and join us. Get involved here and make sure everyone you know reads the report right here!


Brian Bass is the Director of Organizing and Coalitions for Massachusetts Parents United


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