Nearly 80% of Springfield 8th Graders are Failing Math and English, But Superintendent Says the Schools are Better than Ever!

The fastest way to recovery is first, to admit you have a problem.

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Massachusetts Parents United has been highlighting the growing educational inequality in our schools throughout Massachusetts. We are part of several coalitions who have revealed two important data points about MA education. Educational equity is our jam.

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Here’s the problem (expect to see these facts repeated over and over and OVER again in the next year):

1)   1 in 3 Latino students in Massachusetts do not read at grade level.

2)    Ninety percent of families in Massachusetts believe that their students are reading at grade level, when in fact less than 50 percent of students are reading at grade level.

The reason these facts are critical is because these troubling numbers are a larger reflection of the systemic racial inequality faced by people of color in the Commonwealth.

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Boston ranks as one of the most economically unequal cities in the United States, with a staggering wealth and income gap between people of color and their white counterparts. And when it is not income or wealth holding back racial economic progress, Massachusetts also has some of the greatest housing segregation in the country.

Springfield, one of the cities often forgotten by the Eastern part of the state, has recently made news for opening the first resort-style casino in Massachusetts.

What should be making news is the fact that when it comes to inequity, Springfield has hit the JACKPOT — racking up some stunning inequality statistics, including being one of the most segregated counties in the country for Latinos.

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Oh, and in addition to segregation, Springfield has some of the worst air quality for asthma sufferers in the country and schools have been chronically underperforming for a decade.

Since 2010, the schools have undergone several attempts at bringing the schools up to par, receiving federal grants as well as bringing a new tool called the innovation zone. Most of us know that the schools in Springfield should really be taken over by Commissioner Riley and entered into receivership.

Surprisingly, last week the Springfield School Committee held a meeting to review a 50-page document produced by the Superintendent on the status of the Springfield Public Schools and how well the schools are doing.

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According to the local paper The Reminder, the “Springfield Schools show much its improving,” citing the following statement from the Superintendent and statistical  “improvements”:

The graduation rate stood out among the statistics: 56.6 percent of students graduated in 2011-12 and 76.9 percent in 2016-2017. Warwick said that was the best improvement in the Commonwealth. He added that the city has the highest percentage of minority students in AP classes in the state.

“The data is a lot better than the perception,” Superintendent Daniel Warwick told the committee.

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Uh, no Dan. The data is not better than the perception. It’s actually a hell of a lot worse.

Let’s start with the status of the schools as a whole. One important measure in education accountability according to the Department of Secondary Education (DESE) is a percentile ranking.

Simply put, every school is given a percentage number in comparison to similar schools across the state. So, if a school is given a 99 percent, that school is performing better than 99 percent of schools similar to that school in the state of Massachusetts.

Seventy-four percent of Springfield publics schools are in the bottom quarter of school performance. Meaning that three-quarters of all public schools across Massachusetts perform better than nearly all of Springfield public schools.

Forty percent of Springfield public schools are considered the lowest performing schools in the state. Four are considered the absolute worst, meaning they are performing below every school in the commonwealth of similar comparison.

And that is just the tip of the iceberg.

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(Did I just give you a gif of an iceberg? Oh yes I did.)

Let’s look at the numbers celebrated by Superintendent Warwick and described by the article:

  • Drop-out Rate: 2011-2012: 10 percent; 2016-17: 5.1 percent

This is 5x times higher than that state average.

  • Total Student Attendance: 2011-2012: 91.8 percent; 2017-2018: 92.7 percent

This is below the state average at 94.7 percent.

  • Chronically Absent: 2011-2012: 27.8 percent; 2017-2018: 23.1 percent

This is 2x higher than the state average.

  • In-school suspensions: 2011-2012: 4,400; 2017-2018: 934

This is 2x higher than the state average.

  • Out-of-School Suspensions: 2011-2012: 6,649; 2017-2017: 934

This is 2x higher than the state average.

The article goes further to describe the SPS schools in comparison to other “high-poverty districts,” which is somewhat vague and misleading.

Every other district they are comparing are currently under receivership, just recently leaving receivership, or on the path to receivership.

It is troubling for a school system to claim victory for being slightly better than the worst schools in the Commonwealth. When the bar is so low, we cannot expect children to aim high.

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We get it. Unfortunately, the position of superintendent is always a super political one. So instead of being honest about the dire situation facing the city of Springfield, Superintendent Warwick has taken to spin and conjecture to cover up what is a pretty dire situation facing the community to give the school committee and excuse to keep him in the job.

Under these circumstances, any progress is considered good and a win to be celebrated. Yet, pretending something isn’t still a problem is now perpetuating an environment where systematic inequalities continue to persist.

This report made to the school committee has numerous elected officials—from State Senator to school committee member—lauding how great the schools are and claiming that the biggest obstacle is perception. Are you kidding us?

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The truth is that most students cannot read at grade level in Springfield public schools and most student are not meeting the basic academic expectations for their grade level in math, science or English language arts.

To be specific: 77% of 8th graders are do not meet expectations when it comes to English, 81% do not meet expectations in Math.

(Holy crap, that’s super bad.)

In fact, according to the Department of Secondary Education report card of the district, “the district had 12 Level 4 schools, including 9 middle schools, and 3 schools classified as Level 3 for low assessment participation, performance, or graduation rates. And the percentages of students meeting or exceeding expectations on the 2017 Next-Generation MCAS assessment or attaining proficient or advanced scores on the 2017 science and grade 10 MCAS assessment were below state averages by double-digit percentages for every tested grade and content area.”

This report, also lays out major challenges to achieving progress academically.

Surprisingly, “perception” or “marketing good news” is not listed.

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What is listed?

A second challenge to supporting students’ success in school relates to establishing a stronger working relationship with parents and families. Although the Parent and Community Engagement Center (PACE) involves parents in several activities and services, the review team found limited evidence of a strong working relationship with students’ families.”

Parents are quite clear that the system is not working for their families but continue to be told that their concerns are overblown and that they are just uninformed. The irony is that these school systems, whose staff are primarily not from these communities, often play smoke and mirrors with the data to make honest critiques seem like wild accusations.

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Springfield is an incredible community, with vibrant families who want an education system that works to achieve the dreams of their children. They’ll never get what they need and what their children deserve if we continue to lie to them. And make no mistake, if you’re not being real about the numbers and are only telling half the story to make yourself look good, you’re lying.

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We can do be better, but first we have to admit we have a problem.

And Springfield has a problem educating our children.


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