Patrick’s school story

Patrick’s school story

Governor wildly overstates turnaround of Boston school

Gov. Deval Patrick delivered a rousing speech on behalf of President Obama Tuesday night, with his gift for inspiring oratory on full display before a national audience. But when it came to detailing the accomplishments of the Obama administration, a list that Patrick said is “long, impressive, and barely told,” Patrick didn’t seem content to restrict his own list to verifiably true achievements.

The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein scrubs Patrick’s speech and finds some clear cases of overreach in Patrick’s trashing of Mitt Romney’s record as Massachusetts governor just before him. But it was Patrick’s attempt to link improvements at a Boston school with the Obama administration’s education initiatives that really merits some serious Pinocchios.

Patrick lauded the turnaround of the Orchard Gardens School in Roxbury, which he said has been made possible with the use of a number of new tools, many of them enacted with the help of the Obama administration. “In less than a year, Orchard Gardens went from one of the worst schools in the district to one of the best in the state,” he told the prime time television audience.   Orchard Gardens was indeed one of the lowest achieving schools in the state. With support from a federal program to improve the nation’s lowest performing schools, Orchard Gardens was overhauled two years ago under a dynamic new principal who was given expanded management leeway that allowed him to replace 80 percent of the school’s staff. 

The school has shown very pronounced gains in student achievement – but by no measure could it be called one of the best schools in the state.  On the spring 2001 MCAS test, given at the end of the first year of the turnaround effort, 30 percent of students scored proficient or higher in English and 35 percent were proficient or higher in math.  It was a big gain from the abysmal scores of prior years, but these figures lag the statewide proficiency averages of 69 and 58 percent by a huge margin, to say nothing of being far from the very top scores in the state. 

On the newer “student growth” measure, which looks at gains in student achievement based on the level at which students began the year, the improvements at Orchard Gardens are clear.  Its “student growth” scores put it in the 63rd percentile for English and 79th for math, which means Orchard Gardens students showed more growth in English than 63 percent of students statewide who began the year at the same level and 79 percent of its peers for math.

Meet the Author

Michael Jonas

Executive Editor, CommonWealth

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

Those are impressive gains, and suggest the turnaround plan is gaining real traction. But to claim, as Patrick did, that the school is now one of the best in the state is absurd. Moreover, to suggest that the incredibly difficult work of turning around failing schools can be pulled off in less than a year vastly oversimplifies what educators are up against and the enormous deficits that students arrive with.  Patrick would have done better to stick with the facts, which were inspiring enough to make his point.

Homepage photo by Steve Bott and published under a Creative Commons license.