Boston schools failing black and Latino males

BPS study rejects color-blind education approach

AFTER DOCUMENTING LAST FALL how poorly the Boston Public Schools were doing in educating black and Latino males, researchers went looking for individual schools that were doing a good job, with the hope of replicating their best practices across the system. But the researchers say they didn’t find any best practices.

“We didn’t find any schools doing well with black and Latino males,” said Rosann Tung, one of the researchers from the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University.

So Tung and her colleagues identified four schools – two high schools, a pre-K through 8 school, and a pre-K through 5 institution – that were doing comparatively better than their peers and studied them. They discovered each institution had some of the hallmarks of a quality school, but none did a good job of supporting black and Latino males. (The names of the schools were not identified in the report.)

The four case studies were released on Tuesday as part of a two-phase report on the status of black and Latino males commissioned in 2013 by the Boston Public Schools. The study was conducted by the Center for Collaborative Education in Boston and the Annenberg Institute and paid for by the Barr Foundation.

The first phase of the report documented an alarming achievement gap for black and Latino males, with less than a quarter of each group scoring proficient or higher on the English MCAS test in 2012, compared to 57 percent for white males and 49 percent for Asian males.  Far fewer Black and Latino males were graduating within four years and paltry percentages (less than 9 percent) were enrolled in the city’s selective exam schools.

The second phase focused on what schools were doing that was working with black and Latino males. The researchers found no schools that were doing significantly better with that group, so they focused on four that were doing comparatively better. Even so, three of the four had lower attendance rates than the statewide average and all four had proficiency rates on standardized math and English tests that were lower than the state average. The two high schools had a higher rate of suspensions and significantly lower four-year graduation rates than statewide averages.

In a briefing with reporters, Tung said researchers found each of the four institutions had a number of positive attributes, including a caring school culture, a safe learning environment, engaged families, individualized instruction, and teachers and staff who take collective responsibility for the success of students.

But the researchers say none of the schools focused specifically on supporting black and Latino males. Andresse St. Rose, of the Center for Collaborative Education, said interviews with school officials revealed a reluctance to discuss race, little knowledge of the cultural background of their students, and little or no professional development on culturally responsive practices.

“Many of the adults [at the schools] we interviewed described themselves as color blind,” St. Rose said, suggesting teachers treated their students as if they were all the same.

St. Rose said critical race theory suggests teachers should do just the opposite, engaging students directly on race and gender issues and using the cultural backgrounds of students to spur interest in the subjects they are studying. “It’s another way to engage students and keep them interested,” St. Rose said.

The report cited one instance in which a teacher misfired on a multicultural education approach by having students celebrate a Mexican holiday even though no students of Mexican descent were in the teacher’s class.

“Scholars suggest that being explicit about the impact of racism in schools and society and developing an antiracist school culture in which people of color feel a sense of belonging and empowerment will lead to better outcomes for students of color,” the report said. “In contrast to this wisdom, the predominant mindset about race and gender in the case study schools was one of invisibility.”

The researchers also urged school officials to set high expectations for black and Latino male students, to provide teachers with training and curriculum advice on cultural issues, and to recruit teachers and principals who reflect the makeup of the student body.

Meet the Author

Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

The student population of the Boston system is 41 percent Hispanic, 36 percent black, 13 percent white, 8 percent Asian, and 1 percent other or multiracial. Teachers, by contrast, are 62 percent white, 21 percent black, 10 percent Hispanic, and 6 percent Asian. Principals are 48 percent white, 21 percent black, 10 percent Hispanic, and 3 percent Asian. At three of the four case-study schools, the principals were black.

John McDonough, the acting superintendent of the Boston schools, said the education of black and Latino males is a national problem. He said the research is a signal that Boston is addressing the problem directly. “Boston will not wait for someone to solve this problem for us,” he said.