Globe series exposes dismal reality about Boston schools
Even the best and brightest often not ready for college
WE DIDN’T NEED a multi-part, multimedia series of reports to know the Boston Public Schools fail to deliver a first-rate education to many students. Achievement scores and college completion rates among its graduates are more than enough to make that point. But the approach taken by a Boston Globe project that was published on Sunday brilliantly underscored just how dismal things are in the state’s largest school district.
The year-long effort focused on valedictorians from Boston high school graduating classes of 2005 through 2007. These are not students in the muddled middle or below, whose struggles after high school might be expected, but the cream of the crop at each high school, the students who would be expected to go on and shine in pursuit of college degrees and successful careers.
The reality, sadly, was often far from that hopeful scenario.
The paper tracked 93 of the 113 valedictorians from those years. One of four did not complete a bachelor’s degree within six years of finishing high school, 40 percent are earning less than $50,000 a year, and four have found themselves as far from the top as one could get — by experiencing bouts of homelessness.
The top-of-their-class graduates faced all sorts of hurdles after high school. The story of Michael Blackwood, valedictorian of Hyde Park High School’s class of 2006, captures the range of them, including family turmoil and financial stresses and an overwhelmed feeling that he was not ready for the rigor of academics at Boston College, where he got a full ride scholarship.
“I felt like Hyde Park High School did nothing, really, to prepare you for a school like Boston College,” he told the Globe.
Blackwood ultimately got an online degree from a New Jersey college after becoming a father and losing his scholarship to BC. He’s now a sergeant in the army.
The Boston story is actually a tale of two entirely different systems, with valedictorians from the city’s three selective-admission exam high schools generally doing well. It’s at the system’s low-achieving open enrollment high schools, which a report last year ripped, where even the top-performing students struggle to succeed after graduation.
There are all sorts of reasons that no doubt contribute to the troubling pattern with Boston grads, including the cost of higher ed and lack of support there for students who are often the first in their family to attend college.
One glaring shortcoming in Boston: The district does not require students to complete the standard core academic curriculum the state considers a necessary foundation for college success. It’s a set of courses that more than 90 percent of other students in the state are required to take to graduate, including those in Chelsea and Lawrence, districts that, like Boston, serve overwhelmingly low-income, minority student populations.Perhaps most damning, the Globe says, talk by recently-fired superintendent Tommy Chang of requiring Boston students to follow the MassCore curriculum sequence was met with pushback within the system from those who worried it would drag down the district’s graduation rate.
Mark Culliton of the nonprofit College Bound Dorchester sounds a similar note. “Unless and until we deal with our race issues and our legacy and reality, this is never going to change,” he tells Globe columnist Adrian Walker in reaction to the project. “This is about expectations. It’s about different expectations depending on how people look.”