Let’s resolve to make Boston schools work for all

The city's education system is broken -- but doesn't have to be

THE FINAL BELL has rung throughout Boston schools, ending what has been undoubtedly the most difficult school year in recent memory for students and educators around the globe.

The pandemic has placed unbearable stress, risks, burdens, trauma, and grief on children, families, and educators. Even with heroic efforts and a historic infusion of funds, every child in this city has a long path ahead to get back on track academically, socially, and emotionally, especially our children living in communities most impacted by the pandemic.

The pandemic did not create inequity in Boston schools — it laid bare a system that already did not work for all students and families, accelerating inequities that have failed generations of children, especially our Black and Latinx students, economically disadvantaged students, English learners, and students with special needs.

Less than a third of Boston Public School students meet grade-level standards for math and reading by the end of third and eighth grades, with massive achievement gaps by race. In March 2020, mere days before schools closed for the pandemic, the state released a 291-page district-wide review revealing the breadth and scope of how the system has failed to meet the needs of its students.

Boston’s education system is broken, but not irreparably so — and our city has an overdue obligation to make it right.

Boston could be a beacon for PK-12 education, in the same manner our colleges and universities have been. Boston can be a city where all students, regardless of race, income and home language, have access to 21st century learning facilities, a rigorous, engaging, and culturally relevant curriculum, a diverse and consistent educator workforce, enrichment inside and outside of school, and the support they need to be prepared for whatever they want to do after high school. Boston can be a city where the education system puts families and students at the center, and truly values their dreams and their voices.

The opportunity to realize this educational vision — a Boston where all children thrive — is there for the taking and the moment to seize it has never been more critical.

This vision can only be realized when we as a city choose to prioritize the worth and wellbeing of every child – because a thriving education system is not just about kids’ success in school, it is essential to students’ physical and mental health, and to opening doors and maximizing each child’s options for the future. In the run-up to the mayoral election, education has resurfaced as a key issue among Boston voters, trailing behind housing and racial justice — but these issues are not mutually exclusive from one another. Education has historically been the pivot point for children’s access to opportunity and economic mobility later in life — and a child’s zip code, race, family income, or individual school budget should not be the limiting determinants of his or her future success.

This vision for Boston doesn’t need another survey, commission, task force, or more politics masked as policy. Our children need support from those in power who can make change happen.

The future of Boston schools deserves the attention of every mayoral candidate – and children, families and educators deserve more than sound bites. The work of improving schools is complex; there is no silver bullet, no one idea or policy that will move education forward in Boston. Rather, improving learning experiences for all students will require a combination of new and existing ideas, policies and practices, and an unflinching focus on research and equity, centered in racial justice. From resource allocation decisions, to curriculum and course offerings, to support for students and educators, these changes require political will, planning, and focused implementation. Moreover, they will require city leaders to open up decision-making tables to those who have the most at stake when it comes to Boston’s education system: young people, families, educators, and community partners.

The belief that the voices and experiences of students, families, and educators – especially those historically underserved in our city’s schools — should be central in shaping Boston’s education system led more than a dozen organizations to come together to form All Children Thrive (ACT Boston).  Collectively, ACT Boston partners interact with tens of thousands of children and families and thousands of educators, principals, and other school-based staff. We call on all mayoral candidates and the voting public to prioritize education — and not solely for a single campaign cycle. We call on all current and prospective city leaders to make education a priority for Boston’s future.

With our collective resources, ACT Boston is ready to help our city’s leadership rise to this moment and we invite anyone who believes in and supports our vision for what Boston schools could be to join in this work. Through direct engagement with voters and each mayoral candidate this summer and a public candidate forum this fall, ACT Boston will elevate the voices of students, families, and educators, ensuring those voices are carried on by our next mayor.

This November, Boston will choose more than its next leader. As we emerge from this pandemic, we must choose to be the city that every child deserves and needs — where all children thrive.

All Children Thrive (ACT Boston) is a non-partisan collaborative of non-profit and community-based organizations raising awareness of educational inequities in Boston and holding city leadership accountable for equitable opportunities and outcomes for all of Boston’s children. ACT Boston founding member organizations are Boston Opportunity Agenda, Boston Schools Fund, Boston SpEdPAC, East Boston Social Centers, EdNavigator, The Education Trust, EdVestors, Hyde Square Task Force, Latinos for Education, OneGoal, SchoolFacts Boston, SmartStartBPS, Union Capital Boston, United Way of of Massachusetts Bay & Merrimack Valley and West End House. Learn more at actboston.org.

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