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State education officials begin review of Boston Public Schools

The sign for the Boston Public Schools headquarters in Nubian Square. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
The sign for the Boston Public Schools headquarters in Nubian Square. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

State education leaders will begin a review of the Boston Public Schools system Monday. Officials will observe classrooms, interview staff and analyze data at more than three dozen schools and the district's central office.

It's the second time in nearly three years the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) has undergone a review of the district.

An audit in 2019 found "major structural challenges" inside Boston Public Schools (BPS). It showed that nearly three dozen of its schools were considered low-performing according to state standards, that the district was not adequately serving English learners and that the special education department was in "systemic disarray."

Education Commissioner Jeff Riley said the review is intended to give him a better picture of BPS' progress toward a series of goals established after the 2019 audit.

"[The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education] has asked me to schedule a meeting later in the spring to update them," Riley said. "In order to provide a good update, I've decided to conduct a district review."

Teachers and students walk to the entrance at the Mattahunt Elementary School in Boston's Mattapan before the day's start on Dec. 14, 2020. (David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
Teachers and students walk to the entrance at the Mattahunt Elementary School in Boston's Mattapan before the day's start on Dec. 14, 2020. (David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

In addition to analyzing services for English learners and the special education department, Riley also said he hopes to learn more about school bus arrival time issues and graduation rate data.

BPS parent and chair of the Boston Special Education Parent Advisory Committee (SPED PAC), Roxann Harvey, said she welcomes the district review.

"If you encounter a system that was in disarray," Harvey said, "and you saw that students weren't being serviced, especially from traditionally marginalized groups, doesn't it make sense to come back in and look to see if you have done anything to improve this?"

Harvey said she hopes BPS receives actionable feedback, and that parents get information as to whether or not the district made measurable improvements.

Still, some worried the review could signal a state takeover may occur in the future. State law requires that officials conduct a district review no more than a year before approving state receivership.

"I firmly oppose receivership," said Boston Mayor Michelle Wu at a recent Board of Elementary and Secondary Education meeting. "With deep gratitude for our educators for the progress that we've made and with a deep appreciation for the scale of the challenges ahead."

While Wu said she welcomed collaboration with state officials, a state takeover would be counterproductive at a time when BPS is searching for a new superintendent. Wu argued the Boston school community was the best-equipped group to accelerate progress toward the district's goals.

"If you encounter a system that was in disarray, and you saw that students weren't being serviced ... doesn't it make sense to come back in and look to see if you have done anything to improve this?"

Roxanne Harvey, SPED PAC Chair

School systems in Lawrence, Holyoke and Southbridge are currently the only districts under state receivership. According to DESE's accountability data, those districts are also some of the lowest performing.

Harvey, the special education advisory group chair, said she needs to see specific proposals from the state and the district to determine whether receivership is a good idea.

"We need to know what the options on the table are," she said. "If the politicians that are playing the game with our families and our kids have all of that inside information, I'm going to ask them to be transparent and start to share so we can know what's going on, too."

Related:

Carrie Jung Twitter Senior Reporter, Edify
Carrie is a senior education reporter with Edify.

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