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Time for action in Boston Public Schools

Andrea J. Campbell
Time for action in Boston Public Schools
Andrea Campbell BANNER PHOTO

Like any parent, when my son Alexander is not feeling well, I take his temperature. I get the information I need and then I take action to make him well. Could you imagine if your child was feeling sick and all we did was keep checking their temperature again and again, never providing the remedies we know work to get them on the road to recovery?

Sadly, this is an analogy that too closely resembles what is happening in the Boston Public Schools. Just recently, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), commonly referred to as “the Nation’s Report Card,” released results that show Boston — once heralded as one of the best urban school districts in the nation — is losing ground. This is especially true with respect to black and Latino students, and school leaders tell me is also true for certain groups of Asian students who are often left out of these reports since we don’t disaggregate the data by country of origin.

This report tells us what we have known for years: Our system is ill, and it requires bold, urgent action.

In June, I released an action plan called Action for Boston Children to address the badly needed steps that should be taken to directly address the inequity that exists in our city’s schools. Releasing this plan as the superintendent entered her role ensured she could see it and incorporate it into her strategic planning for the district. I’m well past the point (and I know the majority of BPS families are as well) of reading another report on the systematic issues that the district faces. We don’t need the temperature taken again. We need a prescription, a remedy. We want action.

The pillars of my plan are not revolutionary concepts, but they would have revolutionary results if implemented. These include restructuring central office so that it serves students, families and schools, not the other way around; creating true access to quality public schools across the city; creating early education supports and opportunities for children and families that begin at birth; and finally, ensuring all our high schools prepare students for success.

First and foremost, let’s be honest about the data on school quality and share it in a way that families can understand. Let’s set and publicize a goal for expanding the number of high-quality seats — known as Tier 1 — across the city, especially for English Language Learners and students with special needs who absolutely deserve better access to our high-quality schools. Let’s map the continuum of early education options for kids from birth to age five, and deliver an actual, high-quality pre-K seat to every child in Boston. Let’s publicize annual reports with parent satisfaction data and concrete steps central office will take to improve engagement with families and support for schools. Let’s establish common graduation standards across high schools, while allowing our schools to develop innovative models unique to their student populations. And most importantly, let’s improve the home-based assignment formula to enhance equity across the entire district.

These actions are all within the city’s power, and don’t require millions of dollars to implement, but will put more information into the hands of parents, add more accountability for central office, and take real steps to increase equity in our school system. They are also in direct response to what parents are telling us they want and need. As a BPS graduate who attended five schools in the district — all of which were excellent — I know firsthand that our schools have the potential to transform a young person’s life and set them up for success. But I also know that this system fails too many students in our city, like my twin brother who attended BPS schools that weren’t even accredited, cycled in and out of the criminal justice system, and passed away at age 29 while in the custody of the Department of Correction.

Boston’s young people have waited too long for action and accountability, and every day is a missed opportunity. We can make these changes if we work together as a community — students, families, school leaders, elected officials and the city — so I hope you’ll join me in calling for action for Boston children.

We can’t wait for the next report. We need to act.

Andrea J. Campbell is Boston City Council president and District 4 councilor, representing largely Dorchester, Mattapan and parts of Jamaica Plain and Roslindale.

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