Back-to-School News

Superintendent of Boston Public Schools Dr. Carol R. Johnson was featured in two interesting WBUR radio stories focused on the opening of Boston Public Schools tomorrow:

Questions For Carol Johnson, Chief of Boston Public Schools

Next week, more than 56,000 Boston public-school students will walk into the classroom for the first day of school. And while classrooms may look the same, much has changed behind the scenes. Radio Boston talks with Boston School District Superintendent about Race to the Top funding, turnaround schools, merit pay, and the contract negotiations with the Boston Teachers Union. Dr. Johnson mentions City Connects, formerly Boston Connects, about 3 minutes in.

In the South End, a Last-Ditch Effort to Save a School

An important experiment is underway this school year at some of the state’s lowest performing schools. The state has given the city unprecedented authority to essentially push the “restart button:” the students will largely be the same, but new teachers and principals are meant to bring new energy and ideas into the classroom. A lot is at stake as these public schools try to prove they can educate poor students.

For more information:

The Best & Worst Cities for School Reform in the US

A new study by Rick Hess, director of education studies at the American Enterprise Institute, and colleagues identifies nine cities in the U.S. which cultivate an environment amenable to school reform efforts: New Orleans, Washington D.C., New York City, Denver, Jacksonville, Charlotte, Austin, Houston, and Fort Worth.

The study, “America’s Best (and Worst) Cities for School Reform: Attracting Entrepreneurs and Change Agents,” [pdf] was published by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. The authors analyzed six domains that they determined influenced a city’s receptivity to education reform and looked at publicly available data, national and local surveys, and interviews with on-the-ground insiders. These domains included:

  • Human Capital: access to talented individuals
  • Financial Capital: availability of private and/or public funds
  • Charter Environment: often a primary pipeline for entrepreneurs
  • Quality Control: solid metrics guiding entrepreneurial ventures
  • District Environment: capacity and appetite to support reforms
  • Municipal Environment: support from the local community, media, and government

Analysts then created a grading metric that rated each city on its individual and collective accomplishments in each of the domains.

Did Boston make the grade?

The study gave Boston an overall grade of C. Ranking 15 of 26 cities, the report says Boston is a “middling local for education entrepreneurs.” Here are the author’s assessment of the Boston’s six domains:

  • Human Capital: Average–“but not because of average talent in the city… The city receives low marks due to meager penetration of brand name alternately trained teachers and principals.” Ranked 10/26.
  • Financial Capital: “Not hard to come by … Boston Public Schools maintains fairly high per-pupil expenditures compared to other cities.” Ranked 12/25.
  • Charter Environment: “Could stand some improvement … the state’s board of education is known for being particularly selective.” Ranked 15/24.
  • Quality Control: The strongest category because the rigor of the statewide MCAS tests “rivals that of NAEP.” Ranked 10/25.
  • District Environment: “Presents a stumbling block to entrepreneurs … The district speaks out for education reform, but it has done little to advance significant change.” Ranked 26/26.
  • Municipal Environment: “Promising” with philanthropies, business, government, and media supportive of reform efforts. Ranked 6/25.

The bottom line, according to the authors, is that Boston’s “leadership is dynamic and strong; funding avenues are relatively wide; and the city’s human capital pipelines and charter sectors are improving. But charter authorizing policies, state data systems, and the district environment in Boston Public Schools all need more of a reform makeover.”

For more information:

The Achievement Gap and Graduation Rates

Less than half of  black males–47%–graduated from high school in the 2007-08 academic year, according to “Yes We Can: The 2010 Schott 50 State Report on Black Males in Public Education,” a new report from the Schott Foundation for Public Education.
The report gives a state-by-state look at which U.S. school districts and states. It concludes that without targeted investments to provide the core, evidence-based resources to help Black male students succeed in public education, they are being set up to fail.

The report’s Massachusetts evaluation shows that even though the state has a  graduation rate for black students higher than the national average, the graduation rate for black males is 52% compared to 78% of white males. In Boston, the graduation rates are lower, with 47% of black male students and 60% of white male students graduating from high school in 2007-08. Boston and Massachusetts as a whole both showed slight improvement from the 2005-06 academic year data.

The states with black male student enrollment exceeding 100,000 that have the highest graduation rates for black male students are New Jersey (69%), Maryland (55%), California (54%) and Pennsylvania (53%).

For more information:

  • Read the full evaluation of Massachusetts here

Survey Illuminates Crime, Bullying in Schools

The National Center for Education Statistics released a report, Student Victimization in U.S. Schools: Results From the 2007 School Crime Supplement to the National Crime Victimization Survey, which offers a wide-ranging view of crime and related victimization in middle and high schools. Of the approximately 5,600 students age 12 through 18 who responded to the survey, about 4.3% reported that they were victims of a crime at school. These students had a higher percentage of:

  • Being the targets of traditional (62%) and electronic (11%) bullying than non-victims (30% and 3%, respectively)
  • Being afraid of attack or harm at school (23%)  than non-victims (4%)
  • Avoiding specific places at school because of fear of attack or harm than non-victims (13% vs. 5%)

Efforts are underway in Massachusetts to prevent all forms of bullying. This past May, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick signed into law legislation that spells out  new anti-bullying measures for teachers, schools, and communities. Also this year, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and  Boston Public Schools began an anti-cyberbullying awareness campaign and launched a website to educate students, families, and teachers. At City Connects, our New Balance Foundation Health and Wellness Curriculum addresses bullying and teaches students skills to prevent bullying in elementary schools.

The Economic Benefits of Reducing Dropout Rates

The Alliance for Excellent Education released a study estimating the benefits of reducing the dropout rate among students of color in the country’s 50 largest cities. According to the study, the most recent estimate shows that high school graduation rates for African American, Latino, and American Indian students is slightly higher than 50%. This is more than 20 percentage points lower than that of their white peers.

If the dropout rate in Boston–estimated at 10,400 students in the class of 2008– were cut in half, the study estimates that this single class of new graduates would likely earn the following amounts of combined income in an average year:

  • African American: $6.9 million
  • Latino: $9.5 million
  • American Indian: $200,000
  • Asian American: $5.7 million

As a result of their increased wages and higher levels of spending, state and local taxes in Boston would likely grow by as much as $2.3 million in an average year. The country would benefit as a whole as well; the study says that if half of the nation’s 600,000 dropouts graduated, the benefits would likely include:

  • increased earnings of $2.3 billion in an average year;
  • increased home sales of an additional $5.9 billion in mortgage capacity over what they would spend without a diploma;
  • an additional 17,450 jobs from the increased spending in their local areas;
  • an increase in the gross regional product by as much as $3.1 billion;
  • an additional $1.6 billion spent and an additional $636.6 million invested each year;
  • an additional $158.6 million spent on vehicle purchases; and
  • increased tax revenues of $249.7 million.

Follow the Alliance for Excellent Education on Twitter: @All4Ed

Boston Globe Coverage of Secretary Duncan’s Visit

The Boston Globe spent the day with Education Secretary Arne Duncan as he made several stops around the city–read their account of the day’s events here.

Eliot School Kicks Off Walking Club

On May 4, 33 seventh grade students from the Eliot School clipped on  pedometers and set off for a two-mile walk down the Rose Kennedy Greenway in the heart of Boston to launch the school’s Walking Club.

Eliot School seventh graders hang out with Wally the Green Monster before setting off on their Greenway walk.

Developed by clinicians at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center for students and their families, the Walking Club was a pilot program at the Eliot implemented by Amelia Tonkin, the school’s City Connects-New Balance Foundation health and wellness coordinator. Tucked into Boston’s cozy North End neighborhood, the Eliot doesn’t have a gym, so Amelia embraced the opportunity to motivate her students to exercise outside of school. BIDMC provided a pedometer for each student, as well as one for a family member, to help walkers keep tally their steps; the launch yesterday racked up 4,500 steps alone! The students were joined by State Senator Anthony Petruccelli, who represents the North End and applauded the Walking Club’s focus on exercise as a way to prevent future medical conditions like obesity and high blood pressure. Wally the Green Monster, team mascot of the Boston Red Sox, also cheered on the walkers.

“We know that physical fitness is a vital part of a well-rounded education,” said Traci Walker-Griffith, principal of the Eliot. “We are thrilled that Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center is collaborating with our teachers and students on such an important issue. We are also excited that we are able to fold the important educational aspects of this program into our curriculum.”

The Walking Club kit teaches students about the many physical and mental proven health benefits of walking. It includes vocabulary words, a walking quiz, a chart of key muscles used when walking, and a diary to record their exercise. It also explains how to calculate heart rates and evaluate the level of intensity of the exercise.

Despite warm temperatures, the Eliot School students walked 2 miles from their school down the Greenway and back. “The  Walking Club will ensure that our students and families engage in health and wellness initiatives available within Boston’s urban location,” said Amelia Tonkin. “By educating our students about the benefits of walking and how to use pedometers, we look forward to utilizing this partnership to keep the Eliot community healthy in an enjoyable way.”

Watch WCVB Channel 5’s coverage of the walk here.

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