Challenge #1: The State of BPS High Schools

As we began to research the data surrounding Boston’s high schools — 33 in all at the end of the last school year — there was one number among all others that sharply stood out.

Nineteen of the district’s 33 high schools are not accredited, a rating that means schools are meeting a bare minimum of standards when it comes to academics, facilities, and other key factors that contribute to student success.

As it states on the website of the accrediting body, the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC), the organization exists to “assist public schools through an ongoing cycle of self-reflection, peer review, school improvement, and monitoring to ensure all students experience a high quality education.”

A logical question is why would all BPS high schools not be part of such a process of evaluation and review? 

To put this issue in broader context, all of Boston’s surrounding suburban high schools have accreditation, from Brookline to Newton to Wellesley. This is also true for all but one of the state’s 26 Gateway Cities, many of whose demographics and student populations more closely mirror that of Boston. 

Even the state’s three school districts in receivership for chronic underperformance — Holyoke, Lawrence, and Southbridge — all have accredited high schools. 

To be clear, accreditation doesn’t necessarily indicate that high schools are all meeting the high standards set by NEASC. Some may be on improvement plans, or at risk of losing accreditation due to identified deficiencies in curriculum standards, teaching, or facilities not being up to par. For schools that may be underperforming, or lacking facilities conducive to 21st century learning, the process of accreditation can be both instructive and supportive of a school’s internal efforts for improvement.

At the most basic level, schools with accreditation are meeting minimum standards for rigorous coursework, up-to-date facilities, effective systems of support, strong instructional practices, and good governance. It’s possible that schools without accreditation may be doing some good work or aiming to serve students needs, but it also indicates that a school is not meeting a set of key expectations in essential ways. Boston families deserve to know why and what is being done to change that.

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The 14 high schools with accreditation in Boston are BCLA, Boston Latin School, Boston Latin Academy, Brighton High School, Burke High School, Charlestown High School, East Boston High School, English High School, Excel High School, Fenway High School, Madison Park Technical Vocational High School, O’Bryant School of Math and Science, and Snowden International and Tech Boston Academy. 

Accreditation: A formal recognition by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) that affirms schools have met a set of standards important for student success. Accredited schools go through a regular process of evaluation and review, and are required to make improvements in areas where deficiencies are identified. 

Receivership: Also known as state takeover. This happens to a school or a district of schools for chronic underperformance and not showing signs of improvement. 

Gateway Cities: Per MassINC, these are “midsize urban centers that anchor regional economies around the state” that face significant “social and economic challenges” yet retain “many assets with unrealized potential.” There are 26 in Massachusetts: Attleboro, Barnstable, Brockton, Chelsea, Chicopee, Everett, Fall River, Fitchburg, Haverhill, Holyoke, Lawrence, Leominster, Lowell, Lynn, Malden, Methuen, New Bedford, Peabody, Pittsfield, Quincy, Revere, Salem, Springfield, Taunton, Westfield, and Worcester.