Challenge #2: The State of BPS Academics (#SFB10Challenges)

In late June, the Boston Globe ran an article that provided insight into the lack of clear, consistent academic standards among the city’s district high schools.

In summary, Chemistry in High School A is different than Chemistry in High School B or High School C. And BPS, without a process of evaluation in place, doesn’t know which high schools are offering high quality classes with strong content and which ones are not.

This lack of an evaluative process combined with a lack of academic standards signals trouble for a district where 4 in 10 non-exam school students don’t graduate from high school. And research released last year by The Boston Opportunity Agenda showed that only 30 percent of BPS graduates who did not have access to MassCore standards graduated from college in six years.

So there is direct, research-based evidence that links following MassCore standards to higher percentages of students completing college.

Last year, only 31 percent of BPS graduates had access to MassCore standards, far lower than 81 percent of high school graduates across the state. In Lawrence, by contrast, 100 percent of 2019 high school graduates met MassCore standards, which were created by the state as a means to ensure post-secondary success for all graduates.

Boston’s high school students face additional disadvantages as well:

  • Nineteen of the district’s three dozen 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.
  • Boston students are less likely to complete at least one advanced course than their peers statewide.
  • Black and Latinx students in Boston are less likely to complete at least one advanced course than their peers. 

In June, an internal BPS working group charged with reviewing courses across the district proposed the creation of its own set of high school standards known as BPSCore. As the Globe reported, the BPSCore “would be largely limited to the English, math, science, and social studies requirement,” leading former Massachusetts Secretary of Education Paul Reville to question why the district would choose to not follow the same state standards followed by the vast majority of high schools across the state.

“You run the risk of diluting the importance and value of the diploma,” he told the Globe.

As of October 1, no next steps have been made public on the direction the district may take on the establishment of academic standards for BPS high schools for school year 2019-20.