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Report details disparate educational outcomes for blacks, Latinos in Boston schools

Sandra Larson | 11/13/2014, 9:55 a.m.

A new report analyzing educational opportunities and outcomes for black and Latino male students in the Boston schools identifies significant disparities in areas such as special education identification, suspension rates, attendance and dropout rates and access to advanced work curricula and exam high schools.

The report, “Opportunity and Equity: Enrollment and Outcomes of Black and Latino Males in Boston Public Schools,” contains results and recommendations from a study examining demographic, enrollment and performance data for school years 2009 to 2012. The study was commissioned in 2013 by former Boston Public Schools Superintendent Carol R. Johnson and conducted by the Center for Collaborative Education and the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University in partnership with BPS.

Researchers set out to investigate two broad questions: What is the diversity within the male Black and Latino communities in BPS? and How do Black and Latino male students perform in BPS relative to female

students and male students of other races?

Enrollment in the 56,000-student BPS system is overwhelmingly black and Latino, with 77.8 percent of male students falling in these two groups.

“This is the Boston Public Schools. This is who we serve,” said BPS Interim Superintendent John McDonough in a press briefing before the report release. “Their success defines success in Boston Public Schools.”

The report makes a number of recommendations, and McDonough noted that some of them are already underway. For instance, expansion of early education has emerged as a core initiative for closing opportunity and achievement gaps; efforts are underway to recruit a diverse teacher workforce; special education students, which include black and Latino students in disproportionate numbers, are increasingly included in mainstream classrooms; dual-language learning opportunities are expanding; a new Code of Conduct aims to reduce suspensions; and dropout rates for black and Latino students have been cut in half since 2006 and are now at the lowest levels ever recorded, he said.

But still, the report paints a sobering picture of the experience of the non-white, non-Asian students who make up the majority of BPS children and youth.

For instance, black males had the highest special education identification rate in elementary, middle and high school grades.

Asked whether there is reason to believe black males have higher rates of learning disabilities, McDonough said, “The answer to that has to be no. So the deeper question is, what’s going on?”

BPS is looking at the current process of identifying students with learning disabilities, McDonough said. He said BPS needs to “wrestle with” the fact that the disproportion among black students occurs with disabilities related to behavior, and among Latinos, disabilities are more often language-related.

“I want to be very clear. This is not about deficiencies in students. We own this. This is ours,” he said. “[This is] about our ability to support students in a way so that students are poised for success.”

He also said academic teams are being reorganized to strengthen the “bridge” between special education, English language learning and core academics.

Black and Latino students also had the highest suspension rates in the middle school grades. The rate in 2012 was 9.4 percent for black males and 7 percent for Latino males; in contrast, for Asian males the rate was 2.7 percent, and for whites, 2.4 percent.