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Dismay, call to action after ‘sobering’ school report details racial disparities

Sandra Larson | 11/19/2014, 11:49 a.m.
Following last week’s release of a Boston Public Schools report revealing deep disparities in outcomes for black and Latino males ...
City of Boston Chief of Education Rahn Dorsey speaks after the unveiling last week of a new BPS report on opportunity and equity for black and Latino males. Panelists seated at the table are (l-r) Miren Uriarte, professor, UMass Boston; state Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez; and Ron Walker, executive director, Coalition of Schools Educating Boys of Color. Banner Photo

Following last week’s release of a Boston Public Schools report revealing deep disparities in outcomes for black and Latino males in the Boston schools, community members raised questions and voiced a mixture of emotions and thoughts from dismay and anger to suggestions and passionate hope for change.

About 250 people filled a room Thursday evening at City Year headquarters in Boston to hear findings from the report, an analysis of BPS data from 2009 to 2012 that sheds light on the experience of black and Latino male students. These boys and young men are disproportionately placed into separate special education classrooms, far less likely than white or Asian students to enter the most academically rigorous programs and competitive exam schools, more likely to be suspended in middle school and to drop out of high school, and less likely to show proficiency on MCAS math and English language arts measures.

“It is step up time for everybody in the room,” said Ron Walker, executive director of the Coalition of Schools Educating Boys of Color. “I’m an old head, and I’m shaking my head when I hear some of this stuff, because I’ve been in the room before.”

Kim Janey, senior project director at Massachusetts Advocates for Children, said the report was, in a word, sobering.

“It’s very sobering, but it’s not new,” Janey said. “It highlights inequities that have been around for decades — for example, that black boys are being placed in substantially separate classrooms. Research shows that students do better in inclusive classrooms. We need to make sure students get the services they need, but are also learning alongside their peers.”

At the event, the city’s Chief of Education Rahn Dorsey said, “I was struck by the blunt characterization of a two-track system, one that affords opportunity predominantly for white and Asian males and less opportunity for black and Latino males. It made me bristle. .... The groundbreaking work in front of us is to figure out methods by which we undo structural bias.”

Monica Cannon of Roxbury has two sons in a BPS high school and a daughter in a BPS middle school. She can list many reasons boys of color tend to have a less positive experience in school: lack of mentors and role models, lack of teachers who look like them, failure by schools to ensure families are getting program information, peer pressure to get involved in illegal activities, having to navigate through unsafe neighborhoods, and all-too-frequent assumptions by police that they are troublemakers.

“There should be networks of successful men of color who are not gang-related. There should be mentoring programs in every school so they can see something different. It takes seeing these things to be more positive,” she said.

Cannon drives her kids to school to ensure their safe passage. Through her job and active roles in several community organizations, she feels she has more resources and is able to stay more informed about schools and programs than many parents.

“Some parents work several jobs,” she said, “and the children have to go to school on their own. They face so much peer pressure on their way to school, and that can have a big effect on school. [School officials] have to realize a lot of these black and Latino kids are dealing with a lot. So many times, no one asks ‘What’s happening at home?’ It all affects how they learn.”