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Maintain Boston Latin’s academic standards

Melvin B. Miller | 6/14/2017, 10:37 a.m.
It is time to find the strategy for better attendance of blacks in prep classes rather than to pursue a ...
“I’m not excited about getting admitted if I can’t make it there.” Photo by Dan Drew

Boston Latin School is recognized as one of the nation’s most academically rigorous public schools. Bostonians are understandably proud of Latin School, the first public school in the nation. Unfortunately, the number of African Americans who are admitted each year is less than the proportionate share of the city’s black population. Some errant reformers have suggested that the problem could be resolved by making the admissions requirements easier.

Such a destructive proposal could be offered only by those who have no experience surviving Latin School’s academic demands. The dropout rate for those who have passed the admission test is high. Years ago it was anticipated that only one-third of those who entered in the seventh grade would graduate. It makes little sense to simplify admission without also remedying the rate of losses through academic attrition.

According to reports, of the 646 students who were enrolled in 2015 in the Exam School Initiative to prepare for the entrance exam, 21 percent were black and 26 percent were Hispanic. That is almost twice the percentage in the previous year. However, there was no substantial increase in black and Hispanic admissions. But that should come as no surprise. The most that the Exam School Initiative can do is familiarize students with the style of the exam. Extensive reading over the years and a commitment to learning inculcated at home, together with strong teaching in grammar school. give students the tools to ace the exam.

However, while Asians constitute only 8.8 percent of the school district population, they are 29 percent of the students enrolled in Boston Latin School. This advantage has not been achieved because Asians are more affluent and can better afford private tutors, as some reformers have suggested. Research data indicate that the household income between Asians and African Americans is comparable.

The data also establish a high educational attainment among Asians, with 46.7 percent having bachelor’s degrees or higher. Only 18.4 percent of African Americans are at that level. Perhaps an enhanced awareness of the value of education is enough to motivate Asian youth to aspire to attend Latin School. At any rate, it is time to find a strategy for better attendance of blacks rather than to pursue a remedy to improve diversity that would denigrate the value of one of Boston’s treasures.