Education Reform: Editorials

The Boston Public Schools People Don't Know

By Dr. Thomas W. Payzant

Dr. Payzant is Superintendent of Boston Public Schools, a position he has held since 1995. Previously, he was appointed by President Clinton to serve as Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education with the United States Department of Education.

The 82,400 school-aged children in Boston have a wide selection of education options facing them. A majority of families in this city will choose the Boston Public Schools for their children's education-but some will not. Unfortunately, many people will make their choices without taking the time to learn what the Boston Public School District now offers its students.

Many people will rely on myth and stereotype built up over the past 25 years-the old news they learned from friends, family, newspapers, or their own experiences from years ago. However, parents who do take the time will see that the city's schools are very different in many ways.

Boston has changed demographically over the past quarter century, and the schools reflect these changes. Boston schools, which once served a substantially white population, now are rich in diversity, serving a majority of students who are black, Hispanic, and Asian as well as white. For a long time, Boston was slow to respond to these changes, and the city schools developed a reputation of being less than excellent for nearly everyone.

Boston's schools have changed in many ways too. In the last five years, the city's schools have undergone a transformation with the "Focus on Children" reform plan. Five years of consistent and genuine reform have resulted in high standards for performance and improved accountability throughout the system. We have taken an honest look at the deficiencies in our schools to make improvements that now affect every classroom.

Rigorous Instruction at Every School
Literacy, mathematics, and science instruction aligned to the high standards set by the Commonwealth are now in place in every school. Clear standards are now in place for teachers in every classroom, which provides consistency and accountability across the Boston system. Regardless of what school a student attends, Boston's systemwide curriculum provides rigorous standards and the instruction to support every child in reaching them.

Intensive Training for All Teachers
The city's schools are now implementing an aggressive and innovative program for improving and updating the skills of all its teachers and principals. Every school now has "coaches" to improve classroom instruction and to help teachers develop the best strategies for supporting every student to meet high standards. The program will develop in each school systemwide, ongoing support to help educators continuously improve their effectiveness in the classroom.

New Textbooks in Every School
Textbooks are available for all students and a new inventory system has been created to keep track of these resources. The textbooks used throughout the system are closely aligned to the new high standards and curriculum.

State-of-the-Art Technology and Facilities
Technology in Boston classrooms has become a major aspect of instruction. Students and staff have increased access to the Internet and extensive computer resources thanks to an initiative started by Mayor Thomas Menino in 1996. The school buildings are much better too, thanks to an investment of nearly $300 million in school building improvements, including three brand new school buildings that have opened in the past five years, and three more that will open in September 2002. A number of high schools have been completely overhauled to support the new learning environment. A number of elementary schools have received new playgrounds that enhance the outdoor classroom.

Significant Student Improvement
The most notable result-the MCAS scores-are improving at a rate faster than the statewide rate of improvement. High school graduation and college enrollment rates are also improving. At nearly 80%, Boston leads the nation among major urban school districts when it comes to connecting children of all backgrounds to post-secondary education.

National Recognition for Boston's Reform
This year, the Carnegie Corporation and the National Science Foundation have awarded Boston significant grants that recognize the progress achieved in the city. The Walter Annenberg Foundation, which awarded Boston a $10 million grant five years ago, has recently given the Boston schools a second $10 million grant in recognition of the progress made throughout the district. The message of these awards is that Boston Public Schools is a school district where genuine improvements have made a difference for all students.

As children and their families make their decisions on what schools they plan to attend, we encourage everyone in our city to visit a Boston Public School and witness, firsthand, the extensive improvements that are now in place. Each year, more parents take the time to examine our schools and are pleasantly surprised to see how much they have changed. Change is never easy, even when it is for the better. There is still more change to come as we move Boston schools forward under our reform effort. In Boston schools, the changes mean better choices for everyone.

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