Ethnic blend no barometer for schools.
COLUMN: CLIVE MCFARLANE
I had a conversation recently with a Worcester resident concerned that the city's public schools are becoming re-segregated.
Worcester is still operating under a voluntary desegregation plan, but the city has been struggling to maintain the strict student ratio under the plan, primarily because the state has abandoned its financial commitment to magnet schools, which have served the city well in its desegregation plan.
Desegregation of our schools can only strengthen our democracy and is an important public policy to pursue, but I don't necessarily see the ethnic composition of a school being a barometer of its academic success one way or the other.
Many minority parents, for example, support charter schools, but many of those schools, at least the ones in Massachusetts, are largely segregated.
Last week, for example, the state announced that it was renewing the charters of 19 of its charter schools.
Of the 19 schools, at least 12 were segregated (over 80 percent white or minority).
Of the six that were predominantly white, the Francis W. Parker Charter Essential School in Devens had over 98 percent of its 10th-graders performing at proficient or advanced levels in English and at 93 percent at those levels in math.
Similarly, the Benjamin Franklin Classical Charter School in Franklin - another of the predominantly white schools - was doing remarkably well, with more than 90 percent of its eighth-graders scoring at the proficient or advanced level in English, and 88 percent scoring at those levels in math.
But at Atlantis Charter School in Fall River, where the student body is over 80 percent white, over 50 percent of fourth-graders were scoring at the needs improvement or failing categories in both math and English.
At the six schools with a predominantly minority student body (more than 90 percent), one, the Lawrence Family Development Charter School, (98.5 percent Hispanic) was having great success with its eighth-graders. Over 80 percent of these students were scoring at the proficient or advanced levels in English and 64 percent were scoring at those levels in math.
Yet, 65 percent of fourth-graders at Lawrence Family Development Charter School were scoring in the needs improvement or failure levels in English and 71 percent were scoring at those levels in math.
At the Community Charter School in Cambridge, which is 88.2 percent Hispanic, 86 percent of eighth-graders were scoring in the needs improvement or failure categories in math. The school, however, did have 82 percent of its 10th-graders scoring at the proficient or advanced levels in math.
At the Community Day Charter School in Lawrence, more than 70 percent African American, 100 percent of eighth-graders were scoring at the proficient or advanced levels in English and 80 percent were scoring at those levels in math.
But at the Boston Renaissance Charter School (68 percent of the student body is African American and 27 percent is Hispanic) 52 percent of fourth-graders scored in the needs improvement or failure levels in English and 62 percent at those levels in math.
At the Sabis International Charter School in Springfield, where white, African-American and Hispanic students comprise approximately 30 percent each of the student body, 93 percent of 10th-graders are scoring at the proficient or advanced levels in English, while 89 percent are scoring at those levels in math.
The outcome for fourth-graders at that school, however, is not as great. Eighty-four percent are scoring at the needs improvement or failure level in English and 82 percent are scoring at those levels in math.
At the Neighborhood House Charter School in Dorchester, more than 97 percent of eighth-graders are scoring at the proficient or advanced levels in English, but 73 percent of fourth-graders are scoring at the needs improvement or failure level in math.
Clearly, it would seem that success in the classroom has to do with more than just the ethnicity of a school's student body, and certainly much more than whether a school is a traditional public school or a charter school.