‘BPS needs immediate improvement’: Critical new review details troubles within Boston schools

BOSTON — A new report from state education officials about the day-to-day operation of the Boston Public School system was just released, and it offers a scathing review of trouble inside the city’s schools.

The report, released as state officials prepare to discuss the state of Boston schools at a board meeting, indicates the city is not doing enough to turn things around, and that students are being left behind as a result.

“BPS has shown little to no progress in addressing the needs of its students with disabilities, English learners, and students at the district’s lowest-performing schools, resulting in continued poor outcomes for tens of thousands of students.” according to the report, by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

The new report is a follow-up to a review conducted in 2019.

That report was released in March of 2020. It found that:

-BPS was not providing adequate services for students with disabilities and English learners in accordance with applicable laws

-Poorly-run operational functions, such as transportation and facilities management, were interfering with student learning;

-There was a lack of quality curricula and effective instructional practices, especially at the high school level

-It also highlighted entrenched district systems, such as the student assignment process, that contributed to a pattern of inequitable access to quality education across BPS.

Frequent turnover of superintendents and central office staff were cited as part of the problem, and Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley indicated that “receivership” could be an “appropriate intervention” for BPS, which means the commissioner appoints a new leader, called a receiver, “who can be granted authority up to and including the powers of the superintendent and school committee.”

Flash forward to now, and DESE says that despite a Memorandum of Understanding with Boston School to improve, DESE has “struggled to gain an accurate picture of the status of many BPS initiatives due to a pattern of inaccurate or misleading data reporting by the district.”

“Areas that were highlighted in the 2020 report and in the BPS-DESE MOU as urgent priorities that disproportionately affect the district’s most vulnerable students continue to suffer from a lack of focused attention by the district,” according to the new report by DESE.

“Fully 20% of district students are receiving special education services, yet these services remain in disarray, and the district lacks well-understood special education policies and procedures as well as appropriate plans for educating students in the least restrictive environment” says DESE.

“As just one example of the district’s inadequate focus in this area, over the past two years, the topic of special education appeared on the BPS School Committee agenda just once,” according to DESE.

The report also cites concerns about safety in the Boston Public School system.

“In several operational areas, BPS is not currently meeting an acceptable minimum standard for basic district functioning. Failures in basic operations and safety protocols have increased in the past two years at BPS.” says DESE. “This Follow-Up District Review identifies four major operational functions – transportation, facilities, safety protocols, and data reporting – as areas of challenge for the district.”

“Over the past several years, under Dr. Cassellius’ leadership, BPS has successfully launched several new district-wide initiatives and has further advanced others. However, the district has failed to effectively serve its most vulnerable students, carry out basic operational functions, and address systemic barriers to providing an equitable, quality education,” says DESE.

Boston 25 News reached out to the Boston School Department for reaction to this latest review.

“The DESE report provides a welcome midpoint progress update as a follow-up to the fall 2019 review,” said BPS spokesperson Gabrielle Farrell. “While the report highlights that BPS has made considerable progress in many key areas over the last three years, it also provides clear direction to areas where urgent action is needed. As we continue to build upon the momentum we have created, we look forward to working collaboratively with DESE to ensure all BPS students can reach their full potential.”

Boston Public Schools sent a letter to BPS families on Monday about the critical review of irs operations. It was signed by Mayor Michelle Wu, Jeff Robinson who is the chair of the school committee, and Superintendent Dr. Brenda Cassellius who is leaving her post at the end of this school year.

“We stand ready to address the long-standing challenges highlighted by DESE that underscore the transformational change that BPS students, families, educators deserve,” according to the city letter. “We join our new mayoral administration in recommitting to this important work. This work will require increasing staffing, operational support, and other resources, including a more robust collaboration with City departments, to ensure that we are prepared to meet all of our students’ needs.”

DESE’s board is meeting Tuesday. The agenda includes a discussion about Boston Public Schools.

“The problems facing BPS are abundantly clear. This moment requires bold, student-centered decision-making and strong execution to ensure the district delivers the quality education its students deserve. BPS needs immediate improvement,” according to DESE.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates as more information becomes available.

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