DESE holding off on state takeover of Boston schools

BOSTON — Buses that don’t show up. Bathroom renovations that never happened. Graduation and drop-out rates likely fudged.

In fact, Massachusetts education officials say things are so bad in the Boston Public Schools that a state takeover is not out of the question.

Tuesday, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) met to discuss a new report on the state’s largest district. And it was scathing.

After conducting nearly 100 interviews, organizing 25 focus groups and observing 447 classrooms in 42 schools, the report concluded BPS has deficiencies in six critical areas – including Leadership and Governance, Curriculum and Instruction, Student Support, Human Resources and Professional Development, Assessment and Financial and Asset Management.

“The situation is urgent,” said DESE Commissioner Jeffrey C. Riley. “I think, fundamentally, what we’re looking for is some assurances that things are going to be fixed.”

But this is not the first time DESE has been after Boston about its deficiencies.

Two years ago, BPS signed a Memorandum of Understanding aimed at making various improvements. But in some areas, the DESE report indicates no progress has been made – including special education – which DESE said suffers from “inconsistent policies” and “systemic disarray.”

Transportation is another continuing sore spot for the district – especially when it comes to missed routes. The report indicates that in January, 2022, 1,148 morning bus routes went uncovered, meaning students were stranded, with some just not going to school.

In all, those missed bus rides last winter affected 16,000 students, DESE said – with a disproportionate number of them special needs students.

DESE also said data collection from the district is flawed.

On transportation, DESE said Boston’s reporting excluded the buses that never showed up from its statistics for “on-time” performance.

DESE also charged that the district is inflating graduation rates and deflating drop-out rates reported to the state.

“The issues in the report aren’t new to our school communities,” said Boston Mayor Michelle Wu, who inherited the troubled system just six months ago. “Many of the issues line up with what I’ve seen directly and what we heard from our school communities.”

Wu, who testified before the DESE board against receivership, said she is ready to take urgent action, beginning with the hiring of a new superintendent – a process which should accelerate next month, once the search committee finishes its work.

“In some ways the conversation about receivership is quite distracting,” Wu said. “We know what we need to do. We have the momentum and the political will.”

Wu also has, for now, the patience of Commissioner Riley, who expressed a willingness to try and let Wu do what her predecessors couldn’t.

“This is a new administration and I think it’s incumbent on me to give her the time and space to talk this through,” Riley said.

Download the FREE Boston 25 News app for breaking news alerts.

Follow Boston 25 News on Facebook and Twitter. | Watch Boston 25 News NOW