Massachusetts is a great place to get a K-12 education — but not for everyone.
Many students in this state do extremely well on a national standardized test called the National Assessment of Educational Progress or NAEP. A May 2018 report from the state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) says:
• “Massachusetts tied for first place on the grades 4 and 8 NAEP reading assessments,” and
• “On the NAEP mathematics assessments, Massachusetts tied for first with five other states at grade 4 and one other state on grade 8.”
But not every student does this well. Massachusetts is also home to “glaring and persistent disparities in opportunity and achievement that separate low-income students and students of color from their peers.”
That’s the finding of a new report called, “#1 for Some: Opportunity and Achievement in Massachusetts,” that has been released by the Massachusetts Education Equity Partnership, a growing coalition of nonprofit organizations. Strategies for Children is one of 15 current members.
The report adds:
“…25 years after the Massachusetts Education Reform Act, Black, Latino, and low-income students continue to have vastly different experiences in Massachusetts schools than their White and higher-income peers — and these disparities have real consequences for students, their communities, and our Commonwealth’s economy and democracy.”
• fewer than “1 in 3 Black and Latino 4th graders are on grade level in reading – half the rate for the state’s White students”
• only “28% of low-income 8th graders are on grade level in math,” which is half the rate of higher income students
• “1 in 3 English learners don’t graduate on time – and 1 in 7 drop out of school entirely”
• fewer than “1 in 3 Black and Latino students who take the SAT meet college-readiness benchmarks in reading and math – compared to 2/3 of their White peers. Too many graduates of color don’t enroll in postsecondary education at all, and among those that do, too many have to take remedial courses.”
What causes these achievement gaps? The fact that beginning in early childhood, both inside and outside of school, many low-income students and students of color have less access to opportunities. For example:
• “Latino students and students from low-income families are less likely to access early childhood education programs”
• “Massachusetts is no longer among the states that direct more state and local dollars to the districts serving the most low-income students,” and
• “Black and Latino students in Massachusetts are three times more likely than White students to be assigned to a teacher who lacks content expertise in the subject they teach.”
Disparities also exist in how students are disciplined. The report says:
“…the one thing low-income students and student of color regularly ‘get’ more of is harsh, exclusionary discipline, such as out-of-school suspensions. Exclusionary discipline is associated with all kinds of negative consequences for students, including lower academic performance and higher rates of dropping out and involvement with the juvenile justice system. In Massachusetts, Latino students are more than twice as likely and Black students are three times as likely to receive an out-of-school suspension as White students.”
As our blog readers may know, this disturbing trend begins in early education settings. Studies show black preschool children are 3.6 times as likely to receive one or more out-of-school suspensions as white preschool children.
So, while the state acknowledges students’ successes and the 25th anniversary of education reform, leaders and policymakers should also be planning for a brighter more equitable educational future.
“Here in Massachusetts, we’re proud of our high-scoring students,” Chris Martes, the president and CEO of Strategies for Children, says. “But as educators, we can’t just rest on their laurels. We have to build an education system that works for all our students, a system that starts in early childhood to prevent these persistent achievement gaps. Once we do that, Massachusetts will truly be a Number One in education.”
Fortunately, work to address these inequities is underway. As the Boston Globe reported yesterday:
“Massachusetts Education Equity Partnership plans to lobby the Legislature for changes to school funding, while ensuring the money is targeted toward those students who need it the most. The Education Trust, a national nonprofit that promotes closing opportunity gaps for students of color and those from low-income families, is assisting the coalition with research and the report.”
To build on its strategy of sharing information and campaigning for change, the equity partnership has created a digital toolkit of infographics that can be used on social media networks.
As the report explains:
“To truly be excellent, and to ensure the long-term health and vitality of our economy, our communities, and our civic society, Massachusetts must do dramatically better by students and families who have been undeserved for far too long.”