Neighboring schools, worlds apart

The writer of the article below for the Boston Globe pretends not to know why the pupils at the two schools discussed get such different educational results.  But they know why as well as I do:  One school is mostly black and the other is mostly white.  The black/white difference is one of the immovables in American education.  Nothing budges it.  That it is an inborn difference is fiercely resisted but no other explanation suffices to explain the facts

I am particularly amused in this case by the fact that the underperforming school has the most gracious buildings, while the high performing school has utilitarian buildings.  One of the recurring "solutions" that Leftists propose for poor school results is to give the bad school a whole set of new and stylish buildings.  They think that fancy buildings will somehow make the slow kids smarter.  It never does of course .  But in this case, such an explanation can be ruled out from the start.  On the building theory, the bad school should be the best.

In the end there is only one thing that makes a school good or bad: the quality of the students. And that is what is at work here, sad to say. Until the Left allow Americans to acknowledge the reality of black/white differences, most American blacks will never get an education suitable to their needs

The opportunity gap in our public schools is vast, a fact made plain in two schools, nearly neighbors but in different worlds. For those on the short end, the road up is made more difficult. The question is: Why?

PERCHED ON A hilltop, Brighton High looks like it belongs on a movie set: elegant arched windows, a sweeping staircase, paneled doors, and a row of cherry trees that frame expansive views of the neighborhood below.

It is also, by nearly every standard measure, a place that showcases the overwhelming struggles faced by Boston Public Schools.

In recent years, more than 40 percent of Brighton's students did not graduate within four years. The school's dropout rate outpaced the rest of the state by a factor of four. More than half the school's students were chronically absent, and the average student missed nearly 30 days of class.

More broadly, enrollment has plunged by more than half over the past decade, and today Brighton serves as an educational backstop - a high school of last resort. Its struggling student body is in some ways the inevitable result of a stratified district that funnels high-achieving pupils to a handful of elite exam schools while relegating others to a range of lesser classrooms, where performance and expectations often fall short.

Here at the lower end of that spectrum, many students have significant unmet needs beyond campus, ranging from mental health concerns to immigration anxieties. Most are poor, and many arrive at Brighton after struggling at other schools. Some, like Britney, come after failing to get into their top choice in the district's school assignment lottery. Some are sent there based on their academic needs. Others choose Brighton outright: It's estimated that roughly a third of incoming freshmen selected the school as their top choice this fall.

"We have a very complex population," said Brighton principal Robert Rametti. "We have some students who need more [academic] challenge, and then we have students who are dealing with homelessness."

Britney was disappointed but resigned when she discovered she'd be going to Brighton rather than her first choice, Fenway High. She knew the school had a bad reputation but still held out hope that, "like, it may have improved or something. I didn't really look into it."

Brighton had not improved. The school had been staggering for years by the time Britney arrived as a freshman, occasionally gaining broader public attention through tragedy - a student charged with murder, a coach who allegedly received death threats from students, a fetus abandoned in a bathroom.

Brighton's reputation suffered another blow in 2016, when the state officially branded it underperforming, requiring the district to develop a turnaround plan - twin factors that bring targeted funding along with the specter of state receivership if the school's outcomes don't improve.

"The ultimate question will be, can we make all of the gains they want," said Rametti, a former Brighton teacher who returned in 2017 to lead the school's turnaround effort. "That's to be seen, but we're making progress where we can."

Still, statistics can only describe so much. In Brighton's dimly lit corridors and overheated classrooms, a multitude of stories unfold daily, deeply human struggles too complex to be captured in the right-angled world of spreadsheet assessments.

Brighton, where nearly all the students are black or Latino, is essentially two schools: Roughly half its 600 students are still learning English. Many work full time. Some ventured to the United States alone, living in cramped quarters while helping to support their families. All are trying to bootstrap their way into English language proficiency - perhaps even a shot at college.

The other half of the student body are teenagers who've spent years in the Boston schools, many fighting their way back from academic failure, family catastrophe, or emotional crisis.

Binding it all together is a staff of young, idealistic teachers - many of them newly hired as part of the turnaround - who often work late, hoping to reach their students. It is a place where hope mingles with resignation, where aspirations fight for survival, where an emotionally distressed student may put her head down on a desk - and a sympathetic teacher may let her.

"There are kids who have significant mental health issues that don't get identified," said Brighton school psychologist Allen Cohen. "They don't go to a hospital. They live with those symptoms: the depression and anxiety."

This hilltop school also affords a clear view of the vast educational divide that separates many Boston students from their suburban peers - an educational inequity that is mirrored in urban and suburban districts across the country.

A SHORT DRIVE from the Brighton campus lies Newton South, a low-slung maze of orderly buildings, where students are offered a rich menu of academic and extracurricular opportunities on their path to the country's elite colleges.

Here the dropout rate is 26 times lower than at Brighton. Nearly every member of the school's affluent, mostly white student body graduates on time, and in 2018 fully 100 percent of 10th-graders scored proficient or higher on the English Language Arts MCAS, the state achievement test.

But Newton South, whose alumni include a Nobel Prize winner and several well-known actors, goes far beyond these baseline requirements. The school's speech and debate team has earned two state championships in recent years. The theater program, which is supported by a dedicated parent group, mounted a host of productions last year, including a student directing festival.

A community-supported scholarship fund provides financial assistance for low-income students to join their classmates in a variety of international programs: cultural exchanges with China and France, a service trip to Puerto Rico, expeditions to the Galapagos Islands to study ecology or to Sweden and Iceland to study climate change. A new initiative will eventually supply every student with a Chromebook. The school boasts more than 100 clubs - groups for would-be doctors and strategic financial investors, aspiring roboticists, attorneys, even cheese enthusiasts.

More than a quarter of Newton South students sit for final AP exams in a given year, and the overwhelming majority earn a qualifying score of 3 or higher. Meanwhile, students here outscore their statewide peers on the SAT by an average of 165 points - a gap that grows to roughly 430 points when compared directly to Brighton.

These two schools, so close as the crow flies, seem to inhabit entirely separate educational realms. At one, students select new and gently used clothes that have been donated to an onsite "store." At the other, students park in a lot that offers a charging station for electric vehicles.


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