Raising the Grade for Public Education

Friday, January 11, 2013

There are two separate worlds within public education in Massachusetts: one that serves wealthy, majority-white communities and earns national praise, and another that educates low-income, often minority kids where dropout rates receive far more attention than test scores. In the wake of this growing chasm of education inequity between groups of kids in our state, StudentsFirst, a national grassroots advocacy organization led by school reformer Michelle Rhee, has graded our state education system and given it a “D+” for failing to enact polices that ensure all kids get an equally great education.

For a state accustomed to accolades for educational excellence, a D+ grade surely will earn scorn from defenders of the current system. Given what’s at stake, however, we should seize this criticism and take it as an opportunity for some self-reflection.

Despite our successes — which include high overall test scores and high learning standards — there are still enormous and unacceptable gaps in the achievement levels of groups of Bay State students. Latino children, who make up the largest minority group in the state, lag far behind their white peers academically. In fact, the achievement gaps between Latino and white children in our state in various subjects and grades are among the largest in the nation. Large academic performance gaps also exist between the state’s black and white students, as well as between low-income kids and their wealthier peers. Additionally, minority and low-income teens drop out at much higher rates than other students.

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