State report cites 'entrenched dysfunction' in Boston Public Schools (2023)

According to a scathing new report, Massachusetts education officials are concerned about Boston's ability to follow through on necessary improvements and properly support all students amid another upcoming leadership change."BPS needs immediate improvement," the report finds. The introduction to Monday's 188-page report explains that it is a follow-up to a previous, District Review Report from 2020 that led the city and state to sign a memorandum of understanding regarding priorities for improvement. Boston agreed to improve its performance in certain areas while the state agreed to provide support and resources. The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education asked for this update after Boston Superintendent Brenda Cassellius announced her plans to resign after the conclusion of this school year.Read the whole DESE reportRead BPS' letter to the community about the reportRead BPS' letter to DESE about 'factual corrections'Read BPS' post review reflection"The serious challenges highlighted in the review aren’t new to our school communities, educators, and students," Boston Mayor Michelle Wu said in a statement. "As a BPS mom, I’m eager for the partnerships and accountability that will set us up for success in accelerating the pace of change and rebuilding confidence in our schools."Problems identified in the report fall into four categories: transportation, facilities, safety protocols and data reporting."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," BPS Chief of Communications Gabrielle Farrell said in a statement. "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."BPS is failing to meet "acceptable minimum standards" for some of what DESE considers to be basic functions, including on-time transportation for students, the report states. In fact, the transportation situation has worsened since 2020, the report said.In the response BPS sent to DESE, district officials point out that there is now a tentative deal with the bus drivers' union that addresses necessary operational changes. Boston does not effectively or consistently track or respond to reports about bullying or other safety concerns, DESE found. Officials also suggested a separate review should be conducted into the impact of the reduction of school police. According to the report, the district fails at both the school and central levels to report accurately on key measures of success. Even graduation and dropout rates reported by Boston are "likely inaccurate due to a failure by BPS to ensure that schools possess appropriate documentation to withdraw an enrolled student." The authors also describe a "lack of urgency" in the district's effort to improve special education services."Persistent challenges in these areas have been exacerbated by significant leadership turnover in the district’s special education and English learner departments," the report states.BPS pushed back on the phrase "disturbing lack of urgency" regarding special education used in a draft of the report and it appears that the adjective was dropped from the final version. Hundreds of English learners are still not receiving the instruction required under an agreement with the US Department of Justice and necessary strategies are not in place, the DESE report states. On the second page, the authors of the report suggest that district personnel may have coordinated their response to DESE's interviews, interfering with the state's ability to get an accurate picture of the issues. "This may have impeded the review team from forming a complete picture of BPS's strengths and challenges," the authors wrote. DESE found some strengths in areas, including the teacher pipeline and the use of one-time funding for school improvements, and is generally positive about the plans developed by the outgoing superintendent's team. The authors wrote that Cassellius "effectively led" several initiatives "despite challenges in managing a central office with entrenched dysfunction." They also warn that any progress achieved so far is vulnerable to disruption."BPS does not lack for plans," the report states, "but that strong execution of these plans is a rarity for the district."About the search for a new superintendent, the report explains that the Boston School Committee has a tight timeline to find a replacement when typical searches of this kind take a year or longer."The availability of quality candidates this late in the year is of significant concern," the report states. "The new superintendent will also face governance uncertainty, with active debates over whether the school committee should remain appointed by the mayor, elected, or a hybrid of the two. This follows a tumultuous period with numerous school committee resignations and significant turnover of the committee overall."Last week, the Boston City Council passed a resolution opposing state receivership for BPS.DESE can take over a local school committee if the district is chronically underperforming. Currently, Southbridge, Holyoke and Lawrence Public Schools are in receivership.

BOSTON —

According to a scathing new report, Massachusetts education officials are concerned about Boston's ability to follow through on necessary improvements and properly support all students amid another upcoming leadership change.

"BPS needs immediate improvement," the report finds.

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The introduction to Monday's 188-page report explains that it is a follow-up to a previous, District Review Report from 2020 that led the city and state to sign a memorandum of understanding regarding priorities for improvement. Boston agreed to improve its performance in certain areas while the state agreed to provide support and resources.

The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education asked for this update after Boston Superintendent Brenda Cassellius announced her plans to resign after the conclusion of this school year.

"The serious challenges highlighted in the review aren’t new to our school communities, educators, and students," Boston Mayor Michelle Wu said in a statement. "As a BPS mom, I’m eager for the partnerships and accountability that will set us up for success in accelerating the pace of change and rebuilding confidence in our schools."

Problems identified in the report fall into four categories: transportation, facilities, safety protocols and data reporting.

"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," BPS Chief of Communications Gabrielle Farrell said in a statement. "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."

BPS is failing to meet "acceptable minimum standards" for some of what DESE considers to be basic functions, including on-time transportation for students, the report states. In fact, the transportation situation has worsened since 2020, the report said.

In the response BPS sent to DESE, district officials point out that there is now a tentative deal with the bus drivers' union that addresses necessary operational changes.

Boston does not effectively or consistently track or respond to reports about bullying or other safety concerns, DESE found. Officials also suggested a separate review should be conducted into the impact of the reduction of school police.

According to the report, the district fails at both the school and central levels to report accurately on key measures of success. Even graduation and dropout rates reported by Boston are "likely inaccurate due to a failure by BPS to ensure that schools possess appropriate documentation to withdraw an enrolled student."

    The authors also describe a "lack of urgency" in the district's effort to improve special education services.

    "Persistent challenges in these areas have been exacerbated by significant leadership turnover in the district’s special education and English learner departments," the report states.

    BPS pushed back on the phrase "disturbing lack of urgency" regarding special education used in a draft of the report and it appears that the adjective was dropped from the final version.

    Hundreds of English learners are still not receiving the instruction required under an agreement with the US Department of Justice and necessary strategies are not in place, the DESE report states.

    On the second page, the authors of the report suggest that district personnel may have coordinated their response to DESE's interviews, interfering with the state's ability to get an accurate picture of the issues.

    "This may have impeded the review team from forming a complete picture of BPS's strengths and challenges," the authors wrote.

    DESE found some strengths in areas, including the teacher pipeline and the use of one-time funding for school improvements, and is generally positive about the plans developed by the outgoing superintendent's team. The authors wrote that Cassellius "effectively led" several initiatives "despite challenges in managing a central office with entrenched dysfunction." They also warn that any progress achieved so far is vulnerable to disruption.

    "BPS does not lack for plans," the report states, "but that strong execution of these plans is a rarity for the district."

    About the search for a new superintendent, the report explains that the Boston School Committee has a tight timeline to find a replacement when typical searches of this kind take a year or longer.

    Early exit could mean big payout for Boston Public Schools superintendent Brenda Cassellius

    "The availability of quality candidates this late in the year is of significant concern," the report states. "The new superintendent will also face governance uncertainty, with active debates over whether the school committee should remain appointed by the mayor, elected, or a hybrid of the two. This follows a tumultuous period with numerous school committee resignations and significant turnover of the committee overall."

    Last week, the Boston City Council passed a resolution opposing state receivership for BPS.

    DESE can take over a local school committee if the district is chronically underperforming. Currently, Southbridge, Holyoke and Lawrence Public Schools are in receivership.

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