This article has been revised to clarify that the admission test and new enrollments have been suspended but the program is being allowed to continue. It has also been updated to include the statement from Superintendent Brenda Cassellius provided to GBH after publication of its initial report.
New fifth and sixth graders will not be accepted into advanced classes in Boston for the next year, the entry test being suspended due to the pandemic, while at the same time the school district has raised concerns about racial “equity” problems, noting a vast majority of students in those classes are white or Asian.
GBH News reported that the selective program, called Advanced Work Classes, will suspend enrollment because of the pandemic, while also citing “concerns about equity.”
The school district analyzed the demographics of the program and found that “more than 70 percent of students enrolled in the program were white and Asian, even though nearly 80 percent of all Boston public school students are Hispanic and Black,” GBH reported.
“There’s been a lot of inequities that have been brought to the light in the pandemic that we have to address,” Superintendent Brenda Cassellius told the outlet. “There’s a lot of work we have to do in the district to be antiracist and have policies where all of our students have a fair shot at an equitable and excellent education.”
Cassellius also explained that only five schools currently offer the advance classes and that interest has declined over the past few years.
A Boston Public Schools spokesman told GBH that new students will still be admitted into the advanced program in fourth grade, but that admittance standards would be determined by the schools. Meanwhile, no new fifth or sixth graders will be admitted, though those who are already in the program will remain.
The outlet reported that School Committee member Lorna Rivera expressed concern over the findings at a meeting in January while noting that nearly 60% of fourth graders in the advanced program at one school in West Roxbury are white despite the fact that the majority of third graders enrolled in the school are black and Hispanic.
“This is just not acceptable,” Rivera said, according to GBH. “I’ve never heard these statistics before, and I’m very, very disturbed by them.”
After GBH published its initial report, Cassellius reached out to clarify that the test suspension this year was only a consequence of the pandemic, not “equity concerns.”
GBH explained how students are enrolled in the program:
The program was open to all students in the Boston Public Schools who took a test known as Terra Nova in the third grade and received a high score. Those students were placed in a lottery conducted by the central administration office, and lottery winners received letters inviting them to apply to the program. Last fall, 453 students received invitations, 143 students applied and 116 enrolled this year, officials said.
Students in the program have the opportunity to study subjects in greater depth and are offered more schoolwork than the traditional curriculum requires.
GBH added that “District officials have launched a working group to determine the long-term future of the program and are expected to make a recommendation in May.”
The suspension of the program comes as schools across the country have begun teaching radical critical race theory, creating more classes insisting white supremacy can be found everywhere and denouncing merit-based systems as racist. In San Francisco, for example, the competitive Lowell High School will no longer include a merit-based admissions program, opting instead for a random lottery.
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