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B.U. Reports Little Improvement in Chelsea's Schools

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After three years of managing the Chelsea, Mass., public schools, Boston University has laid much of the groundwork for accomplishing its goals, a report by university officials to the Massachusetts legislature contends.

The report concedes, however, that the city's schools have yet to see significant improvement in student test scores, teacher and student attendance, or high school graduation.

University officials stress that their unprecedented partnership with the school system has been hampered by the city's financial collapse.

Although the university assumed the management of the system with the understanding that funding would continue at or above the 1989 levels, the report notes, the recession and local political battles forced Chelsea to the brink of bankruptcy in 1991.

The school department was forced to lay off 50 of Chelsea's 302 teachers and increase class size in some instances to 40 students.

Last summer, the state placed the city in receivership.

The crisis changed the nature of the partnership. "The university has found itself not only working to transform a school system,'' the report says, "but also fighting for the very survival of that school system.''

Progress Toward Goals

While spending considerable time cutting the budget, the report says, the university has made progress in each of the 17 goals set for Chelsea.

The centerpiece of B.U.'s approach is its emphasis on getting children ready to learn with early-childhood programs, health initiatives, family-literacy projects, and outreach efforts to family-day-care providers.

City teachers have worked with B.U. faculty members to overhaul the curriculum and have received training at the university in the subjects they teach.

Teachers also have been provided with a total of 55 tuition scholarships to take courses at the university. Their pay has increased by 26 percent since the partnership began, the report adds.

The third aspect of the partnership, the report explains, involves developing "something important to teach.''

New curriculum objectives have been developed for all grades. Teachers from preschool through 8th grade are now using the new curricula, while the high school course outlines are currently being completed.

All of Chelsea's schools have been wired for computers, and 1,200 students have received training on them.

$5 Million Raised

The university also automated the school department's financial-management system and created the position of business manager.

The partnership has extended beyond the traditional confines of the school day. With the university's assistance, the report says, the school department has launched adult-education and after-school programs, established an alternative high school program for dropouts, and opened a Parent Information Center.

The partnership has also involved dozens of students and faculty members from other departments at the university, who have helped reopen the high school newspaper and provided students with tutoring, field trips, and Christmas parties.

The university has contributed nearly $2 million in direct and in-kind expenses to the partnership, the report says. It has raised an additional $5 million from foundations, corporations, and individuals.

Since 1991, the fund-raising activities have been conducted by A Different September Foundation, which was established by B.U.'s trustees to raise money for the partnership.

No 'Overnight Success'

The report contends that "dramatic increases'' in students' test scores will be seen when the children who have completed the entire preschool program take the state basic-skills test in grades 3, 6, and 9. Later, it predicts, scores on the Scholastic Aptitude Test will rise.

"To expect overnight success is to do an injustice to the very principles on which the partnership is built,'' it warns.

Before Chelsea's budget crisis, S.A.T. scores rose 34 points, to a high of a combined score of 698. Last year, however, the scores averaged 620, a drop the report attributes to scheduling changes at the high school and less test preparation because of the cutbacks. But more students were taking the test--37 percent of seniors, compared with 24 percent in 1988-89.

Students' scores on the state basic-skills test rose modestly during 1990-91 for 3rd graders, but declined for 6th and 9th graders. The tests were not administered last year because of Massachusetts' budget problems.

The four-year dropout rate stood at 52 percent--the same as when the partnership began. Attendance among students has remained level over all.

Teachers' attendance declined, however, falling to 93.8 percent from an 95.8 percent attendance rate in 1990-91. The report attributes the drop to the pressures that resulted from the layoffs.

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