Academic Progress in Boston’s Schools in Jeopardy, Report Finds

By Lesli A. Maxwell — May 27, 2014 2 min read
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Dysfunction and discord in Boston’s public schools pose serious threats to what has mostly been a steady and sustained record of academic progress in the 55,000-student district, concludes a new external review commissioned by the school system.

The district “lacks a well-articulated” set of strategies for improving student achievement, Michael D. Casserly, the executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools, writes in a memo outlining areas of concern, as well as strengths, in the Boston district. Casserly also warns that staff members across the district lack a clear understanding of the current leadership’s vision for change and priorities for reform, leading to departments that “seem free to set their own priorities.”

The memo—a precursor to a fuller report expected later from the Council of the Great City Schools—paints a stark picture for the Boston district, which is undergoing some of the biggest upheaval to its leadership in more than two decades. In January, a new mayor, Marty Walsh, was sworn in. He, along with the school reform commission that he appoints, is still searching for a new superintendent to succeed Carol Johnson, who retired last fall.

John McDonough, the long-time chief financial officer for the district, has been serving as interim superintendent since September. McDonough asked the Council—which has a long track record of conducting thorough reviews of urban districts’ operations and instructional programs and publishing unvarnished reports—to conduct the review in Boston. Though Boston school officials have had the memo since earlier this year, it was not released publicly until last week after mounting public pressure and requests from The Boston Globe, according to the newspaper.

The Boston district—more accustomed to being held up as a model for improving urban education—takes several lumps in the memo, but seems to be most troubled by a lack of coordination and cooperation among senior leaders and their departments. Casserly wrote: “In general, central office academic departments could be characterized as badly fractured, distrustful, and lacking a sense of teamwork or shared responsibility for the district’s students.”

On the positive side, Casserly wrote that he and his team found that instructional staff in Boston’s central office are among the strongest they’ve seen in major urban districts and that district educators have been wise to consult with the foremost experts on the Common Core State Standards as they implement the more rigorous academic expectations.

A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.