Guest Commentary: It’s Time to Stop Hiding Behind Graduation Rates

By Nicholas C. Donohue

This month, tens of thousands of high school seniors across the state are returning home to the thrill of a college acceptance letter, heralding an important path toward a successful and prosperous life. As we celebrate the achievement these well-deserving students worked so hard to earn, we should also ask ourselves if we are doing everything we can to make sure current and future graduates are completely prepared for this important next step.

It is easy to point to high school seniors graduating at an all-time high rate of 82 percent nationally and say that we are making great strides across the country in guiding students into rewarding futures. And an 87 percent rate in Massachusetts might even strengthen the argument to suggest that we are leading the way in doing so.

Yet while higher graduation rates are positive news, it is important to keep our eyes on the real prize. Late last year, The New York Times reported that these peaks in graduation rates overshadow an alarming truth: Many high school graduates are not fully ready for college or career. These questions over the value of a high school diploma echo the results of a recent survey conducted among high school students nationwide, which found that less than half of them felt positive about their college or career readiness. Read More →

State Program Could Lower Cost Of College For Mass. Students

State officials are touting a new program they say could help Massachusetts students save an average of about $5,000 off the cost of obtaining a bachelor’s degree.

The initiative, dubbed “Commonwealth Commitment,” will give qualifying undergraduates a 10 percent rebate at the end of each semester they complete. Students would earn an associate's degree at one of the state's community colleges, then transfer with a tuition waiver to a four-year Massachusetts university. In addition, their tuition and mandatory fees on any campus would be frozen at the date they start the program.

The plan, which state officials say is the first of its kind in the nation, was announced Thursday in Lowell by Gov. Charlie Baker, Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito and public higher education officials. It was developed by faculty members and administrators from all three branches of the state's public higher education system: the University of Massachusetts, state universities such as Worcester State and community colleges such as Middlesex. Read More →

Mass. Senate Unveils New Charter School Bill Tying Cap To State School Funding

The Massachusetts State House in April of 2015. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

By Steve Brown

With a ballot question aimed at raising the cap on publicly funded charter schools looming this fall, the state Senate has unveiled a bill that would not only raise the cap, but also seeks to address funding concerns for traditional district schools.

The senators who drafted the proposal say it not only increases the cap on charter schools, but also puts district schools and charter schools on a level playing field. They say the proposed ballot question addresses the needs of less than 10 percent of the state's public school children.

In announcing the plan, Senate President Stan Rosenberg said the Senate is looking beyond just charter schools.

"What we were seeking to accomplish through this exercise was to step back and do what we would call a 20-year review and revise exercise based upon the work that was done to provide choice in education, to create excellence in education here in the commonwealth of Massachusetts, which started in 1993 with the education reform act of that year," Rosenberg said. Read More →

Cambridge Rindge And Latin Diversifies — With Private-School Students

By Sally Jacobs

Levi Herron, a lanky blond eighth-grader, has a difficult choice to make in the next few weeks.

Herron, who has attended private school all his life, needs to decide where he will go to high school in the fall. His father would like him to go to the Pomfret School, a boarding school in Connecticut that he and many family members attended. But Herron likes another school, too: the city’s public high school, the Cambridge Rindge and Latin School. It’s just a few blocks from his home.

“If I had to make the choice today, I think I would definitely choose Rindge,” said Herron, who attends the St. Peter School in Cambridge. “I think it's just a really unique experience that could mean a lot to me throughout my life and really put me on a good path."

Herron is one of an increasing number of independent- and parochial-school students turning to the public high school. Already, 60 private school students have signed up to attend Rindge in fall 2016, more than 13 percent of the average freshman class of 450. That’s up from just five in 2011 and 49 last year.

Administrators and school committee members say that the new students, most of whom are white, add to the school's famously diverse student body, in which more than 70 countries are represented. The school has about 60 percent students of color and 47 percent low-income students; 69 students are homeless.

Private-school students, many of whom are affluent, remain a minority. But Principal Damon Smith says their rising numbers present a challenge. Read More →

What Discipline Looks Like At A Boston School With 325 Suspensions

Students silently navigating the halls of UP Academy Holland in Dorchester. (Joe Difazio for WBUR)

BOSTON -- Second- and third-graders walk in silence through the hallways of UP Academy Holland. A student speaks to his classmate, and a teacher gives a soft but stern warning. UP Academy Holland’s rules are explicit: No talking in the halls.

Teachers walk along with the groups of students. Each teacher clasps a stick striped in rainbow colors, with clothespins bearing the students’ names clipped on from top to bottom. If your clothespin is at the bottom, in the red zone, it means you’ve misbehaved. And everybody knows it.

It’s all part of the “broken windows” theory of discipline at UP Academy Holland, a Dorchester public school that was declared “failing” in 2013. It's now run by a nonprofit network under state supervision.

The theory, borrowed from policing, holds that cracking down on minor offenses will create a culture with fewer major ones. UP Academy Holland embraces that philosophy in the school turnaround plan created by state Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester and UP Education Network CEO Scott Given.

So UP instructs teachers to “sweat the small stuff” and meet every single infraction of the rules with an immediate consequence. Often, this means issuing an “automatic” -- an automatic consequence for rolling your eyes, or wiggling in your seat, or disputing an automatic, on up to fighting and other dangerous acts.

“Structure is important,” says Given. “I think that it helps to create an environment where students can focus on learning.” Read More →