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More than 225,000 students in Massachusetts attend substandard, segregated schools, according to a new report

The graduation rate at schools where almost all students are white was 93 percent, while the rate at schools where more than 90 percent of students are students of color was 72 percent. On the third-grade MCAS exam in English language and literature, 54 percent of students at schools At schools with almost exclusively white students, expectations were met or exceeded. By comparison, at schools with almost exclusively black students, only 22 percent of test takers did so.

“It's heartbreaking,” said Raul Fernandez, a lecturer at Boston University's Wheelock College of Education & Human Development and chair of the advisory panel. “On the panel, we talked about how many people are already numb to this issue and assume that these gaps are going to exist, but in reality, that's not necessary.”

The report's release comes just before the 50th anniversary of Boston's court-ordered desegregation on June 21. Federal Judge W. Arthur Garrity Jr. found that the Boston School Committee “knowingly carried out a systematic program of segregation” in violation of the U.S. Constitution. Garrity's order followed a series of state court rulings and the state's own efforts to force Boston's public schools to desegregate under the Racial Imbalance Act of 1965.

The new report makes 18 recommendations to reduce segregation and eliminate achievement gaps, including greater government oversight of school desegregation efforts, prioritizing school construction projects that would increase school integration, and expanding Metco, a voluntary school integration program. allowing students in Boston and Springfield to attend suburban schools; and ensuring that districts consider racial balance when closing, building or relocating schools.

The first step, says Fernandez, is to The problems are to be addressed through the application of existing state laws, and he noted: “There has been a complete dereliction of duty across the board in this regard.”

State law requires the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to notify districts with racially imbalanced schools and offer them technical and financial assistance to correct the problems. Districts, in turn, are required to inform parents of students in those schools of their right to transfer to another school in the district.

However, the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education admitted to the council when preparing its report that it had not found a single letter sent to districts over the past two decades and that it could not provide data showing whether students had exercised their right to change schools, the report said.

State Education Minister Patrick Tutwiler said the Healey-Driscoll government remains focused on addressing these issues.

“The Healey-Driscoll administration is committed to ensuring that all students receive a quality education in inclusive learning environments,” he said in a statement.Our government remains focused on addressing these challenges.”

The report described a school as segregated if the proportion of white or non-white students was between 71 and 89 percent, and as highly segregated if 90 percent or more of the students were white or non-white.

Latino students were the only group, along with whites, to hold 90 percent or more of the seats in a school, 34 in total across the state. Three-quarters of these schools were in Lawrence, the rest in Boston, Chelsea and Holyoke. In all of these districts, students of color make up the majority of enrollment. Lawrence and Holyoke counties are also under state receivership, while Boston is implementing a state-imposed county improvement plan.

Since 1965, Massachusetts school districts have been required by state law to eliminate and prevent racial disparities in their schools, particularly when establishing or changing geographic boundaries around schools that determine which students may attend, when setting grade levels, and when selecting new school locations.

But a series of court rulings and lawsuits across the country in the 1990s and early 2000s created a legal murky landscape that left many school officials questioning whether they should even consider race when assigning school assignments. Many, including Boston, subsequently abandoned that practice.

Efforts to achieve racial balance in schools lost ground in urban districts. Segregation in Boston public schools has increased significantly as the district has changed school assignment policies to allow more students to attend schools closer to where they live, according to a 2018 Globe report. More broadly, the number of highly segregated schools in urban districts in Massachusetts has also increased, according to a 2020 report by researchers at the University of Massachusetts.

The increasing intensity of racial segregation in Massachusetts schools comes as the state's overall student population has become more diverse. Nearly half of the 914,959 public school students are students of color. This, in turn, has contributed to more suburban schools becoming more diverse.

However, according to the Racial Imbalance Advisory Council report, ethnically mixed schools are more likely to have Asian students than black or Latino students.

Research has shown that Black and Latino students in racially isolated schools often have access to fewer resources and lower-quality learning environments than their peers elsewhere, according to a U.S. Department of Education report on the state of school diversity. But a 2022 study by MIT's Blueprint Labs found that Boston students who were bused to schools outside their neighborhoods experienced no academic advantage.

Parents have long criticized Boston's public schools for a lack of high-quality schools and for often reaching capacity, leaving parents with no viable alternatives if they want to take their children out of a low-performing, segregated school, said Vernée Wilkinson, director of the family advisory board at SchoolFacts Boston, a nonprofit that works with Boston families.

Even options like Metco can have limitations, she said, because students don't always feel accepted or culturally affirmed.

“When black communities fought for equal opportunities in education 50 years ago, they weren't necessarily fighting for desegregation,” she said. “They were fighting for resources in their community, where they were already accepted and recognized.”

A Boston Public Schools spokesman said the school district is reviewing the report but could not comment at this time.

But Boston public schools have successfully taken steps in recent years to increase diversity in their testing schools and are working to reduce the proportion of black boys with disabilities who are taught in highly segregated classes.


You can reach James Vaznis at james.vaznis@globe.com. Follow him @globevaznis.

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