Columns, Opinion

Boston Uncommon: BPS should embrace MassCore before implementing optional 13th year

The Boston Public School system is under fire for neglecting to implement MassCore, a state-mandated curriculum aimed at improving college enrollment and readiness.

A recent report by the Boston Opportunity Agenda shows the program significantly improves college graduation rates among Massachusetts’ high school students. And yet, Boston has consistently failed to meet statewide standards.

School officials have cited fears of financial burdens and a drop in the graduation rate as the basis for their hesitancy to adopt MassCore and provide a more comprehensive high school education. These reservations are credible, as enforcing MassCore here would likely require district-wide training at all levels and advising for students, whose requirements would change.

Discussions about adopting the state standards are not new. Tommy Chang, the former superintendent of BPS who was ousted by Mayor Martin Walsh last year, argued for the adoption of MassCore four years ago.

Another study revealed that Boston students who participated in Metco, a voluntary desegregation program that sends students to suburban schools, greatly outperformed their peers who stayed in the city’s education system. This provides evidence the problem is not Boston’s students, but its schools.

City Councilor At-Large Michael Flaherty’s “Year 13” plan would provide high school students who have earned diplomas the opportunity to remain in school for an additional year to continue preparing for college and improving on specific skills.

The proposal was first introduced several years ago, but Flaherty has rekindled the debate in light of The Boston Globe’s Valedictorians Project. The project found that a quarter of the city’s top students from 2005 to 2007 did not graduate college in six years.

However, Flaherty’s Year 13 program would be costly. The resources needed for an extra year of school, for any student who wishes to take advantage of it, could be vast and expensive.

When asked specifically about the intended impact of the program, Flaherty said he envisions the extra year as a tool for “serious kids” who want to compete rather than, we can assume, students who are struggling.

Providing an additional cushion for students who have been successful in high school ignores the students who haven’t been as accomplished. A 13th year would reward students who have maneuvered their way through an inadequate curriculum and overlook the less fortunate victims of an insufficient education.

The source of Boston students’ underperformance in college is not an inherent inability to thrive in those environments, but rather, a lack of preparation from the city’s schools. Rather than use an extra year of school to boost top students, the City should focus on helping worse-performing students, or even better, overhaul the system that created them.

BPS refuses to implement MassCore, a curriculum aimed at college and career readiness, yet asks why its students are underperforming. Patching up the problem at the end of the process rather than providing an education that fosters success from the outset is ineffective and obtuse.

A 13th year might be necessary if BPS transitions toward a more comprehensive curriculum, but it is not the end game. Flaherty needs to assess why Boston would need the 13th year program in the first place. Massachusetts provides a stepping stone into college through MassCore, while Boston still forces its students to take the leap.

Students across the country gain adequate education within their 12 years of schooling. Boston should be no exception.

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