With few exceptions, urban high schools that serve high proportions of low-income and minority youth are failing to meet the academic needs of their students, according to a new study released by the Rennie Center for Education Research and Policy at MassINC. Using a range of indicators, some of which include: attendance rates, drop-out rates, college plan data, and MCAS scores, Head of the Class: Characteristics of Higher Performing Urban High Schools in Massachusetts identifies just one Bay State high school as "high performing:" University Park Campus School in Worcester.
The report identifies eight other non-selective urban high schools that are on the road to success in helping their students achieve at high levels (the study's parameters were 50% minority and 45% low-income). The eight schools are:
- Academy of the Pacific Rim, Hyde Park, Boston
- Lynn Classical High School, Lynn
- Accelerated Learning Lab School (ALL), Worcester
- Media & Technology Charter High School (MATCH), Boston
- Boston Arts Academy, Boston
- Sabis International Charter School, Springfield
- Fenway High School, Boston
- Somerville High School, Somerville
The report details five common practices that were found across all nine schools:
- High standards and expectations: Administrators communicate high standards and expectations for students and teachers;
- A culture of personalization: Each school has been able to develop a culture that personalizes instruction, while offering significant supports for teachers and students;
- Small learning communities: Size is critical to students and teachers forming strong, trusting relationships, and the ability of teachers to respond to student needs;
- Data-driven curricula: These schools respond to data on student performance - including those that put a heightened focus on math and literacy; and
- Strong community relationships: Parents, corporate partners, and higher education institutions provide important supports.
The small number of schools identified in the report points to the existence of a persistent and far-reaching achievement gap, despite the important gains made in student learning since the Massachusetts Education Reform Act was passed in 1993. Educators and policymakers concerned about achieving high standards for all students in the Commonwealth need to attend to this stark disparity with urgency.