State to conduct a review of Boston Public Schools next week

The state commissioner of elementary and secondary education on Tuesday said he plans to conduct a review of the Boston Public Schools to see whether it has made an progress since a 2019 review found “major structural challenges” in the district.

BPS Superintendent Brenda Cassellius, who will step down at the end of June, has welcomed the review, Commissioner Jeffrey Riley said, and “to (her) credit, progress has been made, particularly around diversifying the district’s workforce, an “important topic” for the board, and bathrooms have been upgraded “significantly” in many schools there.

Among the other issues of concern during the initial review were a “significant” number of low-performing schools and inadequate services for special education students and English language learners.

Riley said areas of concern for the upcoming review will include data regarding the district’s graduation rate and the on-time performance of its bus transportation.

In a March 9 letter to Cassellius, the commissioner said that he would be conducting the follow-up review next week, and that among the problems found in the 2019 was “little to no trust and confidence in the central office to guide schools and support principals.”

He did not suggest district receivership, under which the department would have appointed someone to oversee BPS.

“Under your leadership, BPS has made progress on several initiatives,” including adopting a MassCore policy, a state-recommended program of study intended to align high school coursework with college and workforce expectations. Completion of MassCore will be a graduation requirement beginning with the class of 2026, Riley said in his letter.

“At the same time, the district has not made progress on other crucial initiatives.” he said, including reworking its special education services and placement options.

“As a result, the district has not significantly reduced the disproportionate placement of students of color in substantially separate programs,” the commissioner said. “Moreover, several new and concerning items have come to our attention, including questions about the accuracy of the high school enrollment data used to calculate BPS’s graduation rate, as well as concerns about transportation services, including the on-time arrival of school buses for all students.”

As we approach the two-year anniversary of the MOU, I have agreed to provide the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) with a comprehensive update on BPS’s areas of progress and continued challenges.

The work on the follow-up District Review will be overseen by DESE’s Chief of Data, Assessment, and Accountability, Rob Curtin.

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