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Forging Ahead, Despite Fiscal Challenges

Despite cuts in state and local funding that led to staff reductions and larger class sizes, Boston, Massachusetts, school officials are pressing ahead with an academic improvement plan, and has seen more students receiving supplemental services.

The Boston, Massachusetts, public schools have lost more in state and local funds due to the state's fiscal crisis than they have gained in federal funds for the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, and these cuts have led to layoffs of 600 teachers and notable increases in class size. The cuts have not affected the district's implementation of NCLB requirements, however, according to district officials.

The academic improvement plan for Boston Public Schools includes high expectations for proficiency in reading, writing, and math, although many students have not yet reached the expected levels of performance. Before NCLB, the district's goal was to move everyone out of academic failure using a continuous progress model. As a result of NCLB, the new goal is to have all students reach proficiency using a quantified benchmark model imposed by the state. The change in methods of calculation has produced some improvement in the number and percentages of students passing the state's tests -- in other words, the percentage reaching proficiency.

Nevertheless, in 2002, 18 schools were identified for school improvement for the first time, and 25 were in school improvement for two years or more. Relatively few Boston parents took advantage of the opportunity to send their children to another school. From the 44 schools where 18,768 students were eligible for school choice, only 45 students transferred to another school. District officials felt this was largely because of parents' commitment to their current schools, but also because a zone and citywide choice program has been in place in Boston since 1987, so parents already had had a chance to choose their children's school. Overall, according to district staff, very few parents indicated dissatisfaction with their children's schools.

A total of 1,200 students participated in supplemental services in 2002-03, out of the 10,577 that were eligible; parents seemed more willing to accept those services than to send their children to other schools. The Boston Public Schools was one of the providers approved by the state, and was the provider most often selected by parents. Students received the additional services in before- and after-school programs organized and taught by site coordinators and regular daytime teachers recruited throughout the district Boston closed two school improvement schools in 2003-04, lowering the number to 42 schools in need of improvement. Of these, however, 25 schools entered a second year in need of improvement and, in the third year of NCLB, 12 schools have been identified for corrective action. The number of students who transferred to another school increased to 70, and 5,139 of the 15,572 eligible students are participating in supplemental services.


One of the challenges facing the Boston district is continued achievement gains for the 15 percent of the district's students who still are learning English. Boston students speak more than 80 languages, with Spanish being the most common language.

A 2002 change in Massachusetts state law, effective as of school year 2002-03, required school districts to teach English to English language learners using structured immersion programs or mainstream classrooms, rather than transitional bilingual classes, with very few exceptions. Severely limiting bilingual instruction could affect whether ELLs make adequate yearly progress (AYP) when they are counted as a subgroup for NCLB. District staff members also note that the change will affect instruction for regular education students because teachers will have to meet the needs of both the regular and ELL students in the same classes.

SOURCE: Center on Education Policy

To read the full report, see A Look Inside 33 School Districts: Year 2 of the No Child Left Behind Act.

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