Selective advanced learning program in Boston suspended due to COVID-19 and racial inequity concerns

A very selective advanced learning program in Boston for fourth-sixth graders has suspended enrollment due to the pandemic and increased concerns about racial inequities.

Superintendent of schools Brenda Casselius announced that the prominent learning program known as Advanced Work Classes would be suspended for at least one year. The program, which offered advanced classes for high performing fourth-sixth graders, has been in place for a number of years. Advanced Work allows higher achieving students to study in a less traditional way, enabling them to excel beyond their current class average. Casselius, in a dialogue with reporters at GBH News said, “There’s been a lot of inequities that have been brought to the light in the pandemic that we have to address. There’s a lot of work we have to do in the district to be anti-racist and have policies where all of our students have a fair shot at an equitable and excellent education.”

Prior to this announcement, the test portion had already been suspended earlier this year. She added that these inequities were apparent yet did not play a role in the suspension of the test, but rather the pandemic making it difficult to administer tests was the sole factor for the decision. The outrage over the program comes as a result of there being a disproportionate number of white students in the program, outweighing black and hispanic kids by a large margin. After a district analysis was conducted, they found that over 70% of students in the program were white or hispanic, while nearly 80% of students in the entire district were black or hispanic. Lorna Rivera, school chairman, said in a school board meeting in January, “This is just not acceptable, I’ve never heard these statistics before, and I’m very very disturbed by them.” Rivera continued, citing a statistic from the school program which said 60% of all the program’s students were white.

Admissions to the program were based on test scores and random selection. If a student scored high enough on a test, they would be eligible for a lottery style drawing to determine who would be admitted to the program. According to school officials, 453 students were invited to the program last fall, 143 students applied and 116 enrolled for the 2021 year. Casselius said that those who had already been enrolled into the program could finish out, but that enrollment would be phased out for incoming fourth and fifth graders. In addition to the racial inequities, Casselius noted that the program has lost a lot of support over the years, adding that only 5 schools currently offer the program in the Boston area anymore. It is unknown whether or not the program will be relaunched or dismantled for good. District officials have already instituted a working group to make that decision for the future. This group is expected to offer up a recommendation in May towards the end of the current 2020-2021 school year.




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