A selective program for high-performing fourth, fifth and sixth graders in Boston has suspended enrollment due to the pandemic and concerns about equity in the program, GBH News has learned.
Superintendent Brenda Cassellius recommended the one-year hiatus for the program, known as Advanced Work Classes, saying the district would not proceed with the program for new students next year.
“There’s been a lot of inequities that have been brought to the light in the pandemic that we have to address,” Cassellius told GBH News. “There’s a lot of work we have to do in the district to be antiracist and have policies where all of our students have a fair shot at an equitable and excellent education.”
New students will be admitted in the fourth grade by standards to be determined at the school level, according to a BPS spokesman.
There will be no new students admitted in the fifth or sixth grades, the spokesman said, but those already in advanced work will be allowed to continue.
A district analysis of the program found that more than 70 percent of students enrolled in the program were white and Asian, even though nearly 80 percent of all Boston public school students are Hispanic and Black.
School Committee member Lorna Rivera said at a January meeting that she was disturbed by the findings, noting that nearly 60 percent of fourth graders in the program at the Ohrenberger school in West Roxbury are white even though most third graders enrolled at the school are Black and Hispanic.
“This is just not acceptable,” Rivera said at a recent school committee meeting. “I’ve never heard these statistics before, and I’m very very disturbed by them.”
The program was open to all students in the Boston Public Schools who took a test known as Terra Nova in the third grade and received a high score. Those students were placed in a lottery conducted by the central administration office, and lottery winners received letters inviting them to apply to the program. Last fall, 453 students received invitations, 143 students applied and 116 enrolled this year, officials said.
Students in the program have the opportunity to study subjects in greater depth and are offered more schoolwork than the traditional curriculum requires.
Cassellius says interest in the program had declined over several years and only five schools currently offered the program: the James F. Condon School in South Boston, the Jackson/Mann K-8 in Allston, the Richard J. Murphy School in Dorchester, the William H. Ohrenberger school in West Roxbury, and the Josiah Quincy Elementary School in Chinatown.
Students already enrolled in the program will continue, Cassellius said, but programming decisions about how to continue will be made at the principal level.
District officials have launched a working group to determine the long-term future of the program and are expected to make a recommendation in May.
Source : www.wgbh.org