Citywide Education Progress Report


Key Takeaways: June 2018

For over 20 years Boston has been a national leader in applying school autonomy, district school choice, and high accountability standards to drive student learning and school model variety. Currently, education leaders are focused on improving community engagement and the choice process via more information for parents on schools. And in the wake of the 2018 departure of Superintendent Tommy Chang, the city must push harder for equitable access to high-quality options: achievement gaps for students of color, English language learners, and students with disabilities has widened per the most recent NAEP scores. Ensuring that low-income families and communities of color in particular can provide broad input continues to be a challenge.


System Reforms

Is the education system
continuously improving?

Right leaders Good
Right teachers Good
Equitable funding Good

Do students have access
a high-quality education?

Array of school models Good
Transportation is working Developing
Strategic school supply Developing
Enrollment is working Developing
Families have information Developing

Is the education strategy
rooted in the community?

Variety of groups Good
City engages families Developing
System is responsive Developing
Broad support Developing

Each indicator is scored with a rubric on a 4-point scale. We added the scores for the indicators to get an overall goal score. An arrow shows increase or decrease from the 2017 score.

Looking Deeper

Challenges Ahead

► Ensuring families have the information they need to make choices across school systems

Boston Public Schools (BPS) has recently improved school information so families can weigh their options, but it still has work to do. New high-touch supports for parents include a new local chapter of EdNavigator, which partners with employers to provide one-on-one support for parents. The online guide Boston Schools Finder is available in multiple languages with a searchable database of district, charter, and Catholic schools and offers information on school hours, type, mission, and extracurriculars, as well as basic state-provided academic information. However, in 2017 and 2018 interviews, community groups said that families desired more accessible and relevant performance information. To do that, Boston needs more than the state framework and the data it uses to define quality. Several high choice cities have adopted a common school performance framework—an apples-to-apples tool for parents to make side-by-side comparisons between schools in all sectors. This might be a daunting task in Boston, given that academic performance standards and tracking vary widely between, and in some cases within, sectors. One step in the right direction is the work of a cross-sector task force, the Boston Opportunity Agenda, which recently arrived at consensus on a definition for college and career readiness. The organization can continue to develop locally relevant indicators of quality—which could become part of information guides or the work of family choice support organizations like Collaborative Parent Leadership Action Network and EdNavigator.

► Addressing equity and the need for high-quality seats for all families

Since 2014, elementary and middle school students who live in areas of Boston without high-performing BPS schools are guaranteed choices and transportation to schools outside of their neighborhood. Special populations of students can choose from a list of programs that best suit their needs which, again, may extend beyond their neighborhood. However, the limited number of high-quality schools fill up first and most families either cannot get a coveted seat or decide not to apply given the lengthy bus ride. As a result, poorer-performing schools tend to enroll more students who were unable to secure a spot in another school or who moved to the district midyear, thus concentrating already struggling schools with students who have not chosen to attend them. Access is of particular concern at the high school level: interviewees reported most open-enrollment (non-selective admission) schools perform at low levels. (In March 2018, the Boston Area Research Initiative launched a project with BPS to examine the impact of the assignment system in terms of the equity of school access.) Boston cannot easily adjust the school supply by adding new schools because enrollment numbers are fairly stable, facilities repair and construction is costly, and a state cap limits charter school growth. But low-performing schools could be prioritized for aggressive turnaround efforts, perhaps tapping expertise, approach, or even assistant leadership from schools with strong track records. A newly commissioned Facilities Master Plan, BuildBPS includes data to help education leaders identify where high-quality seats are lacking and ensure that new schools or charter seats are in areas that need them most. As this project takes hold and proves successful, the enrollment system must keep pace so that families living close to new schools will continue to have priority access. BPS may also need to adjust how it approaches controlled choice so it doesn’t continue to fill low-performing schools that families are not choosing.

► Getting input from all families, especially those most impacted by poor-performing schools

BPS is overhauling family engagement policies and has stepped up efforts to tap groups that work directly with families to ensure that the concerns of communities they represent are heard. A new BPS community engagement advisory is tasked with providing both families and community organizations consistent information so they can engage from a common knowledge base. The hope is that this advisory group will incorporate various perspectives and interests to enable collaborative discussions around challenging and controversial topics. If implemented well, these efforts could help further the goal of making family input a regular part of the school opening, restart, and closure processes. One of Boston’s current modes for family engagement is the Citywide Parent Council, but there is a perception that its members do not adequately represent the income and racial diversity of the entire city. The local philanthropic community can deepen its support of engagement efforts by continuing to identify and fund nonprofit, community, or grassroots groups that engage education leaders on behalf of families. BPS and the Boston Charter Alliance (BCA) can work with representatives of those groups when considering new policies or when they must quickly communicate changes in the education system. BPS is overhauling its closure process to regularly include family input. The BCA can also consider working with its members to set best practices around family engagement during the charter school closing and opening processes.


Educators Design Innovative, High-Quality School Prototypes

In February 2018 teachers and leaders in public schools from across Massachusetts, including four from Boston, participated in the first School Design Institute. The program, launched by Mass Ideas, is focused on helping educators and others design and launch innovative, high-quality public schools that are tailored to serve the communities these leaders are in or hope to locate.

TechBoston, a pilot school in the city, was one of three participating schools chosen to receive a design grant to test the prototype they developed at the Institute.  The model prioritizes student and family input in the process. The Institute and grants, like the one TechBoston received, will continue to be available for selected groups to further plan, test, and implement new school models.

District, Charter, and Catholic Schools Collaborate to Sharpen Skills

In March 2018 the Boston Educators Collaborative (BEC) entered its second year of providing teachers from charter, district, and Catholic schools with an opportunity to make connections across sectors while improving their practice together as peers. The teachers who facilitate the courses sharpen leadership skills while participants benefit from the emphasis on collaborative, hands-on problem solving.

Born out of the Boston Compact, this  collaborative program is truly a citywide effort. The mayor spoke in support of the initiative, Teach Plus helped select and train the teachers who acted as lead instructors, and the University of Massachusetts provided lead instructors with a stipend and participants with the possibility of earning university credit.

Student and School Outcomes

Low-income students in the city perform slightly better than their peers nationally on state assessments, but the rate at which they do so has declined slightly over time. Reading and math proficiency rates for all students in the city did not show statistically significant improvement between 2011-12 and 2014-15.

► Between 2011-12 and 2014-15, the city’s graduation rate improved slightly, but remained below the state average.

► Between 2011-12 and 2014-15, the city’s proficiency rate trends in reading mirrored the state’s. In 2014-15, the city’s proficiency rate was 20 percentage points below the state’s.

Data are for all charter and district schools within the municipal boundary. Graduation data from EDFacts and performance data from the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. See Methodology & Resources for more detail.


About Boston

Boston Public Schools (BPS) has long been a leader in school autonomy and choice. Both the first charter school and the first district autonomous school opened in 1993. BPS also has in-district charter schools, Horace Mann charter schools, and Innovation schools. Massachusetts has high academic standards and strong authorizing practices for charters, which have set a high bar for accountability.  All schools in BPS have a great deal of autonomy over staffing and budgeting. While education leaders across sectors collaborate regularly, community-level politics between the charter and district sectors are still challenging.

School Choice in the City

All charter schools are open enrollment. In 2014-15, BPS implemented a "home-based" assignment plan for K–8 students, which offers families a list of district school choices that includes all the schools within a mile of their home, plus high-performing options.

Governance Model

In 1991, a seven-member Boston School Committee was formed to oversee BPS schools and hire the superintendent. The mayor appoints new School Committee members from candidates recommended by a Citizen’s Nominating Panel comprised of parents, school staff, and community representatives. The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is the sole charter authorizer in the state. In-district Horace Mann charters are additionally approved by the Boston School Committee.

2016 District and Charter Student Body

Enrollment: 65,461 students (BPS and charter schools)
Race and ethnicity: 42% Hispanic, 35% black, 14% white, 9% other
Low-income: 70% free and reduced-price lunch (participating in one or more of these state-administered programs: SNAP, TAFDC, DCF foster care, and MassHealth).

2017 School Composition 

Note: Enrollment data for both charter and district schools. Demographics data for BPS schools only.
Source: Boston Public Schools, 2016.
School data from researcher analysis of public records, 2016-17.

The Center on Reinventing Public Education is a research and policy analysis center at the University of Washington Bothell developing systemwide solutions for K–12 public education. Questions? Email