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Head of the Class

Characteristics of Higher Performing Urban High Schools in Massachusetts

With few exceptions, urban high schools that serve high proportions of low-income and minority youth are failing to meet the academic needs of their students, according to a new study released by the Center for Education Research and Policy at MassINC. Using a range of indicators, some of which include: attendance rates, drop-out rates, college plan data, and MCAS scores, Head of the Class: Characteristics of Higher Performing Urban High Schools in Massachusetts identifies just one Bay State high school as “high performing:” University Park Campus School in Worcester.

“Too few urban high schools are meeting the learning needs of low-income and minority youth,” said Paul Reville, executive director of the Center for Education Research and Policy at MassINC. “This challenge should command the immediate attention of policymakers and researchers.”

The report identifies eight other non-selective urban high schools that are on the road to success in helping their students achieve at high levels (the study’s parameters were 50% minority and 45% low-income). The eight schools are:

Academy of the Pacific Rim, Hyde Park, Boston

Accelerated Learning Lab School (ALL), Worcester

Boston Arts Academy, Boston

Fenway High School, Boston

Lynn Classical High School, Lynn

Media & Technology Charter High School (MATCH), Boston

Sabis International Charter School, Springfield

Somerville High School, Somerville

The report details five common practices that were found across all nine schools:

High standards and expectations: Administrators communicate high standards and expectations for students and teachers

A culture of personalization: Each school has been able to develop a culture that personalizes instruction, while offering significant supports for teachers and students

Small learning communities: Size is critical to students and teachers forming strong, trusting relationships, and the ability of teachers to respond to student needs

Data-driven curricula: These schools respond to data on student performance – including those that put a heightened focus on math and literacy

Strong community relationships: Parents, corporate partners, and higher education institutions provide important supports

The small number of schools identified in the report points to the existence of a persistent and far-reaching achievement gap, despite the important gains made in student learning since the Massachusetts Education Reform Act was passed in 1993. Educators and policymakers concerned about achieving high standards for all students in the Commonwealth need to attend to this stark disparity with urgency.

“Tens of thousands of students are systematically under-educated in Massachusetts. This should be a top school reform priority,” said Reville.

“Since we started making grants seven years ago, the Trefler Foundation’s primary interest has been identifying and supporting methods of improving the quality of education in Boston’s high schools,” said Linda Kutsch, president of the Foundation. “We could not be more pleased that MassINC and the Center for Education Research and Policy have chosen to turn their careful attention to this topic, and we are very pleased to be able to support their work.”

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