A newly released state report slams Boston Public Schools' progress in meeting improvement goals, saying the district offered inaccurate or misleading data that underplayed significant problems.

The nearly 200-page document from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) once again raises questions about whether the district will be placed under state control, or receivership, because of its long-standing issues.

“This moment requires bold, student-centered decision-making and strong execution to ensure the district delivers the quality education its students deserve,” the report said. “BPS needs immediate improvement.”

The report, released Monday, follows a state review in 2020 that led to an agreement between the district and the state about improvements in lieu of state receivership or other measures. It said the state’s largest school district has failed to effectively educate its most vulnerable students, carry out basic operational functions and address systemic barriers to providing an equitable, quality education over the last several years.

While noting a few areas where the district has improved, it also said, “BPS does not lack for plans, but that strong execution of these plans is a rarity for the district.”

DESE also said its audit was also hampered by district reporting inaccuracies:

  • The district said it had completed 29 school bathroom renovations, but state visits found at least two of those sites had not been renovated;
  • The district inflated its calculation of school buses that arrived on time by not including its data on buses that never showed up;
  • Graduation and dropout rates reported by the district are inaccurate due to “a lack of appropriate BPS controls at schools and the central office.”

Boston Mayor Michelle Wu said in a statement that as a BPS mom herself, she wants to accelerate improvements and rebuild confidence in the district.

“In the first six months of our administration, we’ve worked quickly to build the foundation for structural reforms and organizational capacity needed to implement the scale of changes our students deserve,” she said. “I look forward to coming to clear next steps with the state that will tackle immediate issues as we on-board our next school superintendent.”

The Boston schools are in a period of deep transition, with an ongoing search for a superintendent to replace Brenda Cassellius, who will depart at the end of the school year. The state assessment cited the churn of superintendents — the next superintendent will be the fifth since 2013 — as another source of dysfunction.

Paul Reville, a professor at Harvard's Graduate School of Education and a former Massachusetts Education Secretary, said he thinks the report is a way for state officials to put "maximum pressure" on the city to improve the school system.

He said it's not clear that the state wants to take over the district, especially considering how difficult school transformation can be under receivership.

"It's one thing to create a sense of urgency about problems that exist, it's quite another thing to say, 'Ok, we as a state will take on responsibility for solving this,'" Reville said. "I'm not sure the state has the capacity or even the will at this point to undertake such a huge responsibility at this moment."

Reville said the report could lead to a new, more robust agreement between the city and state, adding that both city and state officials appear to be in talks about the path forward.

The Pioneer Institute, a libertarian-leaning think tank based in Boston that has endorsed receivership, said in a statement that the report confirmed that problems in Boston "are getting worse" and the central office is no longer capable of making needed changes.

"Since the 2020 review we've learned that the district's data are unreliable," the statement said. "With the district spending $26,000 per student, money is no longer the issue."

The group urged elected officials to join together and appoint a receiver who will take control of the city’s schools for the next six years.

Ruby Reyes, director of the Boston Education Justice Alliance, a nonprofit that works with families at struggling schools, said that’s a bad idea. She called the report and the push for receivership a "power play" by Republican officials who want to control the district because they support putting a private entity in charge of schools.

"I think it's really ... a political power play, as opposed to the quality of education that students are receiving across the state," Reyes said. "I mean, across the board, where there is a receivership, most school districts have not prospered" over the long term.

The state board of education will discuss the report at its monthly meeting on Tuesday, May 24. A vote on receivership is not planned.

Produced with assistance from the Public Media Journalists Association Editor Corps funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people.