Updated at 9:20 p.m. June 24
The state's education commissioner says he will not recommend placing Boston Public Schools in state receivership or control, while criticizing the troubled district for problems reporting accurate data.
The state's largest school district would be designated as "underperforming" under Commissioner Jeffrey Riley's recommendation to the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, which means the state can appoint an auditor and take other steps to oversee the district.
"Unfortunately, we have been unable to reach agreement [with the city] on provisions that would provide independent oversight to ensure that the district is accurately and transparently reporting its data," Riley wrote in a memorandum to the state board outlining his recommendation. "A solid foundation of data integrity is critical for the families of our students, who depend on accurate and transparent data to make essential decisions about their children’s education and wellbeing. Ultimately, I decided I could not sign onto to any improvement plan that did not contain an independent auditor reporting to DESE ... to verify the accuracy of BPS data."
Boston Mayor Michelle Wu said in a statement that she remains committed to creating a plan that meets the state’s requirements. She also said she opposed the underperforming designation recommended by Riley.
“Just days away from selecting our next Superintendent, it would be a disservice to our students and school communities to set back our timelines by months with a new process resulting from the proposed designation,” the statement said. “I’m committed to finalizing an agreement so we can focus on the critical work ahead."
"Chronically underperforming" is the most serious category in Massachusetts' accountability system, and leads to receivership.
Riley wrote that the state wanted to hire its own auditor to verify that the district is accurately and transparently reporting its progress on important measures, but said the city wanted to hire its own data auditor.
The district has been under the cloud of potential receivership in recent months. A state report in May slammed BPS' progress in meeting improvement goals, saying the district offered inaccurate or misleading data that underplayed significant problems.
The nearly 200-page document said, “BPS needs immediate improvement" and 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.
It also named specific times when the district released inaccurate data, including incorrect graduation and dropout rates, times when the state found bathrooms that were reported as renovated but were not, and the reporting of school bus on-time arrival rates.
Wu, who has been in office less than a year, made a plea to the state board for a chance to improve the schools at a five-hour board meeting last month, but a compromise could not be reached. At the meeting, about 100 parents and educators gathered to protest the threat of recievership, saying it unfairly targets Latino and Black communities by removing local control.
Over 100 professors and researchers also sent a letter to Riley and his department, saying evidence from decades of state intervention in schools across the country, including in Massachusetts, shows receivership is “harmful and destabilizing to communities.”
Riley said if the board votes to designate BPS as an underperforming district, he would appoint an "assistance lead," an accountability monitor, and an individual or team to conduct monitoring site visits to the district. He said he would also notify the district that it is required to develop a district improvement plan and submit the plan to the department for approval.
Once the department approves the district’s plan, Riley said the state could make up to $10 million over a period of three years to support BPS in improvements.
"Taking this step now does not foreclose other interventions, such as receivership, in the future, if BPS does not correct the serious deficiencies identified in the Follow-Up District Review Report," Riley wrote.
The next DESE board meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, June 28.
This story was updated with comment from Mayor Michelle Wu.