Leaders of Boston’s African American community are still pushing for the resignation of Boston Latin headmaster Lynne Mooney Teta. The Boston NAACP and the Urban League have asked US Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz’s office to conduct an investigation of the school’s racial atmosphere.
Boston school superintendent Tommy Chang says he has not heard from the US Attorney’s office, but if he does, he is willing to cooperate:
"In instances where the federal government works in collaboration with local leadership you have far more powerful outcomes for kids because you have the cover of the federal government and you have the context of the local leadership and ultimately we want policy recommendations that makes sense that are going to be effective and are going to lead to results. So, we will cooperate if there’s an investigation."
Chang continues to support Teta. But he says the specific racial incidents that sparked this crisis are helping to put a spotlight on a host of structural problems at Boston Latin and within the entire school system that beg for redress. Boston Latin was thrust into the public spotlight in recent weeks after a non-black student reportedly threatened an African American classmate and spoke casually of lynching. This followed other racial incidents at the prestigious public exam school over a 16-month period that have fanned tensions. But the current crisis also presents opportunities says Chang.
“It was because of two students who brought these issues up that initiated all this, and so I would say this is an opportunity to have this conversation at a deep and broad level.”
What that conversation would focus on, says Chang, are structural racial, policy and legal actions that have resulted in a dramatic decrease in black and Latino students being admitted into Boston Latin over a 20-year period.
“What the data shows us is that there are fewer black and Latino students going to Boston Latin while white and Asian students, in terms of percentage, has increased.”
Chang traces the problem, in part, back to the McLaughlin case of 1995—when a white father intervened on behalf of his daughter and other white students whose grades and test scores were better than those of some non-white students. Chang suggests that that lawsuit exacerbated problems of race at Boston Latin.
“Unfortunately, it has been more inequitable.”
Chang says that has to change. He says admittance to one of the nation’s premier public high schools should be based on more than grade point averages and test scores. He says a lot of talented kids are passed over that way.
“It is our goal to make sure there are no opportunity gaps for kids. So, for example, in Boston Public Schools we have classrooms throughout the city that are identified as an advanced work class. Only 10% of fourth through sixth graders qualify for those classrooms through an exam that they take in third grade. We want to make sure that we expand those opportunities for the most rigorous classes and the most enrichment to all kids.”
Chang is trying to implement a new early grade testing system and expand test preparation to target not just an elite 10 percent, which is now the situation in the Boston schools.
“That was the work of the first 100 days (of his administration), looking at how to expand AWC (advanced work courses) and how do we expand other programs that allow a more diverse group of students to start taking rigorous course work at 4th grade, then 5th grade and 6th grade.”
The children of well-off parents frequently enroll in test preparation courses to qualify for the rigorous exam that leads them through the doors of Boston Latin. Many of these students attend private elementary and secondary schools and then apply to the highly ranked public school. Chang says the controversy at Boston Latin over race could be the equivalent of turning poison into medicine if it initiates public discussions that lead to more equitable results across the system; giving kids of color living in the city a better chance of going to the city’s premier public school that bears its name.