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Ten years ago the Boston school system was virtually torn apart by the strains of desegregation. Ten years later the system has been put back together but it is serving a very different group of students. Tonio reports tonight in the first of a three part series on Boston schools on who those students are court ordered school desegregation began in Boston. The profile of the city's public school population has been radically transformed. What was once an overwhelmingly white student population is now overwhelmingly minority and told in Roman in the schools has dropped by more than 40 percent over ride your factors political demographic and socio economic have contributed to the transformation of the public school population. But the change has been so sweeping and far reaching that the forces that produced it now seem far less important than the extent of the change itself. The changes all to the challenge facing the public school. This is Tim that is now predominantly minority and overwhelmingly poor education. Not integration has become the pressing concern.
The Boston Public Schools have become by any measure the schools of the city's poor. School officials report that 35 percent of the students come from households on AFDC. The welfare program for families with dependent children more than 40 percent live in subsidized or public housing and 58 percent are eligible for the federal free school lunch program. Most strikingly as many as 75 percent of the students come from single parent or foster homes. The school system of 10 years ago. Was predominately white. Working class with. The post World War II till middle class aspirations and that. It was dramatically different as far as socio economic issues are concerned and frankly as far as one can determine relative to family situations a recent survey by the citywide educational coalition indicates that one third of the public school
students come from families with a household income of less than $10000. Another third of the students come from households with incomes below $20000. Ellen guy Nee is executive director of the CW E.C.. A survey that said every suggested we were astonished to say that the number of foster Housefull parents that are under the age of 30. Well over the age of 30 and that was very surprising although many observers view these findings as an indication that middle class families black and white have virtually abandoned the public schools. The evidence is only anecdotal. According to Robert Denton the judge guarantees desegregation experts often class language. It is used by people who don't have any measure of themselves as a euphemism or a cover for the fact that white children are there in much smaller numbers.
But the view that students from more affluent backgrounds have been opting out of the public schools is supported by the increase in private school enrollment in Boston according to the State Board of Education. The proportion of the city's school aged youth black and white and rolled in private and parochial schools has increased from 23 percent in 1975 to 25 percent in one thousand eighty and thirty two percent this year. Moreover there is no question that total enrollment in the public schools has dramatically declined over the last decade from 85000 in 1975 to 65000 and one thousand eighty and 55000 this year. The drop in white in Roman has been the most dramatic falling from almost forty five thousand nine hundred seventy five to twenty four thousand nine hundred eighty and 15000 in 1985. But black in Rome has also declined from more than thirty one thousand and one thousand seventy five to thirty thousand in one thousand eighty and twenty six thousand this year. However largely as a
result of migration patterns the number of Asian and Hispanic students in the public schools has increased from 9000 in 1975 to more than 13000 this year or 24 percent of the current enroll meant this influx combined with the growing proportion of disadvantaged students has substantially increased the numbers of bilingual one special education students in Boston. More than 16000 students 29 percent of the total enrollment a currently listed in bilingual or special needs program. We have so many obligations imposed upon us from huge obligations to special education children. So the vast array of bilingual education children into the children you alluded to earlier who come to us with. Problems you know economic nature our familial nature.
After a decade of declining enrollment only one out of every 10 households in Boston has a child in the public schools. For years some school officials have argued that fancy new programs would lure middle class students back into the system and expand the political base for public education in Boston. But school officials now acknowledge that the middle class won't return until the public schools prove they can educate the disadvantaged students. They have now. We'll look at the steps that are being taken to meet that challenge in our next two reports from Boston English High School Tony Hill for the 10 o'clock news. As the discussion just a moment ago and the new is earlier in this broadcast indicated change has been about the only constant for Boston public schools in recent years. Last night in the first of a three part series reporter Tony Hill examined the changing student population. Tonight he looks at changes in the buildings that students used to attend. Of all the changes in the decade of court ordered school desegregation none has been more striking than the physical transformation of the Boston school system.
In 1994 Boston had two hundred eight permanent school buildings seven leased facilities and forty six so-called demountable buildings. Trailers really used to house classrooms 60 percent of the permanent facilities had been built between 1847 and 1911 and after decades of neglect we were in such poor repair that only 198 were in active service. Some of the roofs were half off windows broken open the snow drifting in. Some were operating in June with 90 degree heat. He systems running. For years the school committee had exploited the excess capacity of the system to maintain segregation. Assigning black students to the worst school buildings in the city under the guise of maintaining neighborhood schools. Those excess seeds had to help. Racial dualism. That is the school committee had used this to keep black children in 32 of the worst schools and
to put our right students in about one hundred fourteen of the hundred ninety schools. In formulating it's busing plan. The Federal Court was compelled both by precedent and simple justice to consider the dilapidation of the Boston school systems physical. We weren't going to bus children to dungeons. And some of them were Duncans some of them had been condemned for school use as far back as 1942 in 1944 but then not taken out of use by the school committee. Some buildings were as old as 1846 and were just being held up by their fire escapes. Literally in 1975 at the insistence of the court the School Committee closed 32 schools 24 of them in predominately black neighborhoods. The 46 temporary schools and the seven lease facilities were also shut down since then. As a result of the Kleinian Roman's and budgetary pressure from city hall the
school committee has closed 41 more buildings. Frequently these closings have generated controversy largely as a result of claims by neighborhood activist teachers and parents that the schools in question were model institutions delivering better than average educational services. As director of the department of implementation John Coakley has had the job of recommending the schools to be closed. I don't think there is any perfect way choosing school closings. But if one gets into the issue of scholastic records reading scores math scores attendance records seniority honor and seniority of teachers I can guarantee you that there's an argument to keep open every school in the city of Boston one way or the other on those educational staffing issues. It's impossible to close schools. In my view by simply looking at reading and math scores in achievement records.
In all the school system is close 73 permanent facilities since 1974. Some like the oak square shown here and the right school have been converted into condominium developments or senior citizen housing but many are vacant unused crumbling. John Coakley questions the wisdom of closing schools to save money. The thesis from the budget TSB they had city hall are in the school the pavane headquarters that we must close schools in order to save money is probably Christian a bill. Because invariably. Closing schools in a system under desegregation forces a few more children out of the system and causes us a few years later to be still dealing with that charge that we have too many empty seats. Ironically the school closings of the last decade have closed schools named after such storied Boston abolitionist as William Lloyd Garrison John Greenleaf Whittier Julia Ward Howe and Theodore Parker who were instrumental in the campaign that made
Boston in 1855 the first American city to desegregate its public schools. 11 new schools including six high schools have been built since desegregation. Yet according to Ellen executive director of the citywide educational coalition the most pressing physical problem facing the system is neglect. With over half of the buildings in the system more than 50 years old the Boston School Department lacks a mechanism for even routine maintenance. The fact of the matter is they do not have regular regular cycle of painting. When we interviewed principals the 35 principals and we asked if we can give you one wish. What's the first thing that you would ask for a great number of them. I would like my building from top to bottom period since 1979 judge Garrity has asked Boston school officials to present a long term plan for the use of school facilities. Today the school department is not complying.
But it is expected to present a plan next month. At issue in this plan will be not only the allocation of classroom seats but an indication of educational planning. In our next report school facilities and curriculum are inextricably intertwined. From school department headquarters Tony Hill for the 10 o'clock news. For the past couple of nights now we have traced some of the subtle and some of the profound changes of the segregation in Boston public schools. Changes in the student population and in some of the buildings that have turned into something else. Tonight reporter Tony Hill looks at how school administrators are trying to bring middle class students back into the system. And at the same time educate those who have been disadvantaged for years in the 10 years since desegregation. The face of the Boston public school population has changed dramatically with what's wrong with many middle class students. The public schools have become the schools of the city's poor. Two thirds of all students now come from families with incomes of less than $20000 and nearly three quarters
come from single parent or foster homes. Moreover one out of three required bilingual or special education classes. Many educators agree that the transformation of the public school population demands new approaches in curriculum school facilities and resources. Leon Nelson is the coordinator of educational programs at Rock Springs Freedom House. School systems have to take a new look at curriculum have to take a perhaps a new look at structural ours. Maybe the schools have to have a system whereby courses start at three o'clock and end at 8 o'clock. Maybe there has to be a system whereby pregnant girls have the opportunity to be with their children during the day and take perhaps afternoon or evening courses. Maybe that has to come in the new system whereby the talented the gifted the creative the student has a greater opportunity to show off his or her Weir's under superintendent Robert splain. The schools have adopted a new uniform curriculum and are in the process of applying tougher
standards for promotion and graduation. These reforms are expected to help younger and future students. But one guy any executive director of the citywide educational coalition where is about their impact on older students whose educations were disrupted by desegregation. The fact of the matter is that concentration is found on the long term. And I let's put things in motion right now that in fact. Well. Payoff eventually and that's probably a good thing to have done. But. You are out simultaneously I think you have some short term safety nets for kids and those those are not there. I mean there are not small intense basic skills classes in the high schools with a third of all public school parents under 30 years of age. And the explosion in teenage pregnancies and single parent families going to believe that the school system must emphasize early childhood programs. I think it has to start to think very much about things like intense early childhood
programs which they don't have right now. The system has to go to and it has kindergarten one of the kindergarten one is not set up in such a way that that working poor. Can you say it's from 9 o'clock 10 minutes of 9:00 until eleven thirty five hurt or an awkward time. There is no coordination with a care centers supported by politically active parents and alumni. The magnet schools including the elite examination schools such as Boston Latin have received more than their share of resources according to John Coakley the Latin School graduate who heads the school Department's Office of implementation. Coakley believes it would be better to increase pupil teacher ratios in the systems advance programs and lower these ratios. In the regular education classes I would see to it. That schools which had children with severe reading and learning difficulties or maybe with environmental difficulties brought to school having extremely wall pupil teacher ratios but
facing the reality that we are a school system that stay in an island in this school a city where many of the taxpayers have little interest in us. And I think the price I have to offer the taxpayers would be classes at the Latin schools at the advance work programs at seemingly high achieving program. Some school watchers stressed an economically disadvantaged students can meet demanding educational standards. I really don't believe and I don't think the Boston Public School system believes that you teach poor children in any way different from. The way you teach affluent children. It's just that there are fewer assumptions that one can make. What the child already has had a chance to do. Your assumptions about how much the previous education enrichment the child may may have had. More than anything the Boston Public Schools have suffered from a lack of stability and leadership during the
decade of desegregation. Roberts Blaine is the fifth superintendent to come and go during these last 10 years and this instability at the top has had a ripple effect throughout the system. The result has been an environment of uncertainty. But it now appears will prevail even after the court withdraws from the case in June. The challenge for splain successor will be to prove the Boston's once proud public schools can educate the disadvantaged students for whom they are now the schools of last resort. From Boston Latin School Tony Hill for the 10 o'clock news.
Ten O'Clock News
Boston Public Schools update
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WGBH (Boston, Massachusetts)
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Episode Description
Three-part series updating the state of the Boston Public Schools since court ordered desegregation. First part on changes in racial and socioeconomic composition of student body. White enrollment has declined and more children come from poor and single-parent households. Second part on the dilapidated conditions of school buildings. Exteriors of closed schools, some boarded up. Third part on the evolution of curriculum planning to enhance flexibility and keep up with standards. John Coakley, School Department; Robert Dentler, expert on court order; Ellen Guiney, Citywide Education Coalition; Leon Nelson, Freedom House. Superintendent Robert Spillane attends School Committee meeting.
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Ten O'Clock News was a nightly news show, featuring reports, news stories, and interviews on current events in Boston and the world.
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schools; School integration; School buildings; school boards; School superintendents
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Publisher: WGBH Educational Foundation
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Chicago: “Ten O'Clock News; Boston Public Schools update,” 1985-02-20, WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed November 28, 2023,
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APA: Ten O'Clock News; Boston Public Schools update. Boston, MA: WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from