Here’s a common-sense way to better prepare Boston public school students for college: Require them to take the same basic courses as other students around Massachusetts.
Ninety to 100 percent of graduates at most other high schools statewide meet the minimum number of courses in English, math, science, and other core subjects that state guidelines call for. That includes 100 percent of graduates from urban schools in Chelsea and Lawrence. But the Boston public school system has largely ignored those guidelines, called MassCore.
If Boston’s valedictorians from the mid-2000s often struggled in college, their classmates were dropping out at an alarming rate. A groundbreaking 2008 study, Getting to the Finish Line, found that fewer than 40 percent of college-enrolled students from Boston public schools had earned a degree within seven years. The rest essentially did not make it.
About 20 years ago, David Laude, a chemistry professor at the University of Texas at Austin, noticed that too many students in his general chemistry class were not cutting it. That was especially true of first-generation students, who were flooding Texas public colleges because of a state law guaranteeing admission to students who graduated in the top 10 percent of their high school class. Laude discovered that many of them had what he calls “adversity indicators” — among them being economically disadvantaged, coming from struggling urban high schools, and growing up in families in which no one else had gone to college.
They were Boston’s valedictorians, many of them loaded with scholarships that covered part or all of their college tuition and other expenses. Even so, more than half are still carrying student debt — a figure that’s roughly on a par with the national average for young adults with a bachelor’s or postgraduate degree. Some, like Delcy Miranda, ended up not only deeply in debt, but with no four-year diploma to show for it. Miranda, who struggled academically at UMass Amherst, dropped out after suffering a series of personal tragedies and worked for a while in a factory making powdered cappuccino sachets.