Madison Park is a Learning Organization (Op-ed)

Madison Park Technical Vocational High School

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Needs resources and political support

by Gary Kaplan

The Boston Globe’s February 14 editorial on the Boston Public Schools (“Keep the pressure on to reform Boston schools”) makes a strong argument about the need for reform but undercuts its case by citing examples that do not square with the facts.

First, English-language learners have not made “less progress toward goals than students district-wide.” The state’s only measured academic goal is the percent of students scoring in the top two of the four MCAS proficiency levels. From 2013 to 2018, the last year of the old MCAS scoring system, English Language Learner (ELL) 10th graders in Boston raised their English MCAS percent 10 points and their math percent 5 points. The district as a whole raised its 10th grade English percent 3 points and its math percent 2 points. ELL students made more, not less, progress than the district.

Next, the Globe’s ritual flagellation of Madison Park Technical Vocational High School (“Political inaction has let problems like under-performance at Madison Park Vocational High School fester for years, to the detriment of students.”) invokes an impacted judgment that ignores the school’s unique characteristics and its recent history. Madison Park is not a typical high school. It has a vocational school schedule: one week of academic classes, one week of vocational classes. That means its students have half the time for English, math, science and other academics as students in other schools. Yet they are held to the same MCAS standards as students who have twice the academic instructional time. Nonetheless, their MCAS ELA percent rose 12 points and their math percent rose 9 points from 2014 to 2018 while the district gained only 6 points and 2 points. The school’s graduation rate rose 11.6 points from 2017 to 2019 while the district’s rose only .5 points. The school’s dropout rate dropped to 4.8% in 2019, virtually matching the district’s 4.2%. The most recent accreditation report of the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (October 2018) concluded that “Madison Park has the capacity as a learning organization to progress toward a Level 2 or Level 1 school”–the highest state rankings.

In addition to the bifurcated schedule, demographics are an unavoidable factor. To cite only two items: Madison Park’s student population is 74.1% economically disadvantaged and 33.6% students with disabilities (aka special needs). These are the highest rates of all the city’s high schools. The district is 58.3% economically disadvantaged and 21.3% students with disabilities. (Boston Latin’s population, by contrast, is 16.3% economically disadvantaged and 2.1% students with disabilities.)

Using Madison Park reflexively as a scapegoat misrepresents both its own conditions and the district’s. Under the leadership of Executive Director Kevin McCaskill since 2015-16, the school has improved steadily as NEASC forecast. Students and families are getting that message. This year’s freshman class numbered 351, double the size of 2014-15’s. Next year’s class will top 400.

NEASC closed its report with an urgent appeal to the city to provide its only vocational school with the resources and political support it needs to fulfill its mission as the region’s workforce development engine. Like most schools, Madison Park can and should improve. But while we continue to dissect its flaws and devise new fixes, we should take note that students are voting with their feet. They’re coming.

Gary Kaplan is executive director of JFYNetWorks. The Boston-based nonprofit provider of blended learning programs has supported Madison Park since 2000.

Other posts authored by Gary Kaplan can be found here.

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