Minority numbers plunge at Latin
Concerns raised about recruiting
By Maria Sacchetti
Boston Globe, August 23, 2005
In the six years since a federal court ruled that elite Boston Latin School could not consider race as an admissions factor, black enrollment in the school has plunged by more than 42 percent.
The number of Hispanic students in the city's most prestigious public school has dropped by 32 percent during the same period, according to state Department of Education records.
The decline in minority enrollment is fueling concern that the Boston Public Schools are not doing enough to recruit the system's largest groups of students to Latin School, one of its three selective exam high schools. Parents and others say the trend could create a two-tiered system in a city that has won national acclaim for raising test scores, but still struggles with a gaping hole in minority academic achievement.
''It's a very, very serious concern," said John Mudd, senior project director of Massachusetts Advocates for Children, a Boston-based nonprofit. ''The students of color in the city have still not been given the opportunity to learn that they deserve."
Boston's overall student population was more than 75 percent black and Hispanic in the last school year, but the two groups made up less than 16 percent of Latin School pupils. They made up nearly 27 percent of enrollment in 1998-99, the last academic year before the court ruling took effect barring the use of race in admissions.
While white students make up 14 percent of the city's schools overall, they are nearly 54 percent of the student body at the Latin School. The class that enters the school Sept. 8 continues the trend.
''I would like it to have a higher representation of black and Latino students than it does," Superintendent Thomas W. Payzant said in an interview. ''It was possible to do with the set-aside, and it's been harder to do without it."
Payzant said the Latin School -- where the number of black students dropped from 435 to 250 from 1998-99 to last year and the number of Hispanic students from 198 to 134 -- has the highest admission standards of the three exam schools.
He said the school system, with a limited budget, is still trying to prepare and recruit students to the Latin School and the other two exam schools, where minority enrollments are significantly higher and have held steady since the November 1998 court ruling. Black and Hispanic students make up about 60 percent of the enrollment at O'Bryant School of Mathematics and Science and nearly 40 percent of Boston Latin Academy.
Before the ruling, which covered all three exam schools, Boston reserved 35 percent of seats for black and Hispanic students. Now, Boston's exam schools admit students based solely on scores on an entrance exam and grades. The Latin School is the largest of the three, with more than 2,400 students in grades 7-12.
The schools' recruiting budget for the three exam schools has been slashed. For three years after the court ruling, the schools used a $430,000-a-year federal grant to help students after school and during the summer to prepare for the entrance exam. Since that money ran out in 2002, Boston has budgeted $50,000 a year for exam school recruiting.
Maureen Lumley, the ombudsman for the Boston Public Schools, said the city invites 900 fifth-graders with high test scores to a meeting each year at Boston Latin School to encourage them to apply to an exam school. Each July, roughly 300 to 400 of those students opt to return for the three-week program that drills them to prepare for the entrance exam.
Payzant said the city is focusing on improving all schools and giving students other options, such as smaller high schools.
''It's not as if it's the only good school that will provide kids access to highly selective colleges," Payzant said.
But parents and alumni say the Latin School is clearly the city's premier school, preparing students for top-notch colleges and grooming future leaders. Last year almost every student not only passed the 10th-grade MCAS, but scored in the top two levels, advanced and proficient, on the state graduation test.
Arthur Williams, an African-American high school teacher in Boston and a 1980 Latin School graduate, said he is dismayed that minority enrollment is dropping.
''You cannot be happy with those numbers," Williams said. ''Latin's like the Harvard of all the schools. Just because there are other good schools doesn't mean that students should not have access to Latin school."
Boston Latin School, the oldest public school in the country, was founded in 1635 and is known for strict academic standards, a focus on the humanities, and an alumni roster that includes Benjamin Franklin, John Hancock, and Ralph Waldo Emerson.
The school is also trying to reach out to minority students and keep them, said Kathleen Colby, a parent volunteer who has visited dozens of city schools to recruit for the exam schools.
Colby, however, said she was struck by the lack of information in some parts of Boston: In her West Roxbury neighborhood, parents often enroll their children in private test-prep programs to get ready for the Latin School's entrance exam. But in other neighborhoods, she said, she has met with parents and students who have never heard of Boston Latin School. In another instance, parents thought the Latin School was a private school and assumed that they couldn't afford the tuition.
Others say the city needs to do a better job of preparing students academically or should consider additional measures, such as teachers' recommendations, in admitting students. Applicants to Boston Latin School also face tough competition from private and parochial school students.
Robert Louijeune, a Haitian immigrant and father of a Latin School student, said parents should make sure their children are prepared. ''I don't blame the public schools," he said. ''I get involved."
Maria Sacchetti can be reached at email@example.com.Category: race and education