Boston Foundation report offers unprecedented detail on Boston’s school system and the educational pipeline

Report Card examines school challenges, achievements and the impact of life circumstances on the city’s children

December 11, 2008

Boston – The Boston Foundation released a new report today at an Understanding Boston forum entitled Boston’s Education Pipeline: A Report Card that for the first time examines in data-rich detail the entire arc of the educational experience in the city from early childhood through college or post-secondary training and on to the regional workforce. In addition to an unprecedented array of information provided for every school in the district system, the report presents a wealth of contextual information about factors that can inform the ability of Boston school children to make full and best use of what has been described as the best large urban school system in the country.

“This is a new tool that will help us determine if we are on track to produce the talent we need to thrive as a region,” said Paul S. Grogan, President and CEO of the Boston Foundation . “For the first time, all the key data is brought together in one place so that we can track our progress, celebrate success and remain focused on critical challenges. This should also help us identify the highest impact investments we can make to improve the prospects for all children.”

The report ranges broadly along the full length of the educational pipeline, connecting a host of contextual issues. It lays the foundation for a broad conversation about circumstances, from health issues to language skills in the homes of Boston school students, that can have a significant impact on academic success.

The report includes data on inputs as well as outcomes, progress achieved and challenges that remain. It places the school system into a context that underscores the impact the role of health, poverty, languages spoke at home, the ability of immigrant parents to gain the skills they need in order to advance—and in order to help their children gain the skills they, in turn, need to flourish in school. The report also spells out the efforts of the City of Boston to provide essential support for students, and lays out the Acceleration Agenda Goals of Boston School Superintendent Carol Johnson.

And for the first time, it pulls together comprehensive data on the characteristics, academic offerings and enrichment aspects of every school in the BPS system, and every charter school in the city as well, in a set of foldout appendices at the back of the report. This is designed to serve as a tool for parents and community residents, one that is not currently available.

The Report Card is a project of the Boston Foundation’s Boston Indicators Project, a special initiative of the Foundation in cooperation with many public agencies, civic and educational institutions, research institutions and community based organizations that collects data and gathers it to provide an evolving portrait of the region. The Report Card is available on a website, at, which will be updated regularly as new data is made available.

Flat numbers

One of the most significant challenges the report highlights: flat progress lines for many key indicators for students in the system. During the past five-plus years, little progress has been demonstrated for the system as a whole in crucial areas such as third graders ability to read at grade level, or eighth graders ability to perform math at grade level. In addition, some areas where progress has been made—such as 10th grade student performance in math and English language arts, the achievement gap between students of different ethnic backgrounds has remained constant.

And the percentage of students who drop out from high school stands at 20 percent for the year 2006/7, the same level recorded for the year 2000.

Demographic and contextual issues

The report examines the demographic context for Boston learners of all ages, identifying challenges inherent in the larger community from which students come including the following points:

    • Boston’s greatest asset, a highly-skilled 21st century workforce is sustained not by homegrown talent but by importing the necessary skills. As a result, the region has seen a widening mismatch between workers’ skills and vacant jobs. For example, in 2006, 35 percent of Bostonians born in Massachusetts held a BSA or advanced degree, while fully 60 percent of Bostonians born elsewhere.

    • Boston students and educators face significant challenges because of economic disadvantages on the majority of households with children. For example, a language other than English is spoken in almost 50 percent of households with children.

    • On average, Boston’s white children experience a higher level of economic and educational advantage compared to children of color. For example, among mothers giving birth in Boston in 2004, 68 percent of white mothers held a BA or advanced degree, compared to 43 percent of Asian, 16 percent of African American and 9 percent of Latino mothers.

    • Students in Boston Public Schools show a high concentration of economic disadvantage and special needs. For example, almost 20 percent of BPS students have physical, cognitive or learning disabilities, and 18 percent of students were rated as being Limited English Proficient, These are the two groups of students deemed most art risk of dropping out.

Challenges within the system

Among the challenges identified by the report are the following:

    • The high percentage of BPS graduates who enroll in community or public college and fail to complete a degree. For a city that relies on creating a highly skilled talent pool to drive growth, this is a long-term challenge.
    • High transportation costs in an era of shrinking resources. The BPS spends about $76 million annually—10 percent of its budget—on transportation. A large proportion of this is not mandated, suggesting it could be reallocated to more promising areas of investment.
    • Inadequate resources for early education programs—seen as a critical element in the process of preparing each child to flourish in school. In particular, the need is evident for upgrades in skills and compensation for early education teachers.
    • The number of students with preventable developmental delays coming into the system. Greater progress in reducing environmental causes of these delays—from violence to health care for young women of childbearing age—could have a significant impact on overall student achievement.
    • The persistence of “islands” of excellence with insufficient connection or ways to spread “best practices” across the entire system.
    • The connection between child and adult literacy. There appears to be a connection between a lack of progress in third grade students’ ability to read—a key predictor of later success—and Boston’s very high rate of newcomer immigrants with school-age children. Long waiting lists for state-funded English classes underscore the great, unmet need for high quality adult literacy training programs that could boost parents’ marketable skills and provide an invaluable source of support for children who are struggling to learn to read.


The Boston Foundation, Greater Boston’s community foundation, is one of the oldest and largest community foundations in the nation, with assets of over $964 million.  In 2007, the Foundation and its donors made more than $92 million in grants to nonprofit organizations and received gifts of more than $155 million.  The Foundation is made up of approximately 900 separate charitable funds established by donors either for the general benefit of the community or for special purposes.  The Boston Foundation also serves as a major civic leader, provider of information, convener, and sponsor of special initiatives designed to address the community’s and region’s most pressing challenges.  For more information about the Boston Foundation, visit or call 617-338-1700.