Sunday, June 23, 2024

Cambridge is a wonderful city filled with diversity, tolerance and opportunity and is home to elite institutions of higher education such as Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology,  so one would expect the city to have high-quality public schools for the families who live and pay taxes there. But there remains a significant achievement gap between its public school students of different socioeconomic backgrounds.

I believe Cambridge can improve its public education system vastly by implementing a few progressive and innovative policies such as increasing early education opportunities, raising academic expectations for all students and expanding access to tutoring programs.

Studies show that early education programs are important in closing the achievement gap between students of various socioeconomic backgrounds, but Cambridge Public Schools offers three prekindergarten programs for children as young as age 3–the Fletcher Maynard Scholar College, Special Start Integrated Classrooms and the Tobin Montessori Children’s House–that have a combined capacity of 90 students. There are more than 500 children on the prekindergarten waitlist. When fewer than one in five students who would benefit from these educational resources are able to access them, we have a situation that creates educational winners and losers from the outset. This is especially detrimental for families who do not have the resources to send their children to private prekindergarten programs.

Third-grade reading levels are a great indicator of how a child will perform academically, but CPS grade 3 literacy numbers are quite concerning: Last year, we had 73 percent of Asian-American and 72 percent of white students were reading at grade level by the third grade, but only 40 percent of African-American students and 49 percent of Hispanic and Latinx students. In addition, the 2020 grade 3 literacy target numbers for Hispanic and Latinx students is 36 percent, and for Asian-American students it’s 65 percent, targets lower than what were achieved in 2018.

The grade 8 math numbers indicate that 10 percent of African-American students achieved math proficiency in 2017. That rose to 30 percent last year; the target for 2020 is 25 percent math literacy. In comparison, the grade 8 math numbers indicate that two years ago, 70 percent of white students achieved math proficiency. That number rose to 77 percent in 2018; the target for 2020 is 75 percent math literacy. Although the numbers are rising, I’m concerned about the message that’s sent to parents and students, especially parents and students in lower-achieving brackets, when proficiency targets are lower than previously accomplished. CPS must raise academic expectations for all students and implement innovative policy solutions to achieve these more ambitious goals.

CPS should offer free tutoring to each child performing below grade level. The research supporting the effectiveness of tutoring dates back more than a decade. We could minimize costs and achieve results through the prudent use of computer-based tutoring, and by taking advantage of free innovative platforms such as the Khan Academy.

Cambridge spends more than $25,000 per pupil, and the operating budget for fiscal year 2020 is approved at more than $200 million. Unlike many cities, Cambridge has the resources to provide a top-tier education to every student. Our challenges lie in allocating those resources effectively. We must ensure that our School Committee, who make critical decisions about the direction of our school system, has the knowledge necessary to make prudent decisions.

Elechi Kadete, candidate for Cambridge School Committee.