Lack of Coherence has Disproportionate and Inequitable Impacts

Students’ academic experiences lack coherence across classrooms, grade levels, and schools.

  • “What is being held up as the standard for academic learning (Honors/AP classes, MCAS) is not being questioned. There is wide variation in classroom teaching… and no consensus on what quality academic learning looks like… Teachers’ ideas of what students need -- and what students say they need -- are not always the same.”1

  • “There is quite a range of [academic] interventions taking place, with variation… both within and across schools… Many respondents suggest a desire to change the interventions currently taking place, citing concerns about demographics, students’ schedules, and students’ ‘integration’ in the regular classroom.”2

CPS lacks coherence in its approaches to creating positive school cultures and supporting students.

  • “All students are capable of success in school despite racial inequity in our society. [But] we see disproportionate disciplinary actions taken against students of color (particularly boys of color) and students with special needs (who are disproportionately students of color)... Adults (teachers, administrators, district leaders) are responsible and their actions are injurious to the students, not just ineffective. The lack of clear expectations, student-teacher relationships, quality and ongoing training, and shared vision around the district’s approach to supporting all students’ success exacerbates this disparity.”3

  • CRLS students report that “the incorporation of explicit community building strategies and explicit efforts to nurture quality student-teacher relationships varied across discipline and teacher style. Some teachers embedded this as part of their curriculum and class structure. [Other] teachers did not use any class time away from their academic curriculum to develop and strengthen relationships.”4

  • Students “noted that sometimes discipline issues are just a symptom of a bigger mental health issue that their peer might be facing. They noted there is a significant need for mental health support in the schools and that the addition of greater mental health support might curb some of the behaviors that are interpreted as disciplinary.”5

CPS lacks coherence and consistency in its approaches to home-school engagement and partnership.

  • As well as “differences between [schools] related to communication, there were also different experiences within schools... Comments included, ‘Oh, I get way too many emails from our school’ while another caregiver at the same school articulated, ‘Really? I don’t get any.’”6

  • Caregivers expressed frustration with “delivery of information for students with disabilities or those who are interested in pursuing educational testing. Some parents and caregivers stated that their leaders in their schools were very helpful while others felt they had to ‘fend for themselves’ with little or no support. Many parents and caregivers of color identified that they felt the pressure to really advocate for their children at school because they did not think the schools had the success of their children as a priority.”7

CPS lacks a coherent vision of post-secondary success that is consistently supported for all students.

  • “How did CRLS define success after graduation? ‘They had no definition of success. I was on my own. Just getting out was the goal and seen as the finish line.”8

  • Students reported “that there were some populations of students… for whom the school was proactive in college guidance or counseling. And there were other populations of students who had to seek out help, find support, and be advocates for themselves.”9

  • “When I got to college [that first year], I didn’t feel prepared… So many of my friends suffered from depression.”10

Without coherence in vision and implementation, CPS systems and practices tend to fall back on white, middle-class norms that do not support equity.

  • “Without a consensus [about quality academic learning], academic learning… is defined narrowly according to traditional, white supremacist values and our system is set up to perpetuate that.”12
  • “Many people say that they value all children and families but still make comments that mean the opposite. Many still hold and act on ideas that posit the dominant, white privileged way of school... rather than finding out about the values of the families in our communities and honoring them.”13

  • “Principals discussed how schools are structured around white middle class norms. There was an acknowledgement that white privilege manifests... throughout our schools. However, as a school system we are generally not taking a position that we have to be actively working against this or we are replicating the dominant paradigm.”14

  • “Inequity is caused by the misalignment and lack of transparency around the goals of schools. There is also too much emphasis on what is easy to see, track and measure; this flawed model is prejudicial in its views and generally inadequate in its goals.”15

With so many varying approaches to the core work of school, CPS has created an environment in which some educators and administrators are doing innovative, impactful, and equitable work. Those individuals and their practices could be engaged and leveraged toward systemic improvement.

  • Students report that when a teacher “loves their job,” the ways that their classrooms are “set up and organized can represent that.”16
  • Students report that some academic support/intervention teachers are doing impactful work. As one elementary student put it, “The more I get help, the more I learn and the more I feel good.” Or in the words of an Upper School student: “When I come in here, it feels like a space where… I can be who I am.”17

  • “The schools that educators of color imagine are reflections of their identities, experiences, and capacities.” And “educators of color in Cambridge Public Schools have ideas and strategies to execute their ideal school. However, their voice and ideas are routinely overlooked.”18

1 Academic Learner Sense-Making Team Narrative
2 CPAR Study 15
3 Student Discipline Sense-Making Team Narrative
4 CPAR Studies 3 & 7
5 Focus Group Report
6 Focus Group Report
7 Focus Group Report
8 Quote from an American-Born Black CRLS alumnus, CPAR Study 6
9 Focus Group Report
10 Quote from an American-Born Black CRLS alumnus, CPAR Study 6
11 For additional evidence, see “Existing Systems” and “Whiteness, Privilege, and Bias” barriers
12 Academic Learner Sense-Making Team Narrative
13 Educator quote, CPAR Study 8
14 Principals’ Input and Reflections
15 CPAR Study 5
16 CPAR Studies 3 & 7
17 CPAR Study 15
18 CPAR Study 8

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