Refreshing honesty in education reform

Massachusetts public schools are widely known to be the best in the country. This doesn’t mean that school is good. It means that Massachusetts keeps trying new things. But also it means that Massachusetts starts with the state with the highest percentage of people with advanced degrees. And the highest number of universities per capita, feeding bright-eyed, bushy-tailed undergrads into the system.

But regardless, I always keep an eye on what Massachusetts is doing. So this post about METCO caught my eye. It’s a program that ships poor, non-white kids to the rich, white, suburban schools of Boston. This program is so popular that there are 10,000 kids on the waiting list.

Here’s why I think it’s so popular: because the government takes care of the kids from 6am to 8pm. Someone feeds the kids meals, someone makes the kids do their homework, and someone supervises a wide range of after-school activities.

This confirms my hunch that there are a lot of parents who would rather have the government raise their kids because they are stretched way too thin themselves. Actually, the same is true of rich parents — there are a lot of them who want to have someone else raise their kids, but they use nannies and boarding school instead.

I don’t have a huge problem with these tactics. I wouldn’t do them, but whatever. Most people wouldn’t make my choices, either. What I do have a problem with is parents who give their kids to the government and then refuse to admit it’s because they need a break.

This is in contrast to most parents who pretend they are doing everything for their kids, when they are actually spending all their family resources to live in an expensive place so they can say they have to work to pay for the school district it affords them. In reality that’s really the parents justifying sacrificing the kids’ needs for their own.

What I like about METCO is that a parent is admitting they can’t accommodate the needs of their kid, and they are asking for government help. I like METCO because it’s flat-out daycare. And as daycare goes, METCO is unbelievably successful.

It works because it’s real about what its doing. Families are always balancing the needs of many individuals. And the less we have to lie to ourselves the more we can accomplish.

16 replies
  1. Lonnie
    Lonnie says:

    Could we sum it up by saying that over the last ten years or so, Education has done what Reform wished, be it focusing on high stakes testing, moving the lowest quartile, charters, early intervention, or what have you?

    During this period, interventions have failed to budge long-term trends and may indeed have done damage in certain quarters. Despite this record of following “commonsense” measures, we are preparing for yet more of the same over the next few years.

    Why? Because it’s an “affirmation”. It’s like joining a multi-level marketing organization where success lies in following the “Plan” and failure only comes from not trying hard enough.

  2. jessica
    jessica says:

    In the report, in states that Metco has been around since the 60s.
    If it is such a great program, why are there only 3,000 students enrolled? Also, I didn’t see anything on the outcomes for these students.
    I’m not against government help, but I think it should be distributed more in the form of currency and practical benefits to the parents- if we are going to go the direction, that is. I don’t think setting up institutions to keep children away from family all day is necessary.
    In this case, it seems like the parents want their kids in better school districts, maybe not ‘away all day’, but that’s the sacrifice the parent will make to ensure their children has access to a better education environment.

  3. Becky
    Becky says:

    It’s amazing to me how the government is intruding more and more into family life in the name of “education.” In the past two years, our local public school has gone from 3-days-per-week, half-day preschool programs to 5-days-per week. Kindergarten is also now full days, when we used to have the option to only send for a half day. The school also does something very similar to METCO, offering “day care” before and after school, and all day long throughout the summer. I get it, there are a lot of families that have a single parent who works long hours, or two parents who do the same. It just makes me feel even more grateful with the time I have with my children, that I don’t have to send them away.

  4. Bostonian
    Bostonian says:

    I have a slightly different view of METCO, and of the proof of its success. I live in Boston, and know a few things about it that might not be apparent from a distance. First off, it has nothing to do with socioeconomic disadvantage, except in a secondary way. The richest black kid in Boston could do METCO. The poorest white kid couldn’t.

    The program sprang out of anger at segregation in Boston’s public schools in the sixties. Some surrounding communities volunteered to host black kids in their white schools. It’s a voluntary program; no district has to participate. It’s like a kind of charity.

    The host school has to have a condition of “racial isolation” (defined as less than 30% minority), and the sending school has to have a condition of “racial imbalance” (defined as more than 50% minority). Almost all the surrounding suburban schools meet the first condition, as forced desegregation caused massive white flight in the seventies, and all Boston public schools meet the second condition (even Boston Latin would).

    Any minority kid in Boston can get on the list, but most of them will never get off the list. The kid who lived next door to us did METCO out in one of the very rich suburbs. He was black, and also Greek. He spent his summers in Greece. His mom worked in the very rich suburb’s school system, and was able to get him bumped up the list with her connections. He was hauled out the door in tears and in pajamas every morning at six.

    Lots of folks like to point to the different achievements of the METCO students vs. students at their home schools as proof it works. What they don’t consider is that the program, through the difficulty of enrollment, does not enroll quite the same kids who don’t apply to it. Most kids never make it off the wait list, because the demand among minority parents in Boston exceeds the demand for minority students in the suburbs.

    One of the challenges METCO faces now is that there is a huge gap in test scores between the METCO kids and the kids who live in the white suburbs. In Weston, 71 percent of white students score advanced on the English MCAS, and 18 percent of black students (almost exclusively METCO) do. That 40-60 point gap holds across all the host communities.

    The kids who do METCO fare well in comparison with the kids in the schools they came from, but here’s what we’re really talking about in Boston: 20% of kids are in special ed, 44% of kids speak a language other than English as a first language, 29% are limited English proficient, more than 50% have parents who were born abroad, and about 8% of the kids are homeless. There are huge numbers of kids who are never going to be able to get on the METCO list. I’d like to see a comparison of the achievements of the METCO kids with a matched set of kids who didn’t do METCO.

    • ms100
      ms100 says:

      You’re quite right. There has been no study of METCO because they don’t want to know the answer. It’s a sacred cow now of progressives and they will label anyone racist who dares to question it.

  5. Wendy
    Wendy says:

    I think this is one of your shorter articles, but it’s one of my favorites. It’s concise and clear and to the point.

    I hate to say it, but for a lot of these kids, even if they don’t get the grades or test scores to match their more affluent white peers, just learning how to “deal with” white people will probably give them an edge in life over their peers who never get that opportunity.

    This is a bit more of a nebulous thought that can’t really be pinned down by stats, but I wonder how much this calculated integration is designed to, or would affect, racism (or at least negative racial biases) among the white kids at the schools doing METCO. Every person of color I know who has lived in or visited Boston has said that it was one of the most (if not THE most) racist cities they’ve ever been to.

    • ms100
      ms100 says:

      Yes, let’s ignore the anti-white racism and the hypersensitivity that a massive number of blacks have.

  6. Cáit
    Cáit says:

    I just got back from an education conference of teachers and wow it’s too much for me to express in a comment field. My mom was asking me what I learned and it was hard for me to explain to her that the literal message of any seminar wasn’t what I learned, but at the same time it was one jaw dropping realization after another. One main takeaway, It’s been stated on this blog that only two personality types become teachers and there is no point to learning to please them because they will never be your boss in the real world. Truest thing ever written.

  7. Bostonian
    Bostonian says:

    Here’s another fact that might not be apparent to people from elsewhere:

    Parents in the know sign kids up for METCO as newborns – literally, on the way home from the hospital – because one of the factors in being chosen off the waiting list is date of enrollment.

  8. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    I believe the public education system would be doing themselves as well as everyone else a big favor by clearly defining and limiting their mission. Clearly, they can’t do it “all” as it appears to me they are trying to do. The first thing that comes to mind to prove my point is the growth of services and administrative personnel relative to when I went to school. School is no longer responsible mainly for teaching academics. It was a place where the kids went for most of the day when one or both parents worked. It still is. However, the schools today have many more responsibilities delegated to them by parents, communities, and the government. And people wonder why their school taxes go up every year while local school districts are sharpening their pencils while they work on their budgets to make them palpable to every member of a school district. I couldn’t agree more with the last sentence of this post – “And the less we have to lie to ourselves the more we can accomplish.” It has to be made clear to everyone what the public education system is trying to do, how they’re doing it, and how much they’re spending to do it – line item by line item. It costs this much to teach academics, this much for busing, this much for buildings and other maintenance activities, this much for extracurricular activities, and so on. It would be a start. I think the solution has to come from each local community with broad guidelines outlined by each State. A detailed dissection of all the activities carried out by schools and acknowledged by the community would be a start to achieving better management of schools with the children being the focus.

  9. Sue @ The Study of Humans
    Sue @ The Study of Humans says:

    I grew up 10 minutes north of Boston and attended school with Metco students. My perception of these students growing up is the majority of them (especially the female students), took school more seriously than many of the white kids born into the schools system.

    Some of the students I went to school with now have their children in Metco. The schools in Boston are failing many of them, as you’ve covered in prior posts.

    I perceive these women (all single moms) to be making a huge sacrifice by sending their children off to a better ranked school.

    The Moms of Metco students I know want to (1) spend time with their children when they return from work. (2) meet their child’s sleep needs (3) And provide a decent education.

    They’re simply prioritizing education above their other wants.

    • ms100
      ms100 says:


      That’s one of the problems with METCO. Prior participants get to enroll their children. My opinion is that the first participant was given a great educational opportunity and they should have taken advantage of it, meaning earning enough to live in a better school district. If you blew it, your children shouldn’t be considered for METCO. Seriously.

  10. nordstrom promo
    nordstrom promo says:

    The local, national and international press were hailing Edison and the concept of for-profit public schools as the wave of the future, bringing private-sector efficiencies to reform public schools.

    Well, it didn’t work. It turned out that Edison client school districts across the nation had the same problems with Edison Schools Inc. that SFUSD did, and Edison has quietly fizzled.

    Any “oopsies” or “gosh, sorry about thats” from the press voices who were so vigorously beating up on SFUSD back then? Need you ask?

    And, by the way, what they were also doing was attacking the right of a school board to hold a charter school it operates accountable. Now the fad is to call for holding charter schools accountable — even the charter industry and advocates who have vigorously fought accountability are paying lip service.

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