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School Committee Reviews Diversity

In the first meeting after the Cambridge Public School Committee elections two weeks ago, committee members discussed the socioeconomic divide plaguing city middle schools.

Yesterday’s meeting focused on enrollment and transfer rates, geographical distribution of students, and the intensive studies program.

Student enrollment throughout all 12 public middle schools showed an increase of about 100 students per year for the past three years. 45 percent of these students come from low-income families, 55 percent from high-income families.

Individual schools showed enormous variation. Amigos, Fletcher-Maynard, Haggerty, Morse, and Tobin School all reported that over 60 percent of their students come from low-income families. Baldwin, Graham and Parks, and King Open all had above 60 percent of students coming from high-income families.

Many school committee members, including Superintendent Jeffrey M. Young, saw this socioeconomic imbalance as “problematic.”


This socioeconomic imbalance also manifested itself in uneven geographic distribution of students in six of schools mentioned above. Only Tobin and Graham and Parks saw many students enroll from non-neighboring areas.

“The way [enrollment] breaks down ethnically and in income is disturbing,” Young said.

Schools with skewed socioeconomic distribution are also seeing high student-transfer rates. Schools in wealthier areas of Cambridge are experiencing stable or increasing enrollment, while schools in poorer neighborhoods experience high rates of attrition. For instance, Baldwin and Graham & Parks had twice as many students enrolling than leaving; Amigos, however, had four times as many students leaving than enrolling.

“Too many transfers create racial and socioeconomic isolation,” committee member Joseph G. Grassi said.

Committee member Luc D. Schuster was not convinced that the transfer rate is problematic. “We need to consider the number of kids who are transferring more than once and the schools the kids are leaving from,” he said.

According to Schuster, 5 percent of Cambridge middle school students transfer schools.

Student enrollment in the ISP also showed socioeconomic imbalance—only 27 percent of students from low income families elect to participate in the program.

Deputy Superintendent Carolyn L. Turk⁡ said that while in previous years the intensive studies program application required test scores, parent requests, and teacher recommendations, the program is now open to all who are interested.

Committee member Mark C. McGovern said that how teachers encourage their students may be influencing intensive studies program enrollment, adding that “how we push the students who don’t fit into the categories” is crucial.

Turk said that many families may be satisfied with their children’s performance without their having to enroll in enrichment programs.

“The bottom line is, we need to provide programs that are rigorous, healthy and that invoke curiosity,” she said.


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