NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Boston University's School Reform

April 7, 1997

Ever since Boston University took over the troubled Chelsea, Mass., school system, education specialists have been watching its attempts at long-term public school reform. For decades the area has been a magnet for mostly poor immigrants, with high unemployment and inadequate city services.

As part of the deal, the university demanded carte blanche to reform as it pleases -- with a minimum of interference from the school board.

  • Boston University president John Silber's plan to deal with the moribund system was to install competent new administrators, bring basic education to students and their parents, and improve the quality of teachers and curriculum.
  • B.U. revamped classes, renegotiated teaching contracts and even switched cafeteria suppliers.
  • Even critics now concede B.U. has overcome illiteracy, bad management and chronic underfunding.
  • In eight years, the system's dropout rate has declined to 8 percent from 20 percent.

Scores are up for seniors taking the Scholastic Achievement Test, but fourth-grade test scores have not changed because, according to B.U., most children stay in bilingual classes until grade three, limiting their test-taking abilities.

Source: Geoffrey Smith, "Democratic? No. Effective? Yes.," Business Week, Monday, April 7, 1997.


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