Cambridge Schools Consider Reforms

A proposal to separate middle schools from elementary schools in the Cambridge Public System—known as the “Innovation Agenda”—will be discussed by the School Committee meeting on March 8, a week before it is scheduled to come up for a vote.

The new plan, which was presented to the Committee on Feb. 1, seeks to turn the upper grades at four of Cambridge’s K-8 schools into separate middle schools, which will serve the entire Cambridge community.

Cambridge currently has 12 schools that serve grades K-8 but no middle schools that operate independently.

The reform package grew out of Superintendent Jeffrey M. Young’s 2009-2010 Middle School Study.

In a public letter sent on December 20, Young called the reform a “milestone” in the transformation of public schools and said that the goal is “to become the most academically successful urban school district in the state by harnessing the riches of the Cambridge community and preparing all students for college and 21st century success.”

The proposal seeks to address disparate levels of preparation that were observed in students at the high school level, according to Cambridge Public Schools Chief of Staff Lori L. Likis.

Endorsing the overarching goal of the proposal, Public School Committee member Marc C. McGovern said that “we have to address the inequities in our system both educationally and socially.”

The proposal also aims to address some of the bigger issues in Cambridge education, such as the achievement gap and controlled choice—a placement program that attempts to increase diversity based on socioeconomic status rather than race.

In the new system, public schools serving grades K-5 will be paired up with a larger school that incorporates an independent middle school. “[The pairing] requires that we balance schools in terms of socioeconomic status,” Likis said.

But McGovern expressed doubts as to whether the proposal could bridge the achievement gap.

“Kids come to kindergarten ... with a gap existing. If we really want to close the achievement gap in the long term, we should be focusing on early childhood education,” he said.

Another concern that several School Committee members shared is that there is no proposed middle school in the Cambridgeport area.

“There is a whole section of the city that is not going to have a middle school, and that seems little unfair,” Nolan said.

McGovern said he supports the creation of a fifth middle school in the Cambridgeport area in order to address the issue.

Some also expressed concerns that the new plans would require Cambridge’s bilingual K-8 schools to split into an elementary school and a bilingual middle school.

“It’s really difficult for an immersion program when it’s in two different locations,” McGovern said.

— Staff writer Rediet T. Abebe can be reached at rtesfaye@college.harvard.edu.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction.

CORRECTION: MAR. 6, 2011

The Mar. 4 article "Cambridge Public Schools Consider Reforms" misquoted Marc C. McGovern in two instances. Referring to Cambridge's bilingual education options, McGoven said that "immersion," not "emerging," programs are difficult to maintain. Additionally, the article quoted McGoven as saying educational inequities need to be addressed "educationally and academically" when, in fact, he said that such problems need to be solved "educationally and socially."

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