By Isabella Petroni
FRAMINGHAM – Framingham is at the brink of another investigation by the Massachusetts Department of Education. And, it all has to do with one simple law that our school system had already broken.
Last school year, as part of an AP Seminar class, I and another student, under the direction of Framingham High librarian Alison Courchesne, examined the American educational system, looking at race, gender, socioeconomic status, geographic location, and the merits of standardized testing.
Our final project of the semester was to identify a topic we were interested in and apply it to the Framingham Public School system.
I focused on the racial makeup of the city’s nine elementary schools, to examine if the city’s schools were racially balanced. My research results were what I had expected and what I had feared.
To contextualize this issue, we need to set up a picture of what Framingham and its schools look like.
According to the Massachusetts Department of Education, 60 percent of the district’s students are White.
The rest of the city’s 9,000 plus students are 27 percent Hispanic, 7 percent African American, 5 percent Asian, less than 1 percent are Native American/Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, and 4 percent are Multi-Race, not including Hispanic.
It is important to note, that many Brazilians categorize themselves as white.
Many children in the district are bilingual speakers or are English Language Learners (ELL). Enrollment in the bilingual/ELL program has increased 67 percent in the last decade.
Nearly 44 percent of all Framingham Public School students speak another language in addition to English, at home.
Spanish and Portuguese comprise the largest language groups, with 40% and 45% of students speaking each, respectively.
School choice was implemented in Framingham in 1998 with the main goal of desegregating schools. Two decades later, and the elementary school system could once again be violating the state’s racial imbalance law.
It is important to note that the U.S. Census considers race and ethnicity separately. Hispanic/Latino individuals can choose any race due to the Census data because it considers a Hispanic/Latino ethnicity separate to race. The Massachusetts Department of Education has chosen not to release comprehensive data for their respective racial/ethnic categories. Used here is 2017-2018 school year data, the latest available when I did research.
The Massachusetts Racial Imbalance Law was established after the Brown v. Board of Education decision, in which the U.S. Supreme Court judges unanimously ruled racial segregation of children in public schools was unconstitutional.
The Massachusetts Legislature passed the Racial Imbalance Act in 1965, requiring schools with more than 50 percent of students of one race to desegregate.
Massachusetts now categorizes schools in three categories based on the schools’ racial makeup and demographics. These three categories are racial imbalance, racial balance, and racial isolation.
- Racial imbalance is defined as “having more than 50 percent be non-white in a school’s population”.
- Racial balance is defined as “having between 30 and 50 percent (of students) be non-white”.
- Finally, racial isolation is defined as “having less than 30 percent (of students) be non-white.”
Framingham is not new to this law at all.
A dissertation written by Harvard University graduate student Kevin King discussed how Framingham had previously transitioned from a neighborhood school system to a system of school choice. The reasoning being that Framingham’s neighborhoods were already segregated enough based on the racial makeup of their respective neighborhoods.
The policy enacted in 1998 was designed to create diverse, academically rigorous schools with equal access to educational resources. Schools were encouraged to develop a specialized curriculum around a theme. McCarthy’s main focus was on the literary arts. Hemenway was based on the theory of multiple intelligences, and Stapleton was focused on environmental education, to name a few. Many of these elementary schools have long since abandoned those unique themes.
Today, a majority of the district’s student population is located south of Route 9, but the city has just three of its elementary schools south of Route 9.
The trio of elementary schools, south of Route 9, has significant minority populations, especially with the Brazilian and Hispanic communities.
The demographics for McCarthy Elementary are 48% White, 30% Hispanic, 13% African- American, and 3% Asian students.
The demographics for Barberi Elementary, which is a two-way Spanish bilingual school, are 23% White, 70% Hispanic, and 4% African-American students.
The demographics for Wilson Elementary, are 65% White (including white Brazilians), 22% Hispanic, and 10% African-American students.
Based on these numbers, Barbieri Elementary, with more than 50% percent of its students being non-white is a racially imbalanced school.
Wilson Elementary, while reflecting its District 9 neighborhood, has a very high population of Brazilian students. Due to incomprehensive information provided by the state regarding each racial population, the Wilson IB school appear as having a significant “non-Hispanic White” population, raising the question if it isolates an entire demographic of minority students.
While pockets of higher minority populations occur north of Route 9, the demographics overall north of Route 9 reflect a less diverse population in the elementary schools.
Brophy Elementary is a rare instance of a racially imbalanced school north of Route 9. It has 34% White, 54% Hispanic, 6% African-American, and 4% Asian students.
Dunning Elementary has 65% White, 12% Hispanic, 7% African-American, and 13% Asian, students.
Due to having one of the highest Asian populations in the Framingham School District, Dunning Elementary creates a racially balanced school along with Stapleton Elementary which has a moderately sized Hispanic population (Mass Department of Ed).
The remaining three elementary schools: Hemingway, King, and Potter Road, could all be classified as racially isolated schools since less than 30 percent of the students in these schools are non-white.
It is also important to note that Potter Road has a similar issue with Wilson due to not expanded-upon demographic information being provided by the Massachusetts Department of Education.
According to the data, this means that out of the nine elementary schools in Framingham, three are racially isolated, three are racially imbalanced, and three are racially balanced.
Only a third of the elementary schools are racially balanced, and two-thirds of the elementary schools are racially segregated, either through racial isolation or through racial imbalance.
Based on the data collected, the Massachusetts Department of Education could investigate the Framingham Public Schools under the Racial Imbalance Law. The last time this occurred was back in the 1990s.
The Massachusetts Board of Education has a Racial Imbalance Advisory Council, which advises the Commissioner of Education and the Board of Education on the “development and maintenance of school desegregation/integration in public schools within the Commonwealth.”
According to the state, the “Council assesses statewide trends and needs in desegregation and integration patterns, seeks wide public and professional input, and disseminates information regarding racial balance, and access to effective educational programs for all the Commonwealth’s children regardless of race or class.”
The “Council also advises and makes recommendations regarding legislation, regulations and program guidelines, and provides other programmatic recommendations.”
The “primary goal of the Racial Imbalance Advisory Council (RIAC) is to: review the Racial Imbalance Law in order to respond to significant changing demographic needs, changing student needs, changing district needs, changing desegregation plans, and to ensure that districts adhere to the tenets of the Racial Imbalance Law. The Racial Imbalance Law was passed with the knowledge and understanding that the legacy of racial discrimination in our society carries long-term consequences,” according to the state.
Because of the racial segregation and imbalance at the elementary school level, it is time for the Framingham Public School system and its leaders to re-examine the current structure for elementary schools and how students are assigned at the kindergarten level.
Isabella Petroni, 17, is a 2019 graduate of Framingham High. She was one of the first students at Framingham High to participate in the AP Seminar class, which allows high school students to conduct college-based research. Petroni, who lives in District 8, is also chair of the Framingham Youth Council.