The high school called on the Data Team, part of the district’s Office of Strategy and Performance, to analyze the inequities behind remote learning. They found that seven in 10 Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity (METCO) students had been in danger of failing at least one class at some point during remote learning in the fourth quarter of the 2019-2020 school year. In comparison, only 35 percent of METCO students were in danger of failing one or more classes before lockdown started. Additionally, over a fourth of students on Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) did not pass one or more classes during remote learning last spring.
Social Justice and history teacher Kate Leslie said Black and Latino students, students in low-income housing and students with IEPs generally performed worse academically than their classmates during remote learning last spring. As a teacher, she noticed these trends across her own classrooms.
“It’s so blatant if you just think about who has the bandwidth to turn their camera on in a class, whose WiFi keeps going out at home, who doesn’t want to unmute themselves to share out in a class because they actually have their little brothers and sisters in the background because they’re also caring for their siblings during school,” Leslie said.
METCO Coordinator Malcolm Cawthorne said that the interests of low-income students and Black and Latino students were underrepresented during the remote learning planning process.
“I think what we do is we listen to a lot of the really loud voices. They tend to be, frankly, well-off white voices,” Cawthorne said. “We try to meet their needs, but that won’t necessarily mean we’ll meet the needs of every low-income Black student, for example.”
The Calculus Project, a program for Black and Latino students aimed at increasing their representation in high-level math classes, started at the high school in 2009 and has since spread to seven other school districts. Founder and Executive Director Dr. Adrian Mims said that racial and socioeconomic discrimination are closely associated with one another, with African-American students disproportionately likely to reside in low-income communities. These trends exist not only in Brookline, but across the nation at large.
“When you look at racial inequity, you also have to look at socioeconomic inequity. In a lot of cases, they go hand in hand. Your zip code determines a lot,” Mims said. “I grew up in South Carolina, and there are some areas that are very rural, and they are struggling with remote learning. Some of these are areas that are 60 to 70 percent African-American. People who live in these areas sometimes don’t even have a traffic light, let alone Internet access.”
On top of the connection to socioeconomic inequity making access difficult, there have been many factors in the past year that have made it less of a priority. Leslie said many African-American students were more deeply invested in the national news at the end of the 2019-2020 school year.
“In June, we had the murder of George Floyd and the revival of the Black Lives Matter movement, which was a massive positive. But that also meant that a lot of students’ attention, understandably, was not on academics first. It was on survival. It was on world and national events,” Leslie said. “There were a number of my students of color for whom getting work done in June became an impossible task because they were wrestling with the racial trauma of our country, and they didn’t care about whether they got their Cold War assignment done. That doesn’t matter [to me]. What matters is what the world is going through.”
According to Cawthorne, small inequalities at the local level continue to hinder students’ learning, even after a summer full of adjustments. Cawthorne said that the high school’s materials pickup, which took place in early September, was unfairly difficult for METCO students.
According to Cawthorne, many METCO students live as far away as Mattapan and Hyde Park in Boston. These students frequently have working parents, so they had to take public transportation to the high school.
“If I’m a METCO kid and I have a class that ends at 3 o’clock during remote learning, and my parents are at work, it might take me an hour and a half to get to BHS if I’m commuting during rush hour,” Cawthorne said. “Materials pickup ended at 4:30 p.m., and nobody even asked me about [the schedule].’”
In a Sagamore-administered survey, one student said they have not personally experienced an incident of racism during remote learning due to the lack of African American students in their Honors and Advanced classes. All responses were kept anonymous so that students would feel comfortable reporting any evidence of discrimination they witnessed.
“I don’t remember witnessing any racial discrimination, but that’s probably largely because the upper-level classes are so white and Asian,” the student wrote. “The most diverse class I’ve ever taken was my 9th grade Health & Fitness, and aside from that class I don’t remember even seeing a Black student again in any of my classes. It’s hard to discriminate against a minority that isn’t even present.”