Commentary: Our children deserve access to their city’s best jobs

Too many of Boston’s black and brown children are locked into hypersegregated neighborhoods and hypersegregated schools. Meanwhile, Boston’s better-paid workforce is hypersegregated, too. In no way does this reflect the population of this city.

We believe that the “achievement gap” is a short-sighted way to describe the real gap in opportunities that the children of Boston face. We believe that the schools are being asked to carry the whole burden of preparing our children for equality of opportunity, when in fact it will take the whole city to raise up our students. Boston schools alone, no matter how diverse, cannot provide their students with all the opportunities that will allow them to compete in today’s workforce, accumulate wealth, and attain the status and respect of their wealthier peers.

Much is being said about the need to give our students better educations. The governor points to success in the Lawrence schools, saying that money is not the whole solution. The mayor has promised significant budget increases and the Legislature has revised school-funding formulas. The Boston Foundation implies that bringing “white middle class” families “back” into the system will help. The new superintendent offers an action plan to improve the relationship between home and school. Meanwhile, employers say they can’t find enough qualified workers of color to create the diversity they value.

We offer another perspective on why there is such an “achievement gap,” not only in test scores but also in employment, wealth, and even life span, between black and brown communities and their white counterpart communities and how to change things.

Far too many Boston family members and caregivers are paid such low wages that they need to work two or three jobs to pay rents on apartments too small for families. Excluded themselves from the better jobs in Boston, they have great difficulty preparing their children for those positions. The childrens’ academic success is based almost exclusively on superficial measurements, mostly test scores, that are barely related to their chances for success in post high school employment. We actually believe that our children are equal to all other children – in every way. But it is very hard for them to get motivated to study things that they have had no personal exposure to. How can they aspire to professional preparation for occupations they don’t know exist? The gap we want addressed is the gap between the excluded and the isolated and the included and the connected, and our students must start being included.

We believe that too many of our students and their families are locked out of the best jobs in the city – whether in tech, biomedical, construction ,or finance – and that if we don’t change this, we will be having the same conversation about why Boston schools or Boston teachers underserve certain populations over and over again – but not a conversation about why the rest of Boston is not taking ownership of hypersegregation and its effects on our kids’ futures.

We ask that the city work with us to devise a plan to break down the barriers that block our children and their families from access to Boston’s best jobs and even from knowledge of what those jobs are. We propose a citywide discussion – with politicians, businesspeople, educators from pre-K to postgraduate, and other community groups – about how to break down those barriers. At what age should we begin to bring our students and their families up to the 20th floor of a downtown building or into a laboratory in a biomedical research facility so that they begin to breathe in the possibilities for themselves and begin to get a very clear understanding of why this or that school subject is for them, and not just a scary, potentially failing test score.

We envision a city in which our children see a wide world of work opportunities in Metro Boston from a very young age and are continually being assured that they belong in it at all levels. We envision a city where the whole of the jobs and professional world has seen the children, has accepted their participation in it, and has made room for them in all of it. We envision a city where our children are seen as valuable additions to the work force and where education, outreach, and other access policies are put into place that make sure this participation happens. We envision a city in which our childrens’ success is not evaluated by test scores and graduation rates but rather by entry into the mainstream where they earn enough to continue to live here and where they bring their distinct talents to contribute to the success of the whole city.

Beverly Williams and Judith Baker are Dorchester residents and retired teachers with long experience in the Boston Public Schools. Williams is the co-chair of the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization (GBIO) and Baker is a member of Friends of Madison Park and of GBIO.