The First-Class State

Two examples of how Massachusetts gets it right.

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One school is 372 years old. The other is housed in what was an auto parts dealership just a few years ago. Perhaps it is this combination of history and innovation that explains how the state of Massachusetts remains at the forefront of education in this country.


Of the 40 states analyzed for these rankings, the Bay State did the best in the percentage of its high schools that earned gold and silver medal awards. Among these standout schools, the MATCH Charter school and Boston Latin are exceptional examples of how schools can prepare students for the world after graduation.


MATCH Charter. It's a cold, windy morning in Boston, and the line of students waiting to get into MATCH Charter Public High School has spilled onto the street. Standing at the entrance is Jorge Miranda, the school's principal, who greets each student by name with a vigorous handshake. He doesn't let go until each one correctly answers two questions: "What is the word of the day?" and "Why are you here?" Some students fumble through the first, eventually offering the correct response, "commodious." But their answer to the second question is far more assured: "I'm here to learn!"


If Miranda sounds like he's running young recruits through a military drill, consider the circumstances: Most of the 210 students who attend MATCH—an acronym that formerly stood for Media and Technology Charter High—arrived with the skills of a fifth grader, unable to write a paragraph or add simple fractions. Despite the challenges, the staff at MATCH is turning these students into academic stars. Last year's 10th graders outscored their peers from the wealthy suburbs on the statewide math test, and every year, more than half of the MATCH seniors in AP Calculus pass the end-of-the-course exam. "We realize that most inner-city kids who start college ultimately drop out," says Michael Goldstein, who founded the school seven years ago and now serves as its research director. "So we've devised a very challenging [curriculum] to prepare them for college. We want them to struggle with this tougher material while we're still there to encourage them, push them, and tutor them."


Indeed, some students stay late to work with tutors, who also coach them on weekends. The school even houses the tutors in dorms on the third floor. "No other school in America does this," says Alan Safran, the school's executive director. "It is tutoring on steroids."


Boston Latin School. Just below the ceiling in this historic school's auditorium are the names of prominent alumni, including Ralph Waldo Emerson and five signers of the Declaration of Independence. There is one blank space that the school's headmaster Lynne Mooney-Teta tells each incoming class of seventh graders could someday bear the name of one of them.


Founded in 1635, Boston Latin is the country's oldest public school. Each year, thousands of families seek admission, but only 450 students get in. Every student is required to take four years of Latin and is judged several times a year on public recitations. And the school offers 22 AP courses, perhaps the largest selection of any high school in Massachusetts.


It's enough to challenge even Latin's talented students. "You can't do it all," says senior Stephen O'Connell. He averages three to four hours of homework a night. In decades past, nearly half of all students didn't graduate on time because they were overtaxing themselves academically. "It was survival of the fittest," says James Montague, the school's guidance and support services director. That has changed. Students must have permission from a counselor before enrolling in more than three AP classes a year. Also, the school has created a Saturday tutoring program.


"You hear so many stories of [Boston Latin] kids who have no lives because all they do is study," says Boston Latin senior Xhulia Radonavi. But there is a payoff. When times get tough, Radonavi is reminded of what her older sister, a graduate of Latin, has told her time and time again: "Boston Latin is so much harder than what we do in college."