scorecardresearch Skip to main content

BPS superintendent defends inclusion plan after most of English Learners task force resigns

Boston Public Schools Superintendent Mary Skipper.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

Boston Public Schools Superintendent Mary Skipper defended the district’s inclusion plan’s provisions for English language learners Wednesday, a day after the majority of the district’s English Learners task force resigned in protest.

Speaking at a School Committee meeting, Skipper thanked the resigning members for the service to the district but said the district’s plans align with state and federal expectations and district data.

“We must change the way that we are serving our multilingual learners,” Skipper said. “Our district is committed to adopting inclusive practices so that multilingual learners have access to native language support while receiving the required ESL services and while also engaging in learning alongside their peers.”


The district’s plan aims to include English learners in general education classrooms as much as possible, being split from their English-speaking peers only as needed for direct English instruction, rather than spending their entire days in separate programs. The change is due to take effect next year in grades K-8 and the following year in grades 9-12.

But the task force members have called for the district instead to expand native language instruction, for example through Transitional Bilingual Education programs.

In a letter to Mayor Michelle Wu, Skipper, and the School Committee, eight of the task force’s 13 appointed members said the district’s plan to integrate English learners — who represent nearly one-third of BPS students — would lead to worse outcomes, including higher dropout rates. A ninth member resigned separately.

“We all agree that profound changes are needed to [English Learner] education in the Boston Public Schools,” the letter said. “But the change that BPS is proposing is ill-advised and will be harmful to [students learning English].”

District officials have disputed the letter writers’ characterization of the plan, which they say will shift its current practice of isolating students learning English to practices that align with state guidance.


“We were told very explicitly, as we should be, that we should not be segregating our multilingual learners, but rather we should be ensuring that they have access to native-language in the context of also having access to English-speaking peers and the appropriate amount of ESL instruction,” Skipper said Wednesday.

The Task Force members argue that state guidance also allows more native language instruction, thanks to the 2017 LOOK Act which repealed a prior state ban on eliminating bilingual education.

“We are asking you to take advantage of the flexibility under the LOOK Act to develop new and creative transitional bilingual education or other programs,” said John Mudd, one of the members who resigned, during the meeting’s public comment period.

“The state issues guidance for those programs so there’s no challenge to your ability to implement them,” Mudd said.

The School Committee asked Skipper only a handful of questions about the resignations. Vice Chairman Michael O’Neill sought confirmation that the district is “striving for better outcomes and you’re aligning with the DESE recommendation.”

Chairwoman Jeri Robinson noted that staffing will be a challenge for the district’s plan and that “nothing is happening tomorrow.”

“We all share the same goals of improving student outcomes,” Robinson said. “We also know that we have what we have been doing is not working.”

Skipper also noted that the district will continue to provide native language programming for newcomer students, including those with limited or interrupted formal education. Linda Chen, senior deputy superintendent of academics, also said in an Oct. 12 letter to the task force that the district was committed to expanding bilingual education programs and native language access.


Robinson said she would meet in coming days with the School Committee’s staff and members to determine the next steps for the English Learner Task Force.

The English Learners Task Force was formed by the School Committee in 2009 in response to probes by the US Department of Justice and Department of Education that found the district violated the civil rights of English learners by failing to provide them with specialized instruction. In 2010, BPS reached a settlement agreement with the federal government, requiring the district to reform its programs for English learners and improve teacher training.

Christopher Huffaker can be reached at Follow him @huffakingit.