The Boston Indicators Project offers new ways to understand Boston and its neighborhoods in a regional, national and global context. It aims to democratize access to information, foster informed public discourse, track progress on shared civic goals, and report on change in 10 sectors: Civic Vitality, Cultural Life and the Arts, the Economy, Education, the Environment, Health, Housing, Public Safety, Technology, and Transportation.
Children mirror a community’s values, progress and challenges. If a community’s children are thriving, it is likely that the whole community is doing well. The Boston Indicators Project tracks progress through 2030—Boston’s 400th Anniversary—when many of today’s children and youth will be civic, political and business leaders and their children will be in school. As the most diverse segment of Boston’s population – more than 75% of color in 2010 – Boston’s children and youth need adult support of many kinds to develop to their full potential. Creating safe, nurturing places where all children can grow and develop their unique gifts is a responsibility of all adult members of a society. This cross-cut filter provides key information on the status of Boston’s children across all sectors, making it possible to track progress and understand challenges in critical areas such as health, education, safety, housing, community participation and access to resources such as open space, creative outlets, and education.
The location of cultural facilities has a direct impact on the people they attract and the ways in which they are utilized. Boston, like all great cities, enjoys a concentration of world-class, major and mid-sized cultural facilities in or near its downtown center. The distribution of neighborhood-scale facilities in proximity to the concentration of children —with most children unable or not permitted to travel great distances — indicates the potential for cultural enrichment closer to home.
Boston continues to have a higher concentration of arts and cultural facilities in the neighborhoods with fewer children. Conversely, those areas of the city with more children and more families have fewer local options for arts appreciation and activities.
Boston’s children are highly concentrated in the neighborhoods of Roxbury, Dorchester, Mattapan and East Boston. However, according to the New England Foundation for the Arts, there are just 59 cultural organization in Roxbury, 115 in Dorchester, 39 in East Boston and 23 in Hyde Park. By Comparison, there are nearly 300 in Back Bay and the South End and more than 230 in Fenway/Kenmore which are home to fewer of Boston's children
The number of teachers dedicated to the visual arts, music and theater in Boston’s public schools is a measure of the City’s ability to ensure direct participation in and access to quality art as a basic part of learning for all children.
As of 2010-11, Boston Public Schools employed 170 full-time equivalent arts teachers up from 146 in 2007-08 and 143 in 1009-10. A majority of BPS schools have fewer than 3 full-time equivalent arts teachers, however Orchard Gardens employed 5 arts teachers, the Curley K-8 employed 6, and Boston Arts Academy--the city's only public high school dedicated to the arts--employed 12 full-time equivalent arts teachers.
Arts education has been shown to increase creative problem solving and improve academic outcomes for children and youth. However, weekly year-long arts instruction is often scaled back or eliminated in times of budget constraints.
Since the launch of the Arts Expansion Initiative in 2009, more than 9,000 additional Boston Public School students received weekly in-school arts education. As of 2011, 81% of students in kindergarten through grade eight had weekly, year-long arts classes, up from 67% in 2009, and nearly half of all high school students received arts instruction of any kind, up from 26% in 2009.
While in-school arts are vital to a complete and well-rounded education, out-of-school arts offer opportunities for learning and engagement during the crucial hours following school dismissal and before parents or other care-givers are available. According to research by the City of Boston’s Boston 2:00-to-6:00 After-School Initiative, now part of Boston After School & Beyond, quality after-school programming enhances children’s intellectual and emotional growth and peer relationship skills. Children are less likely to make irresponsible decisions with supervised after-school support. Arts activities expand the range of offerings available, providing a highly popular and important counterbalance to training for success on standardized tests.
Though data on participation does is not currently available, there are more than 100 organizations providing after school arts and cultural programming to youth of all ages according to BostoNavigator. The greatest number of organizations are located in Dorchester, with nearly 40, followed by a combined 29 in Central Boston, Back Bay and the South End, there were 13 organizations listed in Roxbury, and less than 10 in all other neighborhoods of Boston. BostoNavigator provides detailed programming information for all of Boston's out-of-school time programs and opportunities.
Race/Ethnicity: poverty rates were highest among Boston’s Latino population in 2010, at 35.4%, followed by 29.5% of African Americans, 26% of Asians and 16% white, non-Latino Bostonians.
Educational Attainment: poverty is highly correlated with educational attainment—38% of Bostonians without a high school diploma were in poverty in 2010 as were 20% of high school graduates and 18% of those with some college compared to 7% of Bostonians with a BA or higher.
Family Structure: about 10% of Boston’s families are single-parent families living at or below poverty and of all families in poverty 87% are headed by a single parent. This correlation cuts across all racial/ethnic lines: 93% of African American families in poverty are headed by as single parent as well as 97% of Latino families, 76% of white families and 58% of Asian families in poverty.
The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is the only continuing national assessment of student achievement in core subjects such as mathematics, reading and writing. As the Nation’s Report Card, NAEP scores are the common metric for all 50 states and 18 Trial Urban District Areas to compare and track student progress and achievement over time.
In 2011, Massachusetts ranked first in the nation in reading and math for both fourth and eighth graders for the fourth consecutive testing year, but with stark and persistent achievement gaps by race/ethnicity and income.
Boston Public Schools have set a goal of 100% accreditation for early education programs by 2019 and Boston’s Thrive in 5 initiative has set the goal of 100% accreditation for all public and private programs by 2023.
The greatest number of providers are located in Dorchester with 222 facilities, Roslindale with 98 and Roxbury with 97. However, the greatest number of places for children as measured by capacity are Dorchester serving up to 4,346, Roxbury with a capacity of 2,276, Roslindale with 1,481 places and Jamaica Plain with 1,451 places.
Kindergarten registrations increased to more than 2,300 in SY 2012-13, up 25% from about 1,800 the previous year. As of the start of SY 2012-13 BPS had added 12 new kindergarten classrooms to accommodate the increase in registrations, but as many as 300 children did not have kindergarten placement.
Low Income: Within BPS, the percent of students who are low income ranges from 28.5% of students at the Boston Latin School to more than 95% at the Donald McKay K-8 school in East Boston.
Students with Disabilities: BPS has a number that only serve students with disabilities, as well as the Lyon K-8 and High School that have full immersion and more than 35% of students have a disability while a number of schools—including the 3 exam schools—have fewer than 5% students with disabilities.
English Language Learners: Boston International High School is dedicated to serving the ELL population, and 100% of students are non-native English speakers, while at BPS schools such as the Otis School, the Curtis Guild School and the McKay School, more than 80% of students are English Language Learners compared to a number of Boston’s Charter schools where fewer than 10% of students are English Language Learners.
Since children spend less than 20% of their time in school, time spent out of school is critical to their development and learning. Experts cite three key reasons for investing in after-school activities.
According to BostoNavigator, there are more tan 120 facilities across the city of Boston providing hundreds of different programming options for out of school time activity and learning. The Boston Center for Youth and Families also runs 34 different sites across the city, including pools that are open seasonally. Together, City and private out-of-school facilities provide programming in the arts, sports, college prep, technology and media literacy, jobs an career exploration among many other options.
Nonprofit organizations focusing on education play an important role in providing access to tutoring, programming and mentoring for students, teachers and families. The sector also plays an important role in education advocacy and research.
Boston is home to more than 700 education-related nonprofit organizations. These range from large institutions, such as colleges and universities, to literacy volunteer organizations to education advocacy organizations such as Strategies for Children.
Stable enrollment of students who progress through the education pipeline at grade level contribute to a stronger, more stable school and classroom community and contribute to a decreased risk of dropping out.
Mobility: The percent of students transferring in and out of Boston Public Schools was 21% in 2011, down from 25% over the previous four years. A number of schools, 57, had a student mobility rate below 20% but in as many as 11 schools, more than 50% of the student body did not complete a full academic year at a single school.
Retention: 5.8% of BPS students were made to repeat a grade in 2011, down from a high of 7.4% in 2005. However, in 12 BPS schools more than 15% and as many as 25% of students had to repeat a grade.
Suspensions and truancy contribute to lost learning time and are early indicators of drop-out risk
Suspensions: The BPS district-wide suspension rate has remained around 6% for the last few academic years, but is down from near 9% in 2007. However, a number of schools had a suspension rate near 18% or higher in 2011 including a number of BPS high schools and charter schools.
Truancy: the BPS district average truancy rate has remained at about 1%. However, 6 schools in Boston--including 5 charter schools--had an annual truancy rate greater than 4% in 2011.
Dropouts: Annual dropout rates in BPS dropped 6.4% in 2011, the lowest rate on record. However, at as many as 28 schools (both district and charter schools) the annual dropout rate was greater than 15%.
The Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS) measure a child’s progress in reading and comprehension by benchmarking Initial Sounds Fluency, Letter Naming Fluency, Phoeneme Segmentation Fluency, Nonsense Word Fluency, Oral Reading Fluency, Retell Fluency and Word Use Fluency. Achieving “Benchmark Status” is an indicator that a child is on-track to learn at grade level. The Acceleration Agenda has set a goal of 80% proficiency by 2014.
In SY2011 67% of BPS first graders were reading at or above grade level on DIBELS, up from 64% in 2010 and 57% in 2009. However, this fell below the Acceleration Agenda target of 75% in 2011 on the way to 80% proficient or above by 2014.
In 2011, 35% of third graders were Proficient or Advanced in MCAS English Language Arts, nearly 40 percentage points below the Acceleration Agenda target of 72%. Since 2011, third grade proficiency rates have not risen above 37%, driven largely by a deep, persistent achievement gap.
Mastery of math in the 8th grade—particularly Algebra—is considered a critical first step towards college for students. Achieving proficiency in math develops a solid educational foundation for students to build upon throughout high school and beyond.
In addition to proficiency, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary & Secondary Education reports on student progress from one year to the next. The Student Growth Percentile benchmarks a student’s progress against his or her academic peers and ranks on a scale from 0 to 100. A growth score above the 60th percentile is considered as out-performance of peers while a score below the 40th percentile signifies under-performance comared to other academically similar students. A median Student Growth Percentile is reported on by district, school, grade and sub group.
8th Grade Math Proficiency & Growth: in 2011, 34% of BPS 8th graders were proficient or Advanced in MCAS Math, unchanged from 2010 but up from 28% in 2009.
Algebra I enrollment: in 2011, 25% of non-Exam school eighth graders were enrolled in Algebra 1, up from 4% in 2009 and exceeding the Acceleration Agenda goal of 20%.
The Massachusetts Department of Early Education & Care supports the health, well-being and development of children from the earliest ages. As a part of the Executive Office of Education, EEC provides oversight, licensure and workforce development for early childhood educators, provides financial assistance for family child care, supports the Head Start program and engages parents and community members in the education of the youngest children.
The Department of Early Education & Care received more than $506 million in funding in FY12, which is roughly the same amount received in FY10 and 11. However, this is a reduction from the decade-long peak in FY09 when EEC received more than $569 million.
The Massachusetts Department of Elementary & Secondary Education (DESE) is charged with oversight of students from grades K through 12 enrolled in 1,829 public schools, 62 Commonwealth Charter Schools, 10 Horace Mann Charter Schools and 30 Education Collaboratives as well as thousands of teachers, principals and administrators. Chapter 70 of the Massachusetts Education Reform Act allows for a more equitable distribution of funding to school districts based on need while all other funding for K-12 education can be used for supplemental resources.
Massachusetts Chapter 70 funding fell slightly in FY12 to $3.9 billion from a high of near $4.1 billion in FY11. However, total funding is up from just over $2.9 billion in FY01. Non-Chapter 70 funding for K-12 education has been inconsistent over the last decade, but increased in FY12 to over $511 million from $423 million in FY11. However, funding remains below the peak of $583 million in FY09.
Despite consistently strong funding for K-12 Education, recent research has found that nearly every extra dollar allocated to school districts through Chapter 70 has been off-set by the increasing cost of employee health care.
Access to clean air and healthy homes are essential to nurturing healthy children with low rates of asthma and blood lead levels. However, pollutants emitted by diesel buses and trains, automobiles, and trucks, as well as by certain businesses such as auto repair shops and hazardous waste-related enterprises, are often linked poor child health outcomes in many low-income communities and communities of color.
Child hospitalizations due to asthma fell slightly from 2008 to 2009--most recent year available--but with persistent racial/ethnic disparities. Hospitalizations for all children ages two and under fell from 13.2 to 11.7 per 1,000 and for children ages three to five fell from 8.8 to 8.4 per 1,000. However, among children two and under hospitalizations per 1,000 were much higher for African Americans (16.5) and Latinos (12.3) than among white (8.3) and Asian (4.0) children. Similarly among three to five year olds, the rate per 1,000 was 13 among African Americans and 8.2 among Latinos compared to 5.4 among Asians and 2.7 among white children.
A baby who is carried to full term and born at a healthy weight reduces the risk of infant mortality, later developmental and educational delays, and a number of adult health problems such as asthma, high blood pressure and type II diabetes.
The City of Boston conducts an annual census of the homeless. Undertaken each December in Boston’s homeless shelters, and in the streets, it documents the need for more permanent and temporary housing solutions. According to Boston’s Emergency Shelter Commission, this may underestimate the actual number of homeless people in the city, since cold temperatures and lowered shelter capacity can drive people to seek shelter in places where they cannot be located or counted.
Boston's total homeless population was 7,286 in 2010, falling for the second year after reaching a high of 7,681 in 2008. However, this is more than 2,200 homeless Bostonians than in 1997 when the count was 5,016. Even more worrisome is that 30% of the homeless population in 2010 were children under 18 compared to 1997 when 18% of the homeless were children.
Research conducted by Harvard University found that just 1% of Boston's 16-24 year olds drive over 50% of all gun-related violence in the city. Reductions in youth violent crime not only ensures a safer experience for the city's young people, but for all residents
Overall youth crime declined from a high of 9,457 incidents in 2006 to 7,101 incidents in 2009, according to the more recently available data from the Boston Police Department. This decline was largely due to a decrease in Part 2, or quality of life, crimes committed by youth in Boston as the total number of violent and property crimes committed by those under 24 remained at about 3,000 incidents. The decline was also driven by a falling number of incidents involving very young youth under the age of 16.
Additionally, the percent of teens in Boston who reported carrying a gun within the previous month continued to fall to just 3.3% in 2011 compared to 10% of teens in 1993. The racial/ethnic gap has all but closed when it comes to carrying weapons: 3.9% of African Americans, 3.5% of white and 2.8% of Latinos reported carrying a gun in 2011 compared to 15.3%, 4.7% and 9.6%, respectively, in 1993.
Some of the benefits of walking to school are increased physical activity for children, reduced transportation costs for the district and a sense of connection and community between the school and the neighborhood. Boston Public Schools reserves 50% of each school's seats for children within the walk zone which extends 1 mile for elementary schools, 1.5 miles for middle schools and 2 miles for high schools
As of school year 2011-12, 24,907 or 44% of students enrolled in a Boston Public School lived within the designated walk zone. Schools in East Boston had the highest concentration of students who walked to school: O'Donnell Elementary (91.5%), McKay K-8 (90%) and Otis Elementary (89.5%). Schools with the lowest concentration of children in the walk zone were citywide high schools and 16 schools enrolled no students who lived within the walk zone including the three exam schools, the Hernandez K-8, the Timilty Middle School and a number of specialized schools.
StreetSafe Boston is taking a new multifaceted approach to addressing the problem of youth violence, which is concentrated disproportionately in a subset of neighborhoods.