90.9 WBUR - Boston's NPR news station
Top Stories:

Race And Opportunity In Boston Public Schools

Last week, we covered the long-awaited, tentative agreement between the Boston Teachers Union and the School Department, which — if approved — will enact sweeping changes to the way teachers are hired, evaluated and promoted.

The reaction to the agreement has been largely positive, with many calling it a win for the city’s children. But not everyone feels it represents the kind of change that’s needed or the right conversation about our public schools.

Jamaica Plain author Susan Naimark moved to Boston in 1975 just as court-ordered desegregation and the busing were tearing much of the city apart.

Racial tension, class division and inequality defined the struggle that Susan joined more than 20 years ago when she first signed on to a parent committee of her eldest son’s school in Dorchester. She became a school activist and eventually served eight years on the Boston School Committee.

Now, the mother of two now-adult sons has written a memoir, “The Education of a White Parent: Wrestling with Race and Opportunity in the Boston Public Schools.”

In the book, Naimark writes that she’s “convinced that we will never unravel the obstacles to our public schools working well for all children without addressing the legacy of racism.”


  • Susan Naimark, author, former member of the Boston School Committee
  • Glorya Fernandez, former family and community outreach coordinator, Boston Public Schools

Other stories from this show:

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
  • Call_Me_Missouri

    This is a very important topic and I think some of the disparity was covered this weekend on This American Life, specifically the disproportionate number of lower income children ending up in special needs students.  It was a very enlightening hour of radio this weekend.  Your guests should give it a listen.

    I do not believe all kids are created equal or the same, but race has nothing to do with it.  Every kid learns differently and has their own assets and detriments.  Treating kids the same would be the wrong thing to do. 

    The studies they covered on This American Life this weekend talked about children from low income families have two issues…  Lack of Attachment issues and lack of Non-Cognitive Skills were shown to result in non-handicapped children ending up in special needs classes because they had behavior issues that the school was unable to deal with.  They showed that training parents how to attach to their children and teaching children to be be resilient, persistent, strong, etc. increased graduation rates and college graduation rates.

  • Kathy

    What are parents supposed to do?  How can we white parents facilitate more participation  by parents of color in the Boston Public Schools?  When white parents advocate and show up for meetings, we are accused of being “pushy” and exclusive.  So, are we supposed to sit back and not do anything?  Therein lies the dilemma.  Maybe parents who are uncomfortable taking on the school administration or coming to parent council meetings could use some training in advocacy. 

    • Susan

      I am not saying that white parents should not be active. There are lots of things you can do, like reaching out personally to parents of color to encourage their involvement, building relationships at school social events, making extra effort to be sure parents of color feel welcome and get heard when they do show up at parent meetings. And being patient. We are fighting a deep distrust based on many generations of experience. The biggest starting point is simply building relationships. It’s not always easy, or comfortable, but it’s worth it.

Hosts Meghna Chakrabarti and Anthony Brooks introduce us to newsmakers, big thinkers and artists and bring us stories of relevance to Bostonians here and around the region. Live every weekday at 3.

  • Listen: Weekdays, 3 p.m. on 90.9 FM
  • Live Call-In: (800) 423-TALK
  • Listener Voicemail: (617) 358-0607
Most Popular
This site is best viewed with: Firefox | Internet Explorer 9 | Chrome | Safari