Political Intelligence

Arroyo releases plan to close achievement gap in Boston Public Schools

City Councilor Felix G. Arroyo, one of twelve candidates running to become the next mayor of Boston, today released a plan aimed at working to close the academic achievement gap between students of different races and different economic backgrounds in the city’s public schools.

Arroyo, who is married to a Boston public school teacher and has made education policy a key part of his campaign, proposed increasing access to early childhood education and more extended learning time in schools, among other initiatives.

In a telephone interview Sunday, he said that expanding the number of children who attend pre-kindergarten could help close the gap in academic achievement later in students’ careers.

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“I’m calling for a focus on those first few years,” he said.

Arroyo’s plan said that the average school day for K-12 students in Boston is six and half hours, which must be increased.

“I’m calling for an extended school day to include things like arts and music and theater,” Arroyo said in the interview.

The candidate’s 15-page plan also calls for expanding access to education focused on science and technology, improving vocational and technical offerings in the school system, and implementing “curriculum and practices that are relevant and responsive to underserved groups.”

Professors familiar with the academic achievement gap who read Arroyo’s plan lauded the general contours the policies proposed, but wondered about the costs associated with implementation.

“Everything Arroyo wants to do would be good, but it would all cost money,” Christopher S. Jencks, a professor of social policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, said in an email. “Does Boston have untapped resources? Does the state?”

Thomas A. Downes, a professor at Tufts University who has studied the achievement gap, said parts of Arroyo’s plan, in particular expanded early childhood education, were backed by research showing they could help.

But he said their cost could be substantial.

“The cost of extended learning time could be pretty large,” Downes said. “The pre-k cost could potentially be large as well.”

Asked in the interview about the cost of some of his proposed programs, Arroyo indicated that budgeting in a different way might free up more funds.

“We spend a billion dollars in our school district,” Arroyo said. “I would suspect most people feel they are not seeing a billion dollars worth of results.”

“We do budgeting the wrong way. We do budgeting from the top down. We should do budgeting from the classroom up,” he said.

Arroyo also said he supported the increased state funding for early education that Governor Deval Patrick has called for.

The plan includes only a passing reference to Arroyo’s position on one of the most potent issues of debate on education policy in the mayor’s race and across the state: charter schools.

Arroyo opposes raising the cap on charter schools, which are underwritten by tax dollars but run separately from traditional Boston public schools. The majority of his opponents support adding more charter schools in Boston.

“[N]ow is not the time to raise the cap on charter schools,” Arroyo’s plan said.

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