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The Globe has launched a two-year initiative called The Great Divide to explore the deep inequalities in our public education system, examining both the challenges and possible solutions to creating equal opportunity for all students. This newsletter will update you on our investigative findings, with links to stories and other relevant information. If you know of anyone interested in this subject, tell them they can sign up for this newsletter here.

By Zipporah Osei and Jenna Russell

It called to mind dystopian visions of silent, childless streets, like those patrolled by the terrifying Child Catcher in the classic film “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang," when we learned last week that the number of school-aged children living in Boston has plummeted in recent decades. A new report from The Boston Foundation found that since 2000, the school-aged population declined by 10,000 even as the city’s overall population skyrocketed. You can read the Globe's coverage here.

The report found no evidence of youngsters being lured by candy into paddy wagons, as depicted in the movie. But the findings were in many ways just as startling and alarming. Here are five eye-catching things we learned in the report:

1. Boston has lost more Black children than white in recent years.

The last period of dramatic school-age population decline was from 1970 to 1990, when court-ordered school desegregation led many white families to leave the city for neighboring suburbs. But from 2000 to 2017, the city lost 8,400 Black children of school age, compared to 4,700 white school-aged kids. 

Meanwhile, the number of Asian school-aged kids has remained fairly consistent since 2000 and the number of Latino children has increased by about 3,700.

2. Half of Boston’s middle- and high-income children leave the city by the time they start kindergarten.

Middle class families are disappearing from major cities all across the country and Boston is no exception. Though the city has seen an overall population boom, Boston has almost 6,000 fewer middle-income households with children today than in 1980. Steep housing costs and a focus on subsidized housing programs have made it hard for middle class families to afford to stay. 

3. The families that do stay are opting for public schools over private.

The number of parents enrolling their children in charter schools increased after the state upped the charter school enrollment cap in 2010, according to the study. But when all public school enrollments are considered — including charter schools, Boston Public Schools, and out-of-district public schools — enrollment has remained steady. Private and parochial school enrollment, on the other hand, declined by almost half, from 15,300 in 2000 to 8,511 in 2019.

4. Far more students of color attend “intensely segregated” schools now than in 1980.

The term intensely segregated, which was popularized by the Civil Rights Project at The University of California, Los Angeles, refers to schools where 90 percent or more of all enrolled students are students of color. Two-thirds of all students of color in Boston attended an intensely segregated school in 2019, while in 1980, only two percent did. The takeaway is stark and sobering: Since court-ordered desegregation went into effect, schools have become less integrated, not more so. 

Boston’s schools are also overwhelmingly poor. Low-income students accounted for at least 80 percent of enrollment in 82 public schools in 2014, according to the study.

5. The Allston neighborhood has lost 40 percent of its school-aged children since 2000.

Boston neighborhoods seeing the most dramatic decline in their school-aged populations include Dorchester, Allston, Mattapan, South Boston and Jamaica Plain. Mattapan, South Boston and Jamaica Plain have all seen school-aged population declines of about 20 percent.

One notable exception is West Roxbury, where school-aged population growth of 16 percent has matched the growth of older populations, unlike in most other neighborhoods. 
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The Valedictorians Project
Boston's top students from 2005 to 2007 set out to change the world. But then life happened.
The Great Divide builds on the findings of the Globe's Valedictorians Project in January, which revealed that even the best students in Boston public schools often struggle after high school. An editor and a team of four investigative reporters are examining public education in the region, with humanity and empathy, and with a goal of provoking public discussion and exploring what might be done to fix core issues of inequality, social mobility, and economic opportunity. Please send ideas and suggestions to:

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