The Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity, Inc. (METCO, Inc.) is the longest continuously running voluntary school desegregation program in the country and a national model for the few other voluntary desegregation busing programs currently in existence.The program enrolls Boston resident students in Kindergarten through 12th grade into available seats in suburban public schools. Conceived by Boston activist Ruth Batson and Brookline School Committee Chair Dr. Leon Trilling, METCO launched in 1966 as a coalition of seven school districts placing 220 students. The Massachusetts Racial Imbalance Act (RIA) of 1966, and amended in 1974, is the legal basis for voluntary interdistrict transfers for the purpose of desegregation (such as METCO), and funding is almost entirely provided by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Over the years, the academic and social outcomes of the program have been praised, while the increasing gap between cost and funding and the negative experiences of students of color have been the subject of criticism.
A related but unaffiliated program, also called METCO, exists in Springfield and is administered by the Springfield Public Schools.
As defined by the original METCO Grant, the purpose of the program is "to expand educational opportunities, increase diversity, and reduce racial isolation by permitting students in Boston and Springfield to attend public schools in other communities that have agreed to participate. The program provides students of participating school districts the opportunity to experience the advantages of learning and working in a racially, ethnically, and linguistically diverse setting."The mission of METCO is two-fold: to give students from Boston's under-performing school districts the opportunity to attend a high-performing school and increase their educational opportunities and to decrease racial isolation and increase diversity in the suburban schools.
Each suburban district operates its METCO program independently,at the discretion of each city or town’s School Committee. The METCO program is funded predominantly by a state line item allocated by the Legislature every year and distributed to each participating district by a formula related to the number of students enrolled. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education administers the grant and related reporting. The city of Boston does not contribute any money to METCO operations.
The majority of the funding goes to transportation, which is organized by each suburban school district. Other major budget items are dedicated METCO personnel in each district, and the central administration at METCO, Inc.METCO, Inc. is the Boston-based 501(c)3 that oversees the recruitment, eligibility screening, and school assignment of Boston students, in addition to providing support services in Boston to METCO families.
Districts determine the number of “marginal seats” available in each grade, and request a corresponding number of student applicants from the METCO, Inc. central office. The METCO application policy was revised in 2019 and clarifies eligibility for the program and the process by which students are referred from Boston to a participating school district, and on what basis a district places students in open seats.
METCO Directors from each district formed an independent non-profit membership organization, the METCO Directors Association, for mutual support and professional development.
Some communities have active resident groups to provide funding and social support to Boston students.
METCO was developed during a period of activism by Boston Black parents, primarily mothers, to achieve educational equity through school desegregation. In 1963, the Boston branch of the NAACP demanded that the School Committee of Boston Public Schools acknowledge de facto segregation and commit to a series of reforms. The demands were presented by the chair of the Education Committee of the NAACP, activist Ruth Batson. A series of protests, including sit-ins, boycotts, and a self-funded desegregation program within the city called Operation Exodus achieved publicity. However, the Boston Public Schools continued to either deny that racial disparities existed, or to deny responsibility for them.
The state of Massachusetts, on the other hand, did provide legal support for the protestors. The Racial Imbalance Bill was filed by State Representative Royal Bolling and passed in 1965 as Massachusetts General Law Chapter 76, Section 12A. This law authorized the withholding of funds from any public school deemed to be perpetuating “racial imbalance,” defined as having more than 50% non-white students. The law also enabled city and town school committees and districts to "help alleviate racial isolation" (defined as any public school where over 70% of the student population is white) through voluntary cross-district enrollment.
In response to Civil Rights protests in the Southern United States, groups in the Boston suburbs (such as fair housing advocates, civil rights committees, the League of Women Voters, churches, and members of School Committees) began to conceive of programs to enroll Black students allowed under the Racial Imbalance Act. A group led by MIT Professor Dr. Leon Trilling (Chair of Brookline’s School Committee) presented what they called the METCO initiative to Ruth Batson, now the director of the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination. She agreed to support the program as Associate Director alongside Joseph Killory, taking a leave from the Massachusetts Department of Education, as executive director.
METCO filed for non-profit status in 1966 with Trilling as the Chair of the Board of Directors. Among those also serving on the original Board of Directors were Paul Parks from the NAACP, arts educator Elma Lewis, Boston teacher John D. O’Bryant, Brookline School Superintendent Robert Sperber, Newton Superintendent Charles Brown, and Newton School Committee member Katherine Jones. The group received grants from the Carnegie Corporation and the U.S. Department of Education and engaged a research group from Harvard to evaluate the program’s initial effectiveness.
The first 220 METCO students, individually recruited and interviewed by Batson, rode buses from Roxbury, North Dorchester, and the South End to their first day of school in seven participating school districts in Greater Boston: Arlington, Braintree, Brookline, Lexington, Lincoln, Newton, and Wellesley.
Batson became the executive director of the program in 1968, and the Massachusetts State Legislature began funding the program through a yearly line item. Additional school districts applied to participate in METCO in the late 1960s, with the full cohort of 33 current districts signing on by 1972. Robert C. Hayden served as executive director from 1969 to 1973.
Boston Public Schools teacher and community activist Jean McGuire became the Executive Director of METCO Inc. in 1973, a position she held for more than four decades, spanning the period of court-ordered desegregation in Boston and multiple waves of funding pressureand racist backlash. In response to an order by the Massachusetts Department of Education in the mid-1990s, McGuire began actively recruiting Latino and Asian students to more accurately reflect the changing demographics in Boston .
In 2018, Milly Arbaje-Thomas assumed leadership of METCO, Inc. The organization has reformed the application process for families, moving from a waiting list reported to be 12,000 students long to an online lottery system.
As of 2015 there are approximately 3,300 students enrolled in the program,the majority of whom come from the city of Boston (about 150 come from the city of Springfield). As of 2001, approximately 4,300 students have graduated from the program since its founding. In the 2010–2011 school year, 75.2% of METCO pupils were African American, 3.4% were Asian, 16.8% were Hispanic, and the remaining 5% were classified as multi-race or "other." Boston's school district is currently 35% African-American, 41% Hispanic, 13% White and 8% Asian. As of 2010–2011, 33 of the 37 receiving districts remained "racially isolated" (over 70% white) while 4 receiving districts are "racially balanced" (50–70% white).
There is evidence that METCO boosts academic success for Boston resident students. Students in the METCO program consistently graduate from high school at the same rate as their suburban classmates (nearly 100%), compared to around 65% of Boston Public Schools students. Around 88% of METCO students enroll in post-secondary education equaling the graduation rates of receiving districts.53 That same, above the state average of 81% and far above the Boston average of 58%.Grades and standardized test score data are more mixed.
It has been reported both qualitatively and quantitatively that most families enrolled in METCO districts weigh the opportunity for an excellent education as far more important than decreasing racial isolation, which they acknowledge it as an important side factor.
When METCO was initiated in 1966, receiving districts received a state grant covering transportation costs for students, and a tuition assessment set by receiving districts. Over time, the financial system evolved from one where receiving districts set tuition rates, to a "grant" system where a standard per-pupil grant of $3,925 (FY2017) is provided to receiving districts, almost all of which is used to fund METCO direct services with no money available for indirect general educational expenses.The Boston School Committee does not pay METCO financial expenses, having passed a resolution supporting METCO upon the condition that Boston not contribute financially. The consequence is that receiving districts must make up the gap in costs.
Alumni of the program have frequently written and spoken about the traumatic impacts of long bus rides; being considered "other" than the white, resident students; racial microaggressions, slurs, and assaults; and lack of teachers of color to serve as role models.
Politician John Barros, singer Michael Bivins, professional basketball player Bruce Brown, Jr., journalist Audie Cornish,politician Tito Jackson, politician Kim Janey, filmmaker Mike Mascoll, politician Marilyn Mosby, and TEDx speaker Kandice Sumner.
Boston and Springfield are the two districts which send students to receiving communities.
A subset of school districts in the Boston area participate in METCO, typically those districts which are more affluent (and can subsidize the program).
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