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Progress and Promise: Results From the Boston Pilot Schools


Executive Summary

New research conducted by Boston's Center for Collaborative Education documents significant achievement by students who attend the city's Pilot Schools. Pilot School students are performing better than the district averages across every indicator of student engagement and performance, including the statewide-standardized assessment (MCAS). In other standard measures, Pilot School students show better rates of attendance and fewer out of-school suspensions, and more go on to attend university or technical college after they graduate.

Key findings of the report

Academic Performance


For attendance, elementary Pilot Schools posted a median rate of 97 percent, compared to 96 percent for BPS elementary schools. Pilot middle schools posted a median attendance rate of 97 percent, compared to 94 percent in BPS middle schools. And for high schools, the Pilot School median attendance rate was 95 percent, compared to a BPS high school rate of 89 percent.

For out-of-school suspension rates, BPS elementary schools posted an average of 3 percent, compared to 1 percent for Pilot Schools. Among middle schools, BPS schools posted an average of 14 percent, compared to 12 percent for Pilot Schools. And for high schools, BPS had a rate of 9 percent out-of school suspensions compared to 5 percent for Pilot Schools.

Boston School Superintendent Thomas Payzant says he is encouraged by the results of the study. "What this report shows is that real progress that can change the lives of students is possible. Pilot Schools have made an invaluable contribution to public education in Boston." The Pilot Schools have grown and thrived under Payzant's ten-year stewardship. Payzant points out that many other school systems around the country continue to send observers to Boston to see Pilot Schools, an important part of the Boston Public Schools' comprehensive pre-K through 12 reform plan.

Richard Stutman, president of the Boston Teachers Union, is also proud of the progress Pilot Schools have made. "This report shows that the Pilot model is a vital avenue for teacher growth and innovation. It is important for us that the lessons and best practices learned from Pilots be considered for other schools. It's exciting to see the progress that has been made by Boston students."

Pilot Schools are Boston Public Schools

The Pilot Schools--which operate with autonomy within the school district--were created in 1995 through a unique partnership that included the mayor, the office of the superintendent, the school committee, and the teachers union. Boston is the only city in the country to create Pilot Schools to serve as models
of innovation, with the purpose of identifying "best practices" and sharing them with public school educators in Boston and beyond. In addition to educating the children who attend them, the Pilot Schools serve as research and development laboratories, creating and assessing strategies that can create success within an urban public school system.
Students in Pilot Schools are on the whole representative of students in the public system with regard to economic status; race and ethnicity; and in the proportion of mainstream special education students attending the schools. As well, over time Pilot Schools are becoming increasingly more representative of students with moderate to severe special needs. The number of Pilot Schools has grown from the first year, when 5 Pilot Schools enrolled about 1.5 percent of the BPS population. Today, 19 schools (pre-K through 12) in Boston use the

Pilot School model to serve 5,900 students, or about 10 percent of the public school population. By creating the Pilot Schools--which offer choice, smallness, and accountability--the Boston Public Schools have taken on a national leadership role in urban school reform.

Key features of Pilot Schools

Although they serve essentially the same student population, Pilot Schools are different from traditional public schools in significant ways. Pilot Schools have
far more autonomy over their resources (including budget, staffing, curriculum, governance, and the calendar) in order to best serve their students. While Pilot
Schools employ a diversity of educational approaches, they share certain key characteristics. Pilot Schools are:

Pilot Schools use their autonomy to improve teaching and learning

The report emphasizes that Pilot Schools have used their autonomy to create curriculum, assessment, and school structures that support high expectations and achievement. Pilot Schools commit to making time for faculty collaboration and planning--which are crucial for improving a school's culture and performance. With the same per pupil budget as BPS schools, Pilot Schools as compared to the district average have:

The Pilot School strategy has strengthened the Boston Public Schools

Excellent single schools are relatively common, but it is rare for excellence to spread throughout a large urban district. The Pilot School strategy has also led to improvements throughout the Boston Public Schools:


Label Value
Author Center for Collaborative Education
Delivery Area
  • school based
  • whole school change
  • curricula and lesson plans
Outcome Area
  • academic performance
  • self efficacy
  • teacher practice
  • school change
Participant Area
  • student
  • educator
  • administrator
  • school
Demographic Area
  • urban
Age Area
  • elementary (6-11 years old)
  • middle school (12-14 years old)
  • high school (14-18 years old)