Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Significance of Framingham High School's Rating by US News & World Report

By now, many town residents have heard that the US News & World Report's Best High Schools study ranked Framingham High School as number 25 in the state of Massachusetts. And don't forget that Massachusetts has the best-ranked schools of any state in the nation. Just ask anyone you know who lives in a state with poor public education, where thousands of middle class families pay for private high schools just to ensure their children get a decent, not necessary superior education - and you'll realize how lucky we are in the Bay State.

It's interesting to look a bit beyond Framingham's ranking to understand the real significance of it. The top of the list for the 352 high schools in Massachusetts is populated with some of the usual suspects - affluent towns without much economic or racial diversity and public exam schools like Boston Latin. Charter schools are also increasingly showing up high in the rankings; the Advanced Science & Math Academy in Marlborough, which draws students from Framingham, was ranked number two in the state.

Curiously enough, some of Framingham's more affluent neighbors scored lower than The Ham. Wayland came in at number 28, and Lincoln-Sudbury Regional came in at number 45. Natick was not ranked for some reason, but came in lower than Framingham on the college readiness score.

No doubt there are many who would rightly argue that measuring a school on just four criteria (college readiness, math and English proficiency, and student/teacher ratio) does not tell the whole story. Many of the schools that ranked lower than Framingham are well-known for their excellence, but with the vagaries of limited statistical measures some are going to fare better than others.

It's actually somewhat surprising that Framingham is ranked so high. We are a very diverse town - economically, racially, and linguistically - and with that diversity comes a set of challenges that some of our more affluent neighbors don't have. Buying a home (since they tend to have a small stock of rental housing) in those towns is widely believed (and no doubt true) to be a ticket to an excellent school system, but it effectively excludes a majority of people. Any town that is made up of mostly high-achieving, well-educated, affluent people certainly has a leg up on communities with broader demographics. Framingham, however, in the best American tradition, offers an excellent education to children from modest backgrounds, and an opportunity to move up the socio-economic ladder.

Having a child who graduated from FHS in 2011 I can readily attest to the quality of the education she received. The US News & World Report overview for Framingham noted that the Advanced Placement coursework and exam participation rate is 49% (the same as Wayland's, despite Framingham having a student body that is 27% economically disadvantaged, vs. Wayland's 7%). When my daughter brought home the AP course listing I was stunned - it was as large as some college course catalogs. She took a fair amount of AP classes at FHS and was very well-prepared to do college-level work. She is now a junior at UMass-Amherst (another excellent public institution) and a member of a national honor fraternity.

Kudos to Framingham High School - both the educators who work so tirelessly to achieve a level of excellence - and our students - who show the rest of the state and the country that great education results can come out of all sorts of communities.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Marathon Redemption at the 6 Mile Moment

A year after the tragic bombings that marred the 2013 Boston Marathon, the final redemption in my mind was the wonder of the race today from my vantage point in downtown Framingham. It was a perfect spring day - blue skies, cool in the early morning, then warming up as the sun rose higher. The crowd was huge, as was the field of runners, all bound to prove that last year's attack on the most storied marathon in the world not only wasn't going to keep people away, it was going to dramatically boost attendance and participation.

Yes, there was a lot more security present, from more Framingham police officers to military police to a State Police SWAT team, and a flyover by Air National Guard Blackhawk helicopters. But it did not feel foreboding or oppressive, and all of the officers were smiling and talking with spectators while keeping the course safe for everyone.

Kudos to Holli Andrews, Executive Director of the Framingham Downtown Renaissance for helping make it feel more like a community street party than ever. The branding of the event as the "6 Mile Moment" - commemorating the town's location on the 26 mile race route, complete with prominent signage - gave it a celebratory feel, as a live rock band serenaded the runners from a stage next to the train station. A hundred yards to the west, Access Framingham cable TV was broadcasting the race live with a trio of commentators, including recently-retired selectman Dennis Giombetti.

And downtown's diverse array of restaurants no doubt got a boost in business from some of the hundreds of hungry spectators as lunch time approached. Donia Sofia Pupusas Y Tacos, a few steps away on Concord Street, and my favorite for Salvadoran and Mexican comfort food, had every table filled with people eating and watching the race on a big-screen TV, erupting in cheers and applause as the male and female winners were announced.

So if your past marathon Mondays have been spent at home watching the race on TV, next year come downtown and join the party and have your own 6 Mile Moment.