Having grown up in a suburban part of the greater Boston area, I greatly valued being a student at a diverse high school. However, my town was not particularly diverse itself, but rather it participated in a program called METCO, also known as the Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity. This program allowed for minority, inner city kids to come to predominantly white, wealthy suburbs for a good public school education. This program was always important to me, as I felt fortunate to be educated along side people who were so different from me. Though I valued the program in my own education, I did not know a lot about the program as a whole outside of my friends who participated and my town, which sparked my curiosity to learn more. Specifically, I wanted to know how the experiences of the first METCO participants and those in more recent years differed.
The METCO (Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity) program seeks to address two major issues in the Massachusetts public school system by placing inner city, minority (Asian, Hispanic, and Black) students in predominately white suburban schools. The first is the “racial imbalance” that is experienced in the districts sending students. That is, the concentrated amount of minority groups in public schools. The second and less obvious issue is “racial isolation.” This issue pertains to the school receiving METCO students, where students are almost exclusively accustomed to interacting with other white students. Studies have shown the importance for students of all races to have the experience interacting with races different than their own (Cubeta, 2014.) METCO has proven these studies correct. According to research done by Harvard University in 1997, a whopping ninety-one percent of students participating in METCO reported that “they had a good or excellent experience in learning to get along with people from other backgrounds.” Eighty-two percent of students said they had “a good or excellent experience with the academic program.” Though nearly all METCO students describe good experiences, I was surprised that over 50 percent of students reported an experience of discrimination by teachers (Harvard, 1997). In addition to this, although METCO students can be sent to the receiving public school from the early age of pre-kindergarten, they still have an extremely lower average test scores than their peers in school (Cubeta, 2014).
Susan Eaton, a researcher on Civil Rights issues, wrote an in depth account of the experiences of sixty-five of the earliest METCO participants. Now adults, they reflected on their experiences both good and bad in the revolutionary program. One main issue they had with being placed in these suburban schools was their feelings when placed in either high performing or low performing classes; both caused problems. When a black student was placed in a high performing class, he or she was often the only black student in the class. They described a feeling of isolation and unworthiness. They also described feeling that “the smallest slip would land me in trouble” (Eaton, 71). The adults Eaton interviewed described a constant feeling of need to prove themselves because of a believed pre-conceived notion by their educators and white peers that black students were not as smart as their white counterparts. The METCO students also reported that they and their other African American friends were placed in low performance classes even when they were excelling students academically (Eaton, 72). Eaton identifies the three major problems with the tracking system and METCO students. One of these is the possibility that the suburban schools had higher standards than the schools the METCO students had come from. The second is that long term METCO students still underperformed in comparison to their white peers, despite having the same education. The third and most troubling issue is that black METCO students were being placed in lower performing classes because of their teachers’ and administrators prejudices (Eaton, 72).
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Cubeta, Kate, Regina Caines, and Bonie Williamson. “METCO an important Program.”The Arlington Advocate. N.p., 05 Apr. 2014. Web. 06 Apr. 2014.
Eaton, Susan E. The Other Boston Busing Story: What’s Won and Lost across the Boundary Line. New Haven: Yale UP, 2001. Print.