The Saddest Elementary School in Barnstable

Is there de facto segregation in Barnstable?

Unique in nearly every demographic category, HyWest students trail district

 By Walter Brooks

Everyone seems to know that Hyannis West Elementary is the Barnstable’s “slum school”.  Indeed, the “street list” lookup tool on the Barnstable Public School District’s website shows that most of the addresses in the “bad section of town” are assigned to Hyannis West.

Hyannis West also boasts the highest percentage of non-white enrollment (54.4%) in a district that is 80% Caucasian. See chart at bottom. The result is a school with the highest concentration of low income families in town (79%), the highest percentage of free/reduced lunch recipients (79.5%) and first language not English (31.6%) or limited English proficiency (24.4%) in the entire school district.  Hyannis West also boasts the highest percentage of non-white enrollment (54.4%) in a district that is 80% Caucasian.

Abysmal MCAS Scores

Hyannis West trails the district in MCAS scores, with 43% of its students ranked as “Needs Improvement” or “Warning/Failing” on the spring 2012 Grade 3 Reading MCAS and 44% scoring “NI” or “W/F” on the Grade 3 Math MCAS.  When compared to other K-3 buildings in Barnstable, HyWest’s scores would demoralize all but the most optimistic educator.

Compare Hyannis West’s scores with the lily-white Centerville Elementary School.Compare Hyannis West’s scores with the lily-white Centerville Elementary School (87% white) and Barnstable-West Barnstable Elementary (89.9% white) and you’ll find Centerville with only 29.9% “NI” or “W/F” in reading and BWB with only 16% “NI”.  Nobody failed Grade 3 reading at BWB, while 13% of HyWest’s kids score Warning/Failure.  In Grade 3 Math, Centerville had 38% score “NI” or “W/F” versus 44% at HyWest.  BWB had only 27% score “NI” or “W/F” in Grade 3 Math.

Programmed to Fail?

In a study published in 2010 by the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University, the author cites a study that found “74 percent of third-graders who read poorly are still struggling in ninth grade”.  If that information is accurate, then a large number of children who attended Hyannis West have been essentially “programmed to fail” throughout the rest of their school career.

The worst damage done to a child’s education has happened by the end of third grade.After the 2009 reorganization of the Barnstable Schools, the town’s elementary buildings serve only grades K-3.  All Barnstable students attend fourth grade at Barnstable United Elementary School. 

Assuming that Barnstable doesn’t using the old “track” of grouping together students of similar ability, it is entirely plausible that academically struggling children from Hyannis West will end up sitting in classes next to – and competing with - the high-achieving kids from schools like Centerville Elementary and Barnstable-West Barnstable.  The kind of class grouping makes it easy to see how the Annenberg study may be prophetic.  If the worst damage done to a child’s education has happened by the end of third grade, low-achieving children from Hyannis West stand little chance of success when moved into the melting pot of Barnstable United.

De Facto Segregation?

Such is the demographic segregation in the Barnstable school district that it feels like one is reading the data for a school district in Louisiana or Arkansas.  No district on the Cape has such a sharp racial, economic and academic delineation between its elementary schools. Barnstable has three relatively affluent, largely white student bodies at West Villages, BWB or Centerville Elementary and one school with most of the town’s poor and minority population set aside at Hyannis West.  If this is not de facto segregation, what is?

Can the Kids Recover?

An early intervention program at Hyannis West might ameliorate the deficiencies.The Annenberg study states that, “by third grade students are expected to know the fundamentals of reading and be able to apply their reading skills across the curriculum.”  Teachers “use written text to teach other material, such as science, history, math or literature.”

According to the Reading Recovery Council of North America, 75% of students who complete a 12 to 20 week “intervention” “can meet grade level expectations in reading and writing.”  This “intervention” program is most commonly conducted with first-graders.  Perhaps such an early intervention program at Hyannis West would ameliorate the deficiencies that show up in MCAS by Grade 3.

Nobody wants to believe that 43% of last year’s third graders at Hyannis West have been sentenced to a lifetime of learning challenges.  Any parent or grandparent looking at this grim situation would hope that Barnstable has a plan to “rescue” these children before they become mere statistics in a nation-wide literacy trend.

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