Milton High School Is Offering Students Community Service Hours In Exchange For Filling Out Race-and-Sexuality Survey

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Students at Milton High School have an incentive to fill out a 91-question survey that probes their feelings about race and human sexuality:  credit toward community service that they need in order to graduate.

NewBostonPost has obtained a screenshot of a school post that made students aware of this deal. It says, “In today’s advisory session, we are completing the Cambridge Analytics Survey to provide valuable feedback to the school. Once you finish the survey, you should forward the confirmation email that you receive to” a particular Milton public schools employee “in order to earn 5 hours of community service.”

The superintendent of Milton public schools, James Jette, confirmed the community service offer during a meeting of the Milton School Committee last week, without describing details. He said school officials have used the same approach in other situations he considers comparable.

“This is not a bribe, and this is not a new practice, particularly with high school students,” Jette said. “… This is a service to the community. We feel as though that the information that we receive back from our students is critical, to get their perspective and get their understanding of how the school runs and how they fit in and how they feel about their teachers, their programs, their opportunities. So it is giving back to the Milton High School community.”

(His comments appear in a video of the Milton School Committee meeting of Wednesday, April 28 posted on the web site of Milton Access Television, starting at 10:32 of the video.)

The survey is produced by Cambridge Education, an educational consulting company hired last fall by the Milton School Committee to perform an “Equity Audit” of the town’s public schools, to identify whether students are being harmed by bias based on race, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

The school district has agreed to pay Cambridge Education $50,000 to perform the Equity Audit, which includes the survey. NewBostonPost has published the contract between the Milton School Committee and Cambridge Education, which is dated January 21, 2021.

The survey has drawn opposition from some parents in Milton, as reported by NewBostonPost late last month. Critics have expressed outrage about the types of questions asked of students as young as sixth grade and what they say is a lack of notice to parents. (The superintendent said last week during the school committee that an email message describing the Equity Audit went out to parents on February 24.)

Supporters of the Equity Audit say it’s needed to counter bias in the school district and improve achievement and dignity of students, and that the survey is a critical component of the study.

Yet the survey is long and asks personal and potentially embarrassing questions.

Enter the community service credit.

That matters because Milton High School is an outlier on the South Shore — its community service requirement for students to graduate is more robust than other communities in the area. To graduate from Milton High School, a student must complete at least 140 hours of community service — at least 35 hours of community service each of the four years.

Milton High provides families with a list of places where students have volunteered to gain community service hours in the past. The list includes the Milton Food Pantry, Milton Pop Warner Football, Milton Animal Shelter, American Red Cross, and Cradles to Crayons, among many others.

So how long does the race-and-sexuality survey take students?

An employee of Cambridge Education told one Milton parent the average student finishes the survey in 12 minutes, according to an email message obtained by NewBostonPost.

NewBostonPost contacted this employee for further comment on the matter and will provide an update if there is a response. A spokesman for Cambridge Education has not responded to requests for comment.

Kerry White, chairman of the Milton Republican Town Committee, and a critic of the survey, told NewBostonPost that a school newsletter set the original deadline for returning the survey at April 6, but that school officials made the community-service offer to students after April vacation — or about three weeks after the initial deadline.

“Parents and taxpayers should be asking why the deadline was extended, is it because the survey results did not yield the desired view of our student population? Were the response rates too low to be considered statistically significant?” White said.

She also questioned the fairness of the offer.

“It’s interesting that Cambridge Ed says that it should only take 12 minutes to complete the survey, yet HS students who are being requested again to take the survey are being offered credit for 5 hours of community service,” White said via email. “When 12 minutes now = 5 hours the math doesn’t add up for me.

“It hardly seems fair to MHS students who have actually done the community service work to be short changed like this,” she added. 

White also said she thinks the school district has a narrative they want to conclude from the surveys, but the responses they initially got back weren’t sufficient to justify it.

Milton resident and parent Jennifer Wrightington told NewBostonPost she doesn’t think what the school is doing is right. Since the state has loosened Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System testing standards because of the coronavirus emergency, she said, Milton officials should do the same with the community service requirement, instead of using it as leverage over survey-shy students.

“They are holding on so tightly to glean any data they can get (coerce). I am not a fan,” Wrightington said by email.


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