MassLang: Methodology

MassLang: Methodology

Types of High Schools in Massachusetts

The two primary categories of high schools in Massachusetts are public schools and private schoolsPublic schools are publicly-funded by local, state, and federal government sources.    Private schools are privately-funded, usually from tuition fees, religious organizations, private foundations, or for-profit corporations.  Our analysis focuses only on public schools in Massachusetts, which are overseen by the Massachusetts Department of Primary and Secondary Education (usually referred to as the “Mass DoE”); private schools are not included in our analysis.

Within the Massachusetts public school system, there is a range of different types of high schools with different programs and curricula.  In our analysis we classify the following four types of public schools:

  • Traditional: The traditional public high school is still the most common school in Massachusetts.  It is a high school that serves a town (or several neighboring towns) and offers a full range of academic programs.  It is commonly the only high school in a town, although larger towns and cities can have many different high schools.
  • Non-traditional: We use the term “non-traditional” for public high schools that complement Traditional schools and provide very specialized programs for a subset of the general student population.  This category includes virtual online schools, bilingual schools, schools for English language learners, and magnet schools (selective schools that specialize in math, science, or the arts).  This category also includes “alternative” high schools, which are defined by the Mass DoE: “Alternative Education is an initiative within a public school district, charter school, or educational collaborative established to serve at-risk students whose needs are not being met in the traditional school setting. Alternative Education may operate as a program or as a separate self-contained school.”
  • Charter: These schools are publicly funded but privately managed, defined by the Mass DoE: “Public schools that are created by parents, teachers, businesses, and community leaders and have the freedom to organize their activities around a core mission, curriculum, or teaching method. Their autonomy gives them the freedom to create their own budgets and to hire and fire teachers and staff.”
  • Vocational: Public vocational and technical high schools offer programs that prepare students for specific careers and skilled trades, such as computer technology, metal fabrication, and cosmetology.  Vocational high schools typically have more limited academic programs, due to the additional resources required to provide the vocational and technical programs.

Compilation of List of Schools for Analysis

In compiling the list of high schools for our analysis, we started with lists of Massachusetts public high schools and school districts downloaded from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (Mass DoE) website.  The Mass DoE compiles and publishes data about public schools in the state, including lists of schools and school districts, school performance in different metrics, and teacher full-time equivalent (FTE) staff levels for different subjects.  However, the Mass DoE provides very limited official information about foreign languages taught in MA high schools.  The Massachusetts Foreign Language Association (MaFLA), a volunteer group of educators at Massachusetts schools and institutions with the motto “Committed to the Teaching and Learning of Languages,” compiles some data on its own.   We would like to acknowledge very helpful background information provided by Nicole Sherf and Ted Zarrow of the MaFLA, including 2013-14 Mass DoE Education Personnel Information Management System (EPIMS) data on foreign language teacher FTEs.

The basis of our final list of MA public high schools were two lists:

From the District List and High School List, we created the final list of 351 public high schools for our analysis.  This final list of high school was created by merging the District List and the High School List and then applying the following criteria to the merged list:

  • District but no High School: The District List of 404 public school districts contained many districts that only have schools serving K-8 students.  This is common in areas where a regional high school district serves multiple towns, but each town has its own school district for elementary and middle schools.  We removed all school districts that did not include a high school.
  • District and High School:  Where there was a one-to-one correspondence of district on the District List and high school on the High School List we created a single entry for a high school.
  • New High School:  The DoE High School List was based on graduation data for the year 2016.  There were 8 relatively new school districts on the District List that had no corresponding high school on the High School List because they did not yet have graduation data in the state database.  In these cases, we created a single entry for each of these new high schools.
  • High School Too Specialized or Too Small: Some public high schools in the Mass DoE High School List have extremely-specialized programs, such as those serving adult students, former high school drop-outs,  mentally-disabled students, as well as small “school within a school” programs housed within another high school in the list.  We removed all these specialized schools from our final list.

Data Sources for Our Analysis

For each of the 351 Massachusetts public high schools on our list, we downloaded, directly from the website of the school or district, information about the school’s foreign language class offerings and graduation requirements.  In most cases, all the information was easily found in the school’s most recent Program of Study or Student Handbook.  In other cases, we found information on the webpage of the school’s foreign language department and/or guidance department.   In a few rare cases where we could not find the necessary information on the school or district website, we called the school directly to request the information. All original documents that we downloaded from school websites and used in our analysis are available here.

We compiled the information in a single spreadsheet (Lexplorers Survey of Foreign Languages Taught in MA Public High Schools – data.xlsx) with the following columns:

  • High School: The name of the high school
  • Org Code – The unique school or district code from the MA DoE School and District Profiles
  • District FTE – The district-wide number of full-time equivalent (FTE) foreign language teachers, from 2016-17 Teacher Data Report DISTRICT for Foreign Language.xlsx.  Note that since FTE numbers are only available for the district and not for each individual school, the FTE number is shown next to the first school in the district.
  • Type of School (Traditional? Non-traditional? Charter? Vocational?): An ‘X’ in the column indicates into which of the four categories we placed the school based on the information on the school website
  • # langs offered:  The number of different foreign languages for which the school offers classes
  • Language offered (Spanish, French, …): An ‘X’ in this column indicates that school offers the language
  • Foreign Language Graduation requirement?: This column contains the details of what graduation requirement, if any, the school has for study of a foreign language
  • Years required: This column contains the number of years of foreign language study required by the school for graduation.  In cases where multiple languages are required (e.g., 4 years Latin plus 4 years of another language), the sum of the two languages is given.
  • URL1 and URL2: The source of the documents downloaded for each school
  • Date downloaded: The date these documents were downloaded
  • Notes: Additional clarifying information about the school name, requirements, or source of the information for the school

Possible sources of error:

The compilation and the analysis of the high school data involved several manual steps.  We may have made errors, and we welcome corrections of any errors, which can be submitted via our contact form.

  • Out-of-date information: We downloaded the most recent information we could find on each school’s website.  We may have missed the presence of more recent information, or the information may have been updated after we downloaded the data we are using in our analysis.  Our spreadsheet contains the URL and date of download for each of the documents we downloaded from each school website.
  • Incorrect information:  The raw data on which we based our analysis, the school and district information downloaded from the Mass DoE and the information downloaded from individual school websites, may contain errors or inconsistencies.   For example, in one case we found a difference in the graduation requirements listed on a school’s guidance department website vs. the requirements in the Program of Studies.  Another school listed a particular language on its foreign language department page, but the program of study did not contain any classes in that language.  In these cases we deferred to the information in the most recent Program of Study available.
  • Data compilation errors: We compiled the spreadsheet based on the information we downloaded, manually entering each high school’s information based on reading the school’s foreign language curriculum and graduation requirements.  We may have made errors in this manual process.
  • School categorization errors: We placed each school into one of the four categories (traditional, non-traditional, charter, vocational) based on the information we obtained from the school and/or district website.  We also removed extremely-specialized schools from the analysis.   We may have miscategorized or incorrectly removed schools.
  • Data analysis errors: In the final analysis of the raw data compiled from the high school website, we may have made calculation errors.