The Perkins Elementary School in South Boston is barely visible behind rows of nondescript brick buildings inside the Old Colony public housing development. Students make do without the most basic amenities, eating breakfast and lunch at their desks, taking gym classes at a Boys & Girls Club, and checking out books at a neighborhood library.
About three miles away in a crime-ridden Dorchester neighborhood, the Holland Elementary School stands like a beacon. Nestled among fruit trees, Holland sports two cafeterias that serve freshly prepared meals, an indoor basketball court, an Olympic-size heated swimming pool, a soundproof music room with red and white electric guitars, and a library with more than 7,000 books.
The stark differences between these two schools extend well beyond their facilities. Perkins, with its bare-bones surroundings, often propels students in early grades to great academic heights on standardized tests, while Holland struggles to get students to understand reading and math fundamentals.
Across Boston, astonishing inequities exist among the 78 city-run early-education centers, elementary schools, and K-8 schools, according to a Globe analysis of their test scores, facilities, and programs. The conclusions offer a rare glimpse into the state of the cityís public schools:
- Half were built between 1896 and 1932, and many buildings lack basic amenities. Four donít have cafeterias; 22 schools lack auditoriums; 30 are without gymnasiums; and 59 schools, three-quarters of those surveyed, do not have athletic fields.
- An impressive facility often does not equate with a stellar academic program. Other schools with meager facilities, such as Bradley in East Boston, Hale in Roxbury, and Mozart in Roslindale, had some of the highest reading and math scores on last springís Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System exams in the third grade. By contrast, some schools with swimming pools - such as Hennigan in Jamaica Plain, Marshall in Dorchester, and Mildred Avenue in Mattapan - landed in the bottom.
- Despite their popularity, smaller schools donít necessarily outperform larger ones. Although small schools tend to dominate the top rankings in MCAS, the School Department in June closed several small schools, such as Farragut in Mission Hill and Emerson in Roxbury, due to poor performance.
The disparities add an agonizing layer to the school-selection process, underway for the next school year, as parents weigh what matters most for their childís education and happiness: A nice building or solid academics? An outstanding music program or rigorous science instruction? A school near home or one with an after-school program?