On paper, Rachel Singh and Shanika Bridges-King have led parallel lives.

Both women graduated as valedictorians from Boston public schools in 2006. Both went to elite private colleges and today work as elementary school teachers. But if their resumes are similar, their biographies are starkly different. They tell the story of Boston’s two-tier school system — one excellent, one mediocre — that forces some students to overcome a host of systemic obstacles while offering others a clear path to success.

The system seems custom built for people like Singh, the motivated daughter of middle-class Indian immigrants. She grew up in an orderly neighborhood of single-family homes near the Newton line, attended a majority-white elementary school, and scored high enough on a special test to enroll at the rigorous Boston Latin Academy, one of the city’s three exam schools — along with Boston Latin School and John D. O’Bryant School of Mathematics and Science — where almost everyone goes on to a four-year college.

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