How Would You Fix School Choice in Boston?

Boston Public Schools will release five alternative plans for school choice. What would you like to see the school system do to improve school assignments for kids?

Boston Public Schools will host a meeting 6 p.m. Monday night to announce five alternative school choice plans. The five alternatives were designed to improve local school access while preserving a parent's ability to choose the best school for their child, according to Superintendent Carol Johnson. Johnson made her remarks to WBUR.

The schools have been mum on the details of the plan, preferring to present them Monday night at the Lilla Frederick Pilot Middle School in Dorchester. From there, the department plans more public meetings to present and vet the alternatives, which will also be examined by an advisory committee appointed by Mayor Thomas Menino, according to boston.com.

What do you think? What kind of changes should the school system make to the school choice program? Would you scratch the plans altogether and revert to neighborhood schools? What about the flexibility for parents to pick the right place for their kid? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below.

Caitlin Walsh September 24, 2012 at 06:42 PM
I think BPS should make an effort to improve schools in each zone so that they're as good as the exam schools. Parents should feel like their kids are getting a good education no matter where they end up.
Toonie September 25, 2012 at 05:17 PM
Kids should go to the school closest to their homes. End of story.
Sara Jacobi September 25, 2012 at 05:54 PM
That's one of the proposed options. But many parents expressed concern last night about what parents could do if the closest school to them is a "lower quality" school. What if the school closest to you isn't a "high performing" school? Would you want your kids to go there?
Joseph September 25, 2012 at 06:28 PM
Well then Sara, they need to move. Many families relocate to towns with a better educational system than the town/city they're currently in.
Toonie September 26, 2012 at 02:00 PM
Spot on, Joe. Many families move to towns, areas of cities, etc for the school system. It's that way ALL OVER THE COUNTRY. If the town/area of the city is a bit more expensive, then they'll have to sacrifice some of the things they feel like they need in order to get a better education for their kids. It's the way it should be.
Sarah September 26, 2012 at 02:46 PM
Sara - did the school committee comment on policies regarding availability? My understanding is that many of the Boston schools are in zones that can't accommodate the number of kids that live there - there's literally not enough space. How would they address that?
Sara Jacobi September 26, 2012 at 03:10 PM
Sarah (nice name!) - Here is the most recent information of as Monday night's meeting: http://southend.patch.com/articles/school-choice-boston-public-schools-proposes-five-options#pdf-11478358 They've proposed five different options for new plans, with the first plan including a "no zone" option (as Toonie and Joseph suggested, where students attend the closest school, and if there's no space there, it's the next closest) versus up to 23 different zones to allow some "choice" back into the matter. Give it a read, and you can check out the BPS website (that article links to it) for more specific info. Hope that helps!
Jay K. September 26, 2012 at 06:24 PM
I like the no zone option - but definitely not for the reasons Toonie and Joseph suggest. It's ridiculous to expect people to just pick up and move. I like the transportation issues it solves and the idea that my son will be able to walk to school. The obvious criticism under this option that people close to "bad" schools will get screwed could be mitigated. It should be possible to assert a minimal threshold for socioeconomic diversity into the local assignment algorithm to result in a more even distribution. That and decreasing the student/teacher ratio preferentially in under-performing schools should create a more even playing field over time. The transportation savings could be used to offset the cost of hiring more teachers.
Joseph September 26, 2012 at 06:42 PM
Exactly how and why is that ridiculous? People get up and move for a variety of reasons. Job and education are easily the on the top of that list. I'd do whatever necessary so my children would get the best education possible.
Sara Jacobi September 26, 2012 at 06:47 PM
Jay, there's the "access to quality schools" issue and issues with diversity among the student population if schools are chosen based on proximity to your home, according to school officials at the Monday meeting. The "savings in transportation" issue also came up several times at the meeting on Monday. The "no zone" option would save a significant amount of money. However, an advisory board member noted savings in bus costs can't automatically be used to put back into schools - it can't be earmarked that way, apparently. They also talked extensively about the plans to improve "bad" schools that are already underway... the goal is to raise the quality of all Boston schools, but parents at the meeting said they want access to schools that are rated as "high performing" now, not 10 years from now.
Jay K. September 26, 2012 at 09:28 PM
Sara, yes I understand. That's why I proposed they make an adjustment to the assignment algorithm to ensure some basal level of socioeconomic diversity. As for being unwilling to wait for schools to turn around - teachers, students, and parents together make a school high or low performing. Also, plenty of research is out there indicating the student/teacher ratio is one of the biggest effectors of change in performance. If there's a good mix in the school population and a low student/teacher ratio - who's to say it won't turn around quickly?
Toonie September 27, 2012 at 03:21 PM
Socioeconomic diversity? If all the kids in Charlestown were allowed to go to Warren Prescott, would that not be diverse enough? Like Joseph said, people move all the time so their kids can have a better education....or just say "screw it", laugh at BPS, and send their kids to private schools.
Jay K. September 27, 2012 at 05:36 PM
My guess is yes it would, Toonie. I'm betting you could make assignments within Charlestown alone that would engender a fairly even distribution between Warren Prescott and Harvard Kent. I'm assuming an assignment algorithm could be easily developed that achieves similar results throughout the city - without using zones - that is far more elegant at addressing concerns of socioeconomic diversity (though I'm not an expert in the demographics of Boston). And you could address equitability between individual schools very quickly by hiring more teachers for underperforming schools. As for people moving or "sending their kids to private schools", Marie Antoinette was beheaded for a similar statement. Our public officials are not going to enter such ideas into a debate about *public* schools.
Toonie September 28, 2012 at 12:25 PM
People move all the time for a different/better school system. Sorry, that is a fact. It's not an unreasonable expectation. Just like it's not unreasonable to expect the parents living near "underperforming" schools to get off their collective asses and get involved with the school to help then improve. How do you think Warren Prescott got to where it is? There is just a lot of "I need" and "gimme" and no action. As for private vs public - private schools are simply better than anything BPS has to offer. That too is a fact.
Jay K. September 28, 2012 at 02:07 PM
"Sorry, that is a fact." - heh... well, at least you're sorry. Another explanation as to why Warren Prescott got to where it is, is by a shift in the socioeconomic make-up of parents and students. Sorry, it is a fact that the composition of the economic background of the student body at Warren Prescott has changed over time. It is also a fact that the economic make-up of the the student body affects the performance of a school. And it is a fact that this was the rationale behind busing in the first place - however poorly structured or implemented. It is also a fact that many people care about socioeconomic diversity. And it is a fact that if you want to get something done in the public sector, you have to get substantial buy-in by addressing concerns raised by a significant number of people especially when those concerns are legitimized by research. Telling them to suck it isn't productive.
Googie Baba September 28, 2012 at 02:29 PM
My biggest concern with all of these proposals is that they do not address whether or not current students will be grandfathered in. It takes time and commitment to build school communities. Families have invested in their assigned schools. BPS and school officials are ignoring the distress this is causing. There has been conflicting information about whether or not children will be able to continue to go to school where they are now. Furthermore, there is conflicting information about the walk zones and how they will be weighted. Different maps show different walk zone possibilities. It is impossible for parents to know what these proposals mean for them. BPS needs to show more respect for families. They need to give clear information about what they are proposing. Any change should be gradual. Children should be grandfathered in and they’re siblings should continue to have sibling priority.
Toonie September 28, 2012 at 02:45 PM
You said a lot without coming out and just saying what you mean. So, I'll go ahead and make some assumptions. First, by "economic shift", I am going to go ahead and assume that you mean "more affluent". With that said, why do you think Warren Prescott has improved during this economic shift? Are you saying affluent kids are better students and only affluent parents get involved with the schools to help them improve? I don't think it's what you meant to say, but it certainly sounds that way. Bottom line is that a good school starts at HOME. Any parent, "rich" or "poor" can get involved with the school, push the kids at home and set good examples for their kids and have a positive impact on their local school. Busing kids all over the city just seems like a lazy way to go about making sure that parent's who actually care, get their kid in a good school. With that said, perhaps those that are near underperforming schools could get involved with the school, push the kids at home and help to turn these schools around. It just takes a lot of hard work and focus from the parents. Or move! That's what the rest of the country does and it is by no means telling them to "suck it" as you so eloquently put. I'll say again, it al starts at home - "rich" or "poor".
Toonie September 28, 2012 at 02:53 PM
Googie - agreed! My post above was in response to Jay - FYI.
Googie Baba September 28, 2012 at 02:55 PM
Thanks Toonie. I was thinking to myself, "I thought I said exactly what I meant." But you never know.
Joseph September 28, 2012 at 04:01 PM
^ Toonie gets it
Jay K. September 29, 2012 at 11:02 AM
Yes, Toonie. You have it correct. The only thing I would say slightly differently is that the children of affluent parents tend to be better students, not that they are inherently. This is well known and is because of precisely what you say - a good school starts at home. Affluence strongly correlates with education. People who value education tend to be more wealthy. People who don't value education tend to have less money. But there are many, many people who value education and don't have a lot of money. And they may not have the time, energy, or the knowledge to act in a positive way for their child's education. If all of these children are clustered together in one school - they are disadvantaged relative to the children of the better off. Telling people that all they need to do is "work hard and focus" on their child's education is not a solution. It's an explanation. And it may only explain to them why their neighbors' kids aren't doing so well. And telling people to move (which is expensive in so many ways) instead of providing a working education system is tantamount to telling them to "suck it", as I so eloquently stated. This is not only how public officials get fired, but how anyone with a job gets fired. But again - I don't favor busing kids all over the place. I think we can satisfy both the proximity argument and the diversity argument without it.


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