BPS Looking at Three Options for School Choice

January 29, 2013
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Last Wednesday the Boston Public School Department (BPS) presented the External Advisory Committee (EAC) on School Choice’s results for an improved school choice system. Beacon Hill children  would be first grouped in the schools that are in the North End and Charlestown.

At the meeting members of the EAC said they will be looking at three options for school choice. The three options are a ten-zone option, and two home-based options that connect a child’s home address with high-quality schools nearby.

The first model creates 10 geographic zones across the city for primary schools (grades K-5). Families get to choose from any school located inside the zone where they live, as well as any school within their walk zone (one mile from home, even if it is across a zone boundary), as well as citywide schools.

After learning about each school, families would rank the schools they prefer their child to attend and are assigned to a school based on seat availability. Sibling preference and walk zone priorities would continue in the assignment process, just as today.

These zones were drawn to balance access to quality schools, provide options closer to home, and increase predictability for families.

The second and third options become a bit more diffucult to understand, according to some members on the EAC.

The Home-Based A option creates a list of schools for each student based on his or her family’s home address. In this model, each student has at least six choices based on school quality.

This model ensures every family has high-quality schools on their list of options, as well as all walk zone schools (within one mile from home). It also adapts to changes in school quality and popularity over time and ensures a match between supply and demand.

To make the plan work BPS will use MCAS data to chart two years of overall academic performance of students in Mathematics and English in each school (grades K-5) and the rate of academic growth. Each school is given a total score based on these metrics, with overall performance counting for 2/3 of the total, and growth counting for 1/3.

From here, BPS would group schools into four tiers:

Tier I: The top 25 percent of schools in BPS Tier II: The middle 26-50 percent of schools Tier III: The middle 51-75 percent of schools Tier IV: The remaining schools.

Every family will get a customized list of schools based around their home address (a “home-based list”). For Home-Based A, every family’s list would include the closest two schools from Tier I, as well as the four closest schools from Tiers I and II, then the six closest schools from either Tier I, II or III.

In some cases, these schools would be the same, meaning a student would have six school choices. In other cases, for example if a family lives very close to many schools but lives far from a high-quality school, it could be many more. The average number of schools on a family’s list would be about eight, in addition to citywide options. The list would also include all the schools in the family’s walk zone (within one mile from home).

To ensure a match between supply and demand, BPS would also look at three years of demand data to determine schools that can usually seat any student who requests it, regardless of performance. These schools are called “capacity schools,” and may also appear on a family’s choice list. Sometimes, these are Tier I or II schools –other times, they are Tier III or IV. Every family is given the option to choose from the three closest capacity schools.

The Home-Based B option creates a list of schools for each student based on his or her family’s home address. In this model, each student has at least nine choices based on school quality. This model ensures every family has high-quality schools on their list of options, as well as all walk zone schools (within one mile from home). It also adapts to changes in school quality and popularity over time and ensures a match between supply and demand.

Again BPS would use MCAS data to chart two years of overall academic performance of students in Mathematics and English in each school (grades K-5) and the rate of academic growth. Each school is given a total score based on these metrics, with overall performance counting for 2/3 of the total, and growth counting for 1/3.

From here, BPS would again group schools into four tiers:

Tier I: The top 25 percent of schools in BPS Tier II: The middle 26-50 percent of schools Tier III: The middle 51-75 percent of schools Tier IV: The remaining schools.

For Home-Based B, every family’s list would include the closest three schools from Tier I, as well as the six closest schools from Tiers I and II, then the nine closest schools from either Tier I, II or III. In some cases, these schools would be the same, meaning a student would have nine school choices. In other cases, for example if a family lives very close to many schools but lives far from a high-quality school, it could be many more. The list would also include all the schools in the family’s walk zone (within one mile from home) and citywide options.

“The Advisory Committee is getting very close to completing its work and all three choices before us are clearly far better than what is in place today,” said former School Committee President and member of the EAC, John Nucci.

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