School Choice Decision Process Delayed Until January

It looks as though a decision on how the city and Boston Public Schools will reorganize the school choice system for students and families will be delayed.

Mayor Thomas Menino’s External Advisory Committee on School Choice (EAC) was to make its recommendations to the Boston School Committee this month. The School Committee was to adopt a new school choice plan this winter.

Menino office staff announced that the EAC would continue its work through January and will support Superintendent Dr. Carol Johnson’s recommendation that her technical team work with Professor Parag Pathak, director of the School Effectiveness and Inequality Initiative (SEII) at MIT, and experts at Harvard’s Rappaport Institute for Greater Boston on the city’s school choice reorganization plan.

Together, the team will conduct an in-depth analysis on zone-based and non-zone-based models to simulate how families would choose schools under a new system. The analysis is based on several years of assignment data and used to project choice patterns in the future.

“I am impressed by the Committee’s dedication to this important work,” said Menino “The EAC has received a number of great ideas from the community throughout this process, and is combining the ‘best of the best’ of everything they have seen. Together we are building something new that will serve our families for many years to come. This close to a successful outcome, I want to ensure the EAC has the time it needs to get it right.”

Massachuesett Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard University professors offered an alternative plan in November. The plan would dismantle Boston Public School’s (BPS) two-decade old system that breaks the student assignment system into three zones and implement a computerized system that would simply generate a choice of at least four schools near a family’s home.

While the plan had been lauded by some, others still had concerns.

“What’s good about this plan is that it actually includes options and methods for actual implementation and is not just a list of ingredients for a new student assignment system,” said former Boston Public School Committee President John Nucci who is a member of the Mayor’s External Advisory Committee for school choice. “What I’m concerned about, however, is any plan, including this one, that prevents parents who might wish to send their child to a close school the opportunity to send him or her, and therefore makes it difficult, if not impossible, to get involved in their child’s education.”

At Large City Councilor John Connolly also offered up his own plan dubbed the Quality Choice Plan. Connolly’s plan states that children would be grandfathered at their current school. Every child will be guaranteed a kindergarten (K-2) seat at one of the four schools closest to that child’s home (no more wait-lists and no more lines on maps). Every child will be eligible for a network of citywide magnet schools with innovative curricula. Every child will have a guaranteed K-8 school or K-8 pathway. Families can apply as groups to gain seats together at under-selected schools.

“Second, we address quality with ten specific measures –five focused on establishing a quality baseline for every Boston Public School, and five focused on creating quality supports for schools serving large numbers of students facing the greatest challenges,” said Connolly. “These quality measures include fully staffing student support services and after-school programming at these schools as well as granting such schools innovation, pilot, or in-district charter status.”

The new MIT and Harvard technical team will present analysis of models to the EAC in mid-January. After the models are presented, the EAC will continue its community process and make a final recommendation on a new school choice system to the Superintendent.

“We have an opportunity to generate an advanced analysis that will allow us to better predict how families would make choices in the real world,” Superintendent Johnson said. “This is something we have never been able to do before, and we want to give the experts time to do their work well. We have used the current school choice system for nearly 25 years and are glad the Mayor wants us to have the time we need to fully develop the very best plan to replace it.”

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