New Zip Code Quota would Mean Half as many Seats Available in 02114

 The new zip code quota adopted by the Boston School Committee for the 2021 incoming classes at Boston Latin School, Boston Latin Academy and John D. O’Bryant School of Math and Science would mean a 50-decrease in seats available for students living in 02114, according to a study commissioned by the Boston Parents Coalition for Academic Excellence, a fledgling nonprofit organization recently formed by a group of concerned parents.

Under this new allocation, a total of 10 students in the zip code that covers the North Slope of Beacon Hill and the West End would be invited to attend the city’s three exam schools (six of whom would be admitted to Boston Latin) as incoming students, down from a total of 19 students the previous academic year, while only one Boston Latin seat would be allocated for 02108 – the zip code covering South Slope and Flat of Beacon Hill and part of Back Bay – for the next academic year.

The Boston School Committee voted on Oct. 8 to adopt the zip code quota proposed by the Boston Public Schools’ Exam School Admissions Criteria Working Group, which was convened after the entrance exams to the city’s three exam schools were postponed due to the coronavirus.

“I respect health and safety – that’s important,” said Bruce McKinnon, a spokesperson for the newly formed coalition. “But I firmly believe the answer isn’t a zip code quota.”

For the past 30 years until the pandemic struck, admission to the three exam schools was weighed equally between the student’s exam results and their GPA, but under the new guidelines, 20 percent of all students citywide (approximately 175) with the highest GPAs would be admitted to the three schools, McKinnon said, while the remaining 80 percent of all seats (approximately 700) would be allocated based on a combination of the applicant’s zip code and their GPA.

While the traditional entrance exams to the three schools would only be postponed for one year per the School Committee’s determination, Michael O’Neil, the committee’s chair, said prior to Oct. 23 when the vote was finalized: “We think there should be a working group going forward to look at it how we can do it permanently for these three schools.”

The proposal was first presented on Oct. 8 and finalized a little more than two weeks later, McKinnon said, without any public input.

“It’s never been presented at public hearing,” McKinnon said. “It’s never been voted on, and that’s the criteria.”

Additionally, according to information that the coalition obtained via a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, there were 554 students with a perfect 12-point score applying to the city’s three exam schools for the last year academic year (2019-20) for only 205 available seats.

“Welcome to the lottery,” said McKinnon, who added that each of the city’s 29 zip codes would go through a 10-round process to determine the applicants’ fates. “Where is the quota for those 554 excellent students? Where is their equity? What do you say to students who have committed themselves to academic excellence?”

The coalition also asserts that the zip-code quota isn’t “race neutral,” McKinnon said, as is the case in Chinatown’s 02111 zip code, which would be allocated only 12 total seats, including seven for Boston Latin, for the next academic year – a 50-percent reduction from the previous academic year. (Conversely, Mattapan’s zip code of 02126 will see a 180 percent increase in admittance to three schools for the next academic year after being allocated a total of 36 seats, including 26 for Boston Latin.)

The new “projected shift” would also result in a 24-percent reduction in seats available to Asians, as well as a 18-percent reduction in seats for whites, according to the Admissions Criteria Working Group’s own projections, which were presented during the Oct. 8 School Committee meeting, while seats for Black and Latinx students would increase by 50 and 14 percent, respectively.

At the very least, the coalition would now like the city to provide a list of students accepted to the three exam schools by zip code.

“How about a list by zip code?” McKinnon said. “That seems reasonable.”

Moreover, McKinnon points to the seeming contradiction of the BPS adopting this policy at a time when, according to the Massachusetts Department of Education, approximately one third of its nearly 17,000 students are attending schools ranked in the state’s bottom 10 percent.

“I believe the focus should now be, ‘how do we improve equity for Boston Public Schools’ fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders through academic excellence?,’” McKinnon said.

Visit www.bpcae.com to learn more about the Boston Parents Coalition for Academic Excellence.

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