Tuesday, March 16, 2010

BPS to hold student assignment summit later this month

Boston Public Schools, along with several civil rights groups, will convene a Golden Opportunity summit to look at student assignment in this city on March 27.

Last year, Boston received a two-year federal grant to work with community members to improve school assignment options. They will also study how other urban schools equitably make school assignments. Eventually, the groups hope to make recommendations to the school committee on ways to redesign the student assignment and school choice policies.

They tried to redraw the assignment zones (from three zones to five) last year, in the middle of the registration period, but there was little notice given to parents ahead of time. For a while, it was even uncertain that existing students who lived outside their school's proposed zone would be grandfathered in and allowed to stay. Also, under the proposed plan, certain zones had a higher percentage of struggling schools. I’m glad they’re taking a more deliberative approach this time.


Mike G. said...

As a parent, what type of choice/plan would you favor? Something close to the current one? Or blow it up?

Josh said...

I'm also glad to see that they're looking at what other districts have done. They went through a very long process several years ago (maybe '03) and in the end came up with a four zone plan that seemed to get absolutely zero support (though the effort did lead to several smaller improvements in the assignment process). The committee that came up with that plan only looked at varying the number and locations of zones. Nothing more creative was considered.

I think the best plan would be one where the city would be broken up into fairly small zones. Each zone would be assigned to a group of schools. Some schools would be close by, some farther away. Each zone would have reasonably equal access to high-performing schools and to a variety of programs. Even if kids in a zone lived fairly far from their school, transportation would still be much more efficient because you could pick up all the kids from that zone who went to that school with just a few stops, then drive directly to the school.

There are a couple of problems with this. First, since it's very different from the current system you have the question of grandfathering. If you grandfather kids in, you might actually have higher costs for a few years. If you grandfather in their siblings, you won't see savings for a long time.

The other problem is that you could have a battle over each zone with parents angry if their favorite school isn't in their new zone.

All of this could be minimized by always putting a neighborhood's schools in its zone and analyzing where kids from each zone are already going to school, but it would not be easy.