EAC Recommends New School Choice System

March 1, 2013
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Following last Thursday’s External Advisory Committee (EAC) on School Choice, Mayor Thomas Menino’s EAC voted overwhelmingly Monday night to recommend a new system for assigning students to schools in grades K-8 in Boston.

The EAC’s plan, if approved by the Boston School Committee, would adopt the Home-Based A option for schools in the city.

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.

“Our schools have made great progress in recent years and are now showing results that some once said were impossible to achieve,” said Menino. “Now is the time for us to take the next step and give our families a more simplified, predictable way of choosing a neighborhood school for their children. The EAC members truly represent the diverse views of our city and this recommendation shows a thoughtful process that takes into account varying perspectives.”

The current system BPS uses to assign students to schools is more than two decades old and does not provide equitable access to quality seats across the city. Families have complained that the system is complicated, unpredictable, and doesn’t allow for families to build communities with other families in their neighborhoods. The new recommendation will now be delivered to Superintendent Carol R. Johnson who, in turn, will submit it for the consideration of the Boston School Committee.

“The goal of this committee has, from the very beginning, been to have a conversation with our neighbors about how to best create a system that works for all the families in Boston,” said EAC co-chair Helen Dajer. “The recommendation moving forward tonight reflects all that we heard from a broad range of families.”

BPS has previously committed to allowing students to stay in their current school, even as a new plan is implemented beginning in the fall of 2014, as the EAC has proposed.

“We recognize that our current families have deep roots in the schools their children now attend and we are committed to ensuring that they are able to stay in the schools they have become so invested in,” said Dr. Johnson. “Our work doesn’t stop here. We will continue to work each day to guarantee all of our schools are centers of excellence that any family would gladly choose for their own child.”

The proposal will be presented to the Boston School Committee on Wednesday (tonight), February 27. The School Committee will then host community hearings to receive additional feedback. The Committee is expected to vote on a final plan in mid-March. If approved, it would take effect beginning in the 2014-15 school year.

At last week’s meeting, former School Committee President and member of the EAC, John Nucci called the process a true community effort.

“These options are the result of listening to you, the people of Boston,” said Nucci. “Our job over these past few months has been to listen and to gain an understanding of what parents want and how BPS can better serve its students and families.’

Nucci, who led last week’s meeting, hinted that the Advisory Committee was very close to completing its work and that all three choices before them were clearly far better than what is in place at BPS today.

Concern among parents at last week’s meeting were simple–with many saying despite the outcome they just want to see all schools in Boston improve with better access to specialized programs, cleaner and safer buildings and an emphasis on top quality education.