The Walk Zone

After a long work-induced haitus, the Parent Imperfect is back. I can’t help myself.

I’m not off to a great start. I had my first post all cued up this morning when, blip…one false keystroke and the whole thing was gone.  Maybe the blogosphere was trying to tell me something. Then, I went off to the dentist for the dreaded root canal and they ended up having to yank out the sucker. Not my idea of a good day.

It is the drama of Boston school assignment that has brought me back. The Globe ran an article on Tuesday that finally recognized that there is an equity angle to the school assignment discussion. It’s not just about how much it costs to bus so many kids. Yippee!

The article takes off from a report done by Harvard Ed School Professor–and JP Mom–Meira Levinson, and several of her students. The report uses the BPS’s own data to construct a School Quality Index. Levinson admits that the Index is not perfect, but it does allow us to have some sense of where the better performing schools in the city are located. Her first conclusion is that, today, children have very unequal access to “quality” schools, depending on where they live. More importantly, Levinson’s report makes clear that each of the five proposals that the BPS has floated makes the access situation worse. Under these plans, kids in some neighborhoods will have even less access than they do now.

In responding to the Globe article, the BPS spokesman suggests that they have a problem with Prof. Levinson’s definition of school quality. Great! Maybe then they’ll make their own index, based on their own definition. I hope they then use their index to evaluate their own assignment proposals.

At the meeting last week where they floated their plans, Deputy Super Michael Goar was very clear that the effect of changes on access to quality education WAS NOT one of the variables that the BPS was taking into account in evaluating the options. The Super’s External Advisory Committee didn’t like that, and they are right. Several parent groups feel the same way.

The BPS is saying, “TRUST US on the quality issue. With all that we are doing on our Acceleration Agenda, we’ll be improving the quality of education at troubled schools, regardless of the assignment process.” The Acceleration Agenda is taking some positive steps, and that’s good, but I’m not ready to trust the BPS on school quality. Thankfully, I’m not alone.

Ms. Claudia is attending the Washington Irving School this year. After 17 combined years in the BPS, one of our children can walk to school. She likes it (even though she’s there for 9 hours between walking there and walking home). It’s easy to see why parents want this for themselves and their children. When every (or even most) neighborhoods in the city have strong schools, it might make sense to build an assignment plan that encourages children to attend school close to home. I hope to live to see it. For how, however, “close to home” feels like a recipe for choosing winners and losers in a way that feels a little too familiar in Boston.  We have to do better.

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4 Comments

Filed under School Assignment

4 responses to “The Walk Zone

  1. QUEST member

    Thanks for this piece- you write:
    “In responding to the Globe article, the BPS spokesman suggests that they have a problem with Prof. Levinson’s definition of school quality. Great! Maybe then they’ll make their own index, based on their own definition. I hope they then use their index to evaluate their own assignment proposals.”

    In fact Prof. Levinson used the quality index that the BPS set- I found that both the Globe and Matt Wilder misled folks on this point and I think your quote proves that. When the EAC subcommittee on Quality asked the BPS for a variety of ways to judge schools on quality- these were the only 3 that the BPS allowed- they said they didn’t get back enough school quality surveys, that teacher evaluations couldn’t be used because of privacy issues, they had an excuse for each quality indicator the EAC wanted to use.

    • QUEST?

      Thanks. I didn’t know that Meira’s index came straight from the BPS. Their spokesperson was obviously grasping at straws. I honestly don’t love an index that weighs test scores so heavily, but it is the world we live in, I suppose.Regardless of its weaknesses, I think that the index does a good job of identifying what seem like some of the stronger schools.

  2. If I am going to renovate my kitchen (someday!!), I don’t start by replacing the light fixtures — or deciding if I need 3, 6, 11, or 23.

    Sadly, in too-typical fashion, the mayor says he wants something to happen, the respective city department leaps into action to make it happen with inadequate information, research and review [and uses misleading budgetary reasons to justify its arguments], and the city is bruised (or worse) by both process and outcome. Many individuals — at BPS, the EAC, community and parent groups — deserve our respect and gratitude for the work they have done to inform and improve the plan, but as a city, we can, and as you say, MUST do better.

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