Tick-tock, tick-tock…That’s the sound of the clock running out on the Boston School Assignment Policy debate. For now, there is room to slide on the timeline a bit so as to stress multiple Thanksgivings, and give a bit more time. But the deadline imposed by Boston’s political calendar is quickly approaching. You can feel a bit more tension in the discussions…hear more of that sense of urgency and strain in people’s voices.
Last night, the Parent Imperfect made his way, with several other Questers, to a meeting of the Superintendent’s External Advisory Committee at BU. BU? What would possess the BPS and the EAC to meet during rush hour at what has to be one of the hardest places to park in the city? Maybe they are trying to make it easier for people from Allston-Brighton to make it. If there were any people from that neighborhood there, they couldn’t find a place to park, either.
When I finally got to the nice auditorium in the School of General Studies, the meeting was more than half over. Peng Shi had already made a presentation of the latest version of his plan and taken questions. When I got there, a BPS official was going over some slides representing their newest ideas.
It was kind of comical, actually. About 20 members of the EAC were jammed onto a skinny little stage with the slides being projected onto the wall behind them so that they couldn’t see them. I realized that this was the case when I asked one member of the committee why she was sitting in the crowd, near me. “I can’t see the slides from up there,” she said. That little interlude captures the whole process for me.
Just as I got settled, a woman from the EAC said to the BPS guy, “So….you’re saying that we should be very careful about making any decisions with this data?” Who needed to hear more? The BPS rep didn’t want those words in his mouth, but he had to admit that the slide on the wall had made the by now old mistake of comparing what exists now with what would be theoretically possible under the various new plans now under discussion. Apples…and oranges.
The plans being presented by the BPS were new ideas, based the original plans. They continue to insist that these plans will increase access to quality for African-American and Latino(a) students. I suppose they really believe this, but I don’t, and most at last night’s meeting agreed with me.
There is an alternative that is still in play. As I understand it, Peng Shi proposed a plan last night that combines the idea of the “closest four schools” with school pairing in cases where students are faced with mostly poor schools in their “closest four.” That is, if my closest four schools were all of poor quality (according to whatever scale is being used) I would get some additional options for stronger schools in my “choice basket.” Apparently Peng’s plan was silent on the walk zone preference, which means that he realizes that strengthening or even preserving the current walk zone preference will turn his “access through school pairing” into a joke. By suggesting that a plan without an absolute walk zone preference might work (geography will still matter, it just won’t rule), Peng lay down on the third rail of school assignment politics in Boston. I hope he’s ready for what is coming, and that he’ll have some support from the EAC when it comes.
One member of the EAC immediately said that this school pairing idea is a “ridiculous” one that would be impossible to explain to parents, but here’s one parent (an admittedly imperfect one) that you can explain it to. Others on the committee seemed to be taking a”wait and see” position until Peng comes out with his “demand analysis.” The MIT grad student says that, using current preferences, he will be able to simulate what will happen in a lottery using his and some of the other plans. This seems impossible to me, but the young man has surprised me a couple of times before, so I’ll stay tuned.
By the end of the night, the EAC members piled onto that skinny stage in front of a sparse crowd looked totally fried, and really ready to go home. Yesterday’s fine NPR piece on the whole saga said that the Committee has met more than 100 times since this started. The thought of it made me sick to my stomach.
It will soon be crunch time for the EAC, and they will either accept some version of the fiction that the BPS is putting before them, or they will say that this job just can’t be done responsibly on the City Hall timeline. The pressure on committee members will increase dramatically, and it will be very difficult to take a position independent of the man now running the city from his hospital bed (and, yes, I wish him a quick recovery). Even if the External ADVISORY Committee does stand up, whose to say that the powers that be will listen to its guidance?
The Committee has helped change the conversation on school assignment to one in which equity of access to good schools matters. They deserve credit for this. One only hopes that they’ll be able to find the resolve to take that change in the conversation to its logical conclusion.