Category Archives: School Assignment

How the “sorting hat” works (and should work) in Boston.

Why can’t all Fox news be like this?

For Every ChildThe Parent Imperfect has been consistently critical of the Boston Globe’s coverage of debates around the future of public education in Boston and the Commonwealth. In its editorials and signed columns, the Globe has consistently belittled elected officials and anyone else who failed to see the wisdom of continued expansion of the charter school sector, and the paper’s other pet policies. The day-to-day reporting on the topic has not been so monolithic, but has failed to capture the nuances of the equity arguments against education reform, as it is now being practiced. It is certainly not the Globe’s job to agree with me, but is it asking too much to hope that Boston’s most influential daily could at least offer a reasonable picture of opposing views?

Apparently not, as the December 4 Globe article entitled, “Walsh Taking Heat Over School Agenda,” by Jeremy Fox, took an important step in that direction. Even I can give credit where credit is due, and much credit is due here. If the article had one shortcoming, it focused a bit too much on a single parent group, QUEST. I am well aware of that organization’s importance, but there are actually a growing number of organizations, individuals and elected officials raising questions about Enroll Boston and other City Hall education policies. Focusing on a single organization justifies an attitude of “the dogs will bark, but the caravan rolls along,” among decision makers. But this is small potatoes, compared to value of this sort of reporting.

Fix Don't PrivatizeFor this article, Fox interviews both Mayor Walsh and Boston parents critical of what they see as the direction of his education policy. He then presents the opposing views in a way that captures what both sides are saying, without editorializing. Transcending the recent kerfluffle about the number school closings planned, the article reports what parents actually heard from the Mayor in a September 29 meeting at City Hall. I have it on very good (though imperfect) authority that the Mayor said, in talking about BPS facilities, that “We’re going to get down to ninety buildings.” That doesn’t suggest any particular number of school closings, but it certainly suggests a consolidation from the present use of 125 or 126 school buildings. When Fox asked the Mayor about those alleged remarks, rather than answer the question, the Mayor felt the need to deny that he has a plan to close schools. Thou doth protest too much…

In the interest of full disclosure, I must note that the December 4 article also met the litmus test of all good journalism by providing a link to my own description of the raucous Jamaica Plain meeting concerning the Mayor’s proposal to unify charter and public school enrollment systems. That, too, was a Globe first. In all modesty, I do think that the link strengthened the article (and sent many newbys into the arms of the PI), but the clear presentation of both sides of the argument is what really distinguishes the piece.

LilliputThings are about to get even less polite in the public debate about the future of our public schools. Partners from three of Boston’s most prestigious (and deep-pocketed) law firms are moving forward with a suit charging the Commonwealth with civil rights violations for placing a cap on charter school growth. Our Governor and Education Secretary have proposed legislation that is more “bullish” on charter schools than anything the boldest charter school advocate would have dared to ask for, even two years ago. Charter school PR consultants are spinning at top speed in support of a ballot question designed to bludgeon the State Senate into submission on the question of the charter school cap. And against this troubling backdrop, the elected champion of Boston’s public schools shows every sign that he is out to earn his recent “Lifetime Achievement” award from the state’s charter school association. A formidable, multi-headed, giant is getting its bearings and piling up gold bars, but the Lilliputians are quietly untangling their ropes.

RumorsThe Globe article ends with a telling quote from Mayor Walsh. “It’s my understanding that QUEST is a parent organization…out there advocating for kids. We should stick to the advocacy for kids and not focus on rumors.” Ok…but just what “rumors” is the Mayor talking about? Is it the rumor that he said that “we’re going to get down to 90 buildings?” Or maybe its the rumor that he has proposed relaxing the cap on charter schools in Boston? Or the one that he is in favor putting important responsibilities around Boston school enrollment in the hands of a scantily qualified organization that operates with little or no public accountability? No, no, he’s probably referring to the rumor that documents obtained by Quest (from the Mayor’s office, by the way) refer to discussions regarding possible co-location of charters and public schools. Sorry, but I read all of these as related facts…dots to be connected, not rumors.

When important discussions are happening behind closed doors, and parents and other stakeholders get their information on a “need to know” basis, people will start to put together what they do know in an attempt to understand what’s going on. Errors may happen when people don’t have information, but more transparency and accountability, rather than criticism and tighter secrecy, is the way to clear up such misunderstandings.

 

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Enroll Boston? No, thanks!

not cynicalThe Parent Imperfect is not convinced. Tonight is the very last in the series of meetings about “Enroll Boston,” Mayor Walsh’s plan to bring charter schools into Boston’s school assignment system. It’s your last chance to be convinced, or not. These meetings, hosted by the Boston Compact, have been one of the city’s best kept secrets over the past few weeks. Last week’s meeting in Jamaica Plain was the first one at which curious parents outnumbered the paid reps of the City, the BPS, the charter schools and the Compact, and that was only because QUEST, the City-Wide Parent Council (CPC) and other concerned parents spread the word and got people there. I was among those present, and I was very happy to hear about this idea, first hand, and to hear people’s questions about Unified Enrollment.

For the first hour, attendees listened quietly to a parade of speakers including the Compact staff, charter school principals, Boston Public Schools (BPS) management and Mayor Walsh’s Education Chief. The idea was to introduce the Compact to the many people who didn’t know it, inform people how enrollment happens now, in both charter and public schools, and then lay out the unified Enrollment proposal. The presentations were uneven and the day had already been long, but people sat and listened politely. Only the infants and toddlers in child care at the back of the room protested, a first act of rebellion against the school time in their future.

Then, mercifully, the presentations ended and the facilitator announced that, while comments were not welcome, the speakers would take questions. Thankfully, the people paid no attention. If you wanted feedback on your plan, why would you prohibit people from making comments on it? I wish I had recorded all of the questions/comments. They made for a fantastic window onto the way that at least some BPS parents think about their schools.

What people wanted to know

  1. 2015-11-12 18.59.34One Special Ed parent asked if parents would be able to review a real list of the services offered at each school, or if the would get the typical “phantom” lists of all the things a school would like to offer or want to advertise that they offer. The Chief answered that “we would like for there to be real lists of services offered.”
  2. A woman asked if the Compact would be transparent about its sources of funding. The Compact staffer described its big operating grant from the Gates Foundation ($3.2 million) and said that they were in negotiations with the Walton Foundation and others for additional funding. Members of the audience expressed dismay that these foundations might be driving Boston enrollment decisions.
  3. Another woman expressed her extreme disappointment that BPS had done no outreach to parents about these meetings. “I hear about everything from te BPS, but I didn’t hear anything about this. Why?” Not satisfied with the answer, she reminded the BPS reps that, “You work for us!”
  4. A man (yes, there were men at the meeting) asked if Unified Enrollment meant that charters would be adhering to BPS discipline policies. “We’re not there yet,” came the answer. The Compact rep had suggested that an important part of UE would be that “everyone will be playing by the same rules,” but every time that she was asked about some set of rules, it was clear that the charters who join the UE system will continue to play by their own rules.
  5. A local parent activist asked where was the data that would allow parents to do their own evaluation of the current Home-based system, even if the BPS’s MIT connection refused to do so before three years of operation. The BPS’s operations chief came to the front of the room and blurted out a two sentence answer that left everyone wondering what was being said. “It’s coming,” might be the best translation of the answer.
  6. A charter school parent was upset that, after going through a lot to find a charter school that worked for her children, UE could limit her charter school choices and even put her back in the BPS.
  7. A Special Education teacher wondered why we would set up a system that could put more Special Needs children into schools that we know are not ready to deal with them. The speakers pushed forward a charter leader to respond and he immediately made clear that he had no idea how the BPS serves Students with Special Needs.
  8. Finally, a cranky mother said that her problem was that so much of this plan was being worked out behind closed doors. Why couldn’t the Compact be more transparent about its meetings and all the discussions going on around this proposal? She got what was, for me, the answer of the night from the Compact staffer: “The Compact is a private entity, so we aren’t required to make public our internal discussions.” Say no more…

Small, Vocal, Entrenched?

BPS parentI’m sure that there were people in the room at the JP meeting who think that Enroll Boston is a wonderful proposal that should be implemented immediately. None of those people expressed that opinion. What people did express were a lot of questions about how this is going to work and, if charters can opt out of Enroll Boston, whether this would really be more simple for the city’s parents. Charter parents who seemed satisfied with their current schools were justifiably concerned that the Enroll Boston proposal could limit their options to choose alternatives to the BPS. I shared all of that skepticism, and, as the night wore on, I wondered more and more why anyone thought that a private entity like the Boston Compact should be developing and analyzing this proposal.

In its internal discussions of its communication strategy around Enroll Boston, the Compact Steering Committee noted that the idea would need to overcome the opposition of “small, vocal, entrenched” groups in some neighborhoods. Those groups may well exist, but what Enroll Boston encountered in Jamaica Plain was opposition that was “numerous, thoughtful and very much out in the open.”

Why the Boston Compact?

The QuestionIf they had allowed me another question, I’d have asked, “What I’ve seen here tonight confirmed my sense that the Boston Compact is competently staffed, lavishly funded (and about to be more lavishly funded when they convince the Walmart people that Enroll Boston is consistent with their ed reform agenda) and well-connected to that sliver of the “education practitioner” community that has had direct contact with the Compact’s programs. At the same time, the Compact has no apparent experience addressing system-wide school assignment challenges, is entirely disconnected from two key constituencies (parents and students) that are critical to school assignment and operates in a closed, opaque way that is inaccessible to the people who rely on the Boston Public Schools for the education of our children. Why would anyone think that the Boston Compact was the appropriate group to facilitate the discussion, let alone the implementation, of a new assignment system for our children?”

Listen to what the Boston Compact has to say and decide for yourself. Tuesday, November 17th at 5:30 at the West End Boys and Girls Club.

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What could be wrong with Unified School Enrollment?

UE FlyerThe Parent Imperfect has watched with concern the rapid rise of the idea of “Unified School Enrollment” in Boston. This idea is being presented as a proposal by the Boston School Compact (more about the Compact later). Overnight, this idea has gone from the big vat of ideas that get talked about, but never acted on, to one of Mayor Walsh’s main priorities. I wish it had continued to float in the vat. Marty did not support this idea in his campaign, but he is certainly behind it now. In fact, it feels as if he and his Education Advisor are driving it.

The idea is simply  to include Boston charter schools in the Boston Public Schools’ assignment lottery. Those schools would then appear in families’ “basket” of schools to which they are eligible to apply for their children. Rather than have to do a different application for each charter lottery, families could apply to charter schools through the BPS’s own Home-Based Assignment process.

What’s not to like? Rather than have to fill out a bunch of separate applications for their children, and then keep track of separate applications processes, parents can fill out a single application and then follow through on that one. Even an imperfect parent, has got to like that, right?

Wrong. My look below the spin on Unified Enrollment suggests that it’s something that is likely to cause more problems than it solves. When I see “Unified Enrollment,” I read,”Not really unified enrollment, based on a shaky foundation and mixing radically different schools together without giving the “customers” (us parents) the information we need to make such an important decision. ” Here’s why.

Is unified enrollment really “unified”?

First of all, charters will choose whether or not they want to be part of Unified Enrollment. Since the BPS Home-Based plan requires that access to schools be geographically restricted, charters will have to accept this “neighborhood” restriction in order to play. Because the law creating charters requires that they be either district-wide or regional, Unified Enrollment would require that the Massachusetts Legislature approve a “home rule” petition allowing Boston an exemption from this law. Assuming such a law could be passed (no sure thing), I would be willing to bet that some charters will say, “No, thank you. We quite like to be able to draw our students from the entire City of Boston. We don’t care to get entangled in the BPS lottery system, and limit who can apply to our school.”

So, what happens is some charters are in a Unified Enrollment system and some aren’t? Chaos. A chaos different than the current chaos, but chaos, nonetheless. For me, this could easily be more confusing for parents than the current system, where at least I know that if I want to apply for a charter school for my child, I must apply directly to that school. The only way that Unified Enrollment is truly “Unified” is if all charters decide to play, and this is not likely, at all.

Bad foundation, bad building

Home-based AssignmentBut let’s just suppose that by some near miracle, all charters decided to join the Unified Enrollment scheme. Then there would truly be one application for charters and public schools, but that system would be built on the foundation of the current Home-Based system. As part of getting this controversial system adopted, both the  BPS and Mayor Menino’s Education Advisory Committee assured the community that the new system would be carefully evaluated by some independent oversight group. This has never happened.

In the absence of any apparent assessment of how the Home-Based System is working, the parent group, QUEST, requested data on assignment results. That was 18 months ago, and no data has been forthcoming. Maybe the BPS knows very well that the new system is not working as advertised, so they prefer not to share the evidence. But no matter, it is unacceptable to talk about building a complex new system on top of a recently-implemented Home-Based plan that has never been evaluated. Let’s look at how the Home-Based system is working, and fix it, if necessary, before we build something on top of it.

Mixing apples and oranges…without telling anyone

But let’s say all charters are going to participate in the Unified Enrollment System AND the current system is working fine and makes just a fine foundation for the inclusion of charters. Even if those two unlikely things were true, there would still be many questions about Unified Enrollment. Many such questions center on the dangers of mixing very different kinds of schools in a choice “basket,” without really informing parents about those choices.

For example, a family from Hyde Park applying for the BPS would very likely have several charter schools in their “basket” of school choices. Those charters may include some of the Level One schools in their basket (schools with the highest test grades, at this point). The BPS currently does quite a poor job of communicating to parents the many differences between district schools. Parents who have the time and resources to tour multiple schools to find out the facts for themselves have a great advantage over the majority of parents who just can’t do that.

mixing fruitWill the BPS adequately communicate to our imaginary family that one of the charter schools has high test scores, but also has an incredibly strict discipline policy and suspension rates–especially for boys of color–that are off the charts? Will that family know that another Level One charter in its choice basket is poorly equipped to serve English Language Learners and, therefore, has a very small percentage of ELL students? This is only one of the many unforeseen problems that will arise as the BPS attempts to mix privately-managed charter schools with public schools in its assignment system.

A “Compact” solution?

One raising almost any question about Unified Enrollment is told that the originator of the proposal, The Boston School Compact, will take care of any bugs in the new system. Sorry, but I don’t buy it. The Boston School Compact is an unaccountable talk shop for representatives of the BPS, Boston charter schools and parochial schools. The idea was developed and is heavily funded by the Gates Foundation allegedly to promote collaboration and information exchange among different types of schools operating in Boston. Our city is one of several “Compact cities” around the country.

The Boston Compact is a private space that shares very little information with the public about what it is doing (hence, the lack of accountability). It has facilitated some interesting collaborations, but has never taken on anything even remotely as complex as Unified Enrollment. Please do not tell me that the Compact will fix whatever problems arise in this new system.

So, for me, Unified Enrollment” is deceptive advertising. But please don’t take my word for it. Attend one of the community meetings that the City (to its credit) is holding about Unified Enrollment. This could all be in the bag very quickly.

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A big win for Eastie?

Do your homeworkRound One of registration for 2014 entry into the Boston Public Schools just ended. The most sought after kindergarten seats in the BPS have been filled using a new assignment system. Those who have not yet registered (or won’t register at all) will fill the remaining seats. The District will spin the transition as a great success, especially in the North End, Charlestown and East Boston, where necessary adjustments were made in the system approved by the School Committee. I agree that Charlestown and the North End did quite well in the new system, but East Boston??? I’m not so sure about Eastie.  

You probably remember the news about the meeting last year when the Boston School Committee voted to change its approach to assignment with dozens of demonstrators shouting outside the windows of its Court Street hideaway. It was Boston politics at its chaotic and emotional best. That evening, the Committee voted to accept a new Home-Based system of assignment recommended by the Mayor’s EAC and then Superintendent, Carol Johnson. The new system had many problems, but one thing that at least I liked about the new system was that the School Committee followed the recommendation of the Super to scrap the walk-zone preference as a factor in school assignment.

The BPS has put up a new website that allows parents to go online, see their school choices and, ultimately prioritize the choices in their basket. Despite many bugs, this site seems to work better than I, for one, expected. As is often the case, the problem is not so much the website, but the way the system has been set up to bring children into the system.

Make no mistake, precisely because it is home-based, the new system favors people who live close to quality schools. That said, the new system supposedly avoided the double-whammy of being home-based and then also giving a walk-zone preference. That wasn’t enough for many in the city, who saw the new system as one more example of the operation of institutional racism in the BPS.

Fast forward to November, when the BPS began to prepare parents to register their kids for the 2014-15 school year. Imagine my surprise when, like the monk Rasputin, the walk-zone preference refused to die. First of all, the new home-based model would only be in place for the so-called transition grades (K1, K2 and 6th grade). Assignment of students to all other grades would still take place based on the three old assignment zones (that we thought were gone forever) and, as always, within the assignment zones, the walk-zone would be king. According to the BPS, the new system wasn’t practical for assigning students who weren’t in the transition grades, but why did it make sense to default back to a system that everyone agreed was not working?

But assignment to the “non-transition” grades was not the most maddening re-appearance of the walk-zone preference. East Boston, the city’s island jewel and home of Logan Airport, was the site of the resurrection of a bad idea. Forgive me, this is not an easy story to tell in few words.

Eastie MapIt seems that, because it is an island that faces special transport problems, the BPS had “historically,” given Eastie families first dibs on the neighborhood’s schools (I’d love to know the origin of this preference). This meant that families in nearby neighborhoods, such as the North End and Charlestown, had less access to East Boston schools. People who attended many more assignment meetings than I did assure me that this was never mentioned during the months and months of meetings about the assignment system.

When the BPS launched its Discover BPS website to teach parents about the new system and enable online registration, the site contained the following language on East Boston assignments:

“East Boston Assignments

Due to its unique location, East Boston general education students, K2-12, are guaranteed an assignment in East Boston, if they so choose.

 How does this work?

— Customized lists for East Boston students will include all schools in East Boston. East Boston residents are given a priority over non-East Boston applicants for those seats. These customized lists may also include some schools outside of East Boston, but the priority would not apply for these schools.

— Since this limits access for non- East Boston residents who also may have East Boston schools on their lists, these students will have priority to the remaining schools on their lists over East Boston students.

— Exceptions may include program seats for English language learners, services for some students with disabilities, and middle school-age students, because some East Boston elementary schools have pathways to middle schools in Charlestown.”

So it turns out that the BPS has been sensitive to the transport challenges faced by East Boston parents, but it also sees the need to provide compensation to others who suffer due to the preference given to East Boston families for their neighborhood schools. And who are the suffering “non-East Boston students who may also have East Boston schools on their lists”? They are students from the North End and Charlestown. How many people from Charlestown and the North End would usually choose to send their kids to school in East Boston. Very few, that’s how many.

This “compensation” creates a problem, but it is not a simple problem with a simple answer. Many people in East Boston are happy to have a preference for their neighborhood schools, even though they acknowledge that several East Boston schools are not among the city’s best. North End and Charelstown parents are certainly happy that they will have preferential access to some of the best schools in the City. But what about the East Boston parent who is attracted to the very good schools on the other side of the tunnel in the North End and Charlestown, and willing to have their kid(s) travel to those schools? Sorry, Charlie (or Tina). The new system–which gives North End and Charlestown families absolute first-round preference to schools in their neighborhoods–will make it almost impossible for the East Boston child to get a seat in those schools.

At a recent parent meeting in East Boston, not a single Eastie parent knew that this change had been made. When they found out, they had different reactions. Many parents whose kids were already in the system didn’t think it was that big a deal, but one parent whose daughter is just finishing her first year the Eliot School said that she would have been furious had she been squeezed out of that opportunity. Her immediate concern was whether her younger son would be able to get into the Eliot, given this change. Others whose children are about to enter the system also felt that it was unfair to limit their choices in this way.

And so Assignment, Round One, is in the books. Was it a big win for Eastie? From where I sit, I think that the achievement gap came out better off than our island neighborhood. Unfortunately, the achievement gap is doing quite well in Boston.

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What Now?

Speaking ChoiceA lot has happened since that dramatic night when the Boston School Committee voted in favor of a proposal by the Superintendent to change the City’s school assignment process. The new home-based process will steer students to the schools closest to their homes, but will provide some access to out-of-neighborhood quality schools. As was said many times during the discussions of this plan, the devil will be in the details of how the BPS implements the plan.

One thing for sure is that the new assignment plan, alone, is not going to improve the quality of education in struggling Boston schools. It will take resources, inspired teachers and school staff and thoughtful interventions at the school level to fulfill the right of Boston’s children to quality education. That leaves the Parent Imperfect thinking a lot about two related questions:

Elimination1. What must we keep our eyes on as the BPS implements this system, if we want to be sure that the new system doesn’t provide even less access to quality schools for students in neighborhoods where good schools are scarce?

2. How do we move the conversation from how kids get assigned to poor schools to how we make the poor schools MUCH better?

If you wonder about these issues, too, or would just like to find out more about the new assignment plan, consider attending a panel discussion that will be held from 6-8PM on Monday, April 22 at Northeastern University School of Law. The panel will include three people who were very involved in the recent discussion, and an activist leader on the “right to education.” The event is free, but let the organizers know you’re coming.

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Poison pill no more!

If you thought that the high-drama meeting of the day was in the Vatican, then you didn’t get down to the Boston Public Schools headquarters on Court Street tonight. The Parent Imperfect got there late, but he got there.

With at least 100 demonstrators outside of the building chanting, ” We say no! We say no! We say no to racism!” The Boston School Committee heard the final testimony on the proposed changes to the district’s assignment policy.

After the testimony, the room fell silent (even the demonstrators took a break) as Interim Superintendent, John McDonough, read a statement from Superintendent Johnson, who was in Memphis, where her husband passed away yesterday. The statement recommended that the School Committee adopt the recommendations made by the Mayor’s External Advisory Committee on every point except. I could hardly believe my ears as I heard McDonough read Dr. Johnson’s recommendation that the Committee remove the walk zone priority as a consideration in Boston School assignment. The only more dramatic thing that the Super could have said would have been to admit that it was unfair to change the assignment process until the District made more progress on quality.

Despite the great power of the Superintendent’s statement, the Committee had great difficulty moving a motion to adopt her recommendations. Member John Barros insisted on an amendment that would ensure that all students in the city would have access to a roughly equal number of quality seats. This amendment nearly derailed the motion, but the lawyer advising the Committee raised a legal question related to Barros’s amendment and he withdrew it. His vote against the motion to adopt the “Home-Based A” model with no walk zone preference was because that proposal didn’t go far enough to ensure equity of access to quality for all students. With this position, he echoed Quest’s view that the choice baskets for all families should include equal numbers of quality schools.

So there is still much to do to achieve Quality Education for Every Student, but I think we can say that the School Committee vote represented at least a partial victory for those seeking a fair assignment policy. If it is a victory, it is one that seemed very unlikely even a couple of weeks ago when the EAC made their recommendations to the School Committee. Many parents and activists did not want to see the Home-Based A model go forward at all, and for them, the decision represents one more example of the BPS failing to take into account the needs of African-American and Latino students.

I’m aware of the disappointment of those who see this as one more sellout of their community, but during this process, I came to see that the results of the current system are so unfair that some kind of change is needed. For me, the change voted on by the School Committee, while very far from perfect, was probably close to as good an outcome as once could have expected from a School Committee appointed by the Mayor.

After the walk zone vote, the Committee fairly quickly approved the rest of Dr. Johnson’s recommendations.  The Superintendent provided cover for the Committee through her recommendation on the walk zone preference, but I’m sure she was clear that the Committee was moving in that direction, anyway. Who says that the new School Committee needs vertebrae? Backbone or not, the new chair found a way to extract at least one poison pill from the package.

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“I got algo-rhythm, who could ask for anything more?”

EllaYou know the word on the street. You’ve heard it as much as the Parent Imperfect has, and you’ve probably said it yourself. The Boston School Committee lacks vertebrae. As a committee appointed by the Mayor, it is a rubber stamp that almost never takes a position in opposition to its Appointer, and it absolutely never does that on an important issue. Even a quick look at the Committee’s decisions over the past few years confirms the news. Wouldn’t this be a great time to prove the word on the street wrong?

If the BSC is a waste of time, then a group of about 150 people wasted a collective 650 hours at a meeting that lasted over 4 hours at Boston English High School this past Thursday night. I was among them. More than 50 people stayed to the bitter end, even as the snow piled up outside. If you’re wondering why the BPS didn’t close school the next day, despite the terrible driving conditions, I’m sure that the Super’s presence at this meeting for over four hours had something to do with the lack of a decision.

On Tuesday, I contacted the School Committee’s administrative assistant to sign up to make a “public comment” at the meeting (are there options for private comments?). She responded promptly that according to the BSC rules, one had to show up at the meeting and sign up. People would then comment on a “first come, first served” basis.

Naively believing this to be the case, I arrived at 5:45PM and signed up as number four on the list. I couldn’t believe that three people had gotten there before me. I got three minutes to speak at 10:18PM. Eighteen student speakers from the Mission Hill community organization, Sociedad Latina, spoke first in the public comment period, which didn’t start until almost 9PM. They were amazing: It was worth sitting there all that time to hear these young people.

Sociedad LatinaI can understand putting the students at the front of the line, but then 21 adults spoke before the poor PI. What happened to “first come, first served?” Are they just incompetent, or did they recognize the PI’s name and put him at the bottom, hoping he wouldn’t stick it out? I spoke six minutes before someone who signed up in the middle of the meeting, almost three hours after I did. This experience perfectly symbolizes my twelve years as a BPS parent. Are they just incompetent, or are they out to get me?

The meeting, itself, was fascinating, if excruciating. With notable exceptions, the message to the BSC was quite consistent:

1. It’s all about quality schools in all neighborhoods. You’re not even having the right discussion here.
2. We appreciate the job done by the EAC, but this “Home-Based A” proposal, with walk zone preference nailed onto it, isn’t going to work for people who don’t live near good schools.
3. We want quality schools for our kids and are willing to travel to get access to them.
4. There are specific problems in the recommendation regarding Special Ed children and English Language Learners that the BPS will ignore at its peril (legally).

The EAC spoke in the beginning, trying to summarize their recommendation and how they got to it. One of the two EAC members spoke openly against the recommendation to preserve the 50% walk zone priority (the EAC co-chair deserves praise for allowing that to happen) and the other spoke for the walk zone recommendation, but said that she had been revisiting that part of the recommendation in her mind since the decision was made. That was nice, but I prefer my revisiting before important decisions are taken.

The Metropolitan Area Planning Council muddied the waters (clear water wouldn’t be believable, in this case) by hedging on the walk zone preference question. MAPC’s Executive Director said they didn’t have the data to say what effect it would have to keep the 50% preference. They could say that a stronger (more than 50%) walk zone preference would work against equity, but couldn’t take the great leap to say that a weaker (or no) walk zone preference would work for equity. The idea that more data is what we need assumes that the famous “MIT simulation” (source of all said data) can actually predict how thousands of parents will react when this gets rolled out. It can’t. Would that more data be the solution…

Quest and Mass Advocates for Children each got five minutes to share their views and both did a very good job showing the inequity inherent in the EAC recommendation.

One gentleman stood near the end of the meeting (right before me) and spoke with some passion about the importance of the walk zone preference for him as he tries to be comfortable with his five-year-old son going to a BPS school. It was good that someone expressed this view, which certainly exists in the community (and Downtown), but even polite applause was eerily absent from the auditorium when the poor guy slumped back to his seat.

DancersComic relief was provided by two professors (one from BC, another from MIT) who spent an entire half hour explaining an arcane aspect of the way the famous “algorithm” works. All they needed to do was get up and dance across the stage singing, “I got algo-rhythm, who could ask for anything more?” Their point was a serious one, but did they deserve six times the space given to Quest or MAC to speak on behalf of an important segment of the district’s parents? Frankly, I smelled a rat, as did one other Quest parent, who rose to speak about the professors later. At the end of the professors’ dissertation defense, School Committee member John Barros dismissed the importance of their point in about forty-five seconds. If this idea of playing with the “processing order” surfaces again, I’ll need no more evidence that City Hall is marionetting this thing.

New ChairThe Boston School Committee has a new Chair. Unfortunately for him, the very first visible decision the committee will make on his watch will be this highly controversial one. The committee has a creative recommendation from a community advisory group, but that proposal bears a “poison pill,” the walk zone preference. The Chair has the info he needs to extract that pill from the package. Let’s see if he can do it. This would, indeed, be a great time for the word on the street to be proven wrong.

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