Tag Archives: Boston Public School

Question 2: A Conscious “No”

public-funds-for-public-schoolsThis weekend, the Parent Imperfect finally got out and knocked on peoples’ doors to talk to them about Question 2, the November referendum question that, if approved, will lead to a much bigger charter school sector in Massachusetts. I had hoped that Connie might accompany me on this walk with the Save Our Public Schools campaign, but she isn’t yet ready for that. I think she’s quite clear about what she thinks about Question 2, but the idea of going door-to-door with her father, for any reason, is not the way she wanted to celebrate her birthday.

My canvassing partner and myself knocked on fifty-five doors in the Neponset area of Dorchester. Most people weren’t home on Saturday morning (no surprise), and many who were home don’t answer their doors to strangers on Saturday mornings. Those who answered the doors and engaged with us agreed with us on the issue by a 3-1 margin. We found only one man who was undecided about Question 2. We even had two people pull their cars to the curb to tell us that they understood that more charter schools would take more money away from the public schools, which they saw as a bad thing. I didn’t sense that most of these people were “against” charters, they just saw that the way they are funded pits them against the public schools that are the only answer for the majority of kids. The “drain on public schools” argument was all they needed.

showing-upIn other parts of my life, I’ve been getting a slightly different argument. Many good people who consider themselves to be quite liberal are convinced that people of “conscience” should vote in favor of lifting the cap on charter schools. For these voters (and these are people who will vote), our public schools have denied children of color an equal education, so we need to do all we can to offer those children and their families options to get the education they need. According to this way of thinking, a “Yes” vote on Question 2 will see that children get those options.

Behind this opinion is the idea that the African-American community supports more charter schools. Some important African-American leaders, including President Obama, speak quite passionately in favor of charter schools. Charter advocates never miss an opportunity to show that many of their supporters are African-American students and parents who have apparently benefited from charter schools.

My friends of conscience are correct that public education has failed to provide adequate education to many children of color in this country. They are also correct that some charters have provided better education to some of the children of color they have served. But at what cost?

the-argument-againstThe argument against Question 2 is not an argument against charter schools, or a criticism of any family that has pursued that option for their children. Like public schools, charter schools are a mixed bag. Some of them have achieved very impressive results, while others aren’t doing their job. The argument against Question 2 is an argument against further expansion of an alternative private system of schools that is draining money out of the public schools that must educate all children, including the vast majority of African-American children. There are other issues with charters–discipline policies, high suspension rates, treatment of teachers, failure to serve Students with Special Needs and English Language Learners, lack of oversight, etc., etc., etc.–but the “financial drain” issue is the one that seems to upset most people about further charter expansion.

The African-American community (as well as the Latino community and the Asian community) holds different points of view on this issue, as it does on all issues. Boston City Councillor, Tito Jackson, has taken a strong position in favor of a “No” vote on question 2. This summer he and fellow councillor, Matt O’Malley proposed a City Council resolution on the issue, and all but two council members voted to make a public statement against Question 2 because of the financial drain it would represent for the City of Boston. At the national level, during its convention this summer, the NAACP membership voted to support a national “moratorium” on charter schools until a number of problems with the schools can be addressed. At a very local and personal level, almost half of the people who set aside a beautiful Saturday morning to knock on doors with me yesterday were African-Americans concerned about Question 2.

Of course, none of this means that “the African-American community is united against Question 2.” It means that the community, like all other communities, is of a mixed mind on the issue. It also means that there is no easy answer for people committed to racial justice who are trying to figure out how to vote on this issue. The desire to provide equal educational opportunity for all children is a great one. I share that ambition, but my own study of the charter school issue suggests that more charters–as promised by Question 2–will not further than noble goal.

Please take the time to look beyond the “optics” of this issue, as presented on TV,  to determine for yourself the likely impact of the charter school expansion on public school systems across the Commonwealth. If you take that time, I think you’ll see that there is every reason for a person of conscience, concerned about racial justice to color in the little box saying “No on Question 2.”

mel-kingDefeating Question 2 is important, but it will certainly not resolve the issue of Quality Education for Every Student. As veteran organizer and political leader, Mel King, said at a meeting last winter hosted by the NAACP at a church in Roxbury, “It isn’t enough to raise concerns about the charter schools. People want us to do something about the problems of the public schools, and they are right.” Amen.




Filed under Boston Public Schools, Charter Schools

Something is rotten in…Roslindale

HamletThe Parent Imperfect loves the springtime, despite the fact that it is his most frantic time of year. It is the time when I add spending a lot of time with a group of kids in the Regan Youth League to a life that is already barely doable. The RYL Opening Day was “postponed” this year, not because of the April showers that often do the trick, but because it was scheduled for the day after the city had been locked down as thousands of police combed Watertown for Suspect #2 in the Marathon Bombing. The games started on the following Monday and the parade happened on a gorgeous day a week later, so the season is now well underway. It seems that playing baseball is part of what has gotten life back to “normal” for many of the league’s children….and parents.

Getting back into the rhythm of school has been another part of starting to live life again in Boston. Both Connie and Vince were unusually ready to get back to school after the week-long vacation that began with Patriot’s Day and the Marathon. They were in full complaint mode (and, in Vince’s case, nonviolent resistance to homework) by Wednesday of the first week back, but that, too, was part of beginning to put behind them the wild mix of feelings that had resulted from two explosions on one of their favorite streets in the city. Connie is still not sleeping well, plagued by dreams playing out horrible scenes that she’s not talking about in her waking hours. Today, she’s planning to go to a large gathering of people for the first time since Patriot’s Day. I know she’ll have some different emotions than what she had the last time she helped Wake up the Earth.

Spring is always a difficult time for her in school. Like most kids, she really wants to be outside at this time of year. Her declining patience for the routine and the boredom of school coincides with a natural increase in the stress level of the teachers who must somehow deal with 25-30 kids, most of whom are constantly contemplating a group jailbreak. Add to those tensions, the nine-hour day in force at the Irving, and you have a recipe for trouble…even for the children who carry the “teacher’s pet” label in the cafeteria.

Connie definitely enjoys some parts of her day at the Irving, and one of the things that makes life bearable this spring is a theater elective that she has two or three times in alternating weeks. Yes, there is a theater elective at the Washington Irving Middle School. She is frustrated by the fact that many of her classmates could care less about something that she really loves, but she has grown accustomed to that…matured, one might say. Her teacher has, however,  noticed her love and found some ways to feed it. One of those ways was to cast her as Hamlet in a production of a fragment of that famous play. The small group of theater enthusiasts in the class so rose to the occasion that the teacher arranged for them to do their scenes yesterday at an assembly of the students of a nearby school.

Connie was more excited leaving for school yesterday than any day this year. I was sorry that I wouldn’t be able to see her as Hamlet. It turns out that the neighbor who often goes to school with Connie was playing Claudius in the show, so their energy on the way to school was palpable.

When I got home too late last night, I was excited to ask Connie how it had gone, but she wasn’t home. Before I had a chance to ask Liz about it, she said, “Connie didn’t get to do Hamlet today, so she’s pretty upset.”

It turned out that a scheduling confusion at the other school meant that they had to cancel the production there. This was certainly a huge disappointment for Ms. Connie and her fellow thespians. Knowing how excited they were about this day, the teacher scrambled to organize a show for several classes at the Irving. Having succeeded at that Herculean task of organization, he gave each of the cast members a pass to get out of class to be in the show.

MCAS quoteUnfortunately, for Connie and the others, this meant presenting a pass to the teacher who has been very difficult for Connie and some of her fellow classmates since the beginning of the year. Predictably, when they presented the passes to the Teacher, she said something like, “He can’t do that…he had to tell me that at least a week ago…you can’t miss this class just before MCAS.” And she outright refused to honor the pass, telling the children that they’d better take their seats and be quiet.

Connie was crushed. Leaving aside, for the moment, the fact that MCAS scores are definitely not Connie’s problem at the Irving,  she just couldn’t believe that someone could be so heartless. It got worse when they proceeded to spend the next 80 minutes practicing this ridiculous “clicking” mechanism that they use, quite inexplicably, to identify the right answers on the test.

Since the theater teacher had already organized the presentation, he had to scramble to find other kids to read the lines off a script. Those students were all excited about having done so and understandably shared their excitement in the halls during the short break between classes. This pushed Connie over the edge. When it came time to go to Science class, she just couldn’t do it. Quite thoughtfully, she asked if she could go see the Guidance Counselor, and seeing how upset Connie was, her Science teacher gave her the pass to do so.

The Guidance Counselor was very welcoming and comforting to Connie. Upon hearing the story, she immediately told Connie that “Ms. — was wrong. When a child comes to her with a pass from another teacher, she must honor that pass.” That made Connie right, but she’d much rather have been Hamlet than right. The counselor’s affirmation made her feel the injustice of what had happened even more strongly.

Anyone associated with the Irving in any way knows the characters in this tale, regardless of my feeble efforts to protect the innocent and the non-innocent. I’m sure the teacher in the story is a perfectly good person who could probably do many jobs in the BPS quite well, But, at this point in her life, the demanding task of teaching a living and breathing group of our sixth graders is not one of those jobs. In our system, however, she has just that responsibility and will probably continue to have it next September.

No MCASIronically, this sad tale transpired on the day after the inaugural meeting of the Quality Working Group of the Boston Public Schools. That group, which came out of the long debate about school assignment in Boston, will spend many hours trying to unlock the magical formula to “measure” educational quality. I don’t know how one would measure what happened to Connie yesterday. Incredibly, if Connie scores one point higher on the MCAS test (which won’t happen) because she was “clicking” instead of reciting Hamlet, the spirit-crushing arbitrariness of the teacher in question would count as a “quality intervention” in our current way of defining educational quality.  Even more incredibly, the extraordinary efforts of the theater teacher to nourish the special interest of a few kids in theater, and then, against all odds find an outlet for that interest, would have no place in our considerations of what makes a quality education. If, over the next weeks and months, the Quality Working Group can find no way to change that equation, its time would have been better spent savoring the lilacs in the Arboretum.  


Filed under Advanced Work

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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Assigning Inequity

Save our schools On last Monday night (it seems so long ago), the Parent Imperfect dragged himself to Suffolk University after work to witness the vote of the Mayor’s External Advisory Committee on a school assignment policy for Boston. My first mistake was to stop to get a sandwich on the way. I forgot that the the BPS provides its EAC with food at each of these meetings, allowing the public to descend on the leftovers after committee members have their fill. The catered offerings were much better than my foot-long.

This was a spectator sport. The EAC had allowed public comment at most of its meetings, but the 50 or so observers in the room would be muzzled this time. I could understand this…sort of. The meeting could very well have turned into a long night for the Committee, and taking comments from the floor would only extend the meeting. That said, the muzzle later became a problem for me.

The discussion has to start with the recognition that the EAC has done an important service to the community in this process. They insisted that the BPS take on the question of equitable access to education as a concern that is just as important as reducing transport costs or getting more kids going to school close to home. Neither the BPS nor City Hall started this process with that orientation. Many EAC members have devoted an incredible amount of time and effort to this process, and the committee has been open to hearing from and listening to the community at every step in the process, right up until the last one.  Finally, I have to say that I know personally several people on the EAC. Ironically, three children of two EAC members were sitting in the classroom with Dear Vince on the day he began K-1 at the Rafael Hernández School, and all three of those people continue to go to school with him today. This is such a small city.

The meeting first dealt with the two critical issues that, for the EAC, stood outside of the choice of an assignment “model.” First, they voted on whether or not they would preserve a 50% walk zone preference in whatever plan they recommended. The Committee had been very divided on this issue, with some people wanting to strengthen the preference given to families living close to a given school, while others seemed ready to jettison this preference as a barrier to equity of access to the stronger schools in the system. It’s no secret that I favor the latter view.

EACGiven that, as recently as two days before the Monday meeting, there was strong disagreement on this issue, I expected a lively discussion at this point, but, to my amazement, no discussion ensued. The head of the Data Committee of the EAC made a short prepared presentation with no visuals that I could see. She said that, over the weekend, her committee had reviewed the latest data from the BPS and, in short, the walk zone preference made little difference. It made some difference in the “Home-Based B” model, but almost none in the others under consideration. Since it made no difference, she recommended keeping it in whatever plan they recommended.

HAH? I strained at my muzzle. What data is this that we are using? Where is it? And even if it is true that the walk zone preference makes no difference, wouldn’t that be an argument for removing one more complication in the system, rather than keeping it there? An earlier version of the Parent Imperfect would have blurted this out, but this one kept quiet. Must be the maturity that comes with bad knees…

One member of the EAC questioned the data, asking if this was data that the BPS prepared using the “new processing order” that the EAC very possibly was not going to recommend. The answer came, without hesitation, that “we had the correct data from an earlier BPS presentation.” The obvious next question was whether or not the current recommendation was based on that “correct data,” or the most recent data, which used the wrong assumptions about how a walk zone preference would be implemented. That question was neither asked, nor answered, and the EAC proceeded quickly to a vote on the walk zone preference.

The Mayor SpeaksThe effect of this presentation of data was extraordinary. A committee that had been extremely divided on this controversial issue suddenly saw a way to vote to keep the walk zone preference–something that Mayor and the BPS really wanted–without feeling as though they were limiting access to quality education for students in areas without a lot of strong schools. That it was a respected EAC member making the presentation (and not a BPS staffer) made all the difference. The committee quickly made its most important (and damaging, in my view) decision, by an almost unanimous vote, and heaved a great sigh of relief.

This, of course, is how the use of data gets a bad name. I believe that the person making the presentation believed that the data supports what she was saying–that the preservation of the policy of setting aside 50% of the seats in each BPS school for children living close to the school won’t make a meaningful difference  in terms of the access of all children to quality education. Just the opposite point was made, often with great passion, by EAC members and others at EAC meeting after EAC meeting over the past 10 months. If the stronger schools were evenly distributed throughout the city, the walk zone preference would not make a big difference. But since the stronger schools are heavily concentrated in certain neighborhoods, a walk zone preference, logically, will make a difference. Peng Shi of MIT, the architect of the model eventually recommended by the committee, made precisely this point in a paper summarizing his own prop0sals.

After this walk zone preference decision, everything else was somewhat anti-climactic. The EAC quickly voted to keep the current “processing order” or rules on how the walk zone preference is implemented when it comes to actually assigning children. This was a good decision, from the point of view of access to quality education. The BPS proposed a change in the processing order that would have increased the impact of the walk zone preference, even if the 50% preference stayed the same. But this change also confirmed the fact that the data used to justify the walk zone decision was not the appropriate data to be using (it was based on the proposed new order).

Then the EAC very quickly made a rapid and almost unanimous decision in favor of the “Home-Based A” model, and it was smiles and high-fives all around. All groups love the rush of coming to a difficult decision, and this had certainly been a difficult one for the EAC. People felt good that they had reached a decision that would provide “quality education, close to home.” I so wanted to join in the celebration, but simply could not.

This model will provide every family with a basket of choices based on the family’s home address. The first and strongest factor in filling this “basket” is ensuring that the family has options that are close to home. After ensuring these close-to-home options, the model takes into account the walk zone, the quality of nearby schools and the likely availability of seats in adding additional choices to the basket. Everyone will have at least 6 choices, and some families will have as many as 12 or 13 options in their basket.

March as oneFor me, this was always an interesting option, but not if the walk zone preference was preserved. The parent group, QUEST (of which I am part, though the views in this blog are mine, not QUEST’s) has taken essentially the same view. In short, the model already takes geographic proximity into account in constructing each family’s basket, so by then introducing a walk zone preference on  top of the “close to home” criterion used in giving people choices, we create a kind of double or triple jeopardy for people who don’t happen to live near stronger schools.  We have no way of knowing how this will work when 35,000+ families make their choices, but I’ll go out on a limb here and say that we’ll have significantly more kids going to school within their walk zone. For some people that will be great, for others, not so great.

In the break taken by the EAC after the decision on “Home-Based A” was taken, a public radio reporter asked me what was next for those disappointed with this decision. “What hope is there that a School Committee appointed by the Mayor will change this recommendation?” I could only say that “hope springs eternal.” There are precious few examples of the School Committee taking a position contrary to City Hall on an issue that really matters (and this one does), but all we can do is keep insisting that the right of all children to equitable access has to trump my or anyone else’s preference to get our children into the good school that happens to be close to our home. To do otherwise is to assign inequity to another generation of schoolchildren and the make our city less than it could or ought to be. Stranger things have happened…


Filed under School Assignment


Assignment Meeting 2The Parent Imperfect and family escaped Boston for a few days of “spring training” during the school vacation week, but did get back in time to see Larry Harmon’s op-ed in Saturday’s Globe about the disappointing results of the school assignment debate in Boston. It seems clear that Larry’s views have been driving the Globe’s editorial position on school assignment, so it’s great that he has come out into the open with a column seeking to explain a really major change in the Globe’s positioning on this issue.

Harmon sees the likely outcome of the community discussion as a “lost opportunity.” For Harmon, the opportunity lay in Mayor Menino’s bold call for a “radically different” assignment policy that would have “more children going to school closer to home.” The piece suggests that, except for three true believers, the External Advisory Committee (EAC) selected by the Mayor has been misguided in its insistence on bringing equity into the conversation. These EAC members, are “well-intentioned,” but they fail to understand that school quality is not static.

For me, the members of the EAC who have consistently upheld the idea of equal access to the quality in the system are among the heroes in this less-than-heroic process. With lots of help from their friends in the community, they have changed the discussion around school assignment in ways that may (one must wait to see what actually happens) limit the damage caused by today’s changes and make an even bigger difference in the future.

Getting InGiven today’s walk-zone preference (with no changes to the preference percentage or the way the BPS implements that preference), the better-quality schools are right now made up of something like 57% students from the immediate neighborhood. Can Harmon and the Globe really be saying that the city would be better served if the demographics of its schools looked even more like the demographics of its neighborhoods?

There is an argument here that if we force more families to choose neighborhood schools (regardless of quality), then “school communities” will emerges around those schools, thus making it easier to improve both the communities and the schools. If that’s what you think, Larry, why not present the data that back up that idea? I expect that there is never any data in support of this idea because the data simply don’t exist. When neighborhoods are segregated racially and divided economically (and, Larry, Boston’s still are), neighborhood schools simply have not been the magic bullet leading to school quality. I have really been searching for the data that will prove me wrong on this, but it just ain’t out there.

If you read the PI’s ramblings, you know that dear Connie now attends a school (The Washington Irving Middle School) within walking distance of our home. This is likely to be the only year of her 13 in the BPS (if all goes well) that she will be able to walk to school (her brother will likely be in the system for 14 years without ever walking to school). While Connie has been conducting civil disobedience against walking to school in the winter, in the fall this was very nice. I can certainly see why people love the idea of going to that school that is just a couple of blocks away, especially if it is a good school. According to the BPS, over three-fourths of families who choose preferred schools at registration choose at least one school close to their home in their top three choices.

All other things being equal (which they never are), I would prefer that Connie not board a bus each morning. I’m glad that the Mayor is taking my preference into account as he make policy choices about the schools. Thanks, Mayor! However, every family in Boston has an equal right to access to quality education through the Boston Public Schools. This happens to be the law, but it is more important to me as a moral principle. That means, on the one hand, that the City needs to do all it can to provide quality education in all of its schools. It also means that the City must not, through its policies, give some children unreasonable preferential access to the quality that exists in the system, while denying other children that access.

This does not mean that every child must have equal access to every school in the system, but it does mean that the Mayor and the School Committee ought to be thinking very seriously about equity of access to quality education when they make assignment policy for the BPS. In doing so, they can and should take into account resource issues such as the cost of transport and my preference (along with that of many others) to send dear Connie to a school near our home. But when my preferences conflict with the rights of families (including my own) to equal access to quality education, there should be no question what should drive policy choices made by public officials. Why would the Globe suggest otherwise?

Queen of ShebaAt a recent EAC meeting, one member argued to maintain or strengthen the walk-zone preference, saying, “we should keep the walk-zone preference to not upset those many parents who think sending their kids to the neighborhood school is their right.” My friend, I may well think that I am the Queen of Sheba, but that does not make it so. And what about those many parents who think they have as much right as anyone else in Boston to get their children into a quality school? Are we concerned about upsetting them? The current assignment policy is not working for the city’s children or their families, and must be changed. Unfortunately, the change desired by the Mayor and supported by the Globe would make the situation worse, rather than better. Let’s hope that the EAC can come up with something better.

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Common Sense 17 – Political Expediency 14 (OT)

Flag FootballThese days, the Parent Imperfect is pouring too many of his words into a  writing project for which they pay him. Imagine that! But occasionally something happens that even a harried PI must talk about.

On Thursday night, while I was at the Irving School, speaking to Connie’s teachers about sixth grade, the Mayor’s External Advisory Committee (EAC) announced a change in its timeline for making a decision on a new school assignment plan for the Boston Public Schools. Yippee!

An activist alerted the QUEST list at mid-afternoon that big news was coming, and the BPS made it official with an e-mail to its Boston School Choice mailing list just before 5PM. The EAC was meeting that evening so the public announcement came at the City Hall confab.

Mayor Thomas M. Menino’s External Advisory Committee on School Choice will continue its work through January as it creates an improved student assignment system for the city’s children and families. The Mayor’s decision supports Superintendent Carol R. Johnson’s recommendation that her technical team work with Professor Parag Pathak, director of the School Effectiveness and Inequality Initiative (SEII) at MIT, and experts at Harvard’s Rappaport Institute for Greater Boston.

(Oh boy…don’t you feel safer already? Both Harvard and MIT are going to be involved. I wonder if bringing in these heavy hitters means that our friend, Peng Shi, gets kicked to the curb.)

The EAC had already made at least 4 adjustments to its timeline, but this one was different. By making this change, the Mayor is acknowledging that his original insistence on a decision in time for an announcement at the January 13 “State of the City” speech just wasn’t workable. The Mayor’s health problems have probably put the speech, itself, in doubt, but the point here is that there will not be a new assignment plan in mid-January. The same message that announced the change quoted the Mayor saying:

This close to a successful outcome, I want to ensure the EAC has the time it needs to get it right.

OK….This is a victory for every family that relies on the Boston Public Schools for the education of its children. It’s also a victory for common sense over political expediency, and common sense seldom wins those confrontations. Anyone who attended any of the EAC meetings over the past two or three months knew very well that the Committee was nowhere near being able to make an informed decision on the complex issues that sit just beneath the surface of this conversation. My fear was that the ticking clock was going to force them to make a highly pressurized decision without information, but, for the moment, I can focus on other fears.

Mr. GoarWhen the BPS opened this current round of discussions with a public presentation in September of “the six assignment alternatives,” Dr. Johnson and her then Assistant Superintendent Michael Goar certainly thought that this was going to be an easier discussion. Perhaps Mr. Goar knew what was coming, though, as hours after that meeting at the Lila Fredericks Middle School he announced that he was bailing for a job at a nonprofit in Minnesota. The alternatives presented by Mr. Goar are now barely recognizable in the conversation, which is all to the credit of the EAC and the community groups that have kept hope alive.

The message that night was clear. It went something like this…”We are making great strides in improving the quality of the Boston Public Schools. Our 11 “turnaround schools” are becoming stronger by the week and we have identified 21 additional schools that are “in need of support.” We have a plan to improve those schools, as well. Trust that our commitment to quality will continue to show results as we implement an assignment plan that is more predictable, rational and efficient. Money saved by putting the buses back in their garages will support our ongoing efforts to improve quality.” (That’s not a quote from anyone, but a summary of my notes of the presentations of Dr. Johnson and Mr. Goar.)

At least some members of the the EAC weren’t buying it. The second person to comment on the presentations said that he had expected the BPS to integrate quality concerns into its proposals by coming up with models that guaranteed equality of access to the quality existing in the system. It was not enough to create a system that would get more kids in schools “closer to home” if that locked out other children from quality school seats. Many meetings and hours of discussions later, to its credit, the EAC is still trying to see that this question is addressed, along with other equally important questions about how Special Education students and English Language Learners will fare in the new system.

The announcement on Thursday night reflects the EAC’s realization that it needs more time and more information to make its decision. It also reflects the City’s realization that forcing an immediate decision, based on a political deadline, promises more costs than benefits for the Mayor. It’s also entirely possible that the City’s political leadership and that of the BPS have learned from the discussion that this issue is more complex, and more important to the community than they originally thought. The BPS deserves credit for engaging with the community on this issue, and for showing a degree of flexibility, as well.

I wasn’t at the EAC meeting on Thursday night, but I doubt that Kim Janey, Barbara Fields, Megan Wolf and the other proponents of making access to quality education a consideration in the assignment plan were dancing in the aisles of the BRA room in City Hall. If they were, then I’m sorry to have missed it!

This a reprieve that offers no guarantees of how the debate will turn out. The BPS insists that it will have a new assignment plan in place for the 2014-15 school year, and I believe then mean it. There is much work to be done to be sure that this plan offers real improvements over the current assignment plan that offers some children much better chances to achieve their right to quality education than others. The QUEST continues…


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The Logical Conclusion

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.


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