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Are Low-Income Immigrant Students Being Undercounted?

This year the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) changed the way they determine which students are low-income. Under the old method, any student qualifying for free or reduced price lunch (for a family of four, income less than about $44,000) was considered low income. With many Mass. districts now offering free lunch to all students, this data is no longer available state-wide. As a result, the state is now determining which students are "economically disadvantaged" by matching enrollment lists to data on families receiving public assistance, mainly food stamps.

As a result of this change, many schools and districts have seen the number of students considered low income drop significantly. The Globe covered the change in an...

Discussion with BPS COO Kim Rice on Student Assignment Logistics

Way back in September Kim Rice, Chief Operating Officer of BPS, sat down with me to discuss issues around student assignment. Here are some of the items we talked about.

I raised the issue of wait lists and asked if BPS overbooks schools to allow for the fact that many students don't show in September. Kim said that they do overbook certain schools that have historically had large numbers of no-shows. I suspect that they could be more aggressive, but this is tricky as anyone who's been bumped off a flight can attest to.

I also asked about the change that was made a few years ago to how wait lists are managed. In the past, children could be assigned to an unlimited number of wait lists, but the number of children on each list was limited. This seemed like...

Review of September 2013 School Quality Working Group Meeting

September's School Quality Working Group meeting was mostly focused on the structure of the group and our process going forward. The Quality Assurance subcommittee had asked for a discussion of their role and of whether they could proceed with their work before the Measuring Quality subcommittee determines what metrics should be used to measure school quality.

There was quite a bit of back and forth on this. In the end it was decided that the committee could start its work by laying some groundwork and making decisions on how any system would be implemented, reviewed, etc. I suggested that we might need to rename the subcommittees. Having the word "quality" in the name of the main group and two of the subcommittees was causing confusion, especially when people were shortening the names of all three to "...

Review of June - August 2013 School Quality Working Group Meetings

I am now several months behind in reporting on meetings of the School Quality Working Group. This post represents my attempt to get caught up. I’m sure I’ve forgotten much of what happened over the last few months, but I’ll try to capture all the key points.

Our June meeting was held a few days early on May 29th. Co-chair Harden Coleman started the meeting by talking about the composition of the group. Several people had raised the fact that no current BPS teachers were members. Harden said that we would engage teachers and principals during the community engagement process, but that the chairs didn’t want to make the group any larger than it already is. However, Superintendent Johnson entered later and after the issue was raised during community comment said that...

Review of First School Quality Working Group Meeting

It's taken me a while to get to this, but here's my review of the first SQWG meeting which was held on May 1st. First a little background. One of the EAC recommendations to the School Committee was the creation of a group to focus on measuring and improving the quality of BPS schools. The Superintendent agreed and the group was appointed by the School Committee. BPS has created a new site,, to keep the public informed during the process.

The group has 21 members, including me. Bios should...

First School Quality Working Group Meeting Tomorrow Night

One of the key recommendations by the EAC was the formation of a committee to look at quality in BPS schools going forward. Superintendent Johnson agreed to this and the School Quality Working Group (should we pronounce it squig?) will have its first meeting tomorrow at 6pm at City Hall, room 801. The group will be chaired by Hardin Coleman who is dean of the BU school of Education and was co-chair of the EAC and by Meg Campbell who is a School Committee member and Director of the Codman Academy charter school.

I have been asked to serve on the committee, but I don't know who else (other than the chairs) is on the group. I have been told that, initially, the group will be working on a quality definition and ...

What Questions on BPS Would You Ask Mayoral Candidates?

As you may have heard, it looks like we're going to have a pretty intesting mayoral race in Boston this year. Schools are certainly going to be a large part of the conversation. I'd like to put some questions to the candidates about what they would do to improve BPS.

So, BPSWorkshop readers, what would you like to know from the candidates? Post your questions in the comments and I'll choose a handful and see if I can get some answers.


Fixing the Wait List - Should BPS be More Like USAir?

One of the biggest problems parents have with the current student assignment process is wait lists. Many children get assigned to a school that's not their first choice and end up on one or more wait lists for higher choice schools. Even worse, many kindergarten children get no assignment and only get on wait lists. And wait lists often don't move until September when kids who are assigned to schools fail to show up for the first several days of school.

Another issue is the number of wait lists a child can be placed on. My memory is that BPS used to put children on an unlimited number of wait lists. If a kid got her 9th choice, she could be on the wait list for all eight of the schools she didn't get assigned to. Now BPS will only put a child on up to three...

BPS Announces Proposed New North End School. Who can go?

One thing BPS committed to during the shool choice reform process was finding a space for a downtown school. Last week the city announced a plan to buy 585 Commercial St. in the North End for around $13 million. Some are happy to see another school downtown, others feel that the location is less than ideal given how close it is to the Eliot school. In the mean time, there are no elementary or middle schools in the Back Bay, Beacon Hill, or the Fenway.

Who would be able to go to the new school? That question isn't so easy to answer under the newly approved assignment plan. In fact, it raises an interesting question. Given the fact that the new plan is based on school quality as measured by MCAS scores, how will a new school be classified? As far as I know, there is no...

My Recommendations to the School Committee on Student Assignment

As we move into the final stages of school choice reform, I have focused on some specific issues that I'd like to see addressed as the school committee makes their final decision and BPS implements a new plan. Here are the recommendations I've made to the school committee.

Ask for more information regarding the “middle school feeder” proposal

While BPS proposed this change fairly early in the process, there was very little discussion of it by the EAC and no data was presented. For example, we do not know whether this change would concentrate low-income students or students of color in low-performing middle schools.

Children would be allowed to select a school outside their feeder pattern, but we do not...


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