EAC Meeting Review - 12/13/2012

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The main agenda item for tonight's meeting was to discuss a draft of the recommendations (summarized here) that the EAC will submit to the superintendent. While the committee is still waiting for further analysis before recommending any particular plan, they have written a document with their priorities for a new plan and several recommendations around student assignment.

The most newsworthy portion of the meeting was a recommendation on sibling grandfathering. Carleton Jones of BPS presented BPS's recommendation that siblings be grandfathered and receive transportation through the 2019-20 school year. BPS has done some initial analysis of the impact which can be found in this document. Brendan McDonough suggested that it might not be necessary to have a cut-off because the number of siblings will drop off over time anyway. Carleton Jones says they chose the timeframe to balance system needs against family needs. Helen D├íjer said that BPS has to balance the needs of families close to a school who can't get in because siblings from outside the area are taking seats. Mary Tamer mentioned what "Anna Ross said last week so eloquently that people have invested so much in their current school."

Craig Lankhorst said costs should be considered. Rob Gittens agreed and said in later years it will be less efficient as BPS could be transporting individual students to schools. Kathleen Colby brought up possible capacity issues with kids continuing to go to schools out of their new zone. There was some discussion of separating grandfathering from transportation. Some committee members felt that a shorter timeframe should be considered. In the end, the committee voted 12-6 to recommend sibling grandfathering as proposed by BPS. The dissenters all seemed to support sibling grandfathering but wanted to consider a shorter timeframe for transportation.

I'm glad that the EAC recommended sibling grandfathering, but I wish there had been some actual cost-benefit analysis. While BPS made a rough guess of how many children might be grandfathered over the next several years, there were no cost estimates. It would be good to look at costs per child for each year. This would probably start very small as the bus routes used would be needed anyway, but it could increase significantly in subsequent years as bus routes would need to be maintained for just a few students. While sibling grandfathering will definitely benefit some families, the money could also be spent elsewhere to benefit families. Without an estimate of the costs, it's impossible to know whether this is money well spent.

The committee spent quite a bit of time discussing a few sections of the recommendation memo. They started by going over the section on limitations of any plan. John Nucci felt that the section was unnecessary, but most felt it was important to limit expectations of what a new assignment plan could do. Some members feel strongly that a plan can't, in and of itself, improve school performance. John Nucci and Mary Tamer both felt that it was possible that it could. Rob Gittens said that allowing children to attend school closer to home may bring more resources to schools, but those resources aren't evenly distributed around the city. They will rework the language a little and move the section after one on what they expect from a plan.

One area covered is a recommendation that the district continue to assemble, analyze, and make public the data that has been released during this process and issue annual reports on the impact of the new plan. All agree that there should be some kind of monitoring and evaluation going forward. Members of the committee will send suggestions to the chair on specific data that should be included.

The committee then moved to a discussion on the priorities for a student assignment plan. The memo lists the following priorities, in no particular order:

  • Predictability
  • Equitable access to quality schools (with higher-performance on academic metrics being one measure)
  • Choice
  • Closer to home where possible
  • More rational transportation to ensure access where needed
  • Transparency
  • Ability to respond to school performance changes over time

Of course, if everything is a priority, then nothing is. The committee spent some time talking about whether to rank these or choose a smaller number to focus on. Some wanted to do that. John Nucci said he thinks BPS needs to know what's most important to the EAC in order to develop plans. Most members seemed to want to see plans and their impacts before deciding what the highest priorities are. In the end, the EAC decided to wait before getting into any ranking of priorities.

Trying to edit a document like this as a group is very difficult. I think the EAC got through about 1/3 of the memo in this meeting. And even the parts they did go through will require editing and may need to be revisited. The committee agreed to another meeting, probably the week of January 7th, to continue this process. They also plan to meet on or around January 22nd to hear the analysis of the proposed plans.

 

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"Some members feel strongly that a plan can't, in and of itself, improve school performance."

I was waiting for someone to comment that a bad plan can, in and of itself, degrade school performance. And there's a pretty good argument the current one is.

That section is worth including so that the public puts this in context; the goal of all this is really to fix a broken assignment process and move on to the much bigger issues facing BPS.

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