EAC Meeting Review - 01/07/2013
The EAC met last night to continue editing their memo detailing recommendations to the Superintendent. The meeting started with some planning for future meetings. The committee will meet next Monday, 1/14 to hear a presentation from BPS on details of the current assignment algorithm. They will meet again on 1/23 to hear a presentation from the technical team on the "demand model" which will attempt to predict how parents would choose schools under various plans. An additional meeting might be scheduled for 1/28 or 1/31.
The EAC is now planning to vote on a final recommendation the first week of February. Most likely 2/5 or 2/7.
The meeting then moved on to further discussion of the memo the committee is working on with their recommendations to the Superintendent. There was quite a bit of debate on whether to include a paragraph on busing. The paragraph started with the sentence, "The EAC's assessment is that the use of busing across wide geographic areas as a primary strategy for student assignment has limited strategic purpose in Boston's contemporary context." The paragraph cited a few statistics showing the lack of equitable access under the current plan. There was a consensus that the paragraph shouldn't be included as-is. Some members, including John Nucci, felt it should just be struck. Others wanted something about transportation. It was pointed out that while the current plan has flaws, it does not mean that busing can't still be useful to increase equity of access. I think that's an important point. Also, while we know that the current plan isn't very equitable, it may still be better than a true neighborhood schools plan as far as equitable access to quality. In the end, the committee decided to replace the word "busing" with "transportation" and to re-write the paragraph to be more about the limitations of the current plan.
The memo currently suggests using the BPS quadrant analysis for the purpose of analyzing potential assignment plans. I previously blogged about the problems with this measurement. Hardin Coleman and others did bring up my objections. There was some discussion with a BPS representative of whether there was a better measurement available. She suggested that the technical team may have already done some of the model evaluations using the quadrant analysis. I'm not sure, but I doubt that it would be difficult to re-run this using a different quality measurement. The hard work is in creating the demand model and using it to simulate the assignment process. Once you do that, it should be easy to evaluate the results using different quality measures. I re-iterated my objections to using the quadrant analysis during public comment. John Mudd also reminded the committee that Peng Shi is working on a quality measure based on how parents choose schools which may be valuable as an additional measurement. There was also discussion of what cut-off should be used to designate a school as a quality school. The previous evaluations have essentially assumed that you could break the seats in all schools into three equal groups and consider those to be high, medium, and low quality seats. The high and medium seats would be considered quality and the low would not be. This means that two thirds of seats in BPS schools would be considered "quality." Laura Perille, who wrote this section, suggested that the committee should choose between considering the top 2/3 of seats or the top 1/2 of seats quality. Rahn Dorsey pointed out that quadrant analysis is relative to BPS average which is low compared to the state average. He says the EAC needs to consider that when setting the cut-off.
The committee started discussing several recommendations that are independent of what plan is chosen. The first one (near and dear to my heart) is that BPS continue to release data similar to what they've provided to the EAC and the public during this process. Also, they would like to see annual reports on the effects of the new assignment system. Ian Deason called transparency "one of the achievements of this committee."
The second proposed recommendation is that BPS set a goal of achieving a certain percentage of quality seats by 2017. The committee talks about what goal to recommend for achieving quality. Given that they haven't settled on how quality will be defined now, it's hard to even discuss this.
Rahn suggested recommending that BPS set targets. Hardin Coleman suggested taking each school's improvement plan and aggregating them to see if BPS meets that on an overall basis. Ian asked how meaningful the targets are. Hardin said he thinks it will be used as part of principal evaluation.
Imari Paris Jeffries raised an interesting point that I hadn't heard before. What will happen to schools that have been successful if their student populations change significantly as a result of a new assignment plan. For example, if you put the students of the Holland in the Kilmer, would they be able to educate them to the same level they do their population? "I don't know the answer. I don't know if I'm the only one stuck here. What will level 1 and 2 schools do to maintain quality if their demographics change?" There was some discussion of recommending that BPS prepare for these changes, but nothing concrete.
At this point it was almost two hours into the meeting and Helen Dájer, who is always conscious of trying to leave time for public comment, suggested wrapping up. The EAC got through the second of six recommendations that are unrelated to any specific plan. In addition to those, they also need to cover sections on low-income students, English language learners and students with disabilities. Plus, they'll need to plug in the details of the plan they're recommending once they make that decision. They're at the top of page 6 of an 11 page memo (which will undoubtedly be much longer once a plan recommendation is added).
The committee plans to continue this discussion on 1/14 if there's time after the presentation by BPS and in future meetings.