EAC Chooses Plans to Submit to BPS for Evaluation
The EAC met today and decided on which plans they would like BPS to evaluate for further consideration by the committee. At this point, I think that one of these plans, possibly with some modifications, is highly likely to be recommended to the Superintendent by BPS.
The four plans submitted to BPS are:
The Grouped Schools Plan
This plan is from Peng Shi, a PhD candidate at MIT's Operations Research Center. In short, the plan calls for each student to have access to his or her four closest schools, any walk zone schools, plus any schools that are grouped with their nearby schools. These groupings would be designed to make sure that all children have a reasonably equal access to quality schools.
23 Zone Plan with Pairing
This plan would take the 23 zone plan proposed by BPS and add the zone pairing concept that I proposed to the EAC.
Six Zone Plan with Equity Interventions
This would take the six zone plan proposed by BPS and add some kind of intervention to improve equity of access. This could include giving students with no quality schools in their walk zone priority in other schools or some other intervention.
Closest School Plan with School Pairing
This would take the BPS plan where students go to the closest school with an available seat and add paired schools. It is essentially the same as the grouped schools plan, except that instead of choosing from four nearby schools, students would only choose from their closest school and any paired schools.
In addition to these plans, the EAC asked for BPS to look into several other strategies. These include:
- Parent compacting – the idea that parents who want to get together and send their kids to an under-chosen school could apply to the school as a group.
- Citywide/Magnet Schools – Schools with special programs that could either be citywide or could be available to some part of the city.
- SPED/ELL assignment – The EAC needs more information about how special education and English language learners would be assigned and how that would impact any plan
It was clear to me that the committee really likes the Grouped Schools plan right now. Carleton Jones, head of facilities and capital management for BPS, was generally positive about the ability to implement it. He thought there would be some problems they would need to solve but felt that they could do it. I was pleasantly surprised that BPS seems open to these plans.
There was also talk about doing some better evaluations of all the possible plans by simulating where children would actually be assigned under them. This is a very complicated problem to solve and requires analysis of prior years choice data (what did various families list as their 1st, 2nd, 3rd choice schools). BPS has not released that data yet, but is working with their attorney to clear any concerns about privacy. I feel that this is key as what we see in the current system is that everyone has access to quality schools when they apply, but children in certain parts of the city are much less likely to go to quality schools than children in other parts.
There was a very interesting idea proposed by Ann Walsh from John Connolly's office. This idea would address the concern that any pairing model would result in only a one-way migration of students. Students from around a low-quality school would attend the higher-quality paired school if they got a seat while middle-class parents who get a seat in an under-performing school would opt out. Of course, this happens quite a bit now and may be part of the reason for inequities in the current system. Ann's idea would actually merge some paired schools into a single K-8 school. If the higher-quality school were the lower school (say K-3), parents would then have an incentive to send their children knowing that they would all go to the under-performing upper school together. If the under-performing school was the lower school, parents would have incentive to send their kids there as it would be the only way to access the high-performing upper school. The committee and BPS showed some interest in this, but both seemed to feel it was outside the scope of this process. I'd definitely like to see this explored further.
I continue to be encouraged by what I'm hearing from the committee. My biggest concern now is that this process is moving so fast. Peng's plan is a week old (by which I mean he had the idea for it a week ago). He completed his write up and analysis of it last night. At the same time, the EAC is still waiting for vital information on SPED/ELL assignment. A deeper evaluation of the plans is needed and will probably take at least a month. And they're expected to make a final recommendation on 11/26. There was a fair amount of talk of extending the process, even if just by a few weeks.
This week's meetings have been terrific progress, more than I thought was possible. Most importantly, the committee is well-led and having a constructive, respectful conversation. The chances of getting a good result are always best in that context. +++
I have to take issue with your comment that this plan is only a week old, though. Peng's current plan is just an evolution of his original plan from some time ago, and incorporates many ideas that have come up in the discussion. It also reflects a lot of thinking and lessons from other cities. It's a result of the process, and a very good result. +++
It would be much better to focus on (1) whether the goals of the plan have been set out properly; (2) what issues there may be; (3) how we make sure a good plan is chosen, and approved by the BSC, and (4) most importantly, thinking now about how we make sure it gets implemented properly.
Grouped Schools Plan
I was interested to read about this grouped schools plan after reading the article in the globe this weekend, but a least for me as a middle class person who will have a school age kid in a few years it does not seem to really address any of the issues that make the system a mess and end up with most people with kids in my neighborhood in private school or moving to the burbs.
The examples seem somewhat cherry picked to locations where this new system might make some sense, like in W. Roxbury where they would have 4 local school and a couple of "partner" schools in Roslindale. But in JP (where I live) we would have schools that are all in different "partner" groupings (I count 9 schools since my closest 4 are Curley, Manning, Mission Hill and BTU), so once again the number of schools you could end up with is way to high and there is no predictably or grouping of kids in the same neighborhood, which to me is what will probably end up driving us out of the system.
Even if you are going to get assigned to some school that is not near you it needs to be a smaller number and more predictable, so at least there may be other kids from your area there. It seems like all these plans obsess with so much choice, but in the end of the day you can't force people with the means to send their kids to private school or move out of town to send their kid to a school that they are not comfortable with, so it just ends up getting more people out of the system and not accomplishing what the goal was in the first place.
Ian, you're right that there are a number of issues that haven't been really considered yet. Try to make your input heard by writing a comment to the EAC or going to a meeting - there should be another round of public comments. You're exactly who they need to think about, as your family would be entering BPS under the new system.
While it hasn't been an explicit target in the plan, many of the discussions have touched on the idea that the long term success of the system (and the City) will be enhanced if we can keep middle class families. How that comes into play is still TBD.
Some of the mechanics about how many rounds of assignments and the timing of those seem to be considered more details of implementation, than a core part of the broad proposal. The EAC is just starting to get to some of those issues. Things like the timing of assignments (roughly April 1 this year) are a real problem for those considering other options as well as BPS.
The plan does try to address one of your concerns - too many choices and the effect that has on neighborhood cohesion. It's been explicitly discussed, and is in the plan. (It's far better than the current 3-zone system, where a child might be assigned to one of 20 or so schools, up to several miles away.)
The proposal itself is pretty readable, it should be posted on bostonschoolchoice.org sometime soon.
The problem is equity
Thanks for your comment. I think the real issue is equity more than choice. People want a certain amount of choice, which is the one thing the current plan offers a lot of, but I think most would be happy with far fewer choices than now (I think it averages around 25 schools per zone for kids entering K2). The tricky part is equity. If we allow everyone to go to school close to home we will have kids in some parts of the city with all good choices and others with all bad choices. The idea of the Grouped Schools Plan is to reduce the number of choices while increasing equitable access to quality seats. Ideally, groupings would be dissolved as more schools improved. Kids who are bused to a school under this plan would all be coming from the same area (or two areas) since they would all live next to schools that are grouped with the school they attend. So you would be much more likely to be going to school with kids in your neighborhood than under the current plan.
Enticing middle class families to stay in the system is definitely an issue that needs to be addressed, regardless of what plan is adopted. The EAC really isn't interested in any plan that doesn't take equity of access into account. So the question is, how can we attract these families without leaving other families out in the cold?
I do want to clear one thing up. The groupings in the example shown in Peng's proposal were selected by the computer to optimize for distance and equitable access. Schools that are fairly close to average quality are generally not grouped as one of the goals if the plan is to not bus children when it won't improve equity. If this plan is adopted, different criteria may be used to group schools and there may be some human intervention in the process.
Is Equality Possible?
One thing I find interesting here is how equality is defined.
I am not an expert on BPS, but is more money being spent in some schools rather then others? Do the teachers make more depending on what area of town that they work in? I guess my assumption is that the resources are being divided up more or less equally, and if not then that needs to be fixed.
If equality is based on test scores, then of course the schools that have more kids coming from middle/upper class households who went to private kindergarten, etc, are going to have higher test scores, that seems like an expected outcome based on what I know about studies of school achievement vs. family income, etc.
Now if you want test scores to be equal across the system, then I understand in a theoretical captive system you can do that, just take half the kids from the better schools in W. Roxbury and mix them up with half the kids from a lower income area of the city and presto, equal test scores. However, it is not going to work that way because it is not a captive system. When you try to do the mixing what you really end up with is a good part of those kids from W. Roxbury that you assign to bus across town in private school or living in Natick.
My impression is that this has been happening for years, which is probably why the income demographics of BPS do not match that of the city at large. I did some googling and from what I see 75% of BPS kids qualify for free lunches, but only 20% of the households in the city are below the poverty line. I understand the qualifications for those numbers may very somewhat, but you get the idea, obviously there are a lot of people, above the poverty line, that are not sending their kids to BPS as well as self selection of residents so people with kids don't live in Boston and people who do not have kids do live in Boston.
The thing that drives me crazy about this is look at JP:
It is basically demographically by income the same as Boston as a whole, so its not like it is a rich neighborhood or anything. I love my neighborhood, and if the schools in JP were populated with the all the kids from JP, and all the kids from JP knew they could go there they might not be the best schools in MA, but I think they would be fine, and a lot of the people with young kids who are thinking about moving out of town would probably stay. I think a lot more people would be invested in the schools and all that energy would make them a lot better. Then after they got better you might be able to help some kids from some schools that are not doing so well by bringing them into the schools in JP.
However, by having any sort of lotto where you might end up with your kid being bused to some place you are unfamiliar with, on the other side of town, where most everyone else there is not going to be from JP (because people will opt out if the get that school in the lotto) you end up with a lot of people already having one foot out the door before they even enter the lotto. So, when those people are not happy with the lotto they have already figured out their plan-B and they just do that. In fact, since the lotto happens so late a lot of people just move before they even get that far. People may not think this is right or fair, but that is the truth.
I have not seen a plan like this but why not have the option of either going to the school nearest to you, or entering a line for seats in other schools across the city, with your place in line determined by the quality of the school closest to you (i.e. kids from worst local district get the first place in line)? This would give anyone who wants certainty and wants to invest themselves into their local school the ability to do so, and give the kids that are in measurably the worst schools a more guaranteed way out. Its a lot simpler to understand as well.
BTW, I would like to go to a meeting, but in a working parent family with two small kids time is not easy. I am going to try.
Ian, thanks for posting. I've also seen what you refer to, that parents "have already figured out their plan-B and they just do that. In fact, since the lotto happens so late a lot of people just move before they even get that far." The current process and the timing create a number of problems. Hopefully some of those issues will come up.
You might want to read the Grouped Schools proposal if you haven't yet. Some of what you discuss is (more or less) in the proposal. Such as not busing anyone to the other side of town, and setting up ties among nearer schools so people can invest themselves in their local school.
Josh has linked the proposal above, the first headline for the Grouped Schools proposal is a link. This one:
I have been thinking that there will probably be reasonable equity for students getting into quality schools for K1 placement thanks to some type of school choice pairing plan. I am wondering how K2 placement can be kept equitable too. I don't have any ideas yet but think it would be good to brainstorm about.