BPS Releases Three New Student Assignment Proposals
Today, BPS released three new student assignment proposals. The first is a 10 zone plan which is essentially the same as the current plan but with new zones. The zones generally follow neighborhood boundaries, but some neighborhoods would be split. The zones contain a wide range as far as the number of schools offered. Zone 2, which includes Beacon Hill, Central Boston, and Charlestown, has only three schools. Zone 7, which contains most of Dorchester and Mattapan has 14. As it is now, families could choose schools in their walk zone (within one mile) regardless of zone.
The other two plans are two variations of what BPS calls "Home-Based" plans. Each of these plans would assign a custom set of schools to each address in the city. Under both of these plans, BPS would break all of the elementary schools in the district into four tiers based on MCAS scores for the last two years. The top 25% of schools would be in tier I, the next 25% in tier II, etc.
Under Plan A, each family could choose from among their closest two Tier I schools plus their closest four Tier I and II schools plus their closest six Tier I, II, and III schools. This gets confusing because there may or may not be overlap among the 2, 4, and 6 groups. Everyone would get at least 6 schools (if their six closest Tier I, II, and III schools included their four closest Tier I and II schools and their two closest Tier I schools. Some could get as many as 12 schools if none of the three groups overlap. Plan B would be the same except that it would include the 3 closest Tier I, the 6 closest Tier I and II, and the 9 closest Tier I, II, and III. So in theory you could get anywhere from 9-18 of these schools as choices. BPS says the average number of schools under Plan A would be around 8. They don't give an average from Plan B, but it would be higher.
All families could also choose any school in their walk zone. Finally, any school that is under-enrolled would be designated a capacity school. All families could apply to their three closest capacity schools. This would help BPS manage capacity by making these schools available to many families regardless of whether they are in families' lists based on their tier. So the final number of schools will often be higher than those made available based on tier.
For all plans, sibling and walk zone preference would apply as it does now.
One interesting thing about these plans is that they're fairly different from the ones that the EAC asked BPS to evaluate. I can only guess that the reason is that once MIT developed a demand model that allows them to predict how plans would perform, the original plans didn't perform very well. Again, just a guess, but I assume that these plans performed better than those requested by the EAC and the original plans submitted by BPS as far as equity of access, proximity to home, and possibly capacity management.
BPS has given some detail on how they are calculating the tiers. They are using MCAS scores from the last two years and giving overall performance 2/3 weight and student growth 1/3. This sounds similar to the problematic MCAS snapshot measurement that I wrote about previously. That measurement used 1/2 performance and 1/2 growth. I'll need more information to determine whether this new measurement has the same problems as the snapshot. I'll try to find that out at tomorrow night's EAC meeting.
Since these plans actually make choices available to parents based on quality measurements, it's vital that these measurements are accurately representing the data.
BPS is also still proposing overlays for English Language Learners and Students with Disabilities. They are also proposing a new middle school pathway that would match every K-5 school with a middle school so that elementary school parents would know where their children would go through grade 8. They haven't released any new information on this yet, but maps showing the overlays and middle school pathways previously proposed can be found on the page with the original BPS proposals. Note that you should ignore the proposals themselves, they are no longer under consideration.
These plans, especially the home-based plans, are fairly difficult to understand in the abstract. Hopefully, BPS will post a tool that allows people to enter an address and see which schools are available to them. If not, I will try to do this if I'm able to get some additional information from BPS on which schools are in which tiers and which are "capacity schools."
The EAC meets tomorrow evening, 6-8:30 at Suffolk University at 73 Tremont St. They will hear a presentation from BPS and the technical team on these new plans. I believe they will also get some analysis on what will happen under the plans as far as equity, proximity to home, socio-economic diversity, etc.
The EAC will also hold a community meeting at the Orchard Gardens K-8 school in Roxbury on Monday, February 4th from 6-8pm. This will likely be the one meeting the EAC holds to get community feedback on the proposals. The School Committee will likely also hold community meetings before they vote on a plan, but once the EAC makes a recommendation there will be a lot of pressure on the School Committee to approve it. So if you are interested in this process I encourage you to attend tomorrow night's meeting and/or the February 4th community meeting.