BPS Releases Three New Student Assignment Proposals

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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.

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First of all I love how in these home based plans this is always phrased as "get to choose" between basically the 2 best schools close to you plus 2 OK schools and 2 bad ones. It is really "your kid may be forced to go to, unless you go to private school". When you think of it that way, the idea that you should have the threat of going to a bad school, no matter how far you are away from them seems pretty crazy to me, but I guess I am alone in that.

That brings me to this idea of the "capacity school", which since no one wants to go to them, I assume are going to be the worst ones in the system. When they say in these plans that you "get to choose" one of these capacity schools as well, does that also mean that it is where you kid will be assigned to if you are not very lucky in the lotto? Or are these schools only available to choose, but you will not get them unless you put them on your list?

If the system is that these capacity schools are basically the bad ones that the most unlucky kids in the lotto get assigned to how many are there going to be? I mean if there are only 3 or 4 capacity schools it seems like a unlucky kid in Rosi could be assigned to a bad school in Charlestown, talk about a bad deal for them.

It seems like you would end up in a situation where there are a set of schools in the city that are basically dumping grounds that everyone is going to do everything in their power to get out of, then when those are under-enrolled enough they can close those schools down and put some other school on the capacity list as the system just gets smaller and smaller.

I hope this is not the idea for the sake of the unlucky people who have to move out of town and especially for the unlucky kids who would get assigned to a bad school far from their house and do not have the means to do anything about it. Seems like creating a death spiral process for a school would not do very much for the equality people say they want.

Josh Weiss's picture

Josh Weiss's picture

First, a clarification. Because of the way the home-based plans work, your list of options would necessarily include two Tier I, two Tier II, and two Tier III. If you're lucky enough to live near several upper-tier schools, you might not have any Tier III schools on your list. You are, however, guaranteed not to have all lower-tier schools.

As Bruce notes, there are quite a few capacity schools and they come from all tiers. I also don't understand how some of these could have spare capacity. Maybe they're projecting more capacity under these new plans when fewer students will have access to these schools. Hopefully we'll be able to get more information on this tonight.

As for families being forced to attend schools they don't want, I don't think there's an assignment plan that fixes that. We need to keep pushing for BPS to both improve quality and better align school capacity to demand (put the schools where the kids are). Once they do that, everything else will take care of itself.

If that is the case, that you will not get Tier III or lower schools except if you live near one, then that is great, and I lot different then what I understood this to mean.

The thing for me is that the three closest schools to me are all going to be Tier I or II and I think I am fine with any of them, but if the list of school that you might get assigned to has to be at least 6, then the 3 that are further away are going to be worse, both from a distance and a quality prospective.

BTW, how do you know this to be the case? On the example map that they show the West Rox example student has E. Greenwood on the list even though there a 5 higher quality schools closest to them.

Josh Weiss's picture

Josh Weiss's picture

The map includes the three closest capacity schools. In this case they're the Bates, the Sumner, and the E. Greenwood. As you can see, there can be overlap between capacity schools and Tier I-III schools. So this family gets 7 choices. Two Tier I, three Tier II one Tier III, and one Tier IV (the E. Greenwood).

"a unlucky kid in Rosi could be assigned to a bad school in Charlestown"

I'm sure that won't be the case. I do believe they are going to try to, and eventually succeed in, stop busing children across town to go to an underperforming school.

Also, there are no bad elementary schools in Charlestown.

On capacity schools, there's a fairly long list, see below, though it doesn't make sense to me as I know at least one of them has a long waiting list for K2, the entry point. Maybe it has capacity in the higher grades. Or had capacity in 2009 - but that's meaningless, if it has a waiting list now.

Capacity Schools

Schools that have had available
seats between 2009-2012 based
on demand:

Bates Elementary
Blackstone Elementary
Chittick Elementary
Condon Elementary
Edison K-8
Ellis Elementary
Everett Elementary
Gardner Elementary
Greenwood Elihu Elem
Harvard/Kent Elem
Higginson/Lewis K-8
Holland Elementary
King K-8
Mather Elementary
Mattahunt Elementary
Mendell Elementary
Russell Elementary
Sumner Elementary
Taylor Elementary
Warren/Prescott
Winship Elementary
Winthrop Elementary

I just sort of picked Rosi and Charlestown as two places that are far apart just to give an example of something ridiculous that could happen depending on the length of the capacity school list, or their concentration around the city.

Although, without knowing where all those school are off the top of my head, are there 3 in East Boston or Charlestown? Because if not that would mean that people over there would get schools on their list that are unpopular and on the other side of the harbor.

Josh Weiss's picture

Josh Weiss's picture

Notice the Harvard-Kent family has Tier choices in East Boston and they have to go all the way to the Blackstone in the South End to get their third capacity school. One problem with the way BPS is trying to implement all of these plans is that they use "as the crow flies" distances for all of their calculations. That means that families in Charlestown and East Boston can have schools in each other's neighborhoods that are very close when getting there is actually quite difficult (unless BPS plans to offer yellow boat service).

I know that Peng Shi was trying to use driving distance instead to try to deal with that problem, but maybe there's a problem with doing that. I'll add that to the list of things to ask BPS. I also think that using driving distance would reduce busing costs because it would give people more access to schools that are easier to get to rather than those that are just closer on a map.

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