EAC Meeting Review - 11/13/2012
Tonight's EAC meeting started with a discussion of how the committee would go about making their final recommendations. There was talk of trying to reach consensus, but the possibility of issuing a majority recommendation and one or more minority recommendations if consensus is not reached was also raised. One suggestion was that if there are more than two plans on the table when it's time to vote that the committee vote in rounds and drop the plan with the lowest vote total in each round. This would increase the chances of one plan reaching a majority. There was also discussion of the timeline and whether it could be met and what would be done if the committee could not finish in time. There was no decision reached on this.
The committee then moved on to the presentation of an initial analysis of several proposed assignment plans. Carleton Jones, Executive Director, Capital & Facilities Management presented the analysis. BPS analyzed the four plans submitted to them by the EAC and also reviewed the current three zone plan for comparison. For each plan, they looked at three factors: access to quality, socio-economic diversity, and travel distance. I won't go through the analysis in detail, since BPS was very quick to get it on-line so you can read it yourself. However, there was quite a bit of discussion and confusion about the plans that I will cover here.
Some of the earlier analyses of the BPS proposals did not take walk zone into account. According to BPS, this new analysis does consider both the fact that families can cross zone lines to attend schools in their walk zones and the fact that at least 50% of seats in each school are reserved for children who live in the school's walk zone. The exception to this is the grouped schools plan. Peng Shi, the author of the grouped schools plan, feels that the plan may not need walk zone priority to allow children to go to school close to home and that walk zone priority would reduce equitable access to quality.
One question raised by John Nucci and echoed by several committee and audience members was how the two plans with one-way sub-zones (Paired contiguous zone model and Modified 6-zone model) would work. In these plans children in zones with a small number of high-quality schools would be able to choose schools in part of another zone (a "sub-zone"). Children in the sub-zone would not be able to choose schools from the zone with lower-quality schools. The question is how will there be room in those schools if the choice only goes one way. Carleton Jones couldn't answer this and said he would have to go back to the consultants who prepared the analysis for clarification.
One of the main points of discussion was the need to analyze how all of these plans might work in the real world. Peng Shi has received historical choice data from BPS that shows which schools parents in various parts of the city chose and how they ranked them. He is working to create a "demand model" that would allow him to simulate the lottery for various plans. While it's impossible to fully predict how parents would choose schools in a new plan, this would get much closer than the random selections assumed by the current analysis. Peng feels that this will take at least three weeks, but possibly longer. I feel that it would be a mistake to select any plan without this analysis.
When you look at the analysis, it's important to note that Peng feels that his plan would give much better equitable access than the BPS analysis shows. He does not know why his analysis is so different from BPS's. He did speak to someone at BPS about this and hopefully they can work together to make sure that they get an accurate picture of the plans.
During the public comment period I raised a few points. One was to emphasize the need for a more sophisticated analysis. To back this up, I pointed out that the map of the three zone plan in this new analysis shows a very clear division in access to quality along the border of the East and West zones. However, because BPS analyzed the current plan using the same criteria as they used for the other plans, this is more of a theoretical representation of access to quality than an analysis of what really happens. In reality, children on both sides of the zone line who live in low-income neighborhoods attend lower-quality schools on average (see the Quality of School Attended map on the Maps page). So there's clear evidence that the analysis by BPS isn't capturing the real world effects of the current plan.
I also pointed out that the distance from school measurement that BPS is using is not sophisticated enough. This distance is "as the crow flies" which is not a good measure of travel time or expense. One goal of the Paired Zone plan and the Grouped School plan is to reduce travel by having children from one area of the city travel to a limited number of schools outside their neighborhood rather than traveling to multiple schools. This would greatly reduce both the time children spend in buses and the expense of running these buses, even if children are travelling to schools that are farther from their homes. In a conversation with Carleton and Peng after the meeting, Carleton said that once Peng can simulate a lottery, BPS could put the results of the lottery through their bus routing system and see what the results would look like. That should give us a much better picture of the effect of these plans on transportation.
Finally, I pointed out that it is likely that better results could be achieved in a Paired Zone plan if the zones were designed from the ground up for pairing. To save time, BPS used the previously proposed 23 zone plan as the basis for the paired plans they presented.
Other members of the public spoke of their concerns about the timeline and the need to understand how walk zone priority actually works and consider its effect on equitable access.
Anyone else who was there, please comment if I've left anything out.