EAC Meeting Review - 10/22/12
The External Advisory Committee on school choice met tonight to discuss potential new school choice plans. I didn't take extensive notes, but I'll try to get as much of the big picture and details as I can. If you were there and have anything to add, please post it in the comments.
The meeting started with BPS presenting a report to the committee. The report contained more analysis on the five models proposed by BPS. They also presented some info on feedback they received both on-line and at community meetings. They handed out a summary at the meeting, but the entire 160 plus page report including every piece of feedback they received will be available tomorrow morning on BostonSchoolChoice.org.
The committee then moved on to discussion of how they would evaluate the various models. The discussion ended up being largely around how the committee could choose one of the BPS proposed plans (or something like it), then increase equity by adding one or more features. Laura Perille went through these features. They included: giving kids with low quality schools in their walk zone priority for schools outside their walk zone, pairing zones that aren't necessarily contiguous to balance school quality and other factors, parent compacting (allowing parents to get together and apply for under-chosen schools as a group), and increasing citywide schools. Most of these ideas came from community proposals.
There was quite a bit of discussion of equity. Co-chair Hardin Coleman asked if the committee could agree to "privilege" equity in their decisions. John Nucci said that he felt close to home and predictability were the top priorities, but that efforts should be made to mitigate negative effects on equity.
The report contained a list of neighborhoods with the percent of families in the neighborhood choosing a walk zone school as their first choice. The percentages ranged from 43% in Southie to 82% in East Boston. Mary Tamer commented on the fact that all neighborhoods but one are over 50%. Co-chair Helen Dájer felt that was quite low and said she would expect it to be closer to 80 in most areas. Dájer also made a plea to BPS staff in attendance to use the feedback from the community engagement process to fix things that are broken at BPS that aren't related to student assignment.
Hardin Coleman had some of the best quotes of the night. He spoke of not allowing people to be "victims of geography" while schools are being improved. Describing the BPS proposals, he said "None of the models on the table are working for us."
Rahn Dorsey also had some good comments. He said that when considering equity, diversity, close to home, etc., not everything can be a priority. Distance may have to take a back seat. He also said that we need a plan that responds to quality improvement. This is an interesting idea. If we make a big effort to balance choices based on quality, what happens when quality changes? More later on a plan that might accommodate that better.
There was some discussion on timeline. Coleman said that the EAC has a responsibility to follow the timeline because they've committed to do so, but they also have a responsibility to inform the community as soon as possible if they won't be able to meet it. Tammy Tai suggested the possibility that the EAC could tell BPS that they couldn't make a recommendation until BPS accomplishes "X, Y, and Z." In other words, they would need to meet certain quality measures before assignment could be addressed.
The EAC will meet tomorrow (Tuesday, 10/23) at 5:30 at City Hall. Currently room 608, but it could be moved to a bigger room. Then again for a marathon four hour session Saturday morning at the same location. After a tense discussion about whether Saturday's meeting should be moved from 8:00 to 9:00 am, the committee compromised on 8:30. I trust that coffee will be available.
Both of these meetings will be to discuss possible models. The idea is that the EAC will come up with one or more ideas that they will submit to BPS for analysis. BPS will analyze in time for the EAC to review before their 11/13 meeting when they will discuss the feedback they receive. Final recommendation is due at the 11/26 EAC meeting (yes, that's the day after Thanksgiving weekend). The committee wants to try to get feedback between 11/13 and 11/26, but that's an awfully short timetable with a major holiday thrown in.
I was glad to see that several members were interested in the idea of paired zones that I proposed. They see it as a way to balance distance, diversity and equity. After the meeting, Peng Shi from MIT had a conversation with Laura Perille and Israel Ruiz about his latest idea. This would allow students to attend schools close to their home or schools that are grouped with these schools in order to promote equity and diversity. One nice feature of this plan is that as quality improves, some of these groups could be dissolved as they would no longer be needed. We wouldn't need to start re-drawing zones, just make small adjustments to which schools certain areas would have access to. I've been talking to Peng and will try to help him with some of the data analysis.
I think that's about it, but even if it's not I must go to bed. I'm thinking of going to Tuesday's meeting and will almost definitely be at Saturday's. I'd love to meet some of the others who are completely obsessed with this process.