EAC Meeting Review - 02/05/2013


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Tonight's EAC meeting started with Bob Gittens reading a letter from Mayor Menino asking the committee to work past the weekend but finish by the end of February. The committee voted overwhelmingly to accept this request.

There was confusion early in the meeting as Hardin Coleman said that the committee had asked BPS for analysis of a "no zone" plan which he described as a "strictly neighborhood" plan. I was surprised by this because I hadn't heard it at the prior meetings. It turned out there was confusion about what was requested. EAC member Bill Walczak had requested data on a "no zone" plan, but not the "no zone" plan that BPS had proposed in September which involved kids attending the closest school with an available seat. It seems like what Bill wanted was a version of Peng Shi's grouped schools plan, but he wasn't at the meeting and nobody was entirely clear what had been asked for.

The committee then moved on to public comment. Again, there were a lot of comments about quality. Also questions about whether the plans are equitable. Several people also spoke about concerns about further segregating both the schools and the city's neighborhoods if a neighborhood school plan is selected.

The committee moved on to a discussion of what information they need in order to make a decision on the plan. They want to see analysis of models without walk zone preference. They also want to see more analysis on the plans by race and socio-economic status.

John Nucci asked how big the difference is between schools in the four tiers. He says that if the differences are small, then equitable access is not so important. If they are large, it's very important. Bob Gittens says that having seen the MCAS quadrants that the difference is large.

There was further discussion of walk zones. Kathleen Colby wants to be sure that walk zone access (ability to cross a zone line to go to a walk zone school) is preserved in the analysis even if walk zone preference is eliminated. Carleton Jones from BPS said he thinks that's what they've done but he will check.

The EAC asked for the following data from BPS (and possibly more that I didn't capture):

  • More detail on why Peng's first and second plans weren't workable (the first plan would have been difficult for families to navigate, the second had issues managing capacity)
  • Analysis of all three plans without walk zone priority
  • Analysis of the 10 zone plan with Dorchester split into two zones (which would make it an 11 zone plan)
  • Brendan McDonough asked to see the impact of increasing walk zone to 75% or higher on distance traveled and socio-economic diversity
  • Rahn Dorsey asked to see data on which schools are doing the best as far as closing the achievement gap
  • Miren Uriarte asked for details on impacts on ELL level 4 and 5 students under the various plans.
  • Miren also asked to see the Mission Hill neighborhood broken out (it's usually included as part of Roxbury). Carleton Jones said he didn't think they could do that because none of the district data breaks it out that way.

The committee will meet again on Thursday night at 6:00 at Suffolk, 73 Tremont St. The expect to have some of the data they've requested by then and also will have BPS staff and hopefully Peng Shi available to answer their questions. They also asked BPS for a plan to further engage the community. I hope they will focus on helping people understand the plans and their impact rather than trying to get feedback before people have had time to understand the plan.

The EAC also scheduled a meeting for Saturday from 10-1:00 at BU. Since there's currently a snow storm forecast for Friday and Saturday, they said they would decide by 3:00 on Friday afternoon if they needed to cancel the meeting. Frankly, I suspect I'm not the only one who would rather be shoveling.



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This was on my mind from a comment yesterday…

You have been to all of these meetings, did anyone ever look at what systems are in place is other urban school districts around the country? Is there a chart anywhere which summarizes them? Are there any other cities that are doing a good job with this that we may want to use as a guide?

Seems strange that we have to figure out what to do here starting with a blank slate considering there are other cities in the country which must have similar issues with school assignment.

Josh Weiss's picture

Josh Weiss's picture

Last spring BPS researched assignment systems in several districts and issued a report: http://bpsworkshop.com/sites/default/files/documents/files/Student%20Ass…

Most of the districts use some version of what BPS calls "Neighborhood Plus Choice." These plans generally assign students to a neighborhood school, but allow them to apply to schools outside the neighborhood if there's space.

Most of the districts they look at are much larger geographically than Boston. Probably the most comparable district is San Francisco where students can choose any school. There is some kind of proximity preference. Also, "additional tiebreaker preference is given to students who live in areas with the lowest quintile of test scores, students in densely populated areas, and students attending a Program Improvement (Title I) school." The district generally provides transportation, but "some schools provide no transportation due to low ridership."

Unfortunately, there's no data in the BPS report about how all of these plans perform. So we don't know how far kids travel, how segregated schools are, and whether neighborhoods have become segregated along school zone lines.

So basically everyone else has settled on a neighborhood plus choice system and we never considered such a system, even though we don't have evidence of weather they work or not?

I don't count the initial BPS no-zone system because they did not attach any "plus choice" mechanism to it, which to me indicates that it was not a serious proposal.

It would be a whole lot easier to take an existing system and try to make improvements on it using data of how it works as implemented rather then depending on one statistical model filled with assumptions.

Its not like we are the only city that has various neighborhoods with various racial and socioeconomic mixes within them, so I don't really buy a "Boston Is Unique" argument.

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