EAC Meeting Review - 02/07/2013


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The EAC started their meeting with some discussion of the upcoming schedule. Saturday's meeting has been postponed due to the impending end of the world. On the off chance that any of us survive the weekend, here is the tentative schedule of upcoming meetings (no times were given, but I would think that the weekday meetings will all start at 6:00 pm and the Saturday meeting would start at 9 or 10:00):

Monday, 2/11 - EAC meeting Boston City Hall room 801
Wednesday, 2/13 - Community Forum, location TBD
Wednesday, 2/20 - EAC meeting, Suffolk University, 73 Tremont St., 9th flr.
Thursday, 2/21 - Community Forum, location TBD
Saturday, 2/23 - EAC meeting (if needed), location TBD
Monday, 2/25 - EAC vote, Suffolk University, 73 Tremont St., 9th flr.

The next topic was the walk zone. BPS provided some information on the impact of removing or increasing walk zone priority. For some reason, BPS is really focused on showing how the plans affect access to quality for the child with the lowest access. Based on this measure, removing walk zone priority would have little effect on the current plan, the 10 zone plan, or home-based plan A. For home-based plan B, the child with the worst chance of getting a seat in a quality school goes from a 25.5% chance to a 29.2% chance. I'd like to see more data, particularly how it affects access at the 25th and 75th percentile. That would give a much better overall picture of what this would mean to equitable access.

They also looked at distance. Removing walk zone priority would increase median distance traveled to school three to 5/100 of a mile (about 160 - 260 feet).

For increasing the walk zone priority, BPS provided data that show that median distance traveled would be reduced up to 2/10 of a mile if the priority were increased from 50% to 80%. They didn't provide any new information on equity if walk zone priority were to be increased, but Peng showed a chart that's included in his report that shows a significant decrease in equity starting when walk zone priority exceeds 50%. I suspect that pretty much ended any consideration of increasing the walk zone, though some in the committee who are focused on proximity might still argue for it.

Tim Reardon of MAPC talked about the potential impact of changing the walk zone processing order (discussed in a previous post). MAPC has released an initial report on the three proposed plans (If you read the report, note that it contains what I consider to be an inaccurate characterization of the percentage of seats that go to kids in the walk zone. See a comment by Dr. Tayfun Sönmez on this.). I spoke to the committee about my concern that there was confusion on how many kids are assigned from the walk zone. It's really somewhere between 55 and 60%. BPS had used the 47% number that had been reported as a reason to change the processing order to try to get to 50%, but that was based on a misunderstanding of what that number means.

The committee then went around the table with each member giving his or her current opinion on the plans in front of them. This was significant because most members had not specifically spoken for or against any of these plans. These are just their initial thoughts. They're still waiting for more data from BPS and feedback from the community so members could change their minds. Also, several EAC members were not present. Here's a round-up of what each member had to say (brief bios of EAC members are available here):

Craig Langhorst: Said he prefers the home-based plans over the 10 zone plan. It also sounded like he was trying to put together his own version of a zoned plan, but was not confident that he could come up with anything better than the home-based plans.

Kathleen Colby: She prefers the 10 zone plan. She has asked for analysis of an 11 zone version of this plan which would split the large Dorchester zone into two zones. She is concerned that the home-based plans will be difficult for families to understand. She also thinks that the flexibility of the home-based plans that other EAC members like would actually be a disadvantage because it would make families' choices less predictable.

Bak Fun Wong: Prefers the home-based plans. Likes the flexibility.

Brendan McDonough: Leaning towards home-based A, but is concerned about implementation and would like a plan that gets kids closer to home.

Josephine Tavares: Says a committee needs to be put in place to address quality issues. She's currently uncomfortable with all the proposed plans.

Miren Uriarte: Not comfortable with the 10 zone model. She's still open to the home-based models or some other non-zone based model. She wants more data before she makes any decision.

Ruthzee Louijeune: She's still unsure, but she's leaning towards home-based B. She likes the idea of Boston not being a "zoned" city. Says we need to be less territorial.

Rahn Dorsey: Says this is a social contract conversation. He's trying to determine what gets us closest to changing the contract in Boston. He's not sure he sees a plan that does that. He thinks maybe the home-based B plan without walk zone priority. He likes the flexibility it would offer. He also wants to explore more targeted methods of improving equity. He mentioned the work of John Powell at UC Berkeley who Rahn has been talking to. Powell focuses on diversity and has been involved with student assignment at several other districts.

Bob Gittens: Leaning towards home-based plans, especially home-based B. He thinks the home based plans are a significant improvement over the current plan. He would prefer not to have walk zone priority with these plans.

Heaven Reda: Is leaning towards home-based plan B. She says all schools should already be quality schools.

Laura Perille: She's leaning towards the home-based plans. She's not sure if she prefers A or B. She likes that they break the lock between geography and access to quality.

Vernee Wilkerson: Leaning towards home-based plans. She would like to see a quality intervention added to the algorithm to increase equity. She also would like to see a quality task force appointed after this process.

John Nucci: He's concerned about the complexity of the home-based plans. He says that while there's a concentration of poor schools in some areas, he has confidence in the leadership of the city and the schools and believes this problem will be rectified. He thinks the 10 zone plan would be better for community. He didn't explicitly state a preference, but seems to favor the 10 zone plan.

Hardin Coleman: Likes the home-based plans. He likes that they will give everyone skin in the city, not just skin in the zone.

Helen Dájer: Favors the home-based plan. She wants to take lines off the map. She likes the idea that the plans can be flexible without having to move lines. She's not in favor of a walk zone priority for the home-based B plan. She might support walk zone for plan A, largely because it wouldn't make much difference. She said she's grateful for the transparency of BPS and the partnership with those in the community who have contributed to the process. She also called for a quality task force and for BPS to continue to make data available.

Bill Walczak: Says that a system with lots of choices has not created lots of good choices. He likes home-based plan A best among the options on the table. He still would like to see a plan with fewer choices and wants to keep walk zone priority. He also wants to see in-district and out-of-district charter school access limited to smaller parts of the city so that students attending those schools aren't traveling so far.

Only 16 of the 27 members were present, so there could potentially be 11 votes from members who didn't express any opinion at this meeting. However, a few of those members have been present at very few meetings and may opt not to vote. I don't have any reason to suspect that those absent would be likely to favor a particular plan.

At this point it's clear that the home-based plans are strongly favored over the 10 zone plan. Several members really didn't commit to supporting any of the plans and could vote against all of them. Of the two home-based plans, most people leaning towards them didn't express a preference, but among those who did, more favor home-based B.

I always welcome feed back and comments. In this case, since I've characterized the opinions of all members present, please let me know if you think I haven't accurately captured anyone's opinion.



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