Tuesday afternoon BPS released three new proposals in advance of the External Advisory Committee on School Choice (EAC) meeting scheduled for Wednesday night:
Only elementary schools are highlighted on these maps, but elementary schools will feed into middle schools under BPS' proposed "middle school feeder pattern", much like the Roslindale K-8 pathway does already, if incorporated into whichever proposal is finally selected by the EAC for recommendation to Dr. Johnson.
Also, if incorporated into whichever proposal is finally selected by the EAC, there could be changes to how and possibly where Students with Disabilities (SWD) and English Language Learners (ELL) will attend school per the overlay maps.
Many of you are probably wondering where these latest proposals came from and rightfully so because even for those of us who have been attending the meetings and asking questions daily of BPS, the above new proposals were unexpected. What we expected to see Wednesday night was the in-depth analysis of the models selected by the EAC members in October 2012, not completely new models by BPS.
A lot has taken place since BPS presented their original proposals in September, so for those who have not been consumed by this process as I have, or were unable to attend the meetings or maybe are just becoming more aware of what is going on, below is some background to catch you up to where we are now.
The External Advisory Committee on School Choice is a 27-member group of BPS parents, educators, community and business leaders that the Mayor appointed in January 2012 to help BPS develop a student assignment plan that puts a focus on equity, school quality and helps students attend school closer to home. It would be implemented for the 2014-15 school year if approved by the Boston School Committee.
The original timeline to accomplish the above, inclusive of presenting a recommended assignment plan to BPS and the Boston School Committee (BSC) voting on it was December 19, 2012. This timeline was extended, yet the implementation timeline has not changed.
After the original March - June 2012 community meetings, the EAC went to work to assess all of the feedback from families and community members regarding what was important to them when it comes to education for their child(ren). Originally BPS and EAC members were focused on the "close to home" emphasis outlined by Mayor Tom Menino during his State of the City 2012 address. After months of reviewing and incorporating the data into draft proposals, finally on September 24, 2012, BPS released their five proposed assignment models along with three "overlay" maps which they hope will be incorporated into whichever model is finally chosen.
Immediately after the release of the BPS proposals, community members, families and groups started speaking out due to concern regarding the lack of accessibility and equity to the few "quality schools" within BPS and how the proposed models would impact all students. Also, there were formal analyses of the proposed models by a team at Harvard Graduate School of Education and one by the Metropolitan Area Planning Committee as well as more informal analyses by other groups and individuals like myself via blogs, websites and testimony at community and BSC meetings.
As the above was taking place many individuals and groups submitted alternative assignment proposals to BPS for consideration by the EAC. Two of these alternative plans were very popular from their initial submission: the Quality Choice Plan presented by a group of Boston and state politicians and the Family-Centric School Choice Model with Meaningful Choices and Guaranteed Equal Access to Quality aka "Grouped Schools Model" by Peng Shi and Itai Ashlagi of the MIT Operations Research Center.
Since the original BPS and community proposals were made to the EAC in September 2012, at the October 27, 2012 EAC meeting, after a presentation of the revised "Grouped School Model" by Peng Shi which had garnered support with the members, the EAC stated that they needed more data on the impact of the proposed models on Students with Disabilities and English Language Learners and that analysis of these groups should be built into the model revisions, including capacity data. The EAC also asked for data on an AWC analysis, and how it would work with various models as well as more information regarding the Middle School Feeder proposal. As this was happening, we also noticed a shift from the "close to home" focus toward "quality schools", which was more in sync with what the community was saying was important to them.
Taking the above into account, the EAC requested the following models undergo an in-depth analysis by the BPS technical team working with MIT & Harvard personnel:
- the 23 zone model with paired zones, factoring in socioeconomic diversity;
- the 6 zone model with assignment interventions to maximize equitable access to quality seats;
- the no zone model with school pairings;
- and the grouped-school model.
The EAC requested an analysis from BPS similar to the analysis that Mr. Shi presented to the Committee during the October 27, 2012 meeting, which should include:
- Equitable access to quality
- Diversity - socio economic diversity and race/cultural diversity
- Proximity to home
- Choice and predictability
- Transportation savings
- Racial diversity impact - both with current models and in accountability reporting in future
- Backwards assessment of impact on current neighborhoods as well as race, culture, and socioeconomic impacts.
- Analysis on students with disabilities and English Language Learners
At the November 13, 2012 meeting BPS made some preliminary presentations on the requests by the EAC, but due to questions from the EAC members which highlighted issues with it, the modified 6-zone model was removed until BPS could analyze it in an "apples to apples" sort of way. Also, because MIT has the ability to use their super-computer programs (I do not know the exact name lol), the EAC asked for the models to be run through the software with the requirements above, which was agreed to by the MIT personnel in attendance.
On November 29, 2012, Mayor Menino announced an extension to the original deadline for the EAC which states:
Mayor Thomas M. Menino's External Advisory Committee on School Choice will continue its work through January as it creates an improved student assignment system for the city's children and families. The Mayor's decision supports Superintendent Carol R. Johnson's recommendation that her technical team work with Professor Parag Pathak, director of the School Effectiveness and Inequality Initiative (SEII) at MIT, and experts at Harvard's Rappaport Institute for Greater Boston.
Together, the team will conduct an in-depth analysis on zone-based and non-zone-based models to simulate how families would choose schools under a new system. The analysis is based on several years of assignment data and used to project choice patterns in the future.
The technical team will present analysis of models to the EAC in mid-January. After the models are presented, the EAC will continue its community process and make a final recommendation on a new school choice system to the Superintendent.
With the extended timeline given to the EAC the implication was that due to the time it would take to produce the requested data and analysis, the EAC members and community at large would have more time to review the in-depth analysis of the proposals selected which continued to be modified by the EAC, as well as the "overlay" proposals by BPS for Middle School Pathways (MSP), Students with Disabilities (SWD) and English Language Learners (ELL).
I was at the November 29th where the EAC requested further data and an in-depth analysis per above criteria of the assignment proposals utilizing previous enrollment data to predict how parents may choose schools under the selected models. I also attended subsequent meetings where discussion among the EAC members, with regard to a recommendation letter they are drafting, led to several of them agreeing that the in-depth analysis of the models may lead to them deciding NONE of the models they have narrowed the choices down to may work, so effectively they would need to reevaluate all of the proposals again. At least we knew that mid-January we would receive the models of the proposals generated through MIT and the in-depth analysis of same.
Over the past two months all of the models continued to be modified, so maybe these new models by BPS should not be as surprising as they are to us!
On Monday, January 21, 2013, I received the weekly "BPS This Week" newsletter which included the following announcement:
External Advisory Committee on School Choice to receive 'best of the best' model options this week
After more than 50 community meetings, input from more than 4,000 voices, dozens of External Advisory Committee meetings and proposals from the community, the EAC is ready to examine the "best of the best" ideas for an improved school choice system. The BPS technical team will present updated model options at the EAC meeting Wednesday night.
The models were created in an attempt to emphasize equitable access to quality schools, increase predictability for families and offer great choices closer to home when compared to the current three-zone system, which has been in place for nearly 25 years.
You can keep track of our progress and get involved by visitingbostonschoolchoice.org. Also, please join the EAC for a community meeting Monday, February 4 at 6:00pm at Orchard Gardens K-8 School, 906 Albany St., Roxbury.
I and other community members were glad to hear that there would not be another delay in finally seeing the anticipated in-depth analysis and seeing the projection maps of the selected proposals.
Much to our surprise, many of us received the news Tuesday morning that BPS would "unveil three revised student-assignment proposals Tuesday that would allow more children to attend schools closer to their homes, as an advisory committee prepares to make a final recommendation in the coming weeks."
Don't get me wrong, on some level we realized that the projection maps may be a bit different and lead to further tweaking of the selected proposals, but most of us truly did not foresee this amount of difference in what would be presented and what was expected. In effect, though I can see pieces of the proposals the EAC had selected within these latest models, they are really brand new to the general public.
Which leads to the following questions:
Was the EAC aware of this level of change by BPS to their selected proposals? (I suspect the members were aware on some level.)
Will we still receive true in-depth analysis at this Wednesday's meeting of these new proposals utilizing all of the criteria outlined by the EAC?
Will we still receive clear data regarding our most vulnerable populations (SWD and ELL students) and how the assignment changes will impact them?
Did BPS present these models to the EAC members prior to unveiling them for all of us? (Historically this has not been the case, so I would guess not.)
How do the EAC members feel about these new proposals? (We will find out tomorrow evening for sure!)
As the three proposals BPS unveiled Tuesday are basically new to everyone, will the EAC push for more meetings to truly assess the response of more voices in Boston?
- I hope they do as it may help to quiet the rumblings of the community that they are being pressured to accept one of the proposals and present to the Superintendent within the next month!
- So far there is only one meeting scheduled for community feedback, questions and input - on Monday, February 4, 2013 at 6:00pm at Orchard Gardens K-8 school (back to where it all began!). I did ask one of the EAC members if they have considered also holding a meeting on a Saturday, in the early afternoon, to allow for more feedback and she let me know she had passed on my suggestion and would bring it up at Wednesday's meeting.
Pursuant to the above, I have to ask: is the EAC being pressured to complete this within the next month or two?
I admire the amount of time and dedication each of the EAC members have put into this entire process so I am hopeful that they are not being pressured by a political or assignment round deadline (2014-15 registration) in addition to the exhaustion they MUST feel! I also agree that BPS NEEDS a new assignment plan and want to help accomplish this goal.
We absolutely need deadlines and without them would not be where we are currently, but I believe we may need to allow the EAC, community and the Boston School Committee until April or May to finalize this process.
Mayor Menino, I have known you since I was 16 when you approached my youth group to help you create a teen center in Hyde Park, since then as a neighbor, working with you as Chair of the BPS SNPAC & as an advocate for public education, so I know that you have always had high standards for our students just as I and other Boston parents have.
Now Mayor Menino, I am coming to you and my plea to you as my education Mayor is this:
Even if it means delaying implementation of a new assignment plan by one year, please allow all of us the time to ensure that the proposal which is chosen will truly give our students equitable access to the highest quality education we can provide for them.
The race for quality has no finish line!