Op-Ed: New school choice ideas will serve us better

By Mayor Thomas M. Menino/Special to the Gazette

In January, I made a promise to our city’s parents and children. Our families would like a school choice system that passes the common-sense test. Today’s system does not.

In the Bowdoin/Geneva area of Dorchester, where families speak 15 different languages and one in four falls below the poverty line, 2,000 students attend 100 different schools. Something similar could be said in East Boston, in Jamaica Plain, in Allston and in Dorchester. We cannot build a stronger community when we split ourselves apart every morning.

This spring we asked you to tell us how we can improve the school choice system. More than 2,300 people responded—three times more than joined a similar conversation eight years ago.

Two clear themes emerged: First, you asked us to continue our focus on building school quality.

Working with Boston Public Schools Superintendent Carol R. Johnson and the Boston School Committee, we are proud to be the first district in the state to fully use innovative new tools to turn around the lowest-performing schools and transform what wasn’t working. We have doubled the number of K-8 schools and have put arts, athletics, advanced mathematics and science back into education. We are setting higher expectations for children in every school and are finally funding our schools equitably depending on what the students need.

The second thing people asked us to do is provide a less confusing and more predicable way to attend a good school close to home. And with your help, we can do it.

Last spring, Superintendent Johnson and I created a 27-member panel, called the External Advisory Committee on School Choice, to help us create a new system that lets families put a priority on attending school closer to home.

This group is helping us generate an assignment system that protects the diversity, choice and access to quality that have served us so well for so long, while allowing our schools to connect more closely to the communities we seek to build up. We are also “showing our work” as we go and are posting everything we do on the web at bostonschoolchoice.org.

BPS has just offered its best thinking on how a new system might look in the future and is asking for your feedback. We hope you will join a community meeting or visit the website to share your thoughts with us. All of the plans we are discussing would protect what we value as a city— fair access to a quality education—while giving families more predictability and confidence in the school their child will attend.

No system is perfect and, in a city with as much history as ours has, not everyone will ever be satisfied. However, we know that a school choice system designed nearly 25 years ago no longer serves us well when we have changed so much for the better. Let’s pull together and answer the call for quality schools, close to home.

Thomas M. Menino is the mayor of Boston.

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