Advisory group picks school-assignment plan

March 8, 2013
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The External Advisory Committee (EAC), a group put together to help form a new school-assignment system, on Feb. 25 picked a zone-free “home-based” plan out of three options.

The other two plans were a zone plan—similar to, but more varied than, the one used today—and a different version of a “home-based” plan. The “home-based” plan uses a formula to rank schools based on a family’s address.

Boston Public Schools (BPS) Superintendent Carol Johnson presented the plan to the Boston School Committee, which has scheduled two meetings on the proposal. The first meeting was on March 7, after the Gazette deadline. A second meeting will be held March 13 at BPS headquarters at 5 p.m.

Johnson has also announced the creation of a quality school advisors group, which will consist of community members and experts. The group will advise BPS on improving school quality and student achievement.

Meanwhile, Quality Education for Every Student (QUEST), a organization of Roslindale and Jamaica Plain parents, has issued a report detailing steps the BPS needs to take to provide students with a “fair and equal chance” to attend a quality school, according to a press release. QUEST likes the “home-based” plan, but sees areas that need to be improved.

The plan chosen by EAC, officially titled “Home-based A,” would use a formula to rank schools based on a family’s address. BPS would use MCAS data to chart two years of academic performance of students in math and English for each school and the rate of academic growth.

The ranked schools would be placed into a four-tier system and a list would be compiled picking schools closest to the family’s home from each of the top three tiers. The “Home-based A” plan gives families at least six choices.

The plan would also include three “closest capacity” schools, which is a school that can usually seat any student that requests it.

In the plan, elementary schools would “feed” into middle schools nearby. High schools would remain open citywide, as they are now.

In the plan, current and future Mission Hill students would have access to the Mission Hill K-8 School, which moved from Mission Hill to Jamaica Plain last year. Arianna Montgomery, a Mission Hill K-8 parent, wrote a letter to local officials requesting that the school be made available citywide as it once was.

QUEST said in the press release that the “home-based” plan is a “creative solution” that offers all students at least some access to quality schools.  But it said three factors could prevent the plan’s success: an unequal number of quality school choices given to each family; a walk zone preference giving advantage to students living in certain neighborhoods; and an inadequate way of measuring a school’s quality.

According to the press release, the organization has several suggestions to improve the plan, including adjusting families’ choice lists to give kids in areas with weaker schools a greater chance to attend a quality school; eliminating the walk zone preference; and looking at a variety of ways schools are successful, not just their test scores.

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