I am writing today with great disappointment.
Last night, the school committee approved a new student assignment plan with deep flaws. They did not guarantee school quality and they replaced the current convoluted school lottery with a different convoluted school lottery. Also, in an unexpected move and against the wishes of the citizen advisory committee, the school committee approved an amendment that eliminated the walk zone priority that guaranteed 50% of seats to children living closest to a school.
This was the opportunity of a generation: an opportunity to begin to break the stale, old paradigm in Boston that we cannot give every child a high quality education.
Instead, the Mayor’s office and BPS gave us more of the same, and our children and parents will be the ones who get hurt. Failing to address quality hurts every child in Boston. Removing the walk zone priority hurts the 80% of families across every neighborhood that make a school in their walk zone one of their top choices.
The old and new student assignment system puts children and families in a win/lose lottery, and the toll is devastating. We alienate everyone. We push families away from our schools, trap our poorest, most underserved children in underperforming schools, and we facilitate the exodus of a diverse middle class to METCO, private school, parochial school, and most often, the suburbs.
A family-friendly student assignment system would not directly lead to creating quality schools. However, a family-friendly student assignment system would create a launch pad to focus on ensuring quality schools across the board.
Based on preliminary analysis, most families will have at least 10 choices under the new system. But choice is meaningless without quality, and giving parents the choice of a close-to-home option should be honored. Consider just two of the many examples of what families in every neighborhood will now face:
- A family living in the South End with access to the highly regarded Hurley and Quincy schools will also have access to the highly regarded Orchard Gardens School in Roxbury, but this will leave Roxbury families without any priority at Orchard Gardens. At the same time, many of those same families in Roxbury will not have access to the Hurley or Quincy.
- A family living in East Boston will have the same chance to get a seat at the Prescott or Harvard-Kent schools in Charlestown as a family living in Charlestown. That same family living in Charlestown will have an equal chance to get a seat at the Bradley or O’Donnell schools in East Boston as a family in East Boston. Instead of putting these families in a cross-neighborhood lottery where some win and some lose, we could guarantee seats close to home and use our collective will to make every school in those neighborhoods high quality.
This morning, the Mayor’s office and the school department are proclaiming a bold change. It is cruel to package this plan to families as bold reform when too many children will still be left on waitlists, too many children will still remain without quality options, and too many children will go without a seat at a school close to home.
I believe we can do much better than the deeply flawed plan that was approved last night. I will work with every ounce of energy I have during my remaining days in the City Council, and throughout my campaign for Mayor, to offer a vision for the city that is able to break the old paradigm and build a consensus in favor of a real plan to ensure that every child can access a high quality school close to home.
I hope you will join me in working for this vision.