The following was submitted by the city of Boston on behalf of Mayor Thomas Menino.
All across our city this month, parents are choosing the schools where they would like to send their children to kindergarten. The Boston Public Schools are better than ever – but our school assignment process is 25 years old. Under the current system, we ask prospective families to visit as many as 30 schools – some of which may be across the street, others miles from home – and then wait and hope they’ll get what they wanted. Our school choice process can be confusing, unpredictable and unnecessarily complicated.
We can do better. Rather than building strong communities, today’s system begins by splitting up communities, sending students from one street to different schools across the city – even when families would rather have their children attend school close to home. This is why one year ago, I announced that we would spend this year on a comprehensive process to reform the current three-zone student assignment system, which puts complexity before community and ensures quantity of choices rather than quality of schools.
Today, I’m proud to report that we are in the home stretch. Thanks to the work of our External Advisory Committee, the Boston Public Schools, parents, students and many members of our community, we are closer than ever to finding a new way forward – one that makes sense for families, lifts up our communities, and gives every Boston student, regardless of where they live, a more equitable opportunity to attend a quality school closer to home.
As we work to improve the student assignment system, we also continue to improve each of the schools across our city, because we know that changing the student assignment system, alone, will not improve school quality. Next week, I’ll file statewide legislation that, if adopted, would extend the District’s turn-around powers and support grants to the Level 3 schools that need them most; eliminate the cap on In-District charter schools; and extend the school day for additional instruction and professional development. This legislation will help to bring quality up to the highest levels for all our students, and combined with a new student assignment system, will offer families better school choices by expanding the tools we’ve already proven are successful.
We have arrived where we are today because we decided together that it was time to break down the old barriers that had stood in the way of progress. For the first time, the School Department made huge amounts of data available on its website and even posted ideas that came from residents and community groups. This data gave researchers new tools to analyze what’s working, and see what isn’t – and the clear conclusion is that today’s system is no longer as balanced as it once may have been. Families living in today’s East Zone, for example, have lower chances of attending a high-quality school than those in the North or West Zones. By improving the school assignment system and investing in quality, we can create a system that offers more of what families need.
For the first time, we used social media to engage the public through interactive maps, online surveys and digital conversations. In another groundbreaking step, we have redefined how we measure school quality with an innovative system that helps BPS rapidly focus changes on the schools that need them most.
We’re glad that so many voices agree that it’s time for a change and I hope you will stay involved by visiting bostonschoolchoice.org. There, you will see that we are closer than ever to successfully reforming our school choice system. Of course there will be a push to maintain the status quo. But if anything is worth fighting for, it’s an equitable school system that delivers what residents have asked us to deliver: stronger communities through quality schools, close to home.