The following column was submitted by the City of Boston on behalf of Mayor Thomas Menino.
Our city is deep in conversation on efforts to create a new school assignment system. As many parents know and as we have heard loud and clear today’s system is too complicated, frustrating, and unpredictable for too many of our families. My goal is to create a new student assignment system that is fair, follows the laws of common sense, and prioritizes placing students in quality schools that are closer to their homes.
Much hard work remains, but today I am proud to tell you that we have made significant progress toward achieving that goal.
That progress is a credit to the External Advisory Committee on School Choice (EAC) which I created shortly after I announced the school assignment initiative during my State of the City address in January. This committee, composed of dedicated parents, business and civic leaders, and academics, is an independent body. It is not part of the school department, nor is it a city-run body. I specifically created this committee to act as an external voice and set of ears, with a diverse group of people with a track record of integrity and the best interests of the students at heart.
The EAC is charged with listening to the community, looking at the data, and putting together a proposal that will ensure fair access to a quality education, while giving families more predictability and confidence in the school their children will attend.
I am extraordinarily pleased with the amount of response and interest our student assignment initiative has received. To date, the EAC has received five proposals from Boston Public Schools and seven proposals from the community, as well as two studies from independent experts about the impact these proposals might have. Both studies found that our current system is highly unequal – and one, from the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, concluded that most of the proposals now on the table would improve access to quality for Black and Latino students.
All this represents an extraordinary amount of work, and I commend both the school department and members of the greater community for taking the time to put forward their best ideas for improving student assignment.
One thing is consistent across all the plans: your child will not be forced to change schools, but if a younger sibling is attending another school, closer to home, we will prioritize sibling access to that school if your older child wants to join his or her younger brother or sister. In other words, we will make sure there is an opportunity for families to stay together in this process.
The External Advisory Committee will continue to engage the community and discuss the various proposals that have been put forward. The city will not drag its feet on this issue, nor will the city plow ahead, preventing community voices from being heard. I encourage the debate and discussion. This is an issue that people, including myself, feel passionately about. Every parent in every one of our city’s neighborhoods wants the best possible education for his or her children. Our school assignment system can do much better in helping parents to make the best and most informed decisions about accessing the best quality schools for our children.
The final recommendation put forward by the EAC will include the best thinking possible on options for a new school assignment plan, drawing the best ideas from the various proposals that have been presented and taking the community’s voice into account. I am confident we will come away with a plan that is grounded in reality, builds communities, makes our schools better, and – most importantly – puts our children first.
For more information on school choice in Boston, visit bostonschoolchoice.org.