BOSTON — A coalition of state lawmakers and Boston city councilors has added their own plan for school assignment reform.
Mayor Thomas Menino addressed school assignment in his State of the City speech, saying students should be allowed to attend schools closer to home. Since then the Boston Public Schools has followed up, drafting five options that were released last week and are currently under consideration by an advisory committee.
“This is the only plan, out of six, that really looked at the whole system,” Rep. Ed Coppinger (D-West Roxbury) said at a press conference held at the State House.
Boston Public Schools spokesman Matthew Wilder said the proposal was welcome feedback for the advisory committee, which will submit a recommendation to Superintendent Carol Johnson, who will in turn submit a plan for approval by the Menino-appointed School Committee.
“I think that we are engaging the community in a process to receive feedback and this proposal that we received today will be a part of this community engagement process,” Wilder said. “We’re not going to turn away any ideas.”
The reforms would be made to school assignment in kindergarten-through-eighth grade. The high schools would continue to draw their students from across the city.
The outside plan boosted by elected officials Wednesday would ensure every kindergartener a seat at one of the four community schools closest to home. It would also allow students to participate in a lottery for placement in 16 specialized schools. It would save money on busing, according to its supporters.
“One criticism would be, ‘Oh, well this is unworkable.’ Well only if you accept the status quo. This forces BPS to be better with the money it has,” said Boston City Councilor John Connolly, who is chairman of the Education Committee and said the plan would send $6 million in administrative savings to the highest-need schools.
In the 1970s, the controversial federal court decision to desegregate Boston schools accomplished that by busing students from neighborhood to neighborhood, but the proponents of the close-to-home plan said that it would diversify the schools by making a Boston education more attractive to middle-class parents.
Critics of busing had argued that it merely bused students from one district with sub-par schools to another district with sub-par schools, though the opposition also unleashed racism and violence.
“In a lot of ways the goals are the same from those who nobly fought the battle to desegregate our schools. Today the civil rights battle is closing the achievement gap – and that’s certainly, when you look at our quality measures, what the quality aspects of our plan is really aimed at,” said Connolly. He said, “This is a system that has hemorrhaged middle-class investment.”
Quality is the watchword of the lawmakers and councilors who are backing the plan, which they call the Quality Choice Plan. The student body in the Boston schools district is 87 percent students of color and 78 percent students living in poverty, but by increasing the quality of education, the plans backers say they will encourage greater diversity in the system.
“For us it’s really about quality. So it doesn’t make sense to ship a kid from one community that’s a poor-performing school to another community that’s a poor-performing school. So we’re saying that quality has to be paramount. That has to be the number one issue that we deal with,” said Rep. Linda Dorcena Forry (D-Dorchester). She said, “Nothing has been touched in two decades. We have an opportunity to really do right by our children.”
Other proposals before the advisory committee include maps with zones — ranging from 23 zones to six zones to no zones — where students would be sent to the school closest to home.
“I thought there were a lot of good elements in the other plans out there. I think the biggest thing we were hearing from the public was the need for hard commitments around quality,” said Connolly, who said his understanding was that city school officials “took the close-to-home options off the table.”
Other elected officials who have backed the “quality” plan include Rep. Russell Holmes (D-Boston), Rep. Nick Collins (D-South Boston), and City Councilor Matt O’Malley. Connolly said he hoped parents would sign an online petition and he hoped more community leaders would back the proposal.