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The problem with the mayor's pledge to return to neighborhood schools

What if the schools in one neighborhood are all part of what BPS once euphemistically called "the circle of promise?" The last couple of BPS efforts to reform busing all foundered on the issue that one of its new zones would have contained pretty much nothing but underperforming schools. WBUR reports, talks to Roxbury City Councilor Tito Jackson.

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Then why not use the savings from the excess busing to fund interventions at those schools?

I'm definitely in favor of extensive school choice but gosh darn, I'd like to stay in Boston if/when I have children.

Pillory me if you want, but frankly, Boston needs to do more to encourage middle class white people to stay in the city. Otherwise, why would everyone, black, white and green decamp for the suburbs via moving or METCO.

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If some schools are underperforming, isn't the solution to bring those schools up to par rather than distributing students equally to be underserved?

Suldog
http://jimsuldog.blogspot.com

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School turnarounds don't happen overnight and in the meantime, with the current three-zone system (and Metco), parents at least have a chance of getting their kid into a better school somewhere else if the two or three within walking distance are, as they say, "underperforming."

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Funny how the 'underperforming' schools in this case have been in the same neighborhoods since forever. 'Overnight' has nothing to do with it. The same reason was given for not going to neighborhood schools ten years ago.

And of course, Adam's 'chance' is fine as long as you get your kid out of one of those 'underperforming' schools. But of course, someone has to end up there. That is what is at issue, not whether certain parents can get lucky.

Imagine if you had 'underperforming' elevators in your building at work. Or if certain surgeons at your hospital were known to be underperforming. Would you accept that? That's what the city of Boston does as standard operating procedure.

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Yes, obviously the goal should be to make sure that there are no underperforming schools. But the reality is that there are schools that perform better than others, and for lots of reasons.

Among other things, school quality impacts property values, so without school choice there's the possibility of a feedback loop. Neighborhoods with good schools price out poorer families, which gives those neighborhoods' schools all sorts of advantages. Not only will they likely have better test scores (which both is how we measure school performance and is known to have a high correlation to socio-economic status), but they will also have students who have more resources at home, enjoy better fund raising, and likely have more parents with the time and energy to engage with the school.

I don't have any information about how big any of these effects are, and I certainly wouldn't scrap all plans for neighborhood schools on my oversimplified analysis. I just don't think it's as simple as saying that if we fix all the schools then neighborhood schools will work. The decision to change to neighborhood schools or not, and how, may have an impact on how well we are able to "fix all the schools".

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If you design a standardized test of general knowledge whose results do not show a difference between underprivileged children and middle-class children, then it is a certainty your test is bogus. It is hard to be poor, and difficulty has consequences.

As long as "underperformance" is defined by the average performance of all children at a school on standardized tests of general knowledge, schools with more poor kids will be "underperforming" relative to schools with more middle-class kids.

As long as you can define a school as "underperforming" because the children are poor, it's a vicious circle with no resolution.

In truth, the best schools are in the poorest neighborhoods. The capital investment in Boston since the eighties has been overwhelmingly skewed to the poorer neighborhoods. Do you think the city would build a beautiful school like Orchard Gardens in West Roxbury? No; it would be unfair. But in Roxbury the model school is "underperforming" and parents want to escape it.

Parents who complain that their local school in the 'circle of promise' is "underperforming" and demand to send their kids to the local school in a more middle-class neighborhood are really asking for the opportunity to avoid their neighbors' children. And many of their neighbors want the same thing. Essentially, they're hoping the middle class will rub off on them instead of working together to improve where they are. Through osmosis, or magic, the difficulties of their home life will disappear at school if only that school is elsewhere.

We can't really make poverty disappear through some sort of pedagogical alchemy.

Here's what we can do:
-Build the best schools in the poorest neighborhoods.
-Give them higher funding and better amenities.
-Pay the teachers more.
-Improve them until they are better by any objective measure (correcting for the socio-economic bias of test scores).

Then at some point you have to say you're done, and the kids who just want to go to their old local school with the neighbor kids shouldn't be held hostage anymore by racial politics.

Good on Menino for bringing it up. Again. Better on him if he actually follows through this time.

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Grading standardized tests on a curve is a bad idea. Life and the workplace don't grade people on curves, they grade on performance. Giving kids in failing school districts a grade boost isn't going to help them but instead further a handicap.

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Makes sense, especially the part about the parents in poor neighborhoods trying to get their kids bussed OUT.

But none of those things correlate to improvement in student performance. You'd just be throwing money (that the system doesn't have) at the problem, and doing busing with a carrot instead of a stick.

The only thing that makes a difference is raising the income of the parents.

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Rich people have dumb kids too. Poor people aren't necessarily "disadvantaged" in the intellectual department either. How many geniuses in the last century came from dirt poor backgrounds with little formal education? Quite a few!

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its not the schools fault all together for being underperforming. families/ parents need to get involved not leaving up to the school to make their child a responsible citizen /individual, it has to come from home no matter what your income is....poor vs middle class that is ridiculous. some parents dont care and treat schools to babysit their kids.so the poorer neighborhoods will need more funding for what it still will not be enough.....to change mindsets

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The other problem with re-zoning is that the BPS had either absolutely no plan (or a plan that was so disruptive that they didn't want to tell anyone) for students who were currently assigned the last time they tried this and they don't have one now.

1. They could reassign students who fall outside of their new zones, but this would guarantee them a spot in an undesirable school since those are the only ones with open seats. And what if a family had three kids in elementary school, how should they find a school for them together? A lot of why this fell through last time was that there aren't enough seats, good or bad for those kids.

2. To make it fair they could make everyone go through the lottery again at once, but that's crazy.

3.They could grandfather the currently enrolled kids, but that wouldn't help much with busing, since kids could potentially need transportation for ten years if they're in a K1 - 8. And then you'd have two busing systems layered on top of each other. The old system phasing out over ten years and the new one. It would also really suck if you had younger children entering school who couldn't go to their siblings school anymore. I doupt they'd grandfather whole families to a school or it would just draw it out for more than a decade. I do think that a new map with 10-20 zones would make this a bit more feasible than the previous 8 zone proposal.
However, BPS hasn't really shown much respect for school communities in the past and the real point is to reduce bussing costs, so I wouldn't count on them going this way.

4.They could grandfather, but stop providing transportation. This would be a really awful thing to do because most families don't have a parent who can commit to dropping off and picking up during business hours for years. Also they might have a child at a different school, so they'd have to be in two places at once. This is essentially the same as option 1 for most families, but would let the BPS wash their hands of the problem since they gave families a "choice".

Looks like another year with awful and wrenching community meetings and a lack of planning combined with bad communication from Court street for BPS parents.

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I'll be really curious to see what the transition plan looks like, because this is just one of the questions that needs to be asked about returning to neighborhood schools.

I'm guessing that a lot of decisions about how the schools are currently configured were made with the lottery in mind. The schools vary quite a bit from neighborhood to neighborhood, but that's mitigated somewhat because your choices aren't limited to just the nearby schools. So, for example, in the west zone there are three pilot schools, but none north of Forest Hills. There are only K-8 schools in West Roxbury, and only K-5 schools in Roslindale (yes, I know about the Irving School K-8 track). Is it OK to switch to neighborhood schools without trying to do something about these differences (and many others)? If not, how much will the transition cost? How does that compare to the savings we'll get from reducing transportation costs? If the transition is expensive, might it be worth it anyway?

I'm generally in favor of transitioning towards neighborhood schools, but there are a lot of details to be worked out before we can say if whatever the mayor has in mind is a good idea or not.

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sent him to school in Brookline, via the METCO program.

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METCO was abolished, or at least opened up to poor white kids, too. Until then, I will enjoy living far away from that dump of a city.

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Boston Public Schools bureaucracy to advocate for our kids, this sort of blanket statement just diverts attention from a lot of the small, important issues currently being addressed to a big sweeping simplistic announcement of neighborhood schools. Due to politics, it ends up forcing the BPS administration to be more reactive to whatever the mayor says and then they don't pay attention to the rest of BPS families advocating out there for what's needed. There are a lot of needs out there and they have much in common with improving all the schools -- Extended Learning Time, more Advanced Work classes, Special Ed that addresses childrens' needs, more stuff for kids on the Autism Spectrum. But people really like certain catchphrases like "neighborhood schools" even when all those other things I mentioned will still be badly needed, no matter where you live in Boston.

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A huge part of the problem in BPS is too much false choice. Parents are encouraged to shop around and consider the unique advantages of every school and whip themselves into a frenzy because of the uncertainty of the lottery. Minority parents are allowed to opt-out entirely if they get into Metco so their kids can be bussed away to the suburbs to "better" schools. Even worse, our tax dollars are siphoned away from the regular BPS schools and given to "charter schools" with their own lotteries and parents happy to bus their kids across town to be in a great charter school.

Where is the incentive for parents in the system to make things better? Where is the incentive to recognize that you are going to be in a school with your kids for the next decade and if you don't like the way things are done, then you need to get involved and make things change--versus trying to get into a "better" school? This constant churn not only harms the education of our children, but also destroys any chance at developing community.

Now perhaps living in Roslindale I'm luckier than some neighborhoods. I think most of the schools in the West Zone are OK and could be much better if there were less turnover and transition. But I think most of the people who talk about improving schools think the answers are in technical fixes, curriculum enhancements, and personnel issues. Absolutely, the immediate problems that can be identified can fall into those categories. But the system is fundamentally undermined when there is no community.

I will stick with BPS as long as I can. I believe there is an honorable value in learning to work with things as they are versus always trying for something better or buying your way out. I cannot argue that the school is better than high-scoring schools in the suburbs, but I do believe my kids will learn more about how to navigate life if we work with what we have vs grousing about finding something better.

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I've had similar thoughts. The major downside that I see is the possibility that without choices, we could end up a city where people want to live on certain streets because of a particular school, but not on others, so that certain streets have home values go up and are populated with people with resources where others are left for people who don't have the resources to compete in the pricier areas.

However, we pretty much HAVE that in Boston, no? It's really striking in some areas how you'll literally have one street, or even one block of a street, where people are taking care of their historic homes, then on the next block of (originally) identical homes you'll have total squalor. Getting rid of school choice wouldn't create this problem, since it's already here, but would just shift around which blocks were which depending on which schools were desirable.

This super-compartmentalized city does have some advantages in creating diverse schools with minimal busing. Just going through the city mentally, I think it would be possible in most of the city to create neighborhood school assignment blocks that included roughly the same economic/immigrant/racial breakdown as the city as a whole. In a few areas these might have to be sort of long-and-skinny blocks on the map that might involve some kids taking a bus, but I still think it could be done with each school having a contiguous zone so that you don't end up having the "this is our neighborhood school but you [rich/poor] people get bused in from somewhere else" dynamic.

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My idea is not necessarily that every school has a set-in-stone geography, but rather that parents do not get to choose the school and are assigned based on sibling priority, proximity and availability. If you have 3 kids, you can count on all 3 going to the same nearby school. There is a transfer process to handle special circumstances, but for example, if you live in Roslindale Square, you would know that your kids will likely go to the Sumner, Bates, Conley or Mozart.If you live in West Roxbury, you might be assigned to the Kilmer, Lyndon, Beethovan, Mozart or Bates. When you look up your address, you find a list of schools--maybe it is 3-5 schools--not just one--but there is no lottery and showcase of schools game.

They system of choice is not improving the quality of education. It is bizarre to see such a free-market concept applied in such an otherwise liberal city. Is competition for parents between schools supposed to motivate the schools to improve? I think that assumption needs to be challenged and exposed as invalid.

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