Committee to vote on school assignment plan


25 Feb 2013

Mayor Thomas M. Menino is seeking a change in state law that would allow the School Department to extend the school day, shake up teaching staffs, and make other changes with less interference from the city’s teachers’ union. He has proposed spending millions of additional dollars.

Menino, who appoints the School Committee, has been pushing for overhauling the student assignment system and set up the advisory committee to vet potential changes. The mayor hopes a new system will allow more children from the same neighborhood to attend the same school.

Under the current system, students on the same street often head off each morning to schools many miles apart. That is because the city is divided into three massive student assignment zones, each offering families a choice of about two dozen schools.

The four proposals under consideration would, for the most part, greatly reduce the number of choices as well as the average distance from home to school — from nearly 2 miles to a little more than a mile.

The closer proximity has sparked a lively debate on the advisory committee about whether students who live in a school’s so-called “walk zone” — within about a mile of a school — should still have a priority in school assignments.

The advisory committee is expected to make a recommendation on the walk zone Monday night in addition to endorsing one of the student assignment proposals.

The advisory committee appears to be largely split among two proposals developed by a professor and doctoral student at MIT and specialists from other institutions. Those two proposals are somewhat similar and each would represent the most dramatic change from the current system.

The two proposals would do away with the standard practice of drawing student assignment boundaries on a map. Instead, a complex algorithm would generate a list of schools from which parents can choose based on a variety of factors, such as distance from home, school capacity, and MCAS performance.

One proposal would offer students as few as seven school choices and as many as 18 choices, depending on the area of the city. The other would offer nine to 23 choices. 

Some advisory committee members are leaning toward the two more traditional proposals, which would divide the city into 10 or 11 assignment zones. The 10-zone plan would offer three to 14 choices, depending on the zone. Choices under the 11-zone plan would range between three and nine.

The 10-zone plan had been removed from consideration earlier this month, but was revived last week.

Interest in the MIT proposals extends beyond the advisory committee.

The two proposals by the MIT academics won a ringing endorsement last week from the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, after it researched all the proposals.

“It’s the most balanced approach,” said Marc Draisen, the council’s executive director. “It doesn’t focus just on proximity. It takes into account equitable access to quality schools.”


Learn more about MAPC's analysis of the proposed Boston school assignment proposals