In the News

Building a stronger city through stronger school communities

From the desk of Mayor Thomas M. Menino

This morning, more than 1,100 Boston students who live within a few blocks of each other boarded school buses and began long commutes to reach their classrooms in 64 different schools across our city. Together, they traveled more than 1,773 miles – the distance from Boston to Cheyenne, Wyoming.

These children live in the Bowdoin/Geneva section of Dorchester. Here, one in three children are raised by a single mother. The unemployment rate is twice the city average and nearly one in four families lives below the poverty level.

These are the very children our sprawling, three-zone student assignment system was designed to help nearly 25 years ago. But, instead of traveling to attend great schools, we see these children scattered across town, without the quality of the school they attend as a consideration.

The real way to lift communities like Bowdoin/Geneva into opportunity is not to split them up, but to build them up. This means investing in our schools and helping families attend quality schools closer to where they live.

Since I became Mayor we have turned a struggling school system into one of the 20 most improved districts in the world. In 1998, just 25 percent of high school students passed their math MCAS exams. Today, 86 percent do. Two years ago, we shifted to a new system that ensures dollars follow our students – schools receive funding based on the numbers and needs of our students they serve.

We are also making big changes in neighborhoods like Bowdoin/Geneva. Just four blocks from that intersection sits the Marshall Elementary School, where only ten percent of students scored highly on reading and mathematics MCAS exams last year.

Our new budgeting system has allowed us to invest an additional $600,000 in the Marshall and more impressive changes are ahead. Last month Superintendent Johnson announced UP Academy will transform it this fall, bringing great new teachers, a longer school day and a proven track record of high performance – all while remaining a Boston Public School and welcoming students of all levels of need and ability.

These changes would never have been possible had we not fought for and won needed reforms at the state level and in our teachers’ contract. Never before have we had the ability and the funding to turn struggling schools around at the pace that is underway today. But these successful strategies will only be effective if we go beyond just attracting students to schools close to home – but also enroll them there.

The only guarantee that our current student assignment process offers is frustration. Rather than being built around access to quality, it was built around the theory that splitting up school communities was the only way to help students succeed.

A generation later, we know it’s not working. If it were, a community like Bowdoin/Geneva would be benefiting from the hundreds of miles their children travel each morning and afternoon. Instead, these children miss out on after-school activities and tutoring because they must make the long trip home just after lunch.

It makes no sense.

Putting an end to the crippling cycle of poverty in neighborhoods like Bowdoin/Geneva requires community-building strategies that include great schools, access to health care, job training, crime prevention and foreclosure relief.

Together, our city offers all these things – and the coming transformation of the Marshall School is just the latest example. Some might say we must wait until all schools are great before taking any steps to end the daily scattering of our children, but I firmly believe we must do both at the same time. With successful new school turnaround tools, a teacher and principal evaluation system among the most advanced in the nation, and a budget that’s finally providing fair funding to the schools that need it the most, we are well on our way.

Creating quality school communities takes a commitment to both quality and community. We are up to this task and our children cannot wait for us to debate forever. In January, the External Advisory Committee on School Choice will review final recommendations for a new school assignment plan which balances choices, quality and community.

A solution to this long-fought issue is closer than it’s ever been. And the children of Boston are sure to benefit immensely.

 

Final school choice plan will draw on ‘best ideas from various proposals’

by Mayor Thomas M. Menino
October 17, 2012

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 analyses from independent experts about the impact these proposals might have. Both analyses 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.

Media coverage

“Boston parents speak up on school wants,”
Boston Globe, August 6, 2012

“Boston Public Schools launches surveys to gather feedback,”
Wicked Local Roslindale, May 4, 2012

“Boston Public Schools hosting community meetings on new assignment system,”
North End Waterfront, April 25, 2012

“Finally, getting kids off the bus: New faces tackle Hub school assignments,”
Boston Globe, March 3, 2012

“Menino vows change in school assignment system,”
Boston Globe, January 18, 2012

“A new school-assignment plan requires forceful leadership,”
Boston Globe editorial, January 18, 2012