Boston Public schools cites gains with new assignment policy

Martin Desmarais | 4/2/2014, 10:44 a.m.

Denise Snyder, BPS senior director in the Office of Welcome Services, said that there was some disappointment that more of the incoming kindergarten students did not receive one of their top three choices, which was a main priority for the plan.

“I think that overall there were some good things and there were probably some things that we are going to have to go back and study further to see if we are going to want to make recommendations to the policies,” Snyder said.

She also said that the numbers reflect a good start to get students attending schools closer to home and that some of these numbers are going to be impacted by students choosing to attend schools where their older siblings are already grandfathered in from prior assignments, even if there are choices closer to home. This factor could take several years to shake out and reflect the numbers BPS is hoping for.

“It is good. It is in the right direction. We are going to have to do a lot more, but it is going to take several years to make that better,” Snyder said.

According to Snyder, the success at being able to assign those students who wanted to attend a school in their home base was a major step forward in the success of the new assignment program.

“It is a milestone in a longer journey,” she said. “We have a lot more to take a look at and fix to try and help families get one of those top three choices, but having opened the door to a home-base assignment plan and having implemented it was a real milestone in this journey.”

Kim Janey, senior director at Massachusetts Advocate for Children, has supported BPS efforts to improve the school assignment process and was closely watching the numbers from the first assignment period as well. Like BPS officials, she was disappointed that more entering kindergarten did not receive one of their top choices. But she said the focus going forward should be on the bigger picture.

“The real question is, what kind of choices do families have and what are the quality of choices? There needs to be analysis that examines equitable access to quality,” Janey said.

“For example, under the new system, do families have greater access or less access to quality? How does this compare by neighborhood? If we look at Roxbury compared to West Roxbury — two neighborhoods that had the same list of schools to choose from under the old plan — what would we see? An earlier analysis of the new system showed that West Roxbury families have more high-quality schools to choose from than families in Roxbury. What is BPS doing to address that inequity? What is the plan for quality improvement?”

According to Michael O’Neill, Boston School Committee chair, when the new school assignment plan was adopted it was established that reviews, adjustments and improvements would be made, as needed.

BPS is doing a continued analysis of the data collected from the new school choice plan and will work with the School Effectiveness and Inequality Initiative team at MIT over the next few months to provide an even more detailed report to the Boston School Committee. BPS officials said the report is expected to include details on access to quality and equity metrics, as well as an analysis by neighborhood.

According to information from BPS, in this year’s assignment process, 3,982 students requested kindergarten seats, including students moving up from pre-kindergarten, who had an assignment guarantee. Of those, 3,646 students were assigned to a school they selected, 272 did not receive one of their choices and had requested to be administratively assigned to a school within their home-based choice list. A remaining 64 students did not receive a choice and requested not to be administratively assigned. For both pre-kindergarten and kindergarten, 119 fewer students requested a seat this year than last year. In pre-kindergarten, even with the lower demand, 577 students did not receive an assignment for pre-kindergarten.

BPS also released data from post-registration surveys showing that 85 percent of the families registering understood the new assignment system “well” or “fairly well” before they came to register.