Letter to the Editor: Examination, not zip code, should be key factor in admissions for BPS

To the Editor:

In the wake of this pandemic, it is essential to continue to conversation about what the future of public schooling in Boston will look like. As a graduate of Boston Latin School, and a lifelong resident of Dorchester, I believe the exam school administration process needs change, but I also think that an exam should remain the deciding factor of a student’s admission.

I agree with others that the zip-code policy is not the way to go for future exams, but that suggested option highlights some important disparities. The problem lies with the accessibility of resources that help students preparing to take the test, and, further, the accessibility of ways to get to the test itself.

I can guarantee that I got into BLS due to my parents’ ability to send me to a tutor— and not for cheap money. I had never seen a test like the Independent School Entrance Exam (ISEE) in my life, but I was prepared because I had the privilege of accessing outside help to introduce me to the structure of the exam.

Let me be clear: the administration of the Boston Public Schools has been incompetent for a very long time, and, frankly, I see no promise in the near future. The BPS zip-code decision produced a large amount of backlash, and at the same time it highlighted the disparities within today’s exam school system.

A 2018 Harvard study found that the exam schools’ student bodies do not reflect the city’s diversity, noting, “Black and Hispanic students make up nearly 75 percent of Boston’s student-age population, but represented only 40 percent of enrollment at the three schools and only 20 percent of enrollment at the most selective Boston Latin School (BLS).”

By increasing accessibility to resources about the ISEE exam, and access to transportation to the exam, the city can work toward a much better system. There is a reason that for decades kids in certain neighborhoods grew up on the path to the “purple palace,” while kids in other neighborhoods had no idea the school even existed.

The Boston Public Schools system is continuing its tradition of failing a majority of their students. Why do administrators continue to allow students who live outside of the city to be enrolled in these exam schools? Why do they continue to do nothing as public school enrollment is in a sharp decline? Why is the capital city of the commonwealth, which is continuously ranked number one in education nationally, failing its own children? Public schools are necessary, and Boston needs to do better. Enrollment is dropping due to Covid-19, but that does not mean every student can simply choose not to go. Many of the city’s most vulnerable students need public school resources.

This past year should have been a learning experience for the superintendent showing that all of the public schools need to be revamped. A student’s future should not hinge on getting into one of three schools. As a BPS community, the people of Dorchester need to continue to advocate for a better system as a whole, or no change will ever come for the benefit of all the city’s students.

Molly Griffin, Dorchester