School quality, not school assignment, is the real issue

Boston families eagerly awaited a new plan to assign our children more equitably to seats in the public schools. The three-zone system had too many shortcomings, including no assurance that a child would be assigned to a high quality school in his or her neighborhood. The new home-based assignment plan adopted by the Boston School Committee and recommended by the External Advisory Committee on School Choice is equally problematic when it comes to the core issue of school quality.

Because of the new plan’s inadequacy, I was one of two from among the 27 advisory committee members to vote against it. I am a proud Boston Public School parent, and the other vote came from a proud Boston public school teacher.

I accept that there is no perfect student assignment plan, but we can do even better than what the school committee adopted. We need a much bolder approach that will result in a system with consistent high quality, and one that gives teachers and schools the resources and tools to meet their students’ needs. Improving MCAS scores is one approach, but not the only measure of success. Throwing in a few charter schools surely isn’t enough to change an entire system.

Bottom line, we cannot afford a public education system of the haves and have nots. Children’s entire future can hinge on the education they receive or are denied. All the data prove it. It’s the difference between a great job and a good one; a path to college or a path to prison; access to social opportunities or access to trouble, like drugs, teen pregnancy, or violence.

At the final meeting of the External Advisory Committee where the home-based assignment plan was passed, I insisted that our report include a number of recommendations aimed at going the next step. Most important is what should be at the top – to increase academic proficiency across all schools, all grade levels, and all students. Our superintendent of schools, Carol Johnson, agreed and immediately appointed a quality school advisors team consisting of community members and experts to advise the school district on ways to accelerate student achievement. Everyone inside and outside government now needs to embrace the goal of high quality schools for everyone and for every neighborhood. Student assignment is just that – an assignment process. School quality is really the ultimate issue, and we can’t claim victory in Boston until that is fulfilled.

Kelly Bates is an attorney and the Executive Director of the Access Strategies Fund.