Saturday, September 29, 2012

4 Defining Quality Schools in Boston

Until we have a definition of "quality schools" that is accepted by the majority, how can we accurately evaluate the proposals made by Boston Public Schools? The consensus is that not all BPS schools are considered "quality schools", so who are the winners and who is going to end up getting the short-end of the stick once a model is accepted and passed by the school committee? 

After further perusal of the models proposed by the Boston Public Schools' to the External Advisory Committee (EAC), there are many unanswered questions that need clarification. Many of them have been raised on Facebook, email lists and through conversations, hopefully we will get answers to them soon.

A few issues many of us are encountering while trying to evaluate the proposed models are:
  • "walk zone" in the proposed models is not clearly explained and many of us have heard that there will be changes to what constitutes the walk zones once a new model is put in place
  • "grandfathering" of students in current schools is still up for discussion, so in effect, all of our students could be changing schools once a model is accepted! 
Both of the above concerns need to be addressed immediately to help families and community members understand exactly what they are evaluating and make decisions regarding how they would like to respond to the proposals.

In the meantime, the biggest problem remains: there is no way BPS can say that all children will receive a seat at a "quality school, close to home."  In fact, if "grandfathering" of current students is not approved, families who have children currently in what they consider a quality school could find their child moved to a school that is not as fortunate.

My list of major obstacles to achieving the goals set out by BPS:
  1. We need to define quality first.
  2. We need a commitment, in writing, that BPS and the City of Boston will commit to working with families to ensure that every school becomes a quality school. That means committing money, resources, possibly more personnel and working with groups who have already achieved some success with a project like this (like the RPAG with the Roslindale Pathway). 
  3. WE, as parents and partners, need to commit time and energy, to ensure that every school becomes a quality school. We also need to commit to seeing the process through to the end.
In order to define quality, we must first survey everyone - not just the 2300 who responded during the first round of the School Choice process, but EVERYONE who is currently a Boston Public School family, those who live in Boston and could potentially send a child to one of the schools as well as partners and organizations who have already invested in BPS. I give BPS credit, they did ask for input from anyone and everyone by making the surveys available online and having community meetings. Unfortunately, for something this important, there should have been a lot more marketing of both the survey and the meetings. Even now, there needs to be a greater push by BPS for this feedback part of the process:
  • Radio, TV, Newspapers, Web announcements, billboards, etc;
  • Fliers sent to every school in Boston; if possible, even the charter and parochial schools as well as hospitals/health centers, community centers and groups and other organizations that serve children in Boston;
  • ConnectEDs every week to all Boston residents (with several language translations) about taking part in either a meeting or the online survey;
  • Utilize the SPC/SSC groups of each of our schools to get the word out; have Team BPS Ambassadors get the word out; and
  • schedule more meetings if necessary!
I understand that this means spending money to do properly, but I am sure Mayor Menino and our City Council can find a way to fund this as it is so important to our city.

Now, BPS will say that they DID define quality, through the initial community meetings and online survey this past spring. I agree that we have a rough idea of what needs to go into the definition of "quality school" thanks to the participation of those who did respond to the first part of this process. I also believe that we can utilize the themes that came up with to further narrow down the definition:
  • Participants spoke in terms of “equality” and “democracy”:  A quality education “builds character” and helps children become “productive and good citizens”;
  • Participants see a quality education as: “preparing students” to “reach their full potential” and “succeed as an adult” in the world after his or her K-12 education. “serving the needs of all learners”;
  • Participants see a quality education as:“more than academics”, as “holistic, creative and hands-on”, promoting “critical thinking”;  “child/student-centered” focused on the “whole child”;
  • Participants believe that a quality education is: when “caring and excellent teachers” (who have “high expectations” for all learners) work with “strong school leaders” to form “relationships” with “involved parents” to foster a strong sense of “community” both “within and outside” of the school. Source: School Choice Report Spring 2012 updated August 2012
To see all of the data used by the EAC, please check out the External Advisory Committee Page which I am still wading through myself.

You will need to decide for yourself whether the above constitutes a "definition" of what a "quality school" is and I would love to hear your thoughts on this, so please comment or email me.

I for one believe the above is a good start, but still needs more work as it does not address how test scores, school report cards and facility environmental reports play into a families decision to send their child to a particular school. Physical issues are also important to what a "quality school" needs like safe and healthy environments and physical space, but also technology and materials (books for every student!). I could go on with this list, but I think you get the general idea.

I missed the meeting I wanted to attend on Thursday as the Irving's Back-to-School night took longer than expected, but plan on bringing up the above issues and suggestions as well as those I raised in my previous blogs at the next meeting I can attend. I hope to see you there!

ADDED 10/2/12:
The EAC DRAFT Quality Definition, per meeting materials on August 20, 2012
Revised Definition of Quality
Acknowledging that quality varies for each individual, the EAC Defining Quality and Equitable Access Subcommittee - with its members’ expertise, community feedback, and BPS research on quality - has drafted the following preliminary definition of a quality school to include:

  • Academic excellence and student academic growth in all grades, across all subgroups of race, ethnicity, English Language Learners and students with disabilities
  • Principal effectiveness and teacher excellence with caring teachers and school staff
  • Parent engagement and a sense of community within and outside of the school
  • Effective community partnerships
  • Focus on the development of the whole child and the needs of all learners, through arts, music, athletics, and program and course offerings
  • Safe and positive school climate including social and emotional support
  • Adequate and appropriate facilities
  • As close to home as possible
Special thanks to Megan for pointing this out to me, my brain must have been numb when I first went through that document, so am glad you saw it!  

I am still trying to get clarification on whether this definition of quality has been voted on and passed yet. So far, from other documents I have found to date it is still being referred to as a "draft" definition, but If I hear differently I will update this post.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

2 Quality Schools Close to Home?

On the home page of the website created for the School Choice project, Boston School Choice, BPS states:
Boston Public Schools is working to improve school choice and student assignment. Join us to create a system that supports great choices with quality schools, close to home.
On the Why the Time is Right? page, there are many good reasons stated for why a change should be made now. I would not argue that many of the reasons are valid, but there is one glaring omission to the reasons behind this push which is also the major reason why there is such a huge push to change this now: to lower the budget costs for busing students all over the city. BPS spends an exorbitant amount on busing, and not just for the students who actually attend the BPS schools either:
BPS also provides – and pays for – bus transportation for charter school, private school and parochial students who are not enrolled in the Boston Public Schools. State law requires BPS to drive charter school students to their schools even if they are outside their home zone, which is a much higher level of service than is provided to most students in BPS. Transportation costs are expected to rise by $2.6 million in FY13 and $20.3 million in FY14 as the number of charter school students in Boston increases.
I have no issue with cutting our transportation costs, as a BPS parent though my children qualified for busing, due to several horrible incidents with their busing, I transport them to and from school myself.  We do have to retain busing for students with disabilities of course and I suppose since the state law requires BPS to provide transportation for charter school students they will need to continue providing that also (at a higher service level than for their own students!)*.  Some questions that need to be answered by BPS:

  1. Why are we paying for transportation of parochial students?
  2. Many of our buses are not full, in fact some are practically empty, has BPS looked at expanding routes to include more students on each bus and therefor cut down the amount of buses used? 
  3. Can you show us a detailed break-down of the exact costs for all categories of students transported by BPS? 
    • District regular education students
    • District special education students
    • "In District Charter Schools" transportation costs
    • Non-BPS Charter School students with sub-categories for special and regular education students
    • Parochial school students
    • Other students
  4. Detailed list of number of students per route/trip, per bus should also be looked at.

No matter what we do, there will be those who go back to the Garrity decision of 1974 which desegregated Boston's schools and started busing here. The violence that ensued after forced busing was put in place still scars this city that I love and still scares many. Given Boston's racially diverse population and neighborhoods it is highly unlikely that we would see the schools segregated the way they were prior to the Garrity decision, but it is still a slim possibility in a couple of areas. 

However, there is a bigger segregation issue that may come into effect with the way BPS has changed recently and will continue to do so according to the proposals: our special education students could end up being the ones who are segregated despite the "Least Restrictive Environment" mandates within both state and federal special education laws. I will get into that again in a different post soon. 

The biggest problem I see with ALL the proposals as they stand are this: NONE of the proposals can ensure that every student receives a seat at a quality school close to home. 

Why is that? Simple: because not all schools in BPS are created equal and are not all "quality" schools, so therefor there can't possibly be a quality school within walking distance of EVERY CHILD in Boston.

Wasn't that what this whole process and these proposals were supposed to guarantee? Ut-oh.....

0 Boston Public Schools Assignment Models Proposed

I will be spending the next few days wading through the Proposals made by the School Assignment External Committee - who with the exception of 1 of the gajillion proposals broke up the Roslindale Pathway - which is the model for the elementary to middle school feeder pattern they are touting for ALL areas! Proving that most, with a few shining examples like Ms. Mary Tamer, of the members were not paying attention....


Be sure to take the Survey 

Take the survey - families of BPS students be sure to weigh in! Could your child potentially end up going to a BPS school? TAKE THE SURVEY! 

Going through this survey, and using the interactive maps, plus careful reading of the questions t

o be answered shows how unfair all these models could potentially be.... there will still be over-chosen schools - those that are the better schools within a zone - and still ensure that K-8 schools like Lyndon, Kilmer, etc have no availability at Middle School level for anyone not already in that school for elementary school; we will still have all the same issues we face: buildings falling apart, schools having to cut programs due to budgets being cut, some schools getting more while others right down the street get less - even when they have more students (so much for the new per pupil system of budgeting). And yes, the Turnaround schools have improved, but at what cost? Has anyone else noticed that other schools whose budgets were cut every year, may now be struggling - hopefully not as badly as becoming a Turnaround school, but let's face it, check the scores and see how even those popular "great" schools have been going downhill both in scores and other areas :/ And what about the schools that were in the middle, or not quite turnaround level? How are they fairing? More to add to my investigation into the proposals....anyone want to help????

Despite the cries you will hear, this is not about segregation - with the exception of ELL & special needs students POTENTIALLY (need further info) - it is all about getting rid of busing in BPS for general ed students. The goal is actually to cut busing with the exception of those students who need it due to a disability. I already know the arguments: "But Karen, that will definitely lead to segregation of the races"

Not as likely - and not in nearly the same way it did way back when there was a larger number of whites in the schools. DESE BPS Profile breakdown:

Boston Public School Enrollment by Race/Ethnicity (2011-12)
Race                                              % of District           % of State
African American                                   33.7                       8.3
Asian                                                    8.3                       5.7
Hispanic                                              43.0                       6.1
Native American                                     0.3                       0.2
White                                                  12.6                     67.0
Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander              0.1                       0.1
Multi-Race, Non-Hispanic                         1.9                       2.5

Still going over all of this and need some answers also because there are concerns besides the above, such as the fact that on the proposal page they state that ALL zone models will have a middle school feeder pattern, but in the survey they say it is a proposal - meaning that may not happen at all - so what becomes of the Roslindale Pathway?

And honestly, why am I beating myself up about all this? Honestly, my kids are past all this.... we only have one more school choice to go with BPS - high school, and that will not be impacted by these plans at all. But I do care, so I will keep digging....

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