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.


  1. Thanks for this post. I just want to mention that it is the BPS who proposed the 5 plans not the EAC, the EAC will make a recommendation on one of the 5 plans but they did not come up with the plans.

    1. You are absolutely correct! I apologize if there is any confusion. Thank you for pointing that out and posting!

  2. Hi, I was really interested in this post too. Thanks. One thing is that the final definition of quality that BPS came up with is a little different, and to me isn't so bad, except for the last one:

    Definition of a Quality School
    -- Academic excellence and student academic growth in all grades, across subgroups of race, ethnicity, English Language Learners and Students with disabilities
    -- Principal effectiveness and teacher excellence with caring teachers and staff
    -- Parent engagement and sense of community within and outside of the school
    -- Focus on the development of the whole child and the needs of all learners through arts, music, athletics, and program course offerings
    -- Safe and positive school climate including social and emotional support
    -- Adequate and appropriate facilities
    -- As close to home as possible (There was discussion about whether this belonged in the definition because though some people in the series of community meetings they were basing this on expressed this preference (those in Charlestown, Downtown, parts of North Dorchester, the North End, East Boston (in forums) and West Roxbury, those in Jamaica Plain, Roslindale, Mattapan and Roxbury were more likely to select “safety” over “close to home” when asked about choice preferences. It also doesn't seem an objective measure, as a school close to home isn't an objective measure as it changes from student to student.)


  3. Hi Megan,

    Thanks for your thoughtful comment. My understanding of the definition is that it is actually a draft at this time according to the EAC's information on their page here They do not have any meeting minutes which show that this was passed as the accepted definition and in fact John Mudd of Mass Advocates for Children wrote a memo regarding his concerns after attending the meeting of the Defining Quality Sub-committee on September 13th - so maybe they voted to pass the definition then? If you have more info on this, please share with myself and others, I am happy to admit when I am mistaken about something.

    I will also look to getting an answer on whether this definition is now approved or not too. :)



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