Friday, October 12, 2012

0 The Quality Choice Plan Analysis & Questions Part 2

For the first part of this series, please please go to October 2012.
Please note that I have sent the questions I am outlining in these articles to all six of the politicians who proposed the Quality Choice plan. To date (email sent on Monday, October 8, 2012; today is Thursday, October 11, 2012) I have received no response to these questions. 

Many families think the Quality Choice Plan offered by Councilor John Connolly et al is the answer to Boston Public Schools assignment issues, but is it really? This is a continuation of my in-depth analysis and questions about the proposal.

Throughout the Quality Choice plan, there are sections where it states "BPS must commit to..." or "...requires BPS..." which leads to the following questions (not answered through the FAQ on the plan's website):
  • What exactly does "must commit to" and "requires" really mean?
    • Does "must commit" and "requires" mean BPS only has to say “yes, we will do that” or are these “must commit to(s)” to be accomplished by the deadline you are giving (most in September 2014)?
    • If BPS only needs to agree to the promises you are asking for, what will you expect from them regarding timelines, detailed plans and deadlines for actually fulfilling these promises?
    • Who will oversee BPS regarding follow-through of these commitments and how will oversight be handled?
Knowing exactly what these terms mean to those who wrote them may help us further understand what is expected of BPS by the Quality Choice Plan.

The "Reforming Student Assignment" section has five pieces. In the first part of this series I reviewed the "grandfathering" and sibling preference questions I have and issues I predict under both pieces of the proposal, so am moving on to other sections of this section of the QC plan.

Under this plan, we are told that every child will be guaranteed a K-8 school or pathway. Is that truly feasible? Contrary to the claim in the QC plan, BPS committed to offering every student a K-8 pathway seat, not a K-8 school seat.

With a K-8 pathway, this promise may actually be feasible, but only if the "landing school" for the "feeders" is a stand-alone middle school. So far this HAS worked with the Roslindale Pathway, with the exception of two groups of children: 
  • we do not have the promised Autism strand so our Roslindale school students on the Autism spectrum must go elsewhere (we are working on this); and,
  • we can not get BPS enrollment to agree to additional AWC classrooms for 6th graders and only have 50 seats available (we had 13 on a wait-list for an AWC seat at the Irving this fall) so have lost students to other schools in BPS or parents take them out of BPS entirely. 
If we are going to go with the feeder model of K-8 pathways, then BPS needs to put any special ed strands within the "feeder" schools into the middle school component of that pathway so that ALL students of the pathway have the same ability to stay with peers from their elementary schools. This needs to be done without the fight is is taking us at the Irving to get our Autism strand added (we already have LD, AIP and Emotionally Impaired strands)! Otherwise, the pathway model excludes our special ed students which is directly in violation of the Least Restrictive Environment laws and regulations. 

Under the current assignment policy, seats for the K-8 schools are highly chosen and rarely does a family pull their child from that school, so there are few, if any openings, for any grade once the 1st grade seats are filled. This means there is no true availability for children who attend another school through 5th grade to have a seat at one of these K-8 schools even if it is promised. Additionally, if these K-8 schools have the AWC classes which is now true at 8 of the 22 AWC schools for 2012-2013, it is rare that any AWC seats are available for students from other schools. 

Additionally, many of these K-8 schools do not have any "excess" space available for expansion, so the promise of a seat for every student at a K-8 school is unrealistic. This sets up yet another "have" and "have-not" issue, which is one of the issues driving the current push for school assignment reform and families issues with the BPS proposals. 

We are also told that under the QC plan, every child will be guaranteed a kindergarten seat at one of the 4 schools closest to their home. In my review of the "grandfathering" and sibling preference in my first article I touched on how those pieces of this plan would impact the ability to fulfill this promise. 

Further issues with this promise are:
  • As a “neighborhood” for 4 schools can encompass hundreds of families, we would not have enough seats for all the students in that area – even allotting for families who chose citywide options;
  • Citywide options could create a similar scenario but citywide – so thousands of families vying for seats;
  • Leads to the same issues we see with current policies and the new BPS proposals:
    • Families with students in several schools
    • Families not happy with BPS schools so leave district
In addition to all the above, for those who want more choice in schools, the QC plan states:
Every child will be able to enter a lottery for seats at a network of citywide magnet schools.
Isn't the lottery issue part of the problem we are trying to rectify with new plans? Granted, there will always be some lottery because otherwise how do you fairly distribute the seats available, but won't this again set up similar issues to those currently causing problems in BPS? 

Of the 16 schools (19 actual - three are K-8) proposed for city-wide status:

One is a Level 1 school
One has insufficient data (new school)
Four are Level 2 schools
Three are Level 4 (turnaround) schools
Ten are Level 3 schools

Levels are 1-5, 1 best, 5 is worst:
Level 3 schools are among lowest performing 20% of schools
Level 4 schools are among lowest achieving and least improving schools
  1. As they stand now, and realizing that it takes several years to improve a school, why would parents chose one of these 16 schools? 
  2. Once these schools are designated Level 1 or 2 through improvement, wouldn't we then have the same issue seen now at the best schools in BPS with not enough seats for all who would like to attend?
Again, doesn't this create the same issues families have with the current system and the BPS proposals?

In the last section of the "Reforming Student Assignment" section the QC plan states that groups of 2-11 children will be able to apply as a group to under-selected schools anywhere in the city.
  • Why would parents do this?
  • What motivates them to pick an “under-selected” school?
  • Under-selected generally means under-performing , which is the current issue – parents are forced to accept a seat at such schools or take child out of BPS as it stands, what makes it different under this plan?
In my experience as a parent in BPS for 20+ years, most families don't find other parents who they may want to do something like this with until their child actually enters regular school as daycare, pre-school, etc do not offer the same type of "community building" that K-12 schools do. And, as my questions above indicate, it is amazing to think parents would chose to do such a thing, so this idea is perplexing to me and others I have spoken with online, in-person and at school assignment and school committee meetings. 

I keep hoping that I can finalize this series in a single post, unfortunately, because I do get into the nitty-gritty, it has not happened yet. However, the third installment is almost done, so it shall be up hopefully in the next day or so! 

As you can see, there are even more questions in addition to those I asked in the first article, some of which I already asked of the group who came up with this plan, others that are new which I will send on to them now, attached to my prior email since they are not responding so far.

If you have questions or know of further clarification that is available in writing on any of the above, please share it with me so I may also analyze that information as well as providing it to everyone else. :)

For Part 3 of this series, please see my article here.


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