We Need More Resources for Neighborhood Schools

In this three-part series, STG Senior Field Consultant Michael Contompasis reflects on Boston Public Schools’ many accomplishments as well as how, in retrospect, district leaders could have been bolder.

Part 3 of 3

In his state of the city this year, the mayor made his third attempt to change the student assignment system. Boston is spending $80 million a year on student transportation [the city is divided into three very large attendance zones, with total school choice within each.]. Even if they cut the transportation costs in half, it would allow the district to re-allocate needed resources to improve the quality of education across the district.

The legacy of the desegregation efforts of the ‘70s and ‘80s is that the school system relies on an outdated and costly assignment plan to address the unevenness of quality schools in the district. The reliance on a large transportation plan to address this issue drains valuable financial resources from the school system, resources that could better be utilized to improve all of the schools.

We should have pushed much harder to reform student assignment. We could have helped the community understand in the long run why it’s better to create strong community clusters of schools. Parents of younger children in particular want their children to be close to home for as long as possible.

An assignment plan that reduces transportation and reallocates the savings to the schools would go a long way to persuading parents that all the schools in the district are of high quality. Strong political will is necessary to accomplish this objective. The idea that changing the assignment zones is a ploy to re-segregate the system also needs to be openly discussed throughout the district .The reality is that all of Boston’s neighborhoods are more integrated than they were 30 years ago.

Implementing different assignment patterns by establishing clusters of schools or feeder patterns, while reducing the reliance on extensive transportation, will go a long way to further improve the quality of all of the schools, while still maintaining a firm commitment to equity and access for all.

Community-based clusters of schools, organized around a high school and its feeder middle and elementary schools, makes a lot of sense both politically and strategically.  Politically, parents want quality schools near where they live. Structurally, these mini-districts offer the best of both worlds— the coherence and scale of a larger system with the flexibility and manageability of charters.  It’s the kind of bold, innovative strategy that urban districts desperately need.

What do you think?  Join the conversation.

Previously: Parts 1 and 2