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Judge upholds Boston School Committee on alternative way to select students for exam schools this year

A federal judge ruled today that the Boston School Committee can proceed with selecting students for the city's three exam schools via a formula based on grade point average and Zip codes, rather than using GPAs and the traditional entrance exams.

US District Court Judge William Young said the new method, enacted due to the difficulties of giving multiple-choice tests in the middle of a pandemic, was not racially biased.

This Court finds and rules that the Plan is race-neutral, and that neither the factors used nor the goal of greater diversity qualify as a racial classification.

BPS had initially hoped to begin sending out acceptance letters to families today for Boston Latin School, Boston Latin Academy and the John D. O'Bryant School.

Young's ruling come in a suit brought by a group of White and Asian-American parents, mostly in West Roxbury, who contended the new method, in which the top 20% of students sent acceptance letters would be chosen citywide by GPA, with the rest based on their GPA by Zip code, starting with the city's poorest districts, was not discriminatory against their children.

Young noted the plan, approved by the School Committee in October, does not use explicit racial designations to select potential candidates for seats at the three schools and so is "facially race neutral," and that while the School Committee obviously considered the issue of racial equity in its deliberations, by itself that only recognizes the reality of Boston demographics, not an explicit decision to bias the selection process against Whites and Asian-Americans.

In fact, he criticized the parents' filings for their "cavalier interpretations" of the Fourteenth Amendment's equal-protection doctrine.

Without question, some statements raise cause for concern. The statement within the Equity Planning Tool, for example, about a hard pivot away from equality and towards equity simply has no support in the Equal Protection jurisprudence of the Supreme Court. Had this Plan unconstitutionally substituted equality of result for equality of opportunity along racial lines, this Court would not hesitate to strike it down.

But that is not what happened here.

He continued that, if anything, the School Committee took another tack: That while it did consider race, the plan it approved also accomplished another goal having nothing directly to do with race, to ensure that students get into the schools from all neighborhoods and economic classes.

Apparently well counseled, the School Committee considered diversity and developed its Plan within the permissible framework of the Supreme Court precedent. Despite its goal of greater "racial, socioeconomic and geographic diversity [better to reflect the diversity of] all students (K-12)," the Plan principally anchors itself to geographic diversity by equally apportioning seats to the City's zip codes according to the criterion of the zip code's percentage of the City's school-age children. ... The Plan similarly anchors itself to socioeconomic diversity by ordering the zip codes within each round by their median family income. The Plan is devoid, however, of any anchor to race.

Viewing everything through the prism of race is both myopic and endlessly divisive. Geographic and socioeconomic diversity are appropriate educational goals in their own right, regardless of race. ... They are not mere shibboleths or surrogates for racial balancing. Indeed, Boston's richly varied cultural heritage, see, e.g., Mark Peterson, The City-State of Boston (Princeton Univ. Press 2019), makes it all the more appropriate to draw the Exam Schools' entering class from every corner of the City. Likewise, putting the poorest neighborhoods first in the draw is a bold attempt to address America's caste system.

The School Committee's goal of a more racially representative student body, although more often discussed and analyzed, did not commandeer the Plan, and it in fact necessarily took a back seat to the Plan's other goals, which the Plan more aptly achieved. Consequently, any effect on the racial diversity of the Exam Schools is merely derivative of the Plan's effect on geographic and socioeconomic diversity -- not the reverse.

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"...the Plan the Court today upholds applies only to the 2021-2022 school year. All parties here concede there may be better race-neutral ways to handle Exam School admissions."

From the last page of the ruling; the emphasis on "only" is the judge's.

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The School Committee had made it clear that their decision was just for the upcoming school year when they voted on it in the fall.

Young's decision means the task force that came up with the plan, which the committee also voted to keep in place to look at more permanent changes to increasing diversity at the exam schools, will have to be even more careful with a possible permanent change.

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Would tell you that much like MBTA "temporary" service cuts (see: 1987 E-Arborway), no one really expects this to be just limited to one year. They'll always find some excuse to re-define temporary into permanent.

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There's now a group of parents with enough money to hire expensive lawyers to make sure they don't simply do that.

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Average Single Family House Sale Price - 02132 - $669,982.

Yes, I hope all the rich kids in JP get shafted by the poorer kids in West Roxbury.

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JP doesn't have that many single family homes and it does have a lot more low income residents. I don't see this change helping kids in Westie.

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I think the judge is overstating the brilliance of the temporary system. It has one huge flaw. After admitting the top 20% of students citywide, it gives preference by median income of zip code for the remaining seats. This gives a decisive advantage to the richer kids who live in poorer zip codes, and practically shuts out the poor kids living in rich zip codes (of which we have many, due to the presence of subsidized housing in every neighborhood). I hope they come up with something better as they try to reform admissions on a permanent basis.

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If the goal is to mitigate socioeconomic factors, then using family-level income may be a fairer approach than zip codes, since it solves the problem of poor students in richer neighborhoods and vice versa.

This would also be very practical to implement: up until several years ago, BPS used automated processes to collect family data from other government agencies (SNAP benefits, Medicaid, SSI, etc.) in determining student eligibility for free/reduced meals. There's no reason why those can't be used again in this context.

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I agree with you about income level. This is why I struggled with the zip code proposal. There are pockets of poverty throughout the city. To really address socioeconomic barriers, they should set aside a percentage of seats for children whose families income falls below a certain level. They could also have given automatic acceptance to the top 5% of students from each BPS middle school. This might have the effect of also diversifying our middle schools.

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If you watch the most recent Exam School Admissions Task force meeting (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UM3RGPb7na4) you'll see that they are hard at work to come up with a set of new criteria to increase black and brown student enrollment at BLS. Allocating seats according to household income, with lower incomes given preference, and the amount of school age children in a given zip code will be factors.

The tricky bit is that to properly figure out if this system is an improvement, we'd leave it in place for a few years and see how successful the new mix of kids is. I don't think that's going to happen though.

You're dead on though - big difference between living in the Stony Brook part of JP vs. the Moss Hill part in terms of getting into BLS now.

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Between the tenements and the new high-end units in Chinatown. Or between Washington-Beech and an owner-occupied Roslindale single-family home. Or between the Bunker Hill projects and the rest of Charlestown. The list only goes on...

That's why family-level income indicators should be used, assuming that BPS has true intentions about prioritizing those with fewer means.

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They are apartments. If they have any kids in the market rate units, they are going private school or when they turn 6, The Plymouth River School in Hingham.

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There is only one solution which I can think of that tackles the lack of opportunity for our kids.

All schools must be good schools.

There is no such thing as over-egging the pudding of school funding, there is no need to find ways to make school systems economically efficient. Just invest, a lot.

And I get it, parents seem to want the competition. But I'm tired of it, so much sound a fury directed at getting into an existing good school, instead of spending that time laser focused on making sure the nearest school is as excellent as any other. If we want socioeconomic impact, then we must raise the tide of all kid's prospects, no just the smart ones that test well.

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The only way to improve BPS schools is to revamp the system. It's a huge bureaucracy and heavily invested in an outmoded industrial one size fits educational model. It needs to be broken up into small independent schools that have the right mix of resources to meet the needs of their student population. The system also needs to dispense with grades and move to a mastery based system which allows students to progress at their own rate - getting 1-1 time with a teacher when they need it and working in a small group, or by themselves at other times. The district also need to embrace project based learning. This will leave time for most students to do internships and independent studies in their junior and senior year and will better positioned to enter the next phase of their development where ever that may be.

... instead of spending that time laser focused on making sure the nearest school is as excellent as any other.

You do know that no child in the city of Boston is guaranteed a seat at their nearest school, right? This is not like every other town where kids go to the school down the street. There may be a school on the next block but a Boston student may be not be allowed to go to that school and instead be bussed a couple neighborhoods away. Makes it a bit hard for parents to care what happens to that school a few miles away when they can't even get there for SPC or teacher meetings or to care about the school on the next block when their kids are not allowed to go there.

Many other urban school districts accept 80% based on grades and test scores and the remaining 20% on subjective criteria like teacher recommendations.

For a long time the exam schools have enabled white/upper class flight into highly segregated neighborhoods and even zip code manipulation. A section of JP near the Allandale Woods was incorporated into West Roxbury about five years ago because, at the time, that boosted property values. Parents of school-age kids might be regretting that change now.

Parents absolutely choose their address with their children in mind. If a change like this was made permanent a side effect might be a much less segregated city.

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For school integration,
One huge step for residential integration.

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aka: gentrification in minority neighborhoods.

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The School Committee basically just put the pedal to the floor on gentrification. Fort Hill may have just become one of the hottest locations in the city.

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The pool of families who are wealthy enough to pick their neighborhood based on likelihood of BLS acceptance but not wealthy enough to just send their kid to a better private school has got to be fairly small.

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Mattapan has tons of single family stock that's still pretty cheap. If I was a wealthy parent out to take no prisoners, that would be way easier than paying for a lawsuit....

where some random kids, who I've never met, go to high school. Suck it kids and F studying! hahahaha Mediocracy for all!

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Using zip codes is funny since their focus is mail delivery. Downtown zips like 02109 have a lot more businesses and a lot fewer people compared to west roxbury 02132.

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As noted in the post, the judge stated the assignments would be based on 'the zip code's percentage of the City's school-age children"

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I would be fine if the plan was based on income in zip codes of only families with 6 graders and/or 8th/9th graders. But to base the income portion of the plan on all families with children from 1 day old to 18 and 11 months is not fair and is only designed to rig the system. Why should an entire neighborhood's relative income determine anything for an individual child?

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Zip codes are a suboptimal choice. Census tracts would be better.

http://www.bostonplans.org/getattachment/2cbdb484-...

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How about a system that would have more students prepared if they wanted to apply to an exam school?

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Went to a catholic school instead.
What's different?

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