Boston Parents Navigating New School Assignment Policies

Under the Boston Public Schools’ new assignment policy, parents of school-aged children in Boston begin the process of selecting schools this week.

The school department will generate a list of at least six choices for each family based on their home address with a bias toward local schools under the new system. At least two schools in the BPS Tier 1 or Tier 2 category, the top two levels of school performance, will be included in the new plan.

egistering their child in January is the best way for parents to obtain a seat in the school of their choice. According to BPS Spokesman Brian Ballou, the school department is in the midst of an aggressive effort to publicize the enrollment process, using letters to parents, radio spots and billboard ads.

“Our welcome centers are open for parents to come in and ask about the registration process,” he said.

Securing a placement in a school that’s not in the bottom two tiers of the school department’s ranking system remains a challenge for many parents of prospective BPS children: Tier 3, where more than 50% of the students scored lower than proficient on the MCAS exam, or Tier 4, where fewer than 25% scored proficient.

According to advocates, parents living in low-income neighborhoods where schools in the bottom two tiers are concentrated, may now have reduced chances of placing their children in higher-performing schools because of the new system’s bias toward placing students in schools close their home address. Parents can check the options available to their children by adding in their addresses using the DiscoverBPS website, but as noted by the executive director of the Boston Parent Organizing Project, Myriam Ortiz, access is never guaranteed.

“When you see a school among your choices, it doesn’t mean you’re going to get a seat there,” she says. “It doesn’t mean there are seats available. It just means you can apply.”

In addition, the chances for applicants in lower-income neighborhoods to obtain seats in top-tier schools may be even slimmer than they appear with the increased emphasis on proximity added into the school choice equation. BPS is working to erase the disparities in educational opportunities between neighborhoods.

“We’re trying to increase the number of higher level schools everywhere,” he said. “That’s something that’s going to happen over time.”

Advocates believe that one reason children in lower-income neighborhoods are concentrated in low-performing schools is because fewer parents in lower-income neighborhoods actually participate in the school lottery system. The department makes what is called an administrative assignment, usually sending the child to the closest school with an available seat, if parents do not select a school. According to Yawu Miller of The Bay State Banner, parents who participate in the school assignment process select schools with the greatest number of available seats, and therefore tend to be among the lowest-performing schools in the system.

“If you’re not on top of it, you’re going to be assigned to an underperforming school,” said Kim Janey, a senior project director at Mass Advocates for Children.