Boston Parents Navigating New School Selection System


Parents in Boston are finding a new school choice system difficult to navigate. With the new system came changes, the biggest being registration that  aims to place students in school districts closer to home.

Senior Director of Welcome Services Denise Snyder recognizes that some parents were unprepared or confused over the new system, but says its implementation went better than anticipated. The system was approved last year after much debate and research, and it replaces an older system in which the city was divided into three zones to comply with court ordered desegregation. The system allowed parents to choose from two dozen schools.

Now a computer creates a list of schools for parents to choose from. The list is created from factors such as distance from a family’s home, school capacity and Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) performance.  Parents are guaranteed at least six school choices, with a minimum of four of those schools rated as a high or medium quality schools. Families in high populated neighborhoods may have more than a dozen options. Parents also can request that their child be allowed to attend a school that an older sibling attends.

Parents were notified of the changes through public outreach campaigns that included public service announcements, billboards and informational meetings across the city.

A top concern among parents was one that was expressed under the previous system —  a lottery determines whether a child gets a place at any of the requested schools. Failure to secure a seat often means parents have to submit a new set of choices for the next round of the lottery. Some parents, fed up with the uncertainty of the lottery, move out of the city.

Parent Hanh Tran felt the new system limited school choices too much. She had 14 school options but the list was narrowed when she wanted a school with a full-time nurse, a high priority due to her son’s asthma. She is hoping for the best, but says if she doesn’t get her first choice she will try again.

Kimida Torres found that her top choice school was not on her approved list. She thought the elimination of the assignment zones meant that parents could choose any school in the city. In reality, the algorithm limits choices to within a mile of a family’s home, and will only go further out if there are not enough highly rated schools or if there are no schools with enough seats.

She did not complain when she was informed her choice school was too far away. She simply went with her second choice. She says she has faith in the schools in Boston because they are “really good. You can’t complain.”

Overall Snyder says that parents seem to approve of the changes, and like Torres, are not really complaining when a favorite school is no longer an option.

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