The problem that never went away, integration in BPS

I was speaking to a neighbor of mine about the time I was enrolling my son in Boston Public Schools. I asked what she was planning on doing with her daughter of the same age, and she said that she would “never” enroll her child in BPS. There is collective resentment against the school system about busing even though that violent chapter of the city’s history is over 20 years old

I was thinking about her comment because This American Life recently had a podcast on school integration. It’s an amazing episode and very hard to listen to because the racism in the story is incredibly raw.

Integration is the one solution that has proven to help close the achievement gap. In fact, at the height of integration in 1988, the achievement gap was halved.

BPS has been moving away from integration and busing and moving towards neighborhood schools. From 1988 to 2014, BPS used a “zone” system with the city cut up into 3 zones. It was a compromise between those who wanted full integration and those who wanted neighborhood schools.

Boston is a highly segregated city, and certain areas of the city have a tendency to get the mayor’s ear. Many of the most desired schools were located in West Roxbury, a historically white area of the city. Before Menino left office, he decided to reformulate the assignment process. The formula now being used is not easy to explain. It was created by a gentleman at MIT, and it is designed to get kids into the nearest school but still insure that families have “access” (note: not assignment) to a quality school.

Since Boston is such a segregated city, going to school closer to home means less integrated school schools. There is a lot of talk in our city about closing the achievement gap. What politicians mean by that is usually opening more charters even though its been shown that charters contribute to segregation.

I believe city and school officials are sincere in their desire to close the achievement gap but any serious discussion would have to look at school diversity. It’s very hard to imagine any politician willing to reopen that painful chapter of our city’s history.

My idea to desegregate the schools is to use the complexity of the current system to your advantage. Every year, just slowly rejigger the formula so that families would be considered for an increasing “circle” of schools each year. No big pronouncements. Just quietly open up more and more of the city to integration.

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