What We Are Hearing

Note: The Boston Public Schools recently launched a new website, so some of the links below no longer work. If that’s the case, you can still access all the EAC and School Choice files by following this link.

Our community process is exploring issues of equityschool quality and the current choice process so we can develop a plan that helps improve our school system on all three fronts. Families define quality in many different ways, but across the city we are hearing a clear call for schools that meet the needs of all learners and help all students meet their full potential.

The summaries below outline what we’ve heard:

Additional Background

This spring and summer BPS conducted Phases I and II of its three-phase community engagement process to hear what people value about today’s student assignment system and talk about ways we could improve it. Participants identified equity as a fair distribution of types of choices and equal access, rather than as a set number of choices. Families also focused on quality: strong academics, a safe and welcoming culture, and proximity to home emerged as key elements that help a family decide whether to enroll in a school.

Families also expressed frustration with the current school choice system. Some said it was too complicated and required too much time to research options with no certainty of results; others believe it is difficult to navigate, even if it does ultimately deliver a top choice or a different school that proves to be a great option.

On September 24, BPS presented five model options to the External Advisory Committee on School Choice and began a new community engagement process to inform the public on the possibilities and hear feedback. BPS held the first of 14 community meetings on September 27 and posted descriptive data, presentations, interactive maps, raw data, quality indicators and a survey on this website.

As of October 22 we have received feedback from approximately 1,850 people during this round of engagement, nearly evenly distributed between community meetings (957 participants) and the online survey (896 completed surveys).

Click here to download the full 164-page report, which includes the results of in-person and on-line surveys, conversations and individual emails and written comments. BPS will update this report in early November to reflect additional feedback. You can let us know what you think about the proposals by filling out the online survey (available in eight languages) or by sending an email to choice@bostonpublicschools.org.

Key takeaways:

  • 77% of participants who attended a community meeting currently have a child in BPS, while 59% of on-line respondents do.
  • About 70% of participants in community meetings and almost 80% of online respondents indicate they are “very satisfied” or “satisfied” with the school their child attends.
  • In meetings and online, respondents tended to see more quality choices for their own families under the various models than they perceived families in other neighborhoods would have under a new system.
  • Participants asked many questions about the District’s efforts to improve school quality across the city and specifically in schools that are showing lower academic growth and overall performance.This presented an opportunity to discuss the successful Turnaround School work in 11 schools and the District’s new focus on High Support Schools, where we are using successful strategies from our Turnaround efforts to improve quality in 21 schools that are showing less growth and overall performance than we’d like.
  • Participants urged BPS to allow current students to remain in their schools even if they are no longer in their home zone under a new plan. Many also raised questions about whether siblings, who are not currently enrolled, would be allowed to apply and use sibling preference to enroll in an out-of-zone school in the future.
  • Participants strongly value walk zones and prefer to keep the existing policy that allows students to cross a zone boundary line to enroll in a school that is one mile or less from their home.
  • Families of English Language Learners tend to support the ELL overlay proposal, especially after learning BPS proposes to add at least four dual language programs throughout the city and supports an expansion of heritage programs.
  • Families of students with disabilities tend to support the SPED overlay proposal, especially after learning that BPS proposes 11 new inclusive schools for the 2014-15 school year and another 12-15 in the following year.
  • Two external analyses have found the current system does not balance quality across zones for all families. One, from the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, finds that most of the BPS proposals increase access to quality for Black and Latino students when compared to the current system, if students have equitable attendance at the higher-quality schools in their new zone.

BPS has worked to answer questions and incorporate this feedback into our community meetings and presentations to the External Advisory Committee. Superintendent Johnson has announced that any current student will be allowed to remain in their school under any new plan and that BPS would continue to offer walk zones under any new zone-based plan, just as today. Walk zones would remain as a one-mile straight line distance from a home to a school, and would still apply even if it crossed a zone boundary line. You can learn more on our FAQ page. BPS has also presented this report to the External Advisory Committee on School Choice, and members will use this feedback to guide their process moving forward.

We are working to respond to what families have asked us to improve about our schools and school assignment system. Here is what more than 2,300 members of the community let us know during the spring and summer (download the August update here):


Respondents urged BPS to ensure all children have access to the same types of choices and opportunities for quality schools. Participants identified equity as a fair distribution of types of choices and equal access, rather than as a set number of choices.

School quality

We wanted to know more about what families meant when they said they want a “quality” school, so we asked participants to think about five schools near where they live.

  • Strong academics, a safe environment/welcoming culture, and proximity to home emerged as key elements that help a family decide whether to enroll a child in a particular school.
  • In our forums, many respondents said they did not know enough about the five schools near where they live and asked for more information about them.
  • When given the opportunity to think about the five schools close to home, respondents (both in person and on-line) listed twice as many schools they would choose as they would not choose.

The current choice process

Families expressed frustration with the current choice system for many different reasons. Some believe it is too complicated and requires too much time to research options with no certainty of results. Others believe it is difficult to navigate, even if it does ultimately deliver a family’s top choice for a school, or a different school that proves to be a great option.

  • Priorities in the current system, such as sibling preference and walk zone preference, remain popular.
  • Participants from Charlestown, Downtown, parts of North Dorchester, the North End, East Boston (in forums) and West Roxbury tended to ask for the ability to choose a school in their neighborhood. In Jamaica Plain, Roslindale, Mattapan and Roxbury, participants were more likely to select “safety” over “close to home” when asked about choice preferences.
  • Families defined “safety” in different ways: Some had concerns about safety on the school bus, or did not want their small children to ride a school bus. Others were worried about bullying, or raised questions about the neighborhood a school is in.
  • Parents of current BPS students tended to prioritize school culture/safety over proximity; people who do not currently have children in a BPS school (such as parents of very young children) tended to prioritize proximity to home over everything else.
  • In our community forums, participants – especially parents of current students — let us know that the current system is confusing. BPS staff spent time answering questions and clarifying how it works so we could have an informed discussion about how to improve it.