While school officials and parents here were debating how to assign students to Boston’s public schools, a lanky young man was quietly observing their public proceedings.
He quickly saw the Rubik’s Cube-like puzzle: How could the school system design a plan that would send children to a good school, close to their homes — in a city that had too few good schools?* And could that plan also ensure that students from poor neighborhoods had the same chance of attending good schools as those from more affluent neighborhoods?
*Note, I don't actually believe we have "too few" good schools in our district but in the name of fairness, this would really close that gap.
Over the last year, a 27-member advisory committee pored over its options and weighed competing proposals, but became hopelessly tangled up as it considered proposals that created more zones to fix the inequality.
The young man, Peng Shi, a 24-year-old doctoral student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, began asking questions and talking to parents. Then he made a suggestion: why not drop the idea of zones altogether?
Using choices that the parents had made in the past, Mr. Shi built computer simulations, did demand modeling and generated hundreds of thousands of files and graphs.
It went through several iterations. The final one gives families a list of at least six schools starting with the two closest high-quality schools, then the next two closest of at least medium quality.
That it took a dispassionate outsider with coding skills but no political agenda to formulate the model is a measure of the complexities facing urban school districts today. Many such districts, like Boston’s, are plagued by inequities, with too few good schools and children mostly of color trapped in low-performing schools.
“He started saying things like, ‘What I’m hearing is, parents want close to home but they really care about quality,’” Ms. Wolf said. “He said, ‘I’m working on something to try to meet those two goals.’ He didn’t have a political agenda.”
What's interesting is that this would not mean the Board would have to overhaul the whole "neighborhood" plan, just tweak it.
And boy would it really send the charter school idea into a spin.
Wonder if there is anything here we could learn from or use?