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Boston Busing Up For Debate—Again

Guest blog post by Jaclyn Zubrzycki @jzubrzycki

In Boston, school officials are trying once again to change the city's current system for assigning students to schools toward one that would send more students to schools closer to home, the Boston Globe reports.

Boston's student assignment system has its origins in the controversial racial integration efforts begun in that city in the 1960s. This is the third time in a decade that the district has attempted to revise its assignment plans. Previous efforts have been met with a backlash from parents concerned that many low-income neighborhoods did not have access to quality schools. The new effort may face some of the same concerns.

The school district released five potential student-assignment plans last week, and a group of city councilors and lawmakers responded with its own on Wednesday. The board is set to vote for a plan this coming December, and a new plan would likely go into effect in 2014. The district has said it will likely grandfather in the new system in order to reduce disruption for students and families.

The New York Times puts the new assignment plan in the context of the city's decades-old desegregation efforts, which touched off violent protests in the 1960s and 1970s. But it says the current plan is not achieving integration due to a shift in the demographics of the students attending Boston's public schools. The district's white enrollment has plummeted over the past few decades.

Support for moving towards neighborhood schools seems to vary by neighborhood. There's still concern in the district that options would be fewer, or worse, for the city's more-disadvantaged students.

Balancing proximity, choice, and equity is always a challenge. These issues have come up time and time again in Boston: The debate outlined in 1998 or these articles from 2003 and 2004 sound familiar chords. And the upheaval in Wake County, N.C., that we covered last week ties into that district's busing plans—Wake County's current school board is planning to reverse a move towards neighborhood schools towards a more diversity-focused plan.

Likewise, racial segregation is still a concern in many of the nation's districts. A recent report from the University of California, Los Angeles' Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles said that segregation is, in fact, a growing concern. Would a neighborhood-based plan alter who chooses to stay in Boston's schools? Would it increase or reduce disparities among schools? Would it create the stronger sense of community the city's mayor seems to hope will come from neighborhood schools? We'll be sure to follow what happens in Boston.

(Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly attributed the alternate student-assignment plan. It was developed by city councilors and lawmakers.)


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