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School Zones and Poverty
Detail: New school assignment zones likely to hurt poorest neighborhoods in Boston

A new assignment plan, which aims to save millions of dollars in fuel costs by shortening bus routes, would scrap three sprawling school assignment zones, in favor of five smaller ones in Boston. A Globe review of state test scores and compliance with federal standards has found that the plan would create a less equitable distribution of potentially failing schools.

Access to good-quality schools has been a concern particularly in two zones that contain the poorest neighborhoods in Roxbury and Dorchester. State officials consider just under 60 percent of the schools in these zones to be in need of major overhauls. By contrast, only one of the six schools in the newly established Allston-Brighton zone would require such drastic restructuring. Even when families in Roxbury and Dorchester have access to a good school nearby, some do not feel comfortable letting their children walk there because they are located in dangerous areas.

John Mudd, senior project director of Massachusetts Advocates for Children, a nonprofit that works on behalf of the city's disadvantaged students, considers this to be worrisome as there are not enough quality schools in the city.

The three-zone system was created two decades ago as a way to divide the schools serving students in preschool through Grade 8. Students were allowed to apply to attend any school within the zone. All high schools are open to students from across the city. Eventually the idea was to expand into nine zones as schools improved, providing students with good-quality classrooms closer to home. However that never happened. Earlier attempts to increase school zones were abandoned after many parents and advocates for disadvantaged children said too many poor neighborhoods would be stuck with substandard schools. The current assignment plan is prompted by escalating transportation costs where school leaders are confronted by a projected budget shortfall of more than $100 million next year.

The present analysis of the plan by the Globe is largely based on test scores, and does not take into account efforts at improvement that have not fully materialized, and some of those schools are popular among parents. At this point it is not clear when changes would go into effect if approved by the School Committee, or if students would have to change schools if they no longer lived in the correct zone or if the new borders would apply to only new students.
Source: Based on a story by James Vaznis, "New school zone plan could hurt poorest neighborhoods", The Boston Globe, February 25, 2009
Date: March 1 2009