Two problems, two fixes in controlled choice
There are two fatal flaws in the current controlled choice integration policy. The policy aims to balance our elementary schools by socioeconomic status, using free/reduced lunch and paid lunch categories to assign a balance to each school. As written, the band around the district average (45 percent free/reduced lunch) was to be +/-5 percent, but it has been held by the school committee at +/-10 percent. The first fatal flaw is that most schools are allowed to fill below the average without considering the fact that the fewer remaining schools with a balance above the district average will exceed the +10 percent policy goal. This is a math error in the policy that is made worse by the wider +/-10 percent band. It sounds like the administration is trying to prevent this flaw from segregating the new middle schools. One quick and easy fix would be to set policy to create a cap on the upper limit, say +8 percent, and only allow schools to fill below the average such that the upper cap will not be exceeded at the last schools to fully enroll.
The second flaw is that neighborhood preference is granted in the policy, but without any consideration of matching how many children have neighborhood preference for a given school compared with the number of seats available at the school. Also, the SES balance of children granted neighborhood preference for a given school is not considered. So, depending on where a child lives in Cambridge, she may or may not really have access to a local, integrated school. This may be a factor in families leaving Cambridge when their children become school age. Somewhat more work, but certainly a doable fix would be to create preference zones for each elementary school balanced by SES and such that every child has a good chance of enrolling in a local school. There are other possible solutions, but all improvements have been taken off the table.
My children benefit tremendously from the diversity of Cambridge students. I support integrated schools. The current policy does a great disservice when it asks parents, in the name of integration, to send their child on a bus across town to attend a school that is not integrated. It doesn’t have to be this way.
Michele Sprengnether, Cambridge Public Schools parent