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Community Voices: Confront BPS student assignment policy

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Last week’s Banner article entitled, “Council Candidates Push Anti-Busing Agenda” focuses on “busing” and misses the real issue — the BPS student assignment lottery needs serious retooling in order to work for all children in every neighborhood.  By using a partial quote of mine and presenting a factual error, the reporter framed the debate almost exclusively on a historical divide along strict racial lines.

 This kind of dialogue gets in the way of the intentions of my generation of Bostonians of all races to come together to work to create a school system that offers every child a quality education in a top performing school.

This article struck a very personal chord for me that underscores my commitment to educational excellence. I grew up in Roslindale in the 1970s. My father, a state representative, bucked the House leadership and voted for the creation of the first “majority-minority” state Senate seat. My mother grew up in Virginia after Brown v. Board of Education, witnessed horrific resistance to integration, and attended Catholic schools, the only integrated schools in the state.  

Prayer and politics dominated our family dinners and my parents held out civil rights as sacred values that we were duty-bound to champion. We knew we were getting the best of Boston while many kids were not. The tension between Boston’s reality and these values led me to teaching and then to run for the City Council. I work for a Boston where every child, including my own two, will grow up in a culture of opportunity different from the Boston of my childhood.

The student assignment lottery, though conceived with good intentions, undermines that goal. The lottery reinforces a system of winners and losers, removing the impetus to build quality schools citywide.

A parent once said to me, “I feel like BPS always makes me choose between what is best for my child and what is best for every child.”

That dynamic plays out everywhere without regard for race or neighborhood, and pushes families of all races to make choices outside of BPS, from private schools to METCO, to ensure a quality education for their children.  

For every child in West Roxbury who gets a seat in a nearby school, there are at least two who do not.  For every child in Roxbury or Dorchester who gets a seat in a highly chosen school, there are at least three in underperforming schools. Who is winning and who is losing here? Is there really parental choice when you end up at a school you did not choose?  The policy fosters division that pits neighbor against neighbor and neighborhood against neighborhood.  In the long run, Boston loses.

There are no easy solutions. That is why I have consistently called for citywide consensus building to reform a failed policy. This should start with all sides listening to today’s parents. I invite parents in every neighborhood to join me in dialogue to build consensus so that together we can break a vicious cycle and create an assignment policy that will work for every child.

John Connolly is a Boston City Councilor At-Large and chair of the City Council’s Committee on Education.