Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Boston school choice: waiting lists

The Boston Globe looks at waiting lists for Boston Public Schools. Some wait lists don't move until after the first week of classes, when the fact that some assigned students have left the school district can be verified.

CLASSES IN SESSION; THOUSANDS IN LIMBO: Parents frustrated as children languish on waiting lists

"School opened with almost 10,000 students - nearly 18 percent of the student body - still on waiting lists, trying to get into different schools than they were assigned. Some, like Mayes’s son, were held up because they came late to the process. Others applied on time but were disappointed by their assignments and hoping for better placements.

"Most would never get called. Those who did might wait days or weeks for an opening. Some might not be notified of vacancies until November, forcing families to make agonizing decisions about pulling children out of classrooms they have grown used to.

"Boston’s school lottery is a balancing act. Designed to give every family a chance at getting into a high-achieving school, the lottery lets parents request seats in schools outside their neighborhoods. The intent is to spread opportunity in a city with uneven schools and keep options open for parents, but the unintended consequence, too often, is disruption. Since school started in September, about 750 students moved off waiting lists and into different schools, leaving altered class lists and new vacancies to be filled behind them.

"Last-minute changes are inevitable in a city with a highly mobile population, where hundreds of students move during the summer, but Boston’s assignment system adds - and indeed fosters - additional layers of delay and uncertainty.

"Families who were asked to choose a school last winter or spring were never forced to commit to one. Students could show up - or not - in September. If they didn’t, the district left their seats open for eight school days before releasing the spots to wait-listed students, tying up thousands of seats for the first two weeks of school. The number of no-shows, eight days into this school year, was 2,810.
"Why does a school district that starts the assignment process so early not finish it before school starts? Administrators say they can’t start assignments until late in the summer because they have to wait for 3,000 students to finish summer school in August to find out who will actually be promoted and who will have to repeat a grade. The school district’s hotline, which fielded 15,000 calls in five weeks, only has a temporary staff of a dozen and only opened in late August.

When folks get back from their vacations and hotline staff starts making the phone calls, parents are home, they’ve made decisions, it works,’’ said Jerry Burrell, director of enrollment and planning and support. “Any earlier, it just doesn’t work.’’

Here is the Boston Public Schools student assignment policy for waitlists:

  • BPS will create wait lists for all schools where there are more applicants than available seats for a particular grade.
  • A student’s place on the wait list is based on the registration period when the student applied, sibling priority, the school choices selected on the application, and a random number.
  • No student will have a lower place on a wait list than any student who applied in a later registration round, regardless of priorities. However, within each period, a student’s place on the wait list can change if his/her priorities change, which may affect the placement of other students on the wait list. 
  • Families registering for any grade, K0 through 12, may be placed on up to three wait lists. Families who are assigned to their second choice school may be on the wait list for their first choice school. Families assigned to their third choice school may be placed on the wait lists for their first and second choice schools.  And families assigned to their fourth choice school or higher, or who are unassigned (kindergarten only) or administratively assigned (see below), may be on wait lists for their top three choices.
  • Families may request that a student be added to any wait list (to a school for which they are eligible to apply). However, students may not occupy more than the number of wait lists prescribed above. Students already on the maximum number of wait lists must go off one list in order to be added to another.
  • Any student who remains a Boston resident may remain on a wait list after the beginning of the school year, regardless of whether or not the student attends the Boston Public Schools.
  • All wait lists expire at the end of the second marking period (January of the following year).
Coming off a wait list
When seats become available, students will be assigned from wait lists in the following order, beginning with students who applied in the earliest rounds:
If the school has not reached its 50% walk zone target, students are assigned from wait lists in this order:
1. Students with sibling + walk zone priority
2. Students with sibling priority
3. Students with walk zone priority
4. Students with no priorities
If the school has reached its 50% walk zone target, students are assigned in this order:
1. Students with sibling priority (no additional priority for walk zone)
2. All other students (no walk zone)
The random numbers assigned to families during registration will be used as "tiebreakers" among students with the same priorities.
From mid-March through mid-August, as seats become available, children are automatically moved off the wait list into their chosen school. Families receive notification about their new school assignment with a letter sent in a mail.
For kindergarteners after mid-August, if a space becomes available at a school with a wait list, families on the wait lists are contacted in order. Families have 24 hours to decide if they want to attend the school. Families are contacted only at the phone numbers they listed on their registration form. This process continues into the school year through January as seats become available.
For students in grades 1 through 12, if a space becomes available at a school with a wait list, families on the wait list are contacted from mid-August through the end of September. After September, families are only contacted about transferring schools where they are wait-listed after marking periods (mid to late November and late January). Families have 24 hours to decide if they want to attend the school and families are contacted only at the phone numbers they have listed on their registration form.
All lists, regardless of grade, expire at the end of the second marking period (January of the following year)."

No comments: