Friday, March 18, 2016

BPS Assignment and the Lottery

School Assignment Letter from Boston Public SchoolsIt is almost spring and Boston Public School (BPS) assignments were sent out, mere days before Daylight Savings Time cruelly stole an hour of our lives, adding to the sleep deprivation we already face as parents. If you "won" the lottery - that is found your child placed in one of your top choice schools - congratulations! At least you can sleep soundly for the next few months. If not, you just lost even more sleep as you somewhat irrationally stress about your child's entire future being determined by a lottery.

We lived through this last year for Kindergarten 1, referred to as K1, which is the BPS equivalent of preschool. And now because we applied for a transfer we are going through it again. BPS assignments dominate conversations with local parents these days. Everyone with a newborn baby through kindergarten age child wants to know about our experiences. So here is what we can tell you.

Our Lottery Story: Part 1, K1

Last year, when we entered the lottery for K1, we only selected three schools. The first two were top tier schools which means that children at these schools, on average, score the highest on state exams. The third school we chose happened to be close enough to us that even though it was Tier 3 (students score, on average, in the lower 25-50% on state exams), we thought it was worth considering. Since K1 education is not mandatory, we did not enter the lottery for other schools. Akka was assigned to the Tier 3 school, which is lucky, because she could have been denied an assignment at all, particularly given our choosiness.

Still we called the BPS Welcome Center to find out her wait list numbers for the other two schools to see if there was any hope of a better assignment. She was 76th on one wait list and 81st on another. The K1 school demand report from school year 2014-2015 showed that her assigned school had roughly one student seek entry for every one available seat. At our two first choice schools several students applied for each seat and given the open number of seats, we must have been near the end on both wait lists, with no chance at all of getting in.

Preschool Art Project Pizza
Pizza Art Pre-Pizza Making Field Trip Activity
Feeling hesitant about the cost of private preschool, given that we might just end up at this same public school the following year for kindergarten (K2), we decided to consider her assigned school. We spoke with parents of children at the school, attended the school's Open House, met the principal and assistant principal and decided we would give it a try. We knew we could enter the lottery again for K2, so it seemed like a time-limited trial. She started in September and immediately loved it. She spends most of her day learning through play and is lucky enough to have classes including gym, dance, music, yoga, and even STEAM (STEM + Arts) as a K1 student. She has had three field trips this year; one to the New England Aquarium, one where her class walked to a local grocery market to buy ingredients to make pizza and then actually made pizza at school, and one where the kids walked to the local library branch for a special music hour. She is excited to go to school every day and comes home talking about what she did and all of her classmates.

Still at our first choice schools, she would have a more competitive peer group, an extended learning day (her school does not have funding to provide as much in-class time which will matter more as she is older), and foreign language instruction. Additionally her friends that attend our first choice schools have impressive monthly field trips and other bonuses largely funded through parent council-run nonprofits that support those schools.

Our Lottery Story: Part 2, K2

So this year, we did what we thought was best and applied for transfer via the lottery to our two top choice schools again. Then the day before Daylight Savings Time, that envelope arrived in the mail. Although we can continue to apply for transfer each year, this was our last good chance until the sixth grade, for Akka to move into an arguably much better school. We opened the letter and this time, unlike last year, her continued assignment to her current school felt like a blow. Because it was the weekend, we had to wait until Monday to call the Welcome Center. This year her wait list numbers improved, 10th and 15th at each of our two first choice schools. Still this means roughly 20% of the assigned class would have to choose not to attend, for her to get a spot at one of these schools. This also means we will live in "BPS purgatory" waiting for a call that likely will never come, right up until December 2016 when the wait lists are erased.

More on Our Current School

Fortunately our involvement at our daughter's current school is somewhat distracting. Although we are new parents at the school, Ashley easily obtained a seat on the School Site Council - the governing body of the school that makes budgetary and hiring decisions - as she was one of the few parents to show up and participate. We are also active in the School Parent Council. The good news is that for parents like us who want to be involved there is plenty of opportunity. The bad news is being involved makes you realize how few parents are able to or want to be involved.

We are currently working with the school and other involved parents (there is indeed a group of very involved parents) to establish a 501(c)(3) fundraising body for the school via the School Parent Council. We are also working on grant applications. Although 40% of the student population at the school is from the local neighborhood, many of the local families we know send their children to private school or moved out to the suburbs before kindergarten. Much of the remaining local population that send their children to school here is disadvantaged. Additionally nearly 50% of students are bussed in from the city's most disadvantaged neighborhoods (Roxbury, Mattapan and Dorchester) and the remaining 10% are largely special needs students from other neighborhoods as this is a school with inclusion classrooms in each grade level. From speaking with a fifth grade teacher at the school with regard to a grant application, we learned that 4 of her 23 students have access to a computer and internet at home. This partially explains the School Parent Council's difficulty in reaching out to parents via email and also speaks volumes to how much this school needs families likes ours to stay - that is families who have the means to commit to fundraising and just participating at the school.

Our Truth

So there it all is; our thoughts about our school and about BPS and our experience with the BPS lottery. We are slightly stressed out and concerned, yet also determined to not let our worries and fears make our decisions about our children's education. We continue to remind ourselves about all the positives in our daughter's education this first year at her school and focus on what she is getting rather than dwelling on what she is missing out on from a top tier school that in many ways compares more similarly to private education than to even a wealthy suburban public education.

Our daughter's peers that have special needs, are learning English as their second language, or who do not have the stable home environment that we are able to provide - only remind us how many factors outside of education are involved in determining a child's future. We believe more than her formal education, it is what she receives at home that will guide her on her future path. Further we see the positive in her peer group; a group that can teach her compassion, a group that will help her understand what it means to struggle and overcome, and a group that will help her better understand herself and her own background.

BPS More Broadly

Of course BPS is a much larger and more complicated bear than any one school. Just this week two very interesting events pertaining to BPS occurred. First, the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) generated news and conversation throughout the city when it published its report highlighting income inequality among Boston residents. A major finding of the report was the connection between education and income.

Secondly, Mayor Walsh's 2017 budget with its $50 million shortfall of fully funding BPS has continued to be hotly contested before the BPS budget is finalized next week. In the face of a report linking educational attainment and income inequality among Boston residents, it seems willfully and morally wrong to under-fund BPS when there are such clear and visible inequities in the length of school day and curriculum provided between K-8 schools. Parents, students, and teachers are all advocating. It is also important that prospective parents let Mayor Walsh and their City Councilors who determine the City of Boston's budget know they are concerned too, and it is not too late. This coming Wednesday, March 23rd the Boston School Committee will need to approve a balanced budget that will be voted on by the City Council and then go to Mayor Walsh for his signature.


Considering BPS? Find out what schools you are eligible for at Discover BPS or read about all BPS schools for 2016 on the Discover BPS K-8 Flyer. Learning about and entering the lottery costs you nothing.

If you are already a parent or even just considering that you may someday be a BPS parent, consider learning more about the following ways to engage with BPS.

  1. Learn more about School Parent and Site Councils.
  2. Learn more about Citywide Parent Council.
  3. Learn more about the BPS School Committee.
  4. Learn more about the Boston City Council Education Committee.

Also check out BPS Parent Blogs (see some of them under Resources on our sidebar). Or have a question you think we can answer? Feel free to ask.


  1. I loved reading this entry. Very informative and really got me thunking about how important it is for more "advantaged" families like ours to make an effort as you are doing to commit to the public school system, if we want to help close the divide that seems to keep growing. By continuing to invest time and energy to be involved with the school and with fundraising, as well as the very effect of your child being among the student body is what is needed to help raise rankings, and more so improve the quality of education administered there. I wish more parents in similar situations would choose BPS, though I can't pretend I don't understand why they don't --as a "run for the suburbs" family myself!!


    1. S, thanks for reading! Also "running for the suburbs", isn't necessarily school-driven. For your family (and many others) commute, the size of house you can buy, outdoor space, proximity to family, etc. all play a role as well as school system for where you choose to live so of course we wouldn't judge anyone who moves out of the city. On the flip side, for us, more family time (because of no commute to the city) and the possibility of testing into exam schools is a huge draw to stay.


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