BPS Meets the Market

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Boston Public Schools are competing for students, whether you like it or not. In the early 1970s, the system had enrollment of over 90,000. This school year, they only have enrollment of just over 57,000. Just under a quarter of the school-aged children are educated outside the district – private, parochial, charter, METCO, special ed placement, or homeschooling.

If the BPS wants to stem this long-term trend, it needs to compete for students (and parents). And that message seems to have gotten through. For years, the BPS has had access to an incredible wealth of data about what parents want – what do parents pick as their most desirable schools in the dreaded school lottery?

They seem to tapping into this data now, based on the Superintendent’s proposal to relocate and expand certain popular and/or academically successful schools.

One shift that is getting some attention in the West Zone is the potential move of the Mission Hill K-8 school from its current location into the former Agassiz School in Jamaica Plain.

That raised some eyebrows, given that the Agassiz was just closed, citing underutilization. But it’s important to separate the structure from the former school. There was clearly a community that loved that school but the former Agassiz school was one of the lowest performing schools in the state, performing in the lowest 15% of schools in the state on the 3rd grade MCAS. It was also one of the least popular schools in the West Zone, according to lottery demand data. And it was sparsely populated relative to other schools. Closing it made sense.

Allowing the building to be reused to allow a smaller, but currently more successful and popular school to grow also makes sense. (Although, it appears there are still some unresolved environmental issues that need to be addressed. And let’s not let commandos use school buildings for practice ever again.)

The BPS faces multiple challenges – underutilized capacity in some places, excess demand for popular schools, and bricks-and-mortar assets that aren’t moving. It is painful and difficult to close some schools and uproot others, but it’s exactly what the BPS needs to do if it wants to compete for students.

Crossposted at Boston Daily.