100% tiered exam school admissions policy back on the table, per Boston Public Schools

Boston education advocates are pushing for an exam school admissions policy that ranks students by socioeconomic tiers, a plan that is now back up for consideration after a task force had abruptly abandoned it last week.

The task force convened by Boston Public Schools had agreed upon a new admissions policy recommendation for the city’s three elite exam schools under which 100% of invitations would be allocated based on a socioeconomic tiers.

However, the task force switched the recommendation at the last minute to a split of 80% tiers and 20% citywide straight rank of the best applicants, citing “political pressure.” The change came much to the dismay of some members and the community.

During a Wednesday night listening session, BPS Superintendent Brenda Cassellius presented both plans, effectively putting the task force’s initial recommendation back on the table.

A Boston Public Schools spokesman confirmed that the 100% plan is back up for consideration, but could not yet say which recommendation Cassellius will present before the school committee on July 14, which is when members will take a vote.

Cassellius’ consideration sparked hope in some BPS parents.

“My hope is that the school board will adopt the 100% (policy) so that it further eliminates the chance for moneyed folks and folks of privilege to game the system,” said Elena Belle White, a parent of two BPS students.

The switch from the initial task force recommendation had prompted considerable friction in the Boston schools community.

BPS parent and teacher Sung-Joon Pai, created an online petition to “Keep It 100.”

The petition said city councilors were behind the sudden change, and specifically names Councilor Matt O’Malley and the Boston Latin School Association.

“It’s the kind of thing people get away with when nobody’s paying attention. I just think it’s gross,” Pai told the Herald. His petition received nearly 900 signatures by Thursday night.

O’Malley denied having intervened in the task force’s deliberations. He told the Herald, “It’s not as though this was some behind the scenes arm-twisting.”

O’Malley did say he supports the 80/20 plan.

Asked about interference with the task force, Peter Kelly, president of the Boston Latin School Association said in a statement, “The BLSA greatly respects the work of the Exam School Admissions Task Force and the independent process the task force employed in reaching an outcome that achieves the multiple objectives within its charge.”

Task force co-chair Tanisha Sullivan declined to speak at length, but said the original switch from the 100% plan to an 80/20 split was “deeply troubling” for many members.

City councilors Julia Mejia, Ricardo Arroyo and Michelle Wu support the 100% plan.

Jess Madden-Fuoco, a BPS teacher and parent, said, “It feels like this week that the focus really needs to be on getting back to the task force’s hoped-for proposal, which was the 100% by socioeconomic tiers.”

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