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Boston school-choice recommendations delayed

Superintendant Carol R. Johnson wants a full analysis.Dina Rudick/Globe Staf/Globe Staff

An advisory committee racing to meet a deadline on recommending changes to the way ­Boston assigns students to schools will have until at least January to cast a vote, the mayor's office ­announced Thursday.

Mayor Thomas M. Menino ­decided that more time was necessary so researchers from MIT and Harvard University can complete what the city calls groundbreaking research intended to predict how parents and students will choose schools under several proposals to change the assignment process.

"We have an opportunity to generate an advanced analysis that will allow us to better predict how families would make choices," Superintendent Carol R. Johnson said in a statement. "This is something we have never been able to do before, and we want to give the experts time to do their work well."


Last month, the city gave the committee a two-week extension. Under the new timeline, the researchers are slated to present their findings in mid-January to the advisory committee, which was appointed by Menino earlier this year to vet any changes.

The advisory committee will then resume deliberations and community outreach before making final recommendations. The new timeline sets no deadline for when the committee would vote on the recommendations, which would then be sent to the School Committee for a final vote.

But the mayor's office ­emphasized that any changes would be approved in time for a fall 2014 implementation.

The revised timeline means it is unlikely that the committee will have approved a new plan by the time Menino delivers his state of the city speech in January.

The advisory committee learned in November that the researchers could do simulations of the student-assignment models by using data based on the choices Boston parents have made in recent years.

Heading up the research is Parag Pathak, director of the School Effectiveness and Inequality Initiative at MIT, and experts at Harvard University's Rappaport Institute for Greater Boston. They are working in tandem with Boston School ­Department data specialists.


Currently the city is divided into three geographic zones. The advisory committee, which met Thursday night, is looking at maps that would divide the city into six or 23 zones.

The committee is also considering proposals that call for no zones. One would allow families to apply to schools within a certain distance of their home while providing options farther away. Another proposal would simply assign students to the closest school to their home with available seats.

"I commend the committee for taking more time to get it right,'' said Kim Janey of the Massachusetts Advocates for Children.

"I hope you use that additional time to put quality back on the table and talk about how quality will change," said ­Barbara Fields of the Black ­Educators Alliance of Massachusetts. "If you don't, you will reshuffle students around and some will have access to quality and some won't. For parents, all they want is for their children to be in quality schools."

The advisory committee leaders — Hardin Coleman, Boston University School of ­Education dean, and Helen Dájer, a Boston parent and former School Committee member — also expressed gratitude for the timeline extension.

"This will be a data-driven decision. ... It's a complicated, difficult task," said Coleman.

James Vaznis can be reached at jvaznis@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter@globevaznis.