AT HIS State of the City address last January, Mayor Menino pledged that “one year from now Boston will have adopted a radically different student plan — one that puts a priority on children attending schools closer to their homes.’’ It’s now clear that Menino won’t meet that deadline, but people in the city shouldn’t be too concerned about it. On this issue, an extra month or two won’t matter. It’s more important to get it right.
The current student-assignment plan buses children across three wide geographic zones at great expense with little in the way of educational payoff. The mayor’s external advisory committee, charged with recommending a new plan, continues to plod through data in an effort to craft a solution that recognizes the stability of neighborhood schools while respecting some parents’ concerns that their children could be trapped in underperforming classrooms. The committee could have taken the easy way out and limited its analysis to one of the five alternative plans created by the school department. But members, to their credit, are paying careful attention to outside recommendations of plans that do more than move geographic lines around on a map of the city.
Delaying a decision until January or shortly beyond shouldn’t pose a serious problem. Any new assignment plan, after all, wouldn’t be implemented until the fall of 2014.
One thing that would be a problem, though, would be for the committee to get bogged down in disagreements over whether the existing system, which has its supporters, should be modified at all. The committee’s very mission presumes that it should be. Its job is to devise a realistic alternative plan — an alternative that captures the community-building benefits of neighborhood schools. With a concrete proposal in hand, Menino, the Boston School Committee, and the general public can then weigh it against the status quo and make an informed decision.