Boston Eyes “Unified Enrollment” System; What Happened in Other Cities?

Our friends at the Boston parent group QUEST (Quality Education for Every Student) are pursuing the answers to important questions about Boston’s plans for a “unified enrollment” system that would include public and charter schools. Many Boston Public School (BPS) busparents have serious concerns about a lack of transparency and public accountability in the Gates Foundation-funded Boston Compact project. QUEST posted about these concerns on its Facebook page: “When the mayor announced his plan for a new assignment process called Unified Enrollment, QUEST became concerned. What are the consequences of changing a new assignment process with no public analysis or real public engagement and no data to show that the current assignment process needs to be changed?”

It seems more and more that being a Boston Public School parent means spending many hours, days and weeks fighting doggedly for the kind of transparency and accountability that should be a given in a public education system. QUEST used the Massachusetts Public Records Act to request documents on the Unified Enrollment plan and process. The released documents are linked here. As QUEST points out, these documents raise many more questions than they answer.

Boston parent Mary Pierce writes in her “Public School Mama” blog about Boston Mayor Marty Walsh’s plans to close 36 public schools, a quarter of the schools in the district. She says, “this proposal is not being driven by the wishes of Mayor Walsh’s constituents. These plans are not being hammered out in open meetings where the citizens of Boston can hold policy makers accountable. These decisions are being made in closed meetings with the Gates Foundation and the Walton Foundation where Mayor Walsh is hoping to receive funding for his education agenda.”
Mary Pierce’s blog was picked up by Diane Ravitch and Esquire’s Charlie Pierce (no relation), which prompted a denial by Mayor Walsh: The Mayor has never said, nor does he have a plan to close 36 schools,” Laura Oggeri, Walsh’s chief communications officer, said in a statement. The denial yielded a rebuttal from Pierce: “The Mayor has said that he plans to ‘consolidate’ schools. How can he consolidate schools if he does not close some? Oh, wait-if he leases some of the ‘consolidated’ school buildings to charter schools then the buildings will technically remain open. They just won’t be Boston Public Schools.”
 Wealthy donors, like Mark Zuckerberg, and foundations, like Gates and Walton, have funded similar unified, or universal, enrollment systems in other cities, including Philadelphia and Newark. The Newark plan, called “One Newark” led to chaos and confusion, according to a report by NBC New York. “A final step in the process appeared to flunk for hundreds of families. More than 600 parents sat in line for hours at a Newark Vocational High SchoolThursday hoping to find out where their children are enrolled, but some never even made it through the door. Newark Mayor Ras Baraka had this to say about the One Newark plan: “We’re saying that we’re giving parents a choice when we’re really taking their choice away from them. It’s upsetting.
The pattern in other cities has been district school closures and charters opened in their place. The public records documents confirm this is the plan for Boston too. What we will be left with is low-income communities of color like Hyde Park (which already had two school closed this year) having nothing but charters, with the high needs students with disabilities and English language learners sent to an increasingly under-resourced district school.