Could exam school admissions changes have unintended consequences? 

COULD THE CURE be as bad as the disease? 

The Boston School Committee appears to be on track to rush through a major change in the admission procedures for next fall for the city’s three selective-entry “exam schools.” The plan, unveiled at a School Committee meeting two weeks ago, is to scrap the use of a combination of standardized test and middle school grades to determine entry and instead rely solely on grades. The proposal would layer over that a system that allocates 80 percent of the seats geographically by zip code, based on the number of school-aged children in different areas of the city.

School officials say the changes are a one-year switch because the pandemic has upended the normal admissions process, but there’s little doubt that this would lay the groundwork for a permanent reworking of admission procedures. 

The overarching goal is to promote greater diversity in the make-up of exam schools, especially Boston Latin School, where black and Latino students account for a far smaller share of the student body than their share of the overall Boston Public School population. 

But even those who share that goal and have voiced concern over the existing system are criticizing the School Committee’s plan to vote on the change without any public hearing. City Councilor Andrea Campbell — who recently announced plans to run for mayor next year — said she supports the change but criticized the city for not including more parents and students in the process. Go Sasaki, a teacher at the O’Bryant School of Mathematics and Science, one of the three exam schools, and a member of the Massachusetts Asian American Educators, said he supports the plan, but added that the “Asian American community was not really consulted on this and I feel like that’s been a failing of BPS for a long time.” 

But even beyond concerns over the process, there are questions about how the changes will play out and whether there may be unintended consequences from the move. 

As the Globe’s James Vaznis reminds readers today, three years ago came a startling report that 69 percent of all exam school applicants from Holy Name Parish School in largely white West Roxbury had an A-plus grade point average. That put a spotlight on the fact that schools all use different standards for grading, with critics suggesting private and parochial schools “inflate” grades in a way that gives their students an advantage in the exam school entry process. 

Despite such concerns, school officials estimate that the proposed change would result in an increase in black and Hispanic students offered exam school seats — and a decrease in white and Asian students offered slots. 

But even the new geography-based system would come with a lot of unknowns. The Dorchester 02124 zip code that would get the biggest allotment of seats — because it’s home to 12 percent of the city’s school-aged population — includes the largely minority, low-income Codman Square neighborhood, but also solidly middle-class Ashmont Hill and Melville Park and the leafy Lower Mills neighborhood where the mayor lives.

At the meeting two weeks ago, one School Committee member raised questions about the growing gentrification of Roxbury, which means more white families and children from better-off families living in those zip codes.  

School officials and advocates want to increase the share of black and Hispanic students who have access to exam schools, but court rulings in the 1990s outlawed a system that set aside shares of seats explicitly by race. School leaders are now looking for a way to achieve the goal of greater diversity without running into a legal challenge. Just what degree to which this plan will do the trick seems an open question. 

MICHAEL JONAS

 

FROM COMMONWEALTH

Families of Holyoke Soldiers’ Home veterans tell heartbreaking tales, and some report that problems at the COVID-scarred facility continued after the Baker administration’s intervention.

The Cannabis Control Commission approves a new marijuana delivery program, but takes steps to limit the potential for market control. 

Opinion: Paul DeBole of Lasell College recounts a rare nonpartisan move by two Democrats running for Norfolk County sheriff who, after losing the primary, endorse the Republican…Jim Stergios of the Pioneer Institute details yet another barrier to expansion of charter school enrollment.

 

FROM AROUND THE WEB

BEACON HILL

The Baker administration and state legislators are pointing the fingers at each other for not taking action in the wake of a Boston Globe report that dozens of State Police troopers remain on the force despite findings that they engaged in illegal conduct. (Boston Globe)

State lawmakers roll out a plan to extend unemployment benefits to workers who fall below a threshold for receiving federal benefits. (Gloucester Daily Times)

A slew of conservative organizations are asking Gov. Charlie Baker and other Northeast and mid-Atlantic governors to abandon the carbon-reducing Transportation Climate Initiative because of the burdens it would place on consumers already reeling from economic effects of the pandemic. (Boston Herald

State Sen. Diana DiZoglio is hiking 159 miles across Massachusetts to raise money for a new community center in Methuen. (Eagle-Tribune)

Amid reports that he is being considered for a cabinet position if Democrat Joe Biden wins the presidency, Republican Gov. Charlie Baker commits to finishing out his term in Massachusetts. (MassLive) Herald columnist says “we’re stuck” with Baker, not because he’s committed to staying, but because in the end he has too much baggage to actually land a top DC post. 

Attorney General Maura Healey sues an addiction treatment center firm headquartered in Northampton for bilking Medicaid. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS  

The City of Methuen and its police union are back in arbitration over a controversial police contract that would have given 26 officers raises of over 200 percent, pushing some of their salaries over $400,000. (Eagle-Tribune)

Boston makes up to $4,000 in rental relief available to qualified tenants. (Dorchester Reporter)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

Studies point to a big drop off in COVID-19 death rates. (NPR)

Physical education teachers say it’s vital that kids remain active despite being away from school and structured physical activity in gym class or other programs. (Herald News)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell warns the White House against making a stimulus deal with Speaker Nancy Pelosi ahead of the election. (Washington Post

The New York Times reports that President Trump, who has been railing at Joe Biden as soft on China, spent more than a decade unsuccessfully seeking business deals there at the country is one of three foreign countries (along with Britain and Ireland) where Trump maintains a bank account. 

ELECTIONS

In a testy debate, US Rep. Jim McGovern and his challenger Tracy Lovvern accuse each other of lying and engaging in scare tactics. (Telegram & Gazette)

Professional athletes are assuming an unprecedented role this year in promoting voting and civic action. (Boston Globe)

Republican Rep. Paul Frost, of Auburn, is facing a familiar challenger in military veteran Terry Burke Dotson, an independent who has lost to Frost in three previous races. (Telegram & Gazette)

Steve Wynn, the former head of Wynn Resorts who stepped down amid allegations of rape, assault, and harassment, has given $6 million this election cycle to Sen. Mitch McConnell and assorted conservative political causes. (NPR)

A Berkshire Eagle editorial backs Question 1 on right to repair.

More than 1 million ballots have already been cast in Massachusetts – or 30 percent of the total number of votes in the 2016 presidential election. (MassLive)

Spanish-speaking voters are being bombarded with an array of right-wing misinformation messages about the election. (Boston Globe)

The Western Massachusetts Labor Federation vows a strike if President Trump attempts to interfere with the election. (Berkshire Eagle)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Brides and grooms are reimagining and postponing their weddings due to COVID-19, and the wedding industry is suffering. (MassLive)

Skylite Roller Skating Center in Worcester is closing after 40 years. (Telegram & Gazette)

EDUCATION

Massachusetts schools are rethinking snow days, now that remote learning has become a routine way to learn. (MassLive)

ARTS/CULTURE

The USS Constitution Museum buys a trove of 150 documents, including correspondence from President George Washington, that sheds light on the history of the warship. (Associated Press)

TRANSPORTATION

South Shore commuters and politicians are gearing up to try to save MBTA ferry service from Hingham and Hull to Boston in the wake of word that it may fall victim to budget cuts. (Patriot Ledger)

Facing a budget shortfall, the Steamship Authority ferry is considering rate hikes for 2021. (Cape Cod Times)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Concerns are being raised about emissions from a proposed biomass energy plant that would burn nearly a ton of wood per minute in Springfield, which has been rated the country’s worst spot for asthma. (Boston Globe)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

Retired Beverly police officers buy a billboard to display the controversial pro-police “Thin Blue Line” flag. (The Salem News)

Cyberattacks are on the rise during the pandemic. (Cape Cod Times)

MEDIA

President Trump cuts short an interview with Lesley Stahl of 60 Minutes because he was irritated with a line of questioning and threatens to release a tape of the interview before airtime. (Politico)

The Hartford Courant is shutting down its presses and shifting that work to the Republican in Springfield, part of a growing trend in the struggling news business. (Western Mass Politics & Insight)