Saturday, April 30, 2005

The Legacy Factor

In the Boston metropolitan area, there are a number of first-rate public schools where families compete to enroll their children. There is just one problem. The competition is fixed in favor of those who have already won the game:

Coveted seats in the city's most popular schools are overwhelmingly filled by siblings of students already in the building, a new school report shows.

At the popular O'Hearn Elementary School in Dorchester, nine out of 10 available preschool seats are filled by siblings of current students. At the sought-after Lyndon K-8 in West Roxbury, 37 out of 45 kindergarten seats are taken by siblings, the report shows.

With so many siblings taking choice seats, parents find it almost impossible to break into a choice school, said Christopher Horan, chief of staff to Superintendent Thomas Payzant.

Siblings take so many popular seats because, under Boston's complex student assignment plan, brothers and sisters of current students get first crack at schools.

The district isn't likely to tamper with sibling preference anytime soon. It's popular in all sectors of the city, said School Committee member Helen Dajer, who served on the panel that studied the assignment process.

We just bet that this system isn't too popular with the parents of students that can't get their children enrolled and have to stand by and watch as folks that already have one child in the school are able to enroll their additional offspring by using a system that is not based upon academic merit, but upon birth.

But what are the alternatives?

Update: Commenter Jane correctly points out that it would be highly problematic to design and implement an academically-based merit system for the entry of 5-year-olds. She proposes a lottery system. We are supportive of this idea, in that a lottery could be fairly and openly administered.
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