On restricting access to Boston’s exam schools

By | July 21, 2016

Dear Mayor Walsh,

My wife and I have lived in Boston, in a house we own, since 1997. We have five kids, the oldest of whom was just graduated from Boston Arts Academy and has been admitted to Boston University as a Menino Scholar. We expect to stay in Boston until our youngest child is finished with high school.

That means we’ve been paying Boston property taxes for 19 years, and our kids will attend a total of 75 years of pre-K through 12th-grade education during our time living in Boston.

Of those 75 education years, the most Boston will ever have to pay for is 18, because we’ve made the decision — at significant expense — that private schools were the best fit for our kids for most years.

In other words, though we help pay for Boston’s public schools through our property taxes and the portion of our state income tax that comes back to Boston as local aid, we will receive in return well under half of the BPS educational spending to which we’re entitled.

So don’t you dare tell me it would be OK to categorically exclude our kids from the few BPS high schools which are actually decent enough that we would consider sending our kids to them.

Yes, I’ve heard Superintendent Chang’s denials, and it would be nice if I could believe him. However, having also watched how you and he have handled the BPS budget gap fiasco and the scandal at BLS, I am far more inclined to believe WGBH’s reporting than your denials. I don’t trust you and I don’t trust Superintendent Chang.

I understand and respect the motivation of parents who support this change: they want what is best for their kids, so they want their kids to have the best possible chance of getting into the top BPS schools. We, too, want what is best for our kids, but our solution is very different from the one they advocate: sending kids to private school takes no opportunities from other students, but excluding private-school students from exam schools clearly would.

Furthermore, excluding private-school kids from exam schools would be discriminatory and unconstitutional because it would exclude kids whose parents send them to private schools for religious reasons, or because they have disabilities which cannot be sufficiently accommodated by the public schools.

Our country’s laws and traditions acknowledge the necessity of advantaging one group over another when there is no other practical recourse for correcting a problem or righting a historical wrong. However, that is simply not the case here. Boston Latin Academy’s admissions policy is the same as Boston Latin School’s, and yet BLA is far more diverse and responsive to students’ needs than BLS. Clearly, before BPS enacts a policy which excludes a particular class of students from exam-school eligibility, it should first take a careful look at what lessons can be learned from BLA and applied to BLS.


Jonathan Kamens

CC: Superintendent Tommy Chang
CC: Councilor Mark Ciommo
CC: Senator William Brownsberger
CC: Representative Kevin Honan

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2 thoughts on “On restricting access to Boston’s exam schools

  1. Marc

    Hi Jonathan
    I shan’t pretend to be familiar with all the dynamics of the matter, but I’d be interested to know what the response and outcome -if any- has been.
    It would appear that the “education problem” (or rather “control” thereof, and restricting “access” thereto) is a universal one. 🙂

    1. jik Post author

      The Boston Public Schools administration claimed that there was never any plan to exclude private and charter school students from the exam schools, i.e., that the newspaper story about it was completely false.

      I think it’s more likely that either they leaked the plan on purpose as a trial balloon, so that they could have plausible deniability if the reaction to it was as negative as it turned out to be, or someone within the BPS administration who disapproved of the plan leaked it to foment exactly that negative reaction.

      In any case, whether there ever was such a plan under consideration, it’s apparently shelved, at least for the time being.


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