Education Reform

History of School Choice in Boston

Before 1974

Neighborhood Schools
Until 1974, students attended schools in their neighborhoods. Even though Massachusetts has had a law against segregation since 1855, schools were largely racially divided.


Desegregation by Busing
U.S. District Court Judge W. Arthur Garrity, Jr. found that the school system was giving fewer resources to schools with mostly black students. To create more racially balanced schools, students were bused to other schools within their district. Students could also apply to exam schools or magnet schools. There were new problems, however. The schools that were difficult to get into had mostly white students. Other white families left the city school system and went to private schools or moved to the suburbs.


Walk Zones
In 1999, the Boston School Committee voted to stop basing school assignment on race. Instead, the 1999 plan set aside 50% of a school's seats for students in its walk zone. (Two miles for high schools, one and a half miles for middle schools, and one mile for elementary schools.) Walk zone preference applies to the first registration period only; there are a total of four registration periods. After the first registration period, the remaining seats are assigned to students who do not live within the walk zone of any school. Finally, any remaining seats are assigned randomly, regardless of walk zone. Families can also apply for “sibling preference” to get into the same school that a sister or brother already attends.


What's the Best Plan?
Not everyone agrees with the current school assignment system Some people would like to students to be assigned to their neighborhood schools again. (See Greater Boston’s Rethinking School Choice.) The School Committee and Superintendent Payzant have asked a task force to seek feedback on student assignment. A new assignment plan could be in place by 2005-2006.

Learn more about high school choice.