Last week, the Cambridge School Committee had planned to discuss and vote on the Cambridge Public Schools Controlled Choice Plan. This initiative, introduced on Nov. 30 by Superintendent of Schools Bobbie J. D’Alessandro, would include socioeconomic status as one of a number of factors when assigning Cambridge children to the city’s public elementary schools. In an odd turn of events, Tuesday’s vote was postponed, as not all committee members were present. We hope that the committee will soon be able to assemble its members and pass the measure to break down socioeconomic divisions among Cambridge’s elementary schools.
Currently, when children are assigned to elementary schools in Cambridge, race is considered as a factor in order to create balanced multiracial classrooms. This policy allows each school in Cambridge to reflect the varied population of the city. Racially diverse elementary schools provide a environment in which children benefit from their classmates, acquiring the valuable skills of learning, working and playing with those who may look different on the outside but have more in common than they may otherwise ever have known.
Despite the benefits of this current program, more needs to be done to improve the Cambridge school system and to achieve a greater level of socioeconomic diversity. The climate of a school has an immense influence on the lives of the children who learn there. Just as the curriculum and methods of teaching shape a child’s thought process, fellow students and classmates influence a child’s social interactions. By passing the school plan, the Cambridge School Committee can have an immediate and direct impact on the city’s youngest citizens.
Under the choice plan, a student’s socioeconomic status would be measured by his or her eligibility for free and reduced-price meals. Once status is determined, schools would still be assigned to children according to their top choices. However, the schools would also use the socioeconomic status to seek additional balance for classrooms.
All children need to receive an effective education. Unfortunately, the poorest students enter school already behind. As the school committee heard in its last meeting, these students may lack adequate food or supervision at home and come to school with less preparation, worsened health conditions and decreased confidence compared to other students. The proposed choice program would prevent Cambridge’s elementary schools from segregating students based on socioeconomic differences and would work to improve the academic footing of the students who need it most.
The plan is already widely supported by the community, indicating that Cambridge schools have ample room for improvement. Additionally, with the economy officially in a recession, now is the time to aggressively adopt measures that could counteract the ruinous effects of poverty. When the school committee reconvenes to vote, we urge them to approve the Cambridge Public Schools Controlled Choice Plan. As the city’s school board, it is their responsibility to ensure that no student is left behind.