Recap: Assignment committee recommends delay

Update: the PDF presentation for this meeting is posted here. You can find descriptions of adjustments made to attendance areas starting on page 8.

As expected, at tonight’s meeting of the Student Assignment committee, the Superintendent formally requested that the Board delay implementation of the middle school portion of the new student assignment system for one year. Committee members accepted the recommendation and fowarded it to the full Board for a vote on Sept. 28.

Specifically, Deputy Superintendent Richard Carranza explained that after considering feedback about unclear reform initiatives, special education pathways and building capacity in our middle school language immersion programs, the district had concluded that the one year delay was the best way to ensure instructional quality going forward. A number of initiatives, including the redesign of special education, the implementation of the Lau Plan for serving English Learners, and the School Improvement Grants just rceived from the state, are in their infancy at the current time, and the district concluded it was better to roll out all of these improvements more fully before implementing feeder patterns.

Fifth graders seeking a middle school placement for the 2011-12 school year would instead go through a temporary process with no initial assignment; families would submit an application with a list of choices by Feb. 18, 2011. The system would place younger siblings first, then students in CTIP1 areas, and then all other students by general lottery (no diversity index, and no attendance area preferences).  Students would be placed in their highest available choice, or offered placement at the closest middle school with space if none of their choices were available.

We heard a fair amount of indignant public comment from families at Ulloa Elementary, who are happy with the district’s previous proposal to feed them into A.P. Giannini middle school and worry that the temporary process will mean that they will be placed in schools far across town. I understand that this temporary process means heading into somewhat uncharted territory, but it really isn’t all that different than what we have now. True, middle school applicants have a slight attendance area preference now, but only if they add diversity to their attendance area school.  And even though many applicants apply outside of their attendance area, 87 percent of middle school applicants got one of their choices last year — 73 percent got their first choice. So I’m not convinced that a straight lottery is going to be all that much different than the slight advantage of living in an attendance area.  (And anyway, just about 50 percent of Ulloa’s enrollment actually even lives in 94116, the school’s zip code — another 20 percent live in 94112, much closer to Denman Middle School than Giannini.)

Bottom line: even though this temporary process is kind of a downer for me personally — my 5th grade daughter was very excited to attend the school we would have fed into next year and now we aren’t assured that she will actually get in — this plan is better in the short run for all students because we will have more time to assure quality programs wherever elementary schools feed.

I do have to admit to some skepticism that we won’t just land here again next summer, but the staff and Superintendent assured me and other members of the Board tonight that a new middle school feeder proposal will be formulated for input and feedback from the public much earlier next year — no timelines yet but Board members suggested that early spring would be a better time than late August. And let me say this again, in bold, so everyone gets it: the new feeder proposal for 2012-13 enrollment is likely to be a significantly different proposal than the draft we’ve all been reviewing.  Stay tuned for more information about this as it is available — the student assignment committee will continue to meet through this year and we will stay on top of this issue.  Finally, I think there are real advantages to staying with the idea of “virtual K-8s” which is another way of saying that elementary schools will feed into specific middle schools, and I see no reason to abandon this idea. We just need to implement it more purposefully and thoughtfully than this last proposal.

Next, the Board discussed the proposed transportation framework that would align our transportation policy with the new student assignment policy. Voicing concern that the discussion about attendance areas and middle schools had distracted the Board and members of the public from focusing on issues related to transportation, the Superintendent has proposed delaying the vote on the transportation plan until the November 9 board meeting. This would give the student assignment committee and the public two more months to consider what are, in fact, significant changes that could have some major impact.  Bus stops would be reconfigured to support access to elementary newcomer programs; maintain diverse elementary school enrollments in non-diverse neighborhoods, e.g. Lakeshore, Harvey Milk and New Traditions; provide transportation from areas of the city with the lowest average test scores to K-8 schools and language immersion programs; and support elementary to middle school feeder patterns.

This means adding stops in some parts of the City and taking away stops in other places, particularly the west side of the City; redesigned routes would primarily move students from CTIP1 areas of the city to programs and schools elsewhere. Current stops might not be “grandfathered” into the new policy, causing at least a few families to find their schools suddenly inaccessible. The most drastic impact, in my view, could be discontinued transportation to after-school programs operated by nonprofits or district Child Development Centers.  Over time, eliminating these after-school routes probably makes sense, but not until we can offer quality on-site after-school programs for every child who needs them. Another possibility discussed was asking families who use transportation to off-site after-school programs to pay for that service — possibly $1.50 per trip.

This is obviously a proposal that needs a lot more sunshine so that everyone can understand the implications, but on the surface it makes sense to be sure that every dollar we’re spending on busing is really getting us closer to our goals. Otherwise, those dollars are wasted.

Finally, the Board reviewed the proposed elementary attendance areas. There were comments from members of the public residing in the Cesar Chavez attendance area (they are concerned that most of the attendance area is CTIP 1 — allowing those residents to freely choose other schools — while their few blocks do not allow these choices; this feels unfair); another family raised questions about the line dividing the Starr King and Daniel Webster attendance areas. Staff went over the specific feedback received from the public, and highlighted a few specific changes that were made as a result of that feedback:

  • A few blocks of the Clarendon attendance area was switched to Grattan’s attendance area to prevent families from having to skirt Sutro Forest, a major geographical barrier;
  • Flynn and Junipero Serra’s attendance areas were adjusted to give Junipero Serra a larger segment of Bernal Heights;
  • Sloat’s boundary was extended several blocks to keep all of Westwood Park together;
  • Ortega’s northern boundary was moved to Holloway to better balance enrollment and diversity with Commodore Sloat;
  • Glen Park, Hillcrest and Monroe’s attendance areas were adjusted to balance enrollments at Hillcrest and Glen Park.

Maps haven’t been redrawn yet but exact coordinates are described in the presentation given to the Board tonight — I don’t have an electronic copy but will post it as soon as I can.

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26 responses to “Recap: Assignment committee recommends delay

  1. @Bernal Dad, you might be right that the percentage of children attending public schools in the Richmond/West Side will rise once certainty rises. That certainly is the contention of people in the Marina who are upset that Lilienthal isn’t designated an attendance area school (even though they’d have to travel to the Richmond for K-2 under the current configuration; that doesn’t seem to bother them — tee hee!). I guess we’ll see, won’t we?

  2. “Again, the staff does not expect most of the high-demand schools on the West side will fill up with children from the attendance area — they actually expect that there will be seats left over.”

    Rachel, but the West side also has higher rates of attendance at privates – I think 50% in the Richmond as opposed to 15-20% in the SE. If parents in the West feel assured they’ll get their local school, such as Alamo or Ulloa or Peabody, we should see a rise in families going to SFUSD versus the privates (which would mean more $$ to the district). It’ll be interesting to see how it shakes out. It might take a few years of stable boundaries to see the effect.

  3. ” Will these boundaries be revisited again or are they set now for years to come?”

    The boundaries are going to have to be revisited, given that there’s a shortage of capacity in the East & South East and excess capacity in the West.

    As this wasn’t a big issue in the city-wide lottery system, the current attendance areas are a guess.

    Politically, it may be difficult to redraw them though.

  4. Rachel,

    I really commend the BoE for delaying . I think there will be a lot of shakeout of the Elementary School attendance areas.

    I also think the feeder idea is solving a problem that doesn’t need fixing. 80% of Grade 6 applicants got their first choice: 94% got one of their seven choices. I don’t see the feeder system doing better than that, given the pushback from parents.

  5. If I live on an attendance boundary, does that mean the north side of the street is in one area and the south side is in the other? What is the rationale for the line running along 23rd between Alvarado and Milk? It would seem logical to have the line match the topography, running along the top of the ridge that divides Noe Valley from the Castro (21st/22nd St.). I live on 23rd St., one block from the heart of Noe Valley and a short flat walk to Alvarado. But since I live on the north side of the street, it looks like I’ll have to walk my kid over a steep hill and down the other side to Milk. At 23rd & Vicksburg, we’re very much in Noe Valley. Milk looks great but it doesn’t seem like it would be our “neighborhood school.” Will these boundaries be revisited again or are they set now for years to come?

  6. @Caroline Scott — As part of the assignment policy revision, we tried to rationalize the definition of what was a citywide school (what we used to call an “alternative” school) and what was an attendance area school. Citywide schools (or citywide strands within attendance area schools, e.g., Alvarado Spanish Immersion vs. Alvarado GE) have specialized language programs or unique grade configurations (K-8). All other schools are attendance area schools. So Clarendon, lacking an immersion or bilingual program or a unique grade configuration, became an attendance area school. Similarly, Argonne is now an attendance area school (even though many parents there thought the year-round configuration should qualify it for citywide status).
    Re: increasing segregation and inequity in home prices — yeah, that’s the fear. The neighborhood schools advocates have insisted for years that returning to attendance area schools will encourage families to rally around their local schools. I have my doubts in some areas — we’ve heard a lot from people who live near John Muir and Cesar Chavez and are very unhappy that they will have fewer choices under the new system. I think this system tries to balance choice with certainty, and it feels like threading a needle. I think at this point, we have to watch and see what happens in the next few years. What we hope is that the new plan will support more economic and racial integration at schools that have struggled under the choice system, while giving parents enough choices that they will continue to engage with the public schools rather than opting out. Like I said, time will tell. It’s time to implement the new system, monitor it, make adjustments if necessary, and then evaluate the results.

  7. @special ed parent I don’t think anyone has gone through and done that calculation (number of 5th graders in CTIP zones). I did look at demand patterns by city planning neighborhood for various middle schools, and it appears that really, CTIP and the lack of attendance areas shouldn’t shift things all that much. I am pretty confident that middle school demand patterns will look about the same this time around. The odds are better at some middle schools than others, but I also believe the algorithm we’re going to use to assign students to schools will work better than the old diversity index in getting applicants the highest choice on their list.

  8. @Yehling immersion track students would always have priority at Immersion middle school seats. The problem for middle schools this interim year is that the old attendance areas for middle schools make no sense — they’re 20 years old and we did not redraw them because the plan was to have specific elementary schools feed into specific middle schools. Many people don’t even live in a middle school attendance area right now because so many schools have been reconfigured or closed since the middle school attendance areas were first drawn. Unfortunately, in the Richmond, where I live, the middle school attendance areas still roughly make sense, so it feels doubly frustrating that we aren’t using them. But you can’t give some people attendance area preference and others not — to be fair, you either have to apply that preference throughout the system or take it away entirely. The staff recommendation was to take it away entirely and I didn’t hear much opposition. As a parent, I would like to keep our attendance area, because it would allow my daughter to go to the school she really wants. But as a school board member, I couldn’t justify keeping outdated, patchwork attendance areas just to benefit my child and her friends.

  9. @Kim I imagine there will be outreach through the school fair and enrollment guide but I will make sure that is the case. I’m sending an email to Orla, EPC leadership and PPS now to suggest that outreach to 5th grade parents be part of the overall plan for this enrollment season.

  10. @as, I hear your frustration, but really, there isn’t as much a whole new process to create, communicate and implement as just a phasing in of something we had already created. Essentially, the temporary middle school process will be the proposed middle school process WITHOUT an initial assignment (the proposed feeder plan). And it’s exactly the same as how high school assignment will work.
    The reason for the delay is less that some people pushed back loudly; it’s because when we looked closely at what was being proposed, we were proposing to do some real damage to programs we value (the language immersion programs) AND shortchanging students we didn’t want to shortchange. Yes, 5th grade parents like me are going to have to endure some uncertainty, but basically the same amount of uncertainty we took on when we enrolled our children at a K-5 elementary school with no guaranteed middle school placement. What feels cruel is that feeder patterns were proposed, and people who liked them now feel like the rug was jerked out from under them. I’m sorry about that and as you know, I’m in the same boat. My daughter would really, really like to go to the middle school we would have fed into. Maybe she will still be able to go there — I’m not going to get too worked up about our choices until there’s something to get worked up about.

  11. @Chris — sorry for the delay. The presentation is posted here. You’ll find descriptions of the specific adjustments made to certain attendance areas on page 8 (as far as I know, no maps have been created yet).

  12. @jessica, that’s just what it is — panic, based on nothing but the fact that people think that everyone applying to oversubscribed schools live in the attendance area for those schools. In fact, from every piece of data the Board has reviewed, the opposite is true. Most of the oversubscribed schools are in the north and west of the City, and those areas are the least densly populated, with the fewest children, AND, with some exceptions, the largest schools. The staff anticipates that the attendance areas that are most likely to receive the “densely populated” preference will be those in the South and East, where all our data tells us most of the children under the age of 18 live.
    SO. Technically, yes, you are correct that IF the total number of K applications received from a specific attendance area is LARGER than the capacity of the school for that attendance area, then that area will be designated as “densely populated” and the “densely populated” tie-breaker will apply. Because this tie-breaker comes AFTER attendance area preference, you will never be displaced from YOUR attendance area school by someone whose application is eligible for the densely-populated tie-breaker (unless that person also has a higher tie-breaker, like CTIP 1). However, the “densely-populated” tie-breaker would give an applicant an advantage in applying to citywide programs, since no attendance area preference exists for those programs.
    Again, the staff does not expect most of the high-demand schools on the West side will fill up with children from the attendance area — they actually expect that there will be seats left over. And we already know there is not actually enough space in South and East side schools to accommodate the children we know are there, so those applicants likely will get a densely-populated tiebreaker.
    I hope this helps.

  13. Hi Rachel,

    I was wondering if you could comment further on what happens for students in neighborhoods with over-subscribed schools. I was under the impression that only those students who were actually displaced from their neighborhood school would have a priority for city-wide schools and immersion programs, but in reading up on this, it seems that technically, any student in a neighborhood with even a single displaced student would actually be able to take advantage of the priority. This seems that it would result in students in the west side, who will already have potentially better access to great neighborhood schools, now having first choice of city-wide/immersion programs as well, with the likely result that families in the middle or southeast of the city who are in CTIP2 neighborhoods will have very limited access to these city-wide/immersion programs (presuming there will be few or no spots remaining once the kids from displaced neighborhoods are given preference).

    I do think that this is a real concern, as there does seem to be some panic for those in the attendance area of desirable schools that they won’t get a spot at their own school, and if the current arrangement does in fact give this priority, then it creates a strong incentive for parents at high performing west side schools to list citywide/immersion programs on their list of 7 as well, rather than take their chances with the nearest school with space.

    This seems quite unfair, and a bit unbelievable, so I am hoping that what I have been reading is wrong. Surely this is not what the board intended?

    It does seem perfectly reasonable that any student that is actually displaced would be given priority – but not every other student in that neighborhood as well. It also seems that it would be reasonable to limit the number of spaces given to students with this type of priority at any given city-wide/immersion school, so that those of us in CTIP2 with weaker local schools and no priority in the system will have at least a reasonable chance of enrolling in a city-wide/immersion programs as well.

    Thanks in advance for your thoughts on this!

  14. Any thoughts on when the revised attendance area boundaries for elementary schools will be posted?

  15. If the middle school feeder pattern is delayed, when will it be announced for next year? Isnt the board and SFUSD gonna have to work extra hard to create the temporary process (and communicate it and implement it) and then toss it? In addition, during the same year implement the entire ES new process AND develop the new MS feeder patterns. Seems awfully ambitious and bound for confusion. I thought the mind-set by the board and SFUSD was to live with the fact that not everyone was going to be happy. Havent they just delayed this one year and pushed a needed change to another year later? Isnt it time to give parents some clarity and a chance to embrace all the change NOW? We have been waiting years for this!

  16. The good thing to learn from this post is the school board commissioner’s kid is going through the same process as everyone else. Let’s hope the mayor will put his daughter in public school and experiences what other people experience :)

  17. I’m pleased to hear that J Serra’s boundary is including more of Bernal. I live a block from Revere (Citywide!), half a mile from J Serra, and a mile (over a kid-unwalkable hill) from Flynn. It would completely defeat the purpose of “neighborhood school” if my only “neighborhood school” were the third closest elementary school from my home, and if all of Bernal were relegated to competing for a few spots in the non-emersion half of Flynn. I’m glad Bernal will have a chance to rally around local schools, rather than be scattered to the winds of other schools.

  18. Hi Rachel – will the SFUSD be issuing any guidance to help middle school parents understand the temporary enrollment process they must follow? For them it will be a new process, and I imagine many parents are feeling a bit overwhelmed with all the changes that have been discussed of late. These folks are familiar with the old system, and will now have to navigate through a new system, which is being described as temporary. It would be great if the district could make some extra effort to connect with these families – maybe reach out at each school????

  19. Rachel,
    Would current Immersion track students have priority at Immersion Middle school seats?
    For the GE program, I thought living attendance area would be one of the tiebreaker (After CTIP1 and siblings), why was it struck down?
    Please enlighten us.
    Thanks,
    YL

  20. special ed parent

    Rachel, can you give us any estimate — a guesstimate would be helpful — of the number of fifth grade kids who fall within the CTIP 1 residential zones? This would really help those fifth grade families who are trying to figure out how difficult middle school placements are going to be this year. And I’d rather have estimates grounded in some sense of facts than misstatements like those from Bernal Dad’s about how “90% of middle school families” in previous years got one of their choices. He is ignoring the fact that that was a different system and he’s also inflating the number (it is lower as you correctly point out in your comment).

  21. Rachel,

    I think you’re going to find the MS feeder proposal is going to be more controversial than the ES assignment process (although we’ve yet to see what hidden SNAFU’s, such as parents unhappy with ES start times, are going to be in the new system).

    I’m also not sure that locking ES and MS together is a shrewd move – it may undermine using magnet programs at the ES level to draw parents to an undersubscribed school unless there’s an equivalent program at the MS the elementary feeds into. Going with a rigid ES-to-MS feeder program not only reduces parental options, it reduces SFUSD’s options as well. Bear in mind that elementaries in the CTIP1 areas are probably going to get *worse* test scores in the new system (as education-orientated parents respond to incentives and send their kids elsewhere). So I’d expect the new assignment system will make the bimodal distribution of test scores in SFUSD (lots of good & excellent schools, a smaller number of very poor schools, and not a lot in the middle) more pronounced.

    In the old system, for MS level you had 90% of families getting one of their choices, and 80% getting their first choice. So, if you feel >10-20% of SFUSD parents are unhappy with whatever MS feeder system emerges next year, then you need to scrap it and go for a citywide system.

  22. Rachel,
    Thank you for the update. I am really happy that the middle school feeder pattern has been postponed, not becasue I think it is a bad idea, but because I think it shows that the Dstrict actually listened to the voices of parents and the community. Assignment to middle schools has never been as big a problem as assignement to elementary and high schools. A question for you- I always thought Clarendon was an “alternative- nor City Wide” school and am puzzled as t why it seems now to have been changed to a school with an assignment area. As a realtor I am also worrie that these assignemnt areas will drive p hoem prices in some areas and depress others and add to even more economic segregation. Thought?
    Caroline

  23. “Cece, am shocked that this wasn’t dealt with in a considered, “stakeholder” process starting 6 or more months ago instead of simply springing the whole, poorly-thought-out mess on the community a few weeks ago.”

    It’d have been hard to roll it out earlier as the decision to go with the new assignment process wasn’t made until March-April this year. So the middle school feeder patterns couldn’t have been assigned until say June at the earliest.

    I’m glad the BoE is delaying for a year though. The old assignment process worked better for the MS than for Elementary or High School levels. I think there’s an argument to be made for having Middle schools citywide.

  24. I have to say, I think this is the best choice for now. The minor elementary school changes seem logical, and waiting on the middle school feeder plan is the best thing for now. Announcing something like this in August was never going to go down well. At least now, 5th grade parents can get used to the idea of the temporary plan, which doesn’t seem all that different from what we have now. Medium term, I really like the “virtual K-8″ idea. From what I understand, many K-5s lose kids to the privates or suburbs, but the K-8s don’t perhaps with more certainty, more people will stay. Time will tell.

  25. I am simply amazed at how the board handled this; since I have a 5th grader I would have preferred the feeder system be implemented this year too but, like Cece, am shocked that this wasn’t dealt with in a considered, “stakeholder” process starting 6 or more months ago instead of simply springing the whole, poorly-thought-out mess on the community a few weeks ago.

  26. Rachel,
    Thanks for the update. I realize I stand alone here, but I am dissappointed that we won’t be kicking off the feeder system this year (pending the final vote). The virtual K-8s that allow for “keeping our communities together” seem to make so much sense. I’m dismayed that the district did not consider many of the issues months ago when we were developing this plan (some seem so obvious). Looking forward to next year and kicking it off right!