They’re out! School Assignment Letters 2012

Today’s post is being written by Michelle Parker, President of the 2nd District(SFUSD) PTA. I am out of the country and Michelle graciously agreed to pinch-hit in my absence and report on the outcome of the first round.

P.S.: I am getting some email from a few families who did not receive spots at their attendance area schools but know of families who received spots at those schools, even if they don’t live in the attendance area. The explanation for how this can happen, according to EPC, is the trading cycles algorithm (AKA the swap). Let’s say you submit a list with Schools A, B, and C listed in order of preference. You are assigned to School B. Let’s say I submit a list with Schools B, A, C listed in order of preference, and am assigned to School A. AFTER all seats are filled, the algorithm looks for someone who is willing to trade School A for School B, and another person who is willing to trade School B for School A. It matches us, re-assigning you to your higher choice of School A and me to my higher choice of School B. At that point, attendance area doesn’t come into play because all seats have already been filled.

They’re out! 13,919 school assignment offers were mailed to families last Friday. And, in typical fashion, I saw a line outside the Educational Placement Center (EPC) at  555 Franklin Monday which reached out and around, all the way to the corner of Franklin and McAllister for most of the day- people standing in line to file medical or family hardship appeals, or to submit an ammended school request list.

The official Press Release from SFUSD came out late Monday- a few highlights: The number of overall applications was down. This was as expected due to the State’s eligibility age for Kindergarten moving back from Dec 1 to Nov 1, therefore impacting the number of applicants eligible to begin transitional kindergarten, as well as the predicted decrease in high school enrollment (number of eighth graders entering high school is lower than last year).

There was a slight increase in the percentage of applicants receiving one of their choices, though it is difficult to draw many conclusions from this data. There are a few things I am curious about, some of which we will learn more about as detailed data comes in. This was the first year that elementary schools feeding into a designated middle received a priority assignment. Of the 85% of 6th grade applicants who received one of their choices, how many applied to their feeder school, versus not, and did they receive that school? How many siblings, whose feeder school is different from an older brother/sister’s took advantage of the sibling priority vs. attend their feeder school? On the elementary school side- but still related to the feeder patterns, did people choose their requested elementary schools dependant on the middle school they fed into? Of course the data won’t be able to answer this question, so speculation is all we’ve got. This year the 15 most requested elementary schools were: Clarendon GE, Rooftop, West Portal, Lawton, Grattan, Lilienthal, Alica Fong Yu, Sunset, Miraloma, Jefferson, Feinstein, Sherman, Clarendon JBBP, Alamo, and Argonne. Last year the schools with highest number of first choice requests were Clarendon, Alice Fong Yu, Lilienthal, Alvarado, West Portal, Rooftop, Sherman, Taylor, Buena Vista Horace Mann, Lawton, Miraloma, Monroe, Alamo and Dianne Feinstein. This is not exactly an apples to apples list, since the first is total requests and not just first choice requests like the second.

If you are received a placement offer here is what you need to know: Register at your designated school to secure enrollment by April 13. It is recommended you do this, even if you want another school, should a spot open up. Accepting a placement offer still allows you to choose to seek a higher choice school during the May Placement Period. There is no priority given in any rounds to students who have not registered at any school. If you do NOT register your child at the designated school by April 13, your placement will be cancelled.

The EPC’s webpage describes the process in detail.

About these ads

71 responses to “They’re out! School Assignment Letters 2012

  1. Hi Rachel,

    I’m going on anecdotal evidence here, so I may be wrong. But last year, for middle school, I don’t know anyone who got “no placement” of their choice in round 1 who got placed at all in subsequent rounds, even well after school started. There were at least 4 kids out of 60. On the other hand nearly all the families I know who had been placed at one of their round 1 choices was able to “swap” upwards on their list in subsequent rounds. I can think of at least 5 kids out of a class of 60. These are just the kids I know about (I didn’t make any kind of scientific survey — just playground talk.)

    If what you’re saying is true, that a lottery for open seats is run BEFORE swaps, it seems that at least some of the “no placement” kids should have gotten an open seat, and fewer of the placed kids should have been able to swap upwards. Is there any way to verify that the algorithm is working correctly? Again, I know my story is completely anecdotal but it surprises me that the system worked so inequitably in my one-school real life experience.

    Anne

  2. Bernal Dad is right – Round 2 does not start out with a swap. If you enter Round 2 holding an assignment that doesn’t work for you and seeking one that does, you are only re-assigned if the system can assign you one of your choices. THEN there is a swap round that tries to get everyone who GOT an assignment in Round 2 their highest choice. IMHO it is a poor strategy to list schools you don’t want, because you are risking getting one of those schools and having to wait out a spot at a school that DOES work for you and that you DO want.

  3. “If the system is truly running the way we are currently being told, then there is a great reason to put trophy schools that you don’t really want on your list. There is absolutely no downside and potentially a big upside.”

    No, there isn’t. If a citywide trophy school works for you, why would you not list it? If a trophy school doesn’t work for you, then you risk being assigned to it. E.R. Taylor’s now effectively a trophy school, but it’s geographical location and pedagogy aren’t going to work for everyone. I think you are giving bad advice to parents, frankly.

    ” Which, if I understand Round 2 correctly, will give them an advantage in Round 2 as they now enter Round 2 with something good to swap.”

    That would require the Round 2 algorithm to start off with a swap round before assignment. That isn’t the case, AFAIK. The Round 2 algorithm is the same as that for Round 1. Whether you have a trophy assigment or not, you’ve got the same chance as everyone else in Round 2 of getting into any slots that open into your AA school.

    I’ll also note that those who are in the trophy AA school areas, who are the ones complaining about being bumped by the swaps from their schools, have an advantage for getting into the citywide programs because of the swap mechanism.

    “In round 2, i listed 32, so hopefully I will get one of them. In my opinion, any one of the 32 will be better than the one my daughter was assigned.”

    Which is what you should do in either Round 1 or 2. List a lot of schools in the order of your preference.

    Note that however the district designs its algorithm there are still going to be ~15% of applicants at the K-level ending up not being assigned one of their choices. That’s because around 15% of the capacity at the elementary school level is at schools that are unpopular and have multiple issues with test scores and challenging socioeconomics. We’re beyond the days where there were undiscovered “hidden gems”, like McKinley or Harvey Milk or Monroe or Yick Wo or Flynn or Sunnyside that shrewd lottery players could list and gain an informational advantage over other applicants. So your strategy should be to avoid being one of those 15% by showing yourself to be more flexible (by listing more schools), but also having a Plan B.

  4. “Now that I do, I’m hoping that round 2 will yield better result. In round 1, i listed 6 schools and got one of them.”

    I meant “none” of them.

  5. Well said, Heather. I would rather be in either situaton#2 or #3 that you described than be assigned to a school which is ranked in the bottom 10% in the state and is far from my home. Unfortunately, it’s a little too little too late for us in the first round, as I really didn’t understand how the SAS works at that time. Now that I do, I’m hoping that round 2 will yield better result. In round 1, i listed 6 schools and got one of them. In round 2, i listed 32, so hopefully I will get one of them. In my opinion, any one of the 32 will be better than the one my daughter was assigned.

  6. Hi Bernal Dad,

    If the system is truly running the way we are currently being told, then there is a great reason to put trophy schools that you don’t really want on your list. There is absolutely no downside and potentially a big upside.

    Take the example of someone who has 6 schools that would work well for their family. They can:
    A) List those 6 schools in order of preference on their list and leave it at that.
    Or
    B) List those 6 schools in order of preference on their list and then add every popular city-wide (including immersion) program that they can think of to the bottom of their list.

    If they win the lottery for any of their top 6 then they would be assigned to that school with either list A or list B. Same outcome.

    If they don’t win the lottery for any of their top 6 then with list A they are done and will be assigned a not-so-popular school by the system.
    But with list B they are entered for all the city-wide lotteries, with three possible outcomes:
    1. They don’t win any of the city-wide lotteries. Then (as with List A) they are done and will be assigned a not-so-popular school by the system. They are not worse off than they would have been with List A.
    2. They do win one of the city-wide lotteries and are able to swap up to one of their top 6. Yay! They have a school they really want. Win!
    3. They do win one of the city-wide lotteries and are not able to swap up to one of their top 6. They are still slightly better off than they would have been with List A. They still have a school that they don’t want, but instead of having a not-so-popular school that they don’t want assigned to them, now they have one of the trophies. Which, if I understand Round 2 correctly, will give them an advantage in Round 2 as they now enter Round 2 with something good to swap. And they are in no way disadvantaged in Round 2 for having received one of their choices.

    This is one of the consequences I talking about in an earlier post. Contrary to what Bernal Dad might think my purpose is not to argue for a more wasteful system. I simply think that any discussion around the merits of or issues with the new system (which I think that the BoE are going through at the moment) should recognise the true implications of the design.

  7. “I wonder if that was the intention of SFUSD to allow kids from non-AA to attend AA schools (simply because they won the lottery and are able to swap) over kids who live in the area, had priority, but didn’t win the lottery.”

    The intention, as I understand it, is to get a better match of preferences. This is a standard feature in these types of systems.

    We’re seeing more effect of out-of-AA kids affect “trophy” AA schools because of:
    1. The “trophy” AA schools are more impacted by out-of-AA siblings, so there are less slots. Many of the out-of-AA kids you’re hearing about are going to actually be sibs of out-of-AA kids. Miraloma and Clarendon spring to mind here – AA schools that had GE programs that were drawing from all over the city.
    2. Those who get into the “trophy” AA schools have slot for which they can trade with more kids. If your AA is Miraloma, then there’s a probably going to be a lot of families in the SE who would trade their slot with you. Sunnyside is a good school but not as popular, so there’d be fewer swaps available for AA kids in Sunnyside.

    So, this is a case where it advantages families the AA area for “trophy” schools. If you want to get into a citywide program, you have better odds to do so if your local school is popular.

  8. “I disagree. Families who want to get into their (moderately popular) attendance school are well advised to put every single “trophy” school on the list, even if they have no attention to go there,”

    But swap for what? Let’s take a case where you’re in the Excelsior, list a bunch of SE schools, but what you really want is Monroe Spanish Immersion. You list a bunch of schools including Claire Lillenthal. But you’re still running the chance that you get Lillenthal, don’t get a swap (because not many listing Lillenthal would also list Monroe SI), and are then faced with a big logistical problem. There’s still little reason to put down a school *that you don’t want at all* just because it’s popular, because you might end up with that school and have a logistical nightmare. In that case, better to put down (say) Longfellow or Jose Ortega, schools that might work logistically.

    There’s an incentive to list a lot of schools. At the least, you should list any school you’d want more than what the closest school with slack capacity, because that’s where the district is most likely to designate you to if you strike out in the lottery.

    Listing many schools is a win for the district (it’s easier to fit parents who show more flexibility) and for the parents.

    But there’s not a reason to list schools that you don’t want. The trophies are great schools, but not all trophies are going to suit all families or all parents. Monroe and Taylor are now “trophies”, but they’re not going to work logistically for everyone. Similarly, the school culture or pedagogy may not be a fit. Advising people to list a lot of schools they like is good advice. Advising people to list popular schools they don’t want just because they might get a swap isn’t.

  9. I completely agree with SF_Mommy re: the swap. My daughter might not have been directly impacted (i.e., didn’t win the lottery, so can’t even swap), but I wonder if that was the intention of SFUSD to allow kids from non-AA to attend AA schools (simply because they won the lottery and are able to swap) over kids who live in the area, had priority, but didn’t win the lottery.

  10. “It’s an in-the-weeds aspect of the algorithm that shouldn’t make a difference to your choices or strategy.”

    I disagree. Families who want to get into their (moderately popular) attendance school are well advised to put every single “trophy” school on the list, even if they have no attention to go there, just to improve their odds for getting “swap material,” in case they are unlucky in the AA school lottery. That is NOT the same as “put down as many choices as you want of any school than you might want,” and the EPC materials did not make clear that this was the best strategy.

  11. “I had a conversation at the placement office last week with one of the counselors. She said that the counselors didn’t even know there was a “swap” in the algorithm prior to it being made public. How do you expect these counselors to advise the parents if they weren’t even aware of this? Just totally ludicrous.”

    I did a one-hour training with PPSSF on the assignment system back in September/August 2011 and *we* knew about it. And PPSSF would have learned from EPC. And a swap mechanism was in the discussions on the reassignment system as part of the assignment system reorganization in the presentations from Stanford and Duke. So I’m skeptical that an EPC counselor wasn’t told about it at some point.

    It’s an in-the-weeds aspect of the algorithm that shouldn’t make a difference to your choices or strategy. The district and PPSSF were pretty explicit in saying put down as many choices as you want of any school than you might want. So if you didn’t put a city-wide program down that you might have preferred to whatever school th. It is a *lottery.* Some people win. Some people lose. And the best way of minimizing your chances of losing are to *list a lot of schools.*

    More profoundly, the swap *makes no difference to how many parents get one of their choices*. The swap happens only between parents that *got one of their choices*. You did not get bumped from your AA school by a non-AA kid. Another AA kid got there in ahead of you in the lottery, and then swapped their slot out. Eliminating the swap would just leave the AA kid still occupying the slot.

  12. I had a conversation at the placement office last week with one of the counselors. She said that the counselors didn’t even know there was a “swap” in the algorithm prior to it being made public. How do you expect these counselors to advise the parents if they weren’t even aware of this? Just totally ludicrous.

  13. “Also, could you publish the statistics broken out by CTIP1, CTIP2 and none-CTIP?”

    AFAIK, there’s no such thing as non-CTIP. You’re either in CTIP-1 or CTIP-2.

    “Several other people in this thread have asked you to do this. So far, I notice that you have not responded to that request.”

    Hey hey hey. Go easy. In previous years, it’s taken a long time to get that data. The voluminous analysis of last years’ placement only got posted a week or so before the letters for this years’ run went out. The one number that really stood out for me in the analysis of last year’s applications was that the number of kindergarten applications last year to SFUSD were at 107% of actual kindergarten capacity. It’s hard for a choice system, or any allocation system, to not have disappointed families at that volume of applications.

    My surprise isn’t that we have 16% of applications this year getting none of their choices, but that the number isn’t in the 25%+ range. I think under the old “list only seven” system we’d have higher numbers of families getting none of their choices.

    Earlier on in this thread, I posted guesstimates of the non-sib numbers based on previous years’ percentages of sibs. (Beware that many people forget to subtract from the denominator as well as the nominator on the fraction.)

  14. “What are “swoos”?

    What you end up with trying to write “swaps” on an ipad and have fat finger syndrome.

  15. Rachel,

    I am concerned that even the school board, which voted to approve the assignment plan algorithm, has not actually seen the algorithm. Is this because it’s too hard to understand for the layman to understand? Or is it confidential? I am not convinced by the “trust us, we’re EPC!” argument — they have bungled it too many times over the dozen or so years I’ve been closely following the enrollment process to have any faith they could carry out an entirely new algorithm correctly.

    I would feel much more confident if the assignment system algorithm were audited by someone outside the district, such as the researchers who initially designed it. A seemingly minor tweak could end up with unforeseen consequences, and there are clearly enough questions to warrant a review.

    Anne

  16. Marnie Dunsmore

    Thank you for making the request.

  17. Hi Marnie -
    As I’ve posted previously, I’ve asked for that data and will post it when I have it.

  18. Marnie Dunsmore

    Rachel,

    Could you please have the assignment statistics broken out in terms of those who had sibling preference and those who did not?

    Also, could you publish the statistics broken out by CTIP1, CTIP2 and none-CTIP?

    Several other people in this thread have asked you to do this. So far, I notice that you have not responded to that request.

  19. “I am not necessarily advocating for the removal of the swap mechanism, but I would like the Board to be fully aware of the consequences of:
    1. Not looking at ranking order in the initial assignments
    2. Allowing parents to list unlimited numbers of schools
    3. No reduced priority in Round 2 if you are assigned one of the schools on your list
    4. The swap
    These four things in combination will encourage a lot of gaming of the system now that people know about the swap.”

    The point of this design was to *reduce* the amount of gaming and strategizing. If you have ranking as a tiebreaker (like we used to have) then that distorts how parents rank schools from their actual preferences. If you give preference in Round 2 to those that get none of their choices, there’s an incentive to list fewer schools or pad the application with high demand schools so as to get into a higher preference cohort. Having no limit on the numbers of schools you can list increases the chance of fitting a family with a school. These are all improvements on the older system, and make it less “strategic” than the old design.

  20. “So, the swaps DO displace Attendance Area families from their Attendance Area schools by limiting the spots available in subsequent rounds.”

    Your argument is to make the lottery less efficient and more wasteful so there’ll be more churn in Round 2. Can you see why this is not appealing?

  21. What are “swoos”?