A challenging discussion

I’ve been surprised at the level of controversy our CTIP proposal has generated since it first appeared in the Chronicle in early June. Honestly, since the very beginning President Fewer and I have seen it as a “tweak” that encourages people to take another look at their attendance area schools by placing very modest limits on the currently very strong preference enjoyed by residents of priority census tracts.

Tonight the Board had a deep, substantive discussion of the proposal. It was a challenging discussion for me, because (as often happens when you put forward a legislative proposal) the longer and harder I think about the issue, the more convinced I am that we are right: the current strength of the CTIP proposal represents a perverse disincentive for families in certain census tracts to select or even consider their attendance area schools (you could even call it a hard shove away from those schools!).  What happens instead? “The Same Starting Line: Erasing the Opportunity Gap Between Poor and Middle-Class Children,” a report by the Appleseed Foundation on how school boards can promote educational equity, puts it this way:

The most active voters and most vocal stakeholders routinely live in and send their kids to school in more middle-class neighborhoods. Their political activism, coupled with a Board’s likelihood to follow previous resource distribution practices, works to the comparative disadvantage of people in poor neighborhoods. Teachers may transfer to progressively more middle-class schools as they build seniority, forsaking schools in tougher neighborhoods perceived as less safe or desirable. When permitted, some of the most ambitious and well-prepared children from higher poverty neighborhoods leave their own community to attend the higher-wealth schools, leaving behind an academically struggling population with various out-of-school challenges as well.

My Board colleagues are proving a bit harder to convince. There were concerns raised about the amount of time and community engagement we’ve put into this proposal (some think not enough, even though we eliminated two priority CTIP census tracts last summer without even a vote of the Board and barely got a peep) and also whether it will do enough to reverse our trend of racially-isolated schools and an achievement gap between students of different races. My personal feeling is that our proposal will not, on its own, either reverse the trend of racial isolation nor reverse our achievement gap, but I do think it might provide a slight nudge in a different direction. I am also hoping that if our proposal passes, it will increase faith in the transparency and predictability of the system — I hear complaints about those two things a lot.

What I know is that our current policies aren’t pointing us in a good direction, and I think our currently strong CTIP preference isn’t helping. There are some pretty staggering statistics when you look closely at the data the Board reviewed tonight. For example: On page 26 of the most recent annual report on student assignment, there is a chart showing the 20 schools that received more than 15 first choice requests from residents of CTIP1. Those requests listed in that chart represent 529 of 829 total first choice requests from residents of CTIP1, or about 64% of all first choice requests from residents of CTIP1. Of those requests:

  • 177 requests, or 21 percent of total first choice requests from CTIP1 residents, were for K seats at citywide schools. These requests would not be subject to our proposal.
  • Another 167 requests, or 20 percent of total first choice requests from CTIP1, were for K seats in citywide programs. These requests would not be subject to our proposal.
  • 51 first choice requests from CTIP1 residents–6 percent of total requests–were for attendance area programs with more than 60% African American, Latino or Pacific Islander students. These requests (based the race of the requesters and the racial makeup of the programs would not add to the diversity of the programs.
  • Overall, of those 20 schools receiving the bulk of requests from CTIP1 residents, 8 are more than 60 percent African American, Latino and/or Pacific Islander, and another one or two are very close.

This document, showing first choice CTIP requests, by race, for non-citywide programs, shows the self-segregation perpetuated by our CTIP program clearly. The key for the tiebreaker abbreviations is as follows:

AAP- Requests from students who live in the same attendance area of the school and are also enrolled in an SFUSD PreK or TK in the same attendance area.

AA – Requests from students who live in the attendance area of the school requested.

PK-Requests fro students who attend an SFUSD PreK or TK program at the citywide school they are applying to.

S - Requests from a younger sibling of a student who is enrolled in and will be attending the school.

CTIP1 – Students who live in areas of the ciy with the lowest quintile of average test scores.

One of the other arguments from this evening is that this change doesn’t do enough to either address segregation or the achievement gap. Well, yeah. It’s a very modest change, because this was about all President Fewer and I thought the system could handle. And yet, the level of pushback we’ve received makes me realize we may be — for now – stuck with a system that doesn’t work and doesn’t meet our goals, because no one can agree on what might work better.

UPDATE: I have a question. One Commissioner raised the relatively small number of families who list their attendance area school first as evidence that most families don’t actually want the closest school — that they would actually rather choose a school and that predictability and proximity are less important to families. If you support this proposal, but didn’t list your attendance area school first, I’d like to know why, and what your reasons were. Leave me your answer in the comments.

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27 responses to “A challenging discussion

  1. I live in Dogpatch. My neighbors in Dogpatch and Potrero who leaned toward public schools all wanted to send their kids to Daniel Webster, our AA school. However, because the GE program there is still perceived to be underperforming, we all tried to get DW Spanish Immersion. I put DW SI as my #1 choice on the SFUSD lottery last year (2013) and didn’t get it. Most of my neighbors did end up getting into DW SI. We ended up going with Creative Arts Charter because it was the best choice for our daughter (she’s highly arts-focused), but would I have preferred to not have to drive across town just for school? Hell yeah! I’m a working parent, and things are hard enough without a commute just for school. I’m a bit jealous of my neighbors whose kids go to DW who don’t have to deal with a commute. The lack of commute would be a great thing, and having stronger ties within the community around the AA school is also huge.

  2. At the time families were told their only options were their neighborhood school or a school specifically designated “alternative,” Alvarado was unpopular with the neighbors and was easy to get into. It only became popular under the citywide-choice system. Just something to consider in the discussion.

  3. My attendance area school is Alvarado. I originally wanted that school as my first choice and knew the chances were low. Therefore, I toured a dozen schools, including Miraloma, which I fell in love with. I put Miraloma first and Alvarado second, and got neither. After multiple enrollment rounds, I enrolled my son in private school and entered the wait pool. I was only allowed one wait pool request so I put Miraloma, which had a shorter wait pool list than Alvarado at the time. My son cleared the wait pool after school started, so I pulled him out after one week and forfeited the private school tuition I paid to send him there. I would have been delighted to enroll in Alvarado in the first place!

    Not one family on our block has been placed at Alvarado even though it is our attendance area school. This is only exacerbated by the CTIP preference. The similarly aged children of six families on our block attend (or recently attended) six different elementary schools – Flynn, Edison Charter, Miraloma, Clarendon, Synergy, and French-American – and three different middle schools (Everett, Hoover, and Gateway). We get in six different cars to drive to nine different schools each morning, clogging traffic and bypassing Alvarado and Lick. Since none of us were assigned Alvarado, we do not feed into Lick except for the one family at Flynn . . . that’s another story.

    Meanwhile, a good friend from college recently relocated from the east coast and both parents work in SF. They very much wanted to live in SF but were confused and stressed by the public school enrollment process. With their two sons in preschool, they grudgingly moved to Mill Valley instead to ensure a certain and smooth transition to kindergarten. Now they commute each day into SF.

  4. we didn’t choose our attendance area school because i didn’t care for the principal and was scared off by it on the surface. after listing 10 schools and shooting straight for the middle (milk) for our #1 choice, we didn’t get anything at all and were placed in muir, which is actually closest to us. i think that jim did a good job summarizing the issues with muir as we saw them. after two rounds and no matches in the lottery, we opted for a charter school. now our tiny block has four families going to four different schools.

  5. My kids are SFUSD alumni now, but at the time we first applied to K, official SFUSD policy was that you went to your attendance-area school or tried to get into an officially designated alternative school, and those were all the options you were told you had. In reality, it was possible to request and get into another non-alternative school, but that was under the radar and not what parents were told.

    (For most families, the official attendance-area school WAS the neighborhood school, but there were also satellite zones based on an old desegregation plan, so some families’ official school was not nearby. I don’t know the numbers — how many addresses had nearby schools of assignment vs. satellite zones. It appeared that those satellite zones were mostly in low-income neighborhoods, so most non-low-income families did have entree to a nearby school.)

    Our attendance-area school was around the corner from us, but it wasn’t at all popular with the neighbors, and anyone who applied could walk right in. We looked at it but were extremely unimpressed with the principal, so we joined the herd and chose an alternative school considerably farther away, which we had to go through the usual several rounds to get into. Then SFUSD changed the process so the district was officially all-choice. Also, that school’s principal retired and was replaced by one who was more appealing to parents. At that point, the school started to become popular, and now Miraloma Elementary is one of the most sought-after schools in SFUSD. By the way, a parallel situation applies to Grattan, which was not at all sought-after at that time — I mention this since it’s cited above as a highly popular school. Grattan didn’t become popular until the attendance-area quasi-mandate was removed. (I don’t know if it also had an unappealing principal, however.) The same is true of a long list of other schools that were shunned by middle-class neighbors back when there was near-guaranteed/mandatory neighborhood assignment.

    I’m curious about how this recent reality jibes with the idea that guaranteed/mandatory neighborhood assignment will bring families back to SFUSD, or improve schools. Did the percentage going private increase when the “all-choice” system came in? That’s a rhetorical question, because I’ve served on enrollment task forces that have examined enrollment data over the years, and I know it didn’t. But how DOES this recent history square with the current ideas? Is it a leap of faith that families will behave differently this time around?

  6. That seems like a good idea Katy. Though isnt the city sort of encouraged to clump together free-lunch eligible kids so they hit the 50% threshold for extra funding?

  7. Anne – the data on how many list first would mainly tell you whether there is a knot of people out there who just really want their AA school, and where they live. I think we probably all have some pretty good assumptions about that but it would be good to see what that data says.
    You’re right that the system itself doesn’t penalize you for listing your AA school as #3 instead of #1, and also that it currently incentivizes listing that “shoot the moon” school first (often a K-8 or language immersion program).
    Whatever system we have or have had always creates incentives for certain behavior (the old system incentivized perverse behavior of listing seven very high demand choices in Round I since you’d get strong preference in Round II).
    As far as analyzing the effect of the ‘flip’ — honestly I have very mixed feelings about this cutesy nickname — our Stanford researchers have done so (see the presentations I posted last week). I have some reservations about their data but it basically shows little or no effect. We know it would perhaps incentivize more families to consider their AA school more deeply than the current system — Sandy and I think that is worth trying.

  8. Hi Rachel,

    No kindergartner here, but my understanding of the process is that people should rank and list schools in the order of their true preference. So if you’d be satisfied with your AA school, but still want to give an oversubscribed citywide program a shot, you won’t be penalized. Why not list “Shoot the Moon Elementary” #1, “Impossible to Get in to Spanish Immersion” #2, and then list your AA school that you really love and would be completely happy with #3? The more important statistic would be whether someone put their AA school on their list at all, not whether they put it number 1. Giving greater weight to a parent’s first choice would subvert the design of the system, as I understand it.

    Would it be possible for the board to consult with Roth etc. on this point and the CTIP1 flip? They might be able to better analyze any unforeseen consequences.

  9. Thanks Rachel. I agree – if your AA school is not that desirable than your chances there are better than elsewhere, but without predictability that doesn’t help much. What makes a neighborhood school attractive to us is the ability to plan and prepare, to start making long term plans for our family and to be involved in a local community of like-minded parents who are committed to making a positive difference. Even if it’s not necessarily the best school in the city, that’s worth a lot.

  10. KH I need to request that updated data. I’ve seen it in the past few years but based on this discussion I feel like it might be changing. Some board members are claiming that the relatively low # of folks who list their AA schools at all ( around 50 %) is an indication that most people woiuld rather a choice than a close school. I am not sure how to interpret that data but it doesn’t square with what I hear from so many parents.

  11. Rachel, what percentage of people who list their AA school as #1, get their AA school? It seems that a few people felt like they would not get their AA school if they listed it. I’m wondering if the data supports that fear. From my understanding, if you list at least 15 schools and put your AA at #1, you have a good shot at getting your AA. Thanks!

  12. I agree with Katy. CT1P should be for low income families. That would be the best.

  13. I think over a longer time period, an AA-centric system will encourage people to consider their AA-school when choosing a neighborhood to live in. That would likely increase percentage of families that really do want their AA school.

    I’m curious that sfmom22 claims that because the city is very segregated, giving AA preference over CTIP1 would increase school segration. I believe Rachel has previously cited data that claim the opposite. Who is correct?

  14. Rob – unless your attendance area school is very high demand (Clarendon, Grattan) you have more likelihood of getting it than another attendance area or citywide school. Look at the demand patterns before you write it off as unlikely.

  15. We’ll shortly be entering the lottery for the first time for the 2015/2016 year, and the lack of predictability in the current system is the main reason why we might not put our AA school first, even though we are in favor of your proposal.

    Both our kids were born here and we would love to have (had) the opportunity to support our local school and be part of a strong, involved parents’ group with others in our community. If it wasn’t for the current CTIP preferences, that would have been possible and a priority for us from the beginning.

    However, the current system makes that level of involvement impossible today – because no-one knows in advance where they will end up – and even creates some disincentive to build a strong neighborhood school since that ultimately just increases our chance of being denied a place.

    Instead, we’ll need to tour or research dozens of schools across the city – amongst which our AA school is now ‘just another school’ – while our friends and neighbors all do the same (or opt out of the system altogether). By that stage it seems there will be little incentive remaining to favor our AA school above whichever one then seems the best overall.

    The current system also seems to have done little to solve the original problem and if anything just provides further incentives for gentrification in CTIP areas while also *discouraging* integration with the existing schools there (which the data seems to confirm)..

    The tweak you’re proposing avoids (or mitigates) these problems, and provides predictability for those who want it, while still allowing plenty of opportunity for those in CTIP areas who want to go elsewhere to do so, with priority at any of the citywide schools or programs (including the one at our local AA school).

    Good luck with your proposal, it seems like a sensible and much needed balance.

  16. Rachel, I appreciate all the thought and analysis you’re putting into this proposal. Our oldest child is starting kindergarten this year. We applied to Clarendon as our #1 choice, and Grattan as our #2, with our Attendance Area school listed #3. We listed Clarendon and Grattan so high because they score so high in evaluations and are very highly regarded. We ended up getting into our Attendance Area school (a good one), and are quite happy with the results. We would’ve been thrilled if there was more consistency in the school selection process (per your proposal), so we would’ve saved dozens of hours of research and school visits (not to mention the stress of uncertainty). I think if your proposal passes, many neighborhoods with solid AA schools will get stronger/ more cohesive, and there will be more neighborhood involvement and support for their AA schools.
    If there were some way to strengthen the schools in the CTIP neighborhoods, so everyone had a good AA option, that’d be great… but we all know that’s a big challenge…

  17. sfmom22@yahoo.com

    Rachel, I don’t think there’s any doubt that having attendance area carry more weight in school assignments will further segregate SFUSD schools both racially and socioeconomically since the city (and, therefore the attendance areas) are quite segregated. I agree that CTIP1 status has not given disadvantaged students as much of a boost as we had hoped. Perhaps this is because CTIP1 was added concomitantly with a marked reduction in school busing, and low income families are less able to get across town without transportation than are middle income ones. IMO, you should keep CTIP1 before attendance area in the assignment system but add more transportation options and more publicity on SFUSD policies to families via churches and subsidized day care centers.

  18. We did not list our attendance area school (Sutro) first because we simply preferred Peabody, and we live closer to it. Actually, we live closer to at least five other elementary schools than Sutro, to which the entire eastern half of the Presidio was assigned. As Heather commented above, attendance area does not necessarily equal closest school. We were very surprised and happy to get our first choice in round one, despite having no preferences (no CTIP1, sibling, AA…) so listing 30ish popular schools and the swap system must have worked for us. (As a side note, it was our second year doing the SFUSD lottery and we redshirted our child the first year when we struck out…so it actually took us two years to “win” the lottery.)

    My first reaction to your proposal is that I am for it. But then I also wonder if it would have a negative impact on families who do not prefer their AA school and so they need to “win” a citywide school – either because that’s the school they want or for swap value. If you swap AA and CTIP1 priority, then perhaps that will push more CTIP1 families to concentrate on citywide schools, leaving fewer spots for the rest of us.

    Whether your proposal passes or not, I think CTIP1 priority should be capped at each school. So say something like 20% max on CTIP1 priority and then if there are any CTIP1 applicants left for a particular school after pulling CTIP1 and AA etc, then that they go in the general pool.

  19. For our older child, we put a nearby school that we preferred as #1, with our attendance area school as #2. For our second child, we wanted the same school, so only put that one.

  20. In reply to SFMom, your strategy was based on misinformation, unfortunately. It’s not too late to get on the Round 5 waitlist, and you’d have as good a chance as any AA applicant even if you start this late — the wait lists at West Portal are not so long. If you wish, do so by Friday. But make sure you understand what getting into West Portal would mean at this point: if and only if you get in, you lose your spot at your current school in favor of West Portal, and that happens some time within the first 2 weeks of school, meaning another transition for your child.

    For whatever it’s worth, there is no limit to the number of schools you can put down on your list, and putting an “unlikely” school first does not diminish your chances of getting into your 2nd, 5th or 17th schools. You are supposed to just put as many schools as you want down, in the order you want them. We put 30; the more the merrier. But hindsight is 20/20. :)

  21. I picked a school that was close but not in the attendance area because it was a better school for us. I want to choose between a few school close by, not just one specific school.

  22. We live in the Muir AA and do not have CTIP1 status, though many of our neighbors do. Nevertheless, we did not choose Muir for our daughter, and got into Rosa Parks JBBP instead (our 9th choice, but we were more than happy with the result anyways). CTIP1 status wouldn’t have changed our choices; it would have merely given us better chances.

    As for why we didn’t choose Muir, I’ll try to be honest here. I think our answer would mostly be familiar and predictable:
    -Low test scores
    -Lack of a middle class (school skews heavily towards lower incomes w/ 90% free/reduced lunch)
    -Concerns that our daughter, who has already been to TK and is already reading, etc, will not be challenged
    -Concerns over the after care
    -Preference for a strong language program
    -We can get something that works better for us a few minutes further in any direction

    That last one is the most important. In a choice-based system, we found it easy to choose something else that we preferred. Some people are not so lucky with their lottery numbers, but many people seem to find a way out, be it public, charter or private.

    The lack of a middle class issue is the tragic one. We have an economically and racially diverse AA — with Muir and the neighboring projects in the middle, and Hayes Valley and Alamo Square Park on the edges. But a school like Muir seems to have a self-perpetuating problem. “People like me” — middle and upper income, professional, higher education — aren’t choosing the school because people like me aren’t choosing the school.

    If there were ever a cluster of middle income folk that banded together in a positive way and tried to make an honest go of it one year, maybe things would change. It seems like some local schools have turned themselves around fabulously — Grattan, McKinley, New Traditions etc. But as people in my neighborhood try to cram their kids into whatever “acceptable” nook they can in Citywide or other AA school, the Muirs out there just get left behind.

    It’s not impossible for that to change, and in some ways a strict neighborhood system might help turn things around (if it didn’t cause further private school flight). But I’ve also heard it argued that the District on the whole has thrived post-neighborhood-system of the 80s, so the question is what can we do that keeps the schools improving while not sacrificing the educational opportunity for the poor and working class in the city.

  23. Might I add – I’m not sure the logic behind my strategy was valid because, honestly, I feel like I don’t understand the lottery system.

    My AA school is West Portal, which I would have loved my child to attend. As I stated, I didn’t list it as first choice because it is always oversubscribed and I thought the chances of getting it were too low. i would have listed WP first if the ctip flip had been in place, since it would have given another third of the K seats to AA residents. Or, that is the way I understand it. Please correct me if I am wrong.

  24. Heather_94108

    I think there are multiple reasons why a family might not list their attendance area first:
    – Older sibling(s) attending a different school. This was the case for us. Our oldest child started K under the old assignment system when we actually didn’t have an attendance area school and our other children have followed her there.
    – Desire for an Immersion or Language Program. This was the case with my good friend whose family has a strong affiliation with Japan and whose children are enrolled in a JBBP program.
    – Desire for a K-8 program. I have friends who strongly prefer the K-8 model to the K-5 followed by 6-8 Middle School model.
    – Proximity/Convenience. Your Attendance Area school is not necessarily the school closest to your house. For example the Peabody Attendance Area cuts off a 1/2 block north of the school on California. People could live less than a block from Peabody and not be in the Attendance Area.

    Not all of these are easily quantifiable but it should be possible to break out those who aren’t listing their AA school first because they have an older sibling at a different school and it should also be possible to break out the numbers who aren’t listing it first because they prefer a citywide school or program.

  25. The reason we did not choose our Attendance Area school is that it was not convenient for us to get to. Daniel Webster was our Attendance Area school. We also did not choose our closest school Bessie Carmichael as we did not find it suited our sons needs (large student body, no guarantee that we would have a spot in aftercare).

    Another reason I have heard for people not choosing their Attendance Area school is that older siblings are at another school and though the parents may want to go to their Attendance area school the older sibling did not get in during their lottery, therefor the younger sibling will of course enroll where the older sibling is.

  26. I did not list my AA school first because it is historically oversubscribed. Therefore, I felt that putting my AA school first would be a waste; rather I listed a school where I thought there was a chance of getting in via straight lottery (and swap). My strategy would have been different if the CTIP flip had been in place.

  27. Without an income qualifier, the CTIP tiebreakers won’t serve to desegregate the schools or help to close the “gap”. Make CTIP only for those families who fall under a certain income level, for families who qualify for free and/or reduced lunch.