Author Archives: rpnorton

Recap: November 18 2014

Not much on the agenda tonight, but a long meeting nevertheless — followed by closed session!

Most of the Board’s time this evening was spent listening to public comment:

  • A group of parents from Mission Education Center came to tell us not to relocate students from Daniel Webster ES to their site when construction begins on that school next year. The construction will make Webster unusable for the 2015-16 school year, so the district staff is evaluating several options (none of them very popular) for housing Webster staff and students during the construction. Mission Education Center (a newcomer school that is serving large numbers of unaccompanied minors coming to S.F.) and Starr King have been two options under consideration. Last month, we heard from Starr King families that their site cannot accommodate all or part of the Webster enrollment.  Discussions continue on finding the least disruptive way to get the construction under way while continuing to provide Webster staff and students with a place to teach and learn in reasonable comfort.
  • A group of parents from Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy brought us a petition signed by about 100 parents asking for something to be done to help their school move forward. There have been several years of problems, from distrust between staff and parents to faltering parent involvement, and culminating with prolonged absences in several classroom due to teacher leaves and other issues. Parents who testified to the Board tonight were invited to meet with Deputy Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero and Assistant Superintendent Richard Curci (who supervises the school) , and after the meeting the administration reported that the meeting was very productive. I hope so. Leaders in the school’s Castro district neighborhood feel very strongly about supporting the school that bears Harvey Milk’s name. The neighborhood is affluent, and the student body is already very diverse. There’s no reason why this school shouldn’t be cherished by its parents, and I don’t blame the frustration of families whose children have endured weeks of classrooms with substitutes or sometimes no teacher at all. At the enrollment fair, President Fewer and I spoke with an HMCRA family who was very frustrated that their 5th grader’s classroom had been hit hard by the substitute shortage. The little girl was there and looked almost humiliated when her mother described to me that she had been placed for several days in a Kindergarten class because the class had missed a teacher. Anyway, HMCRA isn’t the only school hit by the sub shortage, but the extended leave of one teacher has meant that parents have really noticed the problem.
  • Several parents and teachers came to talk about our ongoing contract negotiations with United Educators of SF, the union that represents our teachers, counselors, paraprofessionals, nurses and other certificated (non administration) staff. The negotiations have been tough and we’ve been working on them a long time. I remain very optimistic that we will come to a deal and that it will provide as much support to our valued staff as fiscally prudent.

A bittersweet part of the evening was the testimony and reading of Commissioner Haney’s “In Support of the Prevention of Gun Violence” resolution. Crafted with lots of input from students at Buena Vista Horace Mann, the resolution seeks to articulate the problem of gun violence in many of our communities, and detail the impact that violence has on young people. It asks the district to take numerous steps to help prevent gun violence, including education for parents and supports and curriculum for students. This resolution was particularly meaningful for the Buena Vista Horace Mann students, because their former classmate Rashawn Williams was tragically killed earlier this fall after a dispute with another student. The process of helping craft this resolution clearly had a healing and galvanizing effect for the teens, and it was very moving to hear their testimony and see their engagement in trying to make something good come out of a terrible tragedy. The resolution passed unanimously.

The Board also accepted the Williams Settlement annual report. Every year, the district must survey building conditions and classroom equipment at its lowest-performing schools. If deficiencies are found, the district must correct those deficiencies and then, using an independent auditor, issue a report to the Board on the problems found and how they were corrected. The requirement dates back to a class action suit filed in 2000 by students in SFUSD against the state of California (Eliezer Williams, et. al. v. California). The suit was settled in 2004 and as part of the settlement the state had to establish uniform complaint procedures and survey/reporting requirements.  This year, 94 percent of classrooms surveyed were adequately staffed and equipped at the beginning of school. Where deficiencies were found — primarily some wiring problems and textbook shortages at a few high schools–the independent auditors reviewed the problems and reported they had been corrected.

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In other news, congratulations to Emily Murase and Hydra Mendoza on being re-elected to the Board earlier this month, and a big congratulations and welcome to Shamann Walton for his successful run. Commissioners (new and returning) will be sworn in in early January.

2014 Voting Guide

Keep thinking of things I left out! Updating to add guidance on Supervisor races, Oakland Mayor (for the possible Oaklanders reading this or those who have friends/family/roots in that city), and a few more local propositions.
Folks — here are my endorsements.  Whether or not you agree, please vote. Turnout in San Francisco is expected to be very low — about 40 percent is what I’m hearing. As of late this week, only 58,000 absentee ballots had been returned.  (Historical voter turnout figures are here).  If you don’t vote, you don’t get to complain!

Closest to my heart, and I suspect to the hearts of readers of this blog, are the three seats up for the Board of Education. There is a very strong field of candidates this year, but these candidates rise to the top:

Norton and Murphy Mark Murphy: Mark is a dear friend of mine, but that’s not why I’m promoting his candidacy. I first met Mark in 2006, when as an elementary school parent I was struggling with some issues at our school. Mark is not a parent, but he is married to a 5th grade teacher who taught my children. Since he is a communications expert at his day job Mark attended a parent meeting and helped a group of us work through a difficult situation. He’s thoughtful, a great listener, and very interested and engaged in the issues that face our district. I was thrilled when he agreed to let me appoint him to the Public Education Enrichment Fund (Prop H) Advisory Committee, and was not at all surprised when he was elected co-Chair of the committee last year.  I also deeply respect and support Mark’s commitment to the particular issues of LGBT youth — back in 2010 he worked closely with Commissioner Sandra Lee Fewer to pass and implement legislation increasing mental health and other supports for this particular group after we saw shocking data about the increased risks faced by this population in our schools. He will be an amazing, collegial and smart addition to the Board of Education and I support him unconditionally.

Norton and waltonShamann Walton:  I am so excited at the prospect of serving on the Board with Shamann. I got to know him during the 2012 campaign, when he ran for school board the first time. Though he was not ultimately successful, I was very impressed with his low-key, easygoing style and deep engagement in making sure the schools are doing their best with all kids, particularly around job readiness and vocational skills. He’s got long experience working in government and the social service sector in San Francisco, and he is another candidate who will absolutely hit the ground running come January, when the new term begins.

I’m also endorsing my colleague Emily Murase for re-election. Emily has been a hard-worker and a solid vote on the Board. Last year we elected her into leadership as Vice President, and she’s done a good job in the often thankless role of making sure the work of the Board moves forward. As a Board member, she’s made particular effort to address bullying in schools, and is a strong advocate for more world language programs.

Propositions: I won’t bore you with all of my positions on local propositions, but I feel particularly strongly and well-informed about these three:

YES on Props A and B , which would work on improving transit in different ways. Prop A is a bond championed by the Mayor, Prop B was placed on the ballot by a majority of Supervisors to tie Muni’s operational funding to population growth. A has broad support, B is opposed by some as a ‘money grab’ by Muni. To me, tying Muni’s funding to growing population is a good thing. SF is pretty crowded these days and only getting more so. Investing in Muni to increase service seems crucial, and we haven’t seen much commitment to that coming out of City Hall.

YES on Prop C, the “Children and Families First” initiative. Prop. C is a charter amendment that changes the way the City administers the Children’s Fund and the Public Education Enrichment Fund. Both of these funds represent crucial support to kids, families and schools in San Francisco. Prop C will modestly increase revenues to these funds, and improve the administration of them. There is almost no opposition to this charter amendment.

YES on Prop E, the soda tax.  Anyone who follows me on Twitter or Facebook knows clearly how strongly I feel about this one. It’s controversial, but a critical public health initiative. There is no longer any doubt about the fact that a tax on sugary beverages will reduce consumption, and that’s why Coca Cola and Pepsi have spent almost $10 million (that we know of — the full tally won’t be available until after the election) to defeat this initiative and a similar one in Berkeley.  Do you really think they care about supporting your right to choose to drink diabetes in a bottle without paying a tax to do so? This is not a philosophical argument, friends — it’s about soda company profits vs. the health of our communities. The SF Chronicle editorial supporting Prop. E is the clearest, most cogent and factual argument I’ve seen. If you’re on the fence about Prop. E, read it.

YES on Prop F is a no-brainer. The plan for redeveloping Pier 70 is great, and has been constructed painstakingly with lots of community input. When this plan is completed, we will have a stunning new development on the waterfront with parks, space for local artists and makers, and housing.
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YES on Prop I, the Beach Chalet Soccer Complex. As Recreation and Parks General Manager Phil Ginsburg likes to say, this is the most vetted soccer field in America. For years, the Recreation and Parks Department has been trying to upgrade the soccer fields at the Beach Chalet, out near Ocean Beach. Many months out of the year those fields must be closed due to poor drainage, and players cite ruts and gopher holes as constant hazards. The recent dustup at Mission Playground highlighted the overarching fact that there is huge and growing demand for soccer playfields in San Francisco, and we need more fields to meet the demand. The Beach Chalet project will address this. Let SF kids play and vote YES on Prop I. Correspondingly also vote NO on Prop H, which landed on the ballot as a last-ditch signature gathering effort to stop the project in its tracks. (Let me just be up front and say I am not going to post comments that contain screeds on artificial turf. I acknowledge there is controversy over whether artificial turf poses hazards to players but I have found the debate to be remarkably short on facts. This analysis of the existing scientific data is the most even-handed, up-to-date and factual article I have found on this issue, written by Andrew Maynard, the Director of the University of Michigan’s Center on Risk Science — someone with no dog in this fight.)

Assembly District 17: David Chiu is the clear choice. His collaborative style is what we need in Sacramento. David is a good listener and someone who has demonstrated his ability to reach across ideological differences and find consensus.

City College: Dr. Amy Bacharach for the two year seat. Rodrigo Santos for the four year seat.

State Superintendent for Public Instruction: No recommendation. I realize that doesn’t provide much guidance, but the fact is, I’m disappointed in both candidates. Tom Torlakson is well-meaning, and I supported him in 2010, but he has been completely ineffective in this role. I’m embarrassed for him that he is touting the Local Control Funding Formula as one of his achievements– the LCFF was entirely Governor Brown’s baby.  Similarly, Marshall Tuck is appealing in some ways but he has been bankrolled and pushed hard by the charter school lobby. I am so tired of having my hands tied when it comes to charter schools — on everything from granting petitions to facilities. Not all charter schools are bad — I’ve voted for several new petitions since coming on to the Board, including Gateway MS and KIPP High School–but the Education Code with respect to charter schools really needs an overhaul.

So, it is galling to me that the my choices for this office amount to a tired political hack or a candidate whose chief experience in education comes from his time as a charter school executive. I’ve voted, but I’m purposefully not sharing who I voted for because I really have no idea if I made the right choice.

Fascinating CTIP data

District staff recently shared some data analysis the Board had requested regarding the currently-on-hold CTIP proposal, and it is fascinating. Specifically, how many K families  request their attendance area (AA) school as their first choice, and receive that school? If the CTIP preference were placed below the AA preference in the assignment system, how many more AA residents would be assigned to their AA schools if they list those schools first?

For the 2013-14 school year assignment process, there were nine schools for which AA residents requested K seats as a first choice, and did not receive those schools. (Note that this analysis reflects requests for General Education pathways only; it does not reflect requests for citywide schools and programs since the attendance area preference does not apply to citywide seats):

Screen Shot 2014-10-02 at 10.18.21 PMFrom the above table, you can see that at a few of  these nine schools, changing the order of preferences could have a profound effect. At others, not so much. And at the vast majority of elementary schools, AA residents who wish to attend their local school have a 100 percent chance of being assigned to that school if they list it first — regardless of whether the CTIP preference is weaker or stronger.

From where I’m standing, I think this data strongly supports my assertion that our suggestion to change the order of assignment preferences will only give families who live in attendance areas for very small schools (Peabody, New Traditions), or highly-requested schools with a relatively small number of GE seats (Alvarado, Clarendon), or highly requested schools generally (Grattan, Miraloma, Argonne, Sherman) a little more certainty.* It should not affect anyone else, and it might increase diversity in schools that are located in CTIP areas — the Bayview, the Mission and the Western Addition.  What do you think?

The full table with data for all elementary schools is here.

Pondering unintended consequences: a recap

Long meeting at the Board tonight, starting with:

  • Five charter-school related items (Board voted 6-1 to pass material revisions to the KIPP HS and Gateway HS charters — Wynns dissenting; Board voted unanimously to adopt our Facilities Use Agreement for charters currently operating within our district; Board voted 6-1 to deny One Purpose school a charter — Mendoza-McDonnell dissenting; SF Flex HS renewal petition introduced and sent to Curriculum and Budget committees)
  • A long line of commenters for general public comment, including SEIU and UESF members, the bereaved family of a former SFUSD student who was gunned down last week  and parents from one elementary school commenting on the out-of-control behavior of an inclusion student (I had to leave the room for that – so inappropriate to publicly shame a child and his family in that way).
  • Sufficiency hearing on the availability of books, supplies and instructional materials for the start of school. I learned some interesting things: including that complaints from one middle school about the lack of a science textbook aligned with Common Core were a)accurate — the school has no such textbook; b)misplaced — no such textbook exists because the state hasn’t adopted one yet. On the one hand you have to sympathize with a teacher looking for an appropriate text and not finding one, but on the other I might be excused for feeling exasperated that the teacher has apparently complained to parents before discussing the issue with her principal, who could have explained the situation and helped the teacher resolve it before it got parents upset and escalated the issue to the school board.  I also learned, after asking questions about the Common Core math rollout, that the entire curriculum is available to teachers through School Loop, but being provided on paper a few units at a time. Many teachers don’t appear to know this and have complained to me and to their students’ parents that they are having trouble planning, so I urged administrators this evening to redouble their efforts to communicate the availability of an entire year’s worth of curriculum to those teachers who are looking to plan ahead.

Then, the main event: the proposal to modify the previously adopted set of feeders and preferences for elementary schools feeding into the new Willie Brown Jr. Middle School  (as the Superintendent stressed this evening, there’s a pause between the “Jr.” and the “Middle” to make clear this is not a junior middle school but a bona fide middle school). Let’s call it WBMS for short.

To recap, on August 26, the Board adopted a feeder plan that offered 5th grade students at eight elementary schools (Dr. George Washington Carver, Bret Harte, Malcolm X Academy, Dr. Charles Drew, Miraloma, Gordon J. Lau, E.R. Taylor and George R. Moscone) an additional feeder preference to WBMS. Under that proposal, students at these eight schools would still retain the feeders they already have but be offered additional access to WBMS.

Tonight, the Superintendent asked the Board to modify those preferences, so that 5th grade students would be offered admission to WBMS using the following order of preferences:

  1. Younger siblings of students who are enrolled in and will be attending the school during the year for which the younger sibling requests attendance (sibling preference);
  2. Students attending 5th grade at one of the following four elementary schools: Dr. George Washington Carver, Dr. Charles Drew, Bret Harte, and Malcolm X Academy (Bayview preference)
  3. Students who reside in 94124 (94124 preference)
  4. Students who reside in CTIP 1 census tracts (CTIP preference)
  5. Students attending 5th grade at one of the following four elementary schools: Gordon J. Lau, Miraloma, George R. Moscone, E.R. Taylor (Brown preference).

In addition, the Superintendent suggested modifying the high school choice process to give preferences to 8th grade students applying to high schools in the following order:

  1. Younger siblings of students who are enrolled in and will be attending the school during the year for which the younger sibling requests attendance;
  2. Students graduating from WBMS who were enrolled in and attended WBMS in 6th, 7th and 8th grade;
  3. CTIP1, with a minimum of 20 percent of seats reserved at each high school for students who live in CTIP1 census tracts;
  4. all other students.

The Superintendent further requested: “This new tiebreaker would become effective in the 2018-19 school year when Brown’s first cohort of students graduate from middle school and apply to high school and will continue for the 2019-20 and 2020-21 school years, but may be reviewed, modified or extended for future implementation.” (emphasis mine)

After a lengthy but cordial discussion, the Board voted unanimously to accept the Superintendent’s recommendations, but with an amendment proposed by Commissioner Wynns and passed 5-2 (Norton and Haney dissenting). That amendment deleted #5 from the list of elementary school preferences for WBMS admission. The result of the amendment is that the only elementary schools that will receive an additional, temporary feeder preference for Brown are the four elementary schools in the Bayview: Bret Harte, Dr. Charles R Drew, Dr. George Washington Carver and Malcolm X Academy. For now, meaning the 2015-16 and 2016-17 enrollment years, 5th graders at those four schools will have two choices for feeder middle schools. Depending on demand and other factors, the feeder to Brown may become permanent for those schools or the Board may choose to further revise feeder patterns district-wide to best support diverse, stable enrollment in all of the district’s middle schools.

There weren’t a lot of people in the audience by the time we got to this item, and there were only two public speakers — the Board Chair and the Executive Director of Parents for Public Schools San Francisco (PPS-SF). Both urged us to proceed carefully on making changes to student assignment. They were rightfully dismayed that PPS hasn’t been part of the conversation on two recent proposed changes to student assignment: the recent CTIP proposal and now these proposals on WBMS. President Fewer offered an explanation of sorts when she pointed out that it’s been a long time since we opened a school, and that we desperately want the new WBMS to succeed. I would agree: the Chronicle article this morning wasn’t wrong when it said there was a “whiff of desperation” in the speed with which this proposal  is proceeding.

(An aside: Some of the online chatter on this topic has focused on comparing the opening of WBMS to Chinese Immersion School at DeAvila — let’s just say: talk about desperation! The Board–let alone the public–didn’t even know about the CIS reopening until it was a fait accompli and had we had almost NO input on the format or programming of that school. It’s a long story and maybe all’s well that ended relatively well, but the way the reopening of CIS happened was not the administration’s finest moment. We continue–with limited success–to try to prevent old mistakes, not repeat them.)

I’m rambling, and it’s late, so I’ll end this recap by saying that I agree the process has been flawed, and I accept that whatever we do around student assignment is guaranteed not to be universally popular. But I think this WBMS high school preference,  limited as it is by the sunset provision thankfully inserted by the Superintendent, is worth trying. For a moment tonight it appeared as if a majority of the Board was veering towards doing almost nothing — adopting a limited set of additional elementary school preferences for WBMS and kicking the question of the high school preference down the road. From the process perspective that was an appealing course of action: it would have given us more time to let people know about the proposal and hear input. But it also would have ensured that the 2015-16 enrollment process that kicks off at the enrollment fair on Oct. 25 wouldn’t have offered complete information about a  WBMS enrollment incentive, or worse, might have derailed an enrollment incentive altogether for this year.

If all my years as a PPS member, school ambassador, enrollment coach and then school board member have taught me anything, it is that once a school earns a bad reputation, it takes years to clear — even after the conditions that caused the bad reputation in the first place are resolved. The previous incarnation of WBMS had earned its bad reputation over a decade before it closed. So even if we were to reopen a WBMS that is perfect in every way, with every bell and whistle we can think of and even throw in a set of Ginsu knives, it could be years before parents are willing to take the plunge, because of long memories and efficient networks. I have several current examples I won’t name publicly of schools that I think are much better than their reputations — at some point a bad reputation becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Opening WBMS with a robust, diverse enrollment will ensure a better education for every child who attends that school, and will ensure better odds that the school becomes a successful school for the long term. If I have to offer a set of Ginsu knives or some other gimmick for a few years to help accomplish that goal–so be it.

 

Preview: Sept 23 Board agenda, plus other updates

A few interesting items on the Board agenda for this Tuesday, September 23 are related to student assignment policy — they are worth spending a few hours on a weekend to blog them, so here goes.

On August 26, the Board approved a temporary student assignment process — subject to review and revision after the 2015-16 enrollment process winds up — that would offer 5th grade students at eight elementary schools an additional feeder preference to Willie Brown MS (which opens in August 2015 and will be part of the enrollment process that begins in late October).  So, the revision to P5101 (our student assignment policy) said that 5th grade applicants to Brown would have priority in the following order:

  • younger siblings of students who are enrolled in and will be attending the school during the year for which the younger sibling requests attendance;
  • students attending 5th grade at one of these eight elementary schools: Dr. George Washington Carver, Dr. Charles Drew, Bret Harte, Malcolm X Academy, Gordon J. Lau, Miraloma, George R. Moscone, Edward R. Taylor;
  • students who reside in zip code 94124;
  • students who reside in CTIP 1 census tracts;
  • all other students.

Of course, students at each of the eight elementary schools named above already have a middle school feeder preference: for example, Malcolm X and E.R Taylor students have preferences for Martin Luther King, Jr. MS, while Bret Harte students have preference to James Lick MS. Miraloma students have preference for Denman MS. The idea was to add a preference to Willie Brown while taking nothing away. This way, families who had planned on one middle school choice could evaluate a new option without feeling they were losing anything.

But board members expressed concerns about some of the proposed changes in August. On Tuesday, the Superintendent will propose two new amendments. the first would strengthen the Willie Brown preference for students who attend elementary schools in the Bayview and weaken the preferences for students who currently attend Lau, Miraloma, Moscone and E.R. Taylor.

In addition, and I think this is actually the bigger news, the Superintendent is proposing to change the high school preferences to give students who attend Willie Brown MS for 6th, 7th and 8th grade a strong preference for any HS of their choice starting in 2018-19, when the first cohort of Brown students would enter HS. Currently, high school preferences are as follows:

  • younger siblings of students who are enrolled in and will be attending the school during the year for which the younger sibling requests attendance;
  • CTIP 1, with a minimum of seats reserved at each HS for students who live in CTIP1 census tracts;
  • all other students.

The Superintendent’s new proposed language is here. I’m in favor of both proposals but will ask to amend the HS proposal to give it an automatic sunset date that the Board has an option to extend. This school district has a long history of enacting wonderful-sounding proposals with unintended consequences, and while I can’t at this moment envision anything other than a more academically diverse Willie Brown MS resulting  from these two proposals, I don’t think I’m gifted with second sight.

I’m in favor of the first proposal because I think we are building a kick-ass middle school out of the ashes of one of the worst schools I’ve ever seen, and students from the Bayview deserve the first opportunity to go there. Visiting the old Willie Brown was, bar none, the most upsetting experiences I’ve had as a school board member. I saw students who weren’t learning, some staff who had given up, and others who were trying against insurmountable odds (lack of supplies, engagement, and district and community support). The school needed to close, and so we closed it in 2010. We’ve spent the last three-plus years rebuilding the school from the ground up, and are now working hard to reprogram it in alignment with Vision 2025. We’ve already hired the principal and will spend this next school year engaging the community around the school and making sure that the district’s vision of what a great middle school can be will be realized.

I’m in favor of the second proposal because I know that part of what made the previous Willie Brown MS a failed school was that it was perceived as a failing school. Many families in the neighborhood would not send their children to the school, leaving just those students whose families were less engaged and had other issues distracting them from focusing on their children’s education.  The proposed HS preference promise is a real incentive: something to say to families who are already living in the neighborhood, “we are so sure this school is going to prepare your children for any high school, we’re going to offer you the ability to attend any high school.” The policy doesn’t specifically mention Lowell or Ruth Asawa SOTA, but the district already has discretion for a portion of those schools’ competitive admissions processes.

Also on the Board’s Sept 23 agenda will be two material revisions to the charters the district has authorized for KIPP High School and Gateway High School, and these revisions affect student assignment.  Some readers might remember that last fall, I was “livid” (as the Chronicle described it) when I discovered that Gateway HS had initiated an early application deadline — in September — for students who wanted to attend the following August–a year later.  I have been clear with both charters that I cannot support manipulations to their application deadlines in order to give preferential enrollment to Gateway MS students who want to attend Gateway HS or to KIPP MS students to attend KIPP HS. I am clear that all charter lottery deadlines should align with SFUSD lottery deadlines. I have more mixed feelings about offering preference existing charter MS students to attend affiliated charter HS. But when I realized I had fewer misgivings about offering KIPP MS students preference at KIPP HS, I couldn’t justify not offering Gateway students the same preference, even though I know many families who decide, while their children are attending private schools or SFUSD-managed middle schools,  that Gateway HS is a great option for them. Voting in favor of the material revisions requested by Gateway HS and KIPP HS will make it less likely that students who discover these high schools mid-way through their middle school careers will be able to attend — this bothers me.

Finally, and not having to do with student assignment, there is the annual sufficiency hearing for books and instructional materials. This hearing is one we (the Board) always scrutinizes pretty carefully, even though in recent years we have improved a great deal (in the past having enough textbooks and instructional materials like science lab materials was a big problem).  When you read through the district’s report for this year it looks pretty good, except I am hearing some alarming things about mathematics materials since this is the first year we are implementing the Common Core standards. I’ll be asking about that.

Slowing down the CTIP proposal

Earlier this week, Board leadership and Superintendent Carranza made the decision to hold the CTIP resolution in order to further investigate the impact of leaving our current policy unchanged, the impact of implementing the CTIP proposal, and the impact of other changes to the student assignment policy that might bring us closer to our original goals of:

• Reversing the trend of racial isolation and the concentration of underserved students in the same school;
• Providing equitable access to the range of opportunities offered to students; and
• Providing transparency at every stage of the assignment process.

I agreed to accept this decision because it was very clear after the August 11 committee meeting that a majority of the Board did not support the proposal. Had the proposal been brought to a vote on the 26th, it’s hard for me to see how we could have gotten four “yes” votes, given the questions and concerns Commissioners raised about whether the proposal had been adequately communicated to the public or vetted by staff.
At the end of the day, had I insisted the proposal come to a vote at either the August 26th or even the Sept. 9 meetings, we would have risked triggering a provision in Board rules that — if the proposal lost — would have prohibited us from bringing it back for reconsideration before August of 2015. This timeframe would again bring us right back up against the deadline for beginning the annual enrollment cycle, and could again trigger objections that we weren’t giving families enough time to comment on and understand the proposal before application time rolls around.

Instead, the proposal is far from dead. It will remain under active consideration in the Student Assignment Committee, which I chair, and I am already formulating a list of questions I’d like the staff to examine. These include:

  • More data on families who request their attendance area schools and what the outcomes of those requests are, in order to better examine and evaluate Commissioner Wynns’ assertion that the relatively low number of families requesting AA schools is evidence that families prefer choice over predictability.
  • The feasibility of means-testing families utilizing the CTIP preference. Free- or reduced-price lunch eligibility is a good proxy to weed out more privileged families taking advantage of the preference, but we don’t currently have a good way to discover and verify that eligibility for new K applicants. There may be some ways to develop this kind of means testing but these ideas need more analysis from staff.
  • Current economic characteristics of residents of CTIP  census tracts, and whether there is a way to define smaller sub-areas of these tracts to receive the preference, in order to weed out blocks with higher income residents or those that are rapidly gentrifying.

In addition, Commissioner Haney will take up some of the more programmatic ways to address desegregation and make our racially-isolated schools more attractive to a broader variety of  families.

Finally, I’m reserving the right to bring back the current proposal or an amended version for a vote next spring, in more than enough time to be implemented before taking applications for the 2016-17 school year.

This was never about “returning to neighborhood schools,” or other sweeping claims that have been made by those who support or oppose our proposal. It has always been about making our system work better for more families, and about remaining true to the original three goals we set at the start of the redesign process in 2009, and which I quoted at the top of this post.

I’m still not happy that we have a system that tacitly tells some families that the schools in their neighborhoods are inferior, and then institutes a “survival of the fittest” process to let the savviest and most advantaged residents go elsewhere. But the tea leaves indicate I haven’t convinced my colleagues that we can do better.

I’m glad that we started the discussion and I’m glad this discussion will continue, even if the underlying issues will take a lot more work and examination to resolve. I’m also excited about some new ideas that have come out of our discussion about desegregation efforts at Willie Brown, which will reopen in August 2015  after the district has spent millions to rebuild and reprogram the school. On the 26th the Superintendent will share some of those ideas

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.