Author Archives: rpnorton

Elementary school assignment predictability: analysis in SF Chron

Jill Tucker of the Chronicle has analyzed more of the data on elementary school choices and outcomes and it’s very interesting. She finds that:

Many parents see San Francisco’s annual school assignment process as an unpredictable and agonizing crap shoot. But which school they get — or don’t — is a lot more predictable than parents think.

As I posted late last month, there are only nine elementary schools where attendance area residents aren’t assured of admission if they list the school first on their list. And then there’s Clarendon: Of the 1,505 non attendance area residents who listed the school first, only three got in. And how many of the 1,337 families outside the attendance area who listed the school somewhere other than first choice got in? 0. My advice: Clarendon is a great school but if you don’t live in the attendance area and don’t have any tiebreakers? Don’t bother.

Anyway: applicants for Round 1 are due TODAY. Get those applications in! I was at the district HQ yesterday and things were moving very smoothly, with extra staff on hand to guide parents through. Instead of standing in line, you get a number and can sit in the Board room to wait your turn.

Recap: New Year, New Leaders

Tonight the Board elected leaders for 2015 — Dr. Emily Murase will be President and Matt Haney will be Vice President. Congratulations to them both!

Congratulations as well to the 38 teachers honored this evening for achieving National Board Certification this year. Achieving this certification is rigorous, particularly when you’re already working full time in the classroom. It was really wonderful to see teachers surrounded by their proud families (lots of parents of young children!), and to be able to recognize their achievements at the Board meeting. SFUSD now has the highest number of National Board Certified teachers in the state, on a per capita basis, and we are 13th in the nation. Truly something to be proud of –the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards calls National Board Certification “the profession’s mark for accomplished teaching.”   And there are 110 teachers currently completing the program for next year’s cohort! If all of them achieve National Board Certification, we’re going to have to rethink the awards ceremony and hold it in a bigger venue — a great problem to have.

The Board also heard informational presentations on our language pathways and on our participation in My Brother’s Keeper, a program launched by President Obama to support youth of color, particularly African American males. In San Francisco, in partnership with the Mayor’s office and the San Francisco Foundation, the school district will focus on males and females, and not simply African American youth, but all youth of color. We have hired a Special Assistant to the Superintendent who will focus on African American Achievement, and we have a team working on an African American achievement initiative that this new Special Assistant will oversee. I have not met our new Special Assistant, Landon Dickey, but he comes highly recommended and his resume is stellar — born and raised in San Francisco, a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Business School, also holding a Masters in Special Education, Mr. Dickey taught in the New York City public schools as a Teach For America fellow and also worked as an advisor to the Mayor of Boston. Vice President Haney has already announced that African American achievement will be a standing item on the Curriculum Committee agenda this year, so I’ll pass along information through the blog as the initiatives gain steam (right now they are plans and recommendations, which are important, but actions are more important).

Blog readers will also be interested to hear that Board members actually went out and knocked on doors in the Bayview last weekend to encourage families to sign up for Willie Brown MS. Working from lists of families of 5th graders living in zip code 94124 who are currently enrolled in an SFUSD school yet had not  submitted a 6th grade enrollment application, Commissioners and senior staff went out in pairs and knocked on doors. Commissioner Fewer was paired with Deputy Superintendent Guerrero, and she told me they were able to get four of the 10 or so families they spoke with to submit applications on the spot listing Willie Brown MS as a choice. The great news is that all of the families they spoke with knew the application deadline was approaching (it’s Friday, January 16!) and were either planning to submit an application or had already done so. It made me think that more robust door to door outreach in targeted areas could really pay off in Round I participation. (There is a caveat that prospective Kindergarteners are harder to target since many of the families who most need information about enrollment procedures and timelines are not necessarily going to appear in any of the district’s existing data sources – partnerships and data-sharing with organizations that serve families with young children are crucial in this particular outreach).  Anyway, it sends a powerful message when Board members are out there knocking on doors, so I think this actually should be an annual exercise.

Upcoming meetings: The Governor submitted his initial 2015-16 budget proposal last Friday, Jan 9, and we’ll be discussing it and its implications for SFUSD (neutral to positive) at the Budget & Business Services Committee on Feb. 4 at 6 p.m. And the next Student Assignment committee will be Feb 5 at 6 p.m.

FREE “Selma” movie tickets! 7th, 8th and 9th graders can receive free movie tickets for “Selma,” just in time for the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday! Visit selmastudenttickets.com and select San Francisco to reserve tickets. Students must bring a student ID to receive tickets.

Student assignment committee report: 12/8

I am chairing the Ad-Hoc Committee on Student Assignment for the 2014-15 school year, and we had a meeting December 8 to discuss the pending resolution I authored with Commissioner Fewer that would change the strength of preferences offered to students applying for Kindergarten. Finally, I’ve got some time to recap that meeting!

We had a wide-ranging discussion that touched on an earlier simulation of the effect of implementing the change on the assignments made for the 2014-15 school year, other methods of weighting CTIP (Census Tract Integration Preference) that would add an income qualifier, and other analysis that Commissioners would like to see.

The staff presentation from the meeting is here. Most of the information in the presentation centers on the current effect of weighting CTIP 1 residency above attendance area, and what might happen (based on 2014-15 requests) if we re-weighted that preference to give attendance area more weight.

Let’s cut to the chase first: there are nine schools that are so impacted that at least some attendance area residents who listed those schools as a first choice for 2014-15 K admissions were not offered a seat in Round 1. Those schools are shown in the graphic below:

Screen Shot 2014-12-19 at 9.57.31 PM

It’s important to emphasize that all other schools/pathways with an attendance area (meaning schools that are not citywide schools or do not have a citywide language immersion pathway) offered a seat to 100% of attendance area residents listing that school/pathway as a first choice in Round 1. Commissioner Wynns noted that this is remarkable — and she’s right, so it bears repeating one more time. The vast majority of families who list their attendance area school as a first choice — siblings or non-siblings — are offered that school in Round 1.  Put another way: 109 K applicants who listed their AA school or pathway as a first choice were not offered admission to that school or pathway in Round 1, but those 109 represent a scant two percent of all 4701 first choice requests in Round 1 last year. So: if you live in any other attendance area than the nine schools listed above, you are almost assured of receiving your attendance area school in the lottery if you list it as a first choice, even if you have no other tiebreakers.

So let’s talk about Clarendon. Commissioners noted that Clarendon is clearly an outlier among the nine impacted schools, let alone all schools. There are a couple of reasons, we think, why  Clarendon attendance area residents do not, essentially have an attendance area school. Those include:

  • Clarendon only has 44 out of 88 seats that are subject to the attendance area preference. The other 44 are citywide seats due to a language pathway.
  • Clarendon has a huge number of younger siblings applying for K seats. In 2014-15, 51 younger siblings of current Clarendon students applied for admission in all pathways.
  • Up until 2011-12, Clarendon was an alternative school with significant busing. This means that families from all over San Francisco had access to and were encouraged, through busing and other means, to apply to Clarendon.

There’s an issue here, and Commissioners remarked generally that our current system — prioritizing siblings and CTIP1 residents — adds to the very slim odds we see for anyone without those two tiebreakers being admitted to the school. Indeed, the district’s simulation of re-prioritizing attendance area would have resulted in nine more students from the Clarendon attendance area being offered seats in Round 1. (In total, 39 additional students from each of the nine attendance areas listed above would have been offered seats in their attendance area schools if the Fewer-Norton proposed adjustment to the assignment preferences had been in effect for 2014-15 enrollment).

I should also note that re -prioritizing attendance area would result in three fewer African American students and two fewer Latino students being assigned to Clarendon. Overall race/ethnicity impacts of re-prioritizing attendance area at the nine schools the proposal affects are on page 17 of the staff presentation. However, these simulations are based on current applicant pools. And there is the problem: our applicant pools for almost every school are less diverse than they should be. Our problem, quite simply stated, is that our choice system is allowing families to self-segregate.

Here is some more data that illustrates the problem. It shows 22 schools with the largest numbers of AA residents (in percentage terms) who do NOT choose their attendance area school in any position on their list of choices for Kindergarten:

Screen Shot 2014-12-20 at 11.36.47 AM

Of these 22 schools, at least half are located entirely or partially within CTIP1 areas, and many of them are serving majority African American, Latino and Pacific Islander students. These groups of students are more likely to apply late (post Round 1), and so are more likely to be placed in schools where there is space — after all of the people who applied on time for Round 1 are placed.

If we believe that a strong CTIP tiebreaker is most likely to benefit families who are in a position to research their choices and take advantage of options without worrying unduly about logistics like transportation and start times, then it makes no sense to actively encourage these families to leave the attendance areas for schools where their presence would add socioeconomic diversity, if not racial diversity.

We need to be looking at mechanisms that make applicant pools for all schools more diverse — we already know that while choice does empower certain parents, it has failed to increase diversity. One thing that is striking in looking at the simulations is how modest and weak CTIP is as a tool to desegregate schools. We also need to prioritize the areas where we most need racial and socioeconomic diversity — the areas where racial isolation is definitely depressing academic achievement for all children. Those areas, in my opinion, roughly correlate to the CTIP areas.

In the end, it’s good to offer parents choices, but not at the expense of children whose parents can’t or won’t take advantage of the choice system, and not at the expense of overall faith in the system.

So: how do we fix it? The CTIP  “flip” we’ve proposed will have a modest effect on nine schools — allowing more attendance area residents to access some of our most popular and most middle class schools. There will be a slight — very slight — decrease in diversity at those nine schools. The bigger question is what will happen at the 22 schools shown above where residents are choosing out in large numbers. The district’s simulation of the effect on these schools isn’t particularly helpful, in my opinion, because so few people are choosing these schools in the first place, and so many people who live in these attendance areas are choosing different schools in other parts of the City. Would a system that still allows you to choose other options but prioritized admission to your attendance area school make a difference on enrollment at some of our most challenged schools? Maybe. In my opinion, it’s worth a try.

The committee did discuss adding an income qualifier to the CTIP preference, but there’s no great way to do this for Kindergarten. Eligibility for free/reduced price lunch is problematic because eligibility for these programs is determined much later in the cycle — starting about four weeks before school starts. We could ask parents to sign a form, under threat of perjury, that they are eligible for Free/Reduced Price Lunch, but we’d have to be willing to enforce it in order to have any confidence in the results. Anyway, doing this is still a possibility, but we need to discuss it more, which we will do at the next meeting on February 5.

The other options available to us are more expensive: program placement and busing. I am not interested, at this point, in entertaining a large-scale return to busing — even if we could afford it. Buses are expensive and in my opinion not the most high-impact strategy for raising achievement of all students. Program placement is very much an option, but you have to be willing to invest a lot of new dollars in under-enrolled schools, and be thoughtful about whether the programs you’re putting in a school will be for the benefit of all children at the school — and not just serve as displacement mechanisms.

This is what we are trying to do at Willie Brown MS, which will open in August 2015. We’ve invested millions in a new facility, and are designing state of the art academic programs. Coupled with the high school “golden ticket” mechanism, we hope these investments will be enough to attract a diverse, robust enrollment of students at a school site that has, in recent history anyway, failed to attract many families at all.  If it works, we’ll have a roadmap for how to do this in other places. If it doesn’t . . .

The next meeting of the Ad Hoc Committee on Student Assignment will be Thursday, Feb. 5 at 6 pm in the Board Room at 555 Franklin Street.

URGENT: SFUSD schools will be closed TOMORROW Dec 11

Due to forecasts for a very strong winter storm tomorrow, Thursday Dec. 11, the Superintendent has decided to close the schools for the day. Please visit sfusd.edu for further updates.

Recap: A big crowd for Ethnic Studies

We had a large and upbeat crowd of students, teachers and other supporters of the proposal to expand the Ethnic Studies course pilot (currently at five high schools) to all 19 SFUSD high schools starting in August 2015. Students were articulate and passionate in their support of the program, telling us it was revelatory to learn about the history of groups that are sometimes left out of mainstream social studies or history textbooks. “Asian-American history is like a page and a half in some textbooks,” said one senior. “My history is so much more than a page and a half!” Student after student told us how much they love the course — and preliminary academic outcomes presented by Deputy Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero seem to bear out that 9th grade students who are members of at-risk groups and who enroll in Ethnic Studies do better in their other academic courses and have fewer unexcused absences. I was impressed by the passion and the engagement from students, and I do believe we have to think more broadly about whose history, and which history, we teach. I also read this essay recently, by a progressive education blogger I respect, and found it compelling. An excerpt:

Ethnic Studies is a path to self-understanding for students otherwise denied the histories of those who speak and look like them, but it’s also how all people can empathize across lines of race, culture, religion, ethnicity, and language and feel in our bones the deep commonalities of shared hopes, struggles, and dreams of our individual lives. Yes, empathy can be taught. Anti-racism can be learned and racism and bigotry unlearned. But first we have to set aside blinkered monocultural lenses.

It was also moving to hear the Superintendent describe his experiences as a young social studies teacher in Tucson, seeking to give his Chicano (Mexican American) students a deeper understanding of their own history and culture. “What if we taught people their own history?” he asked the Board and the public in his remarks just before the Board’s unanimous vote. Ethnic Studies will be expanded to every high school starting in 2015-16 after the Board’s vote, and this spring the Curriculum department will work to flesh out the existing curriculum and align it with the Common Core. New teachers will need to be hired and given professional development to effectively teach the course. There’s a lot of work to be done but I think this is a positive step for our district.  Here’s a panoramic picture of tonight’s crowd (thanks to Mark Murphy):    10476337_10152469609891776_7245363341865845698_o

And . . . The Board wished departing Commissioner Kim-Shree Maufas well — tonight was her last regular Board meeting. Commissioner Maufas did not run for re-election in this last cycle. Commissioner-elect Shammann Walton will be sworn in with returning Commissioners Mendoza-McDonnell and Murase at a celebration on January 6. We also approved the 2015-16 instructional calendar  and the annual report auditing the developer fees we collect to mitigate the financial impact of real estate development on the district. Finally: Stay tuned . . . I do intend to blog the meeting of the Student Assignment committee on Monday, but that will have to wait for a moment when I have more time.

Coming up: December 9 Board meeting

A few items to note on the agenda for our upcoming Dec. 9 meeting:

Ethnic Studies: In 2010, the Board voted to pilot a new Ethnic Studies course at several high schools. The course has since been offered at five high schools and has been popular with students. On Dec. 9, we will vote on a proposal authored by Commissioner Fewer that would expand our Ethic Studies offerings to all 19 high schools. Ms. Fewer originally proposed making Ethnic Studies a graduation requirement, but has since amended her proposal to say that the district should “explore ways to institutionalize its commitment to Ethnic Studies by including Ethnic Studies coursework as a requirement of graduation” within five years of the passage of her resolution. Los Angeles Unified recently approved Ethnic Studies as a graduation requirement for its students.

At the Budget Committee last week, we spent a fair amount of time analyzing the cost of the proposal, which comes to about $480,000 in the first year. The bulk of the costs will result from hiring more teachers and bringing the current content specialist up to full-time in order to develop and oversee the course. The findings from the Curriculum Committee made it clear that there is work to be done in aligning the Ethnic Studies curriculum with Common Core, and it would be beneficial to get the course qualified as meeting the A (History) requirement under the UC/CSU A-G framework. Otherwise, adding Ethnic Studies or any other new graduation requirement is very costly; it also takes up time in schedules where students are now taking electives.

Ultimately, the Budget Committee and the Curriculum Committee recommended that the Board approve the Ethnic Studies proposal.

Movies and TV in the classroom: Over two years ago I wrote a post asking parents if they thought students were being shown too many movies or television shows in the classroom. The responses, an unscientific sampling, seemed to point to yes, so I’ve been paying attention to this topic. I get complaints about this from parents on a regular basis, and have always been told that the district discourages movies being shown in the classroom and that any movie shown must relate to the standards being taught. I have not, however, been able to find any written policy on this topic. When I learned recently that my teenagers have been shown full-length Disney movies in science classes, I decided it was time to make sure we have something in writing.

I’ve submitted a proposal that will be heard for first reading on Tuesday; it will come up for a final vote of the Board sometime in late January or early February. I want to be clear that I think most teachers try to use movies and television to bring standards to life in an engaging way, and I really have no problem with excerpted material being shown to illustrate a particular concept or point. But when this content consumes an entire class period, is not age-appropriate and/or isn’t academically rigorous, I have a problem. So I thought it would be appropriate to ask the Board to clarify our beliefs on this topic, in order to help the Superintendent convey clear standards to site administrators and teachers.

Instructional calendar for 2015-16: The Board will adopt the calendar for the 2015-16 school year on Tuesday. School will start August 17, 2015 and the last day will be May 27, 2016. Old timers will remember that sometimes in the past the calendar didn’t get approved/set until spring — causing a big problem for families that were trying to make summer plans. We’ve gotten much better about this in recent years.

Updates, updates

Lots of updates, in no particular order:

Student assignment: At its December 8 meeting, the Ad Hoc Committee on Student Assignment will be working on the proposal to change the order of preferences in our student assignment system. We will hear an update on the district’s analysis on the effect of the proposal, and also discuss options for adding an income qualifier to the CTIP preference. The agenda, including meeting time and location (6pm in the Board room at 555 Franklin Street) is here.  As I promised last summer, the Committee is taking some time to analyze the proposal and consider alternatives before voting. At the current time, I would like to bring the proposal back for a vote of the Board in early spring, subject to any changes that might happen in the committee.

Charter schools: There have been a flurry of new applications for charter schools lately, and now we are in the midst of the annual process by which charters request space from school districts. State law says we must annually offer charter schools space appropriate to their program (e.g., a high school should have science lab and gym space; elementary schools must have adequate ground floor classrooms to accommodate K-2 students).

This week the Board got an update on the status of each of our 10 charter schools’ space requests for 2015-16. There is some good news: most of our existing charters will stay put for 2015-16 and our current and prospective students at Denman MS will be happy to hear that Leadership HS is vacating the space they currently occupy at that site and moving to a new site at 300 Seneca Ave. This has been a sore point for the Denman community, as parents were concerned about interactions between MS and HS students at the site, and Denman needed space to expand based on our increased middle school demand. It’s great news for the Leadership community, too — they will have a brand new site that is just steps from their current location.

The not-so-good news is that Mission Prep, whose charter was authorized by the State Board of Education in 2011 after the Board unanimously turned them down, has asked for space. Again, because of state law, even though the local district declined the charter, we must offer Mission Prep space that is appropriate to an elementary school program (assuming we can verify that 80 students enrolled at the school are San Francisco residents).  Similarly, One Purpose School, which we denied earlier this fall, has also indicated it will request a building if its charter is approved by the State Board in January. These requests may mean, regrettably, that one or more elementary schools will have to co-locate with a charter next year. Co-locations are challenging for everyone, and they can really adversely affect students, staff and families (note that I characterized the end of the Denman-Leadership co-location as good news). I have spent hours in Board meetings listening to emotional public comment about why a particular co-location shouldn’t happen. I’m not looking forward to hearing more this spring, and I wish that our state legislators would find the will to amend a law that forces local communities to accommodate charter schools that failed to win the support of their locally-elected school board.

Finally, I’ve been asked about the Board’s unanimous decision to deny New School of San Francisco a charter in late October. My remarks from the Board meeting are here.

Teacher salaries: On November 25, the district and UESF announced a tentative agreement on the contract negotiations we’ve been working on since last spring. If ratified, the agreement would provide a 12 percent raise over three years, as well as additional prep time for elementary school teachers and other increases. If you are a UESF member, please look for communications from your union on the opportunity to weigh in on whether to accept the agreement. Ballots are due in the UESF offices by December 11.

Inclusive schools week: The district really stepped it up this year, with huge props to the CAC for Special Education for making this effort happen. I was honored to attend the kickoff press conference at City Hall on Monday and a great inclusive schools assembly at June Jordan HS for Equity on Wednesday. Today I’ll be at one of our elementary schools at a very special event with the Mayor. I am hugely grateful to district leaders and parent advocates for making this awareness week an amazing opportunity to celebrate how far we have come. More importantly, the week is evolving into an important opportunity for all students to learn about inclusion and acceptance. I’m very proud of the work that we are finally doing.

Budget committee: On December 3 the Board’s Budget committee got a great update on the district’s Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS), which is the extra layer of supports that go to schools based on a cluster analysis of their needs — everything from demographics to achievement to climate.

The question we asked was — how does the district decide how to allocate those extra resources?  The resources we saw–including a chart showing the cluster analysis and the site-based budget resource allocation guide –would go a long way to helping the public understand how the district budgets, and how schools get resources based on the needs of their students (I wish I had soft copies — I’ve requested them and will post them when I have them).

MTSS resources are different from the Weighted Student Formula (WSF), the funds that School Site Councils decide how to spend, based on the enrollment of students at the site.  MTSS funds are centrally allocated. We were told that sites get input in the allocations, but the final decision rests with the central office.

MTSS resources are provided on top of the WSF funding. In the published 2014-15 budget approved by the Board in June 2014, the district expected to put about $255 million into the WSF.  In the same budget document, the district expected to centrally allocate 401 full-time-equivalent positions through MTSS. At an average salary of $85,000, that would make the additional MTSS investment somewhere around $3.5 million.*

*Big asterisk here as the actual amount could be more because MTSS positions in 2014-15 include 18 assistant principals, who earn more than the average $85,000 in salary and benefits earned by teachers. Also be aware that if UESF’s tentative agreement with the district is ratified by its membership, average teacher salaries for this current fiscal year and the next two will also increase.