One of the Board’s major initiatives in 2009 and 2010 was the work in creating a new student assignment system that would:
- Preserve parent choice and input into the assignment process: In a series of community conversations and other outreach, the Board heard loud and clear that parents need to feel their preferences are listened to and considered when their child is assigned to a school. The problem comes when you try to define what “choice” and “input” mean, because they mean different things to different people. There are definitely some who believe they should have the “choice” — meaning right — to attend their closest school. Most, however, would like to have a quality option that works for their particular situation — maybe they desperately want their child to learn a second language, or need a school with an early start time so they can get to work on time, or must be walking distance from home so that the family caregiver can drop off and pick up. The new system attempts to better balance the right to the closest school with the ability to choose a school that works better for your family — but because certainty and choice are opposing forces, it doesn’t make everyone happy.
- Enhance diversity in every one of our schools: I firmly believe in the benefits of kids of all different races, abilities and backgrounds learning together; student assignment is not the sole answer to the overall problem of inequality between schools and gaps in achievement between different groups but it is part of the solution.
- Maintain equity: Every child in San Francisco has the right to a quality education. Until this ideal is realized, we need to ensure that all families have equitable access to quality schools.
Over the course of the work on the new system, it became obvious that there is no way to create an assignment system that will please everyone, and the new system has its supporters and its detractors. It is not perfect, and it remains to be seen whether it will accomplish the Board’s goals better than the old system did; the district’s extensive monitoring report (PDF) of the first year of the new system showed little change in both the number of families getting a school of choice and the number of segregated schools.
Like everyone else who pays attention to SFUSD student assignment policy, there are things I like and things I don’t like about the new system. Going forward, I have committed myself to watching how choice and enrollment patterns change as a consequence of the new system, and advocating for improvements or adjustments where warranted. One adjustment I would strongly consider is modifying the order of preferences to what the Superintendent originally proposed — so that siblings and attendance area come first, then the “CTIP” (Census Tract Integration Preference). The Board made this change just before passing the new assignment policy in 2010, and while it hasn’t had the drastic effect some claim, it does encourage gaming the system. In recent years we have been surprised to find that address fraud in SFUSD was widespread; the current value of the CTIP preference just encourages more.
I also believe it is absolutely essential for the school district to continue to share as much data as possible about those choice and enrollment patterns, as it has been obvious to me that there is a high level of interest among some segments of the community in how the new system is working. Parents must trust that the district is sharing pertinent information and following its published rules and procedures when assigning students — a continued commitment to fairness and transparency will help build this trust.
I will continue to post all data and analysis I receive using a “student assignment” tag so that interested members of the public can more easily follow this issue.