Student Assignment

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.

UPDATE: In June 2014 Commissioner Sandra Fewer and I introduced legislation to change the order of preference to move CTIP under attendance area for K enrollment. The Board is expected to vote on the proposal on August 26, 2014.  Posts about the legislation are here and here.

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.

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7 responses to “Student Assignment

  1. If diversity is the key and i support that, why in outer sunset all schools are predominately asian and why in vis valley/hunters point predominately black/ latino? Clearly it does not work, diversity is a myth. Ratios would be 25% Asian, 25 black 25 or less white and so on, it is not.

  2. Sf parent for diversity in the top schools

    Unfortunately, Rachel, your proposal does the exact opposite and the report supports that your proposal will make sfusd less diverse. Unfortunately to those in wealthy neighborhoods, you don’t understand that separate is not equal. Denying access to the top requested, top scoring schools from our most poverty stricken neighborhoods is unconstitutional. I would urge the parents who complain and put their kids in private school to realize, most people cannot afford to do this. Of a neighborhood school is your top objective, I suggest you move to the suburbs where cities don’t have as great if economic disparity between neighborhood to neighborhood.

  3. I’m absolutely not against diversity. Unfortunately, the CTIP preference isn’t as yet providing the diversity we hoped it would, and there’s evidence that the relatively high power of the preference under the current system is disadvantaging residents of some attendance areas. People eligible to use the CTIP preference will still have preferential access to citywide schools and any attendance area school after siblings and attendance area residents are placed, and before applicants without a CTIP preference. Given that CTIP doesnt’ seem to be as yet the best lever for desegregating schools, this seems a fairer way of achieving the Board’s goal of providing equitable access to options across the district.

  4. Hi Rachel,
    We live in the mission and we don’t have any good schools. I think is good that we can have access to better schools. I’m a single mother with two kids and we live in a room. I think your proposal of changing the assignment system is going to affect the very low income in the city. We are you so against diversity?

  5. I live in a CTIP area and I think it’s great that we have the option to apply to quality schools. The schools in our area are the worst and there is no way I can move to a different place, because I have no money. I make #30000 a year and I pay $600 for a room to live with my two girls. Please keep diversity in our schools.

  6. Heather Smith

    Is anyone talking about how families in the Mission essentially get to go to the school of their choice so they are playing in a completely different game from the rest of us? I’ve talked to folks who live in CTIP and they are just trying to decide between Clarendon and Rooftop etc while the rest of us must explore all the up and coming schools and pray we’ll get any of our choices?

  7. Hi Rachel:
    I just started browsing through your website after getting notice was assigned to John Muir elementary (vs one of 3 schools within walking distance of my home in Cole Valley). Now I am faced with a $25k private school tuition bill or moving out of the city. I will continue to try to waitlist and get in a neighborhood school as the sense of community and relationships we have formed there are important for us to continue to build. But, I have to say that having been touring public schools and investing huge amounts of time and energy in the private school process as a backup to public school…I am worn out. I am frustrated. I am down right disgusted. As tax payer and a person committed to providing my son with a public school education I am saddened and angry that I am being forced to make alternate arrangements.

    If San Francisco has a commitment to keeping families in SF, continuing to improve the school assignment system would go a long way to helping.

    I don’t want to just complain but if you have ideas on how to improve/refine the assignment process I would love to hear them or get involved.

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