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.

Let’s celebrate inclusive schools week!

Every year, the first week of December is Inclusive Schools Week. More than anything else, Inclusive Schools Week is about inspiring all of us to think bigger about who we are, which students our schools serve, and how we can serve every student better.

So, to help get you in the mood, here are some stories I find incredibly inspirational:

Including Samuel is a documentary made by a photojournalist whose second son, Samuel, was born with a disability. Samuel’s family believes strongly he should be included in mainstream classrooms, but they also understand the trade-offs that full inclusion can require.

Here is Samuel’s father, Dan Habib, giving a TED talk:

Harper’s Playground came to be after  Harper’s parents learned they would be parents of a child with a disability. They immediately wondered: how would they help Harper play with other children and find friends? From that, a movement toward more inclusive play spaces for children was born.

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.

* * *

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.