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.

Board to discuss CTIP resolution tomorrow (Aug. 11)

At a Committee of the Whole tomorrow evening (Monday, August 11 starting at 6 pm in the Board room at 555 Franklin Street), the Board will discuss the resolution put forth by President Fewer and I that would modify the order of preferences in our Student Assignment system starting in the enrollment cycle for the 2015-16 school year.

Staff has provided some data (not all of what I requested, but I’ve asked for some additions) so I thought I’d share what the Board will be looking at. (I anticipate Commissioners will have a lot of questions so there may well be additional data that will be provided ahead of the anticipated Board vote on August 26):

  • A spreadsheet showing first-choice requests, by race, by residents of CTIP1. I had also asked for the data to break down programs as well as schools, and also to indicate which CTIP1 residents requested their attendance area school as a first choice. We know, for example, that Charles R. Drew ES in the Bayview is the most requested school by African American residents of CTIP1. How many of those requesters already have an attendance area priority? It would be interesting to know. The spreadsheet does breakdown the current demographics of each school so that we can see whether the requests are adding to diversity or not.
  • A presentation from a Stanford researcher simulating changes to priority in school assignment (there are two versions – a longer, more complex description of the simulation and a highly simplified one). Basically, the simulation finds a very small increase (n=1) in the number of schools that are segregated* if you increase the strength of the attendance area preference (our proposal), or eliminate CTIP altogether (which we are not proposing). I have a number of questions about these findings –including whether the projection is statistically significant. Also, these are 10-year projections based on current choice patterns — 10 years is a long time in such a rapidly changing City.

*In the analysis, a segregated school is defined as a school that is more than 60 percent of any single race. In making this proposal, President Fewer and I are primarily concerned with the schools that are more than 60 percent African American, Latino and/or Pacific Islander (see below; and read this post from 2009 on why these schools are of particular concern).

President Fewer and I have also made some changes to the original resolution, so we will be requesting the Board consider an amendment by substitution. The amended resolution is here.

Finally, I just want to reiterate some facts about this proposal:

  • We are not proposing to eliminate the CTIP preference. Under this proposal, residents of CTIP1 would retain their current priority for Citywide K seats, which represent about one-third of SFUSD K seats overall. (Right now the proposal specifies Kindergarten only, but the question has been raised about families who transfer in other elementary grades. We’ll have to discuss whether to expand the proposal throughout K-5).
  • The proposal does not apply to middle school or high school enrollment. The current preferences for these school levels would remain unchanged.
  • The proposal is a minor modification of current policy, and we do not expect it to have drastic changes. We proposed this change because we believe that increasing the number of children attending their attendance area elementary schools would specifically decrease the number of schools that are more than 60 percent African American, Latino or Pacific Islander. Research has consistently shown that high concentrations of these students in schools has a negative effect on student achievement due to high concentrations of poverty, less effective or experienced staff, and fewer resources overall.
  • We also believe that choice is over-prioritized in our current system for elementary school enrollment, and we see this as a small course correction. Choice is, by its very nature, most beneficial to families with the wherewithal to choose: those families with childcare, flexible schedules and transportation. While I personally have no issues with families being able to choose programs that work best for them, I have also come to see that there are also some negative effects to the high prioritization our current system gives to choice. Some neighborhoods (Bayview is a case in point) are much more diverse than the schools they contain. The effect that the CTIP preference has in “bleeding off” the most involved and engaged families to attend programs in other neighborhoods has a directly negative effect on Bayview schools. I don’t think the Board believes that our Bayview schools are “bad” schools — I think we believe they are racially isolated schools with a high concentration of the district’s neediest students — and that their academic results demonstrate this. Why then, do we have a system of preferences that perpetuates that isolation?
Video

Occupy Kindergarten

Kindergarten has changed in the last 30 years, not kindergarteners. Thought-provoking TEDx talk from a California Kindergarten teacher. Hat tip to Miss Susie, the Kindergarten teacher I wish I’d had, who teaches lucky children at Yick Wo Elementary.

Considering changes to student assignment

As reported in yesterday’s Chronicle, Board President Sandra Lee Fewer and I are working on a proposal to change the student assignment system — really, to tweak it — by reordering the preferences for Kindergarten admissions.

After reading and absorbing the 3rd Annual Report on Student Assignment outcomes last month, I became more convinced than ever that the relatively high power the current system gives the CTIP (Census Tract Integration Preference) was not having the effect we’d hoped in terms of desegregating schools. In addition, putting CTIP so high in the hierarchy of preferences (coming just after siblings and children enrolled in and attending an SFUSD Pre-K program in the same attendance area) is clearly having an effect on some specific attendance area programs, to the disadvantage of residents of those attendance areas.

The board continues to believe strongly that diverse schools are better for everyone, and President Fewer and I have not abandoned the idea that we should continue to work on desegregating our schools where students are “racially isolated.”  (Read this post from 2010 about academic outcomes in our schools where more than 60 percent of students are either African American, Latino or Samoan for more discussion on this issue.)

It’s important also to say that at the time I said I didn’t think CTIP would affect attendance area residents’ ability to attend their local schools.  Now, I obviously think I was wrong, at least in a few cases like Clarendon and perhaps Grattan. (I just read back over a number of my posts from January – March 2010 and it’s interesting to do if you would like to know more about how we got to where we are today).  Anyway, I’m increasingly uneasy when people tell me that they plan to “rent in a CTIP zone” for K admissions, then move to a different neighborhood (this has happened to me a number of times); when I hear from homeowners in CTIP zones that they have received calls from real estate agents who say they can cash in on their “golden ticket” status;  when I see the data showing that residents of the Clarendon attendance area have pretty terrible odds of attending their local school because of demand from siblings and CTIP.  It’s clear that it’s time to make a modest adjustment that will still preserve some expanded choices for areas where there are concentrations of lower-achieving children.

The fact is, no neighborhood in San Francisco is very affordable anymore for either middle-class home buyers or renters.  All over the City, there are people who — thanks to either rent control or getting in to the real estate market early — can afford to live here but can’t afford to move (I’m one of them!).  Any system that offers its primarly benefit to people who can afford to choose whatever San Francisco neighborhood they live in or move at will is not one that benefits the neediest and most struggling San Franciscans.

Anyway – there will be plenty of time to debate, dissect and discuss this issue this summer – our proposal will be submitted for first reading on June 24 and will not be discussed in any detail by the Board until the August meeting of the Student Assignment committee. I expect the proposal to come back for a final vote in late August and — if it passes — to take effect for enrollment for the 2015-16 school year.

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Tuesday night the Board will consider the 2014-15 budget proposal and Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP) detailing how we will spend our new Local Control Funding Formula dollars from the state. The draft budget books and draft LCAP are available for download on the district’s web site, here, here and here (warning: the budget books are a big download – don’t click on the first two links from your phone).

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School’s out, happy summer! President Fewer wrangled the Board and senior district staff and created this goofy fan version of the hit “Happy” by Pharrell. It’s a little embarassing, but it’s cute:

 

3rd annual student assignment report is final

Download it here– hot off the presses. A draft of the report was shared with Commissioners in February – this final draft takes into account comments and questions from that discussion.