Recap: Committee on Student Assignment

The Board met as a Committee of the Whole this evening to discuss progress towards the new student assignment policy. Tonight’s presentation focused on two issues: changes in the way we assign English learners and the programs we offer them, as well as a report from the Parent Advisory Council and PPS on the feedback they got from a series of community conversations with over 270 SFUSD parents over the past few months.

The changes to our English learner services and programs comply with our Lau Action Plan, and are designed to ensure:

  • Proper identification of a student’s language needs;
  • Appropriate placement of the student in a program designed to best serve those needs;
  • Access to pathways that serve the student’s needs from grade K-12.

To accomplish these goals, the district has already implemented a number of interim changes as of this past January, including: more comprehensive assessments of language proficiency in applicants to dual language immersion programs; increased focus on achieving a balance of target and non-target speakers in our dual language immersion programs; and improved counseling for English learners and their parents to include the benefits of language programs. Starting in the 2010-11 school year, the district is recommending these further changes:

  • Better train site administrators, teachers and other staff in program models and goals, assessment and placement guidelines, and effective instruction;
  • Transition to a new English Plus pathway that will be available at all schools, offering students who are English learners more intensive support in developing English language skills;
  • Increase capacity at schools that currently offer biliteracy and dual language immersion programs and add programs at additional schools;
  • Conduct English language and primary language assessments for all new students (K-12) who indicate that English is not their first language;
  • Better training for Educational Placement and Counseling personnel on appropriate English learner placement.

Members from the Parent Advisory Council and Parents for Public Schools then presented the findings from their community conversations, conducted with a diverse group of over 270 parents (I attended two of the conversations, one conducted entirely in Spanish and the other in Cantonese).  Some excerpts:

Most parents would like a good school that’s close to home or easy to get to — but the vast majority of the families we heard from feel that choosing a school that works for their children is more important than having a school in their neighborhood.

We found you can’t discuss student assignment without hearing concerns about access to good schools–schools that have talented and caring teachers and principals, solid academic programs, ample enrichment opportunities and a safe environment.

Most parents support the district’s goals for equity and ending the racial isolation of students, but also pointed out that the student assignment system itself is not going to close the achievement gap.

Parents agreed that the current assignment system is daunting. Even though 76% of the participants got a school of their choice, a common feeling expressed is that the system is broken and “no one gets their choice.”

Another major concern was lack of communication from the district — about their children’s schools, explaining changes to district policies, and how they can be involved. Parents who don’t speak English face significant additional challenges trying to learn about schools and how to support their children’s education.

Give parents, students and educators the opportunity to review and respond to specific proposals for a new student assignment system before making a final decision. Most people support the district’s goals for a more equitable enrollment process, and they have powerful insights into what works–and what doesn’t work–for families. Adopting a new policy without giving the community this opportunity would be a serious mistake.

A big thank you to the members of the PAC and the staff of Parents for Public Schools, who continually amaze me with their ability to reach out and engage a broad group of district parents, all on a budget of little to nothing.

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4 responses to “Recap: Committee on Student Assignment

  1. It fits into the student assignment process because, as part of examining its processes, EPC has acknowledged that it could do a better job under the current system counseling and placing English learners. The Bilingual Community Council, the Board-appointed committee that advises the Board on the concerns of English Learners, agrees (members gave us their annual report last night). As part of the redesign discussion, the question arose — even though we have delayed the implementation of the plan for one year — are there interim chanes we could make? The staff answered that question by saying that improving services to English Learners, as part of our work to better align ourselves with the Lau plan, was a top priority for interim changes.

  2. Rachel,

    I am confused by this recap on the assignment process. How does the Lau Action Plan actually figure into the student assignment process? I understand that students with certain needs require assignments to certain schools. Is this discussion to mean that no assignment system can be determined until all other contingencies are worked out?

  3. Don Krause

    Eva,
    You have the right under current Ca law to send your child to a school outside your district, which in some cases may be closer and better than an assignment you don’t wish in SFUSD. This 17 yo law is about to expire by summer and SB680 will renew it. But it isn’t a sure thing. This is not something many parents consider, but it is a real school choice alternative for parents who are tired of the assignment process deliberation.

    The PAC and PPSF reported. We knew what parents would say. It is going around in circles.

    The assignment process is largely about transportation and its associated costs to the district.

    Rachel, please help to move the committee into a decision mode. People see the spectacle of the BOE just unable to decide. They were elected to decide. We already delayed another year. No answer will please everyone. Make the tough decision and get on with it. Thank you.
    Don

  4. I truly, truly don’t want to throw families from neighborhoods with struggling schools under the bus in the reassignment process. I completely agree that schools across the entire city should be better and I feel in my heart those families need broader options. I also agree that special needs kids need to be placed in schools where their needs can be met.

    But I’m troubled by the way the report you cite sets up an opposition between neighborhood assignment and quality of schools. As if we can’t ever have both, so that we have to choose the lottery over neighborhoods.

    There was a column in the SFGate last year (http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2008/07/13/BA8S11O1S2.DTL) that noted: “A member of the Educational Placement Center told the grand jury that when siblings who receive automatic school admission are deleted from the process, the report said, “the real acceptance rate drops from 81 percent to 55 percent.” So 45 percent, nearly half of the applicants, not only don’t get their first choice; they don’t get any of their first seven choices (although some families do not put down seven choices). ”

    That 45% for elder children doesn’t sound like good odds to me. When I do the lottery for my daughter in a few years I’m likely to choose 7 neighborhood schools. I live in the Sunset, and the schools here are not always the most sought after in the City, but they’re solid. I prefer solid schools, a short commute for my daughter, and the opportunity for her to build relationships where she lives.

    If SFUSD assigns my daughter to another school we’ll consider it seriously — I’m not going to dismiss alternate schools out of hand. But I’m not going to ship my daughter all the way across town to a school that doesn’t challenge her or in which I don’t think she’ll be safe. And we can’t afford private school or homeschooling, which means this middle class family will be removing our tax dollars to some other City.