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.