Recapping tonight’s student assignment meeting

Update: Major thanks to my commenter S. Chang, who pointed out that I didn’t include any information about how siblings would be treated under a new assignment system. Preference for younger children attending the same school as their older siblings would continue under any of the options being considered for a new system. I have updated the post to make this clear!

First off, we listened to an information-packed presentation delivered by Orla O’Keeffe and Jeanne Gobalet of Lapkoff & Gobalet, the firm that is helping us with our demographic projections and analysis.

I can’t possibly do this presentation justice, so if you are interested, please just download it and read through it (it’s a Powerpoint). As a high-level summary, however, the staff presented the board with three very rough and broad options, and asked for feedback to help narrow their focus going forward. There is starting to be time pressure, because the original timeline called for us to begin community conversations next month and have legislation formally redesigning our assignment system submitted to the Board in January for final passage in March. We can’t miss this deadline and still hope to have the system in place in time for the fall 2010 enrollment season (enrolling for 2011-12). We must make the deadline; we’ve already pushed the plan back once, and owe it to the public to get it done already.

The options were:

  • Straight attendance area for K-5, K-8 and 6-8 schools, with no choice;
  • Attendance areas for K-5, K-8 and 6-8 schools, with “controlled choice” – students would be guaranteed their attendance area schools but allowed to submit choices for other schools. If they did not receive one of their choices they would be assigned to their attendance area school;
  • Attendance zones for K-5, K-8 and 6-8 schools, with an unspecified way of assigning students within a zone to schools within that zone.

Each of the above options assumes:

  • Sibling preference would continue as is;
  • A working list of schools with citywide attendance area – those with special entrance criteria (e.g., SOTA and Lowell) or unique whole school curriculum (e.g., language immersion programs). This list would vastly reduce the number of so-called “alternative” schools;
  • A different enrollment process for K-8 and high school — board consensus seems to be that high schools could be 100% choice;
  • Students needing specific programs (English Language Learners and students in special education) would be assigned to those programs separately and according to their needs. In the case of students in special education, the staff suggested that if a student could not be accommodated at their attendance area school, they would be assigned to the closest school offering the needed program. (I suggested that perhaps we would want to expand our definition of inclusion and try accommodating students at their local schools, just like we do with general education students.)

There are many more questions than there are answers at this point, and in general the board was not terribly enthusiastic about any of the options we were given. Commissioners voiced lukewarm support for options 2 and 3 but asked for more data about transportation costs, program placement, and for better information about how these two options would fully address our priorities: to reverse racial isolation in our schools and increase services and opportunities offered to underserved students.

I will have more to say about all this but need to let it settle for a day or two.

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4 responses to “Recapping tonight’s student assignment meeting

  1. Hi Meredith –
    An attendance area (and I am presuming this based on how I have understood it in the past and how I understood Monday night’s discussion) is a defined area around one school. Some people use “neighborhood schools” and “attendance area schools” interchangeably but the latter could be more broadly defined. In the most extreme example, we used to have non-contiguous attendance areas for certain popular schools, so that there were places all over the city that had “attendance area preference” for a particular school. We don’t do that anymore, and my read on the current proposals is that no one is thinking of going back to non-contiguous attendance areas. Nonetheless, an attendance area could be more loosely defined, or more gerrymandered, than a neighborhood school area.
    Attendance zones, as I understand what was proposed Monday evening, would be a broad area containing several schools. There was no hard and fast proposal about how children would be assigned to one school as opposed to another within the same zone — there could be a choice mechanism or there could be an arbitrary, random or prioritized assignment (which means using a particular characteristic of an applicant, though there are some legal issues about what characteristics you can or cannot prioritize, e.g., race). I would not support arbitrary or random assignments, FWIW.

  2. Meredith Kurpius

    Can you clarify how an attendance area is different from an attendance zone? Orla O’Keeffe expressed a preference for attendance areas rather than attendance zones so this seems important but I can’t say that I really appreciate how these are different.

  3. Thank you so much for your question! It made me realize I didn’t make clear that sibling preference would continue under any system being considered by the Board. So your two-year old will certainly be able to attend the same school as his or her older sibling, regardless of any changes we make to the assignment system. I’ve updated the post to reflect this.

  4. Hello

    I have a kindergardener and a 2 year old. Will my 2 year old get into the same school/ same program ( immersion in this case) under any system? Do I have to move to ensure this? When will I know what I need to do. I think it would be a challenge for our family to have one child in immersion the other not. Please advise.