The ‘notorious 11’ schools

This post from October has gotten a lot of attention recently. Since tomorrow is the deadline for submitting Round I applications in our school enrollment process, I thought I’d repost the key nugget as a public service:

Of the 947 families who did not receive any of their Round I choices last year, almost 800 listed one of these high demand schools as their first or second choice:

  • Alamo
  • Alice Fong Yu
  • Alvarado
  • Clarendon
  • Grattan
  • Lawton
  • Lilienthal
  • Miraloma
  • Rooftop
  • Sherman
  • West Portal

The way I interpret this data is that people are focusing a bit too much on how the statistics are developed and not enough on the choice patterns for high demand schools — I find the list above to be stunning. If you have your heart set on one or more of these schools for Kindergarten next year, you may have to settle in for the long haul, because a lot of other people have their hearts set on them too.

Get those applications in! And good luck, everyone.


3 responses to “The ‘notorious 11’ schools

  1. ‘There is a reason those 11 schools are at the top of the choice pool: because through research, scores, tours, level of PTA involvement, and garden/art programs’

    Not exactly. There’s a herd element to the buzz about a school. You can’t take raw test scores as a metric for how well a school is doing – you have to look deeper and see how certain demographics are doing at a school.

    One school may have better raw scores than another, but when you look at the socioeconomic breakdown, much or all of the difference . You can even get the paradoxical result that both socioeconomically disadvantaged students and non-socioeconomically disadvantaged students can be doing better in School A than School B, but because School B has more non-poor students, School A has worse aggregrate test scores than School B, even though when you take out socioeconomic status as a variable School A is better.

    Some schools are more or less popular based on how central they are, and some parents will exclude a school because there are not many of their ethnic group at the school, and they’re uncomfortable with putting their kid in that situation. There are all kinds of non-rational reasons why a school might be favored over another.

    There are at least three schools on the “notorious 11” that don’t score that well on similar-schools rankings: why list them, when you could instead list McKinley or Moscone or E.R. Taylor or Monroe or Yick Wo which punch way above their weight given their demographics?

    There are 32 elementary schools which have API similar-schools ranking of 7+, i.e. are very good to excellent schools compared to their peers statewide.

    To restrict yourself to a narrow list based on popularity is just nuts, and doing yourself a disservice by lowering your odds of getting into a good school.

    The situation isn’t that there are only a few good schools in SFUSD, the situation is that there are just over half that are very good to excellent (based on their similar schools rankings), about 20% solid schools in the middle, and about 25% that are Rank 1-2, i.e. not performing as they should.

  2. Hi Karen – thanks so much for your post & generous comments about the blog. I think the idea is not so much that you (one) should aim for the middle, but instead that you should be fully aware of the odds of getting some school choices as opposed to others.
    Candidly, I think one of the problems with our current assignment system is that it encourages school shopping. I reject the idea that the ‘notorious 11’ (not my phrasing, btw, it’s from the SF K Files blog) are head and shoulders above every other school in the district. Yes, they have buzz. Yes, they have significant parent fundraising and parent involvement. But do they have better teachers or better principals? Not as a rule (though there are stellar examples of teachers and principals represented on that list, no question).
    I’m glad you saw schools you found stellar in our district. If the seven schools you listed happen to be the best you found for your child, that’s great. But don’t proclaim other people’s choices mediocre because they don’t match yours.
    Also, many people tell me that there are 20-plus elementary schools they’d find absolutely fine for their child. This being the case, why focus on schools with lower odds when there might be others that offer better odds? That was really my motivation in publishing the list.

  3. Let me start by saying how much I appreciate and enjoy your blog. Transparency and open communication between government and the public it serves seems to have become an archaic idea; it is so refreshing to see your blog embody both.
    What has driven me to comment on this particular post is not so much your response to another yearly batch of disgruntled -or worse- parents who haven’t received their top choices, but rather the idea behind it. An explanation that I myself as a parent have heard directly from representatives of the SFUSD and local government: the problem is not with the lottery system itself, but rather that far too many people want into just a handful of schools.

    And, as you have learned, these appear to be the 11 schools you have listed above. I have been told by fellow parents and administrators both, that if I want to get my choice school I need to scale back my expectations and go for a school that is not high demand.

    Frankly, this leaves me gobsmacked.

    Should I send my newly minted elementary child of to school with this advice? “Just aim for the middle, honey. A ‘C’ is good enough- not everyone can get A’s you know!”

    There is a reason those 11 schools are at the top of the choice pool: because through research, scores, tours, level of PTA involvement, and garden/art programs, they have been determined by parents to be the very best that the San Francisco Public school system has to offer.
    So, of course we all want to send our kids to those schools.

    I am just wading into this morass for the first time, but, yes- I am prepared to settle in for the long haul. I am fortunate enough to have the option for private or, even, to leave the City and head for Marin or the peninsula, but I am committed to our Public School system. If I do not get my top choices- four out of five of them are on that list-then I will dig in and find a way to get the very best possible education for my child at the school he is finally placed at.

    But, I don’t aim for the middle, I don’t teach my child to, and I am frankly surprised that some expect me to. And so I respectfully say the problem is not that we all want into the few great public schools, the problem is why aren’t ALL the public schools that great?

    Blogs like yours that seek to engage, parents that are active and involved, and the apparent groundswell that is happening nationally are all much needed to pull our Public School system out of the nose dive it is in: with all of these amazing resources, let’s just make sure we aim for the top.

    I will continue to look forward to your postings,

    Parent Karen

    The Atlantic article you mention in the post following this one, ‘What Makes A Great Teacher’ is a stunner. Effectively, it puts forth the idea, culled from more than a decade of research by Teach For America, that “…more than any other variable in education-more than schools or curriculum-teachers matter.”