Delving into the student assignment proposal: recap

I’m pretty much whacked after tonight’s three-hours plus meeting and lots of new information. Essentially, the board got an opportunity to hear much more detail about the staff’s proposal for a new student assignment system, but I have to say that the presentation left me with more questions than answers.

Let me start by saying that there are a lot of things I like about the proposal, from a simplicity perspective and from a predictability perspective. I think it will make many more families happy than our current system does, at least those applying for elementary school. I like that it uses slightly different mechanisms for K, 6 and 9th grade assignment, taking into account the different needs of students and families at each level. I *love* the emphasis the system places on simplicity and non-wastefulness (in other words, creating a simple system that is user-friendly and works best when people are honest about what they want). I like that it is flexible and can be “tweaked” in various ways to maximize particular outcomes (e.g., diversity in schools).

But I’m worried that the proposal relies too much on forcing students in lower-income neighborhoods — many of whom now choose schools that are far away from those neighborhoods — to attend their local schools, hoping that we will improve the system on their backs. That doesn’t seem fair, even though I know that increased enrollment and involved parents (the ones who opt for different school choices out of their neighborhoods!) are all we need to make schools like Visitacion Valley Middle School really soar.

70 percent of public school families in Bayview-Hunters Point choose schools outside their neighborhood, and what this proposal would do is instead give them strong incentives to stay closer to home (and remove the current incentive the choice system gives them to leave). The influx of new, more empowered and aware parents will almost certainly lift achievement at the schools in the Bayview, but only after the first class or two of “pioneers” is forced by lack of other choices to enroll. Again, does that seem fair? Any fairer than forcing families to leave their neighborhoods through a busing-based policy?

The answer to this problem is supposed to be the CTIP — Census Tract Integration Preference (which desperately, desperately needs rebranding, but I’m too tired to come up with any alternatives).  CTIP is derived by calculating the average score on the California Standards Test (CST) for each census tract in San Francisco (there are about 150 census tracts city-wide). The census tracts are then arranged from highest average score to lowest average score, and divided into quintiles (fifths). The highest three quintiles are designated as CTIP 2; the lowest two quintiles are designated as CTIP 1.  CTIP 1 students do receive some level of priority in the process, higher or lower depending on whether those students are applying to high school, middle school or elementary school. In the end, CTIP 1 is supposed to “level the playing field” for students who are educationally-disadvantaged based on where they live.

I don’t have the stamina to go into all the ways CTIP and local preference interact at the elementary, middle and high school levels, but essentially local preference is highest at the elementary school level and nonexistent at the high school level.  The worry I have is whether we should be giving CTIP 1 preference a higher level throughout, if it would have a stronger impact on diversifying schools and better level the playing field for the students whose achievement we are most concerned about. On the other hand, elementary school is the time when families most value local preference, and so perhaps it makes sense to maximize that preference as families are entering kindergarten.

I was somewhat nonplussed to realize that for all the talk about simplicity, this program is just as difficult to explain as the current diversity index. There are fewer variables, and once you get to the end users — parents — the form is greatly simplified and intuitive. All you have to do is fill out your real address and list any number of schools, from your attendance area school to any other school,  in the order you truly like them.  But to really understand how the various “preferences” from sibling, to pre-K, to local, to CTIP interact,  it gets much more complicated. I’ll try to post some of that information tomorrow, but for now, I’m off to bed.


27 responses to “Delving into the student assignment proposal: recap

  1. I’m not sure there is a map in the sense that you’re thinking of it. I haven’t seen one, anyway. I think the demographers did do some analysis based on census-block level data, and also taking into account major geographical barriers (Twin Peaks, 280, etc.) and traffic patterns. But we have very consciously stayed away from drawing any “boundaries” at this point, for the reason that it would beg for group after group of people to oppose the plan because they want their line moved two blocks over, or extended two blocks further, etc. etc. That is no way to build any kind of consensus about the mechanism we’re proposing. Either you think its a mechanism that will provide a better outcome for the entire system (based on the goals the Board defined early on in this process), or you don’t. People have raised legitimate questions about the criteria the staff will use to draw the lines, and I’ve advocated for them to be more up front about those criteria — as a result I believe they are going to present an example of what a “non-contiguous” zone might look like under the proposed criteria at tomorrow night’s meeting (which, unfortunately, will not be televised because SFG-TV is double-booked.)

  2. Thanks Rachel. I see your point about evaluating the policy from a city wide perspective, rather than from the perspective individual schools. But even from the city wide point of view – they must depend on the creation of some kind of map, right? You can”t run a city-wide simulations showing how the policy works without drawing some kind of map, can you?

    I think therein lies the frustration for me (and a few other parents I know). It seems like the map (or several possible versions of it) must have been drawn for purposes of analysis, yet none of these maps have been published. You must understand the frustration of parents who are being told we are moving (possibly) to a neighborhood preference system, and being asked to support that system without any idea what the boundaries to neighborhoods are going to be, and with only assurances that they can draw the boundaries in ways that will minimize over subscription to neighborhood schools. I assume that if these representations are being made it is because actual simulations with reliable data and various attendance area assumptions have been done and evaluated. So why not make at least some of this work publicly available?

    Approving a policy now, and not showing a map (any map at all) until September seems highly unfair. I can understand a timetable that would say the final approved map won’t be public until then, but to say that there will be no public maps at all until September feels like information is being withheld from the public.

    I would urge you to advocate for releasing at attendace area map(s) in advance of finalizing the plan next September.

    Thanks again for listening and all your hard work.

  3. “And finally, I cannot stress enough the inequity in allowing Claire Lilienthal to continue to be a city-wide school. Right now, it has one of the lowest percentages of low income and english language learner children. ”

    I fail to see how excluding kids from other neighborhoods from applying is going to fix that.

  4. On the fence, you should see the stacks of school data, demographic data and demand data I have! I don’t know how long you’ve been following this process, but the Board has considered voluminous amounts of data on the way to considering this proposal. Specifically, we have seen simulations of CTIP vs. local preference on a citywide basis (see the January student assignment committee presentation which I believe I posted in my recap of that meeting). Both of those had a mild, but appreciable affect on school composition (with the CTIP preference being slightly better in terms of diversity; one reason why you are hearing board members and PAC members puzzling over why the staff zigged back to local preference in the final proposal presented on Feb. 2). At this point, (at least in my opinion, others clearly disagree) it’s more appropriate for the Board to consider the proposal from a citywide perspective — personally, I don’t want to get into whether this proposal makes school X or school Y more diverse — I’m more interested in what the simulations show systemwide. And as you are no doubt aware, once we get into drawing the lines there will be many people who will come out of the woodwork urging the line to move just a few blocks this way or that in order to make their (perceived) individual prospects better.
    As far as citywide programs and schools, we have a working list that has basically remained the same since last Spring (language programs and other programs with eligibility requirements) with the addition a month ago of K-8 schools. So I’m not feeling particularly in the dark as far as that list, either.
    Finally, don’t forget that the student assignment committee will continue to meet monthly and oversee the implementation after/if the Board approves a policy on March 9. There will be ongoing opportunities for oversight, transparency and public participation in this process.

  5. Rachel,

    I am still puzzled why the board would feel compelled to vote to approve a policy without seeing the attendance area maps and a list of city-wide schools and programs. Surely there is sufficient data available right now to lend at least some insight about how the new system will actually work. Are you suggesting that because data in the current system is flawed (since it encourages “wasteful” choices), we have no data at hand to test this out? What am I missing here?

    It seems highly speculative to approve a new policy without the critical details of the attendance area map and list of city-wide schools. I would think that the board should have several maps and lists of schools presented to them for approval, with supporting data about student enrollment, diversity, etc. for each proposal.

    For example, the various proposals previously had data to support them (pro and con) in light of the goals enunciated for the redesign. Now, we have a policy, and no data to test whether it really will deliver on any of those goals.

    Without maps and the list of city wide schools, how will you know if this policy will result in better outcomes than the current system?

  6. Bolo, look online on the district web site. The CTIP maps were part of the Feb. 2 presentation (p. 53) and also the Feb. 17 presentation (p.7). I am not sure if the Feb. 17 presentation is up online but I know I posted the Feb. 2 if you look back through my recent posts.

  7. wow rachel. thank goodness we have someone like you who is so dedicated to answering our questions and doing the best for us! are the ctip maps available somewhere, and i’m just missing it? your summary of who is ctip1 is pretty good, but would like to see a precise map if possible.

  8. CTIP–new name contest

    CTIP is not a word. TIP is a word. Shorten CTIP to TIP.

  9. Kory, there are two different issues here: moving into the attendance area for a school you like, and moving into a CTIP 1 census tract to try to give yourself a “leg up” on choosing any school you want. The former is understandable (with the caveat that attendance areas could change from year to year, so you wouldn’t be assured of being “locked in” to any school unless you moved in the year you were applying, and were prepared to move again once your child was ready to apply to middle school). The latter I would call “gaming the system” unless you wanted to move to a CTIP 1 census tract for other reasons — e.g., shortening your commute, lowering your housing costs, or how about, just liking the neighborhood? Of course, anyone would be free to go to that length if they wanted, but I would question whether the CTIP or attendance area priority would really be worth moving somewhere that you wouldn’t otherwise choose. And if people have the idea of committing fraud by lying about where they live, well, we’re going to work harder to catch you and the consequences will be unpleasant.

  10. Crystal, according to the data I’ve dug out so far, 50 families living in 94123 chose Lilienthal or Sherman as a FIRST choice. I’ve asked for more specific data since that number seems awfully low to me, too.
    Anyway, I agree that there are limits to the usefulness of our past demand data, but if participation from the Marina, Pac Hts, etc. is truly that low, I don’t know how we possibly justify opening a new attendance area elementary school in the area until we see more robust demand patterns. I certainly cant justify it based on the data I’ve seen. Also, people are claiming that Presidio Heights and Pac Hts don’t have other attendance area opportunities — but Cobb is closer than the Marina Lilienthal campus to both of these neighborhoods. And Cobb is an attendance area school.

  11. Hi Rachel,

    Thanks so much for the answers – one more follow up. Do you expect that families will try moving into CTIP1 areas? I expected (and was thinking about) moving into the neighborhood area for the school(s) we like. Does that sound crazy? I don’t know why you’d think I’m trying to game the system, isn’t this what families do in other cities and suburbs – move to the neighborhood with the *good* schools? We don’t want to be unethical, but as renters we can live anywhere, and with two kids and being dedicated public school parents (I’m a public school teacher myself), we’re trying to do the best thing for our family and a move doesn’t seem crazy (well, to us!).

    Thanks so much!


  12. Rachel, you state that “only 50” families who reside in 94123 chose Sherman or Liliethal somewhere on their list of 7? I would be surprised if that was the case, but please also include the zip code for those living in the presidio (adjacent to 94123) as part of that area is considered Sherman attendance area.

    A few other points:
    Many families leave the city or do not apply at all because they have consistantly felt left out of the process. What percentage of families in 94123 (or presidio) actually receive one if their 7 choices, I have heard it is amoung the lowest placement in the entire city. So looking at past demand patterns is a flawed way of determining how many children are here and would apply with the new system.
    And just out of curiousity, since the Bayview is the only lower income area most people are discussing (though there are many other areas of need around the city!) how many families turned in applications in round 1 from the Bayview?
    Also, when the BOE asked why k-8’s were included in the citywide discussion, Orla said because (and she used CL as an example) they are the most racially diverse in the whole city. First of all, WE CAN’T use race as a factor, correct? And just because the color of someone’s skin is different, doesn’t mean they are socio-economically diverse. CL has one of the lowest percentages of ELL and Free/reduced lunch eligible kids!
    Sherman is much more “diverse” with over 27 different lagnuages, 55% Free/Reduced Lunch and 40% ELL – and it is currently NOT on the table for citywide. So that argument doesn’t hold any strength.
    Just a few more thoughts – thanks for ALL of you work on this – you guys have a lot ahead of you!

  13. Wrongwayjack, I don’t think anyone can really predict what the demand patterns are going to be once we put a new system into place. The Stanford researchers argue very convincingly that we are getting very flawed information about demand patterns under the current system, because the current system actually penalizes people for listing their true preferences, and instead encourages them to be “strategic” (i.e., wasteful) about their choices. So year one of whatever system we adopt is going to tell us a lot, and I think the staff has done a good job building flexibility into the proposal so that the Board can monitor and tweak the system going forward if it is not helping us reach our goals.
    One other point that was made last night that I found persuasive: There are roughly 4,800 seats for kindergarten system-wide, which is a surplus over the 4,600 kindergarteners we are expecting. Of those 4,800 seats, 25 percent, or 1,200 of those seats are located in schools that would be city-wide, with no local preference at all. So that is quite a large wild card, because many families holding local preference at trophy schools may actually prefer immersion, for example, or a K-8 program. That would free up seats at the attendance-area schools for other families to choose in.
    One other note about K-8 programs, specifically Lilienthal. I’m open to the idea of splitting Lilienthal back into two K-5 programs that would — eventually — feed back into Marina MS. Still, we have to see demand in the Marina to justify that. I know, I just said our data about demand patterns was flawed, and it is. But in looking at ALL of our applicants from 94123 last year — only 50 requested a school in 94123 (Sherman or Lilienthal) as a first choice. The demand for more seats in the Marina is just not there among people who live in the neighborhood.

  14. Potrero Hill Dad: The researchers from Stanford told us last night that they think families should be allowed to list as many choices as they like, in order of how they like them. I asked the question of our staff — do we actually have the infrastructure to handle it when someone requests all 73 elementary schools in order of preference? They say yes. That’s one thing I really do like about the proposal — there’s no penalty for listing fewer schools, nor for listing as many schools as you would actually like. That’s a big difference from the current system, where people either “fill out” their lists with shoot the moon schools, or list only one or two schools under the mistaken assumption that this tactic increases their odds of getting a school on their list.

  15. Kory: And therein lies the problem. We would hope that families wouldn’t just move into a specific area and then move out again, and the plan is to develop a very robust system of address verification to make sure that people actually live where they claim. We are talking about fines and in extreme cases, referring people to the D.A. to be prosecuted for fraud. But conceivably, yes, if you were that willing to game the system, you could rent a place in a CTIP 1 census tract for a year, then move again until it came time to apply for middle and then high school. The CTIP 1 census tract areas are generally in the Western Addition and Bayview-Hunters Point.

  16. Heather, that is the current attendance area map, but it is basically useless because it hasn’t been updated in almost 20 years. During that period, residential patterns have changed, and several schools have closed, so there are many locations across the City that are not actually placed within the assignment area for any school. So part of the work going forward (after the policy is approved) will be to draw a new map.

  17. Becky: Yes, sibling preference for elementary school remains basically intact in the current proposal. Only one important change: for middle school, students who live in the attendance area for a particular middle school would get a higher preference than younger siblings of students currently attending the middle school.

    Re special education, they need to do a lot more work before I will support what they’re proposing. But IEPs are part of Federal law, so the district must continue to honor what is in the IEP when placing students. The issue is whether the district must offer a school, or just a program, when placing students. So if you need, let’s say, a special day classroom for learning disabled students, the district just offers you that program but doesn’t say . . . at X school. I am arguing for us to make individualized offers of placement in IEP meetings, putting both the program offer AND the school location in the IEP. The sad secret is that many families already get these kinds of offers — those families who can afford to bring lawyers with them to IEP meetings. I think that all families should be able to receive school AND program placement offers from the IEP team. Stay tuned.

  18. CTIP–new name contest

    I submit just shortening it to IP, for integration preference. The dials include local preference and integration preference. The census tract areas are just IP1 and IP2.

  19. Thanks for all you have done. Two questions: 1) I have three kids and live a block from a school we love (non trophy). Is there a way all three kids can go there if one child is applying this year? Will there be sibling preferences for older kids, once my younger kids are there, assuming they get in? 2) What is happening with children who need special education? It had sounded to me like IEPs wouldn’t be used anymore. Thank you!

  20. Special Education assignment is, as always, an afterthought. Still separate. Still not equal.
    My local school doesn’t have an inclusion program, so my son can’t go to the “local” school that all the other kids in my neighborhood will go to?
    Inclusion is a service, not a program, and should be available at every school.
    … But Rachel knows this already 🙂

  21. Undecided San Franciscan

    Rachel – thanks for the update and I’m eagerly awaiting more details!

    Can you confirm that this is the attendance area map? And, is this subject to change with the updated school assignment policy?


  22. I do not have the latest materials. Based on the earlier materials, the main message for the Bayview/Hunter’s Point is that, if you want to leave your assigned school, and 70% of you do, you must rely on Muni and your own car, not on SFUSD for transportation. Pick your lottery schools accordingly. SFUSD will help you with CTIP preferences, but little else. Have I got that right?

  23. CTIP–New name contest

    I submit “SWTR,” pronounced “switter” which 1) stands for State Wide Test Results (SWTR), and 2) evokes Twitter, a social network, as we are making your census tract your social network.

    I submit “STAR,” which 1) sounds positive, even as we treat some as more equal than others, and 2) stands for STate Academic Results or STandardized Academic Results.

  24. I also attended last nights meeting and overall I was very pleased that there was movement in one direction. HOWEVER, I say major flaws in the system and I hope the BOE has the courage to fine tune the process NOW and not wait until next year.

    For example, it makes no sense to ensure that all kids a preschools in a local zone area have first priority at the elementary school also in that zone. That will just encourage parents to fight for seats in that Pre-K program.

    Also, Rachel, you state that “70 percent of public school families in Bayview-Hunters Point choose schools outside their neighborhood”. Please clarify for your readers that it is 70 percent of those families that actually turn in applications – which is probably less than 50%. So in truth the number is closer to 30%? I don’t have the facts in front of me, but surely those that designed the system, and the BOE have those specifics.

    And finally, I cannot stress enough the inequity in allowing Claire Lilienthal to continue to be a city-wide school. Right now, it has one of the lowest percentages of low income and english language learner children. With the new assignment system NOTHING will change. CL will still have kids being buses from all over the city to attend. Not to mention the FREE bus that they have to transfer students from one campus to another.

    And, geographically, it just is not equitable to FORCE the children on the North side of town to have to leave their neighborhood, when in all other parts of the city, kids get the option to stay local. Talk about inequity and wastefulness at its finest!

    I think returning the two CL campuses to their origional k-5 status makes the most sense – doesn’t anyone have the foresight to make this change?

    Again, I hope the BOE takes the time to really research the process and smooth out the kinks now…you are SO close!

  25. Rachel,

    Thanks for all the work you are doing to keep readers like me in the loop. We are working hard to understand the new system! We live in the Presidio. How do we find out if we are CTIP 1 or 2?
    And secondly, with the local schools assignement element, I assume many families will now look to moving into the neighborhoods with the schools they prefer. Can you tell me how this will work? We rent – can we just go rent a new place in the neighborhood with the school we want? How long do we have to live there to get assigned that school? Once we’re into that school, can we move away and be assured our kid (and their following siblings) can stay at that school?

    Thanks again!

  26. Potrero Hill Dad

    Thank you again for the summary it is greatly appreciated.
    Unfortunately I am confused as to how this process is simpler. This maybe because I am not completely familiar with the current process.
    I thought the current process requires parents to list there top 7 schools . Your above post indicates that parents are to do the same thing “…list any number of schools, from your attendance area school to any other school, in the order you truly like them.”

    Thank you again for your efforts

  27. Rachel, I predict that the effect of this system will be an explosion of applications to the choice schools. This will become especially true after east side CTIP2 families realize that their “safety schools” (like Sunnyside for example) are effectively gone because they are filled with neighborhood kids.

    There are many families who just aren’t going to be “pioneers” as you wrote and after not getting their requested immersion or K-8 citywide choices, will leave the system.

    So my question is this: As part of implementing this policy, will you be opening up more citywide options? It seems like the only way to retain all these disappointed east side families.