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.