Delving into the student assignment proposal, Part 2

Continuing on from last night’s post, I’ll try to give more detail about where the assignment proposal stands. Instead of taking an A to Z approach, I’m going to try to do this as an FAQ, answering questions that seem to be coming up most frequently in the policy discussion:

I heard the Board is going to return to neighborhood schools. Is that true?
Yes and no. The policy currently before the Board would re-introduce proximity as a factor in school assignment. As part of the work of redesigning our student assignment system, new attendance area boundaries would be drawn for every school (the old boundaries haven’t been updated in almost 20 years, and many addresses in San Francisco are not currently located in an assignment area for any school). Every address in San Francisco would be located within the attendance area for an elementary, middle and high school.  Depending on what grade applicants are entering, and what schools they are applying to, applicants would have some degree of “local preference” for the school located in the attendance area for the applicant’s address. (I know that syntax is tortured. Read it over once more and I think you’ll get it).

Okay, so how much weight does “local preference” carry?
It depends. For applicants entering Kindergarten, here is the proposed order of preference (except for citywide schools, which I’ll discuss later):

  1. Younger siblings of currently-enrolled students;
  2. Pre-K students who are enrolled in a Child Development Center program in the school’s attendance area — the board is asking for more information about how this would work, and how we could align the current centralized enrollment system for district preschools (which primarily serve low-income students) better with our district goals;
  3. Applicants who live in the attendance area of the school;
  4. Applicants who live in CTIP 1 census tracts (those in the lowest two quintiles based on average California Standards Test scores by census tract);
  5. All other students.

For students entering 6th grade, the preference order would be a bit different:

  1. Students who live in the attendance area of the middle school. This is highest so that the district can send assignment offers to all students already enrolled in SFUSD elementary schools. This should boost our participation rate significantly.
  2. Younger siblings of students currently enrolled at the middle school;
  3. Students who live in CTIP 1 census tracts (see above);
  4. All other students.

For students enrolling in high school, the preferences would be different yet again:

  • 40 percent of seats would be set aside for students who live in CTIP 1 census tracts. Within that group, younger siblings of current students would be placed first, and then all other CTIP 1 students.
  • 60 percent of seats would be set aside for students who live in CTIP 2 census tracts (the top three quintiles, based on each census tract’s average score on the California Standards Test). Within that group, younger siblings of current students would be placed first, and then all other CTIP 2 students.
  • A big question: what if, after the first round of applications are placed, there is a waiting list for one group and empty seats for the other? Should the board release any empty seats to the waiting list? Or keep them empty if and until other students from the target group request them?

Tell me more about “city-wide schools.” What does that mean?
City-wide schools are schools that do not have any local preference. We will still draw attendance areas for all schools, because the system should be flexible enough to re-designate schools as needed. But schools that are designated city-wide schools will not enroll students based on where they live. Right now, the working list of city-wide schools is:

  • Language programs, such as immersion or bilingual programs. These programs have eligibility requirements that must be met before other preferences kick in (more about that in a minute);
  • Other programs with eligibility requirements (e.g., Montessori);
  • K-8 schools.

Preferences for city-wide schools (assuming eligibility requirements are met) would be:

  • Younger siblings;
  • Students who attend an SFUSD Pre-K program at the school;
  • Students living in CTIP 1 census tracts;
  • All other students.

How can I tell what attendance area I live in?
Right now, you can’t. Once the Board approves a new policy, the staff will get to work drawing new attendance areas. For elementary school, they will be contiguous, but your attendance area school will not necessarily be the closest school to you. The Board has asked for more clarity on what criteria the staff will use on drawing boundaries. Boundaries could change from year to year, but would be subject to the criteria as defined in the Board proposal. Families would be told what attendance area they reside in before submitting an application.

Application? What do you mean application? I thought I could just go to my attendance area school.

The proposal is calling for a new process that would ask families to list the schools they want, in order of how much they want them. That list, along with a verified address, would be all families would need to submit to the district to be offered a school. For elementary and middle, families would receive a default assignment to their attendance area school, and the system would attempt to place them in schools they rank higher, if those transfers could be processed by giving other families a choice that they rank higher. This is a very difficult concept to explain, but it’s elegant in its execution. Watch the Feb. 17 meeting for a very  in-depth description about how transfers would work. In the end, families would get one letter that would either offer them their attendance area school, or a school they ranked higher than their attendance area school.

My attendance area school is very popular. What if there isn’t enough space for all the families who live nearby?

The demographers assured us last night that boundaries can be drawn accurately enough to minimize the likelihood of this happening, but of course there is the possibility that some schools, most likely a few  elementary schools, will be oversubscribed with students who possess local preference for that school. In that situation, the district would give students with local preference to “overfilled” schools an additional preference (higher than all other students but after CTIP 1 students) for a school on their list.

I know there’s more, but that’s about all I can think of at the moment. I’m sure my commenters will suggest more questions.

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23 responses to “Delving into the student assignment proposal, Part 2

  1. Andy,
    If diversity of the student body is desireable at the elementary schools, as well as at the middle schools, then we should support gerrymandered assignment areas for diversity at the expense of proximity. While it is one person, one vote for electoral districts, I do not see the school district as saying that all students are the same for assignment purposes. While I can not speak for the school district, I see the school as trying to implement voluntary desegregation, to combat the problem of overconcentration of African American, Hispanic, and Samoan students. The school district has objective justification for race conscious drawing of maps. Even non-contiguous maps at the elementary school level would not be invalid.

    The promotion of racial and ethnic diversity of the student body is a valid educational purpose. The school district may voluntarily desegregate for that purpose.

  2. I’m about to post a slide from tonight’s presentation showing the distribution of academic achievement district wide, by current census tracts. Very good question about how the 2010 census would affect those areas; I’m guessing there might be a few shifts but not much. I am not conversant on how the Census re-draws census tracts, how often, and when. CTIP 1 is currently defined as the 40% of census tracts with the lowest average score on the CST (I don’t think we will use one year’s score but rather a three-year moving average or something like that); CTIP 2 is currently defined as the 60% of census tracts with the highest average scores on the CST. HOWEVER, at tonight’s meeting (I’m about to write a longer post about this), the proposal was made (and accepted by the Board) to instead define CTIP 1 as the 20% of census tracts with the lowest average score on the CST, and CTIP 2 as the 80% of census tracts with the highest average scores on the CST. More above.

  3. Can you describe the CTIP 1 & 2 Areas. How will the 2010 census affect these areas? Where do we find the statistics.

  4. Rachel, as the parent of a child who will enter kindergarten in 2011, I am pleased that the attendance-area plan seems to have prevailed. I like the idea of being able to walk our son to school, and I believe that schools with more kids from the neighborhood will have stronger parent and community involvement.

    Of course, all this ultimately depends on how the maps are drawn. I urge you and the other board members not to create gerrymandering attendance areas as a backdoor means to achieve diversity at the expense of proximity.

  5. Correction–interpret is spelled with no “e” at the end. I did a Dan Quayle. What is it with people with e’s at the end of their names?

  6. thanks Rachel for the clarification. I was under the impression that there were two lotteries. It makes sense that it all happens at once.

  7. Dear Middle School Parent,

    My take on the end of the parental choice system is that the school district will not be able to maintain transportation expenses. The choice ahead is to lay off people or lay off the gas pedal. As I interprete the proposal, the Superintendent has chosen to lay off the gas pedal.

    It would be irresponsible to then leave the all choice system intact. One cannot simply say “Make your choices, and Good Luck on Muni!” I interprete the proposal to mean that we need local kids going to local schools as much as possible, because little transportation will be provided.

    The exercise of choice outside of the student’s area will be on the terms favored by the district; those terms are for academic diversity.

  8. Middle School Parent

    Why is the current staff idea to make the “neighborhood” preference seems most decisive in the middle school assignment system. Middle school parents I know are not interested in whether they can walk to their kid’s schools. And the kids at that point play a big part in the decision-making as to where to go. Each middle school has evolved to offer different things — students wanting dance go to Lick, kids wanting super-sports go to Giannini, etc., etc. Finally, middle school diversity has been improving under the parental choice system, not declining. If the district is still bent on doing neighborhood middle schools, could kids in third and fourth grade now in elementary schools within a middle school’s neighborhood be able to go to the middle school, even if the family doesn’t live in that neighborhood? These families made choices under the parental choice system years ago and their kids should be allowed to continue with their classmates.

  9. Bryan – Based on how it’s been explained to me, both are true. The worst case scenario for “overfills” is the closest school with space. But before that, the system would attempt to assign an “overfill” (again, the demographers say “overfills” would be unlikely) to another school on his or her list, after CTIP 1 but before everyone else.

  10. Susan – according to the timeline discussed by Orla O’Keeffe at the 2/17 meeting, probably not until September.

  11. Rachel: Your 9:20 comment seems to be inconsistent with your Answer in the Delving, Part 2 Section, unless I’m reading this wrong:

    9:20 comment
    “Your worst case scenario is your attendance area school (unless it is oversubscribed, in which case you would receive an offer to the closest school with space — I’m assured by the demographers that they are able to minimize this scenario while drawing boundaries, and “overfills” would be processed ahead of the general lottery.”

    Delving 2 comment
    “The demographers assured us last night that boundaries can be drawn accurately enough to minimize the likelihood of this happening, but of course there is the possibility that some schools, most likely a few elementary schools, will be oversubscribed with students who possess local preference for that school. In that situation, the district would give students with local preference to “overfilled” schools an additional preference (higher than all other students but after CTIP 1 students) for a school on their list.”

    Which is it? If your local school is oversubscribed, do you get assigned to the closest school with openings before the General Lottery or do you get assigned after CTIP 1 students to a school on your list?

  12. Rachel, is there a target date for when the new attendance area map would be available? We’re trying to decide whether our son goes to Pre-K or Kindergarten in August and much depends on what school we’d likely get in 2010 vs 2011.

  13. Tired, what you are missing is the fact that the “choice” round and the initial assignment all happen in one step. If you watch the Feb. 17 meeting you will get an in-depth explanation of how it would work. It’s very complex to explain but very simple to the end user. Essentially, everyone turns in a form listing any number of school choices – you would no longer be limited to seven choices, nor would you be penalized for choosing fewer than seven schools. You simply rank your choices in the order you truly want them. Your worst case scenario is your attendance area school (unless it is oversubscribed, in which case you would receive an offer to the closest school with space — I’m assured by the demographers that they are able to minimize this scenario while drawing boundaries, and “overfills” would be processed ahead of the general lottery. Read my two “Delving” posts again for more explanation).

    Anyway, many people will rank a citywide school higher than their attendance area school, receiving that school and freeing up space in attendance area schools.

  14. Is the sibling preference for city-wide schools (e.g. immersion) a change from the existing policy?

  15. I think that Tired’s point is that if no student opted for a city-wide program (e.g. immersion, Rooftop, bilingual), then there wouldn’t be enough “regular GE” seats for every student. Rachel’s numbers seem to prove that: just 75% of the 4800 kindergarten seats are “regular GE” seats, which is 3450, which is less than the expected 4600 kindergartners.

    But it’s not realistic, on a citywide basis, to think that no parent will pick Rooftop.

  16. Rachel – What am I missing here?

    4800 total seats
    25% citywide = 1200 citywide
    4800-1200 = 3600 seats available for round 1

    4600 students expected to apply

    So this means 1000 families will get NO assignment in round one (b/c you won’t assign them to citywide schools)

    What am I missing here?

  17. Tired, that’s incorrect. There are 4800 K seats total in SFUSD, with a projected demand of 4600 students to fill those seats. We have enough seats. And 25 percent of all seats are located in city-wide programs, which will take a lot of the pressure off the attendance area schools in heavily populated areas.

  18. Rachel – I posted this on K files.

    The citywide schools (k-8, immersion) and citywide strands (immersion, billingual) represent a large portion of the “seats” in SFUSD.

    I came to the realization that there are not enough GE seats in the district to assign everyone in round one (not even at some of the undersubscribed schools).

    What is the Board’s response to this? How many families will receive no assignment in round 1?

  19. Special Ed Parent

    Hi, Rachel, I’m wondering if there was any discussion of special ed, and by that I mean Inclusion and Special Day Programs. The Super’s proposal called for creation of special education attendance areas. However, many of us with special ed kids value parental choice — special ed kids have unique needs and Inclusion and Special Day program vary widely among schools. What is the thinking about assignment for special ed kids?

  20. Ilf, I think the answer to that question is that every address in San Francisco will have a default attendance area school, whether or not it also lies within the (non-active) attendance area for a citywide school. Remember that many of the citywide schools are actually programs within attendance area schools (think of Alvarado, which has an immersion strand and a general ed strand — immersion would have no attendance area but general ed would, so Alvarado would have an attendance area that would only be active for the general ed strand) — so this might be less confusing than it sounds. Still, if a citywide school were converted to general ed, its conceivable that someone could be placed within two attendance areas. In that case, I imagine we’d have to re-draw boundaries to prevent the overlap.

  21. Rachel, thanks so much for this detailed recap. If I’m reading this correctly, city-wide schools will have an attendance area, but no students from that attendance area will be assigned to the city-wide school based on address alone. What would those students then use for their “default” attendance area school?