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):
- Younger siblings of currently-enrolled students;
- 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;
- Applicants who live in the attendance area of the school;
- Applicants who live in CTIP 1 census tracts (those in the lowest two quintiles based on average California Standards Test scores by census tract);
- All other students.
For students entering 6th grade, the preference order would be a bit different:
- 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.
- Younger siblings of students currently enrolled at the middle school;
- Students who live in CTIP 1 census tracts (see above);
- 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.