Tomorrow night’s the night!

It seems strangely anti-climactic that years of work by several different Boards will finally bring a new student assignment policy to a vote tomorrow night. There’s a lot of interest, and trepidation about the implementation phase (the devil, as always, is in the details), but mostly there seems to be acceptance that the process has been thorough and the resulting compromise about the best the Board could do.

I still have a few questions about details of the policy, and plan to offer at least one amendment during tomorrow night’s discussion, but on the whole I think what is being proposed is workable.  It’s not perfect, and it might not solve the problems we’re hoping to solve, but perfect solutions don’t exist here. We’ll have to monitor the implementation of the plan closely, and continue to monitor the outcomes of the new process; we’ll also have to be willing to tinker with the various “dials” like the definition and weight of the Census Tract Integration Preferences (CTIP) — currently derived by taking the average score on the California Standards Test in each census tract across the City, and then dividing those census tracts into two groups. The 20% of students residing in the lowest-scoring tracts are one group (called CTIP 1), and the 80% of students residing in the highest-scoring tracts are the other group (called CTIP 2).

As a parent of a child who will enter middle school in Fall 2011, I’m glad that elementary school, not residence, will carry the highest preference for 6th grade enrollment.  I don’t know yet what middle school our elementary school will feed into, but I think my daughter will be happy to go to a middle school where she knows friends from elementary school.  And I like that we will be able to offer parents entering Kindergarten some certainty about middle school.

I’m sure there will be unpopular and unintended consequences of this plan, just like there have been with previous plans, and we’ll have to deal with those issues as they arise. But I do feel glad that we’ve engaged in a thorough and detailed process.  It will feel good to move this work along to the implementation phase, and turn our attention to other pressing issues of achievement and funding for our schools.

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17 responses to “Tomorrow night’s the night!

  1. Special Ed Parent, is your child heading to middle school in 2010 or 2011? In either case, it’s not clear exactly how the new policy will affect you (for reasons that are too complex to get into here) but it’s more likely in 2010 you will be asked to go through the current (highly flawed) process. In 2011 I am not sure the process will be any less flawed, but it should be simpler and there should be more inclusion choices.

  2. special ed parent

    Hi, Rachel, I understand that there was a special amendment regarding special ed that was approved as part of the assignment redesign. I was wondering exactly what this means, as I don’t know the details of this amendment. My Inclusion child will be going to middle school for school year 2011, so, with this new amendment, will he get the same “initial” assignment as the rest of his elementary school or does assignment get decided at the IEP meeting or through some other process? Thanks for all your help!

  3. Special Ed Parent

    Hey, Rachel, I heard that there was an amendment passed last night about how to deal with special ed kids, but I’m not sure of the details. So, let me ask: since my kid is up for middle school assignment this Fall (2010) and is in Inclusion, will we get a letter putting us in the same middle school as the other kids in the elementar school or will the decision on placement be made at our IEP meeting or how will it be handled?

  4. This is very disappointing for people who live in middle-of-the-road neighborhoods. In the Lower Haight we have lower-income kids going to more popular schools and doing well, but now since we’re not CTIP1 they will get the lowest priority in applying outside the neighborhood. And, of course, middle-class families will be more likely to avoid the area.

  5. “But I also think the “quality schools for all” challenge has not been surmounted”

    Yes, but to a first approximation, student assignment is a separate issue from student achievement.* For student assignment, the issue was having choice over placement (but uncertainty whether you’ll get that choice) versus certainty but radically more limited choice.

    I don’t think the focus groups ran by PPSSF or the PAC or the district really focused on answering the question: do you want choice more than certainty, but got distracted on issues of student achievement, which is of course important but not the key issue at hand.

    I liked the choice/lottery system, because it created a kind of quasi-market. It enabled schools to differentiate themselves (e.g. using project-based learning, or science or art or citizenship focus, etc.). It also meant that if you didn’t like your local school or its principal, you weren’t stuck with it. But it was also leading to self-sorting of ethnic groups, rather than better diversity.

    I don’t like the reduction in the choice in the proposed system, but given the board needed to cut transportation costs, and the desire by many parents for more predictibility, the new system looks well designed and to have flexibility.

    *Student assignment and student achievement are connected insofar that if you have too much socioeconomic segregation, the scores of students at the schools with high percentages of low-SES kids drop across the board. But without non-contiguous attendance areas like Commissioner Kim wants but which is politically and practically not implementable, we’re not going to see much progress on desegregation.

  6. To answer the preschool preference question – it has nothing to do with regular, private preschools – the preference is being given to *public* preschools — many of our city’s elementary schools have CDCs (Child Development Centers) on-site that service children from low-income families. Here’s a list of the CDCs:

    http://portal.sfusd.edu/template/default.cfm?page=school_info.cdc

  7. Don’t get me wrong. I really see the merits of giving families a sense of where their choice of ES will lead in terms of MS. And I see a real benefit in fostering continuity for the ES classes going to the feeder destination MS’s — both for the kids and the communities of parents that have developed over years at the ES together.

    But I also think the “quality schools for all” challenge has not been surmounted, at both levels (hence “trophy” vs. underserved schools). And I recognize how hard that challenge is for all parts of the “education community” and how intimidating the status quo can be for families.

  8. John, I think the logistics was that the district already knew who the 5th graders were who were going on to middle school, but really did not know who all the potential kindergartners would be. The district was going to have to have parents coming into the district system self-identity themselves anyway to start the process, so we might as well let them express their choices too.

    The middle school situation allowed the district to start the process with an initial assignment to a known group of parents, who, by doing nothing, could give back some rough info to the district on how many seats were getting placed at various schools. I would imagine district is very concerned about lack of participation, in particular, of non-English speaking parents who might be immigrants and do not know how to navigate the system. If these parents do nothing, at least they have not fallen through the cracks, and there is a school somewhere for the student.

  9. “As you note of ES families, “almost everyone was going to go the full two steps” — isn’t the same principle going to be true for Middle School families? If certain trophy MS’s fill many spots with their feeds up front, won’t parents unhappy with their feeder desitnations and therefore seeking choice feel like the odds (even with the new criteria) have gotten worse (just as all those two-step ES parents would have felt, if attendance areas had been assigned first).”

    MS assignment worked pretty well under the old system (because there was more slack capacity at the MS level), so I imagine that even under the new system, things will work out.

  10. My understanding is that this element applies only to SFUSD pre-K’s in the attendance area and is aimed at supporting families with continuity etc.

    If I’m mistaken, please correct this, someone.

  11. Obviously we’re all just talking in hypotheticals here, since nothing has been approved yet, but I have a simple question that has puzzling me a bit that perhaps Rachel (or others could answer):

    What is the rationale behind putting pre-k attendance location second on the hierarchy?

    (What is spurring this question: We live 2 blocks from our presumed neighborhood school, but send our son to a pre-k about seven minutes drive away, mainly b/c the local pre-k options aren’t appealing.

    My guess is that his pre-k would not be neighorhood school “zone”, but again we live two blocks from our school. So, I’m guess I’m confused as to why pre-k would get preference over where we actually live.)

    Thanks for your help!

  12. Sorry — didn’t mean to cause confusion in cutting and pasting your quote:

    Continuing down this path, won’t the school staff have “to face a lot of parents who don’t like their assignment to the FEEDER MIDDLE school”? Same challenge bumped up the chain?

  13. Thanks for taking the time to step in with comments and confirmations — and as you suggest, thanks are due, as always, to Rachel.

    Believe me, I get the redesign goals and the back end attempts to streamline the process. I should have said, “Hasn’t choice been eroded at the MS level?”

    As you note of ES families, “almost everyone was going to go the full two steps” — isn’t the same principle going to be true for Middle School families? If certain trophy MS’s fill many spots with their feeds up front, won’t parents unhappy with their feeder desitnations and therefore seeking choice feel like the odds (even with the new criteria) have gotten worse (just as all those two-step ES parents would have felt, if attendance areas had been assigned first).

    Continuing down this path, won’t the school staff have “to face a lot of parents who don’t like their assignment to the attendance area school”? Same challenge bumped up the chain?

  14. Rachel. I have a question about the 5th preference:

    “Densely populated attendance areas – students who live in attendance areas that do not have
    sufficient capacity to accommodate all the students living in the attendance area.”

    Would this include the situation where the attendance are is not initially at capacity, but reaches capacity with students from CTIP1. In other words, if my daughter cannot get into her attendance area school because it fills up with CTIP1 kids, does she fall under the Densely Populated Attendance Areas preference?

  15. Thanks, Leslie! I’m sipping my cappucino and will weigh in with some details later when I have more time.

  16. John, you are looking for an answer from Rachel, but, if you will accept my comments, let’s give her a coffee break and thank her for all the information she provides.

    John, you have asked a lot of questions. The first question is on the dropping of the initial assignment of elementary schools. Put yourself in the shoes of school staff. You are going to face a lot of parents who don’t like their assignment to the attendance area school or to a school farther away that had space when the neighborhood school was full. You would rather work off of the parent’s choices when they cannot get their neighborhood school. Therefore, get those choices out front early for one stop shopping. Even those that got their neighborhood school had a free shot in the choice lottery to get into a trophy school, so the two step process was unnecessary. Almost everyone was going to go the full two steps, so let’s just make it one step from the get go.

    Has choice been removed from the middle school level since there will be feeders? The answer is no. Parents can accept the feeder pattern, or can choose to opt out in the lottery.
    It is not an equal lottery. The lottery is controlled by preferences. Parental choice is limited by those preferences.

  17. Hi, Rachel,

    Quick question — It looks like the initial “assigned school/apply elsewhere later (if desired)” for elementary/K applications has dropped away from the Superintendent’s Proposal? Is this correct and if so, why?

    And again, if correct, isn’t the elementary portion of the new system really just a redesign of how lottery applications are weighted (sibs > PreK in attendance area > CTIP 1 etc. etc.)

    One more time, if correct, then it looks like the proposal has retained choice at the elementary level and removed choice from the Middle School level (with the feeders).

    Ok, not so quick question, but still, what gives, lady?