The most hits ever on the blog today, and the first time I didn’t post immediately after a Board meeting. Sorry, constituents and readers — last night was a very late night and I had a day that started early and didn’t end until late this evening. It’s after midnight, and quite literally the first moment I’ve had to update the blog on last night’s big event — the student assignment vote (7-0 in favor, for those who are keeping track).
First of all, there were no major changes to the policy that was printed in the agenda, despite the almost three hours it took us to discuss and finally vote (this morning a reporter who shall remain nameless gave me quite an earful on the amount of time Board members talk versus the amount of work we actually get done — a fair criticism when you consider that between 6:30 p.m. and 11:30 p.m. last night we took a grand total of two policy votes).
The district’s new assignment policy passed unanimously. In my opinion, it makes these key improvements to our current system:
- An application that is far more simple and straightforward than what we have currently: families simply need to list their (verifiable) addresses and their school choices in order of true preference — as many or as few choices as they want to list (no penalties on listing just a few choices and no limit on how many choices you may list);
- Updated attendance area boundaries and a beefed-up local preference (with increased address verification and penalties for fraudlent applications — including revoking school placement, fines and criminal prosecution);
- Elementary to Middle school feeder patterns, so that cohorts of 5th graders will travel to middle schools together;
- A simplified lottery algorithm that seeks to place applicants at their highest-choice school;
- Increased flexibility and monitoring, so that the Board and the Superintendent can measure the outcomes of the system from year to year and adjust various elements to improve those outcomes;
- A more focused and targeted system of preferences that seek to give opportunity to particularly underserved populations while preserving opportunities for families who want choice AND those who value certainty over options.
Is the policy perfect? Far from it. Will it reverse the trend of racial isolation? We hope so, but we don’t know. Will it provide equitable options for all families? Yes, in my opinion. Will it provide transparency at every stage of the process? I think so — the new process will be far less “wasteful” (meaning that it should give more people a school of their choosing), and far more “strategically simple” (meaning that families shouldn’t have to devise elaborate strategies in order to be more assured of receiving a school of their choosing — the best strategy will always be to list ALL the schools you want, in order of how much you want them).
As far as the much-discussed Census Tract Integration Preference (CTIP) mechanism — I think it is highly focused and will provide students who live in our least-advantaged neighborhoods some opportunity to choose schools that might afford them more opportunities. Some commenters last night were up in arms about this mechanism, especially after the Board flipped the order of preference to put CTIP 1 preference ahead of local preference for elementary students. But the reality is that students who live in these areas are not choosing schools outside of their neighborhoods — at least in very large numbers. Essentially, the CTIP preference provides an opportunity and an invitation to students who would like to avail themselves of other educational programs available across the district, but its numerical effect on demand, at least based on demand patterns seen in the current system, is very slight. After looking at this document, I’m curious who would tell me with a straight face that putting CTIP 1 preference ahead of local preference will affect in any serious way their child’s chances of attending a local school (send me your nearest cross streets and the school you consider your local school to comments “at” rachelnorton.com. Seriously).
Of course I can’t discuss last night without also discussing special education. I introduced an amendment to the policy that was only halfway successful, but I think the minor wording changes the Board did accept will have a positive effect for families. The ultimate goal is to have a clear policy stating unequivocally that Individual Education Program (IEP) teams will determine both the program AND the site placement for students with IEPs, but right now the district’s newly-adopted policy simply states that:
The Individual Education Program (IEP) team will determine appropriate placement for special education students. To the extent possible, given the unique needs of students as outlined in their IEPs, the student assignment process used to assign general education students will be used to assign special education students.
The key word in the above passage is team, which we inserted to replace “process”. Team means people, and is actually defined in the law as being people who have a particular interest or responsibility for the education of a student with a disability (meaning, most importantly, PARENTS!). “Process” isn’t defined in special education law, and certainly can be used to mean something other than “people.” The distinction might seem minor, but it is key, and it will make a difference, even if we can’t (for now) get the words “site” and “placement” used in the same context.
Last night’s vote (even taking into account the pontificating deplored by my friend the reporter) was in the end somewhat anticlimactic, at least for someone who has been involved in public school advocacy in San Francisco for the past decade. We have been talking about this issue for so long. The realization that we are actually moving into a new phase that will yield us new data, outcomes and unintended consequences is kind of mind-blowing.
Other items of note:
- The Board voted 6-1 to close Newcomer High School and divert student to Newcomer pathways at our comprehensive high schools. This was a sad decision but one that board members acknowledged was time to enact. Newcomer HS staff has served our students admirably over the years, but overwhelming data made closing the school and dispersing the students a straightforward decision. This data showed clearly that our newcomer students are increasingly choosing to attend comprehensive high schools at the outset rather than spending a year in a newcomer program before enrolling in other schools; it also showed that newcomer students who go straight to a comprehensive high school are more likely to graduate and achieve at a higher level than those who opt for the Newcomer HS program.
- A proposal to create a Gateway charter middle school (affiliated with the charter Gateway High School) was introduced for first reading.