Monday morning miscellany

Student assignment —  I spent the weekend fielding calls and emails from parents who did not get a choice in Round I of the 2010-11 assignment process. The highlights on Round I are here; along with five years of demand statistics. While I do believe that the current process generally works out in the long run for people who are willing to stick with it and be a bit flexible in their school choices, I understand that it is frustrating and that in general the mechanism is way too complicated and almost impossible to understand. And in the short run, people who end up with none of their choices feel that they have very few options. That’s why we are changing it! I do think that the new “strategically simple” and “non-wasteful” focus on the choice algorithm will maximize people getting what they want. And if it’s any consolation to people who would like to know *exactly* what their choices will be next year, I’m in the same boat as you, since my daughter will be heading off to middle school in 2011. My family will be among the “guinea pigs” in the first year of the redesigned process (and no, we don’t live in CTIP 1).

Diversions — I saw “Seussical the Musical” at the Ruth Asawa School of the Arts over the weekend and it is beyond fabulous. There is one more weekend of performances coming up, so don’t miss this great production! My kids loved the little carnival before the show (come early to enjoy the bounce house and other games), and were utterly enthralled by the beautiful costumes and wonderful performances. It is hard to believe these are high school students!  Buy tickets online (click the buy now! link) >>>>>

Good reads – Yesterday New York University’s Diane Ravitch penned a very interesting Op-Ed for the Los Angeles Times, on the negative effects of  “big ideas” on the educational system. Ravitch’s new book is causing quite a stir in education circles. Formerly a supporter of charter schools and the No Child Left Behind legislation, Ravitch now has nothing but contempt for these big conservative reform ideas.  In yesterday’s Op-Ed, she writes:

Today there is empirical evidence, and it shows clearly that choice, competition and accountability as education reform levers are not working. But with confidence bordering on recklessness, the Obama administration is plunging ahead, pushing an aggressive program of school reform — codified in its signature Race to the Top program — that relies on the power of incentives and competition. This approach may well make schools worse, not better.

Those who do not follow education closely may be tempted to think that, at long last, we’re finally turning the corner. What could be wrong with promoting charter schools to compete with public schools? Why shouldn’t we demand accountability from educators and use test scores to reward our best teachers and identify those who should find another job?

Of everyone writing about education policy today, Ms. Ravitch is making the most sense.  Read the entire article here  >>>

Politics — Interesting to note that two of my colleagues on the school board (Commissioners Maufas and Fewer) have joined progressive slates for the Democratic County Central Committee (DCCC). This little known committee is tremendously powerful in making endorsements for local elections, because our electorate is overwhelmingly Democratic and generally votes for the Democratic Party endorsements.  Full disclosure: I was asked by several members of the City’s political elite to run, but ultimately decided against it — both for personal reasons (in the words of my husband – “You’re kidding, right? Another volunteer position that calls for spending hours in evening meetings?”)  and because I wasn’t sure I wanted to politicize my position on the school board to that extent. Of course, being somewhat political is unavoidable — we have to run citywide after all! — but I am not sure it’s such a good idea for me to get so deeply ensconced in deciding who gets the Party nod for Supervisor, School Board and other races, particularly in the City’s current politically-polarized environment.


16 responses to “Monday morning miscellany

  1. This is from the K Files blog…

    “What I got upset about was children transferring from a GE class at Alvarado into an immersion program. That is definitely not supposed to happen.”

    Rachel – Is it possible that you could confirm that this will not happen this year? We are considering waitlisting Alvarado SP. We don’t want to waste our only waitlist shot on a school that may fill openings from another program within the school.

    It is my understanding that any openings at a school (whether during waitlist or after waitlists are dissolved) are supposed to be filled by the EPC, not by the school itself.

    Can you please also confirm that this policy will be followed this year?

    This is seriously impacting our decision-making process.

    Thank you for everything you do and for reading my comment

  2. Hi Tara – first let me apologize on behalf of the school district for the incorrect information you received. Also, the comment that “kindergarten is not mandatory” was insensitive so I apologize for that as well. My best advice for you is to talk to Archie Fokin, if only to make sure that he knows a) that you were given incorrect information by a counselor and b) that an EPC staffer made an insensitive remark to you. I will forward your comment to him in a separate email. My second piece of advice is to try to focus now on finding schools you can list on an amended choice list so that you can come out of Round II with a school that works better for you. Lots of people in Bernal are looking at Junipero Serra, which is a school that deserves another look (IMHO). Also Hillcrest is a school I think deserves another look. Vis Valley Elementary is a happy, thriving, high-scoring school that is also not too far from Bernal — you might take a look there. And SF Community is one of my favorite schools in the district.

  3. desperate mom

    We are a bernal family who listed paul revere immersion #1, 5 others including 2 “trophies” and #7 cobb. When turning in application I asked how to signify the montessori pathway (as that was the ONLY part of cobb we would be interested in) I was told by an EPC counselor to just put the GEN code and it would be worked out at the school. Of course now I can see that it seems to have been quite niave to have believed this, but why would I doubt the advice of an EPC counselor? Our problem now is that we have been assigned cobb gen, the montesssori pathway is no longer there, (now way too difficult to get to the new location as it would require at least one more bus change in each direction) and not even available to us anyway. The real jeopardy here is that we are now in an even worse position in round 2 than the 0/7s. We are classified as having gotten one of our 7 choices due to the incorrect advice received at EPC. When I spoke to an EPC counselor 3/15 I was told there is nothing to be changed, “what’s done is done”. Furthermore, after expressing my despair and wondering aloud what are we going to do I was told that “kindergarten is not mandatory”. What the heck? What about First Five? Is this really the way the EPC feels? Please, is there someone/something to do? At this point I just want to be in the 0/7 cohort as I honestly believe is our case. Anything.
    Would appreciate your help.

  4. Future K Parent,
    Thank you for clarifying! And thank you so much to Rachel for this blog. I know this takes so much time but you are the only Board of Ed member who I feel connected to.

  5. Future K Parent

    anonymous and Rachel,
    The SFUSD Pre-K preference will not reduce the percentage of neighborhood kids in the K class – the preference only applies to Pre-K kids who also live in the neighborhood.

    Additionally, SFUSD Pre-Ks are a two year program so only half of those kids are headed to (any) Kindergarten in the next school year.

    Please don’t advocate for smaller attendance areas at popular schools.

  6. Hi Rachel,

    Does the DeAvila process mean EPC will go through the same process for all of the increased class sizes at all of the schools? In other words, does that mean that for the few more spaces that will be designated at each school, will the school district do a new assignment run as opposed to going down the priority list for Round 2? How will EPC deal with two families that listed a particular school as their first choice in Round I, but one family received choice #5 and the other family received 0/7?
    Thank you for letting us know!

  7. Here’s the official explanation from EPC:
    In order to provide effective and continuous Dual Language Immersion pathways, the District is required to assign an appropriate balance of English learner students (CN) who are proficient in the target language and English Fluent students (CE) per grade level and classroom.

    In a class capacity of 22 students that balance is 13 (CN) and 9 (CE) students. For a school capacity of of 44 that would be 26(CN) and (18) CE students.

    It is important to note that of the 18 English speaking spaces, 15 of them were taken by siblings, leaving only 3 spaces for the assignment run.

    The District has reviewed and verified Round1 data with the site principal and has increased the capacity in K Immersion to 66 total capacity.

    In the new school capacity of 66 the balance will be 39 (CN) and 27 (CE) students allowing for an additional 9 spaces in CE.

    · In order to provide equity for all families requesting the program, we will conduct a new assignment run today just for the applicants who requested the school and were designated or received a lower ranked school.
    · There are a total 66 families in this category that will be reviewed for the 9 new spaces that will be made available by noon today.
    · The 9 families who have been assigned to CE will be called today to inform them of the assignment approval.
    · Assignment letters will be mailed home and faxed to the school.

  8. I’m a parent of a child who listed De Avila Chinese Immersion School as our top choice, wasn’t assigned to that school or any of our other 6 choices. The Educational Placement Center said there was an error in the way they processed applications for De Avila – they made 44 seats available, whereas 66 seats are available for the 2010-11 school year; they left out 22 seats. This morning, the district said they plan to execute a separate application process today just for De Avila to assign the additional 22 seats. Note: the district reserves 60% of open seats for non-English speakers (that’s 39 of the 66 open seats, leaving 27 seats available for English speakers). The district has assigned 15 of those seats to siblings.

  9. Katie Russell

    The majority of the special ed students in the district have Learning Disabilities. I suspect that is the “relatively mild” disabilities that was referred to previously. These students do not need one-to-one accommodations and do tend to be in the regular classrooms. However, the pull out RSP support that is given often tends to be inadequate and not appropriate to their learning differences. Gateway offers a viable alternative to kids that struggle, with the smaller class size and an appreciation that there is more than one learning style. Most of the middle schools I have investigated will not be a good fit for my struggling child and children like her. I am hoping that the board approves this petition.

  10. Gateway lists 15.1% special education students this year — its perennial that it enrolls 25% is PR (aka, an exaggeration). Also, Gateway only accepts students with relatively mild disabilities.

    SFUSD offers K-8s and middle schools of various sizes already. A new middle school will siphon students and resources away from existing schools and harm the students in existing schools.

  11. anonymous, you raise a good question. I could see how the sibling/CTIP/CDC preference could reduce the number of local preference spots available at Grattan. I think this is something we have to monitor in the first few years to see if it becomes a significant problem at that site or others. The nice thing about the plan framework we approved is that it is flexible — so we can change the order/strength of preferences based on what we see in the outputs of the system. It may also be that Grattan’s assignment area will have to be smaller so that we have a better chance of accommodating all families located in that area, even after siblings, CTIP and CDC are assigned.

    P.S. I should mention that in Fall 2008, only 12 percent of Grattan’s entire student body lived in CTIP 1. I don’t have figures for this year, but I imagine they’re pretty similar.

  12. Htownjohn – I’m not sure what the answer is; it seems there are a number of questions about the capacities on the highlights document. However, to my knowledge we did not significantly change the size/capacity of any school other than enrolling all kindergartens to 22 students.

  13. Hi Rachel,
    I have a question about the priority for children attending CDC preschools at an elementary school site in the new model. Grattan Elementary has 48 spots in the CDC Preschool, and three kindergarten classes. I understand that not all of the students would list Grattan as their top choice, but I could see how many parents of CDC children would want their children to continue going to the same school. After the preference for CDC children, CTIP1 children have a high preference. After 1) siblings, 2) CDC children and 3) CTIP1 children come those who live in the neighborhood. Is there any talk about trying to ensure that there is a “balance,” so to speak, between neighborhood children and those who qualify as low-income (mainly CDC) and/or who live in the lowest scoring census tract? Thank you, as always, for posting your blog. It is so helpful.

  14. Hi Rachel,
    Thanks for all of your posts recently about the changes big and small to our educational system. You clearly put a lot of work into it and I find all extremely helpful.

    I have an interest in Spanish immersion programs and have a question about the two documents you linked to at the top of the article. In the “Highlights of Round 1” document, it says that Alvarado’s immersion program had 26 available seats for kindergarten. On the “5 years of data” document, it says they had a capacity of 44. Can you help me understand how the numbers could be different? Is the difference of 18 seats due to availability in grades other than kindegarten?


  15. “Yesterday New York University’s Diane Ravitch penned a very interesting Op-Ed for the Los Angeles Times, on the negative effects of “big ideas” on the educational system.”

    Her ideas are really refreshing. There’s an insidious quick-fix mentality peddled by policy entrepreneurs and grabbed on by media and politicians. Like teach phonics or start charters and all the problems districts and teachers struggle with will magically dissolve.

    I feel the lottery system suffered from the same problem – it got hammered on every March as people got frustrated not getting their picks, but every year as more parents discovered the hidden gems (sometimes by being involuntarily assigned to them, like what happened with Sunnyside), the set of “good” schools grew. [Although some of them had always been good before they had “buzz”]. The incremental progress being made every year got lost in the wailing that we hadn’t reached perfection.

    However, on the other, if there are no quick fixes from introducing Charters or choice or phonics or standardized testing etc., then there’s only the much less headline-grabbing slow grind at making small incremental improvements each year.

    “Fix” is the wrong metaphor: “healing” or training or coaching are better metaphors. Of course, stability of funding is needed to consolidate the slow evolutionary steps we make, but funnily enough, conservative policy entreprenuers don’t talk about that much.

    “I am not sure it’s such a good idea for me to get so deeply ensconced in deciding who gets the Party nod for Supervisor, School Board and other races, particularly in the City’s current politically-polarized environment.”

    Well, it would give you more leverage for use in the BoE for key decisions. But otherwise, I’m glad you’re dedicated to the BoE.

  16. Special Ed Parent

    Hi, Rachel, I see that Gateway has put in to run a middle school charter. I understand the concern about charter schools as laid out by Diane Ravitch, but want to give my two cents for why, despite the legitimate concern about charters as a general matter, the Gateway middle school charter is a really good idea that should be approved by the Board. From my perspective as the parent of a special ed kid, I am heartened that Gateway reserves 25% of its seats for special ed kids at the high school level. It has also established a reputation, through its high school, as a good place for special ed kids. I know SFUSD has a lot on its plate, but the special ed options at the middle school leave a parent like me with extremely few choices. My son is in Inclusion, and, by the District’s own rules, that limits me to four very large middle schools (other than Claire Lillienthal, which is frankly impossible to get into). I am concerned about my son’s ability to function in a large middle school environment. Gateway middle gives me a good alternative to the large middle schools: its smaller grade and class size gives my son a better shot at not falling through the cracks. Therefore, I urge you to approve this petition.