Sifting through feedback on student assignment

Last week I attended one of the three community meetings (the one held at Everett Middle School) on the proposed attendance areas, middle school feeder patterns and transportation policy. I’ve also been monitoring conversation on various listserves, and comments sent to me both in private emails and posted here.  So while I haven’t seen ALL of the feedback that’s been given in various meetings, online surveys and in face-to-face meetings with district staff,  the picture is becoming clearer.

First, I have to say that I’ve heard very little feedback, positive or negative, on the elementary school attendance areas. A few people have contacted me with specific suggestions, such as moving a boundary a few blocks to better capture a neighborhood or provide parents with better choices (generally those comments have centered on attendance areas in Treasure Island and the Western Addition).  Heading into the August 18 meeting where the attendance areas were announced, I was certain I would hear much more from people who were unhappy with their new attendance areas; the relative lack of feedback on these points has been surprising.

What was also surprising is the concentrated anger about the middle school feeder patterns. Of course, many people are very happy with their proposed middle school assignment. I’ve received emails from parents at Sunnyside, who are thrilled with the proposal that their school feed into Aptos Middle School. Many parents in the Richmond are happy their schools will feed into Presidio Middle School.

Still, families at New Traditions and CIS at DeAvila felt that the schools feeding into Roosevelt with theirs would not create a school that was socioeconomically diverse; some families at McKinley were unhappy at the prospect of feeding into Everett, which is on the state’s list of persistently underperforming schools.

What has been most troubling, however, is the reaction of parents from the language immersion programs. First, they have pointed out that it strains credibility to believe that at least three new language immersion programs could be set up and fully-staffed in less than a year’s time. Second, the immersion feeder patterns may not result in the critical mass of immersion students that would be necessary to build strong middle school immersion programs at places where they do not currently exist.

The anger I witnessed first-hand at Everett was upsetting — I didn’t agree with some of what was said, but this was a diverse crowd of parents who would have to be classified as strong public school advocates and supporters. Many of them urged either slowing down the feeder plan or tossing it altogether. Parents for Public Schools, too, has urged that the district delay implementing the middle school assignment plan because of concerns about program quality.

As the parent of a 5th grader who will be going to middle school next year, I understand that delaying the plan will remove the certainty some people were hoping for, and of course there are key questions about what method would be used to assign incoming 6th graders to schools if we don’t implement the feeder patterns right away. But I’m beginning to think that delaying implementation makes sense.

I think the questions raised about program quality at some of the schools are serious. I also think we need to do a better job of explaining to parents who are slated to feed into persistently underperforming schools (like Everett or Horace Mann) just what we’re doing to improve those schools. Most people know by now that the district did in fact receive a lot of money to use towards reforms at each of our 10 schools on the state’s list, but we haven’t done a very good job of really laying out what that will mean to parents who enroll in those schools next year or the year after. Perhaps it’s not such a bad idea to take this year to articulate and begin to implement a clear and compelling plan for each of those schools — I think if families can see that reform is underway, next year it might not feel like such a leap of faith for a family from a higher-performing school like McKinley to enroll in a lower-performing school like Everett.

I do want to be clear that I remain a strong supporter of the plan to feed elementary schools into middle schools, even though great questions have been raised about equitable program offerings and increasing segregation. Extra time to sift through these concerns and respond to them wouldn’t be such a bad thing either, but if we do delay I will want to be clear that our intent is still to implement feeder patterns.

I expect there to be a lively discussion about all of the community feedback we received and about options for delaying aspects of the assignment plan at the Sept. 13 meeting of the Ad Hoc Committee on Student Assignment.  I believe this meeting will be televised, and will confirm that next week.


32 responses to “Sifting through feedback on student assignment

  1. @SOMAMUM I am pretty convinced there are not enough elementary schools in your part of town. The reason the attendance area is so big is the combination of two factors: the relative dearth of elementary schools between Market St. and Potrero Hill, and the fact that Bessie Carmichael has been designated a citywide school. However, looking at Bessie’s request data I don’t think you should feel at all worried about requesting that school in the new assignment system as your odds will be very good (44 GE seats; 41 first-choice GE requests for 2010-11). Still, I think we need to build another elementary school in Mission Bay, and not the science and technology high school that the Mayor has discussed in the past. When you look at the number of children and the distribution of schools in that area, an elementary school is a no-brainer.

  2. @Wayne, I’m pretty sure your count of 30-40 first choice CTIP 1 requests for Clarendon is inaccurate. It’s been an intensely busy week, but I will try to get that figure for you. According to the data I have, Clarendon has 88 seats for Kindergarten; for 2010-11 about half of those seats — 45 — were requested by siblings. OOH! You’re thinking — That only leaves 43 seats for attendance area + CTIP! As I said, I don’t have updated figures for annual requests from CTIP 1 tracts (and will try to remember to get them for you), but I do have total enrollment at Clarendon from CTIP 1 tracts — Ready? In grades K-5, a grand total of 36 students, or 7 percent of Clarendon enrollment. The upshot? I don’t think you should worry.

  3. Hi Rachel,

    I have a further question for you. I was looking at page 10 of this document:

    Click to access city-wide-schools-July-6-2010.pdf

    It looks like there are quite a few first choices for Clarendon (the assignment area school for my house) from CTIP 1 areas.
    It looks to be 30-40. Considering that siblings get priority then CTIP1, I am concerned that there would not be space left for most or all of the attendance area students.

    Has anyone run a model to see what the odds of non-sibling, attendance area student getting into Clarendon assuming last years preferences for CTIP1 areas and assuming that all attendance area students pick it as first choice?

    I think that this would be a good item to post on your blog. If the results show that all the attendance area students will be able to attend Clarendon then it will reassure many worried parents and critics of the new assignment system.

    I can help you to process the data and create spreadsheets if you’d like. What I would need to know is

    1. How many GE spots are at Clarendon?
    2. How many siblings choose it last year
    3. How many ctip 1 area students choose Clarendon first last year
    4. How many attendance area students entered K last year. ( they might not have picked Clarendon first due to low odds of getting it)


  4. I would also like to piggy back onto Jennifers question. We are in SOMA 3.5 blocks from Bessie Carmichael (city-wide school). I’m really confused as to how such a huge area gets assigned to one school (I’m not sure how many places they have for K, but the whole student body is 210 according to SFK Files data)

  5. Elizabeth,
    you can still apply to any middle school in the District, to see if you got your child in. So to pull him out of public school, before even trying to get the middle school of your choice, seems odd, if you do believe in public schools.

  6. Elizabeth Collier

    You state in your 9/4 blog entry: “I think if families can see that reform is underway, next year it might not feel like such a leap of faith for a family from a higher-performing school like McKinley to enroll in a lower-performing school like Everett.” I don’t think that’s going to do it. No one wants to take a risk on their child’s education — particularly during the middle school years, which are fraught with children’s social and emotional adjustments. We have a 5th grader and a 1st grader. Last year they were both at Clarendon. But, we have so little faith in the District’s ability to get the new assignment system right that we applied to private school last year and moved our 5th grader to private school. Our 5th grader is very bright, but also small for his age and not very good at sports. I wouldn’t take the risk of turning him off to school by sending him to a school in the midst of a turnaround — particularly a school with safety issues. He deserves better. All kids do. As his parent, I’ll make sure he gets it. You might be inclined to write off our family. But, please note that my husband and I donate significant funds to Clarendon and have acted as parent association chair, site council chair, auction chair, room coordinator, and helped the teachers in numerous ways. We donate over 40 hours per week to Clarendon. When you lose our family, you lose two great kids and parents who were both educated K-masters in California public schools. My mother spent most of her adult life advocating for public schools as a CSBA member. We believe in public schools — but not at the expense of our kids. I won’t let their education be hurt because the District wants to try to try something new. That’s our family — and we’re supposed to feed into Hoover. If I were at McKinley, I don’t think there is anything that would persuade me to give Everett a try.

  7. While I can understand the concerns about language immersion programs, and I can understand the desire to delay the implementation for another year, as the parent of a 5th grader, I am seriously concerned about implementing an enrollment process that is neither as predictable as the originally-proposed program, nor as well-understood as the old enrollment program.

    I don’t have a problem with the proposed priority placement for siblings and CTIP 1 students, but lumping everyone else into a “all others” category is very disturbing. There should be some additional priority criteria – at the very least a local preference or a preference toward the newly proposed feeder schools (in that order, in my perfect world) beyond “all others” which is a category that will include the vast majority of students.

    I really was looking forward to the possibility that my son might, for one time in his life, go to the same school as all the other kids his age on the block (5 kids – 5 different elementary schools).

  8. The Board could still vote to implement the feeder patterns, as proposed.
    The press release just says Carlos Garcia is suggesting that there be a year delay.

  9. Looks like SFUSD Superintendent will be delaying implementation of the middle school feeder patterns for a year. Here’s the press release that was posted after I made my suggestions.

  10. I think daddydrama’s proposal make more sense for elementary schools.

    One huge factor for ES is the starting time. This is little discussed. With the draft proposal, if your attendance area’s school’s start time doesn’t fit your schedule, you are out of luck. So, ideally, we have bigger attendence area, with one school starting at 7:50, one at 8:40 and one at 9:30.

    Unfortunately, the schools with different start time are not that evenly spread, so it is probably not possible. I am sure the district will get a lot of complaint in 2011 about this issue. However, I don’t know if there is any solution for it.

  11. After reading the various comments and petitions being circulated, I made an attempt at offering some suggestions to improve on the existing proposal. Rather than retype what I wrote, have a look here:

    Please be gentle. Just my two cents on how to make things better.

  12. Thanks for posting this, Rachel. I hope the Board decides to postpone the middle school plan for one year and use the new elementary school model instead. I think I agree that having the feeder patterns is a good idea, but I’m not sure about the geographic concentration. For the language programs, I think that lumping schools together based on site and not program is a big mistake, and the communication around the language programs has been really bad.

    I also think that the elementary school boundaries were quite good, and people were expecting them for a while. The first publicly proposed middle school feeder plan was published really late for a change that affects people applying in January, which is why people are so up in arms. So the handling of the immersion middle schools plus the fact that the plans are so contiguous surprised people, I think. I never expected all the elementary school areas to be contiguous around a middle school, but only 2 elementary schools are planned to feed into far away middle schools. I was expecting more of a checkerboard in order to accommodate the language programs and diversity.

  13. I’m confused and honestly need some clarification.

    Don’t we currently NOT have enough space for the current set of immersion kids in any of the middle schools?
    For a 5th grade, say, Spanish Immersion kid, wouldn’t it be better for the district to launch new SI middle school programs (thereby creating many more new SI program middle school spots) than to delay, and just hope a small handful get into the smaller number than exist only at Lick, Everett and the small one at Hoover? We have several families at Aptos that are there because they didn’t get into the SI program a Lick and thus ended their kids participation in the program. If the proposed feeder plan were in place, those kids could have continued their language – it’s gone now.

    I fear that the issue is really these families not wanting to go to a school with a new program (not that there isn’t understandable concern – everyone would prefer a sure thing.) While years to plan would be great, having 11 months or more to plan for the middle school feeder immersion programs is way better than the recent spring/summer “planning” periods that occurred to launch all the elementary school programs. (was there ever a program launched before, say, April, of the year before? I can’t recall.)

    Let’s not forget how many families balked at first at going to Everett for SI, and before that Lick. Everyone seems to think Aptos is the bomb, but I know many on this list who went when Now everyone is clamoring for Lick (how soon everyone forgets!) and I have no doubt the same will happen at Everett.

    But help me understand, how does delaying the feeder help current SI 5th or even 4th graders – what am I missing?

  14. It seems like what’s likely to happen is that ES boundary will be approved and then BOE will halt the MS feeder at least for 1 year if not more. That’s fine with me personally even though it is sort of like taking a roller-coaster ride when you have a 5th grader this year.
    I think what we need is clear information on the language path ways. How many are starting in 2010-2011? How many in 2011-2012? etc. Not all of them are starting at once. The Mandarin program has another year before the current 4th graders go to middle school and the new Cantonese program at DeAvila has another 3 years to wait. So the assumption that SFUSD is lauching all these new language programs at once isn’t the complete picture. I am not the expert on how many new language program should be started per year but I would love to see some well-researched analysis put forth by those who actually know these things well.
    I see more Immersion parents upset because their children are feeding into “bad” schools and often times they use programming/ capacity/launching new programs as a shield to their real concern. That’s unfortunate since the real issue should be program quality, staffing and capacity. We just don’t have enough information to process or even develop informed opinions so many parents resort to fear and “good” vs “bad” schools.

  15. Everyone, I just confirmed that the Sept. 13 meeting of the Ad Hoc Committee on Student Assignment will be televised/streamed online.

  16. special ed parent

    John — it is most definitely not true that 99% of middle school parents get their choices under the current system. Below is a comparison from SFUSD’s website from this past year showing the numbers, and compares the percentage for elementary to the percentage for middle for this past year and the year before. Yes, the numbers are slightly higher for middle school than for K, but not by much. An 8% difference for getting one of your choices; and a 11% difference for getting first choice.

    • 80% of kindergarten applicants (3,759) compared to 80% last year (3,788) got one of their choices in Round I
    • 88% of 6th grade applicants (2,555) compared to 92% last year (2,714) got one of their choices in Round I
    • 62% of kindergarten applicants (2,930) compared to 64% last year (3,046) got their first choice in Round I
    • 73% of 6th grade applicants (2,144) compared to 80% last year (2,417) got their first choice in Round I

  17. It’s good to hear that the district is listening to feedback and starting to re-think this rapid implementation. It’s better to be safe than sorry. In relation to the feedback from language parents, you shouldn’t be surprised Rachel that they so vehemently oppose the plan. The district should be ashamed that they first document their policy that language programs will be CITY WIDE AND REMAIN CHOICE and thus exempt from the feeder patterns in March 2010 and then turn around in August and say ooops, we didn’t really mean that, they will be part of the feeder pattern. How can the district implement something in direct violation of the policy they enacted in March?

  18. @john I think it’s more like 85 percent but I will have to check.

  19. To Special ed parent and Rachel,

    I think I read on Rachel’s blog that most (99%?) middle school applicants get one of their picks for middle school (unlike ES). So, the old system is a valid alternative.

    Or, copy the system for ES – neighborhood attendance area plus city-wide language programs.

    If the feeder system is to be used, it must be a balanced system, as Bernal Dad pointed out. Otherwise, the good MS’s get better and the bad ones get worse. A poorly designed feeder system will do great damage to the progress the district made at both ES and MS levels.

  20. @special ed parent – that’s the key question: if we put off feeder patterns, what will we do in the interim for assigning students to middle schools? I expect that district staff will have a proposal for that at the Sept. 13 meeting of the Ad Hoc Committee on Student Assignment.

  21. Rachel,

    My concerns are that the proposed feeder pattern is too rigid, and not optimized to get the best academic diversity in the middle schools . Further, I think bundling elementary school assignments with middle school assignments is going to weaken the attraction of the excellent immersion magnet programs that SFUSD has set up. Do you think Webster or King would have had the same success in recent years in drawing more applications to their schools if they’d been assigned as feeder schools to Mann at the time?

    There are maybe 10-12 of the 70s elementaries that in the API 1-2 ranking. One could envisage spreading which MS’s these feed into to dilute the proportion of kids who’ll come into any particular MS with serious lags in learning.

    But instead the feeder patterns seem to be designed to concentrate such kids – for example Flynn (API rank = 1-2) and Muir (API rank 1) are the two feeder schools for ISA (API rank 2)

    Flynn is making strides, but feeding it into ISA and shipping Muir students halfway across the town to ISA is going to make it pretty frickin’ challenging turning around ISA. Feeding Buena Vista or Webster, which are geographically closer and also have Spanish Immersion programs, or Moscone (with two bilingual programs), would make more sense geographically as well as pedogogically.

    I’d prefer if the feeder system was scrapped and the middle schools made citywide like the high schools. But if the feeder system is retained, there has to be better evening out of the excellent elementaries and the struggling elementaries in the feeder patterns.

  22. special ed parent

    Rachel, if we ditch the feeder pattern, what will the middle school assignment system look like? “Weak” residential preference a la the new K assignment system with CTIP getting first priority? Or going back to last year’s system, with preferences for those in public housing, free lunch, etc? I agree that the middle school feeder system was not properly vetted early with parents, but I really want to know from the parents who are complaining what system THEY think should be put in place instead of it. If it is the old system, do they realize that, instead of a guarantee of going to a Everett or Mann with their fellow classmates, they may end up at an even worse-performing middle school, and have to take their chances in the endless waitpooling?

  23. In summary, my advice is to be cautious in engaging in second-guessing earlier researched-driven decisions, as this can compromise the overall original intent and vision of reform. Having multiple modifications of a plan can thwart buy-in from the public at large and the legitimacy of a process. My strong advice as someone who has worked to implement public policy is to assure and demonstrate with data to parents that 1) concrete steps are being undertaken to make improvements, where possible, in underperforming schools, 2) to have a time-bound period for appropropriate modifications to the original plan (which may or may not include immersion changes, etc) 3) to continue to implement the major tenets of the reform under the original timeframe to preserve the momentum of what is a citizen-driven movement for much needed reform. San Francisco has a dangerous history of engaging in consensus-building for perpetuity, which can stall the implementation of thoughtful and deliberate reform efforts.

    As the child of a 1 year old, I’m desperate to have some predictability introduced into the school system at all levels. (And no, I don’t live next to Clarendon:)

    I think that parents have become so accustomed to the insanity of the current school lottery process that it’s difficult to retain the perspective of many future parents who participated in the meetings, with babies in tow. Having some predictability for patterns will allow us to begin transforming schools in advance.

  24. I’ve spent a lot of time on this process and attended the community nights. I understand the desire to want to go forward. But we must delay to have success–not for just those lucky few assigned to a strong middle school but for everyone. Families asked to attend and thus contribute to transforming under-performing middle schools deserve two things from the district:

    1. A PLAN! This is not whining. SFUSD has not articulated its overall plan for improving middle schools. Sure, shuttling a cluster of strong elementary communities to an assigned middle school will help a school’s performance, if it is struggling. But that can’t be “THE” plan. That is not enough for success. How will SFUSD work in partnership with parents to make sure all middle schools improve (not just the shining stars)? It’s not just an Everett or Mann problem, though those two schools are getting the blog attention (and ultimately the SIG money). If SFUSD does not have a plan for how to unstick middling middle schools, families won’t attend en masse anyway.

    2. EQUITY. Yes, it’s unavoidable that there will be ‘winners’ and ‘losers’–but try to make it more level so that families who don’t draw the great middle schools can feel that at least there are the same programs and opportunities in place in each middle school. Families need assurance that equity exists in the range and quality of programs and instruction. That is, you can’t have GATE track at school A but nothing at B. You can’t have amazing aftercare at A or band or choir but none or poor quality at B. The playing field is not level. It needs to start off more equitably for this to be successful.

  25. Thanks as always, Rachel, for taking the time to examine and discuss the issues so openly and thoughtfully.

    Having attended the meeting at Everett the other night, I want to make sure the concens of some Sanchez community members are also cited in this forum — not just those heard from McK, New Trad, DeAvila, and Immersion families. Several members of the Sanchez community, including its parent liaison, made it clear the other night that they consider the MS feeder plan to be unfair and “undemocratic.” In stark contrast to the call for certainty, these families asserted that their children should still be able to go to any school in the city — and that the feeder plan is taking that right away.

  26. Thanks for the thoughtful post. While there are issues to be worked out, I would rather see the district power through and address the outstanding problems and focus on getting this done rather than delaying further. This has been going on for 2 years and it’s time to take action. Like many tough issues, if there is a collective will and focus on SOLVING the issues things can move quickly. With the election in fall this issue will continue to be delayed as new BOE members get up to speed and my worry is that this delay may be fatal to change ever happening. If there really MUST be a delay then there needs to be a strict timetable posted and adhered to for working through the issues. We’ve all been waiting long enough.

  27. Please do not delay implementation of the feeder plan. I am sympathetic to some of the points being made but we’ve been at this for years and it’s time to move forward. The data has been collected and many public meetings have been held. The priorities were set by the board many months ago. There shouldn’t be any surprises here. There is no way to make everyone happy and we all need some certainty. Yes, there is some inequity in the programs, but that won’t change in a year’s time and we won’t know what needs to be changed until the new student populations are in the schools. If the feeder plan is really going to happen, then I say let’s get on with it.

    As for my two cents on the draft plan, here’s what I wrote on the survey: Feeding Grattan into Hoover serves two of the board’s identified goals. It is necessary to reverse the trend of racial isolation. Absent Grattan’s student body, the percentage of Asian-American students at Hoover would be almost %70. Also, of the schools currently assigned to Hoover, Grattan has the second largest number of African-American students following Malcolm X and without our students, the total population of African-American students would be reduced substantially. Grattan school is also in close proximity to Hoover and the schools are connected by the reverse-commute direction of the 6 Parnassus- a handy feature for those of us with younger children still at Grattan.
    Thanks for all your hard work on this incredibly difficult task!

  28. Rachel,
    We have a lot of questions about our assignment school — Daniel Webster. It looks like the school assignment area covers ALL of SOMA area, the south side of Potrero Hill, and east of 3rd. It looks like a huge area. I’m wondering why this school is assigned this way. We live in an area where we will be in the lowest priority for city-wide schools. It gives us no choice, and with a whole new assignment system like this, we really have no idea what the school will be like. And, we all know the general education section of DW has not been performing well.

    Please, please give the Daniel Webster assignees some information.

    Thank you,

  29. As an immersion parent, I support the concept of feeding school, and I thank the district for the terrific job implementing language programs at ES level.

    However, keep in mind that those programs were implemented over years/decades. The difficulty to fund and staff them is real. I am sure that you already got an earful of that.

    With the current feeder plan, I expect great failures at most language pathways. Most of them are at most token gestures. 7 new Cantonese pathways, 6 new Spanish pathways, 2 new Mandarin, 2 new Japanese….. Even in the best economy, there is no way this will work.

    By attending the community meetings, it is obvious to me that the neighborhood approximate was the main consideration, with capacity added on. Everything else were given 0 thoughts.

    I strongly urge the district to figure out what to do with the language programs first, reduce the number of programs to somewhat manageable level, then draw the map around them. That will break attendance area continuity here and there, but will be a plan which benefit both immersion, bilingual, FLES students and GE students.

  30. @Katy I hear you. As you know, but others might not, The Meeting we’ve all been promised to go through the Urban Collaborative’s report and hear preliminary recommendations on redesigning SpEd is scheduled for Sept. 21 at 6 p.m. I am still looking into whether it can be televised.

  31. It’s more than a bit surprising that SFUSD hasn’t figured out that parents want 1) a say in the assignment plans and 2) some time to digest the proposals and come up with alternatives as necessary. I think the organizational equivalent of measure twice, cut once might do the district some good.

  32. Of course there’s no mention of what happens to children in special education programs with the new assignment system. Our kids are always an afterthought, in SFUSD’s eyes. What’s good is that if SFUSD does not allow children in inclusion “programs” to follow their peers to the schools all the other kids in their schools are assigned to, then that’s a slam-dunk civil rights violation and a straight-forward class action lawsuit. So maybe now SFUSD will get modern and actually stop discriminating and segregating children with disabilities? That would be a nice change.
    Perhaps the parents objecting to the feeder patterns should realize that their high scoring children will not all of a sudden become low scoring children, as soon as they start attending a school that has been historically over-populated by low-scoring students. This will even things out. And there is still a chance to apply for other schools, as there is now.