Middle school plan: pros and cons

Tonight was the Board’s Ad Hoc Committee on Student Assignment meeting to consider the latest iteration of the Superintendent’s proposal for middle school assignment.  The staff presentation was informative, and did a good job of mapping the Board’s original goals for student assignment to the current middle school assignment proposal.

So now, it’s up to the Board. This is a tough one, because in some sense, everyone is right. We’ve heard strong objections from the Parent Advisory Council and Parents for Public Schools, objections that are centered around equity and the feedback from many parents that they would rather choose a school that works for their child than have that school chosen for them.  At the same time, we’ve heard increasingly more logical arguments from staff that there are good systemic reasons to curtail choice and instead work on building up programs that parents all over the City say they want.  Quite honestly, from my perspective it’s a little like trying to put together a puzzle where all the pieces are the same size and shape, but make a very different picture depending on how they are strung together.

It sounds a little simplistic, but I’m thinking the best way to approach this decision is to make a pro and con list to consider.

First, the pros:

  • Predictability.  Some parents have long argued for predictability in school assignments, and predictability was one of the factors I pledged to uphold when I ran for the Board. However, predictability for parents is just one puzzle piece, and the PPS/PAC reports have argued that it is not as high on the list for parents as other priorities for school assignment.  Still, principals and district administrators have made strong arguments in favor of an assignment system that allows them to better plan and tailor their programs for the students who will enroll in them. Tonight, staff pointed out that many of our middle schools are currently receiving students from 40-50 elementary schools – each of them offering different experiences and attracting vastly different students. If they could focus on 10-15 elementary schools, the MS principals say, they could do a better job tailoring their programs and serving students.  From that perspective, it’s no wonder that MS principals voted unanimously to urge the Board to adopt feeder patterns.
  • Equalizing enrollment. I think the boldest statement in tonight’s staff presentation was “with enrollment comes resources.”  The biggest capacity, highest enrollment middle schools are all on the West side of the city. When you have 1,000+ students (Hoover, Giannini, Presidio), you can offer a lot of electives like visual arts, band, language and other extras; you can also offer courses geared specifically for students of different academic prepartion. When you have a few hundred students (Visitacion Valley, Everett, ISA), it’s pretty hard to offer the same breadth of courses.  Equalizing the enrollment of our middle schools will make a big difference for under-enrolled schools’ ability to offer the courses that parents and students say they want.
  • A storm’s a comin’. Based on several different models created by our demographers, we’re looking at a significant increase in middle school enrollment over the next decade (33 percent between 2010 and 2020).  The days when “most people get what they want” in the middle school choice process (excepting the 15 percent or so who don’t) are over. This slide from tonight’s presentation was, in my opinion, the most persuasive on that point. All of the five most requested middle schools are at capacity;  there is no more room at those schools and any excess capacity is going to have to come from schools that are less requested. Whatever plan the district adopts, if the forecasts for excess capacity are accurate, more and more families will find themselves assigned to schools they do not want and did not choose.

What about the cons?

  • Inequities. It’s not even debatable — there are clear inequities between programs at some middle schools compared to others. Some of that is due to lower enrollments at some schools vs. others (see “equalizing enrollments,” above); some school leaders say they are philosophically against providing  programs that prospective parents want (e.g., separate honors tracks).
  • Broken promises. Students in language programs were promised pathways through high school. Can the district really deliver on that promise given the budget situation? Can it promise students both immersion AND electives in middle school?  The district should be honest with families if it is going to require trade-offs (language immersion vs. electives, for example) in middle school.
  • Why is curtailing parent choice the only way to build quality middle schools?  Many parents don’t understand why they have to give up something (having an equal chance to attend a school of choice) in order to help the district build quality middle schools. Why should parents trust that the district will build quality middle schools in every part of the City when that has not happened up till now?
  • Transportation and program placement.  The district says the feeder plan will allow more rational transportation planning and program placement across the district. But students will need those buses/programs starting next year. Why should we trust you that buses or programs will be in place as soon as they are needed?

I’d like to know your sense of the pros and cons of the current proposal – if you support it, what do you think the downsides are? If you are against it, where are the positives in the proposal? Let me know in the comments. 


55 responses to “Middle school plan: pros and cons

  1. Dear Rachel
    I echo SFUSD parents comments (and JRs plan)

    I thank you for giving us this forum to respond to the plans and give our opinions, as well as keeping us informed on current status.

    From a personal point of view, I see the pro’s for the Feeders, but only if we have a good AA structure which I see as still in the baby steps phase.
    But with DW and Bryant feeding to ISA I scratch my head. I understand that it is not a middle school, but a 6-12. Does that mean that children assigned to those K’s (we were going to choose GE at DW in 2012, not our closest school but AA) are forever bound to ISA? Even in High School with no chance of moving to a school more appropriate for the students needs?
    OR is there a plan to make it a language path Middle School (JRs comments and a very good idea), or even just a middle school.
    I fear that the Feeder plan in this case will decrease enrollment at DW and Bryant creating a downward spiral of decrease in funding for those schools and the loss of programs.

    Thank you for your time

  2. Hola! The feeders are a good concept in principal. I just hope that the Board and the District consider their current feeder map as “a work in progress” and not the real McCoy for implementation as the 2012 tiebreaker. The feeder map needs a lot of work, as others parents before me have noted, so I will not repeat except to say that I support their proposals on redistribution of language pathways and offer one overlooked example for BOE consideration.

    When one of the Commissioners asked “Why is Clarendon feeding into Presidio?” The District responded that Presidio has Japanese language pathway. Pathway? According to the SFUSD website, Presidio only has an English Plus Pathway.

    In reality, Japanese is only offered as an elective for one semester in 7th grade. Japanese is not a significant language at Presidio as the Board was lead to believe. On the other hand, Spanish is offered as an elective in 6th and 7th grades with a full year of Spanish in 8th grade. If the District is basing feeder patterns on existing language options, then Spanish is the more prominent, established language offering at Presidio. With these considerations, the District should have put a Spanish language pathway at Presidio to attract and retain the Latino/Hispanic students, who are also underrepresented. Perhaps Muir and another Spanish immersion/bi-lingual school such as Alvarado (if parent communities agree to commute) could feed into Presidio.

    With this change, the District could put JBBP at Roosevelt. It is a more central location, midway between the two JBBP elementary schools and closer to Japantown, which will help to attract and retain the African American and Japanese students (both underrepresented at Roosevelt).

    To accommodate the move of Clarendon and Parks at Roosevelt, perhaps Cobb with a rich demographic base that is similar to Parks could feed into Presidio too.

    I know that this is a lot of juggling. I offer this suggestion to show the BOE how much wiggle room the District has with the current feeders to add diversity to student populations at middle schools, especially on the Westside.


  3. SFUSD parent

    Hi Rachel,

    Thank you for communicating with the larger community, and thank you for providing this forum.

    I just wanted to say that JR (posted at 12:46 today) expresses my thoughts about the feeder plan. I won’t re-state the arguments from his/her long note. I’ll just say that I too would like you to focus first on reducing or eliminating the inequities inherent in the current map, and then on the curricular inequities between schools across the district.

    I could take or leave the feeders themselves as an idea, but if they must go forward, please change the map along the lines proposed by JR (or similar). Spread the burden of commutes across the neighborhoods. Make ALL the schools mixed in terms of low and high performers (and don’t wall off the west side with only a token under-performing school). Consolidate and articulate the language pathways, don’t spread language programs too thin in many multiple schools, and (unless there is money for all kids to have a 7th period with world language, which would be wonderful–but this is unlikely, right?) allow some GE schools to be really good GE schools. The whole map needs to be re-worked.

    Next, insist that the staff make realistic plans–and show these plans to parents–for equalizing offerings across the middle schools and/or creating appropriate magnet programs–so that all schools have quality offerings that families want.

    Thanks for listening! I wish I felt that the district was listening. Hard not to feel discouraged when the staff comes back with basically the same proposal in May after all the parent feedback in the meantime. I’ve been in the district awhile; in fact, my family is not directly affected by this decision as my kids are already through the gate of middle school. But, having been there, I care about our middle schools. Kids this age are so great and so challenging. It’s a hard time and an important time. Let’s get it right.

    Which brings me to one more point–Thank you for actually doing some research on middle school curriculum issues and for having a plan to address them in the BOE curriculum committee. Please keep on with with this! You are on the right track with this.

  4. Hi Rachel, thank you for offering your blog to discuss pros and cons. I am a strong supporter of the Quality Middle School initiative and K-8 feeders; however, I would like to see less inequities in the school distribution in the feeder map. Also, I would like the District officials to articulate how they intend to improve the quality of each middle school (plans, timeline, budget). The implementation of feeders was postponed for a year, during which time the District could have started to improve middle school quality, but Rachel, “What did the District accomplish in the past 12-month period towards improving middle school quality?” Sadly, nothing! It’s almost as if the District is dragging their feet and waiting for families to fix the middle schools all by themselves without a budget, and, in some cases, without principals who share their educational goals and vision (i.e., separate honors grouping). Beyond proposing musical chairs for under-enrolled schools, the District hasn’t presented a plan or a budget to accomplish their quality objectives: how and when will the District provide electives, honors programs, and, where needed, transportation to get students to distant schools?

    Although the BoE has scheduled a meeting in June to vote on the middle school K-8 feeder proposal, the BoE actually has until August to take the final vote according to the timeline in the revised Student Assignment Policy document. Rachel, please ask the BoE to wait until the District gets it right! At the May 9 meeting, Commissioner Jill Wynns expressed very specific concerns regarding the feeder map, as did a number of parents and PAC/PPS. Since the revised Student Assignment Policy presented on May 24 had the same flawed feeder pattern (Appendix B of policy), the District in essence ignored the BoE request to remove inequities and dismissed parent feedback and concerns. This sort of mocking behavior should not be allowed. The BoE should postpone the vote until the District provides a better alignment of feeder patterns and addresses major concerns. Here is the dialogue from the May 9 meeting:

    Commissioner Jill Wynns (3:13:45 in video): “I do want to reiterate that one of my problems with this (holding the Feb. 1 feeder map) is that this is not a desegregated plan. This is, as far as I am concerned, this is a plan for freezing the segregated west side, and I don’t want to do that. I actually want us to be even more courageous if we could.”

    Deputy Superintendent Richard Carranza (3:22:05 in video): “We need to know and be very confident that the direction of the board then is to continue to move forward, to put some meat on the bone in terms of what a quality middle school will look like, what the specific plans for a quality middle school will look like. Also, to explore perhaps some different alignment of feeder patterns. Is that what I’m hearing as well? And the third thing that I’m hearing, which I may not be hearing, the third thing that I think I’m hearing is to continue along the same path that we’re going and exploring with further recommendations to the Board.”

    Many parents have voiced concerns that the burden of diversifying our middle schools is being borne on the backs of economically disadvantaged students, primarily African Americans and Latino/Hispanic, who are living in the E and S and who are being forced into struggling schools or distant schools. The majority of movement in the feeder pattern is E to W (not the other way around, as Commissioner Wynns noted). The students who attend Carver, Drew, Harte, Malcolm X, Monroe, Moscone, Muir, Parks, Serra, Starr K, and Tenderloin have non-contiguous feeders, which means that they must commute to school on MUNI, some students losing up to 2 hours a day, time when they should be studying. These students, feeding into distant schools, are not gaining a “community”; they are merely making the diversity numbers look good on a spreadsheet at 555 Franklin. By coincidence, Chis Rock was interviewed today on CBS Sunday Morning, and he related the experiences he had as a child, being bussed out of his Brooklyn neighborhood to a predominantly white school.

    Chris Rock: I had to get up every morning at 6 o’clock in the morning to go to school to compete with white kids who didn’t have to wake up until 8. Now, that’s not fair. Now, say I got a low mark on a test, and I got a teacher going, “Oh, Chris can’t read.” I’m like “No, Chris is F’in (bleep) tired!”

    The District should go back to the drawing board and realign the feeder map as they were instructed to do on May 9. It was terribly disrespectful of Richard, et al. to come back on May 24 with the feeder map unchanged. At the May 31 meeting, the Monroe parents (feeding into Hoover) made a beautiful case against the forced commute and the hardships for their school community. The parents of Spanish immersion/bi-lingual students prefer to have access to Spanish language programs in the Mission district schools, while the Chinese language families prefer Hoover, which goes to show you that feeding one ES into one MS does not serve all students equally well. The District should consider letting Monroe split (i.e., Chinese at Hoover and Spanish at Lick), just like the District is splitting Longfellow language programs between Denman (Filipino) and Vis Valley (Spanish). Other immersion/bi-lingual elementary schools, such as Moscone, might appreciate similar considerations as well.

    Here are some suggestions to consolidate and strengthen Chinese and Spanish language pathways with consideration for proximity:

    1. SPANISH OPTION #1. Expand Spanish at Lick and Everett as planned (but no Spanish at Hoover). Feed elementary schools into Lick and Everett by proximity to eliminate all the crisscrossing in the feeder map. Expand Spanish at ISA, MLK, Marina, and Vis Valley at later dates as planned.

    2. SPANISH OPTION #2. Keep Buena Vista as a K-5 at its present site. Feed BV into Mann with many of the other K-5 elementary schools that offer Spanish, forming a premiere, world-class Spanish-language magnet school (analogous to what you just offered to BV, but now making it available to more elementary schools). Maintain Spanish-language instruction at Lick (for families who value proximity or small school size) and convert Everett into a magnet school, perhaps science/math, technology, or even the arts (like a mini SOTA). Expand Spanish at Marina and Vis Valley at later dates only if needed (assuming Mann will be able to accommodate the majority of the Spanish-language students who were initially fed into ISA and MLK).

    3. CHINESE OPTION #1 (with a nod to the proposal from KH): Offer Cantonese and Mandarin at Hoover, filling the now empty Spanish-language seats with GE and Mandarin-language students from Ortega and King. Offer Chinese language instruction to all students at all levels, as a bi-cultural, bi-lingual experience focusing on the arts, history, and cultures of China (in essence making Hoover a Chinese-language magnet school). Expand Marina and Francisco and add Vis Valley and Roosevelt for Cantonese instruction at later dates as planned (although it is possible that students may prefer Mandarin instruction at some of these middle school like AFY students).

    4. CHINESE OPTION #2 (with a nod to the proposal from KH): Offer Mandarin and Cantonese at Denman and make it available to all students at all levels, as a bi-cultural, bi-lingual experience focusing on the arts, history, and cultures of China (in essence making Denman a Chinese-language magnet school). Offering Cantonese at Denman will relieve the pressure to offer both Spanish and Cantonese at Vis Valley MS, thus allowing Vis Valley MS to focus its efforts and resources on the Spanish-language track and Denman to focus its efforts on Chinese-language tracks. Expand Marina and Francisco and add Roosevelt for Cantonese instruction at later dates as planned (although it is possible that students may prefer Mandarin instruction at some of these middle school like AFY students).

    [Note: Aptos would remain a GE-only middle school, as it is currently configured, and it would serve the contiguous GE-only elementary schools, such as Miraloma and Lakeshore, as originally proposed 8/18/10.]

    One point that has not been addressed in the proposed feeder patterns is depth, breath, and QUALITY of language instruction that will be provided at each middle school. Parents who enrolled their children in immersion/bi-lingual language instruction in K-5 want middle schools to continue their premiere, world-class language experiences, but it seems a bit schizophrenic for the District to try to offer more then one intensive, world-class language experience at each middle school (for example, offering both Spanish AND Chinese at one site) and expect both languages to be done well. Using AFY as an example, the District should concentrate foreign language experts and develop best practices in foreign language instruction at a few middle school sites (one foreign language per site) and to do it well, rather than spreading resources thin throughout the district, duplicating efforts over and over again in a hit or miss fashion, sometimes with multiple languages at multiple sites, as slaves to an unwieldy feeder proposal, which in some instances serve only 60 children but need a full compliment of faculty (e.g., Aptos). In these times of educational budget crisis, the District needs to consolidate and optimize wherever possible. The District needs to rein in expenses and follow Best Business Practices 101 for financial hard times, which means eliminating redundancies (i.e., minimizing the number of identical language offerings at multiple sites) and conserving scarce resources (i.e., consolidating specialized language pathways to employ fewer teachers more efficiently).

    On another topic, I looked closely at the slides from May 31 BoE meeting. Slide 22 (Provide Equitable Access), which was among your favorite, is my favorite slide too, but for an entirely different reason. You saw this as a wake up call, because the five highly requested middle schools Giannini, Presidio, Roosevelt, Aptos, and Hoover are at capacity. “If the forecasts for excess capacity are accurate, more and more families will find themselves assigned to schools they do not want and did not choose.” Exactly! Yes, it is exactly the problem with the forced K-8 feeder proposal. Many, many families (save those lucky families on the westside) are finding their children “assigned to schools they do not want and would not choose.” In some cases, students are forced to travel great distances to these schools. In the lottery, you “lose” fairly; in the K-8 feeder proposal, you “lose” before you even start, in a highly contrived plan “for freezing the segregated west side.” If two of the unspoken consequences of the current K-8 feeder map are “misery and hardship” (primarily for families in the traditionally underserved east and south sides of town), then please be “courageous” and spread this burden equitably.

    So what can be learned from the success stories that are illustrated in slide 22? Using the data in slide 22, one is able to uncover a direct relationship between parent CHOICE and capacity that is driven by API (i.e., as API goes down, CHOICE requests go down):

    • Giannini (API 874), 100% Choice
    • Presidio (API 871), 100% Choice
    • Roosevelt (API 864), 100% Choice
    • Aptos (API 829), 100% Choice
    • Hoover (API 820), 100% Choice
    • Marina (API 806), ~60% Choice
    • Lick (API 728), ~55% Choice
    • MLK (API 710), ~50% Choice
    • Francisco (API 707), ~48% Choice
    • Denman (API 722), ~45% Choice
    • ISA (API 620), ~30% Choice
    • Everett (API 607), ~25% Choice
    • Vis Valley (API 691), ~15% Choice

    The CHOICE system attracts families to schools that are perceived as doing the best job of educating children. By imitating the five schools that are at 100% capacity through CHOICE, the District has a road map for transforming all middle schools into Quality Middle schools. It is fair for parents to ask, “Why haven’t you done this already?” Which leads us to the significant trust issue that you cited: “Why should parents trust that the district will build quality middle schools in every part of the City when that has not happened up till now?” The District does not need feeders to accomplish their objectives; the District merely needs to copy the success stories that are right under their noses. So what do parents want? Slide 22 tells us that parents want high academic standards, rigorous coursework, separate honors grouping, electives (band, orchestra, dramatic arts, visual arts, technology, chorus), competitive sports, and principals and faculty who share the parents’ educational goals and vision (i.e., separate honors grouping). Others on this thread have already stressed the importance of a separate honors program (or lack thereof), and it is an extreme sticking point to parents whose children are being fed into schools were their philosophies on this topic clash with administrators. I am appreciative that this inequity is mentioned in your first con too.

    Lastly, the BoE should request that the SFUSD provide copies of all feedback and comments that were submitted through the middle school survey on the their website (i.e., via Survey Monkey link) and through email correspondence. PAC and PPS have provided written summaries of Community Forums that parents and SFUSD staff attended. The District should be REQUIRED to share their actual survey results (not a distilled summary) with the BoE members and parents, including all email feedback, before a final vote is taken in August.

    In summary, I hope that the BoE postpones the vote on the K-8 feeder proposal until the District provides a better alignment of feeder patterns to minimize hardships to specific demographic groups (spread the wealth philosophy) and to minimize expenses (related primarily to developing redundant language programs), until the District puts “some meat on the bone in terms of what a quality middle school will look like, what the specific plans for a quality middle school will look like,” and until the District shares the feedback and comments that were submitted through the middle school survey on the their website and through email correspondence. I hope that the BoE postpones the vote until August if necessary.

  5. All the schools that feed into Presidio Middle School have very few African American students:

    Alamo – 1% African American students
    Argonne – 1.2 % African American students
    Clarendon- 4% African American students
    Lafayette- 2% African American students
    Parks – 37% African American students (but only 40 5th graders, so maybe 15 AA students going to Presidio from there, at most?)

    Wasn’t the the plan to make schools more diverse, and equitable, and have the “coveted” middle schools schools be more accessible to underserved populations?

    What were they thinking?

  6. SFUSD has no control over what Charter Schools do. SFUSD would be better off creating a Math & Science middle school at the Edison campus and moving Edison to another less ideally located campus. Why do Charters get such great locations? Move them to the Gloria Davis site.

    KH wrote: “If possible, the Edison charter school could be a public Math & Science magnet school. Once again, Edison is centrally located and would be easily accessible by families in the Mission, Noe Valley, Bernal Heights, and the Market Street corridor. “

  7. The honors issue is extremely important. I do not support the feeder plan because all middle schools do not have honors programming. This seems so basic, so fundamental. I can’t believe that the district would move forward without honors at all middle schools.

    I also agree with the prior posters surrounding Math/Science magnet programs in middle schools. Why not?? You are asking these families to give up any shot of access to the best middle schools in the district. Why can’t you give them something – something to be excited about??

  8. Parents in the northern and western parts of the city seem to support the feeder plan. Many parents in the southern and eastern parts of the city oppose the plan as it does not specify any vision for their schools and imposes long commute times on some of the district’s most impoverished families. The Board could consider attendance area preference in the northern and western parts of the city where schools have well-developed programs which are in demand while also pursuing a system that is part lottery and part attendance area in the southern and eastern parts of the city to build up middle school programs and create more demand for these middle schools.

    Predictability in terms of student base is important and valid request for middle school principles but feeders are not necessary for this.

    It could also be achieved through a mix of neighborhood attendance area and language pathways. Immersion education and attendance area would give predictability. Attendance area schools are stable. There are a limited amount of immersion programs in any language.

    It could also be achieved to a lesser extent by a mix of neighborhood attendance area and lottery for Math and Science magnet schools if at least 50% of the seats were reserved for attendance area students at the magnet school.

    Lick and ISA could be Spanish language lottery pathways with Spanish available to all students at all levels. These schools could be a bi-cultural, bi-lingual experience focusing on the arts, history, and cultures of Spanish speaking countries.

    Denman could be a Mandarin language lottery pathway with Mandarin available to all students at all levels. Schools could be a bi-cultural, bi-lingual experience focusing on the arts, history, and cultures of China.

    Hoover and Francisco or Marina could be Cantonese lottery pathways with Cantonese available to all students at all levels. Schools could be a bi-cultural, bi-lingual experience focusing on the arts, history, and cultures of China.

    Turn King and Visitation Valley Middle schools into math and science magnet schools using a combination of attendance area and lottery. Integrate math and science into the schools in a systematic way. Have bi-weekly guest speakers who talk about careers in science and math from surgeons to civil engineers to architects to immunologists to computer game designers to financial analysts. Incorporate hands-on problem solving into the curriculum. Work with Bay Area educational institutions like UCSF, UC Berkeley, and SFUSD and bio-tech and technology corporations to bring resources into the schools.

    Turn Everett into a school that offers two distinct programs: Spanish language pathway and Math & Science GE magnet. Everett is centrally located and a large school. It has the capacity to serve many students from both the Mission and the central Market area. Everett could have an “attendance area” of Milk, Mckinley, Sanchez, Muir, Marshall, & Chavez. Students from these schools would be given weighted preference if they entered into the Spanish Immersion or Math & Science magnet GE program as attendance area applicants. For instance, the math and science magnet could offer 70% of the available seats reserved for attendance area students and there are 30% of available seats for lottery. The Spanish Immersion could offer 30% attendance area and 70% lottery. These are examples. The specifics would have to be worked out on actual numbers of immersion students in the attendance area.

    If possible, the Edison charter school could be a public Math & Science magnet school. Once again, Edison is centrally located and would be easily accessible by families in the Mission, Noe Valley, Bernal Heights, and the Market Street corridor.

    This system would also give parents some predictability. If they are in a language strand, they know which schools will offer that strand. If they are attendance area and immersion, they know they will have preference. If they are GE students, they know what their neighborhood school would be although they could try to lottery into a math and science magnet or another school. If they are GE students within a Math & Science attendance area, they know they will have preference.

    A system such as this would bring quality middle schools to the central, southern, and eastern parts of San Francisco. As most of the development of San Francisco is expected in the southeast part of the city, it seems that it would be wise to develop programs within these schools that retain and draw families from these parts of the city.

    Many families in the SE are unhappy with the feeder plan as it does not offer any concrete vision for their schools. It simply offers students. Perhaps, the Board could see if there would be a way to implement an attendance area based feeder plan for the western and northern part of the city and an attendance area, language pathway, magnet math & science program for the central, eastern, and southern part of the city. Students in the western or northern parts of the city could apply for the lottery seats but they would have priority at their attendance area middle school. This way, students in the eastern and southern parts of the city would be spared long commute times and could attend quality middle schools near their homes.

  9. Last fall, when I was speaking with JoLynn Washington, the (wonderful) principal of my daughter’s new ES (Ortega) about my son and his new school (Aptos), she told me how impressed she was with Mr. Dent, the Aptos principal, who had called her before the school year began to learn more about the Ortega students who were moving on to Aptos for middle school, so he could help provide any needed support in the transition. (That just reinforced our admiration for Mr. Dent, who we had already briefly met at a Back-to-School event; our subsequent experiences have only increased that admiration.) According to the information you linked above, Mr. Dent currently has students coming from 50 different elementary schools. How much stronger and more productive could the ES/MS partnership be under the proposed feeder plan, with the large majority of students feeding from a handful of schools?

    However, while I strongly support the feeder plan (I have liked our proposed MS under both versions, so you need to factor that into my support), I also strongly agree with certain points made by those who either oppose or have reservations about the proposal.

    First, I feel all students who need honors programs should have access to them. There has been a lot of talk about the situation at Denman, with reports that the principal and faculty are ideologically opposed to honors programs, but that is not a tenable position under the new feeder plan. In fact, I don’t think it is tenable now. There are already students assigned to Denman who didn’t “choose” Denman, and those students should not be shut out of honors just because they didn’t get lucky in the current lottery system. Many families have just accepted their assignments (to Denman and elsewhere) without any outcry (perhaps, without even going through the wait pool)… but just because they are less vocal (or less savvy about the “system”) does not mean they are satisfied, or (more importantly) that their students’ needs are being adequately met.

    I know there are those who argue that at Lick (to use the most commonly cited example) “differentiated” instruction can provide a very viable and satisfactory alternative to honors. I think that may be possible in a classroom environment characterized by small class size, a teacher adequately trained in differentiation, paraprofessional assistance(?), adequate prep time and funding to provide the range of (different) materials required. But, that will not be the situation in the future at any of these schools, will it? And I don’t think it just does a disservice to the possible honors students in a class, but to non-honors students, too, when a teacher is trying to address such a wide range of educational needs in too large a class with too few resources.

    Even in the honors classes my son attends, there is a wide range in ability and preparation. Frankly, the honors programs, themselves, could use more differentiation (like the Algebra 1 class that was offered to some advanced 7th grade math students for the first time this year), but how is that possible in classes of 36 or 37, with some kids (who could still be among the brightest) also needing 504 or IEP accommodations, and/or bringing a variety of other issues that impact the classroom? (With no paraprofessional help—and this year the teachers didn’t even have the paper they needed, so a paper drive became necessary!)

    “Differentiation” sounds great (and “equitable,” within the classroom), but is hard to achieve even under optimal conditions. However, an intractable commitment to the ideology of differentiation does contribute to inequity between schools, since the families with the greatest ability to raise money for a school (or bring other additional resources) will decline (in large numbers) a school without honors. (Especially a school that has been seen as ”underperforming.”)

    In addition, all students (at comprehensive middle schools) should have access to a range of certain basic electives (band and orchestra, for example). It would seem this will be easier to achieve once the populations increase at undersubscribed schools… but is it possible to provide certain opportunities even now? At any rate, if not yet in the works, this is another area that needs concerted attention and planning, in order to eliminate disparities.

    Finally, families, teachers and administrators need to be assured that there will be district support for language pathways, and that placing a language program at a school will result in a net benefit for GE students… or at the very least, will not be a liability. Immersion programs have been made particular scapegoats for the proposed feeder paths (by some who oppose feeders and/or the proposed paths), and I think that needs to be addressed, in part, with (facilitated) discussion/brainstorming among GE parents/staff members (at proposed middles schools), parents/staff members from ES feeder schools with immersion programs… and the relevant district personnel. I am assuming we all desire the best outcomes for all our children, and want to promote and provide inclusive environments that benefit all students.

  10. “Parents will still be choosing middle schools; they’ll simply do it at kindergarten with negative effects on equity in elementary schools in addition to middle schools. ”

    That’s exactly right. After going 0/15 in the first round and 0/10 in the second round, I was finally willing to give my attendance area school a chance. I figure, I could spend half the money I would spend on private school and put it towards my neighborhood school. Now seeing that this school will feed into Vis Valley. I’m out. It makes me sad that when I bought my house in SF, I thought my kids would have a equal chance of schools through out SF. Now I have found that is truly not the case.

  11. Bernal Mom of 3rd grader

    Thanks for this blog, Rachel. As a parent on the south side of the city (Bernal) who supports the idea of feeders, as well as neighborhood schools, it won’t be the path I take simply because of a lack of a high quality, enriching middle school for my general education child. I live within walking distance to Paul Revere, a lovely school in the middle of Bernal Heights, but that school is out of reach due to commitment to language pathways. Our feeder is Denman, which I toured several months ago, and which is directly next to Balboa HS (an issue in and of itself). Denman is years away from being on par to an Aptos. As Michael says above, low performing schools have a host of challenges and the focus of these schools is test scores, and not creativity, critical thinking and honors/opportunities for higher performing kids. Although I strongly believe in the feeder program in theory, and public school in general, I would not risk my child’s middle school years to make any kind of statement in support of feeders, and I don’t think I’m alone in that sentiment. I feel forced (and angered) by lack of equity, into a private middle school and that is definitely where we are headed unless we see the all-out plan for *our* middle school and how it will be brought up to par with an Aptos by the time my child would be attending. I am happy to do my part as a parent volunteer, fundraiser and PPS member to support the specific plan for my middle school, but I want to see that plan, and financial commitment from the district, before I support the feeder plan by sending my child to her assigned feeder. If the district can promise immersion pathways through high school, then it surely can promise equity for general education students living on the south side of this city.

  12. Western Addition

    Thank you for providing complex insights into the challenging decisions you & other Board members face. I attended this meeting & many others and left this one with a feeling of optimism because the Board seemed to find more reasons to support the Feeder plan.

    I am in favor of the Middle School feeder plan — primarily for predicatability. Contrary to PAC/PPSSF’s findings, this is the #1 issue for many families I’ve spoken to. We are tired of the chaos of the lottery system — choice is questionable when you don’t get anything you choose.

    On the map, our school would feed into a somewhat well-regarded school that serves a roughly 70 percent free & reduced lunch population — per the Principal, many from the Western Addition and many English learners. Not all “desired” programs are in place & parent participation is very low. The Principal is willing & interested to start a dialogue as soon as the feeder plan is approved to discuss long term goals & how we can work together to achieve them. There are great possibilities to seek funding for programs & improvements — grants specifically, that the school administration doesn’t have time/bandwidth to pursue today. We’ve started conversations with our partner feeder schools & plan to develop a list of collective goals/needs/concerns with the purpose of addressing them if possible before the kids transition. Our goal is to create a stronger community as a platform for the children, to encourage a successful transition and general sense of support into MS. This can only come to be if the feeder plan is approved. If it isn’t approved, the Principal said there is no point in meeting & the other communities agreed. Predictability does matter.

    Re: Transportation. I’ve listened to the Transportation policy budget discussions (with very low turnout from community members) & essentially there isn’t money to fund transportation, the little money available will be used to fund targeted routes. Creating a transportation wishlist now won’t produce much more than frustration. Our state education funding is in crisis & it is extremely unlikely we be getting additional transportation dollars in the next few years. The district doesn’t have the funds to promise new routes unless it removes or modifies historical routes. Is there anything parents/families can do to help in this discussion at this point?

    In your broken promises section you mention language & electives. At the meetings I attended, I don’t recall anyone saying a 7th period would be a given or even possible. The Superintendent said if SFUSD is going to explore how to fund a 7th period, then an 8 period day should be considered as well. At the same time , he said there’s NO MONEY to fund a 7th period & with impending budget cuts, there won’t be any money in the near future either. Families can continue to put a 7th period on the wishlist, but in the near term, it will likely need to be a choice between language (for supplemental support for English Learners & dual language programs) or electives. Hasn’t it been this way historically? Do kids in language programs today also get electives? Are we taking something away or asking for something that is only possible in flush budget times?

    This is a big decision & I believe its time for systematic change. Please vote in favor of this plan.

  13. I would like to ask a question that I read over on SFK files. What did the school district accomplish during the period of time feeders were put on hold?

  14. GlenParkMom

    To prove my point about how the details seem to be overlooked:
    see the chart found on page 7 here: http://www.ppssf.org/Issues/San%20Francisco/MSQualityK-8_FeederPattern_BOE_COW_Feb_1_2011.pdf

    There are approximately 111 seats available for GE students at Lick MS.

    Alvarado has capacity for approx. 44 GE students
    Flynn has capacity for approx. 44 GE students
    Glen Park has capacity for approx. 44 GE students
    Muir has capacity for approx. 40 GE students
    Harte has capacity for approx. 44 GE students

    44+44+44+40+44 = 216.

    The school profiles from 2008-2009 on the SFSUD website make it look like the only school that has a lot of attrition by 5th grade is Muir (28 kids enrolled in 5th grade = less than 50% of capacity). I know that we have slightly less than capacity at our school in the GE upper grades and that the bulk of our attrition is in our Spanish Bilingual program. Alvarado is probably full. Flynn looks relatively full as well. The numbers of kids enrolled in 5th grade at these schools exceeds the total number of seats available at their feeder middle school.

    What’s the plan here? Count on attrition in the upper grades to fit us all in? Hope that the kids in CTIP1 exercise their preference and hope that they get a spot at one of the other underenrolled middle schools? If the point is to provide predictability for parents and students and continuity for staff at the middle and elementary schools so that they can plan – I would think that assigning kids to a school where there is capacity for all of them instead of only 50% makes much more sense.

  15. I guess one huge problem the district is running into with SF’s parents of future middle school kids is that of trust. The plan sounds ingenious… take a lemon (wildly disparate, partially under-enrolled schools, a surge of students, principals who serve their own ideology rather than family’s needs) and turn it into lemonade (evening out enrollment, using the hoped for resulting extra funding to offer electives, honors, more language options, etc.). However, even if you can convince the reluctant principals to put their own radical social agendas aside and work towards offering less of a gap between different schools’ offerings, trust is hard to come by, given how SF parents have been treated by the district in the past. I find such mistrust in a lot of posts (here and elsewhere) of parents who are opposed to the feeders. Much of that looks to me like a “better the devil I know” attitude. Trust has to be earned, and SFUSD has done a horrible job on that front.

    (1.) Can we truly trust this City’s commitment to families? This is about trust in SFUSD’s intentions. So much of the precious little means that we have seems to be poured into social engineering, with middle class families being expected to pick up the slack, creating an adversarial situation between bureaucrats and parents. Will this continue on the MS level? If the answer is “no, it will be different,” why should parents believe that answer, given SF’s track record (including but not limited to “broken promises” you mention in your post)?

    (2.) Can we trust SFUSD’s skill to manage such a sweeping change? Remember, we’re talking about people here who, with the current repeat of the past “Flynn-varado” disaster, have shown us that they don’t even know how to do data entry! Coding error??? Have those people ever heard about having two separate people code the data into Word, then comparing the files and reconciling the differences? Since two people, no matter how sloppy, are unlikely to repeat exactly the same mistakes, such an easy procedure might catch a few problems earlier than on the tail end, when it makes this already agonizing process of elementary school assignment even harder and more painful for parents and children. Those are the people who are supposed to apply what you and the board will be deciding? How can we trust that they don’t make a horrible mess out of the whole thing?

    I’m not saying that you can by yourself resolve these issues, but I have a hunch that if, by a miracle, parental trust into SFUSD’s intentions and skill would be restored, there could be a sudden landslide of support for the feeder idea. Without that trust, the feeders simply become another version of “us vs. them” for a lot of parents.

  16. I am surprised at some of the negative comments here about the PPS/PAC report on parent feedback and recommendations on the feeder program. I think the report accurately captured the sentiment of many parents. The bottom line is that the current middle schools offer no equity – there are no consistent honors programs, language programs, electives. Until there can be real equity in the programs offered, the feeder program makes no sense. The current proposed patterns are still being driven by a minority language option and the majority GE students are going to pay the price. I have been part of a great elementary story at Miraloma – a school that has transformed itself in 4 years from an OK school to a top performing school with lots of “extras” and great teachers and principal. But this took a tremendous amount of parent involvement – and let’s admit it – fundraising. Now, after all this work, we are being fed into a MS that most of us would never have chosen, that offers none of the academic challenge or electives we want for our kids.
    The district should be taking a 4 year approach to making middle schools equitable. Magnet school programs have also proven in other districts to be a great way to achieve this kind of equity – but again, this is still about CHOICE. I feel like we are being pushed into a feeder system with no real consideration of the cost to the schools that will have to struggle to meet the needs of the incoming populations in an age of budget crisis, or to the students who will not find their academic match in an assigned school.
    I hope the board will look seriously at the PPS proposal and adopt a pahsed plan that allows for academic equity before forced placement.

  17. Thanks for the article. I agree with the pro/con list, and would like to add to the reasoning…

    I am actually in support of the feeder system in the abstract, not as much because of predictability so much as the social element for the children at that age: it’s a big deal to have an intact group of friends going into one’s middle school years which I think we all agree is a fragile time. And, for parents of multiple children spaced more than three years apart, being able to count on the same middle school for all of them is a big plus.

    But in my opinion, the inequity issue is not a con. It’s a complete dealbreaker.

    I may not know when my child is 4 and I’m trying to select an elementary school (or when they’re 1 and I’m looking for a house to buy!) what needs s/he will have at the age of 12 or 13. Will band be important? Athletics? Might we require special needs help, or might my child benefit from an honors program? I have no idea, and it’s not fair to ask me to sign up for this and get locked in so early.

    There’s an easy (but not cheap/free) solution: provide the same offerings at all middle schools. If the district can’t or won’t do this, then the feeder school idea should be scrapped until they can and do.

    The geographical distance is a huge con also. I understand that the district can provide more reliable busing if the kids at each MS are by and large coming from a handful, rather than dozens, of ES neighborhoods. But if the district is counting on increased parental involvement to improve some of these schools, making us drive across town is counter productive, especially if more of us are sending our children to local ES’s.

    And again, from a social perspective: if the schools are close by, my kid can make new friends from other ES’s that feed into that MS. But if the feeding ES neighborhoods are spread out over the city, that is going to be really inconvenient, and we’ll end up with, say, five socially distinct sub-schools within each MS. I’ve been a part of a school like that; it breeds hostility, rather than understanding, and violence is likely to increase in this age group.

    Additionally, it’s not fair to make my 12-year-old child spend an hour or more every day commuting.

    Feeders will work IF
    (1) schools all provide the same services
    (2) feeder patterns make geographical sense
    (3) children on language pathways can “opt out” of their feeders and instead go to middle schools that continue their language education
    (4) children who signed up for ES before this plan was finalized can also “opt out” of their feeder, in a meaningful way (that is, enough spots are held for a significant percentage of parents to choose this option and have a real shot at a school they think is well-suited to their child)

    The district needs to reassure parents that it can meet these 4 needs before approving any feeder system.

  18. I think this is a very nuanced issue.
    Number one, everyone wants a good school for their child and to know for sure they will get that. And that should include every child in the district, not just ones who live in certain areas or have involved parents.
    Parents are upset because middle school feeders weren’t known when they chose an elementary school in the last several years, so they may have made other choices had they known. In fact, the SFUSD projection of feeder elementary details that schools will become more diverse based on the enrollments of the elementary feeders, but those diversities will probably change as people select schools for middle school feeder pattern. The logical response would be to grandfather in all existing elementary school students to the system of choice used this year – sibling, CTIP 1 (with income limits) and all else as open lottery.
    Parents also want to know they can send their child to a close school if they don’t choose a specialized program and that someone from across town can’t take that spot away from them. This is also fair. The imbalance is mainly due to
    a) Student demographics
    b) Parent monetary and time input to provide extra programs beyond what the district can
    SFUSD is hoping to equalize that by forcing parents at elementary into schools close by which would change demographics in many schools and bring those middle class resources to them. Previously this was accomplished by “carrot” programs like immersion. This could work in middle schools as well but would take more time. Why the rush people ask, why not build up the whole middle school system and make it all good so people are happy wherever? Well, the “build it and they will come” model has worked for elementary fairly quickly but not as quickly for middle school. Probably due to parents being at an elementary school longer and also feeling as if they themselves can supplement elementary curriculum while they are helping build programs. In middle school the curriculum ramps up to where many parents feel less confident and they are not involved in the same manner as in elementary. It is still possible to attract families such as Lick and Aptos show, but it isn’t that quick. However, it is probably quick enough for the demographic shift SFUSD expects.
    The reasons SFUSD seems to truly be doing this are not transparent and are hidden behind things that while true, are not compelling (reverse demographic inequity, build virtual K-8 because studies show it affects student achievement, provide predictability to principals who can target to the schools coming in, provide parent predictability, etc.). That these are not the real reasons may not be apparent, but there is enough suspicion these aren’t the real reasons based on SFUSD response to concerns, as well as apparent SFUSD disregard of parent voice, that huge mistrust is present which taints all the SFUSD presentations.
    SFUSD’s true reasons for implementing this so quickly seem to be:
    a) according to the Lapkoff demographic forecast there will be a huge jump in middle school enrollment (30% predicted) over the next few years so it may be easier to even out the demographic input into schools now rather than have many angry parents who don’t get their “choice”.
    b) Under NCLB there are several failing middle schools that the district is penalized for and by changing the demographics of the students in those middle schools the scores will rise and the NCLB penalization will end more quickly.
    c) There is a requirement to offer special ed services at all sites that may be easier to plan for if there is a known population of students arriving from elementary schools.
    d) It is very apparent that there are wildly diverse offerings at middle schools and they are paid for mainly by parents so the district wants to even that out as well.
    Other reasons can be dissected, but one of the main problems is the demographic report may not be as accurate as SFUSD believes. From the available data it would seem the report predicted a middle school enrollment of 11,354 for next year but it seems based on SFUSD March placement report (which has historical data for enrollment request) to be around 9,073. Also, the March placement reports talks about increase in applications, but what increases have there been in actual enrollments in the last few years since the Lapkoff report was done? This is important demographic information to know because if there is not the projected increase, the middle school plan could be revised and rolled out more slowly, allowing for grandfathering of existing students and building of programs.
    From the report:
    “After a slight decline in 2009, the Most Likely forecast shows middle school enrollment increasing. We show increasing enrollments through 2020, the last year of the middle school forecast. By 2020, the Most Likely forecast shows enrollments at 15,084, a remarkable 30 percent increase over 2009 levels.
    The initial decline results from smaller birth cohorts reaching the middle school grades. The steady increase from 2011 and onward is a result of both housing growth in the major development areas and larger birth cohorts becoming middle school students. By 2020, housing growth is responsible for 1,082 students, or a nine percent increase over 2009 levels.
    The range of uncertainty is quite large because of the smaller number of students in middle school compared with elementary school (less than half as many). By 2020, the two-thirds confidence interval ranges from 12,027 to 18,157.”
    But also from the report detailing the validity of state demographers birth rate forecasts:
    “Considering the difficulty and uncertainty in carrying out birth forecasts for small areas, we do not fault the State demographers but simply stress the limited use of projected births in forecasting medium- and long-term school enrollment.”
    From the reasons SFUSD is giving:
    K-8 with these middle school feeders will support diversity – probably not as parents make different choices regarding middle school feeders or opt out of SFUSD.
    Provide equitable access – the middle school increase may or may not be as forecasted and the programs are often due to the fundraising abilities of parents, not district funded programs so if the parents opt out, the offerings decrease.
    Articulating between elementary and middle schools – there should be the same basic programs for all students at all schools. Honors, special ed, remediation, sports and arts offering – these should be the same at all schools or the feeder is unfair. Language is obviously different for immersion. There should be no problem if the elementary students are getting a standardized SFUSD education if they come from 5 or 45 schools. Many of the middle school principals who spoke in favor of this are new principals as well, and it would be interesting to see their research based reasons for this statement. Also, student needs change over time in an elementary school, so there wouldn’t necessarily be “years” to plan.
    Over time feeders do make sense with citywide lottery for language programs. Over time, all schools can be standardized to some degree, but that will take time. Most parents would be happy to go to Presidio, Giannini, Roosevelt, Hoover or Aptos for the academics. Most parents would be happy to go to all of those plus Lick for arts. Everett is just beginning to change as is Horace Mann with the new Buena Vista move. A Mandarin program could be placed at Denman and a magnet at some of the other schools. For it to be acceptable to everyone though there needs to be consistency in academics.
    To summarize – the Board should grandfather in the existing elementary students since they chose elementaries not based on this idea and use that six years to develop programs at the middle schools. There is enough time to do this as the Lapkoff demographic report doesn’t seem to be as accurate as thought. In the meantime, use sibling, CTIP 1 with income qualifier which is who it is designed to help, all other lottery. As programs build there will be more choice into them.

  19. SpecialEdPara

    I am currently in the midst of appealing middle school placement. Actually, my son currently has zero placement. We live in the Outer Sunset, just about as close to the beach as you can get. My son went to his neighborhood school for elementary. I even work (or worked?) at that elementary school in the special education department. All I want is for my son to now go to his neighborhood middle school. We walk, or bike, to school/work every day. My husband is at work by dawn most mornings and elementary (my work) starts before middle schools.

    The district initially placed my son at Everett, in the Mission. Obviously I’m not sending my 11-year-old to the other side of town via MUNI 71 and 22 by himself every day. Not an option. Sending my GATE student to a school w 4% proficiency on their Math test results? Also not very appealing an idea. The 1st round of appeals produced no results. Well, except that we don’t have placement anywhere now.

    This current round of appeals will get us an answer, maybe, within 2 weeks of school starting. Within 2 weeks of him maybe or maybe not starting middle school. Within 2 weeks of me going back to work. So, what happens exactly if I still don’t have a placement at a school I can actually get him to by august 15th? Do I go to work and leave him at home, hoping the round after that will produce results? Do I quit my job, for the district, and lose my benefits to stay home with him, or to escort him on the MUNI route to and from some faraway school? How many other parents in the city are in this position right now?

  20. Equity Matters

    I don’t think parents have an issue with feeder patterns. I think it is a great idea. It is the current proposed district policy that is a problem. It doesn’t seem like the district took much time to create an equitable feeder pattern that considers racial, socio-economic and academic diversity. The district’s Quality Assessments were not even complete when they assigned the current feeder pattern. If it looked like the district actually tried to equalize their feeder schools considering the diversity measures I listed before, and distance, it would at least seem fair. Instead, they are feeding schools like Clarendon (a high achieving school in the middle of the city) into Presidio. There were graphs going around a few months ago that averaged API scores of the feeder schools into the MSs that showed there will be clear high achieving and low achieving schools. If the district aim for all schools was to be somewhere in the middle, I think it would alleviate some of the mistrust that parents have. The district should consider reconfiguring the feeder pattern to be more equitable and consider distance for the students (especially since the district will not provide transportation). So as it is, I think a feeder system good, but the way the district distributes schools is a reason not to vote for it now.

    Consideration for those students coming from low performing schools, or have current low test scores should have priority, at least for tie-breakers, if not for the assignment. These students should not have to be locked into low performing schools for their K-8 experience.

    The most frustrating part of this process is the idea that parents can change a school. They can, add enrichment programs, but that’s about it. They can’t change teachers who don’t teach to the standards, or the safety of schools. I know many involved parents who WERE part of up-and-coming schools who felt helpless to make changes, after years of trying. The district should be the ones to make these changes. Not the parents. Ultimately, if the school does not have a strong leader/principal to keep teachers accountable, and keep a safe environment, there is nothing a parent can do about the quality of their child’s education. I’m sick of hearing school board members telling us to keep them accountable, and be involved in their school, when even empowered and knowledgeable parents can do nothing for their school because of the ineffective leadership that changes and continues to be ineffective. Parents who leave these up-and-coming schools never want to go back to that type of school.

    Lastly, it is frustrating that the vote for this policy is AFTER school gets out. Most families are gone, and it seems as some school board members forgot all the input they received a few months ago. It is virtually impossible to organize parents the same way now, to remind the board members how most of us feel– to not pass this policy the way it is. Please wait to pass this policy until more work and thought goes into this feeder system.

  21. I do not trust the district to use a fair distribution method for assigning and placing challenging students. There have always been specific schools that are used as dumps for students who have been expelled from other schools.

    Perhaps it is not intentional: schools with high percentages of students with IEPs and/or behavior problems are the schools with openings. A kid gets expelled from a Giannini or a Rooftop, invariably they will end up at Everett or Revere.

    There needs to be a way to not over-enroll high performing schools (leave seats open), with the foresight that throughout the school year hard-to-place students should not be all grouped together at under-performing and under-enrolled schools.

  22. Thanks for allowing us to have this discussion. This is an emotional topic.
    I, too, support the feeder plan. Without a system in place to create predictability, school improvement will continue to be limited to the currently oversubscribed schools. Please vote yes for feeders.

    Anne C. brings up a very important point. The school communities need to know what SFUSD plans for each school in its Quality Middle Schools initiative.


    A repost from a previous poster: Parents will still be choosing middle schools; they’ll simply do it at kindergarten with negative effects on equity in elementary schools in addition to middle schools. This will only have downward pressure on the already lower performing middle schools.

  24. biking family

    It should be noted that the staff proposal calls for delaying “full implementation” of the feeder system until 2017 for a number of good reasons. So, while “Feeder” will be used somewhere in the list between “Sibling” and “CTIP1” for tie-breakers, no child already in Elementary School will get their Feeder MS as an initial offer. I wonder if the “half implementation” is going to make it even more difficult to figure out the potential transportation issues and/or implement any useful bus patterns for the period between now and 2017? (as a west side parent, my ES is geographically close to the feeder MS. It has been good for me to learn how the feeder patterns are increasing the commute for some on the East Side. We are lucky to ride our bikes to school every day — it’s really nice and I hope that things work out so those on the East Side can enjoy that pleasure to, if they want it. I also hope it works out for us for MS… but I guess that remains to be seen). This is my first time attending BOE meetings or reading blogs — all in all, I feel quite optimistic about the amount of thought that the staff and Board Members put into these difficult issues.

  25. I don’t object in principal to some sort of predictability of where children will go to school, but there are so many weaknesses in the current proposal (and as a previous posted commented “the devil is in the details” that I think it was a feeble attempt to “do something” rather than identifying what problem is to be solved and devising a complete solution.

    As the Glen Park GE parent points out, the MSs to which the ESs feed do not all have enough capacity for the kids who will be assigned to them (James Lick is a good example). This will lead to more and more kids being “bumped” to somewhere.

    Basing MS assignment on where you go to ES is just strange, given that many kids travel far to ES. I guess Clarendon is one of the examples of this that comes to mind, but I’m sure there are others.

    Even if we allow that some kids do go to neighborhood schools, let’s look at J. Serra as an example: the “target” school will be Hoover. I live a mere 3 blocks from J. Serra, and my 10 year old will be going to Hoover this fall — to the tune of 2 muni buses (or a bus and a light rail) and 40+ minutes on transportation, never mind the walking at both ends. Lick, Everett, and Denman are all better logistical solutions.

    Then there is the programmatic issue. I am a big believer in some autonomy for schools. BUT to allow a principal to make educational policy based on political bias is mad. Either we believe that at least some homogeneous grouping (epecially with class sizes of 30+, most reaching 35) is valuable pedagologially, or we don’t.

    As someone who just went through the middle school process, and will be gearing up for ES tours this fall, I would love something predictable. BUT it also needs to be clear how it is all going to work.

  26. Thank you for the careful consideration you have given the revised Student
    Assignment system and particularly the Middle School Feeder plan. With
    respect, we ask you to please approve the Middle School Feeder plan.

    We feel this plan will benefit the children and families in the district by
    allowing for predicability in student assignment and curriculum pathways.
    It will create a foundation for a true K-8 pathway and enable families and
    staff (district/elementary/middle school) to work together to ensure
    continuity between elementary and middle school programs. In addition, it
    gives communities a greater purpose to collaborate ahead of time to build a
    support structure to transition children into middle school. We can also
    work together with the Principals to address long term school improvements
    and enrichment programs.

    The lottery system which has produced a high-level of insecurity and anxiety
    amongst families and children has not allowed for long term planning —
    parents, children and staff must work hard to ensure immediate and short
    range continuity. It is not acceptable for families to rely on the “luck of
    the draw” when building a child’s education. Please provide a platform for
    success by approving this plan.

  27. Hi Rachel,

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for your wonderful blog, and allowing community members to weigh in. It’s been so helpful.

    I think parents would feel a lot more comfortable with feeders if there were more specifics about how the district would improve programs on a school-by-school basis. Every middle school in the district has strengths and weaknesses. How are district and principals working together to improve each school? Does this include a 7th period? Outside of the specific feeder I see a lot of platitudes and general language in the district’s proposal, but no details at all. This makes me very nervous. What incentive is there for parents who are being fed to under-performing schools with few electives to buy in?

    I don’t know if public school do WASC reviews, but that level of site level analysis can make a big difference in instructional quality for kids. I’ve seen some huge improvements at a couple private/parochial schools after WASC reviews.

    One example (of a popular school) is that Hoover offers only an honors track to a very small group of students. Why not open honors up such as Aptos has done? Encourage kids to take honors classes, and grant access based on the motivation of the student and his or her willingness to do the extra work.

    Thanks Rachel!

  28. ParksideDad

    Regarding equalizing enrollments as a pro for the feeders, I don’t expect feeders will actually equalize enrollments so long as parents can still choose one of the big three. Personally, I am not happy with the feeder for my child, and if given the opportunity I’ll take an available spot at one of our more desirable schools. I have no reason to believe other parents will stick with their feeder if they would rather not. As long as parents can still enter a choice system with the feeders, equalizing enrollments will only come when the “storm comes” of increased middle school enrollment.

    Speaking of that “storm”, and the fact that many folks will not get their choice for middle school in the coming years, the feeders will not allow any more people to get their school choice, so I’m still puzzled at why this is frequently mentioned as a driving force for the feeders.

    Predictability is great from a parent’s and school’s perspective and in my mind is the only one of Rachel’s three listed “pros” that is on target.

    Add this con:

    Parents will still be choosing middle schools; they’ll simply do it at kindergarten with negative effects on equity in elementary schools in addition to middle schools. With a feeder middle school but choice elementary school assignment system, parents will be choosing their elementary school with a middle school in mind, a “virtual K-8”. Those elementary schools with favorable feeders will become more attractive. These elementary schools will easily fill their seats and therefore have the strongest programs and will also get a greater number of the most active parents with the resources to be involved in their kids’ lives (those most likely to have high-performing kids). These will be the families feeding in to the already high-performing middle schools. Elementary schools with undesirable feeders will have more empty seats, will have to reduce programs, and will have a greater number of families without the resources to choose schools and complete the enrollment on time (those most likely to have lower-performing kids). This will only have downward pressure on the already lower performing middle schools. If this rich-gets-richer and poor-gets-poorer process goes too far, the Superintendent could adjust the feeder patterns annually (by my reading the Proposal gives him the power to do so), but if that happens then you lose predictability and I wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of the anger that you’d get from any of the “losers” in such a change.

  29. Rachel,

    I’m very concerned about the accuracy and statistical validity of the PAC/PPS report and wonder why such an emotional document is being used as serious input to an important decision like school assignment. The report itself says, “We know that parents who attended the large forums at middle schools did not reflect the ethnic, socioeconomic or language diversity of our student population”. It attempts to say that other forum feedback compensates for this, but they have no data or analysis to explain how.

    I think the PAC/PPS report rests mainly on anecdotes and impressions. It does not really tell you which parents were surveyed, from which elementary schools, how the opinions varied by school, etc. It also does not give information about which schools were entirely unrepresented. For example, I was at the Denman forum and saw that parents from Sheridan and Longfellow, were basically not there. These happen to both be feeders and the two closest elementary schools to Denman. How can PAC and PPS claim to capture all the viewpoints when Longfellow and Sheridan parents weren’t there? Might these parents have been absent because they were happy with the plan? Who knows?

    In addition, the little bit of statistical data the report does provide (page 24) does not necessarily support their conclusions. For example, “choice” was ranked #6 in the data (below factors like academics, quality teachers) but was recommendation #1. Why? What led to this conclusion?

    This document is mostly a long list of quotes, selected to match the feeling that the report writers had about the parent feedback. When making your decision, I would keep in mind the limitations of this highly emotional document.

  30. Hey Rachel

    First of all, I want to say thank you for a couple of reasons. Thank you so much for providing a summary of last night’s meeting – it is the only way to find out what is happening at these meetings! I also want say thanks for sharing your thoughts on this vexing and emotional matter. And finally, thanks for allowing us to weigh in – this sort of opportunity rarely presents itself, except if you can make one of those evening meetings!

    Last Summer I was rather thrilled by the idea of the feeder approach for MS. What I liked about that first version of the proposal was that it offered 2 things – a spot at a particular school, and allowed parents to apply to another MS that might be a better “fit” without forfeiting your slot at the feeder school. I am not seeing this as a component in the latest proposal.

    For example, our school will now pull to Gianini (last Fall it was Hoover). My daughter, who went to the same elementary school, went to Presidio, and we really, really liked Roosevelt too. Personally, I am also intrigued by the possibility of Everett. Roosevelt and Everett are much closer to us than the other two middle schools, and proximity is important to us. So is being involved in activities to support the MS. It was challenging for our family to get across town to Presidio (but an amazing school) to get our daughter to school and to be involved in the community.

    I do like the idea of predictability – alot. Having both wonderful and hideous experiences with the “choice” system for both elementary school and middle school for my children, I have seen both the good and bad of the current system. The bad experience has left me worried (not to mention anxious!). I really don’t want to go through such an experience again, and certainly it would be hard to shield a child who is old enough to know what is going on with MS placement. I guess that would be another Pro for the feeder program – lessening the emotional toll the kids likely experience. Another crazy thought – what do the kids want????

    I’d go for the feeder option, but with a safety net – allowing parents to apply to other middle schools w/o immediately forfeiting their spot. It seemed that this was possible last summer, and I’d feel better about a feeder system with this option to provide the opportunity for “choice”.

  31. A mom who really,really cares

    I have a child with special needs. I do know that not every school is able to offer the same services. We picked the school my daughter is in specifically for the numerous programs her school offers. I know for a fact that many public schools out there do not have these special reading programs that insure your child will be reading up to grade level. I don’t believe for a minute that these feeder schools would have a better chance of improving their program. This is something that has been kicked around and kicked around and kicked around.Talked about and talked about and will take another 100 years to put in place.
    I look at like this if Obama did not have a proper education he wouldn’t be our president. Why aren’t our kids being prepped to be the next president? It is a possibility but not with shipping kids all over, increasing classroom sizes,
    taking away reading programs and physical education programs being stopped. All these “feeder” steps only takes us further and further away from what matters most of all. OUR CHILDREN’S EDUCATION

  32. Thanks for everyone’s thoughtful comments. I am in favor of the feeder concept in general and agree with most of Rachel’s analysis. For our family the element of a community of kids who will stay together through middle school is important, and I am glad to see that it is important to middle school leaders. However, I strongly agree with comments below that the transportation component is not being given enough thought/discussion, and am wary of broken promises regarding yellow buses. As it is, the feeder patterns give students in the SE more commute time than students in other parts of the city, and it is not clear that students will be provided buses to and from school or from after school programs. Some of the commutes could be up to two hours a day on MUNI, which is not what I want for anyone. Having a student so far from home may also decrease family involvement in middle school, such as attending parent conferences. I hope the BOE can give more thought to how commutes will affect students and families.

  33. I am the parent of two spanish immersion students. The major issues for middle school are two-fold, first quality education and second safe spaces for children. I want, as promised, a quality immersion option through 8th grade. I believe that the district asked parents who might enroll their children in other progams, or who might ask for placement in some of SF’s “gem” schools like Rooftop, to choose immersion as a means a different/unique quality program on the promise that our children could attain some of benefits of a multi-lingual education. It is troubleing that the District approaches elementary enrollment into an immersion program as district wide, but then seeks to track elementary schools to certain middle schools irrespective of what might best achieve the district’s promises to immersion families.

    The feeder system may not be bad in and of itself, but there are some serious issues to address. First, why does the feeder system dilute the immersion resources that the district currently has rather than placing immersion students together to take advantage of the economies of scale. Second, if a student is in a thriving elementary school that tracks into a middle school with three failing elementary schools, what makes the district believe that families won’t leave the district or the city for better educational opportunities.
    The correlation between quality middle schools and the feeder program has not been sufficiently explained. It seems unrealistic to believe that simply by instituting a feeder system that the student population will suddenly result in a successful school.

    Although broken promises may seem like a minor issue, they are not. Parents might be more willing to trust the District and have faith had earlier promises been kept. Parents impression of SFUSD is formed almost entirely through what is promised and whether or not that promise is delivered. From the FlynArado enrollment snafu to th lack of clear communication, parents are reticent to trust the District now.

    Parents choose middle schools for different reasons than they chose elementary schools. The child entering middle school is more an individual with different needs and strengths. Perhaps SFUSD could improve schools by making middle schools that met different needs, a science & innovtion school, a creative arts school, humanities based education, an international school, mathmatics intensive programing, etc. My two sons are already showing different capabilities – a middle school for one might not be the best choice for another.
    If a feeder system is going to be adopted, the district should consider phasing it in. I did not know when I enrolled my son in elementary school that I was, in essence, chosing his educational path through eighth grade. My options have been changed. I would have made a different choice had I know that elementary school X would lead to middle school Y.
    Finally, the PTA’s and community funding of schools should not be ignored. Schools need money to provide the resources to teachers to educate our children. The District & the State are failing our kids. The PTA at my son’s school is now funding close to 1/2 of the site’s total budget. The district needs to think about multiple layers of diversity, ethnic, religous, geographic, cultural, and economic divesity. Without the support of strong PTA fundraising continuing through middle school and high school, it seems impossible to believe that SFUSD schools will remain a viable choice for many families.
    All families want a safe environment for their children to obtain a quaility education where they can be inspired learners. I’m not convinced that the feeder program as proposed will achieve anything close to that. I remain committed to our public schools but will not move my children into a failing middle school if it comes to that.

  34. I am a parent of an incoming kindergartner. Because there is no predictability for elementary assignments, I toured more than 25 elementary schools both public and private, wrote essays and filled out applications for private school, did private school assessments, did hours of research on test scores, read blogs and parent reviews, and then waited for weeks to find out what may happen. I did all of this while working full time and trying to raise two kids. Please do not put me through this again for middle school. This system needs some predictable outcomes for both me and for parents who cannot invest the time to figure this all out. With a feeder system, everyone knows what they are in for (good or bad) when they enroll in kindergarten.

  35. Hi Rachel,
    I am an earlier poster concerned about commute times for students and families in the SE of San Francisco. From your “cons” section, I am unclear if there is a transportation policy already in place.
    My question is: If a family has one child at Drew and one at Giannini, will there be a bus that picks up the middle school student at Drew and drops them at Giannini or would the parent be responsible for getting their elementary school student to Drew and then their middle school student to Giannini which is quite far from Drew? A similar question might be asked in terms of Moscone and Hoover, Harte and Lick, and Carver and Aptos. As the elementary school assignment is now more neighborhood based, it seems that a situation where a family attends their neighborhood elementary school and then has a middle school assignment at some distance from their elementary school might arise.
    I’m sure this must have been discussed when designing the feeder patterns as many of the schools in the SE of the city are within the CTIP1 zones and I know the board and the district wants to support children and families within the CTIP1 zones academically. As long commute times can impact attendance and tardiness, is there a plan in place to help families who have children in elementary schools and middle schools which are geographically far from one another with transportation?
    While I don’t support the feeder patterns, I do support a well-thought out transportation plan which makes it easy for students who are asked to commute to attend school and participate in before and after school activities. In a case like Giannini, 4 of the 6 feeder schools are local to the Sunset so it would be nice if students from Drew had support in building friendships with their peers and participating in school clubs and extra-curricular activities through supportive SFUSD bus service.
    I apologize if this has already been addressed.
    Thank you for your work on this important issue.

  36. Rachel,
    I noticed that among the advantages you listed for having neighborhood elementary schools that feed into designated middle schools, you did not include closing the ubiquitous “achievement gap” and providing greater equity, problems that will likely be exacerbated with such a SAS, particularly if busing is concomitantly rerduced. I agree with the disadvantages that you list but am not sure I agree with the advantages:
    While the system will provide great predictability for families whose elementary school feeds into a middle school they consider a good “fit” for their child, it will provide LESS predictability (or, at least, a reduced possibility of receiving an acceptable assignment) for families who feel that their child would flourish far more at another middle school.
    Equalizing Enrollment
    This would likely occur to some extent, particularly if families with few options accept assignments to middle schools they would not have voluntarily chosen. IMO, this could also be achieved by bringing desirable programs (i.e. language track, science focus, art and music focus) and the corresponding resources to these underenrolled middle schools.
    Upcoming Influx of Middle Schoolers
    This may well be alleviated, but primarily because many families will opt to send their children to private or parochial school or simply leave SF, rather than send their kids to low-performing middle schools that lack enrichments they feel are necessary for their children to thrive.

  37. GlenParkMom

    1) Sorry for the weird grammar in my earlier post. Autocorrect. Boo! I meant to say that you should tell them to keep working on it until they get it right.

    2) “When the parents know that they kid will end up in a reasonable MS, just like the kid from “good” ES’s, it is more likely that they will be content with the ES they have, and put in the sweat equity to make it work.”
    All I’ve heard from prospective parents is that our school is much less attractive now because we are feeding into Lick MS with Bret Harte, John Muir, Alvarado, Flynn and Mission Education Center. No honors track, no band or orchestra, high needs, mostly low-income GE population congregated in one place. People were excited when Aptos was our feeder.

    I’m peeved that while the District has moved towards a neighborhood based system for elementary school, it’s not the case for middle school.

    I’m also peeved because when I signed up my neighborhood school (and I plan on putting a lot of blood, sweat, and tears into the place over the next ten years), I didn’t sign up for a middle school too. Now you’re telling me that I have to continue all of this for the seven years that my kids will be in middle school. I would love a break, OK?

  38. We will leave the system. Assigned to Everett. Sad to leave, but essentially don’t trust the district that turnaround will happen there, even with money and resources. Inequity is too pronounced in the feeders for comfort, and the pro argument isn’t compelling enough to give it a chance. Middle school is way too risky a time, particularly with a son, for a school you don’t believe in.

  39. This is undoubtedly a complicated and emotional decision for families, but on balance, I come down in support of feeders. People keep saying that middle school is only 3 years, but for my family it will be 6. My kids are spaced so that I won’t have any sibling priority for middle school. I look at the slide of predicted enrollment capacity and I know that under the current choice system my kids would most likely not end up at the same school and the process for the second would be considerably more challenging. I feel like I am a fairly active member of my school community and would hope to contribute on the middle school level as well. But, it takes time to get to know the school staff and the culture of the community and the idea that I would have to do that for two different schools, not to mention a middle school and a high school at the same time, seems overwhelming and inefficient. The feeder system makes it considerably more likely that families will have the incentive and the time necessary to really commit to partnering with a middle school.

  40. I agree with Michael’s observations — though I do have to observe that there are probably no parents anywhere who would actively prioritize the needs of other people’s children over the needs of their own children. Just taking the needs of other people’s children into account at all is praiseworthy.

  41. Rachel,

    I want to add another item into the “Pro” pile.

    The Feeder system will help many up-and-coming and struggling elementary schools to gain traction. When the parents know that they kid will end up in a reasonable MS, just like the kid from “good” ES’s, it is more likely that they will be content with the ES they have, and put in the sweat equity to make it work.

    While the MS population increase is a few years away, this capacity issue is right here right now for ES. I can see quite a few ES’s becoming desirable (or at least acceptable) with the help of the feeder system.

  42. Rachel,

    I don’t understand why the middle school proposal can’t complement and support our existing elementary schools. Why can’t some schools be a combination of citywide strands and neighborhood attendance area?

    For instance, why can’t Denman have a citywide Mandarin language strand and a GE attendance area strand? Mandarin could be available to all students. Lick, Everett, and ISA could all have citywide Spanish language strands. GE students would have access to beginning and intermediate Spanish language courses. Hoover and Francisco could have Cantonese language strands. The resources which support the immersion strands could be integrated throughout the school for the benefit of all students to create schools which have a bi-lingual, bi-cultural focus. The arts, history, and culture of China and Mexico or other Spanish speaking countries could be integrated throughout the schools. Mexico and China both have a long standing history and relationship with California and San Francisco. It would be wonderful to see this history integrated into a middle school in a thoughtful and concentrated manner.

    Other schools which are not receiving a lot of applicants via the lottery could become science and math magnets. I think this would be especially popular in the SE where many families work in science and technology. UCSF is building a huge campus in dog patch and the City is supporting bio-technology in the SE; wouldn’t there be someway to partner with UCSF and the bio-technology companies to bring resources to these magnet schools?

    Feeders at the middle school level do not make sense for many reasons.
    There is an element of chance at the elementary school level so you might be assigned to an elementary school outside of your attendance area. It doesn’t make sense that your middle school would be pre-determined at that point. People move during the course of their child’s education so they might look at middle school as a point where they would want a school closer to their home or more convenient to their commute path. People rethink their child’s education at middle school. Some might want to leave their immersion program, some might want to have access to a language. If a family has many children in the school system, they might choose a middle school which is easy to access in terms of the siblings’ schools. It makes sense that families would have some point at the middle school juncture.

    The current feeder pattern requires long commute times for many students, especially those living in the SE. This is not fair. Students in the SE should have access to quality schools without long commute times. The attendance area portion of the feeder patterns should have commute times on public transit less than 20 minutes with no transfers. School should be easy to access for both students and parents to increase participation in after school activities and the PTA. Any school which is not chosen by choice should be easy for students to access. It’s not fair to force a long commute onto a child or their family.

    Families which lottery into a school are choosing to commute and the commute is their choice. This is a much different reality than a forced commute.

    In addition, the inequities between schools are too great. This has been pointed out many times so I don’t feel it’s necessary to address this issue at length.

    The district does not need the feeder pattern to implement their quality middle school proposal. Why not implement the proposal and see if the offerings between schools become equalized and then implement a system that uses a combination of lottery and geographically based attendance area? The feeder system is too rigid in comparison to the elementary school assignment system and the high school lottery.

    Thank you for all your work. Creating quality schools in an urban school district with many types of families and students is a challenging job with no easy answers.

  43. 4th Grade Parent

    Oddly, the strongest “pro” for the feeder system is hardly ever mentioned. Having a feeder system helps build and support a community by maintaining continuity. The community in turn helps support the kids, the families, and the teachers.

    I’d add as a “con” that the feeder system will only be as good as the elementary placement system. If you get the initial placement right, the feeder system will just be an extension of that. It seems like there is a lot of disappointment with the new placement system because parents didn’t get a good school close to them.

    (As an aside, my suggestion for placement is the create customized neighborhood districts rather than just one neighborhood school. We have the computer technology to figure out these custom districts per parent. Parents have a choice of the 5 closest schools to their address with a guaranteed placement in one of them. This way no one feels stuck in a school that isn’t right for them but kids don’t have to trek across town. My sense is that parents really do want neighborhood schools, they just don’t necessarily want the one neighborhood school assigned to them. Of course, we’d still need to address inequities with some sort of placement advantage.)

    However rather than focusing on the pros and cons of the feeder system, I’d rather focus on what will make for a good middle-school experience for kids. It seems that many parents desire the K-8 schools. It might be good to do some more research to figure out why. Is it the smaller size school? Is it the continuity and community into middle school? Is it the predictability? They certainly don’t offer a huge range of electives. Maybe this isn’t a priority for parents.

  44. It seems that CTIP1 will have choice and CTIP2 will not. This is intended to force higher SES families into historically low performing schools while giving low SES families a way out of those very same schools.

    If you want those CTIP2 families to stay you have to offer them the things they look for in a school, including honors, music, art. If you do these things you will get their buy-in. If you don’t you will find that the assignment system has undermined the quest for quality middle schools.

  45. GlenParkMom

    I get the pros of this system, but I am deeply troubled by the District’s proposal. The devil is in the details. Many of them trouble the he’ll out of me, but no one seems to have considered them.

    For the GE kids at our school, it doesn’t look like Lick MS has enough capacity to serve all the GE kids slated to feed into it by a long shot (capacity for GE kids just 110 – if you do the
    math with the 6 schools going in, there’s already
    a problem).

    Realistically, there should be a middle school opened in Bayview Hunter’s Point. Kids shouldn’t need to spend an hour plus on MUNI to get the education they deserve. Make it a magnet school as it’s strategy that has worked in countless other towns for improving sociology-economic diversity. If there is such a crush for space, it will fill despite people’s fears of the other, if it is done right. Have you seen what San Mateo has done with it’s magnet program?

    If there’s money for immersion kids to have immersion and an elective, there should be money allocated for buses. Again, the map is all over the place and when you think about most people are being asked to have kids in two places at the same time, it’s just not right that you’ve left people on their own. The K-8’s with different campuses used to have that (don’t know if they still do), new virtual K-8’s should too.

    And on a personal note, while Lick MS looks lovely, I’m not convinced that my high-performing kid will get her needs met in a small school that has many kids in it. If class sizes were staying small at Lick (see note about capacity above and QEIA money disappearing in two), I would consider the school, but not with big classes and lots of kids who really need and deserve help. I’ve been on the ground floor for two years in a school that does a good job with whatever shape the students come in, but the reality is that there will be a HUGE gap by middle school. It’s already big and we haven’t even started second grade. It’s really hard to teach algebra when most kids are struggling with fractions still.

    So I’m looking into starting a charter school (fortunately we have a few years to get that going), and at privates, and the burbs, although what I really want for my kid is a big comprehensive middle school for my oldest with a vigorous GATE program. Which the district has to offer (and it’s part of why choose to go to public school over private), but not for my kid.

    Lastly, it still can get over how amazingly tone deaf the District seems with their proposal (details, shmetails). But the BOE doesn’t work for district. Think about the social justice concerns that have been raised. This won’t be an easy vote either way, but still…this seems totally half-baked to me. Tell them to keep working on it unilateral they get it right.

  46. As a teacher (who has taught in SFUSD), I know how important it is to create equity between schools and have quality programs in all schools. A school with a disproportionate number of low achieving students has a much harder time creating an academic culture, where all students believe they can succeed and take school seriously. Furthermore, low performing schools have to focus much more on improving test scores, taking away time and energy from developing social development, critical thinking and creativity, making them even less desirable to parents seeking the best for their children.

    Obviously, the best solution to this problem is social change that increases the wealth of our community’s poorest members, so that all children enter school with the social and academic skills necessary to succeed. (By far the biggest influence on academic success is familial wealth. Burkam and Lee examined average cognitive scores of children entering kindergarten and found that kids in the highest income group scored 60% higher than those in the lowest income group. Hart and Risely found similar class-based differences in language development and IQ among children as young as three.)

    Since this option has been removed from the table by political and business leaders, the responsibility for making low achieving students successful has been placed on the schools and teachers. Spreading the low and high achieving students out across the district more evenly will not make all the low achieving students successful. But it will help some, not only by spreading the resources out more equitably, but by reducing the concentration of low income, low-skilled students in the district’s Eastside schools. (A moderately skilled student surrounded by A and B students is much more likely to work and try harder than one who is surrounded by failing students, as she will see that success is attainable and normal.)

    Unfortunately, this solution, too, is virtually impossible to achieve. SFUSD has attempted it numerous times, most recently with the weighted student formula and, before that, with the consent decree. Low income parents seem to have no problem with their children being bussed across town to a “better” school. But more privileged parents do have an issue with their children being bussed to a “bad” school, and many opt for private school, instead (a choice that is unavailable to lower income parents). The more privileged students leave the system (or avoid the eastside schools) the more concentrated the eastside schools become with lower income children.

    Thus, the solution to this problem necessarily must include both efforts to eliminate poverty AND community organizing that seeks to instill a greater sense of solidarity among ALL parents. As long as some parents emphasize the needs of their children over those of other people’s children, an Apartheid system of enrollment will prevail.

  47. Lauretta Komlos

    Rachel, thank you for this informative blog. I don’t envy the Board. I still support the idea of Feeders, but it is hard in my mind to reconcile it with the inequities within the schools. In the end, I am really just looking forward to the Board making a decision so I can begin to wrap my mind around the upcoming options for my child. No matter what outcome, there will be discord. I appreciate your transparency in your thought process on the issue. After two years of back and forth, it will be a relief to know the what plan will be in place when my daughter enters Middle School.

  48. Immersion parent here. If it has to be, then we will have to live with lack of electives for our children, in order to continue their language education. My daughter will be entering first grade in the Fall, so we still have a bit of time before the middle school issue hits us. I still dream of a large enough magnet school for all Mandarin and Cantonese immersion students as well as all bilingual families who want it. But the current feeder is a workable compromise. I still feel sad about Alice Fong Yu being allowed to ignore the SF racial integration philosophies and to offer to its students what ours don’t get: Mandarin instruction, all-AP middle school courses, electives. But envy won’t get us anywhere, so we must look ahead. It seems to me that one of the biggest problems is how painfully the above mentioned “ability to offer the courses that parents and students say they want” and MS principals mission of “tailoring their programs and serving students” clash with the also mentioned “school leaders” who “say they are philosophically against providing programs that prospective parents want.” Who gave those “school leaders” the authority to force their philosophies onto the families they are supposed to serve? Working towards establishing honors tracks on some of the disadvantaged schools would go a long way towards gaining many more parents’ trust and would also give new options to previously disadvantaged students. I am appalled by PPSSF’s negative stance on the feeders. I doubt that they represent the majority of parents in SF and have chosen to not review my membership with them. Please vote for the MS feeder plan, so we can stop bickering and start to look ahead how to address the concerns that parents brought up who worry about said plan.

  49. The status quo bias is your biggest enemy in this situation. I doubt anyone advocating a plan with the “features” of our current system would find much support if it weren’t already the system in place. The feeder plan makes sense over the long term.

    We’re one of the families who banked on the district’s promise of an immersion pathway, and I’m confident that the district will find a way to honor that promise.

  50. John Huang

    Hi Rachel,

    The issues listed under “Cons” are valid issues. However, in the context of “feeder vs choice”, they are not necessarily “cons”.

    First, the transportation definitely should be in the Pro section. No matter what system is used, a percentage of students will need busing. With Feeder, the busing need is predictable and limited. With Choice, the need is chaotic, unpredictable, and all over the place. It is much easier for the district to provide adequate busing under Feeder, and impossible to do so under Choice.

    “Why is curtailing parent choice the only way to build quality middle schools?” should also be under Pro. It is not he “only way”, but it is a big important first step and offers a lot of advantages over Choice. That point is supported by MS principals’ support for the Feeder system.

    “Broken promises” is an issue regardless of the assignment system. Choice or Feeder makes no difference, so it should not be on the list for making the decision. It definitely should be on the to-do list for the district.

    The only issue I would keep on the “Cons” is the “Inequities”. It has two parts. Under Choice, it is partially a chilcken-and-egg issue. You need more students to offer those programs, and you need the programs to attract students. Feeder addresses this part. However, another part is the educational philosophy. I have said under another blog entry of yours. With Choice, it is OK for the principals to run the school their way. However, under Feeder, the parents must be given more weight. If the parents want honors and if there are enough students to form honor classes, the principal must offer it, even if he is philosophically against it. This can be solved by district’s policy change and open mindedness of the principals.