Board unanimously approves revised feeder plan

Tonight the Board unanimously approved the feeder plan recommended by the Superintendent.  Up until a day ago I was expecting a dissenting vote or two, but I think in the end the staff’s decision to modify the proposal to be a “tiebreaker” system until 2016-17 was the change that convinced Commissioner Wynns (notably the strongest doubter in her public comments previous to tonight’s vote) to support the plan.

I know that in the end it was the decision to refrain from an initial assignment and instead use a tiebreaker process that helped to convince  me. I heard a lot of the doubts about equity and access from parents who would receive preference into less-chosen schools; the PAC and PPS’s original recommendation to dump the feeder plan altogether was very compelling.  But in considering all of the factors, the unknowns and the overarching policy objectives, I finally came down on the side of the feeders.  Specifically:

  • The new elementary-to-MS feeder patterns will allow us to plan more rationally for MS improvements. That’s why the MS principals unanimously supported the plan, because they knew they would have more stable and robust enrollments at their schools AND because they knew the plan would help them build academic and social support bridges between their schools and the elementary schools that would provide their target enrollments.
  • Choice in school assignment isn’t, by itself, a school improvement strategy.  Our experience with a full choice-based assignment system has had some unintended consequences: schools that aren’t chosen have fewer resources and fewer ways to attract those resources, creating a vicious cycle; and choice creates a strong backlash among those who feel entitled to a nearby school but do not get it because it is competitive citywide.  And even though our previous choice system did allow some families to “discover” previously overlooked schools, it’s clear that over time it also supported starker segregation patterns and disadvantaged vulnerable school communities.  In other words, choice is great if you get one of your choices; not so much if you don’t. And since we are forecasting a coming bulge in middle school enrollment, finding a way to offer everyone a more equitable experience — and still allow people at least some ability to choose where their child will attend school–is becoming more urgent.
  • The “tiebreaker” phasing-in of the feeder plan allows some time for families to kick the tires of proposed schools before they are involuntarily “fed” into them through an initial assignment offer.  I believe schools like Denman, Martin Luther King and Visitacion Valley MS will benefit from families who are willing to take a second or third look if their first choices don’t pan out. One of the benefits we’ve seen with choice over the years is the incredible effect of critical mass — once parents see that families they regard as peers are happy at a particular school, they are much more willing to consider it as an option for their own children.

There was some discussion at last night’s Student Assignment committee and again at tonight’s meeting about whether to change the order of tiebreakers for middle school assignment while they are in effect (2012-13 through 2015-16). The PAC and PPS recommended that the Board move CTIP or some other “equity mechanism” above the feeder patterns as a tiebreaker, which in the end only Commissioner Wynns supported. I can’t speak for other Board members, but the reason I opposed giving CTIP higher priority in MS assignments is that I am not convinced yet that it does what we think it does;  I have concerns that it is simply advantaging a subset of families who happen to live in those zones but don’t otherwise fit the racial and socioeconomic profiles we are hoping to advantage.  I would like to see the effect of the strong CTIP preference on K applicant pools and school composition before I agree to “double-down” for MS enrollment. 

I do recognize that some people will be deeply upset and angered by the Board’s decision tonight. I don’t think the Superintendent and staff have done a good job explaining HOW they are going to improve some of our middle schools;  nor have they acknowledged the areas where we should be doing a better job. They actually haven’t even defined very well what a “quality” middle school is. I plan to continue bringing these and related topics to the Board’s Curriculum Committee to help guide the staff in developing an improvement plan for each of our MS.

Tonight the Board also heard about a little thing called the 2011-12 budget, which was introduced for first reading.  It was almost 10:30 p.m. by the time the budget item came up  (another item ate up more than an hour of the Board’s time before that) so there wasn’t really any discussion. The Board will hold an augmented Budget and Business Services Committee meeting on June 21 where the budget will be discussed in greater detail. 

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30 responses to “Board unanimously approves revised feeder plan

  1. P.S.: Sorry for the typos… I wish WordPress had an editing feature. Wrote this on the run.

  2. Anonymouse — But there are no money for improvements at middle schools which are underenrolled, since many of the funds that are allocated are so by student, hence, more students, more money. It’s a chicken vs. egg problem. The real difficulty I see here is one of TRUST. Will the extra funds be allocated to further bloat administrative SFUSD waste, or will they be intelligently employed to increase course offerings and support and challenge all students (incl. honors), in conjunction with either convincing reluctant principals or teachers to work with rather than against middle class parents willing to make a difference (or move those principles to one of the SFUSD desks to increase the aforementioned bloat)? Can parents TRUST SFUSD’s intentions and ability to translate those intentions into action, or are our children meant to be fodder for misguided social experimentation? Once the strong population years hit middle school, private and parochial schools won’t be able to create unlimited space for those who want it (and can make that work financially). Not everybody has the means and willingness to move. So, there will be a good number of parents, who can make a difference in now struggling schools, but those parents will need credible assurances, that the principals in question are on their side and that they won’t be having to fight windmills…

  3. BernalDad,
    The revised feeder plan is only good for those elementary schools going into the top middle schools. The middle schools are not equal in what they offer, so regardless of “stock”, if the programs and quality of teaching isn’t there, the stock will only be a temporary fix. Temporary until those students go the way of the students already there… below average or failing. And not because of “stock”, but because the support isn’t there for them. The students will adapt to the school, not the other way around.
    The school board needs to improve the schools in order to improve the educational quality of the students! Again, the school board has is a** backwards.

  4. I was generally opposed to the feeder plan, as it reduces choice, but realized that there would be a crisis in a choice system as the capacity at MS level would be squeezed.

    The February 1 2011 feeder map is a big improvement to the January version. However, I think the following changes would even out the balance between the “trophy” “hidden gem” and “challenged” elementaries in the middle schools.

    Grattan to Everett
    Sanchez to Giannini
    Clarendon to Lick
    Bryant to Hoover
    Moscone to ISA
    Muir to Presidio

    As for the Denman controversy: Denman’s intake would be Lakeshore, Miraloma, Longfellow, Sunnyside, and Sheridan. All except Sunnyside are 800+ API schools, and Sunnyside’s had over 800 API in 2009. Denman’s stock is going to rise based on its intake.

  5. Anony Mouse

    Clarence,
    Does it matter that i am a minority, middle class or not? I am not what you think.
    You obviously missed my point. The school district is attempting another social experiment. They expect the parents, especially those they consider “middle class” to fix the failing middle schools instead of the school district doing its job. The school board needs to make sure that every school they force families to feed into offer the same choices and quality education as those that are considered “the best”. Currently, the middle schools are not equal and the board has no plan to make them so. I will not have my children attend a school that is less than another, because i love my children, want the best for them and no other reason. And if I am going to have to work building up a school, why not make it a charter with more rigorous coursework, arts, etc. and tax dollars spent the way families want them spent… Not wasted on raises for a school board that ignores the advice of the PAC and PPS and the concerns of a majority of parents.

  6. Clarence Jones

    Anony Mouse, if you go you will improve the school. Brown v. Topeka stated separate but equal makes children feel unequal. If you feel your children should only, by definition (because you have money or they’re white?) go to one of the best but it’s OK for other kids to go to the worst, then we don’t live up to our maxim that all men are created equal. If it’s OK for other kids to go, it’s OK for your kids to go. You’re saying your kids are of a higher caste. Not cool. You should go and make the school better, not run away, because remember, only the rich and upper middle runs away, then the other kids are there with no positive examples.

  7. It looks like you and the School District have found a solution to the impending middle school enrollment bulge – employ social engineering to encourage more parents to seek alternatives to the SFUSD. You come across as thoughtful and idealistic – which makes it hard to understand why you give the School District Administration a pass on having no conception of what a quality educational environment is or how to create one, or why you and the rest of the Board are unmoved by the recommendations of the Parent Advisory Council and Parents for Public Schools.
    I am nonetheless committed to sticking with the public school and will be pleased to participate in the school that my child will feed into. I just do not see how her education will be enhanced by attending school with classmates who will have just spent an hour on MUNI instead of those who live in her already diverse neighborhood. I am also concerned that devoting the school to a foreign language program that will suck much of the focus of the school away from the rest of the school’s programs. It will certainly displace faculty.
    I think it was also rather sneaky to vote on these matters in the summer when we parents are less in contact with each other and with our teachers and principals. But it’s apparent that parental input was not desired in any case.
    The only small consolation that we have is there are still elections, and I will note your names well.
    I confess that I am reacting to the information on the School Districts website and what you have posted. Much of this is written in an education-policy wonk dialect that I confess I do not fully grasp. You and the School District would begin to redeem yourselves if you could translate your ideals into standard English so we have a better idea of what kind of experiment you have cooked up for our children.

  8. Heather World

    Once again I see a stream of well-articulated parent concerns—such a stark contrast to the vague language of SFUSD. I had high hopes for some of the members of the new BOE, so I am disappointed you did not press the district for more specific information.

    While I’m grateful Rachel, at least, is looking into what makes a quality middle school, I have to wonder why this analysis (what works, what doesn’t, how can we spread the former) didn’t take priority over another stab at social engineering.

    The district not only insults the parents by focusing on feeders over quality, it insults the great SFUSD teachers and principals (etc.) who have created that quality in our schools.

    I’m gratified to hear from Carolyn that turning around an MS can happen quickly. Though she says parent involvement wasn’t the key to turning Aptos around, it certainly has been key in the elementary schools.

    With Alvarado (and, I suspect, Miraloma, McKinley, Monroe, Starr King, Webster and some others) parent involvement has meant students across the socio-economic spectrum have equal access to the art, PE and science that is no longer funded by a struggling school district. Now the parents (not the staff) are tackling the problem of low math test scores among ELLs. I wish the professionals (ie, the district and the school staff) would partner with us so we’re not stabbing in the dark, but I’ve felt little but dismissiveness and outright hostility to parent partnerships.

  9. Rachel,

    When you say the Superintendent and staff didn’t do a good job, do you mean to say this is not the responsibility of the Board? You are the boss. If your employee does pooly, the buck stops with you. So what have you done to assure they will do a better job of keeping their promises to the communities of San Francisco, especially those that are situated in the southeast were many questions remain unanswered? i need to make a case to my wife why we should stick with public. Help me out here.

  10. Michelle Smith

    I’m trying to understand how this “phase in” will work. If I’m getting it, it seems to me that only kids whose ES’s are fed to the most desirable middle schools will be able to access seats there, since their attendance at a feeder will give them priority. So, while in theory the kids whose schools feed to less desirable middle schools can enter the lottery and be assigned one of the more desired ones, it seems statistically improbable.

    I’m just glad my big girl was assigned a MS under the “old’ system and we did well in the lottery, and that the little guy starts K in 2012, which hopefully will give this mess a while to work out…

  11. Rachel – I would love to understand what are the metrics for success that will be studied now that this Feeder plan has been adopted and I don’t mean the vague – quality middle school language that inevitably comes out from SFUSD. How and when will the BOE/SFUSD be measuring if this plan was successful? Presumably there are key indicators that will be measured throughout the years that this change will take place (and beyond). I hate to be negative, but I’m pretty sure the laws of unintended consequences will take over and it is critical that there is a plan to review and analyze the impact on a consistent basis. This was a process that divided and distracted SFUSD families at a time when we should ALL be fighting together for $ from Sacramento and left many (including myself) deeply discouraged and distrustful. I would like to see the plan/doc/ppt that lays out how this MAJOR change will be evaluated. Can you please post it somewhere so there is transparency? Thanks.

  12. One significant deterrent for many families is that two middle schools are effectively 6-12 schools: ISA (officially a 6-12 school) and Denman (Independence High School is housed in the same building, and despite the dedicated stair wells there is mixing of the populations). In both cases it looks like the number of kids feeding into the school precludes their continued existence as 6-12 schools. When will the district present a detailed plan for how this transition will be handled? This is a huge issue for many families feeding into ISA and Denman.

    Differentiated instruction vs honors is also a major issue, but it is thorny. Many people prefer one or the other, and many will be fed into schools that do not offer their preferred teaching method. It seems reasonable to add a tie breaker for GATE identification, to allow high achieving kids access to schools that offer the instruction type that is best suited to their needs, be it differentiated instruction or honors. In this way the district doesn’t have to take away the autonomy from schools sites in making programming choices.

  13. Good Point about Edison though… I hadn’t thought about Edison for middle. Great location. I will definitely check them out! Might even be possible to work with them on the programming, GATE and potential expansion of their middle school capacity.

  14. Gateway middle is totally oversubscribed. Besides, based on my understanding, Gateway seems to be a warm school, but not super rigorous (with all due respect).

    We need our own charter middle school on the SE side. A rigorous, high expectations, high performing school that is not afraid to teach advanced programming.

    The families that choose to stay in the city and stay in their neighborhoods – Bernal, Mission, Potrero, Noe, Glen Park – will flock to a charter middle in a heartbeat.

  15. Choice Parent

    For those looking for a serious charter middle school alternative on the eastside of the city, there’s now Gateway Middle, which is housed at Muir Elementary in the Castro/Western Addition, and Edison, which just had its charter granted by SFUSD. Gateway needs no introduction because of its excellent high school, but Edison is worth a serious look. The current management there is making lots of positive changes, and is open to new families coming in. I was very impressed with them when I toured this past year.

  16. Albert wrote:
    “Getting another SE charter up and running is no easy task. The school district has not been particularly friendly towards charters. If they see charters applications on the rise due to feeders, they will be even less inclined to approve them.”

    You can get a Charter approved through the state, you don’t need SFUSD approval, unless you want the school to be an SFUSD Charter. The way things are going, I see no benefit in trying to be an SFUSD Charter School.

  17. Rachel,

    I hope that the feeder plan, which I completely disagree with for reasons stated in previous posted, will not be phased in. The phase in serves no real purpose in terms of families gaining access to popular schools.

    This “phase in” will only mean that people will be randomly assigned to under-enrolled schools rather than coming in as cohorts. Popular schools will certainly be filled with the “tie-breaker” feeder school applicants except in the cases where families in the Bayshore will most likely opt out of a drive to the outer Sunset. As the feeder school “tie-breaker” comes after siblings, I’m sure most families who have Presidio, Aptos, Roosevelt, and Giannini as their feeder school will take advantage of this.

    I hope that the BOE will share the data after enrollment next year to show if this plan has increased or decreased diversity in the schools and if enrollment at the under-enrolled schools has increased. My sense is that segregation will increase as there is no transportation plan and that low-income students in the southeast will not improve academically as there are no plans for improving the schools in the southeast section of the city where local students without transportation are most likely to attend.

    At this point, I hope the staff and BOE are developing a very detailed transportation and school improvement plans. Also, it might be worthwhile talking to parents in the southeast about turning the Edison campus into a public charter.

  18. I’m a Lakeshore and Aptos alumni parent cross-posting a message I sent to current Lakeshore parents.

    I spoke out against the feeder proposal and supported Lakeshore parents in their advocacy. My big concern was the inequities in programs in the middle schools. The district needs to focus on remedying those inequities before the feeder plan kicks in in 2017. And I have seen many schools improve districtwide under the all-choice enrollment process, so it’s hard to support changing that.

    THAT SAID, I still have to give a pep talk (apologies to those who have heard this before).

    At the time my older child finished Lakeshore and started Aptos in 2002, Aptos was nearly universally scorned as a “dirty, dangerous ghetto school.” Everybody who was anybody at Lakeshore went to Giannini, with Hoover the second choice. (People were practically afraid to even walk past James Lick.) One Lakeshore parent referred to it as “Craptos” — in front of (the few) Lakeshore kids who were planning to go there. Quite a number of families from my son’s class paid megabucks for private middle school rather than subject their kids to the horrors of Aptos, when they didn’t get Giannini or Hoover.

    My kids are three years apart, so I was an Aptos parent for six straight years. By the time my daughter started there in 2005, Aptos pickup and dropoff looked like Lakeshore pickup and dropoff. Aptos’ API rose above Hoover’s the year my daughter was in 8th grade. Even though I am NOT an advocate of judging schools by test scores, I still cheered when I heard that, after the contempt that was heaped on Aptos when we first started. Obviously, you all know that Aptos is no longer the scorned “dirty, dangerous ghetto school.” And, by the way, both my kids got a great education and had an overall excellent time at Aptos.*

    The key points:
    — A middle school can turn around really fast, since it’s only three years.
    — A school that serves a critical mass of disadvantaged, high-need, at-risk kids becomes overwhelmed and struggles — these are the schools we harshly and cruelly label “failing schools.” A school that serves less than that critical mass of those most challenging kids can cope. That’s why just bringing in a more diverse student population — which is what happened at Aptos — makes a huge difference.
    — It did not require heroic efforts by parent volunteers to raise Aptos’ success and reputation. Parents were committed and worked on behalf of the school, as parents do at Lakeshore and other schools; but the parents’ work was NOT the reason for the turnaround. (With one exception — we spread the word about the school and increased its diversity, which is something that parents tend to be better at than school and district staff!)

    Since that time we’ve also seen James Lick and Roosevelt — and also I think Martin Luther King Middle School, though I’m not as familiar with it — shoot up in popularity and success. They were all viewed as scary and failing not long ago.

    The point is it can happen really fast — three years is a very short time — and it can happen just by increasing the diversity of a school that has been overwhelmed by high-need students. I’ve been there!

    So I understand the issues of equity and also geography, but I want to urge you all to question the notion that a middle school can never change, because we’ve seen it happen and we know it can and does.

    That said, it’s essential that the district take every possible step to bring equity to the programs offered at the middle schools. And although I know families of GATE children who have been very happy at James Lick, which doesn’t offer honors classes, the demand is clear, and I think the district has to simply overrule principals who claim not to believe in honors classes.

  19. GlenParkMom

    Charter idea sounds great to me!

    Words can’t describe how disappointed I am with the board’s decision. I get the pull of feeders but that map, oh that map, is completely cattywompus for families on my end of town.

    I love our current school, but I would have enrolled elsewhere had I known where we would feed into middle school. This expectancy is going to open up the proverbial can of worms in later years, especially as SE schools seem to be placed literally all over the map. This slow moving train wreck will need to be adjusted as the years go by, and I hope you realize what howls of outrage you will get whenever you try to change that.

    My kid is slated to hit middle school along with that enrollment bulge. The GE program at Lick cannot accommodate all the kids slated to feed into it. Everett has 56 kids slated for the GE program. Where are all the GE kids supposed to go? I hope you are pushing the district to work on this. There were some really good suggestions that came out those meetings. Take them and work on it.

    Lastly, I have developed a profound lack of trust of the Board and SFUSD in this process. If there is no move towards parity in resources at these schools next year, I think the BoE will have created a thousand angry parents waiting to challenge and question your every move.

  20. The first priority is sibling. If you are at a feeder school you have second priority. It kicks in big time next year.

    Getting another SE charter up and running is no easy task. The school district has not been particularly friendly towards charters. If they see charters applications on the rise due to feeders, they will be even less inclined to approve them. Charters usually cream off the better students and leave the district with the hard to educate ones. That would not be a desirable outcome for SFUSD.

  21. So I’m confused…

    During the phase in period, basically nothing has changed with the past system of “choice” lottery, other than the MS feeder is a “tie breaker” if the M school is oversubscribed? The default assignment is the feeder MS ONLY if there are still spaces available at that school?

    So in phase in period, much would depend on whether families in ES feeding to the “popular”/”desirable” MS put down those MS…. at one meeting, I recall a parent saying there school feeds to Giannini (which is held in somewhat high regard) but he/she does not want their child to go there…

    The incoming K families are the ones who will be “stuck” with the pattern, but the difference is that their family already knows when they sign up for the K… and they also have 5-6 years… in which one hopes that the ES and MS are “clustering” and planning to make the transition a seamless desirable one…

  22. Well – Now is the time to start working on a new charter middle school on the SouthEast side of the city. I know tons of SFUSD families in Mission, Bernal, Noe, Potrero who will not enroll in their feeder middle school and who would rather put their energy into building a high-performing neighborhood charter.

    Even the parents who historically would have enrolled in Lick will no longer enroll there. Seriously? No honors/gate? class sizes of 38 kids? A high proportion of high-needs students needing remedial instruction? What’s the point?

  23. There’s been no discussion about how students receiving special education services are impacted by the feeder plan; I don’t think they were considered at all, not one bit. The rap about feeders was “keeping communities together” but as usual, students in Special Education Classes seemed to be overlooked, and certainly not considered part of the “community”.

  24. I have to agree with Stephanie. I am a concerned teacher and parent who will now add serious consideration of charter or private middle schools to my list of possibilities for my son. I never thought I’d go down that road, but I have one child and I won’t gamble on his future. I care about equity in education, but I won’t let anyone make me feel guilty for putting my child first in my list of priorities. I will, however, wait and see how it all unfolds, before I make any final decisions. So the burden is on the district now to create equitable schools with comparable programs and to create incentives that will entice families to go to less popular middle schools. Preference for high school admission would be one such incentive. Without such incentives built in to this new feeder plan, the district will lose many students, mine included. That said I am also extremely concerned about the future of some elementary schools as this plan moves forward. I also have a question. While feeders in principal are a done deal. are the maps for feeders set in stone? Is it still possible to advocate for changes ?

  25. disheartened

    I think using a tie-breaker instead of the full feeder system is really not very different for the elementary schools that are fed into unwanted schools. The only possible additional effect of of the full feeder system will be on folks who don’t generally go through the enrollment process at all and just take whatever is assigned. Our school feeds into a MS that I don’t think anyone has ever put down on their enrollment application. This year maybe 5 people didn’t get something on their list in round 1 or round 2 (mostly because of the round 2 change that gives no preference to folks who completely lost out in round 1 – a change that’s downright mean at the middle school level where people generally put down pretty reasonable lists). The people that I know in that group are looking at private schools now, if round 2 hadn’t been changed, most of those would have an acceptable school by now and would remain in the public school system.

    Next year the number of students from our school who get none of their choices will certainly be very high – likely most of the class w/out sibling preference. My prediction is that a few will go to the feeder school but most will go private or move unless they get one of the very few leftover (post feeder and ctip1) seats at the 6 or so acceptable middle schools. This just penalizes some school communities and makes others winners, concentrating the misery and pitting groups of hard working public school boosters against each other. I’m very upset for the hardworking, involved, and generous community in our school. It’s depressing to think that SFUSD will lose most of them in 6th grade. It’s especially disheartening that all the letters full of of thoughtful and detailed feedback were completely ignored, an incredible waste of energy on the part of the parents and PPS/PAC. All this feedback resulted in not one single modification or transportation proposal? Nothing? Next time SFUSD should just skip the pretense of taking feedback and save the money it costs to put together the various town halls.

  26. Rachel – I would like to know which two board members voted against ROTC. Even with my desire for peace, less military, etc., I believe it’s one of the best disciple and PE programs out there. It’s a shame it was only approved for 2 years.

  27. Choice Parent

    Two comments about your critique: first, your claim that there’s going to be a “bulge” assumes that middle class parents will stay in the public school process when they know that their elementary feeds into a school that do not like, and that’s a big assumption; second, your critique of “choice” systems misses the psychological value of choice system: even though such systems at the end of the day are all about luck, everyone thinks they are lucky, and such systems let parents “buy into” the system, even though they may end up with their second or third choice and really didn’t “choose” the school their kids end up going to. By contrast, forcing families to go to schools they are unhappy about has never, and will never, work. No one likes to be coerced. They will simply move out or go to privates in middle school.

  28. Yes, you are correct in assessment that the CT1p loophole — unless the District has some way to screen the students (ie using test scores or grades from the 5th grade), the CT1p allows families who are so inclined to “game” the system.

    The focus and conversation needs to move to how to make the MS more equitable and of quality. Perhaps the partnerships with the cluster of feeding ES will help.

  29. The fact that the middle school assignment process doesn’t take the current address of the family into account is pure insanity, particularly when you couple that with the fact that the district will not provide transportation. I am deeply angry and disappointed.

  30. Anony Mouse

    This is ridiculous. Now the “middle class” parents, stuck with no choice for equal education, will need to find a way to oust the board and/or start a charter middle school or even homeschool. I’m not sending my children to a school that offers anything less than what the *best* middle school in the city offers. The Board went about this a**-backwards.