Why I oppose the school assignment policy statement

Among other measures on the November 2011 ballot is an advisory measure that would ask the San Francisco Unified School district to assign every child to the school closest to where they live. Called “Neighborhood Schools for All,” (or Proposition H), the measure was put on the ballot by parent advocates and Republican party activists.

There is a lot of genuine anger and frustration around the City about our school assignment system. I’ve talked to hundreds of parents about this issue, first as a parent of young children trying to figure out my options, then as a Parents for Public Schools enrollment coach, next as a candidate for public office, and finally as an elected official. This issue is one that constituents want to talk about more than probably any other educational issue in San Francisco.

Proponents of the neighborhood schools  initiative say it “will bring quality neighborhood schools to all students,” and guarantee that all students will (assuming they want to) be able to attend schools closest to their homes. They argue that their initiative is a solution to the problem of family flight and will bring back the many affluent families who currently choose private schools.  I disagree, and I’ll discuss the reasons why in a moment. First, however, it’s important to remember that the school district has just completed a two-year process of redesigning the school assignment system (a process that was not yet complete when efforts to put this initiative on the ballot began), and the current policy balances the desire of many parents to choose which school is best for their children with the feedback from some parents who want to be guaranteed schools closer to home (as long as those schools are high-performing).  The current elementary school assignment process places a much higher priority on proximity to schools than we have had in over a decade.

This initiative is not the solution to the longstanding issue of too many families wanting to attend too few schools, and it’s not the solution to a persistent achievement gap.  Here’s why:

  • The neighborhood schools policy statement will not appreciably impact the number of affluent families who currently choose private schools; nor will it address the longstanding problem of too many students requesting too few schools:  Over the last two decades, we have seen that parents are choosing from a limited, though growing, pool of schools. Prior to 2001, when the district first allowed families to choose from any school in the district, families were allowed to either attend their “attendance area” school OR participate in a choice process for a handful of so-called alternative schools. What we saw under that process was a high number of requests for a handful of high-performing attendance area schools, as well as a high number of requests for a handful of alternative schools. The number of requests for the rest of the district’s 100+ schools? Anemic.  Over the past decade, after the district began implementing a full choice system, the pattern has held, but we have seen improvement in the number of requests for some previously scorned attendance area schools (Miraloma, Sherman and Alvarado are examples — each of these schools was shunned by residents of its attendance area prior to 2001, and each is now on the short list of the most-requested elementary schools in San Francisco). In other words, the district’s experience with allowing parents to submit school choices, even with less certainty of eventual assignment to those choices, has broadened the field of schools that parents are choosing. In recent years, we have seen a modest increase in the number of K applicants as well as an increase in the number of K students eventually enrolling in our schools. Today, there are routinely more requests than seats at roughly half the district’s 73 elementary schools, which is still a problem but a significant improvement over the situation a decade ago.
  • The neighborhood schools policy statement will not, by itself, improve schools that are not being chosen by parents. It will have no impact on the achievement gap:  San Francisco has had for many years, and continues to have, a very wide gap between the level of achievement of White and Asian students compared to the level of achievement of African-American, Latino, and Samoan students. Over the past two years, the Board of Education reviewed student achievement data from a variety of nationwide, regional and local sources, with the objective of determining how school composition influences achievement. We found that two principles held true: that schools with higher (40% +) concentrations of African-American, Latino and Samoan students tended to show the lowest achievement levels, and that Caucasian and Asian-American students do not evidence lower levels of achievement when placed in classrooms with lower-achieving students of other races.  Furthermore, we found that *all* students performed better in classrooms where there was no majority race.  In other words, student assignment policies that encourage racial integration do not hinder any student’s achievement and may in fact enhance many students’ achievement levels.  If every student were assigned to the closest school, some schools would be less segregated, while others would be more segregated. In considering these two facts,  the Board’s current assignment policy balances the desire of parents to choose which school is best for their children, as well as the evidence that integrated schools are better, on average, for all children.
  • The neighborhood schools policy statement will not significantly address the problem of declining middle-class enrollment in San Francisco public schools, nor the overall problem of family flight from San Francisco:  It’s not news that San Francisco has one of the lowest percentages of children under 18 of any major U.S. city.  It’s also no secret that four out of five households earning over $100,000 per year send their children to private schools.  School assignment has played a role in each of these trends, but it isn’t the only — nor even the defining– factor. For years, the high cost of housing has been frequently cited as a contributing factor to family flight. More recently, the faltering economy and lack of jobs has also been cited as a factor.  Even though families cite the perceived quality of public schools as a factor in the decision to leave San Francisco , this doesn’t mean access to the nearest school is a part of that decision to leave. No one that I know of has conducted an analysis of whether parents who live near high-performing schools are more likely to leave, or if those parents are more likely to cite the lack of certainty in school enrollment in their decision to move elsewhere. If anything, I suspect that families who live furthest from high-performing schools are the most likely to leave the city . But as I said, I haven’t seen such a study. Affluent San Franciscans clearly believe that our public schools won’t do as good a job serving their childrens’ educational needs;  based on our choice patterns I can name several schools in affluent areas that would be a “sure thing” if neighborhood residents actually requested them (Dr. William Cobb ES is one; Glen Park ES is another). Most importantly, the newest revision of the student assignment system has improved the odds of K applicants being offered space in their attendance area schools (if that is indeed what they want above all — most evidence collected by the Parent Advisory Council, Parents for Public Schools and SFUSD staff indicates that parents want schools that work for their children — proximity is a secondary consideration). Consider that in the first round of the new assignment system this past spring, just 23 percent of Kindergarten applicants listed their attendance area school as a first choice. Just 24 percent of Kindergarten applicants listed the school closest to their homes as a first choice (in some cases the attendance area school is not the closest). In fact, just 14 of our 73 elementary schools received 50 percent of first choice Kindergarten requests for 2011-12.

Finally, the policy statement is poorly written and would carry with it a number of unintended consequences. For one thing, the policy statement assumes that it is possible for families to have both the certainty of attending the closest school, while also having the opportunity of attending a specialized program like language immersion if they would rather. It would be nice to offer families both certainty and choices, but the two are inversely related as long as all schools in the district are perceived to be of unequal quality.  That’s why the number of families not receiving a choice in the school lottery — about 20 percent — has stayed the same even after the new system was implemented; there are just too many requests for some schools and not enough for others, because some schools are perceived to be of higher quality than others.  Only the slow but steady work of improving instruction, administration and classroom supports will change that perception — student assignment schemes of any stripe cannot. Another (perhaps more minor) flaw with the policy is that it calls for a neighborhood-based assignment system to be implemented in the current 2011-12 school year. Does a yes vote really mean the voter is advocating for students  be re-assigned during the current year? Perhaps not, but there’s no way to know.  In any event, such an undertaking would be chaotic and disruptive, not to mention expensive.  

Anyway, all a student assignment policy can do is set rules and make sure that they are fairly applied to everyone. In our district, the policy the Board and staff spent two years developing also attempts to give everyone equitable access to disparate program offerings across the district, even while acknowledging that it’s a hardship for some families not to attend a school that is accessible to work, home or a reasonable commute on public transit. Our process was transparent and extremely public, including televised monthly committee meetings and meetings held in alternate locations — not just the board room.  When we finally voted to formally adopt the policy in March 2010, there was applause and very little public comment – a far cry from some of the other controversial issues the Board has taken up. 

The current system is not perfect, but it is flexible, and the Board has set up objectives and metrics to determine whether it is working as intended for families. We’ll receive our first monitoring report tonight,  and after that report we’ll begin to evaluate what, if any, adjustments should be made.   We’re facing some real budget challenges again this year, and in the judgment of all the board members, we’ve spent enough time on student assignment policy — it’s time to refocus on other initiatives that will improve schools across the district.  Prop. H is a distraction on an issue we’ve already exhaustively examined and it comes at a time when we can least afford distractions. Please vote NO on Proposition H. 


35 responses to “Why I oppose the school assignment policy statement

  1. Our family is a victim of the bait and switch choice to feeder patterns disaster. My fifth grade son goes to Miraloma, which is NOT where I live, and as a result we are slotted to go to Denman – a school that is not close to my house and a school I would never choose based on what I saw there this week. This is the worst of all worlds! EIther give us all a fair shot in a true lottery OR assign us to the school near our house. This new system of students criss-crossing the city to go to schools we did not choose based on a kindergarten assignment from six years ago is complete mayhem, and really unfair to those of us “feeding” into the unpopular schools. I spent my entire week touring middle schools, keeping an open mind until I saw all the schools for myself. Here is what I observed.

    Going into the tours, our hypothesis was that we wanted to send our GATE-identified son to a larger school with honors classes and a wide range of electives (Hoover, Giannini, Aptos). Our actual experience of those schools was okay, not great. The students at all three schools seemed relatively happy and well-behaved for middle schoolers. We liked Aptos better than Giannini and Hoover due to its more balanced diversity, closer location, separate lunch period for sixth graders, and it felt less crowded. Hoover came in fifth because the class sizes were huge and the actual classrooms were small, making it feel really crowded. Lots of students sitting in rows filling out worksheets. Also, the Hoover principal mentioned that he is considering getting rid of GATE classes, and I have little faith in the ability of teachers at such a huge school with such huge classes effectively managing in-class differentiation. Finally, all 1200 students eat lunch at once, which strikes me as completely nuts.

    I went to Denman yesterday to check it out for the first time. I have called and left messages to try to sign up for a tour and no one has returned our calls. Arriving at 1pm, I learned that the entire school eats lunch at the same time, with little adult supervision. Despite the sunny weather, the cafeteria was dark and depressing, while most students were outside and in the hallways, pretty much unsupervised as far as I could tell. I entered the office and was ignored for several minutes by two secretaries. One of them finally asked if she could help me and I told her I wanted to sign up for a tour, at which point she said she would take my name and number. I told her I had already called and left a message, then she told me to see the parent liaison, whose office was locked although I could see her in there. Pretty disappointing; no adult I encountered seemed at all interested in talking to me and they don’t seem to be reaching out to the Miraloma community (or anyone as far as I can tell) at all, and the building seemed especially dark and run down to me. It was the only school I saw that I decided to completely rule out.

    I toured Everett yesterday and that school has been the biggest surprise to us. One huge plus is that the school is benefitting from two big grants and has by far the smallest class sizes (18 in sixth grade, 21 in seventh, and 23 in eighth). There are some obvious advantages to a smaller school – students have a better chance of making athletic teams, the school climate is calmer, adults know every student, and I have more faith that teachers could effectively differentiate instruction as appropriate. Downsides are that the school doesn’t seem to have as many electives as some of the bigger schools, and the math content we observed seemed like stuff our students have already covered. However, the teaching staff was far and away the most impressive and energetic. They acknowledged that the curriculum will adapt based on the preparation and abilities of the students they receive. They also offer music, have a great drama teacher, and offer the same 826 Valencia creative writing enrichment that is offered at Lick. Overall, the adults in the building seem engaged and excited to be there, and are actively marketing the school to their feeder schools (McKinley, Harvey Milk, Fairmount, Sanchez, Chavez) as well as anyone who’s interested. The building is nicer and brighter than Denman, and has capacity for 1000 but only 350 are currently enrolled.

    The middle schools are ridiculously different – some have honors classes and some don’t, some start at 7:55 and some start as late as 9:40, some have amazing music programs while others don’t. The district ought to make them comparable and give neighborhood preference, OR celebrate and encourage the differences and have a true and fair choice system by lottery. I voted for Prop H as one of my only avenues to express my disappointment, sadness, and anger at this half-baked plan.

  2. Potrero Hill Dad

    One more comment, these schools that have turned around (Miraloma, Sherman and Alvarado) as mentioned in bullet point one. It is my understanding that a lot of the effort to turn these schools around were by the people in the neighborhood. Of course, my information has been on new articles about the turn around… so I could be misinformed. If true it I think it shows a trend toward a commitment to neighborhood school as opposed to somehow the complex lottery system fostering the turn around.

  3. Rachel, thanks so much for writing on the issue. Can you tell us if or how yesterday’s election results will actually impact the coming enrollment season?

  4. I’m voting for Prop H.
    Tell me why I should pay a huge real estate tax bill to live in a good neighborhood if my kids can not go to our neighborhood school.

    And explain the advantages of renting a place in a low performing zip code? Just so everything is fair.

  5. A few belated points.

    It’s not really borne out by reality that schools improve if they’re attended by students from the neighborhood. The many diverse, high-poverty school districts that do have neighborhood assignment demonstrate that. What they have are high-quality schools in the areas that serve privileged kids with highly educated parents, and struggling schools in areas that serve impoverished kids who bring to school with them the challenges caused by poverty. For convenient examples, we can look at Oakland and LAUSD.

    SFUSD did have mandatory/guaranteed neighborhood school assignment* not that long ago — including the year my family applied to K for my now-college junior, who started SFUSD in fall 1996. Here was the universally accepted wisdom among the middle class at that time:
    You will be assigned to your neighborhood school, and all the neighborhood schools are bad schools.** Your only option in the school district is one of the popular alternative schools, which are really hard to get into. If you don’t get into one of them, you have to go private or move.

    The notion that neighborhood schools are a solution ignores fairly recent history.

    * There were some exceptions: There were “satellite zones,” where a swath of blocks was assigned to a school elsewhere in the city. This system, which was not successful, affected a relatively small number of families.
    ** There were people who knew that their neighborhood school was quite good — many families near Commodore Sloat and West Portal, for example; though others still fought to get out of those schools and into the popular alternative schools. But this was basically not widely known, and the widespread wisdom was that all the neighborhood schools were bad.

    Also, the idea that families will be more committed to the neighborhood school isn’t a rock-solid assumption either. It’s just as easy to make the case that families are more committed to a school if they specifically choose it. The success of the aforementioned oversubscribed alternative schools (almost always farther from the families’ homes than the assigned neighborhood school was) demonstrates that.

    And except for parochial schools (sometimes), families almost never choose a private school for its proximity, and many choose private schools quite far away. Prop. H supporter Jeff Adachi sends his child to private school in Atherton. Now-incarcerated neighborhood school supporter Ed Jew, who led an earlier round of protest demanding neighborhood schools circa 2003, lived in Burlingame and sent his child to private school in SF. So it goes.

  6. The lottery system is rigged. If S.F.U.S.D. was more honest, it would put each child in a hat and draw them out as equals, with each having the same percentile chance of getting into a school as the child next to them or across town. If a system is rigged, you will have conflict.
    To argue No on H because “We spent a lot of time on it and it’s a “Republican agenda” is shocking devoid of a substantive expected from people in charge of educating.
    Perhaps the most laughable argument is parents have “choice” No we don’t, we have a chance, not a choice and the chance is weighted disproportionally.
    Yes on H

  7. Patrick, 10 applicants were both siblings and residents of the attendance area. There were another group of siblings that were NOT residents of the attendance area.

  8. Potrero Hill Dad

    10 % of the SFUSD student population is African American
    24 % of the SFUSD student population is Hispanic

    yet, look at ALAMO and ARGONNE ELEMENTARY:

    .72 % African American students (4 students out of 550) ???
    5 % Hispanic students (28 students out of 550)

    3 % African American students (12 students out of 406) ???
    6.9 % Hispanic students (28 students out of 406)

    With a stronger “neighborhood” preference, these schools will become even more segregated. That’s what the backers of Prop H want.

    It would be really groovy if we could “take advantage of existing communities to help improve schools “, but so far those magical communities you’re writing about are not doing much for the schools nearby, are they? Forcing people to go to a very struggling school will only mean that anybody with the means to go elsewhere, to pay for private, will do so, and in far greater numbers than we have going private now. In theory, it sounds like a great idea, every kid going to the schools closest to their homes, but it all depends upon which school is closest to your home, doesn’t it?

    Vote No on Prop H — neighborhood school assignment is only great for those lucky (or rich) enough to live in a few neighborhoods.

    Why do you think Real Estate Companies in the Richmond District are backing this campaign?

  9. Patrick Calahan

    Hi Rachel. In your reply to wayne a few weeks back, you said

    “Here’s the Clarendon round I data from March 2011…
    Openings: 88
    Siblings & Attendance area: 10”

    Of those 10, how many were attendance area and how many were siblings?

  10. Potrero Hill Dad

    Parent – Please define what you mean by “chance”? Do you mean “chance” if I live in CTIP1? or Chance if I live in another “CTIP”? or “Chance” of winning $10,000,000?

    I could not be more frustrated by the perceived belief that this lottery system provides more choice. From what I have read, if you do not live in CTIP 1, you have a very low chance of getting into a “top” school.

    Rather than take advantage of existing communities to help improve schools – these same communities that we all find so sacred (shop local, eat local, farm local, vote local Representatives, vote to give locals more choice by removing federal or local mandates) – we have decided to go against this belief and create an incredibly complex system that dissuades so many families from living in San Francisco. It is so frustrating when you think about what a local school offers to help foster community further.

    What is the upside of this complex system? Are we closing the achievement gap by 30%, 20%, 10% more than if we focused on neighborhood schools? It appears that the same problem exists and we have just made it overly complicated.

  11. No on H. Until all the schools are equal, everyone should have the chance to go to one of the better schools.

  12. Potrero Hill Dad

    I could not disagree with Rachel more and while I respect her hard work, I find her stats misleading. Additionally, I listened to her discussion on this topic on KQED and was really really disappointed in her attempt to link Prop. H to some Republican conspiracy. The latter discredits her arguments and politicizes such an important topic. Do you really believe all the parents that were collecting signatures are part of a larger Republican conspiracy?

    My first question is: It is my understanding the previous and current complex lottery system is to address diversity and the achievement gap. Can you point to the evidence of these efforts thus far?

    One of the top reasons people leave San Francisco is schools (granted there are others: homes, safety, transportation, etc.). So many parents or those looking to plant roots and start a family look at the system in San Francisco and are immediately overwhelmed: “Which neighborhood has the good schools?” “There is a lottery? CTIP What?” “How many school should I look at?” “I should move to a less desirable neighborhood with a low CTIP to get a good school?”

    As one example, Daniel Webster has been turned around by the heroic efforts of parents over the past five years in my neighborhood. I have begun participating in these efforts; attending fundraiser and offering support whenever possible. As a result the school is improving and the general feedback from those involved has been that by the time my child is old enough to attend DW, there is a good chance he will not get in becuase it will be a popular school and I am not in CTIP with low test scores.
    Furthermore, we were looking at the preschool that is actually on the DW school grounds (PKDW), but it is not run by the SF school District. Because of this latter point, this preschool (again on the DW school grounds) does not play into the lottery ranking that gives priority to neighborhood preschool. Also there is not neighborhood preschool. Is this complicated enough yet? … and we haven’t even talked about middle schools yet.

    We are now debating whether to focus our efforts and money towards the closest private school?

    I love our neighborhood and the feeling of community, what I wouldn’t give to be able to know my son will walk to school with neighborhood friends, have post school play dates at neighboring homes and meet neighbors at the local shops, parks, etc.

  13. Rachel,

    The current system is flawed. For example, with CTIP1 families essentially getting a “golden ticket,” the statistics show that these families are very disproportionately selecting very few perceived “top” schools, such as our local school Clarendon (and why wouldn’t they?), often to the detriment of families living in those local school areas.

    At the very least, you should cap the number of non-sibling, CTIP1 openings at each school. This way, for example, Clarendon neighborhood families would have at least a reasonable chance of getting into their local school. Nearby good elementaries, such as Grattan and McKinley, should be bearing roughly an equal load of non-sibling CTIP1 kids as Clarendon. According to SFUSD’s statistics, however, they do not, and, under the current regime, they will not.

    Secondly, it is worth noting that the current system is too easy to game. Do you really believe there are not a significant number of families temporarily moving to CTIP1 addresses, just so that they may write their own ticket for their school-age child and his or her siblings after that, and then moving away from that address shortly thereafter, once their obligation runs out? In the circles I keep (young families who have options to move out of town or enroll in private school), public school is the #1 motivator to move out, and that CTIP1 “golden ticket” is too easy a prize to ignore. If your reaction is that not many families would be willing to do this, keep in mind that it would take only a handful of families to play this game to take what is left of the very few, non-sibling spots at Clarendon. Things will only get worse every year this system lives on. CTIP1 caps would at least make this practice less appealing.

    Proposition H may not be the ultimate answer, but turning a blind eye to the problems of the current system “because you just went through the process” will only perpetuate the flawed status quo and keep a great number of S.F. parents outraged and frustrated. At the very least, please consider instituting CTIP1 caps for next year. (I suggest no more than 10 non-sibling spaces for a school the size of Clarendon.) Alternatively, group CTIP1 and local families into the same lottery tiebreaker. To be clear, I am not asking for a guarantee of admission for local families — just something more fair, and you don’t need to turn the entire system upside-down.

  14. I completely disagree with Rachel on this. All of the arguments in favor of choice overlook the core issue here: by assigning kids to their local schools, the quality of those local schools will improve. Why would a parent invest in their neighborhood school if there’s a high risk that their kid won’t get into it or go there? Stronger PTA’s and communities will emerge and rally around neighborhood schools.

    On the flip side, many of the arguments in favor of choice have noble ambitions. Those ambitions, however, haven’t made a dent in education inequality or diversity or improving the quality of education for the average SF student. What they have achieved is frustrating parents, so that those that are able are more apt to move out of SF or scrape to afford private school.

  15. Hi Rachel- The answer to Wayne’s first question (about the number of non-sibling attendance area students who were assigned to Clarendon in Round 1) is available here:

    Click to access Update%20March%2023%202011_Revised.pdf

    Page 28 indicates that the 10% of the 88 openings at Clarendon were assigned to non-sibling attendance area students. That’s about 9 students.
    Looking forward to seeing the actual enrollment data when it comes out in January!

  16. @Erika – hmm. I don’t know about that, but it’s possible. Assistant Superintendent Margaret Chiu is in charge of that program (mchiu “at” sfusd.edu) so I will ask her.

  17. Hi @kwillets – I was mistaken on the date that the monitoring report would be released. The full data analysis won’t be available till January, which is disappointing.

  18. Thank you for your well thought out analysis, Rachel. I agree with your points. I also appreciate that you are not spouting the “chaos” verbage I’ve seen in the literature being put out – it seems shrill and reactionary. What you laid out here is sane and well said.

    Following on Paula’s comments regarding the district statements on Prop H vs. what the districts middle school feeder plan provides: An example of where there is not equal access to programming in middle school is band & orchestra. Our family chose Aptos over Lick because of this programming element alone.

    The feeder plan – basically a jerrymandered neighborhood “no choice” plan, IMHO – has no provisions or plan in place to ensure all middle school students have access to programs like band and orchestra. When you see the MS comparison chart developed by PPS and PAC it is clear to see that things like band, orchestra and honors are a big driver of the most requested middle schools (although, the question was never asked through the two year process to middle school parents: “Why did you choose the school you did?” The answers would be different that what they got from asking elementary school parents to predict what they want in the future – just ask any middle or high school parent how their priorities changed as their kids grew older.)

    As Paula noted, I have yet to see any SFUSD mention on how they plan to ensure every middle school has equal programming and quality across the district – presumably many in SFUSD administration believe parents are going to be the ones to demand these things and raise the bar at schools (the same parents that are disparaged by the SFUSD administration at elementary schools for doing exactly this.)

    Someday, somewhere, somehow – I hope the energy spent on assignment (including measures like Prop H) can be refocused on ensuring school quality and accountability of the administration that is supposed to make this happen. (Oh, and that public education gets the resources needed to properly education our children!)

  19. Our neighborhood is “zero choice” under the current plan except for CTIP1 blocks.

    Where is the monitoring report? Did they break down the results by neighborhood? Is there any plan to release the raw data?

  20. Hi Rachel,

    I toured Garfield the other day and the principal mentioned something about the cantonese bilingual program transitioning into an immersion program. This is great since we have so few citywide programs up here in Northeast section of the city. Will this be happening to other bilingual programs, such as the program at Gordon Lau? And, do you know are these changes scheduled to implement for the 2012-2013 school year, or after that? Thanks so much. I really appreciate your blog.

  21. Here’s the Clarendon round I data from March 2011 (for 2011-12 enrollment). These are first choice requests, not offers, but should track offers pretty closely. In January we’ll get a report of who actually enrolled:
    Openings: 88
    Total first choice requests: 322
    Siblings & Attendance area: 10
    Siblings non-attendance area: 30
    CTIP 1: 30
    Attendance area: 62
    Other requests: 190
    As you can see, it’s the siblings not from the attendance area who are currently taking up a lot of spots — as the process favors attendance area going forward, that number should gradually decrease.

  22. I agree with Paula. It is inconsistent to say that parents at the elementary school should have equal access to all schools, which vary widely in perceived desirability, but then to apply a completely different standard at the middle school or high school level, where the perceived desirability also varies widely.

    “If it’s true that parents feeding to some MS will overwhelmingly choose other MS (or GATE-identified 5th graders overwhelmingly choosing separate honors tracks) we will need to do some digging in to figure out why. ” The district already has the data from previous years to address if parents feeding into some middle schools overwhelmingly choose another middle school. The schools with honors tracks got 4-6 applicants/seat, while the remaining schools were undersubscribed. If the demand data are comparable to last year’s, then it is absolutely certain that there will parents feeding into middle schools who will overwhelmingly choose another middle school. It may be that people will suddenly develop enthusiasm for the previously undersubscribed schools because they are feeding into those schools, which would certainly change the equation. But that possibility seems highly unlikely, given that nothing has been done to equalize middle school offerings, despite all the talk about quality middle schools for all.

  23. Rachel,
    I would expect that the answer to my first question might be exactly Zero.
    Please do find out if you are able to.


  24. Hi Wayne – I don’t have that data handy but I’ll ask the question.

  25. Hi Rachel,
    Could you please answer my previous question on the school assignment:
    1) This year how many non-sibling Attendance area students were offered a spot to Clarendon in round 1?
    2) This year how many non-sibling Attendance area students were offered a spot to Clarendon overall?


  26. Sorry didn’t mean to turn it into a differentiation vs honors – that’s just one example of disparate programs at the middle school level – there are certainly others. My main point was that if we are trying to achieve balance between parent choice and neighborhood schools we need to consider it all levels – elementary and middle (and high) and I agree Prop H isn’t a solution.

  27. Hi Paula –
    1)I don’t think folks at the district are convinced that separate honors tracks are THE best way to serve high achieving students. I know some parents disagree with that and it’s why I opened up the conversation at the Curriculum committee recently. So I don’t think the access to honors argument is the same as the access to language or K-8 argument.

    2)It may be that there is no real choice once the feeder program is implemented — I tend to think there will be more movement than people think but we will see after the 2012-13 enrollment cycle is completed. If it’s true that parents feeding to some MS will overwhelmingly choose other MS (or GATE-identified 5th graders overwhelmingly choosing separate honors tracks) we will need to do some digging in to figure out why.

    Anyway, I don’t this thread has anything to do with the honors discussion because Prop H is certainly NOT about giving kids at all schools access to honors. So I don’t really want to turn it into an honors vs differentiation discussion.

  28. I agree that Prop H is pretty lousy. What is amazing to me is that in this post it is stated that “In our district, the policy the Board and staff spent two years developing also attempts to give everyone equitable access to disparate program offerings across the district” – well that certainly isn’t the case with the Middle School Feeder plan. There are incredible differences in middle school program offerings yet the Feeder virtually wipes out any real choice. Honors is just one example – if you want Honors and feed to a school on the SE side forget about it – no SE middle school has an Honors program. It’s also stated that the new policy “balances the desire of many parents to choose which school is best for their children with the feedback from some parents who want to be guaranteed schools closer to home (as long as those schools are high-performing).” Again, not true with the new middle school feeder as there is no real option to choose what is best for your child and in fact many families will be assigned to middle schools not near their homes because the elementary ‘feeds’ to it. Why is it OK to espouse this balance for elementary school placement and not middle school? With no plan in sight from the quality middle school task force as to how the district will address this disparity in middle school offerings – it’s beyond frustrating.

  29. Thank you for explaining this so clearly here. I am a new user of the SF K Files and could not for the life of me figure out what was going on since some vocal minority of the commenters there turn every comments section into a battle among warring factions, irrespective of the topic. This was very clearly laid out, so thank you.

  30. I notice Omar Khalif, a backer of charters with his kids at or formerly at KIPP, is the big mover behind Prop H.

    Charter schools really haven’t seen much traction in SF, in my opinion largely because we have a choice system. In other cities where charters are your only option if you don’t want your neighborhood school, they have their pick of the students.

    Personally, I think Khalif’s acting in KIPP’s interest, not those of SF or BVHP as a whole.

  31. I agree wholeheartedly with what you’ve written here. I hope Prop H won’t pass.

    Marnie has a good point though. Listing the percentage of parents who list their closest school on their list at all would be good to share. Attendance area, too. There isn’t a lot of trust of the District by families. Being extra-forthright should be a goal. The same questions about how siblings affect the percentages come up every year, too. I know that you got that information last year, but it somehow didn’t occur to the EPC to add those statistics to their regular reports. Is that on purpose? It can feel like it. I think it’s merely incompetence, but in any case, it makes the EPC look bad, and they don’t seem to care.

  32. “Why they even allowed prop H on the ballot, the way it is so badly worded, and the way it includes mention of a school year that is already in progress, is baffling, it is asking for lawsuits and confusion.”

    I can’t imagine a situation where we go to strict neighborhood assignment for attendance area schools where we don’t end up with a lawsuit and consent order, or end up with non-contiguous assignment areas. (Which we’ve tried before and they haven’t worked and were massively unpopular.)

    I really think this at least some of the motives are “F__ you I’ve got mine” from some Westside parent activists like Don Krause, and “If we get rid of school choice we’ll get the students we haven’t been able to attract” from the charter school advocates like Omar.

  33. I oppose the ballot measure as well, because I believe that there are many factors beyond location that factor into a school selection (start time, staff, community, PTA/fundraising, programs, special ed, after care, good old “gut feel” etc) however, I chafe every time I hear statistics like this about the outcome of the last school assignment run: “just 23 percent of Kindergarten applicants listed their attendance area school as a first choice” The assignment system instructions (as I understand them, and I’ll admit my child was in the previous assignment scheme, so I was only an observer this year) are that students are given priority in their attendance area school–NO MATTER WHERE IT IS ON THEIR LIST. The system will attempt to place them at the highest ranked school on their list after applying the priority to their attendance area, correct? Based on this, I would expect that there are parents who may be satisfied with their neighborhood school but took a chance and listed so-called “trophy” schools, immersion programs, or schools with “extras” that might be more nice-to-haves than must-haves. Can you share what I believe is the more meaningful statistic: what percentage of families listed their attendance area school on their application AT ALL? The inference would be that if the school appears on the list then the parents feel it is adequate for their child, since you are not disadvantaged by listing more or fewer schools on your list. In the previous incarnation, you might include schools in your list of 7 that you did not want just to gain the advantage of being in a higher cohort for subsequent rounds. Removing this rule should incentivize parents to list only the schools where they would be willing to place their child. It seems like this information would be helpful to support/justify the current assignment system, and yet I have not seen it on this blog or elsewhere. I have yet to see anyone connecting these dots and sharing that information.

  34. I substantially agree with you, Rachel. I hope San Francisco will vote against H.

    I have a side question about the 24% number (for parents who chose the closest school): That number includes families who were sending younger children, too, doesn’t it? Any idea what the percentage was when you removed families who had sibling preference?

  35. “Another (… )flaw with the policy is that it calls for a neighborhood-based assignment system to be implemented in the current 2011-12 school year. Does a yes vote really mean the voter is advocating for students be re-assigned during the current year? ”
    This is where it gets tricky. I think measure H is one of several propositions the Republicans plan to put on upcoming ballots to badger local city government. They are unable to get any Republicans elected in this town, so having no voice in the policy-making, they are trying this pathetic tactic. They will do it under the guise of “harmless making-a-statement propositions” but then bring lawsuits, based upon the vote results, in the unlikely event prop H or the other vendetta propositions they push forward get the required votes to pass. So conceivably, they could say, in lawsuits, that the BOE went against “what the voters wanted” even if the BOE made the decision before the voting results. Why they even allowed prop H on the ballot, the way it is so badly worded, and the way it includes mention of a school year that is already in progress, is baffling, it is asking for lawsuits and confusion.