They’re out! School Assignment Letters 2012

Today’s post is being written by Michelle Parker, President of the 2nd District(SFUSD) PTA. I am out of the country and Michelle graciously agreed to pinch-hit in my absence and report on the outcome of the first round.

P.S.: I am getting some email from a few families who did not receive spots at their attendance area schools but know of families who received spots at those schools, even if they don’t live in the attendance area. The explanation for how this can happen, according to EPC, is the trading cycles algorithm (AKA the swap). Let’s say you submit a list with Schools A, B, and C listed in order of preference. You are assigned to School B. Let’s say I submit a list with Schools B, A, C listed in order of preference, and am assigned to School A. AFTER all seats are filled, the algorithm looks for someone who is willing to trade School A for School B, and another person who is willing to trade School B for School A. It matches us, re-assigning you to your higher choice of School A and me to my higher choice of School B. At that point, attendance area doesn’t come into play because all seats have already been filled.

They’re out! 13,919 school assignment offers were mailed to families last Friday. And, in typical fashion, I saw a line outside the Educational Placement Center (EPC) at  555 Franklin Monday which reached out and around, all the way to the corner of Franklin and McAllister for most of the day- people standing in line to file medical or family hardship appeals, or to submit an ammended school request list.

The official Press Release from SFUSD came out late Monday- a few highlights: The number of overall applications was down. This was as expected due to the State’s eligibility age for Kindergarten moving back from Dec 1 to Nov 1, therefore impacting the number of applicants eligible to begin transitional kindergarten, as well as the predicted decrease in high school enrollment (number of eighth graders entering high school is lower than last year).

There was a slight increase in the percentage of applicants receiving one of their choices, though it is difficult to draw many conclusions from this data. There are a few things I am curious about, some of which we will learn more about as detailed data comes in. This was the first year that elementary schools feeding into a designated middle received a priority assignment. Of the 85% of 6th grade applicants who received one of their choices, how many applied to their feeder school, versus not, and did they receive that school? How many siblings, whose feeder school is different from an older brother/sister’s took advantage of the sibling priority vs. attend their feeder school? On the elementary school side- but still related to the feeder patterns, did people choose their requested elementary schools dependant on the middle school they fed into? Of course the data won’t be able to answer this question, so speculation is all we’ve got. This year the 15 most requested elementary schools were: Clarendon GE, Rooftop, West Portal, Lawton, Grattan, Lilienthal, Alica Fong Yu, Sunset, Miraloma, Jefferson, Feinstein, Sherman, Clarendon JBBP, Alamo, and Argonne. Last year the schools with highest number of first choice requests were Clarendon, Alice Fong Yu, Lilienthal, Alvarado, West Portal, Rooftop, Sherman, Taylor, Buena Vista Horace Mann, Lawton, Miraloma, Monroe, Alamo and Dianne Feinstein. This is not exactly an apples to apples list, since the first is total requests and not just first choice requests like the second.

If you are received a placement offer here is what you need to know: Register at your designated school to secure enrollment by April 13. It is recommended you do this, even if you want another school, should a spot open up. Accepting a placement offer still allows you to choose to seek a higher choice school during the May Placement Period. There is no priority given in any rounds to students who have not registered at any school. If you do NOT register your child at the designated school by April 13, your placement will be cancelled.

The EPC’s webpage describes the process in detail.

Advertisements

71 responses to “They’re out! School Assignment Letters 2012

  1. Hi Rachel and Bernal Dad,

    I totally understand the concern expressed by families who didn’t get a spot at their Attendance Area school. The swap absolutely DOES affect their chances of getting their Attendance Area school in subsequent rounds.

    Try this scenario: Parents A and Parents B both live in the Attendance Area of George Peabody Elementary School. Parents A love the school and put it Number 1 on their Round 1 list. Parents B like Peabody but would prefer other schools so they list Peabody at Number 10 on their Round 1 list. Parents C also love Peabody and put it at Number 1 on their list but they don’t live in the Attendance Area.

    When the Round 1 lottery is run for Peabody the system doesn’t look at where a parent has ranked a school and so gives Parents A and Parents B equal weighting. It so happens that Parents B get a spot, but Parents A do not. If things stayed that way, then Parents B would almost certainly be trying for a different school in Round 2 and if they got a school they preferred, then their Peabody spot would open up during the Round 2 assignments and other families in the Attendance Area (such as Parents A) would get priority for the spot.

    BUT, Parents C (who listed 20 schools on their application) were given a spot at Rooftop in Round 1. This is also on Parents B list at a spot higher than 10th. So, the system swaps Parents B and Parents C. Parents C now have their 1st choice school and they won’t be freeing up that Peabody spot in Round 2 or at any subsequent point in the process. Which means that Parents A (and other Attendance Area families like them) are now competing for fewer spots in Round 2 than they would have been if the swap hadn’t happened.

    So, the swaps DO displace Attendance Area families from their Attendance Area schools by limiting the spots available in subsequent rounds.

    I am not necessarily advocating for the removal of the swap mechanism, but I would like the Board to be fully aware of the consequences of:
    1. Not looking at ranking order in the initial assignments
    2. Allowing parents to list unlimited numbers of schools
    3. No reduced priority in Round 2 if you are assigned one of the schools on your list
    4. The swap
    These four things in combination will encourage a lot of gaming of the system now that people know about the swap.

  2. “I didn’t say that. What I was objecting too was the idea that 33 of the elementary schools are beyond the pale. The number is far fewer, and dropping. Let’s see if immersion can do for Bret Harte what it did for Flynn, Webster, and Monroe.”

    Your objection, then is to a statement Rachel made earlier in this discussion, which was “… we are balancing that against the reality that the vast majority of applicants want to go to 40 of the district’s 73 elementary schools…” I used that to support the notion that we are having a discussion about how to allocate a scarce resource (desired schools). I did not seek to debate how many are desired/not desired — just assert that there are many that are not.

    Focus on the schools that are not “wanted” (however that is measured), and the many ways they can be improved (including, but not limited to, improving the reputation through better information about what’s happening at the schools). It’s classic: fight over the small pie, or expand it? Expand the pie…. Expand the pie….

  3. Getting rid of the swoos, as some of the usual trolls on the SFKFiles comments want, would seem to be ‘wasteful.’ I don’t think folks are fully assimilating that the swaps don’t displace people from their AA schools (as the non-AA child spwould have swapped with an AA child.)

  4. Something I forgot to cite but some might find interesting: here is Harvard’s Al Roth on how the district’s algorithm should be designed — http://marketdesigner.blogspot.com/2010/09/san-francisco-school-choice-goes-in.html

    I want to reiterate that Professor Roth is critical of how SFUSD implemented its’ system, mainly because he isn’t confident we implemented his ideas with fidelity. I am more confident than he is, but neither of us can be 100% certain since neither of us have seen the algorithm. Anyway, his discussion of how “swaps” should work vs. rank order is very interesting.

  5. “However, from my perspective, a process that requires even more investment than we already gave (25+ hours of school tours, uncountable other hours in desktop research), a process that allows 10 choices on the main form (and allows more), and *still* yields 20% of the applicants nothing from their list…. You have to admit that the problem must be beyond Public Relations.”

    I didn’t say that. What I was objecting too was the idea that 33 of the elementary schools are beyond the pale. The number is far fewer, and dropping. Let’s see if immersion can do for Bret Harte what it did for Flynn, Webster, and Monroe.

  6. Just want to also point out that Taylor and Monroe being on the most popular list is a very recent development. There was no chatter about Taylor in the playgrounds or on TheSFKFiles 4 years ago. The popularity of schools can radically shift in a few years. (Heck, 12 years ago *Alvarado* was unpopular with Noe Valley parents.)

    To take another example, Lakeshore’s nowhere near as oversubscribed as it was a few years back: that’s not because Lakeshore quality as a school has changed, but because it’s in the very SW of the city and the desirability of other schools has risen, so there’s been fewer applications to Lakeshore than back in the day when all the buzz was about the Alternative Schools. But Rooftop and Clarendon are still very popular, because they’re centrally located.

    Similarly, Buena Vista moving from Horace Mann’s campus makes it more attractive to parents who’d find getting to the Mission easier than getting to the south end of Potero Hill.

  7. “On “improving” the schools – two points –

    1. What do you think the immersion programs in the SE are for? Look at Daniel Webster or Starr King in terms of a turnaround in how those schools are perceived by the Potero Hill community.

    2. A lot of the not-so-popular schools were doing pretty well, thank you. The lottery process helped those schools to be discovered. ”

    These are fair points, but just how much longer past the 10 slots on the form (and the 16 we listed) should we have gone in order to get *a* choice on our list? One solution (which I’ve heard Rachel suggest in prior years) is to improve the perceptions of the less popular but still desirable schools. In theory, that might create greater balance in the process (since the more schools that are desired by people, the more spread around the choices are likely to be).

    However, from my perspective, a process that requires even more investment than we already gave (25+ hours of school tours, uncountable other hours in desktop research), a process that allows 10 choices on the main form (and allows more), and *still* yields 20% of the applicants nothing from their list…. You have to admit that the problem must be beyond Public Relations.

  8. One thing that bothers me about the “swap” is that, even if there were discussions at board meetings and subsequent recommendations, EPC did not publish their choice to use this system in their materials. Instead, misinformation was circulated that this was finally a system that promoted more openness and predictability, in which “gaming” and “strategizing” was not needed and parents could simply list their schools of choice in the order of their preference.

    Now those exact same parents find out that, contrary to those claims, there was indeed a way to outwit the system and increase one’s chances:

    Families, who put the schools they really want into spots one through four on their list and then padded the rest of the list with coveted trophy schools got a shot in the lottery (regardless of how low that chance may have been) for each of those schools. If they put 20 schools on their list that they don’t really want but that would make good “swapping” material, their odds would be better than if they followed EPC’s recommendation to be honest on their application. At the same time, the demand data for those schools would, if this happened on a grand scale, be completely distorted, a side effect that makes planning for you, Rachel, and the rest of the board much harder, I assume.

    Am I understanding the current system correctly?

    Heartfelt good wishes to Patrick and Bernal Dad for the next round.

  9. “I’m on the outside (at least at present, having been 0-16), but I’ve started to move past this and instead want to look at the fundamental problem: how does the district improve the 33 schools that the vast majority do not want to go to?”

    Firstly, saying that there’s 33 schools that have no demand is an exaggeration – it’s more like 10-12 schools.

    On “improving” the schools – two points –

    1. What do you think the immersion programs in the SE are for? Look at Daniel Webster or Starr King in terms of a turnaround in how those schools are perceived by the Potero Hill community.

    2. A lot of the not-so-popular schools were doing pretty well, thank you. The lottery process helped those schools to be discovered. McKinley was overlooked until the word spread about what a gem it is. And I can remember the collective freak-out 4 years ago from parents assigned to Sunnyside, wheras now it’s considered fairly desirable. Similarly with Jose Ortega’s GE program, or Longfellow, SF Community or E.R. Taylor. These schools get good test scores with challenging socioeconomic demographics, but have been or still are overlooked by the prius-and-granola set.

  10. “Could we please get a breakdown of those numbers that show what percentage of that happy 60-80% had sibling and/or CTIP preferences?”

    Sibs run about 28-33% of the intake. So non-sibs have about a 40-45% of getting their first choice and about a 70-75% chance of getting one of their choices.

    It’s been roughly the same all years, even under the old lottery system with the diversity index.

  11. http://www.sfusd.edu/en/assets/sfusd-staff/news-and-calendars/files/archives/3%2021%2012%20SF%20Families%20Receiving%20Public%20School%20Assignment%20Offers%20-%20Updated.pdf

    “60% of applicants received their first choice”
    “80% of applicants received one of their choices”

    As a non-CTIP parent of an only child, I know my odds of going “0-fer” are much higher than 20%.

    Could we please get a breakdown of those numbers that show what percentage of that happy 60-80% had sibling and/or CTIP preferences?

    Thanks.

  12. Uh … the Placement Office is going to cost whatever it costs to run, and whatever assignment system is used has little to do with the cost of running the system … so using another system would not free up the “2 million dollars” for classrooms, as some have simplistically suggested.
    SFUSD’s 55,000 Students still need to be assigned and enrolled at schools, and all that must be kept track of and administered … or do they think that is going to just happen magically by itself? Just let kids show up at whatever schools they want to go to and it will all work out? That’s just silly.

  13. There’s a thread to Nick’s argument, plus Rachel’s assertion that “the vast majority of applicants want to go to 40 of the district’s 73 elementary schools”, that is to the core of this problem here.

    Some people get their first choice. The arguments about swaps, AA preference… allocation method of any kind when scarcity (and I call 40 out of 73 a scarcity situation)… it is all a discussion about how to allocate a limited supply of desired schools amongst a population that whose demand exceeds that supply.

    $2M is being spent in that discussion? Wow.

    I’m on the outside (at least at present, having been 0-16), but I’ve started to move past this and instead want to look at the fundamental problem: how does the district improve the 33 schools that the vast majority do not want to go to?

    The rest is just arguing about the scraps.

  14. Dear Rachel- I sincerely appreciate you taking time to respond to the postings on your board. Clearly, this is a confusing system which creates undue burden and stress on San Francisco families.

    In your example about AA swaps you say “Does this mean that the original 8 who were “shut out” have been disadvantaged? That’s a very difficult question.” Uh, no it is not difficult. Those people, myself included, are obviously being hosed. And when you say other non AA’s might hold a “better hand” by virtue of their selections, it seems that gaming the system is very much in play with this model. Had the model been more transparent prior to selection time, I might have consulted a game theory textbook to give my son a better chance at our neighborhood school.

    I read the current placement system costs the city $2 Million annually to run. Is there anyone who can point to REAL DATA that shows the actual social benefit from all of this? Is it too practical and naive to think that money would be better spent on the SCHOOLS in the bottom 20% which do not get all the attention and applicants? Instead of paying Mr. Featherstone and all the friendly people at EPC dealing with a complaint line out the door, why not raise teacher salaries at the poor performing schools to attract better staff?

    Not only does the current model seem to be opaque, overly complicated, impractical, and counter-productive, it’s actually a huge waste of time and money. Look no further than the time and angst spent writing these blog posts.

    Thank You,
    Nick Burger

  15. It would be great if EPC could release more data … I know they are busy, but they have the information now …
    how many placements went to siblings, preschool, CTIP-1,
    Feeder Factor, students living in the Attendance Area… and also ethnicity data … is the new system increasing diversity at schools? Or are the schools becoming MORE segregated as a result of the new assignment system?

  16. Hi Rachel,

    Thanks for the explanation. That’s pretty much how I thought it worked.

    I have a slightly different question though. To continue your analogy, what about students in the Robert Bork School attendance area? Traditionally, Robert Bork never fills up on the first round, and often has seats available when school opens despite the district assigning nearly anyone who didn’t get a seat to this school. Unlike the lucky student who lives in the Elena Kagan assignment area who could take the Elena Kagan spot AND have a decent shot at swapping upwards on their list to Sonia Sotomayor, the Robert Bork student no trading chips to play with. Nobody wanted her school to begin with, so it’s unlikely she’ll be able to swap for a different school. It seems like this student is disadvantaged at every step in the process, unless she wants to attend Robert Bork.

    Essentially all 44 potential students in the Robert Bork attendance area are in the same position as the unlucky 8 students who were in the Elena Kagan School attendance area, but were not assigned there. In fact, the unlucky students in the Elena Kagan area were probably assigned to Robert Bork.

    I think what you’re saying is that the swaps are not unfair because they happen after the initial assignments. While I hear what you’re saying, I don’t agree. Unless students at Robert Bork are assigned by lucky chance in the first round (before swaps) to Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor, or Clarence Thomas, they are completely out of luck. As I understand it, families who received nothing on their list last year got no greater priority to round 2 open seats than those who received one of their choices, but wanted to appeal for something higher on their list. And, even the unlucky 8 Elena Kagan attendance area students still maintained their tie-breaker status into round 2, so they actually still had an advantage over their Robert Bork peers.

    I’m still left with the feeling that if you are going to give a student a tie-breaker advantage to go to Elena Kagan School over someone in the Robert Bork attendance area who also wants to attend Elena Kagan, then the student who received that advantage should attend Elena Kagan School. And, the district needs to give preference in second and subsequent round assignments to students who received nothing on their list. To do otherwise makes the market less equitable for students in the Robert Bork attendance area. Families need to feel like they have a true choice. If some families feel they have less of a chance to get a school of their choice than their neighbors in a more popular school Attendance Area, they will not participate in the process. This is the problem with trying to create a market place that gives some families an advantage in the process.

    Thanks for hearing all of us out! I really appreciate your taking the time to help us sort this all out.

  17. Hi Anne –
    It’s late and my head hurts but I’ll give your questions a shot. Basically, there were several ideas behind the current system of tiebreakers. Many people have a or school(s) they LOVE above all others, but would accept their AA school if they don’t get that school (immersion is a great example of this — let’s say I live in the AA for Elena Kagan Elementary and am OK with it but really want my child to be in immersion at Sonia Sotomayor Elementary or Antonin Scalia Elementary). Under the old system, the order you listed schools really played a role in your likelihood of getting them, because the lottery took into account your first choice and attempted to place you there first. If you didn’t get your first choice, your chances of getting any choice dropped precipitously because other people who listed that school first would get there ahead of you.
    If you remember the discussion of “non-wastefulness” and “simplicity” from Clayton Featherstone and Muriel Niederle when we were redesigning the system, you’ll remember that one of the things they stressed was a system that encouraged parents to list their true choices and not strategize about how they listed their choices because one choice affected all of the others.
    Al Roth is critical of how SF has implemented our system but he would stress the same point — it is imperative that parents not feel that they should be strategic about their preferences rather than honest. In other words, the system should reward you for being honest about your choices instead of being better at playing the odds.
    I’ve said it a few times and I’ll say it again: the swap has NO effect on whether you receive a choice or not, but it is a true criticism that people who possess a high tiebreaker come into the swap round with a better “hand” than those who do not. Let’s say I live in the AA for Clarence Thomas Elementary and I list that 9th out of my nine choices. Because I have no other tiebreakers, and because of high competition for my other choices, I end up assigned to Clarence Thomas Elementary going into the swap round. I would love for there to be someone who is “holding” Sonia Sotomayor and willing to trade up for Clarence Thomas, but if no one out there is willing to “swap” with me I am out of luck and remain assigned to my 9th choice.
    The misunderstanding has centered on whether the “swap” round displaces AA residents. It does not. Let’s say Elena Kagan Elementary has 44 seats for incoming kinders — there are 17 younger siblings so they take the first 17 seats; 27 left. Then let’s say there are 5 CTIP1 applicants — that leaves 22 open seats for AA and all other applicants. If there are 30 applicants from the AA, 22 are chosen at random and the remaining 8 are shut out. Now the “swap” round begins. Let’s say 10 of the AA applicants who were placed are willing to trade for a higher choice. The computer “matches” those applicants who are willing to trade their school for a seat at Elena Kagan (remember my opening example about liking Kagan but really wanting a seat at Sotomayor?). Those new applicants may well not have any tiebreakers (AA, CTIP, etc.), but because they are holding a good “hand,” they get to swap for a seat at Kagan. When all is completed, the incoming class at Kagan may be just 25% people from the AA, with siblings, CTIP1 and “swapped” applicants rounding out the class. Does this mean that the original 8 who were “shut out” have been disadvantaged? That’s a very difficult question. The objective of the system is to try to get everyone one of their choices, and get them the highest choice possible. However, we are balancing that against the reality that the vast majority of applicants want to go to 40 of the district’s 73 elementary schools, and there is just no way to get everyone what they want as long as the choice patterns remain the way they are. We could change the rules to prioritize other things, but the fact remains that some people will not get a choice as long as there are schools that are not chosen.
    As far as the AA priority, the Board has never said that it should be the highest priority, nor has the system ever guaranteed that all AA applicants will get their AA school. However, the current system prioritizes AA applicants more than any system in recent memory. Still, in schools with a small number of seats and a lot of siblings and AA applicants, there is a larger likelihood that some AA applicants won’t get in. This year this pattern is evident at Peabody and Yick Wo, for example. I’ve asked for a breakdown of all applicant data to illustrate this better, but EPC is swamped so I have to wait like everyone else. I’ll post it when I have it. Hope this explanation helps!
    P.S. I need to immediately make clear that the “swapping” — more precisely called “top trading cycles” happens at the end of each round and does not happen between rounds. This is an important distinction because swapping between rounds really would add to the disadvantage of those who are holding no hand at all. I’m also uneasy about folks who have swapped “up” in Round I being able to keep trying for a higher choice in Round II, because it means I might be able to get out of my Clarence Thomas seat and score a seat at Kagan or Sotomayor even as someone else has nothing and is competing against me for the same seats. The odds are the same for me and any other applicant competing for a shot at Kagan or Sotomayor, so it’s really a psychological disadvantage more than anything else — it feels a lot worse to not be holding anything than to be holding something and hoping for something better.

  18. We listed 16 schools on our application and got non of them. Hows that for the theory that putting down more school betters you chances. We were assigned to Flynn and am giving up that spot so go ahead and fight over it.

    The boards response. Tough Luck! Move! Suck it Up! Oh Well! Play Again! Round 1 system didn’t work for our son.

    FYI. Not only is there a percentage of people that didn’t get any of their listed schools, there are some parents that got their 2nd, 3rd, 4th, or 5th choice are still not happy because they didn’t get their 1st choice or AA school.

    So how many people are unhappy with their placement? If parents are not happy with their 2nd-5th choices it could be as high as 48% if 52% were assigned their 1st choice.

  19. “The transfer algorithm was discussed at length during the redesign. Every meeting of the redesign committee was televised (you can probably still find them on the sfgov.org web site) and I blogged about every meeting”

    That’s great, but it should not be necessary to go through three year-old school board meetings to try to divine how your family’s fate is determined. Is it unreasonable for us to rely on the school board’s written policy as explained of the enrollment guide (all 116 pages)? Where is the “transparency at every step” if it cannot be explained in 116 pages and requires dredging through old school board videos?

    And “discussed” does not mean adopted. The adopted policy states that preference will be given to locals over non-locals and does not describe any mechanism that would reverse this preference. When non-locals get into a school and locals do not, I don’t see how you can say the policy is being adhered to. To say that everything is okay because it is all explained by the swap doesn’t help. We have no way of verifying that, because nobody has fully described the swap, and because from what we do know, the results are not verifiable (i.e. non-AA ahead of AA could as easily be the result of a computer glitch, data-entry error, arbitrary decision by SFUSD employee, etc.)

  20. Hi Rachel,

    Here’s what I don’t get:

    My understanding was that the Assignment Area tie-breaker was designed so that local families could have access to their local school, even if that school is popular city-wide. So, all things being equal, child A who lives in the Attendance Area, gets Local School #1 over child B, who does not live in the Attendance Area. That makes sense to me.

    The part that doesn’t make sense to me is the swap.

    If Child A was given a tie-breaker preference in order to give him preference for his local school, why is that child then eligible to swap to a another non-attendance area school? Wasn’t the whole point to give that child a better shot at attending his local school?

    It seems like families who rank their attendance area school #1 should be given the tie-breaker in their favor. But once they rank it lower, say #3, or #4, it should not be a tie-breaker anymore. Or if they get their neighborhood school, they should not be eligible to swap upwards.

    Otherwise it seem to me that children in attendance areas of popular schools have a leg up in getting any popular school, even one that is not their attendance area school. All they need to do is rank their AA school somewhere on their list, be assigned to it due to their AA preference, and then use their attendance area school status as a placeholder to swap upwards on their list.

    I am not accusing any particular family of gaming the system. People are just following the instructions they were given by EPC. It just seems that this is the way it is working and I’m not sure this was this intention.

    What am I not getting?

    Anne

  21. @bldxyz – I was down at the EPC today and picked up a list of schools with potential openings for the May Placement Period. My understanding is that this list shows schools for which open places remain after the Round 1 assignment is complete. It is showing spots are probably available in the Flynn GE Kindergarten class.

    I think it would be worth a phone call to the EPC to see whether there really are spots still available at Flynn. If there are, and you listed it on your application but didn’t get it (or another school higher on your list) then go down to the EPC as they may have entered your application incorrectly and might be able to fix it immediately IF there are spots still available. I don’t know how accurate the list is that EPC is giving out. Definitely worth a phone call, though.

    Good luck!

  22. @bldxyz hang in there – spots in Flynn GE may well open up before school starts. In subsequent rounds, people who do have seats try to trade up, so seats do open up in the next round.

  23. Good lord. All this talk about the “swap”! I’d rather talk about being shut out of my AA school, swaps or no swaps.

    Last year’s incoming GE class at Flynn had 5 empty chairs. Anyone who didn’t like their assignment at the end of the summer could have taken a spot at Flynn. This year, we couldn’t get a spot even with an AA preference. In looking at the 2011 Student Assignment Report pdf posted here a couple of weeks ago, I think I understand why: we’re a peninsula in the midst of a sea of low test score neighborhoods.

    I guess I should have moved to the Mission in order to get my kids into a school on my list. As it was, we’re assigned to the least requested school in the district (which is in a low test score neighborhood). So there’s a swap for you: a family in a low test score neighborhood sends their kids to my neighborhood for school, while I send my kids to theirs!

    I don’t know how to make this system better, I just wish that me and my neighborhood wasn’t getting disadvantaged so much.

  24. Just a quick note to Bernal Dad and also to the writer of the March 23rd blog – not sure whether that was Rachel or Michelle.

    The overall number of Kindergarten applications did NOT go down. In fact, the number of applications for Kindergarten submitted to and accepted by the EPC went up. Using SFUSD’s own numbers, there was probably an increase of approximately 250 applications for Kindergarten as compared to the previous year.

    At the end of January SFUSD made a decision to deny about 400 children access to state mandated, state funded education and it booted them out of the lottery. Up until Jan 25th 2012 SFUSD was promising all the parents of children eligible for Transitional Kindergarten that these children would be educated in the Kindergarten classrooms for the 2012/13 school year – in the same way that they have been educated in the Kindergarten classroooms for the past 30 years or so but with more focus on differentiated education and with an option to repeat the Kindergarten year.

    Another change of plan by SFUSD in March now gives these parents two options for Transitional Kindergarten – one in the Bayview and one in Visitacion Valley. The closer of those two locations is a 25 minute drive one-way from the geographical center of San Francisco and even longer from other parts of the city to the north and west.

    And, by the way, SFUSD cannot yet tell parents any information on start and end time nor do they have a curriculum figured out yet for these new TK programs. But, somehow, parents are expected to enroll their children for a program more than 5 miles away and for which the district can give them no information other than location.

    But, on the plus side for SFUSD, booting 400 children out of the assignment lottery in January does make their assignment statistics look better. And that, after all, is surely more important to SFUSD than actually educating these children.

  25. I am also very frustrated with the swap. We put our AA school as #1 on our list and didn’t get it. We have put in an amendment form, but it won’t be until summer (maybe school time) when we find out if we are assigned to our AA school. It seems that everyone at the school district office and the School Board are trying to justify their actions. Honestly, I don’t think many even understand why so many of us are upset. Their idea is that with the swap we actually get a higher choice on our list. BUT that’s not how it works!! What do we have to do to make someone hear us? Here is a blog that explains it well….

    [video src="http://srdad.com/SrDad/Media/20120322Assignment.mp4" /]

  26. I have to differ with you, @NBdad. The transfer algorithm was discussed at length during the redesign. Every meeting of the redesign committee was televised (you can probably still find them on the sfgov.org web site) and I blogged about every meeting (see the link I posted in an earlier comment, for example, which dates back to 2009). I truly sympathize with anyone who feels they didn’t have the full information, and I concede that not everyone has time to watch board meetings, but it’s just not accurate to say that “nobody outside of EPC” knew about swaps.

  27. “The board and city representatives kept telling us throughout the campaigning period that Prop H was unnecessary and that the “tiebreaker” system already appropriately prioritizes attendance area families–and now this! I trusted the board to make good choices and voted no on H.”

    The system already prioritizes AA families. But the swap mechanism allows a better outcome. Otherwise we’d have postings about playground conversations about Parent X who got school A but preferred school B meeting Parent Y who got School B but preferred School A and how incompetent SFUSD is for not including simple swaps to get a better outcome.

    On Prop H – last year, 76% of kinder applicants listed a different school than their AA school as their #1 choice, and 52% did not list their AA school AT ALL. Right now, 16% of kinder applicants get a school not on their list of choices. Under a strict neighborhood assignment system, 52% of kinder applicants would get a school not on their list of choices. In terms of giving people what they want, a strict neighborhood assignment system would vastly inferior to what we have now.

  28. “If we both put the school #1 how does the non neighborhood kid get priority?”

    Right, let’s go over this again. The order in which you put a school does not affect the probability of you getting in. What it does affect is which slot you keep if you get into more than one school during the run of the lottery algorithm.

    In the old system, where you ranked a school *did* affect your probability of getting in. This was unpopular, because it meant more strategizing about how you ranked a school. Which meant that you might not rank schools in strict order of your preference. Which is A Bad Thing for a choice system, according to both common sense and the academics from NYU and Stanford who study these types of systems.

    So the system now is “strategically simple”: you rank the schools in the order that you prefer them. Yes, if you list more schools you get an advantage: that’s one of the points of the new system and lifting the 7-school limit, folks. If you’re more flexible about what school you want, the more likely the system can accommodate you.

  29. “Rachel, I am a parent who was “swapped out”. What I want to know is did the school board approve and authorize the swap?”

    You didn’t get ‘swapped out’. Other AA kids or higher priority cohorts got into your AA school instead of you. One of those kids swapped with an out-of-AA kid. If the swap didn’t happen, then the AA or higher priority kid would have stayed in place. Your kid still would not have gotten into their AA school.

    The point of the pairwise swaps is that, after all the kids get allocated a place, swaps are made that make the pair making the swap better off *without making other kids worse off*. Removing the swap would not reduce the number of kids that get none of their choices, but it would reduce the number of kids that get their 1st, 2nd, or 3rd choices.

  30. “Haven’t had much time to look at it all,
    but first choice requests have gone down:”

    You’ll need to normalize for the overall slight drop in Kinder requests because of the month shift in Kinder admission dates.

  31. “If AA families are “shut out” they are shut out by siblings or others with higher preferences, not the swap mechanism. ”

    What Rachel said. Even if SFUSD removed the swap mechanism, there’s no extra slot created for more AA kids – instead, there’d be another AA or higher priority kid in that slot instead. Those that failed to get into their AA school still would not have gotten into their AA school even if the swap mechanism wasn’t there. In fact, those who didn’t get one of their AA schools might have gotten a choice further down their list if not for the swap mechanism.

    Right now, schools that were popular citywide like Miraloma and Clarendon are being heavily impacted by out-of-AA siblings taking up much of the available slots.

    This is unavoidable by any preference system that still gives siblings high priority, given that we’re transitioning from an essentially citywide system to a local-preference system. (Does anyone think it’s a good idea to split siblings?) It’s no surprise that the “trophy” schools that are now AA schools are the most impacted – they’ll have the largest number of current out-of-AA students with incoming sibs.

    This will be less of an issue in 2-3 years time as the out-of-AA sibs move through the system and the population in the AA “trophy” schools become more local to those schools.

  32. “I think you are misunderstanding how the swap works.”

    With all due respect, how are any of us meant to know how the swap works? There was nothing about this in the SFUSD enrollment guide, which referred repeatedly to the “tie-breakers” but said nothing about swaps anywhere in 116 pages. Only after the fact, when it was obvious that assignments were made contrary to the tie-breaker preference (e.g. non-AA getting places ahead of AA), did we get a partial explanation of swaps for the first time.

    Funny how in a three-step process, nobody thought to mention step 2 until after assignments were made. It seems very convenient that only after parents discover assignments that are contrary to what was described to them, there turns out to be an additional assignment step that nobody (at least outside EPC) knew about, a step that prevents any verification by parents, and which is still not fully described anywhere.

    Regardless of what you call this step, or how it works, the result is that non-locals are getting into schools when the locals are shut out. This is in conflict with the board’s stated policy: “For attendance area elementary schools, the student assignment process will give preference to applicants …in the following order…4. students who live in the attendance area of the school… 6. all other students.” The EPC should follow the board’s policy, and the board should make sure they do.

  33. “I honestly don’t see how you can claim the transfer process doesn’t hurt parents who don’t receive any of their choices. It clearly makes it more difficult to get you AA school in subsequest rounds if non-AA families are given spots from AA families who prefer to attend other schools.”

    Essentially, what you’re saying is that because the Round 1 pairwise swap process makes people more satisfied with what they get in Round 1, that there’ll be less churning of places in Round 2.

    Basically, you’re saying an inferior algorithm will make more people opt out of SFUSD schools after Round 1 and that this would be better for subsequent rounds. I’m not following this logic. Making Round 1 inferior so that Round 2 has more slots available seems like robbing Peter to pay Paul.

  34. Haven’t had much time to look at it all,
    but first choice requests have gone down:

    at these schools feeding into Marina MS
    GORDON J LAU
    REDDING
    SHERMAN
    SPRING VALLEY

    at these schools feeding into Lick:
    ALVARADO
    BRET HARTE
    GLEN PARK

    at these schools feeding into Everett:
    CESAR CHAVEZ
    MCKINLEY ELM

    and at these schools feeding into Denman:
    LAKESHORE ALTERNATIVE
    LONGFELLOW
    MIRALOMA
    SHERIDAN

    The “feeder” effect on enrollment isn’t as bad as I feared it would be, tho’.

  35. I believe those abbreviations stand for special ed inclusion seats – GE is general ed, SN is spanish immersion, CN is Chinese immersion.

  36. You said “If AA families are ‘shut out’ they are shut out by siblings or others with higher preferences, not the swap mechanism. At small schools like Peabody and Yick Wo, it’s very possible that siblings amount to half or more of the incoming class, so that would severely limit the number of seats available to AA residents.” What about releasing the actual numbers from round one (# of accepted siblings, # of AA-families swapped out, etc.) so we can see that for ourselves and so EPC can start rebuilding trust with SF families? I remember that a few years ago, there would be a spreadsheet with assignment data that was released only days after the lottery each year, so that parents had the chance to see how many others were waiting for their school of preference and what else was going on. I haven’t seen that one in a couple of years. What happened to that very helpful tool?

  37. The District posted the breakdown of requests for each school:
    http://www.sfusd.edu/en/assets/sfusd-staff/enroll/files/2012-13/Requests.pdf

    What do iGE, iSN, and iCN mean?

  38. Do you know why parents must enter round 2 by April 13th? That is also the day that round 1 parents must register to accept placement. The round 2 parent should be able to know the actual number of openings by school before the need to declare which schools they are selecting. By filing on the same day they can’t. Only seems fair, right?

  39. Hello Rachel. I am one of the same families like Xta who listed our neighborhood school (Yick Wo) #1 and did not get in. I am still confused as to how other kids from neighboring districts were assigned to Yick Wo without a sibling or CPT1. Did they somehow game the system better? If we both put the school #1 how does the non neighborhood kid get priority? We live 1.5 blocks from this school and know many area parents there. The thought of getting in my car and driving elsewhere twice a day because of this arbitrary process hardly seems pro family.

  40. @xta — I truly sympathize with your anxiety, as I know there are few worse things than opening up that letter and seeing an offer to a school you did not put on your list. However, I think you are misunderstanding how the swap works. It only occurs AFTER all seats have been filled at a particular school. If AA families are “shut out” they are shut out by siblings or others with higher preferences, not the swap mechanism. At small schools like Peabody and Yick Wo, it’s very possible that siblings amount to half or more of the incoming class, so that would severely limit the number of seats available to AA residents.
    The swap is designed this way because the algorithm designers did not want families to have to strategize with their choices and instead list them in the order of true preference. Remember in the old days, when people listing 7 choices received an advantage in the second round? That caused the unintended consequence of people “filling out” their lists with high-demand schools so that they would have an edge in Round II.
    Anyway, I wrote more about this here when we were doing the student assignment redesign in late 2009. Second, as a clarification, Al Roth did not design the algorithm. It is based closely on his ideas, and two of his associates — Clayton Featherstone and Muriel Niederle — did consult with SFUSD while we were designing the new student assignment system. However, SFUSD made the decision to construct the final algorithm in-house because the district was not willing to meet Prof. Roth et. al.’s terms for doing the work.

  41. Rachel, I submitted my honest list according to the enrollment guidelines (which made no mention of the swap). I put my AA school first. I did not get my school and I was shocked when so many non AA families got into my AA school (EPC would not release the number of swaps at my AA school saying it was “confidential”, but said it was less than 10-not a small number at a small school). A week after letters went out, in response to so many bewildered parents EPC released info about “the swap”. This “swap” disadvantaged AA families who truly wanted their AA school and advantaged families who had a lot of citywide schools on their list. If I had known I could strategize in such a way I would have done so. In response to EPC’s release of swap information, Alvin Roth, one of the algorithim designers said on his blog, “I don’t know what algorithim SFUSD is using, even though we know what we proposed and what the board adopted”.
    So what is EPC doing? They didn’t follow the policy outlined in the enrollment guide (policy p5101) and now the algorithim designer said it is not his algorithim!
    Where is the transparency at every step of the process-one of the goals of the new SAS?
    We are left to figure out this mess ourselves. We are also left to guess what happens in Round 2 and 3-will they be swapping again? Should I pad my list with CW schools?
    What is going on?

  42. Supposedly SFUSD had concerns about “sharing confidential data”, so they told the original algorithm designers (who worked for free) to go away…
    I now think that SFUSD did that because if SFUSD made the project in-house, they’d have immunity from a Public Records Act Request, because California’s sunshine laws exclude government software. SFUSD will probably never release the algorithm.

  43. Michelle,

    I must disagree with your statement that the transfer process “doesn’t change the outcome for parents who don’t receive any of their choices…”
    Although it may be true that swapping doesn’t change the outcome during round 1, it certainly could impact the probabilities of getting into your attendance area school in round 2 and beyond.
    For example, suppose a student lives in the attendance area (AA) but has a city-wide school higher on their list. This student is initially assigned to their AA school, but is then swapped with a student outside the AA. Resulting in the student living in the AA getting assigned to the city-wide school and a student living outside the AA getting assigned to the AA school (which would never happen strictly by tie-breakers).
    Had this swap not happended, since the AA school was not the students #1 choice, the student living in the AA may have decided to either attend a private school or submitted in round 2 for another school higher on their list. Both scenarios potentially opening up a slot for students in the AA to get assigned during subsequest rounds.

    I honestly don’t see how you can claim the transfer process doesn’t hurt parents who don’t receive any of their choices. It clearly makes it more difficult to get you AA school in subsequest rounds if non-AA families are given spots from AA families who prefer to attend other schools.

  44. Al Roth says that the SFUSD algorithm may not be strategy-proof: http://marketdesigner.blogspot.com/2012/03/school-choice-in-san-francisco-reports.html Al is one of the designers of the SF assignment algorithm and recognized authority in this area.

    For over a year now, a number of parents have asked SFUSD to simply release the actual code for the algorithm, and put this issue to rest. Could SFUSD please release the code for the algorithm? Thank you!

  45. Has the ominous “swap” been used in previous years for elementary school assignments? The board and city representatives kept telling us throughout the campaigning period that Prop H was unnecessary and that the “tiebreaker” system already appropriately prioritizes attendance area families–and now this! I trusted the board to make good choices and voted no on H. Now I feel lied to and wish I had voted yes. I wonder how many other parents feel that way. It is unacceptable to use attendance area spots for swapping before all unlucky attendance area kids have gotten a spot. I am baffled that the people who make the choice to use this swap cannot see as how much of a slap into the face of parents who chose neighborhood schools this comes across. Why have we not heard about this and gotten chance to weigh in during a public discussion process before the lottery was run?

  46. > the District is working to get information about “swapping” online

    FYI, it’s online now:

    http://www.sfusd.edu/en/assets/sfusd-staff/enroll/files/2012-13/Assignment-Transfer%20process%20explained.pdf

  47. xta: The school board did approve swapping as part of the placement policy. This mechanism was suggested by the Stanford economists working with SFUSD as a way to maximize parent choice after tentative assignments through tie-breakers are made. It doesn’t change the outcome for parents who don’t receive any of their choices but it can help parents who got one of their choice schools get a higher choice school if there is a possible “swap”. In reaction to the recent parent interest, the District is working to get information about “swapping” online. I will let you know when it is up! -Michelle

  48. Rachel, I am a parent who was “swapped out”. What I want to know is did the school board approve and authorize the swap? If so where can I read more about this approval and about the swap itself? It does not seem to exist on paper or online. From the enrollment guide and all information on SFUSD’s website there is no way a no-tiebreaker student should be in front of a student with a tiebreaker. We went to EPC for an explanation and were told it is complicated and that they would email us information. So far, we have not received the requested information. Also today I received a separate email from EPC saying the process is too complicated to explain by email and I should come down to EPC. I feel I am getting the runaround-too complicated to explain in person and also too complicated to explain by email? So how can I understand this then?
    Thank you for the help.

  49. Michelle,

    Thank you for the posting and explanation of the “transfer” process. I am very disappointed in the lack of transparency from SFUSD about this process. It is not mentioned at all in the enrollment guide and it is not even part of the school boards official policy on enrollment posted on their website.

    http://www.sfusd.edu/en/assets/sfusd-staff/enroll/files/board-of-eduation-student-assignment-policy.pdf

    Had we known about this process, we would have listed additional schools on our application in hope of “winning the lottery” for a high demand school and swapping into our attendance area school.

    Additionally, although swapping, as you describe it, wouldn’t reduce the odds of getting into a desired school in the 1st round, it certainly lowers the probability for getting into our attendance area school in the 2nd round for those of us who got none of our requested schools.

    I am very disappointed in the lack of transparency on this issue, especially given the number of statements from the SFUSD about wanting to increase transparency.

  50. I doubt you received fewer Kindergarten applications due to Transitional Kindergarten. You actually *did* receive those applications (other than those from the unfortunate families who tried to turn it in the last two days of the application period, after you abruptly decided not to offer TK.) You just *threw those applications out*. After we had been told for months that we should apply as a regular K applicant. After we spent countless hours researching and touring schools and planning for Kindergarten in fall 2012, meanwhile NOT researching private K or Pre-School. You threw our applications out of the lottery and now are telling us that we should send our 4-year olds to a segregated TK program in the Visitacion Valley housing projects (McLaren) or in the cut of violence in the Bayview (Havard.)

    TK was supposed to be an “optional second year of kindergarten” to allow the kids who at age 4.75 really are ready for K to enter and move on to first grade, while those kids who were not ready can then complete a year of regular kindergarten. That option is gone if we send our child to the newly announced TK plan. Shame on you for poor planning and disenfranchising 400 or so innocent 4-year olds. If SFUSD can’t figure out how to serve these children as SB1381, the Kindergarten Readiness Act, intended, you should allow these children into regular Kindergarten until you figure it out. And you wonder why families leave San Francisco?