Considering changes to student assignment

As reported in yesterday’s Chronicle, Board President Sandra Lee Fewer and I are working on a proposal to change the student assignment system — really, to tweak it — by reordering the preferences for Kindergarten admissions.

After reading and absorbing the 3rd Annual Report on Student Assignment outcomes last month, I became more convinced than ever that the relatively high power the current system gives the CTIP (Census Tract Integration Preference) was not having the effect we’d hoped in terms of desegregating schools. In addition, putting CTIP so high in the hierarchy of preferences (coming just after siblings and children enrolled in and attending an SFUSD Pre-K program in the same attendance area) is clearly having an effect on some specific attendance area programs, to the disadvantage of residents of those attendance areas.

The board continues to believe strongly that diverse schools are better for everyone, and President Fewer and I have not abandoned the idea that we should continue to work on desegregating our schools where students are “racially isolated.”  (Read this post from 2010 about academic outcomes in our schools where more than 60 percent of students are either African American, Latino or Samoan for more discussion on this issue.)

It’s important also to say that at the time I said I didn’t think CTIP would affect attendance area residents’ ability to attend their local schools.  Now, I obviously think I was wrong, at least in a few cases like Clarendon and perhaps Grattan. (I just read back over a number of my posts from January – March 2010 and it’s interesting to do if you would like to know more about how we got to where we are today).  Anyway, I’m increasingly uneasy when people tell me that they plan to “rent in a CTIP zone” for K admissions, then move to a different neighborhood (this has happened to me a number of times); when I hear from homeowners in CTIP zones that they have received calls from real estate agents who say they can cash in on their “golden ticket” status;  when I see the data showing that residents of the Clarendon attendance area have pretty terrible odds of attending their local school because of demand from siblings and CTIP.  It’s clear that it’s time to make a modest adjustment that will still preserve some expanded choices for areas where there are concentrations of lower-achieving children.

The fact is, no neighborhood in San Francisco is very affordable anymore for either middle-class home buyers or renters.  All over the City, there are people who — thanks to either rent control or getting in to the real estate market early — can afford to live here but can’t afford to move (I’m one of them!).  Any system that offers its primarly benefit to people who can afford to choose whatever San Francisco neighborhood they live in or move at will is not one that benefits the neediest and most struggling San Franciscans.

Anyway – there will be plenty of time to debate, dissect and discuss this issue this summer – our proposal will be submitted for first reading on June 24 and will not be discussed in any detail by the Board until the August meeting of the Student Assignment committee. I expect the proposal to come back for a final vote in late August and — if it passes — to take effect for enrollment for the 2015-16 school year.

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Tuesday night the Board will consider the 2014-15 budget proposal and Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP) detailing how we will spend our new Local Control Funding Formula dollars from the state. The draft budget books and draft LCAP are available for download on the district’s web site, here, here and here (warning: the budget books are a big download – don’t click on the first two links from your phone).

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School’s out, happy summer! President Fewer wrangled the Board and senior district staff and created this goofy fan version of the hit “Happy” by Pharrell. It’s a little embarassing, but it’s cute:



10 responses to “Considering changes to student assignment

  1. I am in the central part of the city and would love more Spanish Immersion programs! The demand for them is already double what is available, why not start more? I love the idea of a neighborhood school and also Spanish immersion, but unfortunately do not live in the Mission where most of them are.

  2. Salamander Sue

    Doesn’t sound like “plenty of time” to me. You’re targeting a total of two months in the summer, when families and the community are least connected to schools.

    Also, what positive steps are you taking to improve diversity in our schools?

    It feels like SFUSD has just given up. Given up on math, on integration, on expanding educational opportunity.

  3. Policy should never be dictated by anecdotes. And anecdotes about well-to-do families choosing to live in a CTIP1 area for the purpose of winning the public school lottery should be viewed with a healthy dose of skepticism. My reading (and I suspect, yours as well) of the recent report on student assignment shows that– with the exception of two schools, Clarendon and Grattan– the current preference system seems to be gradually, but steadily, working as originally planned. Don’t take choices away from CTIP1 families just because some families fortunate enough to live near good schools want to revert to the status quo of winning the “neighborhood” lottery. Maybe a better solution would be to address the specific concerns of Clarendon and Grattan, such as those proposed above, without throwing the baby out with the bath water?

  4. Tweaking the school assignment process in the way you and Ms. Fewer propose sounds like a way to build local communities and encourage San Franciscans of all backgrounds to attend their attendance area schools. Kudos to you for tackling this issue!

  5. Thank you for re-visiting this, Rachel. We live in the Clarendon AA and I am already feeling stressed out about enrollment for the 2015-2016 school year. We want to send our children to public schools, but worry that we may not “win” the lottery and end up with a school assignment that is a long way from our home. I believe there are lots of great schools in SF, but the uncertainty that accompanies the current process creates a lot of anxiety for parents – and they are fleeing the city or opting with privates. The end result is a lack of socio-economic diversity in our schools and fewer resources for all. It is also unfortunate that the families that were meant to benefit from the CTIP designation are not even aware of the system! Selfishly, I hope we’re able to at least have a chance to attend our neighborhood school, but I also hope this is an opportunity for the School Board to think about how we can improve the system so that the goals of diversification and equal opportunity are met.

  6. I agree with Katyfranklin. As San Francisco suffers from tremendous income inequality, many – if not a majority – of SFUSD students qualify for free or reduced lunch. SFUSD is only 11% white. As a whole, the district represents lower and middle income, minority families. That’s why I was confused when the BOE decided to do away with honors and advanced math tracking. It seemed like they were removing pathways to help low-income, minority students achieve a high level of academic success so that they could actually compete with affluent private school children. There was a great article in the NY Times about how difficult it is for low-income college students to succeed in college, because they are not sufficiently challenged and not adequately prepared for the rigors of college level work. It seems that SFUSD should be making an extra effort to provide rigorous coursework for students who are capable of it. In our culture of diversity, SFUSD has a difficult time embracing academic diversity and truly supporting and acknowledging a student’s academic gifts. I would love to see honors level math courses full of low-income Latino, African American, and Asian students. And as those students comprise the majority of SFUSD, it could be possible.
    CTIP1 is one way to help students. Another way would be to reinstate GATE and honors classes and to help identify and nurture GATE students in CTIP1 areas. Why not create two K-8 math and science magnet schools in the the south side of the city where the majority of CTIP1 students live which has accelerated math programs so that students complete Algebra by 8th grade, small class sizes, a longer school day and extra study period? One could even be dual Spanish dual immersion as there are so many ELL in the system. Buena Vista, for example, is in the Mission, dual immersion, has many CTIP1 students, and is K-8. You could implement a rigorous, focused math curriculum at that school.
    At any rate, I think it is important to look at the actual enrollment data at Clarendon to see if all the seats are being occupied by wealthy CTIP1 candidates. I think when you fill out the enrollment form you have to mark parental education level which might give you an indication of who exactly is getting the seats. My hunch is that they are not tech millionaires (as they usually go private) but middle and working class families trying to get a good education for their children. There is a big economic gulf between those you can afford to pay $25,000 per year for kindergarten and those who can afford to rent an apartment in the Mission.
    Here’s the NY Times article:

  7. Hi Rachel,

    While I think it is good to re-visit the CTIP1 and AA distribution of seats in neighborhood schools, I think it is interesting to note that Clarendon is particularly hard hit because of its reputation, late start time, central location, complete offering of before and after care, and bus service. Many neighborhood schools do not receive any CTIP1 requests because they are far from CTIP1 neighborhoods and do not have bus service.

    You need to make some correction to the assignment formula so Clarendon AA families are not shut out from their local school. Yet, if you do not give CTIP1 families any lottery preference for Clarendon Second Community, you will be taking away one school choice that has a later start time (which is helpful if you are commuting by bus), bus service, and a central location.

    Would another option be to make 70% of all seats available AA applicants and 30% available to CTIP1 applicants across the board for all neighborhood schools in Round One? That way if there were 20 seats available in Round One, 14 would go to AA applicants and 6 would go to CTIP1 applicants.

    From the article, it sounds like CTIP1 applicants will have preference at city-wide schools, but that forces all the CTIP1 applicants into their neighborhood school or a city-wide school. As many city-wide schools are immersion, it only leaves open Rooftop, Claire Lillenthal, Lawton, and SF Community as GE options.

    Will you consult with the consultants who put together the formula for the assignment system to see what other options are available than simply changing the order of CTIP1 and AA priority for neighborhood school assignment. It seems like a rather blunt tool.

    I do think it is unfair that Clarendon AA applicants are shut out from their neighborhood school. At the very least, AA applicants should be 50% of the enrollment if it their number one choice on their list.

    I know that you have the data to see how many CTIP1 families versus how many AA families are enrolled after the 10 day count. It might be worth looking at what the percentages are and sharing them as you continue to think about this problem.

  8. I followed that process of changing the lottery system pretty closely then. I’m glad to read that you’re able to react with these kinds of tweaks without throwing the whole thing out again. I know that the “swap” is still a bit of a mystery to some, but overall it’s better than it was. The Clarendon situation was pretty egregious, but it was kind of an outlier (it was also a K-5 citywide school that converted to attendance area then; the K-8 citywides still don’t have attendance areas to fight over).

  9. That “Happy” video is like one of my recurring nightmares … . 🙂

  10. Regarding CTIP, I got those calls from Real Estate Agents but they take advantage of anything they can to get people to sell their houses. In reality, people who can afford to buy houses in SF right now are most likely to send their kids to private schools, so that isn’t the issue … the issue is the people who the system was supposed to help do not get the information about school selection for their kids and deadlines. There must be a way that the City and SFUSD could work together to make sure low-income and/or non-English speaking parents who have kids entering Kindergarten get good placements for their kids … leaving pamphlets at day-care centers is NOT going to reach the people who CTIP was designed to help; adding a household income qualifier to the CTIP preference is the way to go.