Pondering unintended consequences: a recap

Long meeting at the Board tonight, starting with:

  • Five charter-school related items (Board voted 6-1 to pass material revisions to the KIPP HS and Gateway HS charters — Wynns dissenting; Board voted unanimously to adopt our Facilities Use Agreement for charters currently operating within our district; Board voted 6-1 to deny One Purpose school a charter — Mendoza-McDonnell dissenting; SF Flex HS renewal petition introduced and sent to Curriculum and Budget committees)
  • A long line of commenters for general public comment, including SEIU and UESF members, the bereaved family of a former SFUSD student who was gunned down last week  and parents from one elementary school commenting on the out-of-control behavior of an inclusion student (I had to leave the room for that – so inappropriate to publicly shame a child and his family in that way).
  • Sufficiency hearing on the availability of books, supplies and instructional materials for the start of school. I learned some interesting things: including that complaints from one middle school about the lack of a science textbook aligned with Common Core were a)accurate — the school has no such textbook; b)misplaced — no such textbook exists because the state hasn’t adopted one yet. On the one hand you have to sympathize with a teacher looking for an appropriate text and not finding one, but on the other I might be excused for feeling exasperated that the teacher has apparently complained to parents before discussing the issue with her principal, who could have explained the situation and helped the teacher resolve it before it got parents upset and escalated the issue to the school board.  I also learned, after asking questions about the Common Core math rollout, that the entire curriculum is available to teachers through School Loop, but being provided on paper a few units at a time. Many teachers don’t appear to know this and have complained to me and to their students’ parents that they are having trouble planning, so I urged administrators this evening to redouble their efforts to communicate the availability of an entire year’s worth of curriculum to those teachers who are looking to plan ahead.

Then, the main event: the proposal to modify the previously adopted set of feeders and preferences for elementary schools feeding into the new Willie Brown Jr. Middle School  (as the Superintendent stressed this evening, there’s a pause between the “Jr.” and the “Middle” to make clear this is not a junior middle school but a bona fide middle school). Let’s call it WBMS for short.

To recap, on August 26, the Board adopted a feeder plan that offered 5th grade students at eight elementary schools (Dr. George Washington Carver, Bret Harte, Malcolm X Academy, Dr. Charles Drew, Miraloma, Gordon J. Lau, E.R. Taylor and George R. Moscone) an additional feeder preference to WBMS. Under that proposal, students at these eight schools would still retain the feeders they already have but be offered additional access to WBMS.

Tonight, the Superintendent asked the Board to modify those preferences, so that 5th grade students would be offered admission to WBMS using the following order of preferences:

  1. Younger siblings of students who are enrolled in and will be attending the school during the year for which the younger sibling requests attendance (sibling preference);
  2. Students attending 5th grade at one of the following four elementary schools: Dr. George Washington Carver, Dr. Charles Drew, Bret Harte, and Malcolm X Academy (Bayview preference)
  3. Students who reside in 94124 (94124 preference)
  4. Students who reside in CTIP 1 census tracts (CTIP preference)
  5. Students attending 5th grade at one of the following four elementary schools: Gordon J. Lau, Miraloma, George R. Moscone, E.R. Taylor (Brown preference).

In addition, the Superintendent suggested modifying the high school choice process to give preferences to 8th grade students applying to high schools in the following order:

  1. Younger siblings of students who are enrolled in and will be attending the school during the year for which the younger sibling requests attendance;
  2. Students graduating from WBMS who were enrolled in and attended WBMS in 6th, 7th and 8th grade;
  3. CTIP1, with a minimum of 20 percent of seats reserved at each high school for students who live in CTIP1 census tracts;
  4. all other students.

The Superintendent further requested: “This new tiebreaker would become effective in the 2018-19 school year when Brown’s first cohort of students graduate from middle school and apply to high school and will continue for the 2019-20 and 2020-21 school years, but may be reviewed, modified or extended for future implementation.” (emphasis mine)

After a lengthy but cordial discussion, the Board voted unanimously to accept the Superintendent’s recommendations, but with an amendment proposed by Commissioner Wynns and passed 5-2 (Norton and Haney dissenting). That amendment deleted #5 from the list of elementary school preferences for WBMS admission. The result of the amendment is that the only elementary schools that will receive an additional, temporary feeder preference for Brown are the four elementary schools in the Bayview: Bret Harte, Dr. Charles R Drew, Dr. George Washington Carver and Malcolm X Academy. For now, meaning the 2015-16 and 2016-17 enrollment years, 5th graders at those four schools will have two choices for feeder middle schools. Depending on demand and other factors, the feeder to Brown may become permanent for those schools or the Board may choose to further revise feeder patterns district-wide to best support diverse, stable enrollment in all of the district’s middle schools.

There weren’t a lot of people in the audience by the time we got to this item, and there were only two public speakers — the Board Chair and the Executive Director of Parents for Public Schools San Francisco (PPS-SF). Both urged us to proceed carefully on making changes to student assignment. They were rightfully dismayed that PPS hasn’t been part of the conversation on two recent proposed changes to student assignment: the recent CTIP proposal and now these proposals on WBMS. President Fewer offered an explanation of sorts when she pointed out that it’s been a long time since we opened a school, and that we desperately want the new WBMS to succeed. I would agree: the Chronicle article this morning wasn’t wrong when it said there was a “whiff of desperation” in the speed with which this proposal  is proceeding.

(An aside: Some of the online chatter on this topic has focused on comparing the opening of WBMS to Chinese Immersion School at DeAvila — let’s just say: talk about desperation! The Board–let alone the public–didn’t even know about the CIS reopening until it was a fait accompli and had we had almost NO input on the format or programming of that school. It’s a long story and maybe all’s well that ended relatively well, but the way the reopening of CIS happened was not the administration’s finest moment. We continue–with limited success–to try to prevent old mistakes, not repeat them.)

I’m rambling, and it’s late, so I’ll end this recap by saying that I agree the process has been flawed, and I accept that whatever we do around student assignment is guaranteed not to be universally popular. But I think this WBMS high school preference,  limited as it is by the sunset provision thankfully inserted by the Superintendent, is worth trying. For a moment tonight it appeared as if a majority of the Board was veering towards doing almost nothing — adopting a limited set of additional elementary school preferences for WBMS and kicking the question of the high school preference down the road. From the process perspective that was an appealing course of action: it would have given us more time to let people know about the proposal and hear input. But it also would have ensured that the 2015-16 enrollment process that kicks off at the enrollment fair on Oct. 25 wouldn’t have offered complete information about a  WBMS enrollment incentive, or worse, might have derailed an enrollment incentive altogether for this year.

If all my years as a PPS member, school ambassador, enrollment coach and then school board member have taught me anything, it is that once a school earns a bad reputation, it takes years to clear — even after the conditions that caused the bad reputation in the first place are resolved. The previous incarnation of WBMS had earned its bad reputation over a decade before it closed. So even if we were to reopen a WBMS that is perfect in every way, with every bell and whistle we can think of and even throw in a set of Ginsu knives, it could be years before parents are willing to take the plunge, because of long memories and efficient networks. I have several current examples I won’t name publicly of schools that I think are much better than their reputations — at some point a bad reputation becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Opening WBMS with a robust, diverse enrollment will ensure a better education for every child who attends that school, and will ensure better odds that the school becomes a successful school for the long term. If I have to offer a set of Ginsu knives or some other gimmick for a few years to help accomplish that goal–so be it.



14 responses to “Pondering unintended consequences: a recap

  1. It’s so frustrating! Kids who attend (by luck or choice) “generic” (i.e. non-immersion; non-charter; non- K-8; non-PTA-uber-funded) elementary schools don’t get foreign language until high school (ex: no foreign language at Aptos). This seems like layers of inequity.

  2. MK, as a Gateway MS parent I do understand your frustration over what seems to be a bifurcated policy on high school admissions where the charters have a feeder preference but the TPSs don’t. Perhaps this is the quid pro quo for things to come. That is to say, maybe a feeder system is working its way up the ladder. Of course, I’m pleased on a personal level that my son will have the opportunity to go to Gateway HS if he and I should choose to apply.

    Before the petition change was filed, my suggestion to Gateway was that it increase enrollment so that the availability of high school slots was not decreased by the GW MS preference, though increasing the HS size may be easier said than done. The BOE voted for it anyway so I guess such efforts on the part of the school were not necessary. At the same time, if a school is in-demand it stands to reason that it should grow to accommodate that demand as long as such growth is possible and would not be a deterrence to the fundamental mission as described in the petition.

    But this leads me to what I consider to be the larger issue in play. What is happening at Gateway that leads applicants to what to choose it over some traditional high schools and why can’t the district offer a similar model if it is in such high demand? There is also the secondary question as to whether the demand is valid and whether interest in Gateway or any other charter is genuinely aligned with student outcome. First of all, the lottery creates uncertainty and charters provide a partial solution for some as the application process is separate from the SFUSD process. Secondly, class sizes are smaller then those of the in-demand TPS high schools, though not as small, in general, as compared to the underserved schools. Gateway achieves this through outside donations and through lower pay ( I assume), though I’ve never seen the salary schedules. Whether small class sizes is the end all to be all compared with teacher quality is very much debated in education circles. Given the high teacher churn at charters (not sure about Gateway HS) it would be difficult to assess teacher quality. GWHS’s standardized test scores seem in line with the API’s Similar Schools Index and the CCSA’s own Similar Schools Measure. That is to say, at least on paper, it is not a school that is outperforming. That said, parents and students may have many good reasons to choose Gateway or any school, TPS or charter, which are not quantified on some index.

    In that the charter law was intended to create competition, school systems should respond and attempt to offer greater choice. I have a son at Lowell, but I’ve always felt that the creaming effect of its presence is a detriment to the rest of the high schools. Districts need to provide more options for parents if they don’t want the alternatives to be those provided only by charter schools.


  3. Rachel,

    I also support the districts efforts to create a successful, well enrolled middle school that truly reflects the diverse population of the community at WBMS. I am equally pleased that the last BOE meeting resulted in the elimination of the dual feeder plan for schools outside of the area, such as Miraloma. We have been working hard to convince our community at Miraloma that Denman is a school worth attending and the dual plan threatened the slow but steady progress we have made.

    That said, I am somewhat stunned at the new stance that the district is taking on middle school to high school preferences. I have sent endless letters in the last four years trying to convince the district to consider a Denman to Balboa preference. It made so much sense, given the close proximity of the two schools. The goals for Denman were similar to those for WBMS. The district wanted certain communities to help elevate the performance and diversify the student population. Such a plan would have quickly achieved those goals. I was told, by those commissioners who bothered respond, that this idea was inequitable, unfair to other middle school students, possibly illegal and that the district had no plans to ever institute a feeder or preference system to any high school, charter or otherwise and that such a plan would end up with costly lawsuits for the district. The superintendent told me he thought it was a great idea, but he’d have to “vet” it with the BOE and others. I never heard another word about it.

    You can only imagine my frustration when I read about both the high school preference plans for WBMS and the new charter school feeds to high school. My feeling is that the district and the BOE are now sliding down a slippery slope. I am not necessarily opposed to these preferences, only enraged that the same plan for Denman was considered to be impossible and that no one took the suggestion seriously. I am also hoping that the district will reconsider allowing Denman to send students to advanced math classes at Balboa. It was an innovative idea for meeting the diverse academic needs of some students and made so much sense.

    I also fear that these plans now limit my options for my own child to get into either the public or charter of his choice and I’m sure I’m not alone in that fear. I opposed the Middle School Feeder when it was first proposed and now that I have accepted Denman as, not only my Feeder, but my choice school for my child, I dread heading toward the high school process…I’m hoping that if Denman doesn’t help us get into the public of our choice, maybe it will help us get into the private of our choice…

  4. ^Lori – thank you for this post which is thoughtful and informative and thought-provoking all at the same time. MUCH appreciated.

  5. Three topics caught my attention in this post and I think, because they are not about enrollment, they are not the Board’s highest priority.
    You mention in this post 1) out-of-control behavior of an inclusion student 2) middle school science textbook and 3) Common Core Math rollout. All are mentioned with what seems like a sense of dismay and frustration. You also pose a good question: Why do these things get escalated to the level of the school board? I am hoping that you can think about all three of those things from a teachers point of view. A teacher counts on the administration at the school site and at the central office level to provide leadership and support.
    I am curious what kind of leadership and support is in place for “out-of-control” behavior of any student. Surely with leadership and support the parents would feel that they had all the information they needed about how the situation was being handled and not feel the need to vent to the Board.
    I am curious what kind of leadership and support is in place for teaching middle school science in the absence of a textbook. Given that the teacher was unaware that there is no state adopted text it appears that there is no leadership or support. If there were, it stands to reason that the teacher would have no worries not only about how to approach the curriculum sans text but also how to best answer parent questions regarding Common Core aligned texts.
    I’d also be very interested to hear about the leadership and support of the Common Core Math rollout. As far as I can tell there has been a slew of feedback from the elementary school teachers about the materials and there has not been much done to address it as of yet.
    As a parent and a teacher in the district I am aware that there are challenges in the district right now. I’m sure it is difficult to provide leadership and support when there are so many teaching vacancies. Central Office personnel who are qualified, I’ve heard, are being sent to cover classrooms creating a backlog of work for them.
    Please consider getting some concrete data about how teachers feel they are being led and supported – what is working well and what needs are not being met. You might find that this tremendously benefits students, bolsters UESF relationships, as well as keeps board meeting positive.

  6. Thank you for always taking the time to post.

  7. Elementary school parent watching the math issue...

    Re: “Although, I think a better incentive would be to offer honors math classes and accelerated math at the school then stand back for the stampede.”

    Hear, hear. Better yet, offer them at all SFUSD middle schools. None of the research SFUSD relied on suggests that completely heterogeneous 35-38 child middle school math classes will produce good learning for anyone.

    Looking back at the comments on the math sequence, the groundswell on this issue was notable, and the response from the district has been nil. Rachel, do you think it was a mistake for the SFUSD to eliminate acceleration, honors, or any other type of grouping in middle school math? Is there any hope of this decision being revisited?

    For instance — it is my understanding that Denman MS used to take advantage of their proximity to Balboa HS to send eighth graders who had mastered the 8th grade curriculum and were ready for high school math over to Balboa for math. And it is also my understanding that the Denman principal was told by the district that she must stop doing this, because not all middle schools could do it. This is crazy! That’s like saying that Aptos should eliminate its band program because not every middle school has a jazz band.

    I see many good things in the math curriculum, but I think it was a serious mistake to eliminate middle school honors math and acceleration. I do not think it serves anyone well. I do not see a pedagogical purpose served by having an eighth grader who has mastered the Common Core 8 standards already sit through that class.

  8. I’m delighted the district is investing in a great middle school in the Bayview neighborhood, and offering those students a leg up for high school. In addition, it’s great that the Board is continuing to make progress to reduce the agony and confusion of long, uncertain, complex enrollment processes. It only makes sense that KIPP and Gateway students have a consistent experience like students at Rooftop and Claire Lilienthal. I’d love to see more consistent and certain K-8 and 6-12 options across SFUSD.

  9. Thanks Rachel. The numbers show the chances has been greatly reduced because there are far less seats available than there was previously. The board has created a Charter Middle/High School feeder system while the rest of the district middle school communities aren’t given the opportunity to feed in to a high school with their cohort.

    I understand why Gateway wants to keep their community cohesive but this is a privilege the rest of the students in the district don’t have. There is no argument that the board’s decision last night reduces the odds of students who didn’t get in to Gateway Middle to get a seat in the high school. Prior to last night there was a level playing field, now there is not.

    This decision also offers Gateway 8th graders a stability that the rest of the district 8th graders do not have. They have to wait up to 3 months (if you’re applying to Lowell) to find out where they will end up.

    I am not suggesting feeder high schools but I am pointing out that the board just created one last night, and it’s a charter.

    Off topic but I really hope the board works with the SFUSD to reduce the wait time between applications and notifications. Adolescence is stressful enough and waiting around to find out where you’re going to go to high school isn’t helpful. EPC for example should know within the first week after applications have been received for Lowell who qualifies under Band 1.

  10. I wonder why Bryant and Webster were left out of the preference for WBJMS. Immersion most likely. But I don’t think they have a feeder yet for 2015, 2014 was the option to choose any middle school in SF. Is this still going to be the case?

  11. MK, one really important point about the Gateway decision that I failed to mention: Gateway shared with us some figures showing that even with the preference, they expect about 50 percent of the incoming 9th grade seats will be available to students who didn’t attend Gateway MS. The math works out thusly: There are about 100 8th graders at Gateway MS; and about 140 9th grade Gateway HS seats. Based on last year’s data, about 70 to 80 percent of Gateway MS students applied to Gateway HS, and their surveys of their families show that percentage is holding steady for future classes — that about 20 percent of their MS students intend to apply to other HS options. By their calculations, then, there will be about 60-70 9th grade seats open in the Gateway HS general lottery. I think that is the “fighting chance” you mention.

  12. I have mixed feelings about the Gateway decision. I understand why Gateway middle school parents want to send their children to Gateway High School. However, we don’t have feeder high schools in this city and by giving Gateway Middle preference, the board has essentially shut the door on the families who didn’t get a space in middle school but would have liked to have had a fighting chance for High School.

    With regards to Willie Brown and Ginsu knives, I understand why the board did what they did. Although, I think a better incentive would be to offer honors math classes and accelerated math at the school then stand back for the stampede.

  13. Well, here you go again. You might not remember us a few years ago when we presented testimony at the Board meeting after you torpedoed the TK program presented at every elementary school in the SFUSD. You were texting the entire time during the hearings, ignoring us, as we presented a simple request – create a K waiver system like virtually every other school district in CA for kids ready for K (such as our daughter, who had already taken pre-K). But alas, it was too hard for you to do the right thing, so our daughter was left out in the cold.

    However, apparently you can make magic happen overnight and throw rules and process out the window when you want to throw another ideological wrench in the SFUSD’s completely absurd enrollment system. This is why we opted out of your system – you have no idea what you are doing. Kudos to Jill Wynn for dissenting. You are a disgrace to public education.

  14. The new math curriculum for K isn’t entirely available; even electronically it’s only available through unit 6. Units 4 through 6 were uploaded on September 20th. I don’t want to harangue the math department. I am sure they’re working hard to get the curriculum ready. But it isn’t true that teachers have had complete access.