Student assignment committee report: 12/8

I am chairing the Ad-Hoc Committee on Student Assignment for the 2014-15 school year, and we had a meeting December 8 to discuss the pending resolution I authored with Commissioner Fewer that would change the strength of preferences offered to students applying for Kindergarten. Finally, I’ve got some time to recap that meeting!

We had a wide-ranging discussion that touched on an earlier simulation of the effect of implementing the change on the assignments made for the 2014-15 school year, other methods of weighting CTIP (Census Tract Integration Preference) that would add an income qualifier, and other analysis that Commissioners would like to see.

The staff presentation from the meeting is here. Most of the information in the presentation centers on the current effect of weighting CTIP 1 residency above attendance area, and what might happen (based on 2014-15 requests) if we re-weighted that preference to give attendance area more weight.

Let’s cut to the chase first: there are nine schools that are so impacted that at least some attendance area residents who listed those schools as a first choice for 2014-15 K admissions were not offered a seat in Round 1. Those schools are shown in the graphic below:

Screen Shot 2014-12-19 at 9.57.31 PM

It’s important to emphasize that all other schools/pathways with an attendance area (meaning schools that are not citywide schools or do not have a citywide language immersion pathway) offered a seat to 100% of attendance area residents listing that school/pathway as a first choice in Round 1. Commissioner Wynns noted that this is remarkable — and she’s right, so it bears repeating one more time. The vast majority of families who list their attendance area school as a first choice — siblings or non-siblings — are offered that school in Round 1.  Put another way: 109 K applicants who listed their AA school or pathway as a first choice were not offered admission to that school or pathway in Round 1, but those 109 represent a scant two percent of all 4701 first choice requests in Round 1 last year. So: if you live in any other attendance area than the nine schools listed above, you are almost assured of receiving your attendance area school in the lottery if you list it as a first choice, even if you have no other tiebreakers.

So let’s talk about Clarendon. Commissioners noted that Clarendon is clearly an outlier among the nine impacted schools, let alone all schools. There are a couple of reasons, we think, why  Clarendon attendance area residents do not, essentially have an attendance area school. Those include:

  • Clarendon only has 44 out of 88 seats that are subject to the attendance area preference. The other 44 are citywide seats due to a language pathway.
  • Clarendon has a huge number of younger siblings applying for K seats. In 2014-15, 51 younger siblings of current Clarendon students applied for admission in all pathways.
  • Up until 2011-12, Clarendon was an alternative school with significant busing. This means that families from all over San Francisco had access to and were encouraged, through busing and other means, to apply to Clarendon.

There’s an issue here, and Commissioners remarked generally that our current system — prioritizing siblings and CTIP1 residents — adds to the very slim odds we see for anyone without those two tiebreakers being admitted to the school. Indeed, the district’s simulation of re-prioritizing attendance area would have resulted in nine more students from the Clarendon attendance area being offered seats in Round 1. (In total, 39 additional students from each of the nine attendance areas listed above would have been offered seats in their attendance area schools if the Fewer-Norton proposed adjustment to the assignment preferences had been in effect for 2014-15 enrollment).

I should also note that re -prioritizing attendance area would result in three fewer African American students and two fewer Latino students being assigned to Clarendon. Overall race/ethnicity impacts of re-prioritizing attendance area at the nine schools the proposal affects are on page 17 of the staff presentation. However, these simulations are based on current applicant pools. And there is the problem: our applicant pools for almost every school are less diverse than they should be. Our problem, quite simply stated, is that our choice system is allowing families to self-segregate.

Here is some more data that illustrates the problem. It shows 22 schools with the largest numbers of AA residents (in percentage terms) who do NOT choose their attendance area school in any position on their list of choices for Kindergarten:

Screen Shot 2014-12-20 at 11.36.47 AM

Of these 22 schools, at least half are located entirely or partially within CTIP1 areas, and many of them are serving majority African American, Latino and Pacific Islander students. These groups of students are more likely to apply late (post Round 1), and so are more likely to be placed in schools where there is space — after all of the people who applied on time for Round 1 are placed.

If we believe that a strong CTIP tiebreaker is most likely to benefit families who are in a position to research their choices and take advantage of options without worrying unduly about logistics like transportation and start times, then it makes no sense to actively encourage these families to leave the attendance areas for schools where their presence would add socioeconomic diversity, if not racial diversity.

We need to be looking at mechanisms that make applicant pools for all schools more diverse — we already know that while choice does empower certain parents, it has failed to increase diversity. One thing that is striking in looking at the simulations is how modest and weak CTIP is as a tool to desegregate schools. We also need to prioritize the areas where we most need racial and socioeconomic diversity — the areas where racial isolation is definitely depressing academic achievement for all children. Those areas, in my opinion, roughly correlate to the CTIP areas.

In the end, it’s good to offer parents choices, but not at the expense of children whose parents can’t or won’t take advantage of the choice system, and not at the expense of overall faith in the system.

So: how do we fix it? The CTIP  “flip” we’ve proposed will have a modest effect on nine schools — allowing more attendance area residents to access some of our most popular and most middle class schools. There will be a slight — very slight — decrease in diversity at those nine schools. The bigger question is what will happen at the 22 schools shown above where residents are choosing out in large numbers. The district’s simulation of the effect on these schools isn’t particularly helpful, in my opinion, because so few people are choosing these schools in the first place, and so many people who live in these attendance areas are choosing different schools in other parts of the City. Would a system that still allows you to choose other options but prioritized admission to your attendance area school make a difference on enrollment at some of our most challenged schools? Maybe. In my opinion, it’s worth a try.

The committee did discuss adding an income qualifier to the CTIP preference, but there’s no great way to do this for Kindergarten. Eligibility for free/reduced price lunch is problematic because eligibility for these programs is determined much later in the cycle — starting about four weeks before school starts. We could ask parents to sign a form, under threat of perjury, that they are eligible for Free/Reduced Price Lunch, but we’d have to be willing to enforce it in order to have any confidence in the results. Anyway, doing this is still a possibility, but we need to discuss it more, which we will do at the next meeting on February 5.

The other options available to us are more expensive: program placement and busing. I am not interested, at this point, in entertaining a large-scale return to busing — even if we could afford it. Buses are expensive and in my opinion not the most high-impact strategy for raising achievement of all students. Program placement is very much an option, but you have to be willing to invest a lot of new dollars in under-enrolled schools, and be thoughtful about whether the programs you’re putting in a school will be for the benefit of all children at the school — and not just serve as displacement mechanisms.

This is what we are trying to do at Willie Brown MS, which will open in August 2015. We’ve invested millions in a new facility, and are designing state of the art academic programs. Coupled with the high school “golden ticket” mechanism, we hope these investments will be enough to attract a diverse, robust enrollment of students at a school site that has, in recent history anyway, failed to attract many families at all.  If it works, we’ll have a roadmap for how to do this in other places. If it doesn’t . . .

The next meeting of the Ad Hoc Committee on Student Assignment will be Thursday, Feb. 5 at 6 pm in the Board Room at 555 Franklin Street.


11 responses to “Student assignment committee report: 12/8

  1. One other idea to improve overall outreach to the CTIP community would be to have teams of SFUSD staff, SF Recreation & Park, SF Public Library, and Department of Children, Youth,& Families, set-up week-long informational campaigns in subsidized housing projects to help connect low-income families with services, schooling options, and enrollment. Staff could talk to parents about bus service, after-school options, language programs, lunch programs, and enroll them at the same time. It would be a great opportunity to enroll kids in preschool and TK programs as well. You could enroll for all grade levels including middle school and high school. In addition, SF Rec & Parks offers a great variety of programs with lots of scholarship during the regular school year and summer. They even offer a Greenagers program and other job programs for teenagers. DCYF could direct people to other services that are offered as well as how to get immunizations for school. It seems that anyone receiving food stamps or public housing would have to list their children as part of their application so it would be easy to know how many children were in the community and you could probably go door to door the first few days to encourage them to enroll. If representatives were on-site for a week, it would give people time to get information and make decisions. It would be time and labor intensive but it might make a really positive connection with families and get more children into schools. It might also be a way to foster good communication between parents/guardians and the various public service entities in San Francisco.

  2. I’m curious about why these numbers only focus on Round 1. Is SFUSD able to figure out the numbers for the other rounds? I have heard that there is a lot of movement in Round 2, so I think it would be worth finding out how many AA kids are admitted after Round 2 (and possibly the other rounds). You might find that you only have a significant issue with AA kids being excluded at Clarendon, so a more targeted solution might be appropriate. You might also find that some of the black or latino CTIP1 kids who would not have been admitted in the simulated Round 1 would be admitted in Round 2, which should change the conclusion that the flip would affect the diversity of the impacted schools. For example, I think I read that Sherman cleared its wait list last year. If that is true, you cannot conclude that the flip would have made that school less diverse because the black and latino CTIP1 children excluded in the simulated Round 1 would have been admitted.

    Publishing the numbers for later rounds would probably help the city retain families who live in the impacted schools’ AA’s as well.

  3. Sorry to go on about this stuff but one other CTIP1/AA compromise I haven’t seen explored. What if for all neighborhood schools, CTIP1 status equates to AA status? In other words, CTIP1 doesn’t come *before* or *after* the people in the AA, but they have the *same* chance at a neighborhood school as someone in the AA. It’s not a sweeping change and perhaps other ideas could work in conjunction (means test, more outreach from EPC, etc) but it might not alienate folks in the popular AAs as much, while still giving a chance to those for whom CTIP1 are supposed to help.

  4. KH: Your idea about enrolling through preschools is great. I don’t know how many low income CTIP1 residents attend SFUSD preschool, and of those how many neglect their Round 1 forms. (If they are for whatever reason missing Round 1 are they also not getting their kids in preschool in the first place?)

    However, when my daughter was in TK (located in an SFUSD preschool) we were able to submit our Round 1 forms directly through the office of our school, saving us the hassle of heading to the EPC during that final week. So it exists. It wasn’t very well publicized (and our TK wasn’t in a CTIP1 zone) but the same idea carried out with more conscious organization might have a strong impact at the right schools. And presumably some of the economic data exists already for folks in preschool.

  5. Hi Rachel, Thank you for your thoughts and notes on the presentation and this topic.
    If I’m reading everything correctly, it seems that many CTIP1 residents do not apply on time and therefore miss their opportunity to use their advantage in the assignment process. I am wondering if the district could do more outreach to these families. I am sure the district has programs but maybe setting up enrollment fairs in targeted neighborhoods in November and December would help increase on-time applications and awareness. Also, if you could get every 4 year old in CTIP1 areas into a preschool program, maybe preschool directors could also take enrollment applications or there could be some process where SFUSD could have enrollment at preschool sites in November and December. Does the district offer enrollment at preschool sites?
    My other thought is that Clarendon was started as an alternative school and has a strong history as such. In addition, it already has bus service for JBBP. Given these facts, the board could turn Clarendon into a citywide school. There are so few seats in the GE program that it doesn’t seem like it would make too much of a difference if it went citywide. The residents in the current area could be parsed out to other elementary schools and then have a high chance of attending their AA school.
    It does seem like the current priority system does have some impact if the other poster is correct in saying that you’d loose African American and Latino students if CTIP1 priority was lost.
    Now that you have enrollment figures, can you tell us how many AA residents were able to enroll in Clarendon after all the rounds?
    I will also give my pitch again for a math and music school. I really believed if the district offered a math and music focused k-8 school it would be successful at any location within San Francisco. Ideally, the school would have a longer school day for extra math and music instruction, music practice, homework help, and cap class sizes at 22 for the entire K-8 experience. If you opened one school in the Bayview, one in the Mission, and one in the Tenderloin, I’d bet you’d end up with more diverse schools in CTIP1 areas.

  6. Don E, some valid points, but I think you are occasionally conflating the different types of language pathways (bi-literacy vs. immersion). The data presented in these reports does not appear to distinguish bi-literacy programs for ELL students from General Ed programs, so it would be hard to tell whether they are a factor in, say, someone choosing Taylor (with Cantonese pathway) over Drew (without). Immersion is a separate issue, because those are citywide programs and thus are not at all affected by the CTIP1/AA “flip”.

    Both types of programs are likely siphoning off a number of CTIP1 residents from their neighborhood schools, and I agree that Drew may be illustrative of this. This is not necessarily a bad thing — it’s one way the district deals with the variety of languages of its students — but it does counteract attempts to diversify. On the other hand, immersion programs encourage white parents to send their kids to majority Asian or Latino schools, for example.

    Beyond all this I’m sure there is also some truth to parents preferring schools that feature more of their own ethnicity. I just don’t really see CTIP1 as the cause, and in the case of those 9 popular schools whose AA admissions are adversely affected by CTIP1 applicants, we can clearly see that the schools actually get a little bit more white once you remove CTIP1 from the equation. So in those cases CTIP1 is generally *counteracting* neighborhood demographics.

    In the case of less popular schools, per my original post, my own limited experience is that parents will flee an “undesirable” school with or without the help of CTIP1. The choice system in general enables self-segregation, though certainly a 100% neighborhood system would simply re-segregate school in a different way (and lead to a lot of middle class flight in more transitional areas).

    As for educational outcomes being improved by diversity, I don’t know what the science is behind it, but according to an old post by Ms. Norton, “we found that *all* students performed better in classrooms where there was no majority race.”

    Note that this comment is about classrooms not schools; I can imagine that for a school like Starr King, the diverse make-up of the whole school may have no effect on individual classrooms, since the Imm-M and GE programs likely have different demographics and do not share classrooms.

  7. Jim C: Many separate data sets show that parents tend to apply to schools where the percent of their race is higher. Looking at the applications of CTIP1 residents is consistent with other data sets; there is a positive correlation. It is true that correlation does not show the reason why parents are more likely to choose a school with their own race. There are probably many other factors including location, but race seems to be one of them. I believe the CTIP1 application data provided was for GE slots not for language pathways so that should not have been a significant factor. And a language pathway would not explain the correlation for whites. From anecdotes there are parents who strongly believe in diversity but are not willing to apply to a school where their race is significantly underrepresented.

    But it is true that 80 percent of racially isolated k-5 schools have a language pathway. It seems obvious that language pathways work against the goal of diversity. Language pathways may be part of the explanation why that Drew is in a neighborhood with over 40% Asians but Asians are less than 1% of the enrollment at Drew. Again from anecdotes there are Asian parents who avoid schools with “too many” African American students and who do not apply for a language pathway.

    By the way there is no evidence that educational outcomes are improved by socioeconomic diversity. It is true that offering a language pathway to attract more Asians will improve the school’s academic performance but it does not improve the performance of African Americans at that school. There are examples where African American students at a school with a language pathway do not perform as well as African American students at neighboring racially isolated schools.

  8. Don E’s point that CTIP1 merely perpetuates self-segregation is not clearly proven by any of this data. If fact, in some schools (such as the list of 9 which don’t have enough room for AA first choice applicants) CTIP1 appears to marginally increase diversity.

    In other sections of the 3 annual assignment reports available at the SFUSD website, there are some cases in which Latinos are choosing majority Latino schools, and Asians choosing majority Asian schools, for example. This would seem to illustrate Don’s point, but it is not always apparent what AA they are leaving. For example, it could be that a Latino family in the Mission prefers Marshall or Sanchez to their AA Flynn or Chavez (or vice versa). African American families in the Bayview may prefer one Bayview school over another, but not necessarily because of the racial makeup of the school. This all may look like it is *perpetuating* self-segregation, when in some cases it is merely shuffling it around.

    Also, there might be understandable reasons for some of this movement, especially amongst ELL groups. Perhaps Latinos or Chinese prefer schools with strong Spanish or Chinese language tracks. On paper it may look like racial/ethnic preference where in many cases it could simply be a matter of preferences for certain educational offerings.

    None of this to say that CTIP1 is particularly successful at diversifying the schools; it’s just not clear that it causes the self-segregation. Perhaps the choice system as a whole, and the varied offerings of SFUSD schools, are more to blame for that.

  9. I agree that either way you slice it, the CTIP “flip” would make at most a modest difference system-wide. But still, I look at the stats and see that from those 9 schools, 10 African Americans and 10 Latinos would be lost, and 15 white students gained. This presumably means reinforcing “racially/ethnically identifiable residential patterns” rather than the converse. If the goal of CTIP1 is to achieve greater diversity given the absence of quotas, then the status quo is doing a *slightly* better job than the flip would.

    (If the broader goal, on the other hand, is to improve certainty for people living in popular AA’s, the flip would have a noticeable effect on a few of those. Clarendon GE, for example, would have offered spots to 20% more of its first choice AA applicants.)

    While I understand the symbolic argument for not encouraging CTIP1 residents to flee their isolated AAs, my personal experience is that CTIP1 merely makes the inevitable easier. My family lives in the AA of one of the 22 schools on the list of under-requested AA schools. We are not CTIP1, but we know people in our AA who are. CTIP1 or not, none of the middle income families we know requests our AA school, and if they get assigned there, they mostly do everything they can to flee it. Losing CTIP1 status alone would probably do nothing to change their assignment preferences.

    However, it’s easy enough to imagine a world in which our AA school diversifies, and gains traction with local middle/upper income families. The neighborhood is central, and economically and racially diverse. The school site is attractive. There are plenty of nearby public schools that have become quite popular in the past decade (some of the very schools that our AA residents flee to). The change could come with new academic programs (i.e. language programs, STEM, etc) or it could come with more outreach — a PTA, some active enthusiasm for broadening their demographic.

    But I’m not entirely sure that our AA school *wants* that sort of change. It seems to me that the school’s priority is (understandably) literacy, meeting the needs of the low income and ELL students it predominately serves. A PTA, promise of a gardening program, and other common trappings of a popular school might encourage some new blood, but it might also distract the school from its existing students, or lead to existing parents feeling resentful or alienated.

    So is it the system’s fault that certain demographics are fleeing our AA? Or is the self-segregation on some level a reaction to the different priorities at different schools? My kindergartener doesn’t struggle with literacy — might she not be better served at a school that isn’t fixated on this one mission?

    This, to me, illustrates the somewhat contradictory goals that the district strives to achieve. First, the district must provide a good education to all students, particularly the students who have no choice but public school. But educational outcomes are improved by socioeconomic diversity. So the district must additionally appeal to those parents who may be willing and able to move or pay for the education they want for their children. (And to be fair, they are also taxpayers and citizens whose children are deserving of a good education too.) The district must balance these needs across the board, but in some cases it appears that some schools work more towards one goal than the other. Our AA school concentrates on the former alone, while other nearby schools address the latter.

    Anecdotally, it appears to me that the choice system has made a lot of headway in terms of improving satisfaction in our public school system, as well as popularizing a lot of once-underappreciated neighborhood schools. Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems like many of the neighborhood schools on your Round 1 Results list would not have had those first choice request numbers under older assignment systems. (The following 2009 article offers an interesting comparison, including an anecdote about Miraloma which bears out this point: )

    Still a lot of work remains to improve the outcomes in some of the most isolated sections of town. Whatever you do with CTIP1, I hope you will keep the aspects of the assignment system that are working well for many families of different backgrounds. Perhaps you can address the issue of isolated schools creatively from within this framework.

  10. One other observation. This was already pointed out in the reports on how the CTIP1 system is working. Looking at where CTIP1 residents apply confirms what is already known. Blacks tend to apply to schools with a higher percent of Blacks, Chinese to schools with Asians, Latinos to schools with Latinos, and Whites where there are Whites. It would seem that your quite simply statement that the system allows families to self-segregate is obvious.

  11. It is clear that the CTIP1 assignment system is a failure. It is a waste of time and money that could be better spent. Your proposed “fix” may help keep the more of middleclass from fleeing public schools. It is the middleclass living in an area with a popular school who are most apt to be negatively impacted by the assignment system. I agree that your proposal is worth a try, but I doubt it can fix a system that is basically flawed in concept and execution.

    The most popular schools tend to have the highest white enrollment and the lowest economically disadvantaged enrollment. The CTIP1 system has not changed that. Popular schools are also geographically centrally located convenient to more neighborhoods.

    One possible positive aspect of CTIP1 is that it has allowed Asians in the Bayview to avoid their racially isolated schools that have a high concentration of underserved students. I think these Asian parents would probably agree with you that sending their children to their neighborhood school could depress academic achievement of their children. They may have good reason to avoid those schools and CTIP1 is one tool that allows them to do that.

    I have one observation that may be worth exploring. The percent of students who are not identified by race has significantly increased between year 11-12 and 12-13. For example, Drew Elementary may have fallen below the 60% black racially isolated enrollment benchmark in 12-13 because of underreporting black race. Since race seems an important factor in SFUSD policy development you need to look very carefully how the data are collected.