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:
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:
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.