Elementary school assignment predictability: analysis in SF Chron

Jill Tucker of the Chronicle has analyzed more of the data on elementary school choices and outcomes and it’s very interesting. She finds that:

Many parents see San Francisco’s annual school assignment process as an unpredictable and agonizing crap shoot. But which school they get — or don’t — is a lot more predictable than parents think.

As I posted late last month, there are only nine elementary schools where attendance area residents aren’t assured of admission if they list the school first on their list. And then there’s Clarendon: Of the 1,505 non attendance area residents who listed the school first, only three got in. And how many of the 1,337 families outside the attendance area who listed the school somewhere other than first choice got in? 0. My advice: Clarendon is a great school but if you don’t live in the attendance area and don’t have any tiebreakers? Don’t bother.

Anyway: applicants for Round 1 are due TODAY. Get those applications in! I was at the district HQ yesterday and things were moving very smoothly, with extra staff on hand to guide parents through. Instead of standing in line, you get a number and can sit in the Board room to wait your turn.

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8 responses to “Elementary school assignment predictability: analysis in SF Chron

  1. Keep fighting the good fight Rachel. The bottom line is that if we want the SF public school system to get better, then we need more educated, well off parents to send their kids to the public schools. The harder you make their lives, (especially with no assurance of going to their local school), the more you will continue to promote the current system where they opt out to private schools or just move out of the city. Although you are correct that this is an “unintended consequence”, this is far from an unexpected consequence.

    Even if your sole goal is diversity of schools (which mind you is clearly not the goal of parents – http://www.sfusd.edu/en/assets/sfusd-staff/enroll/files/2013-14/2nd_annual_report_april_17_2013.pdf page 47), you will never get diverse schools if no white students show up to the public schools.

  2. You’re welcome Psydid.

    You don’t fall behind anyone based on the order in which you rank schools. Your ranking of a school isn’t a tiebreaker; it doesn’t differentiate you from other applicants who may have ranked the school higher or lower. It just means that if your child gets into both Miraloma and West Portal (for example) the computer knows which one you want more, and can assign your child accordingly.

    If person A ranked Rooftop first and person B ranked it tenth, and *neither* have any tiebreakers, the “lottery number” is the only thing determining who gets a spot at that school; if person B gets a better draw, they get in despite presumedly wanting it less. This allows people to rank schools in the true order they want them rather than fishing around for some alternate ranking that they perceive offers better chances.

    As for 65%, keep in mind that’s first round only. As you go through all the rounds to the “10 day count” (first 3 weeks of school) I’d bet that a school like Miraloma gets much closer to 100%; that data just isn’t represented here. Some of those people that ranked Miraloma second will get into their first choice school and move on. My own family went so far as the spring transfer window to get our first choice school. We liked our Round 1 assigned school but got a transfer in January of kindergarten year to our top choice. Yes, a bit of a pain, but as I said we had no useful tie-breakers, and it says something to me that you can have nothing going for you and still get your first choice school with perseverance.

    Anyways, you do have a lot of good schools around you, and if you are ok with language programs quite a few of your local schools have city-wide programs with no AA prioritization (i.e. Clarendon’s JBBP, Alvarado’s Spanish Immersion, maybe even Fairmount or SF Community is near you). None of them easy to get into but the more schools you list the better your chances.

  3. My kid is now in 2nd grade but when we applied for her K year (the second year of the AA tiebreaker) she did not get her AA school in either round 1 or round 2. The AA school is Yick Wo and it was widely discussed here on this blog as we were not the only parents who did not get their AA school. Yick Wo is not on the list you mentioned. I have absolutely no faith in any assurance from SFUSD. Our experience with the application process was truly agonizing and unpredictable.

  4. Thanks Jim, I appreciate the thoughtful response. I may be simply confused about how the ranking system plays in. Let’s simplify and say that we have two target schools: our AA school (Miraloma) and a “safety” school that’s out of our AA but with a much higher chance of admittance if we listed it #1. It seemed to me that we would have two basic options:

    1) List Miraloma first, safety school second. If we didn’t get into Miraloma, my concern is that for the safety school we would fall behind everyone who applied to the safety school as #1, and wind up falling way down our priority list to a school that’s much farther away.

    2) List the safety school first, almost certainly get into it, but then not have any real shot at getting into Miraloma.

    I think you’re right that it still makes sense to go AA first. But while a 65% shot sounds good compared to, say, Harvard (or Clarendon!), it’s still a lot more uncertainty than I would like.

    Another factor here is just pure geographic luck (good and bad). There are other good schools near us, but they’re all the in-demand ones! Clarendon, Alvarado, etc. Even the city-wide one most nearby is highly in-demand (Rooftop). So our safety-school fallback almost certainly needs to be something a good bit farther away (West Portal perhaps).

    You’re probably right that it will all work out, but not without a lot of work on our part, and the current system guarantees heartburn until we have finality.

  5. Hi Rachel, like the other parent I too have a six month old but happen to live in Clarendon’s AA. I know you keep acknowledging that it is a problem but I would really like to know what is being done to address it. It seems as though unless changes are made we are effectively left without an AA school or any priority and will likely have to go private. I would love to send my child to public school and a neighborhood school at that but it is unfortunate that an entire AA is pretty much left to hang.

    If possible it would be great to hear what the board would propose to do about all of these AA problems but particularly the Clarendon problem.

  6. Anne, you’re right about how the system works. There is no greater weight given to a first choice school. If you get into more than one school, the ranking just tells the computer which placement to keep.

    The way the study was structured around first place choices seems a little confusing. I suspect they did this because they are responding to complaints from those who really want their AA school but don’t receive it, perhaps due to the CTIP1 tiebreaker. But they may have also done this because the numbers would look way different if you accounted for everyone’s non-first choice AA requests. What if I put my AA school down as #10, and I got my #1 choice? Technically I *didn’t* get my AA school, but to represent that in the data would be misleading. (I think looking at who got into their AA school *or* a higher ranked school might be more instructive than just looking at the first choice AA school placements alone.)

    Psydid — I understand the anxiety around the school process, but the chances are still very good that your child would get into Miraloma — 65% chance in the first round alone. I don’t even really understand why your choice 2 exists (“forfeit any chance of going to a school in our community”). There is no need to forfeit anything. Putting Miraloma first doesn’t affect your chances at any of your other chosen schools, per my response to Anne above.

    Also note there are actually several rounds, as well as waitlists beyond that, and during that time there is a lot of movement. (People switch to higher placed schools when openings are available, to privates, and to charters, all of which creates openings at the schools they leave.) There are also plenty of other good schools near you, several of which are not bound by any attendance area tiebreakers (Rooftop, various language programs, etc.) You just have to hold your breath a bit and know that things will work themselves out, as it does for most people. When you’re ready, Parents for Public Schools SF and SFKfiles.com are some of the great resources for more tips.

    Lastly, your suggestion to give a tiebreaker to those people who are denied their first choice AA school seems reasonable on the surface. However, it’s not necessarily good policy. Firstly, if your neighbor truly wants Alvarado Spanish Immersion for their child, but fears they don’t have a good chance of getting it, do they put it first anyways? Or now with this new rule, do they put Miraloma first and hope they *don’t* get into Miraloma so they earn a tiebreaker at their “second choice” Alvarado? See where that might seem advantageous? It adds a layer or strategic manipulation that the district wanted to eliminate with the current system.

    And then there are the consequences to other families citywide. My family, for example, lives in a neighborhood where the school is considered undesirable by many of its AA residents. Many of us have no useful tiebreaker to any school in the city. It doesn’t seem fair to me that people in my situation *not only* have a local school we’re unhappy with, but *also* would have to wait for the residents of Clarendon, Miraloma, Grattan, etc. to get citywide placements ahead of us.

    But no worries, because there are plenty of good schools to go around.

  7. Thanks for an interesting and informative article. Some great practical advice.

    One question. Is greater weight given to an applicant’s first choice in this algorithm? I thought that applicants were supposed to list their choices in their true order of preference, and that you couldn’t “game” the system by ranking a particular school over another. Wouldn’t a family have a greater chance of getting their attendance area school no matter what order they ranked their choices?

  8. Thank you for the excellent insight. As parents of a 6-month-old, I know that we have some years before we have to face this issue, but it’s still giving me heartburn already.

    To which point: what advice do you have for those parents who are, like us, in the AA of one of those nine schools (in this case Miraloma). I’m glad that the system is predictable for most of the city, but the rest of us are still stuck. If we had to submit our choices today, we face the agonizing choice of:

    1) Putting our AA first and rolling the dice, with the strong possibility that if we don’t get it, we’ll fall all the way off the table of our selections and wind up at a worse school that’s also farther away,

    … or ….

    2) We forfeit any chance of going to a school in our community.

    I recognize that having a top school nearby is a luxury and not something we were ever guaranteed to have access to, but it would be nice to have some predictability of a reasonable fallback options. Today we don’t really have even that.

    Could parents who list their AA school first, and lose out anyway, get some kind of tiebreaker for their other choices?