Another good discussion in the Student Assignment committee tonight. We continue to analyze data around the “Supporting Equity in Student Assignment” resolution proposed by Commissioner Fewer and I last summer; we are also more broadly talking about ongoing re-segregation in San Francisco public schools (recently analyzed in a terrific package in SF Public Press), the continuing mismatch between population and choice requests in the Bayview, and specific access issues at Clarendon — it’s an outlier but one that is a very real problem for residents of that attendance area.
Before I recap some of the specific topics/ideas discussed, I want to be very clear that the only proposal on the table is the narrow “CTIP Flip” proposal from Commissioner Fewer and I. The Board will likely vote on this proposal in late May or early June, but in response to concerns from the public that we were rushing the proposal through last summer, I agreed to fully dissect the proposal in committee over this school year. So that’s what we are doing. In the bullet points below I will recap a number of additional ideas and thoughts Board members threw out tonight for the staff to consider and analyze, but I want to be very clear that any of these ideas found to have merit will receive extensive public vetting and analysis before coming to a vote. They’re ideas, that’s all – not fully-baked policy proposals.
Responding to questions and requests from the Committee’s December meeting, staff brought back a bit more analysis to explain why Clarendon is so impacted and to gauge the Board’s interest in exploring particular solutions. There are essentially three issues that are conspiring together to create a “perfect storm” for residents of the Clarendon attendance area.
First, in 2013-14 there were 120 children who resided in the Clarendon attendance area eligible to apply for Kindergarten. A large number of those children applied for other schools — maybe because they had older siblings at those schools, or wanted language programs or had some other reason for not applying to their attendance area school. But of the 34 attendance area residents requesting Clarendon as their first choice for K, only six were offered a seat in Round I; this low “acceptance” rate is due to Clarendon’s popularity across the City and a high number of younger siblings claiming the majority of K seats each year.
The next problem is that the closest schools to the Clarendon attendance area are Rooftop and Alice Fong Yu. Both of those schools are highly requested, citywide K-8 schools, making them low probability choices for Clarendon residents looking for an alternative close to home.
Finally, Clarendon has a total of 88 Kindergarten seats, but 44 of those seats are citywide, because they are earmarked for the Japanese Bilingual Bicultural Program (JBBP). This means only 44 K seats are available for the attendance area tiebreaker.
So: solutions. We threw around a few ideas tonight (stress: ideas. Re-read the paragraph above “Clarendon” before hyperventilating). We could shrink Clarendon’s attendance area (remembering that changing one attendance area creates a ripple effect through all the contiguous attendance areas, and all the attendance areas contiguous to those attendance areas, and so on ). We could move the JBBP to some other site, thereby opening up 44 additional general ed seats at Clarendon. We could also make Clarendon a citywide school and redistribute its attendance area among the contiguous attendance ares. Not much interest in any of those ideas except the possibility of moving JBBP, though that idea would need much more analysis.
Should all K-8s be citywide?
Thinking more broadly, we actually have a large number of citywide seats for elementary school — 59 percent of sears are attendance area, and 41 percent are citywide. Is that too many? What if we made the non-language pathway K-8s attendance area schools? We asked the staff to analyze that question. Originally, (and I actually think it was my suggestion), we thought K-8s were such popular options that it made sense for any K-8 seat to be a citywide seat, whether or not it was a language pathway seat. But at that time, we were receiving a lot of flak for the middle school feeder plan (definitely the most controversial part of the assignment system changes in 2010). No one thought the feeders would take hold as strongly as they have, and so the “virtual K-8” idea is much more of a reality than it appeared to be five years ago when we were constructing the current assignment policy. The committee agreed it is worth taking a look at what would happen, both to attendance areas (again, remember the ripple effect described above when you change ANY attendance area) and to overall predictability if we made non-language pathway K-8 seats attendance area seats instead of citywide seats.
In looking at the data on current choice patterns, not to mention the analysis in recent Chronicle and Public Press articles, it’s clear that the CTIP preference isn’t diversifying schools in any comprehensive way, and might be allowing families who are eligible for the CTIP preference to self-segregate. From Commissioner Wynns’ perspective, the preference represents a promise to assist low-income students of color in accessing higher-performing schools where they will add diversity. She asked Commissioner Fewer and I tonight why we don’t agree. Commissioner Fewer answered by reiterating her belief that choice — the ability to research and evaluate schools and to take time off work and secure childcare to be able to visit schools — is inherently inequitable, favoring families who can do those things. I added that it seems more and more clear that by prioritizing parent choices, our system is creating schools of last resort, and we know that children suffer in these schools. I am willing to retain some layer of parent choice in our system, and even add some priority for disadvantaged families, but I think we should encourage families to attend their local schools unless there is a compelling reason not to. We need families with resources and choices who live in the Bayview, for example, to stay in the Bayview and help us balance the schools there.
Commissioner Walton, a resident of the Bayview, was at the meeting tonight. In a conversation after the meeting, he asked me what this resolution would do to attract families who are currently choosing schools outside of the Bayview. What I admitted to him, and he agreed, is that this resolution simply clears the ground — it makes it a little less attractive to leave neighborhoods with low performing schools (and stress little. It’s a very modest tweak). What’s still needed is for us to plant some seeds. I believe our work with Willie Brown MS will show the neighborhood that with will and commitment, we can build a great school out of the ashes of a failing one. Still, we need to find the right formula for George Washington Carver, for Bret Harte and for Malcolm X to attract those families with choices.
The next meeting of the Student Assignment committee will be in April, where we are planning a panel discussion with desegregation experts and the Board. Stay tuned for more details.