Recap: Student Assignment Committee, Feb. 5

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.

Next meeting

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.


12 responses to “Recap: Student Assignment Committee, Feb. 5

  1. As much as I’d like to agree with Don’s comment that all SF schools are equally good, there are indeed some exceptions, and the exceptions prove the need for choice. For example, according to the SF Chronicle (“John Muir Elementary in S.F. shows progress”, 8/15/11), my neighborhood school John Muir had put math, social studies and science on the backseat to focus on improving basic literacy. On the one hand, it seems like a very sensible solution to the school’s problems, and on a micro level I respect the initiative. But how is that a selling point for those of us whose kids *don’t* struggle with reading? This is precisely why we chose a citywide instead, where our child gets ample math, science, foreign language, etc.

    Ditto some of the schools in the Mission, where again I’ve heard secondhand stories of principals stating that their focus is not on the kids who can already read but on the kids who don’t have English literacy. So while I expect that there are many excellent teachers at these schools (Muir included), the overall mission of the schools appears to get bogged down serving basic literacy needs.

    Meanwhile, as Linda states, San Francisco is not an easy housing market. We can’t easily pick up and move over to a preferred AA just to get the school we want. The choice system offers us the mobility that the housing market doesn’t. Unfortunately, choice also appears to leave schools like Muir economically isolated (if not racially). It’s clear to me that no assignment system will fix all of society’s injustices; pure neighborhood schools would fix some issues and break others. The best we can do is move forward with the system we have and do our best to address whatever collateral damage that comes from it.

  2. Linda makes a good point. Children from poverty areas should have the option of going to school in a better environment. The problem comes when parents in these more affluent areas are denied access and asked to send their child to a worse environment. That is not equitable. There is nothing fundamentally better about Clarendon and Grattan. Black and Latino Racially isolated K-5 schools have just as experienced teachers and fewer students per teacher. One difference, as pointed out, is that parents at more affluent area schools make contributions. However, if all the children at Clarendon and Grattan came from poverty families they would become poverty schools. With perhaps some exceptions, all SF schools are equally good. Parents may be deluding themselves that their child would perform better at Clarendon or Grattan than they would at most other schools. The parents of children at Clarendon and Grattan, including Black and Latino, tend to be better educated and more affluent than parents at poverty area schools. Parents are the primary variable that determines academic performance. Linda may be correct, the achievement gap begins before birth.

  3. Yes, to stop the cycle of poverty would take real commitment to funding the public school system and other social services. It’s a class issue. We have the money, we just don’t have the social commitment. We need our public representatives to fight for resources for the public sphere.
    Here’s an interesting story about Lucinda Taylor, a principal in Oakland that seems to have done a terrific job in working with a community population of low-income students.

  4. Why would it be beneficial or equitable to have neighborhood schools? What about those of us who cannot afford to live near Clarendon or Alvarado or Grattan? For many of us, the only remotely affordable enclaves in San Francisco are in places such as Ingleside and the Bayview. When you focus on neighborhood schools, it seems extremely elitist and exclusive. Sure, who wouldn’t want to rent or own in Noe Valley, for example? The problem is that most of us can’t afford to do so. Also, you can engage in as much social engineering as you want, but anything short of Geoffrey Canada-like efforts will be an enormous waste of time and money. It might make you feel good about yourself, but it will be entirely wasted. Poverty is the over-determining issue here. The achievement gap begins before birth. You have to understand the limits of your own power. Due to white privilege, it is incredibly difficult for well-intentioned white people to understand the limits of their own power. You’ve been taught that you can achieve anything, but the problem is that you can’t socially engineer schools out of poverty. It doesn’t work that way. You have to address families before birth or shortly thereafter.

  5. I am a teacher at a high-poverty school in SFUSD, and I strongly agree with kh. It’s true to some extent that high-poverty schools, particularly the Zone schools, have gotten extra funding. But the schools themselves have next to no say on what that money buys, and it’s not enough money to do something truly revolutionary – like radically reduced class sizes, full-time arts teachers, and robust physical and mental wellness professionals.

    At the same time, SFUSD allows schools with wealthy parents to purchase additional arts programming and to reduce class sizes in upper elementary classrooms. We know that this is popular with parents because it’s what they’re choosing to buy (and what parents with access to choice choose).

    Unless SFUSD is going to commit to real equity – real, expensive, potentially unpopular with stakeholders with access to power and press equity – then it may as well stick with minor tweaks affecting few people and crossing fingers that Willie Brown succeeds. School segregation isn’t just an outcome of choice and neighborhood segregation. If we aren’t willing to be bold in addressing it, then we can expect ever-increasing racial isolation in our schools.

  6. There seems to be a disproportionate amount of effort going into improving, slightly at best (based on my understanding of the various data and analyses presented) the the likelihood of entry to Clarendon GE for AA families. I agree that the school is very difficult to get into, but wouldn’t all this effort be better directed at improving other district schools so that parents have a greater number of choices regarding high performing schools with a more even spread of successful acceptance? Case in point: the very idea that moving the JBBP program to a new site is being considered as a “fix”. The amount of cost, effort, disruption, and impacted schooling this would result in just can’t make this option an appropriate “fix”. This sounds like an idea that would fail even a preliminary cost-benefit analysis in terms of using funds in a manner that best advances the quality of education across the SFUSD as a whole for the entire population.

  7. Those are interesting comments about Drew. Drew is in a census tract that is over 40% Asian but Asians in the area don’t apply to Drew. The suggestion to move the Japanese program from Clarendon to Drew would probably meet with resistance from parents, and it may not help African American children.

    A language pathway would probably improve the school’s API rating. But it may not improve the performance of African American children. For example, the language program at Starr King has improved the School’s performance. But African American children there score lower than African American children at neighboring isolated schools. That may not be a fair comparison, however. The average Starr King African American child may have less educated parents than the average African American children at these other schools.

    It does not seem to be true that K-5 Isolated schools have less experienced teacher. The teachers at Malcom X and Carver have above average experience. And Black and Hispanic isolated schools have fewer students per teacher. There is nothing wrong with the quality of teaching or curriculum at these schools.

  8. How about doing something significant at Charles Drew Elementary School? According to, Drew and Mission Education Center are the LOWEST performing elementary schools in San Francisco, with a ranking of 1.

    I see George Washington Carver, Bret Harte, and Malcolm X mentioned as schools that need some help, and they do, but they are ranked 3 or 4 and Drew is ranked 1. From data I have seen, many kids who live in the attendance areas of Carver, Bret Harte, and Malcolm X choose to attend Drew instead (all CTIP1 areas and Drew is low demand, so they must be intentionally choosing the lowest performing school in SF.)

    Drew is also one of the most segregated schools in SF and the attendance area is NOT CTIP1, so area residents have limited options to choose a different school (crap-shoot in the lottery with no tie-breakers – we know where that gets most people…)

    How about moving the Clarendon JBBP program to Drew? Or do something out-of-the-box with Drew. It desperately needs help. Geographically, it probably has better odds of attracting people from outside of the area than Carver, Bret Harte, and Malcolm X. Drew is closer to 101 and 3rd Street and is quite accessible.

  9. Does the CTIP flip make it “a little less attractive to leave neighborhoods with low performing schools” or just a little less possible? Is there any way it makes it less attractive except by making it harder, which isn’t really the same thing?

  10. Hi Rachel,
    One more thought. If you want to make Willie Brown JR MS a success, offer honors classes and algebra, maybe even a course beyond algebra. Host the San Francisco Math Circle on-site
    Also, keep class sizes small. 30 students in a classroom is too big, especially in middle school when puberty is competing with the books!
    Work with SF Jazz to bring Jazz in the Middle to the school, jazz lessons, and access to jazz concerts. SF Jazz offers a family concert series. Maybe they could start offering a middle school concert series. If you can offer honors and high level math courses, you will get a board range of families interested in the school.
    It would be great to have a successful new middle school.
    Thanks again!

  11. Hi Rachel,
    Thanks for the recap.
    In terms of attracting families to the Bayview, I still believe that a math and music focused school with additional resources and extra class time would be a big hit with parents. In addition, I would lower class sizes in all CTIP1 schools to 12 in K-3 and 20 in 4-8. The reduction in class size could bring up test scores and it would attract a diverse range of families into the schools. In addition, offer a full-time PE teacher, teacher’s aides, and math specialists. Pump resources into the schools and you will attract families and also attract more experienced teachers. If you raise test scores, you will attract families. Advertise these schools and their resources by going out to preschools and talking to parents.
    All schools in the CTIP1 zones should have a Pre-K program affiliated with them to help get kids ready for kindergarten and to start building a bridge with parents and adults in the community. If possible, it would be enormously beneficial to offer preschool for 2 and 3 year olds and infant care through SFUSD in the CTIP1 zones. Schools should be anchors and offer literacy classes for adults along with social and health services. The CTIP1 zones should be addressed along a learning continuum from infants to the adults who take care of them. Ideally, living in CTIP1 would mean free childcare, free preschool, free TK, and great, well-funded and well staffed schools.

    Also offering honors classes, GATE classes, and advanced math classes at schools located in CTIP1 would also attract a wide range of families.

    Instead of the proposed flip, I think the district should do 50/50 split between CTIP1 and AA in high demand schools. For instance, seat #1 is CTIP1, seat #2 is AA, seat #3 CTIP1, seat #4 AA, and so forth – that way you would achieve both the possibility of diversity and attendance area goals.

    On another note, is SFUSD planning on building any more schools given the fact that schools are impacted and the city keeps building more housing? What is the plan to help teachers and principals afford housing in the city?

    When is the board going to start advocating for more funding for our schools? In San Francisco, it is so easy to buy a $400 pair of shoes and so hard to fund our public schools. Why is that? Does that really reflect our morals? When is the board going to start advocating for our one of our greatest public assets – our public school system – and raise our per student spending levels up to New York City levels? We need the board to advocate for more funding. We are living in such a wealthy city, we should have wealthy public schools. A poorly funded public sphere only exacerbates the day-to-day harshness of income inequality. Rich public assets make us all richer. I would start by restoring Prop. 13 to its original intent of protecting primary residents.


  12. Here is my humble opinion

    About flipping CTIP preference. I say go for it. It is not doing much in terms of adding diversity but it could result in really distorted situation like what you have seen in Clarendon.

    The main reason I think it is important to rank area preference ahead of CTIP is that you can then declare the SFUSD enrollment system to be a neighborhood system. SFUSD has many goals. But one of the goal is to make parents happy. If parents are not happy about the enrollment process as they are now, they write bad things in social media and they threaten or actually leave San Francisco and the district get more bad press.

    So what do they want if they are not happy? There is only one legitimate proposal in the horizon that is the neighborhood system. Which seems to me it means neighborhood system without choice as model after small suburb district. If you put SFUSD’s neighborhood system with choice against neighborhood system without choice there is no contest. Parents overwhelmingly prefer choice. Then you can put the debate to rest and concentrate on other important things rather than forever tweaking the enrollment process.

    There are other reason it make more sense to put neighborhood preference first. Many people are naturally feel attach and entitled to their neighborhood school. Their angst is understandable if they can’t even get into their neighborhood school. The CTIP applicants should not feel the same entitlement. Besides if they lose out in one school, they have plenty more to choose from. Weighting the two I think it is a better choice to put neighborhood over CTIP.