Student assignment highlights, 2015-16 first round

The letters went in the mail Friday afternoon, and the results of the first part of the 2015-16 assignment process are out.

If your child wasn’t a younger sibling and wanted one seat at Clarendon, you had to compete with 96 others for that one seat — there were only 16 seats open to non-siblings this year. You had to compete with 64 other people for each of the 16 non-sibling seats open at Peabody. And you had to compete with 48 others to snag each of those 26 non-sibling seats at West Portal.

To paraphrase the Hunger Games, if you weren’t a younger sibling at any of these schools, the odds were not in your favor. I got a text from a friend tonight, someone who watches the assignment system closely but has never participated in it. “Change this assignment process,” he wrote. “It’s so non-transparent. People choose schools having no clue what their chances were.”

Looking at the Kindergarten data, if a child isn’t a younger sibling and didn’t have attendance area or CTIP preference, it’s hard to see a reasonable chance at any of the 15 schools listed below:

Screen Shot 2015-03-16 at 7.04.28 PM Predictability is important to folks (though based on years of watching this process I would say it’s less important than feeling you have access to a school you want), but predictability cuts both ways. It’s actually quite predictable that most children whose parents want them to go to Clarendon or Peabody will not actually get in. My advice, year in year out? If your tolerance for uncertainty is low, then work to figure out how your attendance area school can work for your child.  If it actually can’t work for you, then realize that the competition for any of the 20 schools that received the most requests the year before is probably going to be brutal — as in double digit requests for every non-sibling seat.


39 responses to “Student assignment highlights, 2015-16 first round

  1. Sf parent for diversity in the top schools

    I am a Clarendon parent who lives 20 minutes away. I have noticed first hand the racial diversity as well as the economic diversity improving at this school. You cannot have neighborhood schools because their are neighborhoods ridden with poverty. While sfusd has to address helping those schools, you have to give these families the chance to be in a school which is top performing.
    I am sorry to hear that Clarendon attendance area families are not getting any schools close to them, but ctip is not the problem. Clarendon’s attendance are for one needs to be redrawn. As it is now, there are more students than seats even without the ctip.
    Most sf residents do not prefer their aa school. I don’t. Not because of teachers. Not because of the racial breakdown. But because if the enrichment that Clarendon can offer is unparalleled.
    Btw, I am not a ctip family. I have not vested interest except that I think it is careless and goes against the board objective of diversifying our schools by even considering aa schools. Our neighborhoods are racially and economically isolated, especially in the southeast part of sf.

  2. Tenderloin parent, you want a nearby school and should really take a look at the local options. From first or secondhand experience I can say that Redding, Rosa Parks, and Spring Valley are all promising choices. Maybe there are others. While getting into those schools without CTIP1/AA advantage isn’t a given, it also is very, very doable.

    Reynolds, is Mandarin immersion your only acceptable choice for your trilingual 1.5 year old? I’m pretty sure that the Constitution doesn’t afford us the inalienable right to Mandarin immersion K-5, but it certainly is nice that the district offers it and it would be wonderful if it expanded. In the meantime, if you are seeking language programs more broadly, CIS De Avila (Cantonese with Mandarin in later grades), Marshall (Spanish) and Rosa Parks (Japanese non-immersion) are all good local choices.

  3. Reynolds Cameron

    Any update on the immersion programs’ results? I have searched in vain (for too many minutes to publicly admit) for enrollment figures at the various SFUSD schools, broken down by particular program (GEN, IMMS, IMMM, JPN, etc.). Is this very basic data not made public? If so, that seems really odd and should be a priority for one of the district’s many “administrative analysts” to rectify. I can’t be the first parent to wonder about this data 🙂

    Also, has SFUSD ever surveyed the parents of students attending PKS and CAIS to see whether they would have sent their children to SFUSD, if there had been an additional IMMM program located in a more convenient location than JOES or SKES? I live in Hayes Valley, within 5 blocks of these two private IMMM programs; unfortunately, they both costs over $20,000 per year to attend. Not sure what we will do when our trilingual 1.5-yr old gets to Pre-K, but moving to another city would be preferable to many of the possible outcomes from the unpredictable SFUSD lottery system. We won’t move west of Twin Peaks, so JOES as a neighborhood school is out of the question. We can’t afford to buy anything near SKES, so we would hope SFUSD would consider either “buying” out seats at one of the private IMMM schools (so SFUSD public school parents could attend these schools), or else start a new school in the rapidly developing SOMA/Mid-Market neighborhoods with IMMM as an option.

  4. Tenderloin parent

    We have lived in the tenderloin for the past 13 years. Our son arrived 3 years ago. We are in a CTIP area. We bought a place we could afford. It is a neighborhood that has a lot of issues and our son sees all of this bad behavior everyday.
    While getting a leg up on the lottery might sound great it only helps a little in our day to day lives. We have a couple of years to go before our son enters the lottery. We may stay in our apartment or move to another place. It all depends on so many things.
    If we do enter the lottery as a CTIP student, I know transport to and from school will factor greatly into our list. Currently, we walk to Preschool and then to our jobs. We don’t own a car and don’t have free parking. If we picked a school west of Filmore we would need a car and its cost + parking would need to be factored into a tight budget.
    I wish we could walk to an excellent school.

  5. Karen,

    It’s worse than you think. It really doesn’t matter how many safety schools you put on your application. The way the current assignment process works is as a Clarendon AA student(non sibling), your child is 100% guaranteed to be assigned to an undesirable school far away from your home. Every CTIP 1 student gets assigned to a school before you. Every AA student gets assigned to their AA school before you. The density tie breakers also work against you as they are not based on AA school demand. Just by virtue of being in Clarendon AA, your child is put at the back of the line. This is not a lottery or a chance process. It’s deterministic and predictable, as I wrote here 5 years ago. (

  6. I really did not know that my chances of getting into a school in my neighborhood or in the Richmond was close to zero. I put Sutro as our safety school because my son currently goes there for special services and I heard that they were not a highly requested school. But I guess that was not a good choice for a safety school. The whole process was just not clear to me and perhaps there could be better communication to the parents about how it really works. Only after hours and hours of reading through blogs did I come to understand it. Perhaps I’m just slow to catch on but the amount of time and energy this process takes is just not okay.

  7. Karen, I agree, there shouldn’t need to be strategies, and in many ways the current system is better in that regard than the previous one. That said, I think people often ignore the common sense “strategy” of picking safety schools that many use reflexively for picking colleges.

    Admittedly you’d think picking elementary schools shouldn’t require even that much care, and most people don’t want to pore over admission stats just to get a K placement. But you happen to live nestled in amidst a sea of Ivies (in reputation and popularity at least) and so unfortunately you have to go a little further for your safety school.

  8. I am very surprised by the lack of frustration and anxiety I see surrounding the school placement issue and the lottery system used by SFUSD. As a parent who has lived in three other cities where school placement is based on where you live, I find it amazing that anyone can get into any school of choice here with this lottery system.

    We are forced (or feel that way) to complete middle school at a private, parochial school and I would never have done this if we had gotten a spot at any school that showed good test scores and decent performance. Not to mention when I read reviews of the schools we got a spot in, I see that violent bullying is going on at these schools. Additionally, this is a big added expense when we’re already paying housing costs that are through the roof.

    Now I hear that parents are having problems getting into their high school of choice and there is no way we can afford a private high school. We’ll then be forced to leave the city to get a decent education at a public school if we are only given a spot at a poor performing school.

    Wouldn’t a better way be to make ALL of the schools GOOD schools? With excellent programs and a good education in a safe environment? Why should we have to go to a school that is poorly rated just because we live in a certain area or vice versa? How is that fair?

    And yes, an online application process is much needed and way late in arriving.

  9. Thank you Rachel and Jim for your responses. I have been on SFK Files and perhaps I didn’t use the right strategy although there shouldn’t have to be “strategies” to get into a school close to your home. I thought I was supposed to list the schools I wanted in the order of preference so I only listed 7 schools as that was the amount of schools I had time to tour (I work full time and did not have any time off available.) I didn’t want to list schools I hadn’t even toured because I didn’t know if they would be a good fit but I guess the strategy is to not get into a school you don’t want instead of getting into a school you want. So for round 2 I will just list all the schools I’d rather have than the school that we were assigned even if I have no clue what the school looks like.

  10. Karen, sorry for the confusion — my comment was more in response to SF Parent who used the word “abusing.”

    Your situation sounds very frustrating, but I hope it doesn’t deter you. You should check out PPS-SF Round 2 informational events, as well as sites like SFKFiles, where hopefully you can get good support and advice about how to proceed. Stick with it and I’m sure you’ll find something to your liking — many many people do.

  11. The Board created the Clarendon problem when it flipped the CTIP1 and AA preference after the AA were defined. It’s been 5 years with no fix.

  12. Karen, I can completely understand why you are frustrated. The Clarendon situation may be an outlier, but it’s a very real outlier to the people in that AA! I expect staff is going to bring us a proposal for fixing this situation later this spring, based on the discussion the Board has been having in our Student Assignment committee this year.

  13. Just to clarify, Clarendon is my AA but wasn’t my first choice. I would have been happy with any of the schools on my list that were close to my home in the Sunset. When we called the EPC the representative told us that the Sunset is a highly requested area. It’s just sad and frustrating that my child can’t get into ANY school in my neighborhood or ANY school in the nearby Richmond. The EPC states that if no school on your list has available seats then you are assigned the closest school to your home. We got assigned to a school 3 miles across town. Doesn’t make any sense to me.

  14. I understand the frustration of those who complain about non-disadvantaged families using CTIP1 to get into Clarendon. I do think it’s unfair, however, to characterize these families as “abusing” the system. They can’t renounce their CTIP1 status, after all, and they may live in an AA where you yourself would not choose to send your child. They apply to the same popular schools that everyone else does, and you can’t really blame them for having a golden ticket. If you had one, you’d use it just as quickly, as would I (though with all due respect, not to get into Clarendon).

    It’s true of course that some families are moving into CTIP1 neighborhoods for the purpose of garnering lottery advantage, and that is arguably abusive. But it’s not fair to assume that of every CTIP1 resident; I know plenty of people whose CTIP1 status predates both the birth of their children and the rollout of the current assignment system.

  15. Would the district ever switch from using CTIP1 as a criteria to those that qualify for free and reduced lunch instead? There are too many affluent people abusing that tiebreaker for Clarendon, Grattan, etc.

  16. Re: Willie Brown, SFUSD Posted this information via a press release issued today:

    Superintendent Richard A. Carranza announced that 365 families applied for the 200 spots available in Brown’s inaugural sixth grade class. The majority of students who were offered a seat at Brown live in the Bayview neighborhood and attend schools in the Southeast of San Francisco. Nearly 70 percent are African American and Latino. While students from across the school district were encouraged to apply to the new Brown Middle School, priority in the assignment process was given to students who currently attend Bayview neighborhood elementary schools such as Dr. George Washington Carver, Dr. Charles Drew, Bret Harte, and Malcolm X Academy, and to students who reside in the 94124 zip code.

  17. Excellent news about on-line submission. Next fall will be our last year in the lottery (daughter’s high school application). I hope it also means on-line notification of results?? In this day and age playing “Please Mister Postman, look and see. If there’s a letter in your bag for me” is really frustrating.

    Off topic but I’m hoping with the computerized SBAC testing parents will be able to get more timely and electronic results with those as well.

  18. I am a frustrated parent whose AA is Clarendon. My son didn’t get into any of the schools on our list but we know several families not socioeconomically disadvantaged who live in a CTIP area and getting their first choice. Is this an issue that will get addressed? This lottery system is not working for the people it was intended to help and is hurting the families that just want their kid to go to their neighborhood school! My son got assigned to a low performing school all the way across town. We are so utterly frustrated and angry.

  19. Any idea on when the rest of the data will get released? Or on how many requests were made for Willie Brown Middle School?

  20. Rachel,
    I’m glad that you are now trying to do something to fix the Clarendon AA situation but disappointing that it is taking so long. I warned yo about this exact problem almost 6 years ago. ( and you acknowledged the issue 4 years ago ( Meanwhile the tie-breakers are set up to give Clarendon assignment area students the lowest chance of getting assigned to any school anywhere near their homes. We have a child starting kindergarten in the fall and this school board policy is the reason that my family moved out of the city. If your goal is to remove active and involved families from the city, then mission accomplished.

  21. Really great news about the online application! That’s a huge step forward for the district. I hope they beta test it this spring so they can work out any bugs before the fall enrollment push. I would love to a pre-populated drag and drop so that parents can easily arrange and rearrange their list before submitting.

  22. @rpnorton : It’s not clear to me if the ‘Openings for non-siblings’ is after AA placement. Is that the case? Meaning: Equal lottery chances at this point?

    Is there a breakdown of counts at each stage? Sibling, CTIP, AA, General pool?


  23. That’s very cool news about online submissions. It occured to me that an ideal application would actually rank all the schools in the district by your order of preference. Obviously with the current paper application this isn’t practical, plus there is a point of diminishing returns which varies from person to person. However, an electronic submission, could very easily autopopulate the list based on distance from your home address which I was told is how assignment works regardless for those who don’t get one of their choices. You could then change the order how you see fit. That way everyone would have a level playing field and it would eliminate all the gamesmanship neccessary of listing schools merely for their swap value.

  24. Bartonj32 and others, SFUSD usually publishes more details about the First Round in a file called “Results” below. This is not out yet but you can see it for previous years to get a sense of what details it shows — # 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc choices per school, etc.

    For what it’s worth, I believe you improve your chances by ranking a lot of schools, as well as mitigating your risk of getting auto-assigned. But I think the importance of putting popular schools down on your list is overstated. You can look at these highlight numbers Rachel posted and see how difficult trying to get into some of these schools from outside the AA is.

  25. I would love to know what percentage of families get into one of their top 3 listed schools. It would also be really helpful to have that information listed next to total requests in the chart above (i.e. Total Requests listed in the top 3).
    The general guidance I kept getting when completing the application was to list as many schools as possible especially those with high demand to get a possible minor increase in your chances because of the swap. I listed several of those school listed above, but had little to no expectation or intention for that matter of going to most.

    There is too much noise in the charts, as an earlier post noted. I also think that telling new parents that “85% of families get a school on their list” is very misleading if you don’t also explain that the application allows for 50+ school to be listed… which would also be an interesting statistic: how many families list more than 10 schools, more than 20, etc.

  26. I also know several wealthy, Mission-district residing families who scored spots at Clarendon, Grattan, and Alvarado Spanish Immersion yesterday. SFUSD: perpetuating greater inequality at every turn. A new motto?

  27. One thing I forgot to mention, very important! District IS testing online application submission. It may be in place by 2nd round this spring but in any case the goal is to have it fully in place for next year’s process!!!

    Big step forward as this is something people and the Board have been asking for for years.

  28. I agree with Noevalleyjim that greater transparency with the algorithm would help build trust in the system. As others have pointed out, the current algorithm would appear to advantage those who submit that second sheet with a long list of schools. It makes sense because with a list of 6 your child is in only 6 lotteries, but with a list of 60, he or she is in 60 lotteries. Getting a school — any school that’s popularly requested even if you have no interest in it — gives you swap value down the line.

    If this is true, giving parents the opportunity to rank schools online would help tremendously, not to mention saving EPC staff hundreds of hours of data entry time. Or you could bring back the cap on the number of schools, but I think that was discouraged by by enrollment system consultants a few years back. I think it’s better to be transparent that listing more schools really does give you an advantage if this is the case, and give parents the tools to easily rank them.

    Would it be possible to separate submitting the enrollment application from address verification? Like move identification and address verification to the school acceptance stage? Then there would be no barriers to online enrollment. Possibly workshops and assistance could be made available by PPS, EPC and other community organizations for those who might need help (modeled after the tax assistance for low-income filers many groups make available.)

    Thanks as always for your informative postings!

  29. I would like to know how many of the requests per school are first choice.

    How does anyone learn how the assignment process actually happens? Why not publish the application data and the algorithm? There has to be desktop procedures or code that can be made public. It’s easy to drop personally identifiable data and anonymize application data.

  30. You say to consider your AA school as you have the greatest chance but what if yours is Clarendon? I know that the board acknowledges this problem but I still haven’t seen any more concrete plans to address the issue at the school. With the statistics like they are even the AA tiebreaker is a non-starter there and the other schools that are close the the AA are also hugely impacted schools. While my child is some way off from K, I struggle with what we will do short of going private, which is a frustrating situation to be in.

  31. I was concerrned about the lack of immersion programs on this list as well. I need to go back to EPC and see where those programs are. Generally we get a full list of all requests so I’ll request that as well.

  32. I agree greater transparency, more data would be good; It would be nice to see all he stats as noevalleyjim suggested.

    Alimcollins makes a good point. There are many good schools being overlooked. Looking at teacher years of experience, advanced degrees, and additional certification, many less popular schools may be better. Parents may be deluding themselves that their average child will perform better at a high performing school. I don’t know, is it better to be below average at a high performing school or above average at a low performing school. Will your average child be motivated or discouraged by the comparison?

    Looking at the K-5 schools the most popular are the schools with majority White or near majority White, or Diverse with White having the highest percent representation. All the top schools have above average White or Asian percent representation. The top school, Clarendon, is Diverse with Asians having the highest percent followed by Whites. Two schools, West Portal and Alamo, are Asian racially isolated. It would be interesting to see the entire list and where New Traditions, Milk, and Sunnyside fall. These are diverse schools with Whites having the largest percent representation.

    The top schools all have a below average percent of economically disadvantaged; Grattan, Miraloma, and Clarendon noticeably having the lowest percent of economically disadvantaged. The top school also have above average parent education levels.

  33. It appears that none of the top 15 elementary schools are immersion programs, which surprised me. Are the Citywide immersion programs captured in this data? I thought they were more popular, but I may just be way off-base. Thanks!

  34. What’s happening with James Lick MS? Lick is the feeder for our elementary school but our Spanish immersion students were placed at Everett or Hoover. Is the SI program at JLMS being phased out?

  35. One further thought. As I read a few fairly mind-boggling cases of people requesting 25 or 30 schools and getting none, I wonder why this is happening. I don’t think this is the norm, but it seems like it should never happen.

    On the one hand, if these applicants have no useful tiebreakers and are only requesting popular schools, maybe their luck is statistically conceivable. On the other hand I have heard anecdotal stories of clerical error by the EPC, such as losing the 2nd sheet of the list of schools (from #11 on). I have no idea if this is urban myth, or if it does happen. (Hey, human error *must* happen sometimes, right?) There are a few things SFUSD could be doing to improve transparency and remove such doubts:

    1) Add the possibility of online submissions
    2) Allow for online or printed receipt of submission, that displays your information as entered, so that applicants can error-check after the fact.
    3) Offer more detailed feedback in the assignment notification. (i.e. You applied to x schools, your first choice school had x first choice requests, you were placed in these schools, and swapped to this school, etc.)
    4) Open source the code

    I know the system is expensive as is and spending money on all these features may not be worth it. However, so long as the district sticks to this system I believe that transparency would provide some comfort to those who are stressed about the process.

  36. noevalleyjim

    I would love to see these stats for all the schools, not just the most requested. Are we going to get that? Thanks.

  37. In my neck of the woods, (the North side of the city) there are ao many AMAZING schools that often get overlooked: Jean Parker, Garfield, Yick Wo, Gordon Lau, Spring Valley and John Yehall Chin. I have to say, I am often amazed about the numbers of parents fighting tooth and nail to get a spot in one of the highly sought out schools you listed. There are SO MANY great schools in our district.

    I am OVERWHELMED at how amazing my girls educational experience has been. If I can share some experience with some prospective SFUSD parents is tell them not to worry so much whether they’ve heard about a school as whether it seemed like a good place for their kids to learn.

    I had friends who toured my girls’ current school Jean Parker who didn’t choose it because they hadn’t really heard much about it. There are roughly 70 elementary schools in our district and SO MANY AMAZING SCHOOLS!

  38. That does look brutal. Whatever the effect of CTIP1 etc, one thing that I notice immediately on this graph is how much the interest in the top 15 schools has grown. According to the highlights, overall there were about 165 more kindergarten applicants this year than last. But the average number of requests *per school* on this list has grown by about 185. It’s as if every one of the new parents has requested each of these 15 schools, plus a few more people following the same strategy.

    This is actually a commonly recommended strategy — at some point in your list put down all the most popular schools in order, in hopes of swapping upwards. I don’t actually believe it has a tremendous effect, and as much as anything creates a lot of extra statistical noise. Most of these are AA schools and hopefully most of the applicants in the AAs are getting their requested AA schools at the least (excepting Clarendon, etc.).

    Nevertheless, I do agree that greater transparency would bring comfort to those who are frustrated by the system. I’ve heard a few stories posted on sfkfiles tonight that seem beyond the pale — people picking 25-30 schools and getting none.

    The good news is that there appears to be growing interest in SFUSD. I hope SFUSD can sustain the growth.

    Click to access 2015-16_march_enrollment_highlights.pdf

  39. Marivi Lerdo de Tejada

    We know families making nearly $300k/year snagging spots at Clarendon etc by moving into CTIP areas. I’m happy for them because they are my friends, but surely that wasn’t the intent…. Sigh…

    Sent from my iPhone