Category Archives: student assignment

The problem we all live with

I finally listened to Part II of This American Life’s two-part series on desegregation in America, and I highly recommend taking some time to listen to the series if you care about school assignment policy and diverse schools.  Part I is about the benefits of integrated schools, and has some truly awful-to-hear excerpts from public comment at a Missouri school board meeting after a white-majority district learns that students from a black-majority school in a neighboring district will be coming to their community.

Part II is fascinating. It’s about Hartford, Connecticut, a majority high-poverty black/latino district, and how after a long court case, the district is trying a voluntary desegregation program. There are several important ways that the Hartford situation differs from San Francisco, and some important parallels.

In many ways we are already trying a voluntary desegregation program  here in San Francisco and failing badly. Maybe the attractions of the new Willie Brown MS will help us turn that corner — building a program that clearly will attract white and asian families. Maybe. But if these programs make one thing clear, it’s that desegregation policy is not easy.

Listen to the programs (free if you stream them from the web site) and let me know what you think.

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.

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.

Clarendon

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.

Bayview

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.

Student assignment committee report: 12/8

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:

Screen Shot 2014-12-19 at 9.57.31 PM

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:

Screen Shot 2014-12-20 at 11.36.47 AM

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.

Fascinating CTIP data

District staff recently shared some data analysis the Board had requested regarding the currently-on-hold CTIP proposal, and it is fascinating. Specifically, how many K families  request their attendance area (AA) school as their first choice, and receive that school? If the CTIP preference were placed below the AA preference in the assignment system, how many more AA residents would be assigned to their AA schools if they list those schools first?

For the 2013-14 school year assignment process, there were nine schools for which AA residents requested K seats as a first choice, and did not receive those schools. (Note that this analysis reflects requests for General Education pathways only; it does not reflect requests for citywide schools and programs since the attendance area preference does not apply to citywide seats):

Screen Shot 2014-10-02 at 10.18.21 PMFrom the above table, you can see that at a few of  these nine schools, changing the order of preferences could have a profound effect. At others, not so much. And at the vast majority of elementary schools, AA residents who wish to attend their local school have a 100 percent chance of being assigned to that school if they list it first — regardless of whether the CTIP preference is weaker or stronger.

From where I’m standing, I think this data strongly supports my assertion that our suggestion to change the order of assignment preferences will only give families who live in attendance areas for very small schools (Peabody, New Traditions), or highly-requested schools with a relatively small number of GE seats (Alvarado, Clarendon), or highly requested schools generally (Grattan, Miraloma, Argonne, Sherman) a little more certainty.* It should not affect anyone else, and it might increase diversity in schools that are located in CTIP areas — the Bayview, the Mission and the Western Addition.  What do you think?

The full table with data for all elementary schools is here.

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Pondering unintended consequences: a recap

Long meeting at the Board tonight, starting with:

  • Five charter-school related items (Board voted 6-1 to pass material revisions to the KIPP HS and Gateway HS charters — Wynns dissenting; Board voted unanimously to adopt our Facilities Use Agreement for charters currently operating within our district; Board voted 6-1 to deny One Purpose school a charter — Mendoza-McDonnell dissenting; SF Flex HS renewal petition introduced and sent to Curriculum and Budget committees)
  • A long line of commenters for general public comment, including SEIU and UESF members, the bereaved family of a former SFUSD student who was gunned down last week  and parents from one elementary school commenting on the out-of-control behavior of an inclusion student (I had to leave the room for that – so inappropriate to publicly shame a child and his family in that way).
  • Sufficiency hearing on the availability of books, supplies and instructional materials for the start of school. I learned some interesting things: including that complaints from one middle school about the lack of a science textbook aligned with Common Core were a)accurate — the school has no such textbook; b)misplaced — no such textbook exists because the state hasn’t adopted one yet. On the one hand you have to sympathize with a teacher looking for an appropriate text and not finding one, but on the other I might be excused for feeling exasperated that the teacher has apparently complained to parents before discussing the issue with her principal, who could have explained the situation and helped the teacher resolve it before it got parents upset and escalated the issue to the school board.  I also learned, after asking questions about the Common Core math rollout, that the entire curriculum is available to teachers through School Loop, but being provided on paper a few units at a time. Many teachers don’t appear to know this and have complained to me and to their students’ parents that they are having trouble planning, so I urged administrators this evening to redouble their efforts to communicate the availability of an entire year’s worth of curriculum to those teachers who are looking to plan ahead.

Then, the main event: the proposal to modify the previously adopted set of feeders and preferences for elementary schools feeding into the new Willie Brown Jr. Middle School  (as the Superintendent stressed this evening, there’s a pause between the “Jr.” and the “Middle” to make clear this is not a junior middle school but a bona fide middle school). Let’s call it WBMS for short.

To recap, on August 26, the Board adopted a feeder plan that offered 5th grade students at eight elementary schools (Dr. George Washington Carver, Bret Harte, Malcolm X Academy, Dr. Charles Drew, Miraloma, Gordon J. Lau, E.R. Taylor and George R. Moscone) an additional feeder preference to WBMS. Under that proposal, students at these eight schools would still retain the feeders they already have but be offered additional access to WBMS.

Tonight, the Superintendent asked the Board to modify those preferences, so that 5th grade students would be offered admission to WBMS using the following order of preferences:

  1. Younger siblings of students who are enrolled in and will be attending the school during the year for which the younger sibling requests attendance (sibling preference);
  2. Students attending 5th grade at one of the following four elementary schools: Dr. George Washington Carver, Dr. Charles Drew, Bret Harte, and Malcolm X Academy (Bayview preference)
  3. Students who reside in 94124 (94124 preference)
  4. Students who reside in CTIP 1 census tracts (CTIP preference)
  5. Students attending 5th grade at one of the following four elementary schools: Gordon J. Lau, Miraloma, George R. Moscone, E.R. Taylor (Brown preference).

In addition, the Superintendent suggested modifying the high school choice process to give preferences to 8th grade students applying to high schools in the following order:

  1. Younger siblings of students who are enrolled in and will be attending the school during the year for which the younger sibling requests attendance;
  2. Students graduating from WBMS who were enrolled in and attended WBMS in 6th, 7th and 8th grade;
  3. CTIP1, with a minimum of 20 percent of seats reserved at each high school for students who live in CTIP1 census tracts;
  4. all other students.

The Superintendent further requested: “This new tiebreaker would become effective in the 2018-19 school year when Brown’s first cohort of students graduate from middle school and apply to high school and will continue for the 2019-20 and 2020-21 school years, but may be reviewed, modified or extended for future implementation.” (emphasis mine)

After a lengthy but cordial discussion, the Board voted unanimously to accept the Superintendent’s recommendations, but with an amendment proposed by Commissioner Wynns and passed 5-2 (Norton and Haney dissenting). That amendment deleted #5 from the list of elementary school preferences for WBMS admission. The result of the amendment is that the only elementary schools that will receive an additional, temporary feeder preference for Brown are the four elementary schools in the Bayview: Bret Harte, Dr. Charles R Drew, Dr. George Washington Carver and Malcolm X Academy. For now, meaning the 2015-16 and 2016-17 enrollment years, 5th graders at those four schools will have two choices for feeder middle schools. Depending on demand and other factors, the feeder to Brown may become permanent for those schools or the Board may choose to further revise feeder patterns district-wide to best support diverse, stable enrollment in all of the district’s middle schools.

There weren’t a lot of people in the audience by the time we got to this item, and there were only two public speakers — the Board Chair and the Executive Director of Parents for Public Schools San Francisco (PPS-SF). Both urged us to proceed carefully on making changes to student assignment. They were rightfully dismayed that PPS hasn’t been part of the conversation on two recent proposed changes to student assignment: the recent CTIP proposal and now these proposals on WBMS. President Fewer offered an explanation of sorts when she pointed out that it’s been a long time since we opened a school, and that we desperately want the new WBMS to succeed. I would agree: the Chronicle article this morning wasn’t wrong when it said there was a “whiff of desperation” in the speed with which this proposal  is proceeding.

(An aside: Some of the online chatter on this topic has focused on comparing the opening of WBMS to Chinese Immersion School at DeAvila — let’s just say: talk about desperation! The Board–let alone the public–didn’t even know about the CIS reopening until it was a fait accompli and had we had almost NO input on the format or programming of that school. It’s a long story and maybe all’s well that ended relatively well, but the way the reopening of CIS happened was not the administration’s finest moment. We continue–with limited success–to try to prevent old mistakes, not repeat them.)

I’m rambling, and it’s late, so I’ll end this recap by saying that I agree the process has been flawed, and I accept that whatever we do around student assignment is guaranteed not to be universally popular. But I think this WBMS high school preference,  limited as it is by the sunset provision thankfully inserted by the Superintendent, is worth trying. For a moment tonight it appeared as if a majority of the Board was veering towards doing almost nothing — adopting a limited set of additional elementary school preferences for WBMS and kicking the question of the high school preference down the road. From the process perspective that was an appealing course of action: it would have given us more time to let people know about the proposal and hear input. But it also would have ensured that the 2015-16 enrollment process that kicks off at the enrollment fair on Oct. 25 wouldn’t have offered complete information about a  WBMS enrollment incentive, or worse, might have derailed an enrollment incentive altogether for this year.

If all my years as a PPS member, school ambassador, enrollment coach and then school board member have taught me anything, it is that once a school earns a bad reputation, it takes years to clear — even after the conditions that caused the bad reputation in the first place are resolved. The previous incarnation of WBMS had earned its bad reputation over a decade before it closed. So even if we were to reopen a WBMS that is perfect in every way, with every bell and whistle we can think of and even throw in a set of Ginsu knives, it could be years before parents are willing to take the plunge, because of long memories and efficient networks. I have several current examples I won’t name publicly of schools that I think are much better than their reputations — at some point a bad reputation becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Opening WBMS with a robust, diverse enrollment will ensure a better education for every child who attends that school, and will ensure better odds that the school becomes a successful school for the long term. If I have to offer a set of Ginsu knives or some other gimmick for a few years to help accomplish that goal–so be it.

 

Preview: Sept 23 Board agenda, plus other updates

A few interesting items on the Board agenda for this Tuesday, September 23 are related to student assignment policy — they are worth spending a few hours on a weekend to blog them, so here goes.

On August 26, the Board approved a temporary student assignment process — subject to review and revision after the 2015-16 enrollment process winds up — that would offer 5th grade students at eight elementary schools an additional feeder preference to Willie Brown MS (which opens in August 2015 and will be part of the enrollment process that begins in late October).  So, the revision to P5101 (our student assignment policy) said that 5th grade applicants to Brown would have priority in the following order:

  • younger siblings of students who are enrolled in and will be attending the school during the year for which the younger sibling requests attendance;
  • students attending 5th grade at one of these eight elementary schools: Dr. George Washington Carver, Dr. Charles Drew, Bret Harte, Malcolm X Academy, Gordon J. Lau, Miraloma, George R. Moscone, Edward R. Taylor;
  • students who reside in zip code 94124;
  • students who reside in CTIP 1 census tracts;
  • all other students.

Of course, students at each of the eight elementary schools named above already have a middle school feeder preference: for example, Malcolm X and E.R Taylor students have preferences for Martin Luther King, Jr. MS, while Bret Harte students have preference to James Lick MS. Miraloma students have preference for Denman MS. The idea was to add a preference to Willie Brown while taking nothing away. This way, families who had planned on one middle school choice could evaluate a new option without feeling they were losing anything.

But board members expressed concerns about some of the proposed changes in August. On Tuesday, the Superintendent will propose two new amendments. the first would strengthen the Willie Brown preference for students who attend elementary schools in the Bayview and weaken the preferences for students who currently attend Lau, Miraloma, Moscone and E.R. Taylor.

In addition, and I think this is actually the bigger news, the Superintendent is proposing to change the high school preferences to give students who attend Willie Brown MS for 6th, 7th and 8th grade a strong preference for any HS of their choice starting in 2018-19, when the first cohort of Brown students would enter HS. Currently, high school preferences are as follows:

  • younger siblings of students who are enrolled in and will be attending the school during the year for which the younger sibling requests attendance;
  • CTIP 1, with a minimum of seats reserved at each HS for students who live in CTIP1 census tracts;
  • all other students.

The Superintendent’s new proposed language is here. I’m in favor of both proposals but will ask to amend the HS proposal to give it an automatic sunset date that the Board has an option to extend. This school district has a long history of enacting wonderful-sounding proposals with unintended consequences, and while I can’t at this moment envision anything other than a more academically diverse Willie Brown MS resulting  from these two proposals, I don’t think I’m gifted with second sight.

I’m in favor of the first proposal because I think we are building a kick-ass middle school out of the ashes of one of the worst schools I’ve ever seen, and students from the Bayview deserve the first opportunity to go there. Visiting the old Willie Brown was, bar none, the most upsetting experiences I’ve had as a school board member. I saw students who weren’t learning, some staff who had given up, and others who were trying against insurmountable odds (lack of supplies, engagement, and district and community support). The school needed to close, and so we closed it in 2010. We’ve spent the last three-plus years rebuilding the school from the ground up, and are now working hard to reprogram it in alignment with Vision 2025. We’ve already hired the principal and will spend this next school year engaging the community around the school and making sure that the district’s vision of what a great middle school can be will be realized.

I’m in favor of the second proposal because I know that part of what made the previous Willie Brown MS a failed school was that it was perceived as a failing school. Many families in the neighborhood would not send their children to the school, leaving just those students whose families were less engaged and had other issues distracting them from focusing on their children’s education.  The proposed HS preference promise is a real incentive: something to say to families who are already living in the neighborhood, “we are so sure this school is going to prepare your children for any high school, we’re going to offer you the ability to attend any high school.” The policy doesn’t specifically mention Lowell or Ruth Asawa SOTA, but the district already has discretion for a portion of those schools’ competitive admissions processes.

Also on the Board’s Sept 23 agenda will be two material revisions to the charters the district has authorized for KIPP High School and Gateway High School, and these revisions affect student assignment.  Some readers might remember that last fall, I was “livid” (as the Chronicle described it) when I discovered that Gateway HS had initiated an early application deadline — in September — for students who wanted to attend the following August–a year later.  I have been clear with both charters that I cannot support manipulations to their application deadlines in order to give preferential enrollment to Gateway MS students who want to attend Gateway HS or to KIPP MS students to attend KIPP HS. I am clear that all charter lottery deadlines should align with SFUSD lottery deadlines. I have more mixed feelings about offering preference existing charter MS students to attend affiliated charter HS. But when I realized I had fewer misgivings about offering KIPP MS students preference at KIPP HS, I couldn’t justify not offering Gateway students the same preference, even though I know many families who decide, while their children are attending private schools or SFUSD-managed middle schools,  that Gateway HS is a great option for them. Voting in favor of the material revisions requested by Gateway HS and KIPP HS will make it less likely that students who discover these high schools mid-way through their middle school careers will be able to attend — this bothers me.

Finally, and not having to do with student assignment, there is the annual sufficiency hearing for books and instructional materials. This hearing is one we (the Board) always scrutinizes pretty carefully, even though in recent years we have improved a great deal (in the past having enough textbooks and instructional materials like science lab materials was a big problem).  When you read through the district’s report for this year it looks pretty good, except I am hearing some alarming things about mathematics materials since this is the first year we are implementing the Common Core standards. I’ll be asking about that.

Slowing down the CTIP proposal

Earlier this week, Board leadership and Superintendent Carranza made the decision to hold the CTIP resolution in order to further investigate the impact of leaving our current policy unchanged, the impact of implementing the CTIP proposal, and the impact of other changes to the student assignment policy that might bring us closer to our original goals of:

• Reversing the trend of racial isolation and the concentration of underserved students in the same school;
• Providing equitable access to the range of opportunities offered to students; and
• Providing transparency at every stage of the assignment process.

I agreed to accept this decision because it was very clear after the August 11 committee meeting that a majority of the Board did not support the proposal. Had the proposal been brought to a vote on the 26th, it’s hard for me to see how we could have gotten four “yes” votes, given the questions and concerns Commissioners raised about whether the proposal had been adequately communicated to the public or vetted by staff.
At the end of the day, had I insisted the proposal come to a vote at either the August 26th or even the Sept. 9 meetings, we would have risked triggering a provision in Board rules that — if the proposal lost — would have prohibited us from bringing it back for reconsideration before August of 2015. This timeframe would again bring us right back up against the deadline for beginning the annual enrollment cycle, and could again trigger objections that we weren’t giving families enough time to comment on and understand the proposal before application time rolls around.

Instead, the proposal is far from dead. It will remain under active consideration in the Student Assignment Committee, which I chair, and I am already formulating a list of questions I’d like the staff to examine. These include:

  • More data on families who request their attendance area schools and what the outcomes of those requests are, in order to better examine and evaluate Commissioner Wynns’ assertion that the relatively low number of families requesting AA schools is evidence that families prefer choice over predictability.
  • The feasibility of means-testing families utilizing the CTIP preference. Free- or reduced-price lunch eligibility is a good proxy to weed out more privileged families taking advantage of the preference, but we don’t currently have a good way to discover and verify that eligibility for new K applicants. There may be some ways to develop this kind of means testing but these ideas need more analysis from staff.
  • Current economic characteristics of residents of CTIP  census tracts, and whether there is a way to define smaller sub-areas of these tracts to receive the preference, in order to weed out blocks with higher income residents or those that are rapidly gentrifying.

In addition, Commissioner Haney will take up some of the more programmatic ways to address desegregation and make our racially-isolated schools more attractive to a broader variety of  families.

Finally, I’m reserving the right to bring back the current proposal or an amended version for a vote next spring, in more than enough time to be implemented before taking applications for the 2016-17 school year.

This was never about “returning to neighborhood schools,” or other sweeping claims that have been made by those who support or oppose our proposal. It has always been about making our system work better for more families, and about remaining true to the original three goals we set at the start of the redesign process in 2009, and which I quoted at the top of this post.

I’m still not happy that we have a system that tacitly tells some families that the schools in their neighborhoods are inferior, and then institutes a “survival of the fittest” process to let the savviest and most advantaged residents go elsewhere. But the tea leaves indicate I haven’t convinced my colleagues that we can do better.

I’m glad that we started the discussion and I’m glad this discussion will continue, even if the underlying issues will take a lot more work and examination to resolve. I’m also excited about some new ideas that have come out of our discussion about desegregation efforts at Willie Brown, which will reopen in August 2015  after the district has spent millions to rebuild and reprogram the school. On the 26th the Superintendent will share some of those ideas

A challenging discussion

I’ve been surprised at the level of controversy our CTIP proposal has generated since it first appeared in the Chronicle in early June. Honestly, since the very beginning President Fewer and I have seen it as a “tweak” that encourages people to take another look at their attendance area schools by placing very modest limits on the currently very strong preference enjoyed by residents of priority census tracts.

Tonight the Board had a deep, substantive discussion of the proposal. It was a challenging discussion for me, because (as often happens when you put forward a legislative proposal) the longer and harder I think about the issue, the more convinced I am that we are right: the current strength of the CTIP proposal represents a perverse disincentive for families in certain census tracts to select or even consider their attendance area schools (you could even call it a hard shove away from those schools!).  What happens instead? “The Same Starting Line: Erasing the Opportunity Gap Between Poor and Middle-Class Children,” a report by the Appleseed Foundation on how school boards can promote educational equity, puts it this way:

The most active voters and most vocal stakeholders routinely live in and send their kids to school in more middle-class neighborhoods. Their political activism, coupled with a Board’s likelihood to follow previous resource distribution practices, works to the comparative disadvantage of people in poor neighborhoods. Teachers may transfer to progressively more middle-class schools as they build seniority, forsaking schools in tougher neighborhoods perceived as less safe or desirable. When permitted, some of the most ambitious and well-prepared children from higher poverty neighborhoods leave their own community to attend the higher-wealth schools, leaving behind an academically struggling population with various out-of-school challenges as well.

My Board colleagues are proving a bit harder to convince. There were concerns raised about the amount of time and community engagement we’ve put into this proposal (some think not enough, even though we eliminated two priority CTIP census tracts last summer without even a vote of the Board and barely got a peep) and also whether it will do enough to reverse our trend of racially-isolated schools and an achievement gap between students of different races. My personal feeling is that our proposal will not, on its own, either reverse the trend of racial isolation nor reverse our achievement gap, but I do think it might provide a slight nudge in a different direction. I am also hoping that if our proposal passes, it will increase faith in the transparency and predictability of the system — I hear complaints about those two things a lot.

What I know is that our current policies aren’t pointing us in a good direction, and I think our currently strong CTIP preference isn’t helping. There are some pretty staggering statistics when you look closely at the data the Board reviewed tonight. For example: On page 26 of the most recent annual report on student assignment, there is a chart showing the 20 schools that received more than 15 first choice requests from residents of CTIP1. Those requests listed in that chart represent 529 of 829 total first choice requests from residents of CTIP1, or about 64% of all first choice requests from residents of CTIP1. Of those requests:

  • 177 requests, or 21 percent of total first choice requests from CTIP1 residents, were for K seats at citywide schools. These requests would not be subject to our proposal.
  • Another 167 requests, or 20 percent of total first choice requests from CTIP1, were for K seats in citywide programs. These requests would not be subject to our proposal.
  • 51 first choice requests from CTIP1 residents–6 percent of total requests–were for attendance area programs with more than 60% African American, Latino or Pacific Islander students. These requests (based the race of the requesters and the racial makeup of the programs would not add to the diversity of the programs.
  • Overall, of those 20 schools receiving the bulk of requests from CTIP1 residents, 8 are more than 60 percent African American, Latino and/or Pacific Islander, and another one or two are very close.

This document, showing first choice CTIP requests, by race, for non-citywide programs, shows the self-segregation perpetuated by our CTIP program clearly. The key for the tiebreaker abbreviations is as follows:

AAP– Requests from students who live in the same attendance area of the school and are also enrolled in an SFUSD PreK or TK in the same attendance area.

AA – Requests from students who live in the attendance area of the school requested.

PK-Requests fro students who attend an SFUSD PreK or TK program at the citywide school they are applying to.

S – Requests from a younger sibling of a student who is enrolled in and will be attending the school.

CTIP1 – Students who live in areas of the ciy with the lowest quintile of average test scores.

One of the other arguments from this evening is that this change doesn’t do enough to either address segregation or the achievement gap. Well, yeah. It’s a very modest change, because this was about all President Fewer and I thought the system could handle. And yet, the level of pushback we’ve received makes me realize we may be — for now – stuck with a system that doesn’t work and doesn’t meet our goals, because no one can agree on what might work better.

UPDATE: I have a question. One Commissioner raised the relatively small number of families who list their attendance area school first as evidence that most families don’t actually want the closest school — that they would actually rather choose a school and that predictability and proximity are less important to families. If you support this proposal, but didn’t list your attendance area school first, I’d like to know why, and what your reasons were. Leave me your answer in the comments.

Board to discuss CTIP resolution tomorrow (Aug. 11)

At a Committee of the Whole tomorrow evening (Monday, August 11 starting at 6 pm in the Board room at 555 Franklin Street), the Board will discuss the resolution put forth by President Fewer and I that would modify the order of preferences in our Student Assignment system starting in the enrollment cycle for the 2015-16 school year.

Staff has provided some data (not all of what I requested, but I’ve asked for some additions) so I thought I’d share what the Board will be looking at. (I anticipate Commissioners will have a lot of questions so there may well be additional data that will be provided ahead of the anticipated Board vote on August 26):

  • A spreadsheet showing first-choice requests, by race, by residents of CTIP1. I had also asked for the data to break down programs as well as schools, and also to indicate which CTIP1 residents requested their attendance area school as a first choice. We know, for example, that Charles R. Drew ES in the Bayview is the most requested school by African American residents of CTIP1. How many of those requesters already have an attendance area priority? It would be interesting to know. The spreadsheet does breakdown the current demographics of each school so that we can see whether the requests are adding to diversity or not.
  • A presentation from a Stanford researcher simulating changes to priority in school assignment (there are two versions — a longer, more complex description of the simulation and a highly simplified one). Basically, the simulation finds a very small increase (n=1) in the number of schools that are segregated* if you increase the strength of the attendance area preference (our proposal), or eliminate CTIP altogether (which we are not proposing). I have a number of questions about these findings –including whether the projection is statistically significant. Also, these are 10-year projections based on current choice patterns — 10 years is a long time in such a rapidly changing City.

*In the analysis, a segregated school is defined as a school that is more than 60 percent of any single race. In making this proposal, President Fewer and I are primarily concerned with the schools that are more than 60 percent African American, Latino and/or Pacific Islander (see below; and read this post from 2009 on why these schools are of particular concern).

President Fewer and I have also made some changes to the original resolution, so we will be requesting the Board consider an amendment by substitution. The amended resolution is here.

Finally, I just want to reiterate some facts about this proposal:

  • We are not proposing to eliminate the CTIP preference. Under this proposal, residents of CTIP1 would retain their current priority for Citywide K seats, which represent about one-third of SFUSD K seats overall. (Right now the proposal specifies Kindergarten only, but the question has been raised about families who transfer in other elementary grades. We’ll have to discuss whether to expand the proposal throughout K-5).
  • The proposal does not apply to middle school or high school enrollment. The current preferences for these school levels would remain unchanged.
  • The proposal is a minor modification of current policy, and we do not expect it to have drastic changes. We proposed this change because we believe that increasing the number of children attending their attendance area elementary schools would specifically decrease the number of schools that are more than 60 percent African American, Latino or Pacific Islander. Research has consistently shown that high concentrations of these students in schools has a negative effect on student achievement due to high concentrations of poverty, less effective or experienced staff, and fewer resources overall.
  • We also believe that choice is over-prioritized in our current system for elementary school enrollment, and we see this as a small course correction. Choice is, by its very nature, most beneficial to families with the wherewithal to choose: those families with childcare, flexible schedules and transportation. While I personally have no issues with families being able to choose programs that work best for them, I have also come to see that there are also some negative effects to the high prioritization our current system gives to choice. Some neighborhoods (Bayview is a case in point) are much more diverse than the schools they contain. The effect that the CTIP preference has in “bleeding off” the most involved and engaged families to attend programs in other neighborhoods has a directly negative effect on Bayview schools. I don’t think the Board believes that our Bayview schools are “bad” schools — I think we believe they are racially isolated schools with a high concentration of the district’s neediest students — and that their academic results demonstrate this. Why then, do we have a system of preferences that perpetuates that isolation?