Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Could Flynnarado happen again?

An SF K Files visitor asked me to share the below. I hate to bring up the Flynn/Alvarado situation again, but this is interesting. Best, Kate

Hi Kate,

After the Flynarado 23 screw up with EPC this summer, I decided to ask the Superintendent if they were planning to re-write the software code that assigns students to schools. IMHO, this code is clearly broken. Here is the response from the EPC person he punted my question to.

Short answer: No, they're not going to re-write the code.
My conclusion: This is trouble. March is going to result in a whole new set of screw-ups when the letters go out.

Feel free to copy/paste this into the blog if you like.

Parent and Tour leader at Flynn

Dear Mr. Forer,
Superintendent Garcia forwarded your inquiry to me for a response.

The situation that occurred in the Round 1 assignments to two-way immersion programs was not due to a programming error or a flaw to the computer system itself, but to an error in the coding of the languages that should have been attached to the applicants. Our consultant did a double check on the program file from both before and after the assignment run, which is how the error was discovered.

In order to prevent a recurrence of this situation for school year 2009-2010, we have installed preventative measures for the future:

  • Ensure that the proper language code is attached to all pre-assigned students. This code will be reviewed by a second IT programmer, or team, who will also check the balance of languages after completion of the Student Assignment process run by the consultants prior to mailing notification letters.
  • Post Round 1/Pre-Mailing: Print Manual Query verification lists for all K-1 Immersion programs showing student language distribution.
  • Build in additional data verification days so new run can be accomplished if required.
  • Provide Programmers and consultants a check off/ signature verification sheet for all required pre & post run checks.
  • Schools to immediately review assignment lists in March and notify EPC of any discrepancies.
  • Provide Multilingual and Assistant Superintendents check off/ signature results query sheet.
  • Schools to immediately review assignment lists in March and notify any discrepancies.

All these measures will allow us to be more diligent in ensuring the appropriate balance of languages are assigned. The district will not allow this error to re-occur in the future. I hope that you will be able to communicate our assurances to future immersion families.

Darlene Lim
Executive Director, Educational Placement Center


  1. There *will* be issues next year. Here's why:

    1) They ask the wrong Qs on the form. What they need to know is what the child's dominant language is. What they ask is what the parents speak among themselves, what the kid speaks to the parent, etc... all sorts of indirect factors none of which provides the real answer they need.
    2) Because the child's language dominance is unclear from the form, human beings end up making guesses and judgment calls, often deciding that kids with Spanish surnames must be Spanish speaking. (That's how Fairmount ended up out of balance this year.)

    3) People lie to try to game the system... there is no reason not to. There is no penalty for lying. (They really should add small print saying that if the kinder teacher determines that the kid's language dominance was misrepresented, the child may be forcibly reassigned to another school.)

    4) There is no testing. Word on the street is they'll be testing bilingual kids next year but don't have the resources to test Spanish-speaking kids. You heard it hear first: It is safe to lie and claim your kids are Spanish dominant.

  2. Maybe the issue instead is to scrap the dual immersion programs and set up one way programs, maintain the Spanish bilingual programs, and regular Gen Ed programs. Spanish native speakers who want their children to truly maintain their heritage language should then advocate to have the Spanish bilingual programs tweaked to enhance the Spanish portion of those programs.

    There will be unhappy parents no matter what the District does. The sad part is that parent's feel the need to game the system to get a spot. For sure, when the family goes to enroll, their child should be tested by the teachers at the incoming program. Parents should be told this in advance, so they understand the consequences of stretching the truth.

    Logistically speaking though, it is quite probable that there will not be enough Spanish native speaking students available to fill the slots as long as the same bilingual programs are targeting the same population.

    Will non native speakers be disenrolled until enough of the Spanish native speakers are enrolled? After all, it will be easy to fill the 10 non native spots, but you may only get 2 or 3 or 4 true Spanish native speakers who sign up. Will Sp. native speakers be asked to leave bilingual programs and put into immersion programs to meet the need, aka Daniel Webster? Then what happens to the empty seats at the Spanish bilingual programs? Or will empty seats be left in the immersion program? Given budget cuts, can district afford to leave seats empty?

    Lots of questions. More importantly though, which is more effective/successful at helping Spanish native speakng children learn English proficiently -- the Spanish bilingual or the Spanish immersion program? (For the non native speakers, of course having Spanish native speakers in the class is beneficial!!)

    Another thought -- does West Portal, the Cantonese immersion program that has been in existence for quite a while have the same problem with balance? If not, then why not replicate their lottery/placement system?

  3. don't forget there is lots of talk about more testing this year. I think English speakers who check the box indicating their child is bilingual or fluent in another language do so at their peril.

  4. Interestingly, if a child is neither bringing Spanish or English as their dominant language to the program, they should not be allowed in at all. Think about it -- if you want balance at all costs, it is because both students bring a pure language benefit to the program. So a child who is only mildly fluent in English should not be allowed in, just as any child who is "mildly" fluent in Spanish should not be allowed in (not a true native speaker).

  5. 10:34 -- Let me see if I got this straight: Rather than give Spanish-speaking families access to dual immersion programs, dual immersion should be scrapped and Spanish-speaking children forced into the lower performing bilingual programs? Hmmm... Glad you're not in charge of narrowing the achievement gap (or making sure English-only students actually master Spanish thanks to having native speaking peers).

    Finally, your "plan" leaves truly bilingual children with nowhere to go.

  6. Darlene? Karling? Did either of you read 9:48's post?

  7. 1039-- they are NOT testing Spanishi speakers.

  8. 1:21am -- you actually got me all wrong -- I'm all for scrapping the Sp bilingual and Cn bilingual programs and creating immersion programs that do not ethnically/racially isolate a group of students. I wish I could have gone to the B of E forum last night to find out candidate viewpoints. I know N Yee is open to creating more lang. immersion programs. Don't know about the others.

    But to be fair, since the District insists on maintain the bilingual programs, one needs to ask which program is really better for true Spanish native students that are ELL. I suspect immersion works equally as well if not better (and the student gets to be literate in Spanish too), but if so, why doesn't the district convert more of these bilingual programs to immersion? So it must not be true. Also, in case you are not aware-- you know, some Spanish native speaking families actually feel their children are being used in these immersion programs to help "anglos" and other non Latino/as learn Spanish. Did you realize that impression exists out there? So why would they want to enroll. And in a 90/10 K class,if I were ELL/Sp. native family, I could see why they would think so. Its blind faith to ask them to wait until 5th grade to see the benefits.

    And my point still stands and should be well taken - the bilingual programs and immersion programs target the same ELL kids. If the immersion program CAN not get the 10 students needed to balance the class, and BALANCE is so crucial as to necessitate kicking out enrolled families (think Flynnardo), then logically, it should mean that Eng/non Spanish speakers should only be admitted up to the number that Sp speakers are enrolled!

    Sounds pretty ridiculous doesn't it. So what is the tolerable limits for imbalance? 60/40? 70/30?
    Certainly not 80/20. Will class be made of up 6 and 6 kids, because district can't get 10 Sp native speakers to enroll.

    Think this out to the logical conclusion. Then interested parties should advocate solutions that actually put the learning interests of children first (and that is both the ELL kids and also includes the needs of monolingual children who want to learn a foreign language. They are not chopped liver just because their parents do not speak another language).

  9. SFUSD should try to reach the 33/33/33 ratio, which will provide for better chances of success in the dual immersion, as well as allow for a better diversity. 33/33/33 remains the recommended balance, the 50/50 balance is the best SFUSD can do.
    We have friends whose daughter tested as proficient bilingual with SFUSD, but were later told SFUSD was not using that data for assignments, only for statistics. Shameful...

  10. two words: of course.

    dave is right to follow up on this. good for him. EPC's fuck-ups put tour leaders, PPS and other parents walking the pro-public talk in a bad position. it's unconscionable.

    make no mistake, though -- this can't be the first year something this egregious happened. there was just more transparency because of blogging and the like.

    as far as the immersion formula or placement goes, i cannot even imagine how to fix this bloated bastard of a creature. there are the politics of it -- which are key, IMO -- and there is the math, and there is the program paradigm. it seems like all are up for grabs. there is something to be said for starting over when the core is riddled with rot, eh?

    maybe they should start testing the english speakers too...make 'em test in like at lowell or sota since everyone wants in, fishing for the ones who can really add value for ELLs...the budding shakespeares (er, kidding. i think.)

    flynnarado kim...gearing up to enter the fray again this season, because, hey, why NOT spend another year lying/cheating/bullying/lobbying/manipulating/threatening/finagling/begging/weeping in the name of choice?

  11. 8:10am -- I absolutely disagree with the 33/33/33 ratio. That would leave out so many kids who are English dominant from having any opportunity to learn a foreign language, and frankly I am so sick and tired of, yes even Obama, pointing out how poor our language skills are in this country,but then not providing the opportunities when there is interest.

    ELL's - immersion is a model that may work for them,while enabling them to be literate in their native language.

    With 33/33/33 you are splitting hairs. Sounds like a wonderful ivory tower concept, academia at its best.

    The reality is you have 3000 K students, 18000 K-5 kids, roughly speaking. Lets say half are monolingual (parents may be heritage speakers, but for all intents and purposes not really fluent in another language). 9000 kids, of which only a handful would get opportunity in immersion. The demand rate far outstrips the seat availability, now that is what is really shameful.

    The "bilingual" child at home has many more opportunities than one that doesn't have parents with language abilities. With limited resources, I'm for getting the most bang for the buck. And nothing says the "bilingual" cannot get into an immersion program -- they still would be part of same lottery.

  12. Kim - exactly my point that the "trilingual" kids - those who are working on their 3rd language, not quite fluent in English like a monolingual, will no longer be allowed in the immersion program.

    At some of the Mandarin Immersion programs, we have kids who definitely are not English or Mandarin dominant.

    But its great having the diversity and they do add to the class, just not per the "model". But hey, if we are going to a strict 50/50, then no, they should not be allowed in.

    I hope the District does not enforce the 50/50 rule to the point where many seats go empty. One Way Immersion is not BAD! Switch to OW if necessary. It works. It meets a need. Just because 2 way is theoretically better doesn't mean you throw the baby out with the bathwater.

  13. The district *is* slowly phasing out early exit bilingual programs and encouraging Spanish speaking families to try immersion. That's how Daniel Webster got started. But there is a shortage of Spanish-immersion teachers. You can't just take a bilingual teacher and dump them in an immersion classroom. So the district cannot expand the immersion programs fast enough to satisfy monolingual English-speaking parents.

  14. I'm rather surprised it's so hard to find appropriate instructors for these programs, especially for Spanish immersion and in San Francisco. It seems like there would be a decent pool of applicants. Do bilingual teachers go to other school systems? (Not that I would blame them?) Why isn't there more active recruitment of teachers for these programs? The programs add a lot of value to the schools, raise the salaries for these teachers. Recruit recruit recruit.

  15. There aren't that many people out there who speak Spanish fluently enough to serve as language role models, frankly.

    Just because your parents or grandparents immigrated to the US from Mexico doesn't mean you can read and write Spanish with proper grammar and an advanced vocabulary. (Especially if your parents' own level of education in Latin America was low.)

    And just because you were the top student in your high school and college Spanish classes does not mean you have the fluency and accent of a native speaker.

    So no... it isn't that easy.

  16. THose of you who really want one-way, Spanish-immersion and don't care if there aren't any peer language role models for your kids should just get together and start a charter school.

  17. I don't follow these immersion debates closely, but I'm curious: Are one-way immersion classes really considered totally substandard? Because I really think SFUSD is going to need to start some to meet demand from English-speaking parents. I blogged about that here:


    Also, what I've been told over the years is that there are lots of immigrant parents who DON'T prefer two-way immersion and would rather have a bilingual program, because they want their kids to learn English as fast as possible. They see immersion as slower since it starts with their home language. I have no idea how common that attitude is or how valid it is; just reporting what I've heard over the years. I have to say if it's a common sentiment, it wouldn't be very sensitive of the district to get rid of the bilingual programs.

  18. Even if kids in bilingual programs do more poorly academically than their peers in dual immersion? Even if there is substantive research to show that they are better off in dual immersion programs where they can become bilingual and biliterate?

  19. Kids who have peer language models -- and lots of them -- have a better shot at actually mastering the target language.

    I think it is interesting that parents (immigrants asking for bilingual programs or English-speakers asking for one-way immersion) are begging for programs that are known to be less than effective and that do nothing to minimize the achievement gap.

    Should educational policy be dictated by what is most popular with parents, or by what researchers and educators know to work best?

    And would parents be clamoring for an approach to Math that resulted in kids achieving *less* in Math than another program? I don't think so.

  20. Daniel Webster is not 50/50. No post-Flynnarado lesson learned.

  21. 6:25 -- I actually do not think immigrants are necessarily "asking" for bilingual programs. Many do not know better. I know of a few Spanish immigrant families that pulled their children out of bilingual programs because their children weren't learning English, their children were "ghetto" (that's their words)... the nilingues comment someone mentioned - by 5th grade, the children were not quite literate in Spanish or in English. Appalling really. If Eng Gen Ed is good enough for other immigrant kids, I do not see why it is not good enough for Latinos and Cantonese kids -- clearly it cannot be a genetic issue. Oh, right the politics. Forgot about that.

  22. To October 8, 2008 12:24 PM,
    Prop A was designed to help address the lack of bilingual teacher - there is a shortage all over the state compared to need, and SFUSD paid less than neighboring districts. Prop A provided bonus incentives to hire teachers in hard to find ares: bilingual, special ed, math, science and PE. It passed and we should start seeing the results.

    But there is an overall shortage of qualily bilingual educators all over the state.

  23. Even if kids in bilingual programs do more poorly academically than their peers in dual immersion? Even if there is substantive research to show that they are better off in dual immersion programs where they can become bilingual and biliterate?

    Even if the research is out there, the data HERE does not show that SFUSD is doing it well. And frankly, it's been swept under the rug for years (just like the enrollment issues that finally came to light this year with Flynnarrado)

  24. 6:25 -- also -- One Way Immersion is the only way to satisfy the needs of the kids whose families want them to learn a 2nd/3rd language (these could be monolingual English kids or also be kids bilingual in another language other than Spanish or Chinese or Korean).

    Of course we should not want to settle for "less" if we can set up better programs -- two way immersion is supposedly the best way. But what happens if you do not have enough of the native speakers? Do you think other countries that require their kids to learn English only set up a program if they had "native English" speaking kids in their country? Of course not! Of course it would be better to have native English speaking role models in the class. Here we are, so far behind in our country compared to other countries in their language programs, and yet we wait, we wait until we can get enough native speaking kids to justify a program. Barack Obama, pooh poohing Americans for our lack of language ability, and yet, here we have families willing to put their child through an intensive language programs and no seats. If only he knew, he would be ashamed to even bring up such topic.

    OW Immersion is better than no language program at all. And maybe charters are the way to do it. The SFUSD has too much politics going on.

    SF has an interesting demographic with so many ELL Spanish kids and presumably Cantonese and Tagalog. So the District could leverage those children's language skills and conversely, those of English speakers to set up a 2 way immersion. But it chooses not too. Instead it chooses to set up bilingual programs that segregates the ELL kids, esp the K-5 program.

    As for being difficult to find native Spanish teachers? As someone mentioned, recruit recruit (and use different techniques. Think out of the box). There are qualified applicants in this huge country of ours.

  25. 9:38 -- so what is the balance at DW?

    If the classes are full, I would say the program is a success. Any teacher worth their salt would be able to adjust their teaching to a less than ideal 50/50 ratio. DW also has a lot of Spanish speaking staff - that is a HUGE plus. In fact, the Principal should require her staff to speak in Spanish primarily to the children in the program so that the teacher is not the only role model (and of course, in English to the ELL kids as they progress through the grades).

    Let me guess, there are not enough Spanish native ELL kids right? And wonder why that would be? Because those kids are in the bilingual programs in other city schools!

    You can not force parents from those programs to come to DW. So is it better to have seats go empty at DW? I would say NO, unless you can reassign ELL kids to the program to fill the balance. Thats right, ASSIGN! And that is not right either. So filling the class with non natives speakers(and letting the parents know that it is not 50/50 so they have the option to disenroll) is the next best option, rather than seats going empty when we have a huge deficit and more to come. Yup, mid year cuts folks. On its way.

  26. 11:07 adding another thought -- if the DW program has too many Sp ELL kids, then its most likely because the bilingual program got converted so quickly, it would not be fair to push out the kids already enrolled in the bi. program.

  27. THere are plenty of Spanish-speaking children to go around -- just not enough teachers.

  28. How do they know which code to assign to begin with?

    The Qs on the form can be misleading... I bet they often miscode Spanish surnames as Spanish speakers.

  29. And probably non Spanish speaking names get coded as non-Spanish or English.

    The only way to do get the language correct is to test or to include some of the suggestions of Poster #1.

    By the way, this should apply to all the Spanish immersion programs and may result in some very unhappy parents all the way around.

  30. Darlene Kim's statement is rather ridiculous. Of course it can happen again because it's been happening all along. The problems achieving the right mix in the immersion programs is nothing new or unique to 2008. My children are at Marshall, a 100% Spanish Immersion school that has not received anything close to the proper Eng/Span mix for years. They have been battling with SFUSD about this for years. This year, again there are not enough English speakers for a proper balance. And there were English dominant families who requested Marshall and did not get it. In addition, SFUSD makes no attempt to fill any untaken seats in Round II with kids of the needed language group. So, if at Marshall they have all Spanish-dom kids and 2 seats left for Rd II, they just fill those with whomever pops up first rather than the first Eng-dominant applicants. (Shem Korngold told me this directly). So those Eng-Dom families who went for this school in RdII b/c they did not get Flynn Sp or Alvarado, had very little chance of getting in to Marshall even though Marshall NEEDED the English speakers. THis is infuriating to me, as RdII is obviously a good opportunity to balance the classes and give those families desiring immersion a chance. It's also unfair to the school, which needs a more diverse parent body to develop.

  31. Another comment re: staff recruitment. SFUSD clearly does not "get" what the SpImm programs need. Our 100% Sp Immersion school got a new principal this year, who has never been principal and who DOES NOT SPEAK SPANISH. And word is there were two good candidates who were native speakers. The logic in this assignment? Incomprehensible. But all too typical for SFUSD.

  32. So re Daniel Webster = does anyone know what the ratio for the Sp Imm class is? The poster above alluded to an imbalance, but which way?

  33. Daniel Webster is not 50/50. No post-Flynnarado lesson learned.

    October 8, 2008 9:38 PM

    OK, so found out the balance - one class is 50/50, the other is 6 non-Spanish, and 12 Spanish (but not all ESL, some both Spanish and English).

    So I'm not sure what you mean by no lessons learned necessarily. It sounds like too many Spanish speakers were enrolled but if some are truly bilingual and not ESL, sounds like the mix is just fine.

    If anything, the English speakers (or non Spanish speakers) got "screwed" at DW, because only 6 of the 20 are non-Spanish speakers and could have had up to 10.

    In any case, for those 6 families, its actually great to have more Spanish speaking kids!!

  34. THe *ideal* mix is not 50/50 but a third English dominant, a third bilingual and a third Spanish dominant.

    50/50 is what they usually settle for because it is easier to achieve.

    Sounds like DW had the perfect balance