Saturday, September 19, 2009

Debbie's Story: Decisions, Decisions

First of all, I want to extend a big thank you to all of you who have reached out and offered advice and support. I can already tell that this is going to be an incredible experience. There’s a lot of passion and opinion out there, and I truly enjoy reading it all. I’m reminded of what I tell my four-year-old daughter all the time, so often in fact, that she finishes the sentence for me: I say, "Different people like different things", then she says, "and that’s okay." I haven’t had the opportunity to explain the word "opinion" to her yet, but I’m sure I’ll be able to work that in one day.

So here’s the question that keeps me up at night, as it did last night: Will I make the right decision for my child? (and throw in "and family" at the end, and that’s worth at least a month’s worth of sleepless nights) Up to this point, we’ve already made hundreds of child-related decisions, many relatively minor in impact, but decisions nonetheless: Do I really need that $700+ stroller? (In retrospect, the answer should have been no. So much wasted money on baby/toddler products, but I digress…) Should I let Anna have a second serving of ice-cream? (Yes! Live a little!) But these elementary school decisions in front of me now seem like high-impact decisions that will influence the trajectory of her future, or maybe I’m being too dramatic. Public or private, immersion or no immersion, uniform or no uniform, school close to home or not close, gardening program or high test scores, the decisions go on and on. I don’t know if Mark and I are up for some of the rigorous and time consuming activities in which some parents engage. Maybe we’re just lazy. When we had to choose a contractor for extensive house remodeling, we talked to only one, and we chose him because we liked him, and he seemed trustworthy - he’s been doing stuff for us for about 10 years now. When it came to choosing a pre-school, we toured three, and chose one of them because we really liked the teacher, and it was close to our home. We love the pre-school.

To tell you the truth, what it all boils down to for me is, I want Anna to have a super nice teacher and be around nice people all day. That’s it. Am I aiming too low? To me, I’m not. To me, nice goes a long way.

181 comments:

  1. People who even consider spending 700 on a stroller are not people who I'd take advice from on a blog.

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  2. A couple of things:

    1) Both of my kids have ended up switching elementary schools for different reasons. It has ended up working out beautifully for them and all of us gained something from the whole experience. This decision is not the end all and be all! It's one of those situation where there are a lot of choices/decisions to make along the way, chances are whatever ones you make will turn out well, and if they don't - you can change things.

    2) Don't get too hung up on a nice teacher! Somewhere along the way, at any school, you'll be less than thrilled with your daughter's teacher. That in and of itself is an important learning experience. A school administration that you can work well with is an important consideration over the long haul.

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  3. it's funny how the current system engenders such a frenzy of contemplation, when, in reality, applicants who don't add diversity to places they're likely to apply have little to no control over their assignments at all. for this reason, i have come to think of the current enrollment formula as "illusion-of-choice-based" for almost anyone with the resources to attend tours, read greatschools or "shop around," as it were.

    debbie, this is not intended to be snarky. but had i to do it again today -- we applied for K in 08-09 -- i would surely focus the bulk of my time on schools i had never heard discussed. on schools that did not generate buzz. on schools nearest our home. and on the perceived "second-tier" schools in categories we already knew we liked (e.g., immersion). if you find a less popular school you actually love at the outset, think of all the stress you'll save yourself!

    having been enrolled in five schools before my kid even started first grade, and gotten to know most of them at least a little bit, i can tell you that little is as it seems on the surface. (one caveat: our gut instinct for a school's vibe proved to be correct in most cases, with one significant exception, but that school's PR was so brilliant it eclipsed the reality, which in itself is an interesting data point.)

    here are a few things my friends and i have learned along the way:

    few schools in this town are heinous, objectively speaking.

    the "trophy" publics have their good and bad qualities like any others.

    there are outstanding teachers at lower-performing schools and weak ones at higher-performing ones.

    who your kid's teacher is any given year matters a lot. (a few schools i saw actually let parents give input on this year to year. the "trophies?" fuggedaboutit.)

    test scores largely reflect student wealth, and, up to a (pretty extreme) point, supported kids do well anywhere.

    some enormous schools lack warmth (i.e., the principal and other staff will never know your kid's name).

    what some "buzzy" schools term "community," i would call operational efficiency.

    you can find likeminded families almost anywhere.

    PTA budgets do not equal offerings (i.e., lower-performing schools often have access to federal or other funding for enrichment and support programs).

    "enrichment" isn't everything. so a school lacks an art class. you get there and write a grant for an effing art class!

    schools with large inclusion programs or high-need populations often have more staff on hand.

    leadership matters, although strong schools can weather bad principal periods.

    don't be afraid of the school bus just because your kid's four and puny. they can get used to it in two days. mind you, i'm anti-busing on various grounds generally, but if it brings a school "closer" to you...by all means spare the air.

    some life lessons do not fit into neat categories like "academic" or "enriching," but they are still important. maybe more important.

    people with formal educations do not know everything.

    hope this helps.

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  4. There are so many different factors involved when choosing a school. My advice is - you'll just know. You'll be able to envision your daughter at a particular school, playing, learning, etc. Those are the schools to put on your list. Start touring close to your home, and maybe check out a few others in different areas that sound interesting. Talk to other people on the tours, find out which schools they like and check some those out. I know it is overwhelming, I felt the same. I also felt lucky to be able to view schools and live in a city where I have some input where my child goes. Good luck!

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  5. I do agree with Anonymous/8:09 that sometimes you aren't going to get a nice teacher and that's just the reality of the situation. But I do think it's crucial that the kindergarten teacher be outstanding because it's a child's first introduction to school and I think it's important to get started on the right foot. Those first few years are important. It's better to get the bad teacher in 4th or 6th grade. That said, my child's public school truly doesn't have a single bad teacher. There's really not a bad egg in the bunch.

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  6. Kim Green. So great. Wish there were a way to infuse what you just said into some kind of tea and serve it up, because if everyone was able to really absorb the points you just made, I bet it would feel like the city just let out a collective sigh of anxiety let go.

    People, read again what she wrote. Some of it is counter-intuitive, but it is also true.

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  7. more tea for thought: tours are deceptive because some tour leaders simply "give good tour" and some don't, and that doesn't really say much about the school. you gotta get down to brass tacks to (a) find out what the "extras" are; and (b) how they are funded. (example: some leaders who gave good tour when we went would boast that they offered instrumental music in grades 3-4. wow! musical enrichment! turns out prop H funded that service for all schools.)

    also: i think title I schools are exempt from certain types of class size increases. and star schools get other funding streams, too. case in point: i remember touring paul revere -- a school i really liked and wished i had toured earlier -- and finding out that the staff (principal?) had written a grant that would fund small class size through it's 8th grade classes for the (then) next 7 years! 20 vs. 33 students at ANY school is a huge difference, it seems to me.

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  8. I also toured Paul Revere school and know several families with children there. It is my neighborhood school.

    It has an amazing library, with many books in Spanish and a dedicated principal. As a star school, it gets extra funding for key resources like language intervention specialists.

    But with the recent budget cuts,
    most of the after school music and dance have been cut.

    Discipline is a problem in the upper grades. The principal sometimes has to use army drill tactics to keep discipline.

    I don't think there are too many kids there who were driven around in $700 strollers, although maybe their parents drove other people's kids around in $700 strollers.

    As a star school, it is very focused on getting kids to read. When I spoke with the pricipal, subjects like science seemed to be very downplayed. Some of the teachers seemed very burned out and resistant to teaching anything beyond the "No Child Left Behind" mandate.

    I believe that they are starting a Spanish immersion program.

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  9. "I don't think there are too many kids there who were driven around in $700 strollers, although maybe their parents drove other people's kids around in $700 strollers."

    Classic.

    People who buy 700 dollar strollers wind up going private. They write about how all they care about is "nice" but what they mean by "nice" is nice and WHITE.

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  10. Debbie,

    You mentioned uniforms or not uniforms and that you live near Ingleside?

    If you are up for private and you are willing to consider a school where kids wear uniforms, please check out Stratford school on Ocean Avenue.

    The teachers are amazing and warm. Classes are very small. Tons of art. Most kids learn to read and do basic arithmetic by the end of kindergarten. They have two school plays a year in which every child gets to participate. Lots of hands-on fun science projects.

    It has a good after school and summer program.

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  11. Nice Teacher...hmm, we have family friends who just started 2nd grade at a 25K year private school, their child is petrified of the teacher who is strict. There have been nightmares...tears everyday to school...etc. The K teachers all seem to be nice no matter the school. I think their are many different teaching styles at private and public schools and I would not look at individual teachers as they also change schools and classes overtime. In sum, I would not let the "nice teacher" philosophy carry the day, perhaps focus more on nurturing learning environment as a philosophy of the school.

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  12. Debbie--hope you have a thick skin! And thanks for blogging here. Don't take any one comment too seriously.

    Re Paul Revere:

    They already have a Spanish immersion strand that that has several years under its belt. That program is changing the nature of the school as it attracts a different demographic. When you are looking for kinder at a turn-around school, you can't look too much at the upper grades or even test scores, because demographic changes in the lower grades mean it will all be different.

    As mentioned by Kim, Revere has class-size reduction to 20 in the lower grades, despite expansions of class size at other schools, and access to other kinds of monies that are provided poorer schools. It's in that fortuitous situation at the moment of being in turn-around mode and getting more middle class energy, while still getting federal dollars and supports.

    In the interest of full discussion, it should be mentioned that there are always tensions when different culture and class groups begin to mix more. I think Revere is actually handling that dynamic pretty well, better than at some other schools I've seen in the past. In the long run, those schools that do it well create a win-win of bringing the gifts of all kinds of families and cultures to the school, and the kids excel in negotiating multicultural settings--a real 21st century skill.

    I know one of the teachers there pretty well, and we talk a lot about Revere. Her attitude--she is bright and lively but also not naive--has gone from jaded to hopeful in a few short years. Also, she is not a teach-to-the-test kind of teacher at all and she is also warm and loves loves loves her kids. She seems to respect her teaching peers overall.

    FWIW at all, Sec of Ed Arne Duncan visited Paul Revere last spring as some kind of showcase thing.

    Revere has a grand old school building on a hill and it is beautifully located for folks in Bernal, Mission, Potrero, Portola and McClaren Park area, Glen Park, and basically anyone heading south on the 101 or 280 for work.

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  13. Please ignore the first commentor. I bought 2 $800 stroller - Bugaboo and a Phil and Ted Vibe. I read this blog.

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  14. Paul Revere has a good principal, Lance Tagomori. He is forward-looking and the right person for turnaround mode.

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  15. Daniel Webster is another Spanish immersion school to look at.

    Location: It is extremely accessible via the 280 if you are already driving to work. I lived here for many years before I realized how much more accessible everything was in SOMA, Alemany area, and, this is for Debbie, even back/forth to the Sunset and SF State area if you take the 280 rather than try to go Over The Hill. Paul Revere and Daniel Webster are also both extremely accessible to downtown and the Bay Bridge if you know how to go. And UCSF Mission Bay.

    Anyway, Daniel Webster has a dedicated neighborhood group raising funds for it and an active parent group. The school just got painted and they are greening the schoolyard.

    For those who really want immersion, you would do well to put Daniel Webster and Paul Revere on your list. Good things are happening in both places, and positive elements are in place (leadership, active parents, magnet program). Bonus: you also have a good chance of getting them in the lottery. I mean, put Alvarado on the list too if you want, but the chances there are just not so good. And the thing is, Alvarado was at the same place as these are now, 10 years ago.

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  16. I agree with 1st poster. The $700 stoller means it's game over for Debbie's credibility.

    Bugaboo strollers are the Hummers of baby world. If I wouldnt take advice from a hummer driver why would I take advice....well you fill in the rest.

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  17. ouch.

    What a harsh, judgmental crowd.

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  18. Well, now, I do know many moms who bought a MacLaren, Graco or Evenflo who still ended up sending their kids to private.

    I think this reflects the divide between where so many of us start out as moms in this city and where we end up.

    Many of us do want the cool, high end stroller, and think we are just going to sail into a decent public school.

    The reality is very different, with even second hand stroller mommies getting the boot from the SFUSD.

    There are too many parents faking up their info on the lottery application form in order to increase their chances of getting into a good school. Too many ideologues running social engineering experiments sitting in the offices at 555 Franklin Street.

    Well meaning parents who have honestly filed out their form, sent their kids to preschool, spent years slogging away to get an advanced degree and have had the audacity to allow their children to speak English as a primary language have about as much chance of getting into a top tier public school as a Bugaboo mommy would have fitting in at Paul Revere school.

    I say we keep Debbie. She is us, with foibles like us. She is honest, a vanishing commodity, it seems.

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  19. Now I'm sad ... my evenflo stroller is considered low class? It cost 160 bucks!

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  20. Just to clarify:

    -mother's educational level isn't used anymore.

    -SFUSD says they will be testing every kid who claims a language other than English as primary.

    The biggest issue for most middle class and above families (including both "Graco" and "Bugaboo" families) isn't the competition with families who are extremely poor, living in public housing, and so forth. It's true that any of them could waltz into Clarendon, but the thing is that they (mainly) don't. They just don't participate in Round 1 in as strong #s, and they tend to apply elsewhere--I don't know if there are actually studies as to why, and whether it has to do with material issues or cultural ones (lack of access, lack of comfortability with wealthier families, what?).

    No, the competition for the popular public schools is between and among middle class and plus families. It's too large a pool to accommodate all the Gracos & Bugaboos combined at the top 10 or top 15 schools.

    This has forced some families to check out schools in widening circles beyond the top 15....and those schools have become more "acceptable" as a result. This is actually a good legacy of the frustrating lottery system. There are probably 50 schools now that are considered okay by at least the Graco set, and even by some adventuresome Bugaboos.

    And yes, there are certainly families who would never consider looking beyond the top 5 or 10 or 15. They are a significant part of the 30% who go 0/7 in Round 1, and they are the ones who feel forced to go private or parochial. Are there more Bugaboos in that set? Probably. If for no other reason than if you can afford a stroller at that price than you are more likely to afford monthly tuition....

    Anyway, we all know there are class rifts in this town and they come out on this list, but I too appreciate Debbie's candor. I enjoy some of the general snarkiness but not the personal attacks so much. Debbie, thank you for posting and don't take it too much to heart. The class stuff is reality but as individuals we all have our own stories to tell. Oh, and good luck!

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  21. I myself used an umbrella stroller from one of the general goods stores on Mission Street. Total cheapo thing that carried us on neighborhood strolls and through airports. I think it was as cheap $12 (maybe $20?) and it lasted for two kids.

    BUT, there are other things I do spend money on. I buy books instead of always going to the library. I order take-out instead of cooking too many nights. Very middle-class professional mom of me.

    Therefore, I decline to participate in the Purity Olympics. I care a lot about our public schools, and am sending two through district schools, and we have been in school communities with very poor and very wealthy and everyone in between. It's one of the things I love about the schools. I say, let's build up our schools for all our kids, not check stroller models at the door.

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  22. I love Kim's post here (and all her posts) and am only correcting a detail to give a little bigger picture of SFUSD.

    First, it is absolutely true that volunteer school tour leaders often boast about some aspect of the school that turns out to be a feature at every SFUSD school. I'm sure that's done out of ignorance. When I was Lakeshore tour coordinator I also discovered that our parent volunteers would give an array of definitions for why Lakeshore was an alternative school, none of them accurate. We eventually handled these issues with a FAQ that we handed out to make sure touring parents got accurate info, without hounding the volunteers too much.

    Anyway, the small correction re the instrumental music in grades 4-5 is that actually SFUSD has managed to keep it alive through all the decades of post-Prop. 13 budget crises, so it's not funded by or dependent on Prop. H. It just took a really committed effort to insist that it be funded continuously. But Prop. H has provided funding to resurrect other arts programs that had not survived that same troubled era.

    The other thing I want to say, with years as an SFUSD parent under my belt, is that I know there's a view that there's only one right school for your child -- but I don't necessarily think that's true. There are most likely many schools that would work well for your child. None of us will ever know what would have been the absolute very best, of course. But our kids are much more adaptable to different paths and different settings that we think they'll be when it's all new to us.

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  23. Debbie, congrats, you have been fully initiated to the SF K Files community, rotten tomatoes and all. Don't let the naysayers get you down. In theory this blog is about finding an elementary school for your kid, there are lots of folks who want it to be about finding a PUBLIC school. You are doing a service offering to blog and share your experience, and for some reason that is not enough for people to put out a welcome mat. Hang in there and just get ready to pull on the hazmat suit.

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  24. Regarding the Bugaboo comments, if you calculate the cost in 2005 (when most of the parents with children entering K in 2010 bought them) plus tax, people actually paid $800 excluding all the bells and whistles that you can add on (which we did). My husband wanted it and so we bought it. I thought it was a ridiculous amount of money. 4 years later, and having bought an "umbrella" stroller the Bugaboo was worth every penny, and no, not for we parents who push it, but for our son who rides in it. I have find that most of the time in life, you DO get what you pay for. I'm guessing that folks who send their children to private school feel the same way. Some of us do mean "nice" when we use the word and not "white."

    FWIW, I am the poster who wrote about being surprised about the amount of vitriol yesterday, and it is posters such as the ones that keep bringing up the Bugaboo who are the ones I'm talking about.

    You don't know Debbie or her circumstances. Perhaps she had just landed a large inheritance, perhaps her husband is a trust fund baby, perhaps they won the lottery, perhaps the stroller was a gift, perhaps they are lucky enough to have jobs that pay well. I don't know and it doesn't matter!!!!!!

    As for those of you who can't afford a Bugaboo or to send your children to private schools, perhaps despite your best efforts to work hard, you were not able to obtain an education earlier in life that would allow you to command a large salary, or perhaps you're just lazy and like one of my colleagues, want to work certain hours per week, and no more. Again, I don't know and I don't care, but nor do I judge you.

    Yes, we can afford private school, and yes, public schools are our first choice, but holy moly I sure hope I'm not surrounded by the "bash the rich" crowd that frequent this blog when/if we are lucky enough to get into a convenient to our house public school.

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  25. Apologize for my typo above: "found" not "find."

    Also apologize for the tone. That is only my third posting in 1 year on this site. I just couldn't sit by and watch people bash Debbie's credibility over a stupid stroller when she is devoting time and energy to assist us by providing us a forum to gather valuable information.

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  26. Welcome Debbie. I look forward to your posts and appreciate your frankness. no matter what you say, someone on this blog will have an opposing position so I guess you might as well say what you think instead of what you think people want to hear, right?

    i live on the same side of the city and will be touring similar schools. it will be interesting to see if we get similar impressions. and about buying "THE stroller" - i kind of liken that to believing the old conventional wisdom there are "only 5 good public schools in SF". sometimes it's easy to get caught up in the hype.

    but it sounds like you are doing what we're all trying to do - investigate for ourselves the educational options that are out there and ultimately make a personal decision based on our criteria. i applaud you for being willing to do it in a public forum for the benefit of the rest of us. (and thanks to kate for keeping this blog going for those of us starting the process...)

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  27. 5:03
    it isn't about bashing the rich, it's about bashing the frivolous.

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  28. "As for those of you who can't afford a Bugaboo or to send your children to private schools, perhaps despite your best efforts to work hard, you were not able to obtain an education earlier in life that would allow you to command a large salary,"

    OMG how snotty.
    Many of us can afford bugaboos, and can afford to send our children to private schools, we just have better sense than to waste money that way.

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  29. You people are a little delusional...not bad people, just a little off.

    Advice: Loosen your grip on your version of reality.

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  30. 6:15

    Your reality is a bit vague.

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  31. Debbie,

    We go to a public, now turned around, schools with some of the nicest people (parents&staff) I've ever met. All of my private school friends are equally lovely. Please ignore the crabby posts - they're probably all from a couple of unemployed, middle aged crackpots with no children, too much time on their hands, and an abundance of opinions.

    Thanks for posting so candidly!

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  32. Hi 4:22, Just to Clarify . . .

    I have a few questions for you.

    It is 10:35am and 4:04pm.

    You sound like you are in the know on school policy issues.

    If they are dropping the education of the mother, are they also dropping the education of the father?

    If it is known that families who are very poor or living in the projects are not registering for round I, why doesn't the school board just register them? It is pretty clear from the demographic stats in the city that at least African Americans are self segregating themselves. Why not register these kids in a local school and then pump money and resources into the school to bring it up to good school. I have the impression that this is happening in some Bayview schools, but I've also heard much angst about this population regarding round I registration. Why doesn't the SFUSD take direct action to fix this problem without requiring these kids to attend schools where they will not be comfortable.

    These families could then register themselves in any school, if they wanted, but if not, they would have a good default school.

    I don't think many of these families want to be the only African American family at Clarendon or West Portal and I can see why they may not want to participate in the lottery.

    A third question I have is about science education in the city. Test scores in science seem to be abysmal across the board, except for a very small number schools. In addition, a recent National Academy of Science report indicates that science education has rapidly deteriorated in California in the last ten years:

    http://books.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=12739&page=1

    I am wondering what is being done to address this.

    Thanks for any comments you can provide.

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  33. 6:26 If you didn't read and don't understand what 6:15 is getting at please reread the thread. I'm not sure I get it completely either but I know that expensive stroller talk might prompt that type of response from lots of people. Again, not sure what 615 was exactly getting at, but if you are capable of simply thinking about what they suggested you might gain some perspective.

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  34. Re: 4:22 "No, the competition for the popular public schools is between and among middle class and plus families." I think this is very true. In the lotto you are competing against the other applicants with your same profile (i.e. free lunch or no, section 8 housing or no, etc.) The only way to get ahead of those applicants is with your school rank or neighborhood school. I read the 14 page SFUSD document about how the lotto works. They oick from the neighborhood area first (as long as that adds diversity, I know). Everyone should look at the map and figure out what your neighborhood school is. If you rank it as number 1, you've got much better odds than others with your profile that live outside the neighborhood. This is only for K 2010. It all changes after that.

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  35. This is 4:22 again. Just to answer 7:07's first question, at least for the moment--

    The lottery originally included mother's educational level. (I know, a bit loopy in a town with more than a handful of gay dads, single parents, and I know of several families of international adoptees who somewhat-cheated and put the ed level of the birth mom in China or whatever).

    On the 2008-2009 form they still asked for ed level, for both parents in fact (again they ask for mother and father, which doesn't make sense for a lot of families here).

    HOWEVER, neither mother's nor fathers ed stat is used for placement purposes. They are used as part of aggregate data on the state and federal levels. And yes, I believe that this is true.

    Factors that ARE used in the lottery are related to extreme poverty:

    1) Does your family live in public housing?
    2) Does your family participate in Cal Works?
    3) Does your family receive Section 8 housing assistance?
    4) Is your family eligible for free or reduced lunch?

    Two other factors apply to placement decisions:

    1) Home language other than English, which is based on 4 factors listed by the applicant family, and confirmed by testing for English proficiency and proficiency in the home language. This factor can affect placement generally and also placement in immersion programs, e.g., seats are reserved for speakers of target languages at certain immersion schools.

    2) Special needs, which is a whole other (and also very problematic) process.

    With the exception of a few well-off European kids who can genuinely claim primary language of German or the like, most here are not affected much by the diversity lottery itself. You are not competing against poor folks at Clarendon. You are competing against others like yourselves: the not-extremely-poor, all hoping for one of a limited number of spots at a few schools.

    Which is similar to the private school process, come to think of it, just that it's random instead of the whole judgment by play date, coffee meet-and-greet, and parent interview.

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  36. 4:02 again--previous poster is correct that rank listing and listing one's neighborhood school are also factors. This is getting into the serious complexities, but:

    - If you list your neighborhood school as your #1 pick it can make a difference in a tie-breaker against other candidates with your diversity profile.

    - The use of rank preference as a tie-breaker deep into the algorithm means that it would be very hard to get Clarendon or Miraloma or any other super-popular school if you list it at any other rank than #1. Some do list it lower down, but it becomes filler at that point. This if fine if you are going with the 0/7 and wait-it-out-through-the-summer strategy.

    - Some found great success in listing a middling-popular school as their #1 pick. Since, again, rank can be a tie-breaker once diversity (poor vs. not-poor, ELL) is taken into account, and also neighborhood. So if you have a school you like that is on the border of popularity--it's not a terrible ratio of apps to slots, but it's not a shoo-in--then you might consider moving it up to #1 over a long-shot like Clarendon, even if you like Clarendon a lot. This would depend on how much you like risk and long odds, and what kind of back-up plan you've got.

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  37. sorry...meant 4:22 again.

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  38. 7:41 p.m.

    Thanks for taking the time to explain this to all of us. I thought that whether or not a child has attended preschool is also taken into the "diversity index" situation, no?

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  39. 7:17, I believe 6:26 was returning snark for snark ;-)

    Maybe we parents home on a Saturday evening need to hire a sitter and get a life.

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  40. 8:05 p.m.

    LOL! I think you are on to something :)

    5:37 p.m. "Waste" is defined differently depending on whom you are speaking to. I am sure that there are Bugaboo owners out there who perhaps would look at your expenditures and consider some wasteful. However, unless you are asking them for a loan your finances are none of their business and they shouldn't judge you or even care. I don't think Debbie's judgement and credibility should be attacked based on some stroller she purchased years ago.

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  41. I think this process becomes one of second, third, and fourth guessing partially due to all the voices coming at you regarding which schools other people like and don't like If you can block some of that out and just focus on finding seven good schools you are okay with then there will be less wondering if you made the right decision. I do think that the advice to put less popular schools on your list is a really good one, because if you end up scrambling in round two, then you really might end up making a decision that is not well thought out. That is what happened to us, and we ended up in a Chinese immersion program which, though we like the school, is more than we bargained for.

    I would think hard about the commute and after school options, also.

    And I do know what you mean about nice--but nice kids may be as important, or more important to your little one as the teacher.

    I would not base much of your decision on test scores, even if you have high academic standards for your child.

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  42. Yes, sorry, preschool attendance,yes or no, is the final factor for incoming kindergartners. For those entering upper grades, it's whether your current school has a low API ranking (3 or less) or you have a test score rank of 30th percentile or less on the most recent standardized test you took.

    Btw, all of this information is available on the SFUSD website. The enrollment guide for 2009-2010 is not out yet, and who knows, there may be changes, but it won't hurt to read through last year's.

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  43. To 7:07, some additional responses:

    The mother's educational background was dropped some years ago as a category in the Diversity Index. The father's never was used. The explanation was that ample data correlated students' achievement with their mothers' education level, but not with their fathers', and the concept was to mix students with a predicted achievement advantage based on data with students who didn't have that advantage. But it provoked such outrage and scorn that it was dropped.

    When you hear about families who don't register for Round 1, what that means is that they didn't choose any schools. Then they ARE assigned to schools by default. Those students will cluster in the same schools, since those will be schools that didn't get a lot of requests in the lottery.

    But the problem is: Students whose parents don't take the initiative to choose any schools are likely (on average, overall, statistically speaking) to be lower achievers and high-need in other ways. This means that some schools get a lot of students assigned by default, and those are students predisposed to be lower achievers, at-risk and high-need. Schools that serve a lot of low-income students get extra money from various funding streams, but schools that serve a critical mass of challenged, high-need, at-risk students become overwhelmed, even with extra funding. So there just isn't any easy way to create a good school serving a large number of high-need students. No diverse urban school district anywhere in the nation or the world has found a consistent way to do it.

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  44. Good luck Debbie! I really hope you get what you want out of the process. I am not sure what I would have done differently but I wish I realized how little *choice* we really had and had not stressed out so much. We applied to 3 privates and went 0/3. We toured 10-15 publics, created a really balanced and mixed list and ended up with # 7 on our list (a school now touted as a hidden gem on this blog). We put that school on our list not because we were crazy about it but because I could not fathom going 0/7 with twins and I knew we had am excellent shot of getting in. After getting # 7 we enrolled and did not look back. We were just done with the process and wanted to spare ourselves more time in limbo. So far (1 month in) we are very happy! But I guess it took all of that searching and angst to bring us to this point where we feel finally at peace with what we ended up with. I still feel that this does not have to be the end of the story - if it doesn't work out we will continue to look or finally move out of SF.

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  45. Echoing 8:27, my piece of advice is to read the enrollment guide cover to cover. OK, you can skip the parts on middle school and high school, but you get the idea. There is so much information floating around out there from this blog, other parents (who might have kids in older grades who applied when the system was different), etc., that sometimes people forget what the actual process is. One example: This year a friend of mine declined to enroll at her assigned school (which she admitted was perfectly satisfactory, and which filled up after Round 2) because she thought that not enrolling would give her better odds of getting her wait pool school. Had she read the enrollment guide, she would have realized that was not the case. (She never did get her wait pool school, and her child is now enrolled in a private school.) I realize that there are people who believe that declining to enroll gives one better odds, and nothing written in the enrollment guide will convince them otherwise. But I think it's important to read the guide and at least learn what the actual stated district policy is.

    Another tip: Try not to focus too much on the imperfections of the lottery system when you're going through the process. I know that's easier said than done, and that I'm a huge hypocrite, considering I read comments on this blog devoted to the system. The thing is, the process takes so much energy, and it's draining to complain so much. The system is what it is, and the important thing is to learn the actual rules and see how they will apply to your family's situation. Believe me, that will take enough energy on its own. Good luck!

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  46. I love this blog, and, Kate of course, and I'm loving what Kim Green had to say and I love Debbie for throwing herself out there. It's going to be another interesting year....

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  47. "So there just isn't any easy way to create a good school serving a large number of high-need students. No diverse urban school district anywhere in the nation or the world has found a consistent way to do it."

    You are wrong

    "The highest rates of improvement were seen at schools with district intervention and support programs, all STAR schools, which means they receive additional funding for instructional coaches and student support services."

    The data suggests that at-risk students do DO better with extra support.

    SFUSD can shuffle the deck all they want with their racial integration priorities - making everyone drive everywhere - trying to encourage low income families in Bayview to enroll in a high performing school across town. Seems crazy to me. The data does not seem ambiguous to me.

    Give families the option, but find a way to provide the extra support to those schools that need it and move on.

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  48. It's not a "choice" system.

    It is a lottery.

    Don't invest too much time and emotional energy on it, don't put down all much coveted schools (unless you just want to go private if you don't get one of those "5" schools).

    The bugaboo stroller comment you made unfortunately makes me think you are into "status" and being showy, so maybe only a few schools will please you.

    Don't drive yourself crazy with school tours. You "know" the school when you walk into it, you can feel which ones are right. Instead of making yourself crazy with school tours, just show up at schools and walk around until someone tosses you out. (Some will pounce on me for saying that, but seriously, just do it ... ten minutes will tell you a lot, as will ten minutes watching the kids on the playground.) The tour people all say the same crap anyway, and they are all asked the same questions from parents "my kid is exceptionally gifted, will he be challenged?" type questions. Honestly, I toured 28 schools and could write a whole pardoy just on the questions parents ask on tours.

    You can find out about the afterschool programs and other things on the website or by calling the school.

    Do the kids look happy and engaged? Are the teachers animated or drone-like? Is the place clean and tidy? Do you like the work samples on the walls?

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  49. Uh, I meant "parody"

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  50. We applied to both public and private last year, and, despite how DESPISED the SFUSD placement process is, we think the private school process is WAY worse.

    First, there are the application fees, $i75 - 100 bucks a pop.

    Then there are the tours, Open Houses, coffees, cocktails, etc.

    Add the applicant essays, the kindergarten "playdates" and assessments, and the interviews.

    AND that *still* doesn't mean you will be granted admission ANYWHERE.

    We know several families that got NOTHING after going through that process. Some moved. Some were lucky to get into the public school they had waitpooled (though one family had to wait until after the 10-day count).

    And while families who needed significant financial aid were plain shut-out of the private schools last year, being able to pay tuition does not guaranty admission. (Though having enough money to fund the new library, gymnasium or theater, might.)

    That is way more than Bugaboo money.

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  51. Our very experienced nanny told us it is easier to get babies to nap in cheaper, "jiggly" strollers than in expensive, "smooth-riding" Bugaboos!

    HOW IRONIC IS THAT?

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  52. I for one actually see some validity in the stoller discussion.

    So much of life is about choices. And for most of us it means you can have this OR that. Not this AND that.

    (of course this doesnt apply to the public school lottery which is "you get what you get" )

    My spouse and I worked hard in school, work hard in our jobs every day, buy cheap stollers, save like crazy, drive old cars and make choices (this or that) to pay for a wonderful private school.

    10 years of non bugaboo choices on a daily basis, prior to kids, resulted in financial flexibility that makes it easier to raise kids in the city.

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  53. Hi 4:22 and 7:41,

    7:07 hear again.

    No, that wasn't me at 11:26, but I do agree with the comment that 11:26 made that trying to mix disadvantaged kids in with middle class kids works only to a limited extent.

    As I have said on a number of threads, I think the goal of integrating San Francisco schools in order to improve the outcome for African American and Latino students is not fully thought out.

    I will refer anyone who is interested to the Council on African Canadian Education website:

    http://www.cace.ns.ca/pdf/africentric_learning_institute.pdf

    Please do not fool us about the leg up on the native language thing. I am an engineer and I work with many parents who are not native english speakers. I also know of a large number of recent immigrants who work in the banking industry. These parents are middle to upper middle class and they get a leg up on everyone else in the school lottery simply because they can right on their form that they are non-native speakers of English. Saying that you think it a matter of a few wealthy German speakers does not reflect the current demographic of the city.

    I did ask a question about science teaching in the schools. The vaste majority of schools in San Francisco would never prepare a student to work at Genentech, Bayer, Google, Atheros, Marvel or any of the other high paying tech employers in the Bay Area.

    It is easy to see why so many middle and upper middle class parents are unwilling to explore "hidden gem" schools. It's the lack of science teaching.

    If the city wanted to broaden the base of schools that middle class parents would apply to, they could quickly do it by improving science and math teaching across the board.

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  54. Hmmm...Bugaboo was a gift. But, I agree with Debbie that in retrospect it was excess, not necessary...same as someone who drives a mercedes rather than a toyota..both do the job. I commend Debbie for rethinking her choices and her commitment to find what is best for her child. I think a lot of parents of preschoolers look at private school as the safer option for their kids. In other words, no knife slashings like at Marina Middle School or the horrible thing that happended to that K in the afterschool program in the Richmond. I think this is really what drives the middle class to privates rather than the idea that the teachers are nicer or they get a better education. It also drives the middle class to those "safe" public schools which are already well established and have good reputations; they are no longer considered a gamble on your child's safety.

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  55. For us, we didn't go to private because we were concerned about safety. We didn't go to private because we wanted to hang out with white people. We went private because we could not get into one of the small number of schools in public that offered education excellence. We ended up at a private that is racially, culturally and internationally diverse that offers a classic, academically focused curriculum across multiple disciplines.

    We wish we could have found that it in public, but we could not.

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  56. Click on the picture to see what strollers used to look like :)

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  57. Safe privates? Like all the Catholic schools with pedophile priests? Ugh.

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  58. 11:28

    I think we can all acknowledge there are some truly problematic schools in the district. Most do a fine job. As Kim Green said earlier, supported kids do well almost anywhere. I realize some people are never, ever going to believe that. I hope others look past the hype to give the public schools a chance (again, realizing a few schools really just don't work, and every family has a different needs and considerations).

    In response to this idea that there are only a "few" good public schools, I would note that there are at least 50 schools that people writing non this blog last year said they put on their lists. This group certainly included a range of people ranging from normal middle class folks who cannot afford private tuition, but also families who could easily afford private tuition without any stress, but preferred public for any number of reasons, or were at least willing to consider it.

    Btw, raising the safety issue is either a red herring or code for something. Safety from what, exactly? Can you describe that more specifically? The other kids or their families? The neighborhood? What?

    I'm sure your kids are doing well in your private school. Notice I am not trashing your choice and telling you it is bad. Why do feel the need to trash the public schools in order to justify your choice?

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  59. Hi 1:31:

    It is not my intent to trash the public schools, but to point out that science teaching in California schools has dramatically declined in the last ten years.

    I toured many publics and privates last year and the difference in science teaching was dramatic.

    Our kids will be cut out of almost all high paying jobs if they can't excel in math and science.

    California used to be the envy of the world in terms of science education and scientific endevor. That position has dramatically slipped in the past ten years, with many high paying jobs going to India, China, Singapore, Korea, Europe, Israel and even countries such as Argentina. It is not just a matter of companies looking for cheaper labor. The cost of outsourcing is actually quite high. The US still has a favorable business climate compared to many of these countries, but increasingly, we are failing to produce technically able graduates to make it attractive to do business here.

    If you think I am just trashing public schools, then you should have a look at what educators at the Lawrence Hall of Science in the East Bay and the Exploratorium are saying. I posted the link yesterday in an earlier thread, but here it is again:

    http://books.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=12739&page=1

    You cannot look at the science testscores, or the algebra test scores, and seriously think that most of the K-8 schools are doing a good job. And it is not just the CST scores. The CST is actually considered to be a pretty easy test.

    The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) in 2006, ranked US 15 year olds as being 25th out of 30 countries in math and 21st out of 30 countries in science. Countries such as Sri Lanka did better.

    Again, it is not my intent to trash our schools, but to raise awareness about the need to improve math and science teaching in San Francisco schools.

    Many families are quietly retreating to private school not because they are racist or concerned about safety, but because they see the decline in our schools in science and math.

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  60. It may be true that science and math are better taught elsewhere than the public schools, but for some of us, we simply cannot afford private school and so your discussion about the failings of math and science in the public schools are more painful than helpful to read.

    We applied last year to privates and publics, and a Catholic. For the privates we applied for financial aid because there is no way we could afford to send our kids to private school without assistance. First of all, we didn't get into the privates or the Catholic, so going there wasn't even an option in the end. So don't assume that the private schools welcome all the many applicants who don't have access to sufficient funds.

    In the end, we're mostly happy at our 6th choice public. Actually it's been quite rough of a transition, but more because the school has an early start time, which has proved difficult.

    So given that we all can't run for the privates with better math and science, it would be wonderful to hear people coming with ways we could improve math and science in the school, given the limitations of budgetary constraints.

    At our public, I'm astonished at the amount of parent involvement. It's a lot like being at a big co-op. That's good! If you have to be more invested in your kids' education by necessity, you can't help but do so. And you do more than you might otherwise. I would love to see parents like you throwing your energies into coming up with solutions.

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  61. Still the last poster here -- please pardon the few spelling and grammatical errors I left in my last post.

    And one clarification -- I meant to say that one should not assume that a wonderful candidate (which is not to say my child, but wonderful candidates in general)who needs financial assistance will be necessarily welcomed into the private school(s). The privates have to be choosy: it's the well-off families among their student body who are able to subsidize (through additional financial gifts to the school among other ways) those with fewer resources. And there's a limit to that revenue source, especially these days.

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  62. There was no stabbing at Marina Middle School. A Marina student was stabbed on a MUNI bus.

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  63. And I should add the stabber had nothing to do where the kid went to school. It was a scary, random incident like the stabbing of the girl at Creighton's bakery a couple of years ago.

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  64. Can you imagine that person ever letting HER kid ride a muni bus?

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  65. I agree that too little science is taught at the elementary level in California. This is an unintended consequence of No Child Left Behind, which requires schools to focus on reading and math. Partly because of this, I think math instruction is actually quite rigorous in elementary and middle schools.

    The California standards (available on the State Department of Education web site) are some of the hardest in the country. And San Francisco has made a commitment to teach algebra to every 8th grader in the district.

    I also think that science instruction is much more rigorous in high schools than it was when I was attending California schools in the 70s.

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  66. Yes, at-risk students do better with extra support. I totally agree.

    But it it still true that, as I said, that "there just isn't any easy way to create a good school serving a large number of high-need students," and that "mo diverse urban school district anywhere in the nation or the world has found a consistent way to do it."

    It's not helpful to claim that complex problems have simple solutions if only those stupid people in charge would implement them.

    Regarding the knife attack on the Marina Middle School student, thanks for clarifying that it took place NOWHERE near Marina Middle School (it was at 19th and Mission, which is miles away, and by a stranger on a Muni bus) and had nothing to do with the school. It's amazing the way misunderstood information can be rapidly distorted to bash public schools.

    (The victim of that awful stabbing at Creighton's 3 years ago was a Bay School student, also attacked by a crazed stranger outside school hours and miles away from her school -- but by the same token you would blame Bay School for her stabbing and call it unsafe!)

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  67. Well, we are a well-off family that was not accepted to any private schools, so there are no guarantees for anyone. We are picky though, I will admit, as much for private as for public, and in the end there were really only a handful of private schools that we would choose over a good public school. We are very happy in our public school, not least with the true diversity there, and it was very much a choice on our part not to "scramble" for a private school at all cost. Most of the ones we saw did not offer $20,000+ worth (that we can easily afford as it happens) over our great public. The few that did we did not get into.

    It is really sad that the city (and in effect our kids) seems so divided. We have friends in private, parochial and public at this point, and all want the best for their kids, and all their great kids will do well.

    And, I am a Bugaboo parent who is happy in public school.

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  68. Identifying yourself as a brand name merchandise is sort of sickening. Like saying "I am a GAP mother".

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  69. Hi 3:26,

    My earlier post wasn't to imply that everyone should just retreat to the privates.

    I am addressing the approach that the SFUSD has taken to improve schools, which is to try to assign middle class families to schools with very low test scores. That approach appears to often be forcing middle class families with scientific backgrounds to move or go private. These are the families that might be willing to build the science curriculum at a middle tier school, but opt out when they are assigned to schools where they might be the only voice asking to improve science teaching.

    Grattan is what I would call a middle tier school. They actually have a number of UCSF research parents with kids at the school.

    Anyway, I am more optimistic about the possibilities of science teaching in public school than I have been in years. I hear that they are revamping "No Child Left Behind" and hopefully, schools will have more latitude to teach subjects beyond english and math.

    Dennis Bartels at the Exploratorium I know is very interested in science teaching in the public schools. So is Hydra Mendoza.

    Great science teaching can and has been done in the public schools. Please check out the Oakland Technical High School wiki page for an extraordinary example of what can be done.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oakland_Technical_High_School

    It would be great if Kate would start a thread on this subject.

    It has been a long, dark eight years for science in this country and it would be nice to hear some other parents on this topic.

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  70. I'm not as skilled at this as some people, but I looked up the numbers for SFUSD and for Oakland Technical HS. SFUSD overall and especially Lowell, which draws the most advanced science students out of the other SFUSD high schools, are far stronger than Oakland Tech -- there's no comparison.

    I'm not totally clear on the differences between these tests or what every category means, but it's easy to compare SFUSD high schoolers' results overall to Oakland Technical HS students' results. I thought I'd compare Lowell's, too (SFUSD's only high school that admits based on academic achievement, and known as a strong science school).

    I only noted "advanced" and "proficient," the two top categories.

    Calif. Standards Test:
    Science (not sure what this general category means exactly)

    SFUSD advanced 29%
    SFUSD proficient 23%

    Oakland Tech advanced 25%
    Oakland Tech proficient 16%

    Lowell advanced 72%
    Lowell proficient 21%

    Biology
    SFUSD advanced 24%
    SFUSD proficient 22%

    Oakland Tech advanced 14%
    Oakland Tech proficient 5%

    Lowell advanced 66%
    Lowell proficient 24%

    Chem
    SFUSD advanced 22%
    SFUSD proficient 26%

    Oakland Tech advanced 2%
    Oakland Tech proficient 12%

    Lowell advanced 43%
    Lowell proficient 40%

    Physics
    SFUSD advanced 21%
    SFUSD proficient 24%

    Oakland Tech advanced 1%
    Oakland Tech proficient 6%

    Lowell advanced 51%
    Lowell proficient 26%

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  71. SOTA's test scores:

    11th graders

    86% below proficient in chemistry

    70% below proficient in High School Math

    93% below proficient in integrated math

    100% below proficient in geometry

    90% below proficient in algebra II

    there's a lot of talent at SOTA, but apparently not for test-taking.

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  72. Um, I think it's safe to assume that kids who are self-selecting to go to an ARTS HIGH SCHOOL are often not hitting the math and science books all that hard.

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  73. Debbie, I hope you're surviving your hazing as well as can be expected.

    My only piece of advice is not to get locked into thinking your kid has to go to a certain type of school. Here is my example: at the beginning of the process, I thought my kid needed a small school. She was somewhat shy and reserved and took a long time to warm up to new situations, especially socially. There were a number of schools I couldn't picture her at as a result. However, over the course of her last year of preschool she entered a new phase of development and got over most of her shyness and I now think she could have done just fine at an enormous school.

    Obviously, only you know your kid. But your kid might surprise you.

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  74. After touring all of the 'trophy' schools, we didn't consider any public school acceptable in SF. Fortunately, our child was 2 for 2 in the privates we considered, so we stayed in the City. Had the private option not worked out for us, we would have relocated to Marin. That being said, our strollers were less than $50 from craigslist.com. We choose to allocate our discretionary income to our kids' education,

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  75. SOTA is known for its weak math and science scores on standardized tests, though interestingly, the SAT and ACT scores are high.

    In one case those figures are misleading because they're for 11th grade. Both my kids (SOTA students, classes of '09 and '12) scored advanced in geometry on the CST, and certainly some of their friends did too -- there are some super-smart kids at SOTA. BUT they took geometry in 9th grade and thus took the CST in 9th grade, so their scores will not show up in that 11th-grade number.

    11th-grade geometry is for remedial students -- students who test out of algebra I take geometry in 9th grade, students who don't test out of algebra I take it in 9th grade and geometry in 10th, and only students who are seriously struggling wind up in geometry in 11th grade. Of course in a perfect school those 11th-graders would get through geometry and then score well on the CST.

    I don't know what other test scores might show a different picture under close scrutiny in that way. It could be that some of those Oakland Tech figures would, though I'm not sure how.

    My son's math score on the SAT was 760, 98th percentile -- it has no science. He scored 34 in science (99th percentile) on the ACT and 33 in math (99th percentile). So an individual student's mileage varies. That's a reason not to be so obsessed with schoolwide test scores.

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  76. In regards to the study by the National Academy of Sciences mentioned by a previous poster (the study regarding the state of science education in California K-8) for those interested in improving science in SF schools, you should read the entire article. It includes programs, ideas and case studies to boost the quality of science ed. Here's the link:

    http://books.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=12739&page=R1

    This is what made me choose a private school for my child, but I certainly think that there is much that proactive parents can do in this arena.

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  77. Interestingly, my kids had a dedicated science teacher when our elementary school was considered a STAR school, but as soon as we "turned around" enough to lose those funds, we lost the dedicated science teacher. Fortunately, two of our upper-grade teachers are strong in science education, and they do enough rotations at that level that our kids do get access to that. My older child scored very well on the 5th grade CST in science, so either school or our back up at home (science museum trips and so forth) must have done something. It's not like she chooses to read science texts for fun.

    In middle school, science is a dedicated class, with earth science in 6th, life science in 7th, and physical science in 8th. I would say the biggest lack has been facilities. I'm sure the most expensive private schools have better facilities. The kids do seem to learn the materials, and the group and individual projects have been interesting and good--with some impressive science fair offerings from the kids.

    At the high school level, SFUSD does have some excellent offerings in science, although not at every school. Lowell is one, and Lincoln is another. There was an article in the NYTimes just last year about a group of Lincoln students who worked in genetics with their high school science teacher and got to collaborate with UCSF researchers--and they placed well in an international collegiate-level competition. They also gained access to prestigious summer jobs in UCSF labs. These were public school students and most were not from "connected" families. It's not a wasteland. It's uneven is more like it.

    That said, I agree that the lack of resources and NCLB's focus on reading and math has not helped science education. The California standards are good, tough even, but more resources for dedicated teachers and better equipment would sure help more students reach them. As the other poster said, those of us who are in public by necessity and/or by choice would love to your energy and specific ideas be put into play on this topic, because as you say, California's future depends on our providing this education to all our kids and not just those who can afford private and happen to be accepted.

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  78. We can only assume private schools obtain better results, as private school kids do not take the same tests as public school children.

    We are just ASSUMING they do better.

    I have NO DOUBT that upper middle class kids with college-educated parents do about the same in a stellar public, middling public or top tier private.

    Wish I had the numbers to prove it, but the privates aren't required to test their students and publish the scores.

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  79. "It is not my intent to trash the public schools, but to point out that science teaching in California schools has dramatically declined in the last ten years."

    "I toured many publics and privates last year and the difference in science teaching was dramatic."

    Well, you're probably not comparing apples-to-apples: most public elementaries are K-5, not K-8, and even in foreign countries there's not much experimental science before 6th grade.

    You need to be comparing the SFUSD middle schools with the private K-8s, unless you're just concern trolling.

    However, I'll note that all, I mean all, of the K-8s, and most of the K-8 I toured were private, had absolutely crap science facilities compared to the smallish UK secondary school I attended, which had separate biology, chemistry and physics labs, and which taught those sciences as separate subjects from the equivalent of 6th grade upward. But science education before 6th grade in the UK was minimal.

    I hope the situation is better in the SFUSD middle schools. [Although Alice Fong Yu had decent-ish facilities; definitely better than the 10-odd private schools we toured.]

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  80. "I did ask a question about science teaching in the schools. The vaste majority of schools in San Francisco would never prepare a student to work at Genentech, Bayer, Google, Atheros, Marvel or any of the other high paying tech employers in the Bay Area.

    Does a bunch of (non-Lowell) high schoolers beating MIT, Cambridge, Princeton, three dozen other world-class universities in a synthetic biology competition do it for you?

    http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2007/11/17/MN4KTCC44.DTL

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  81. "Wish I had the numbers to prove it, but the privates aren't required to test their students and publish the scores."

    More like, the public schools don't allow private/parochial schools to use the STAR test. That's a big statement in and of itself.

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  82. Here is the New York Times article on the same competition, with more information on the biotech classes taught at Abraham Lincoln High:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/18/technology/18ping.html?_r=2&oref=slogin

    Here is the website of the biotech teacher, Mr. George Cachianes, to whom big kudos for what he has developed over there in science education:

    http://www.lincolnhigh.net/faculty/gcachianes/

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  83. "After touring all of the 'trophy' schools, we didn't consider any public school acceptable in SF. "

    OK, not wanting to start a flamewar, but how did you come to this conclusion? Both Clarendon and AFY exceed the test scores of all the schools in Mill Valley, for example. What exactly led you to discount the high-test scoring schools in SFUSD, but ones in Marin school districts were OK?

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  84. SFUSD students from the same demographic (ie, middle to upper class whites) out-perform private school students on the same tests.

    There was a study, I'll look for it.

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  85. It's not true that the public schools won't allow private schools to use the "STAR test." There is no actual test called the STAR -- that stands for Standardized Testing and Reporting. Tests are purchased from private companies, and many private schools actually DO use the same tests.

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  86. I'm sure most private and parochial kids would score well on reading and math tests. The tests correlate closely with socio-economic factors, and private and parochial school, whose parents had to apply for those schools, who had to be admitted, and whose parents have to pay for them, are more middle class (or up), less likely to be poor, and very likely to be supported at home in their educations. It's by definition a controlled or gated community so there is no way to compare to a community that takes all comers. Lowell would be the only real comparison on the high school level.

    However, I'd guess a few of the parochials that serve primarily poor ELLs would track their public school counterparts with similar demographics.

    The real question is could those same private and parochial schools take a population like Moscone's and replicate its success, but that is not really testable under current conditions.

    It would be interesting to know how they would do on content exams like the science CST in 5th and 8th grades. Some of them might not do so well in 5th grade if their curriculum has not emphasized science. I assume---hope--that they begin to pick up some of that stuff in middle school. It may depend on the school and how academically focused it is. There is such a range out there, from Waldorf to CAIS and Lycee (which follows French curriculum, right?) and everything in between in terms of strict academic vs. softer focus. Being private does not guarantee quality of teaching or curriculum, but rather that the group of kids is likely to be less challenged than a general ed public school.

    Therefore, caveat emptor. There are obviously some wonderful private schools out there, but it is not a badge of quality simply to be private. If you care a lot about science education, for heaven's sake research how a given school teaches it--especially since you are paying so much money to get it!

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  87. "likely to be less challenged"

    sorry if this was unclear--I meant "challenged" in the sense of socio-economic factors--there's food to eat at home every day, your family speaks English, you have access to a computer and books to read, your parents take you to museums and send you to summer camp and you have other extended learning opportunities, etc etc etc.

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  88. According
    to this study, students in public schools showed better results in math tests, after you adjust for socioeconomic status:

    http://www.ncspe.org/publications_files/OP111.pdf

    These I'd still consider tentative, though. I haven't found a study either refuting or replicating the above 2005 study, which would seem odd given it's a counterintuitive finding, and so would spur further research. [Also, kids in public schools may be more used to standardized testing.]

    In related research on kindergarteners, gains in knowledge were greater in public school students were found by this researcher:

    http://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/abs/10.1086/506493

    Again, this isn't definitive: kids entering public kindergartens, on average, were generally starting from a lower knowledge base than kids in privates, so the greater knowledge gains in the publics may be an effect of better instruction, or it may reflect that the kids were starting with a lower knowledge base to start with and were catching up quickly.

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  89. “Wish I had the numbers to prove it, but the privates aren't required to test their students and publish the scores.”

    There may not be a legal requirement to test students, but I imagine it is a requirement for certain types of (sought after) accreditation. Our school (like many independents) requires ERB CTP 4 testing every year (around Dec/Jan). The ERB tests compare the test results of our students to all students, to students in suburban schools and to students at other independent schools. Like… my child could score in the 99th percentile for a math subtest when compared to all students (public/private, urban/suburban) nation-wide….but score in the 80th percentile when compared to other independent school kids. So, there is a national norm for all students, another one for suburban schools (in general, the high scoring type), and a third for independent schools. The independent school students have the highest scores of those three, so our school (CAIS) wants to see how its students are doing compared to students at other independent schools. The Head of the School explains the results (via a PowerPoint presentation) every year in the State of the School address. (The goal, of course, is to ensure CAIS students are performing as well or better than similar students.) So... the results are not exactly “published,” but are available to families. (For families applying to independent schools, you should ask to see the test results.) Most parochial schools have their own testing (Iowa Test of Basic Skills… or something?)… and they can tell you the results, also.

    I don't think CAIS makes a very big deal about the tests when they are actually happening (some years, I haven't been aware the testing has started until it is almost over), at least in the lower grades (and they don't start testing until third grade)... but given that this is a language immersion school, with 50% of the day spent in a non-English setting, they want to make sure the kids are keeping up with the English, so the results of the tests are definitely scrutinized in order to address any identified shortcomings. Also, compared to most independent schools (except other language immersion schools, like FAIS), I would assume CAIS has a larger percentage of students with parents for whom English is a second language. I mean, CAIS is like AFY in that the student has to be "proficient" in English in order to enroll... but the levels of that proficiency can vary quite a bit. (What I am trying to say is that these factors might lead CAIS to pay a bit more attention to test results... and I don't know how much emphasis is placed on the results at other independent schools.)

    ERB CTP 4: http://tinyurl.com/2h4jpp

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  90. Thanks, M. It's good that CAIS is using the test scores the way they should be used, which is identify individual and collective successes and shortcomings, in the context of similar demographics. It makes sense that extra attention would be paid to the extent of English learning in CAIS, which only teaches it 50% of the time, and which probably has a higher percentage of non-primary-English speakers than most private schools. This is useful.

    I am told that my kids' (public) school uses test data to see if individual kids are on track or improving, or if they need intervention; and also to see if there are areas, for example geometry, that need more work based on the collective result in a grade or class.

    What's ludicrous is throwing around test results without any reference to the population at the school, which as noted with Alvarado, can even change from year to year as new students arrive in the upper grades (the SI programs usually get a few new Spanish-speakers each year, who come with very limited English skills and may also not be up to grade level in skills such as reading). Yet they are tested along with everyone else and are part of the rising-every-year bar of NCLB. Of course the schools cannot use this fact an excuse to give up on these kids, but I hope someone is doing studies that break out this data so that an accurate picture can be painted of how the schools are actually doing. Most schools of all types (public, private etc.) match their demographics. Some don't match (good or bad) and they tell a more interesting tale.

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  91. Hi All,

    7:27 from yesterday. . .

    This is a great discussion.

    I do hope that we read the National Academy of Science Report. Science teaching could be better in both public and private schools in this city. Thanks for the plug, 10:19.

    Again:

    http://books.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=12739&page=R1

    Thank you for the information about Lowell and Lincoln and the New York Times article. These are very good high schools, but increasingly hard to get into. I mentioned Oakland Technical High School because it is known to develop technical and scientific talent in disadvantaged kids.

    Lincoln and Lowell are doing a great job, but they also get some of the most able and advantaged public school kids in the city.

    I was talking to one Dad who had a twenty-year-old son, who had gone to Lowell. But he told me that with the changes in the lottery system, he was sending his 5-year-old daughter to private school.

    I digress. I think I've tried to make my point about the effect of having the kids of middle class parents assigned to schools with very low test scores.

    So many helpful comments! There is great information here. Thank you to parents who are aware and talking about this issue.

    I don't want to get caught up in the debate between public and private, or the testing debate, too much. I would agree that there are many very expensive privates that do not do better than some of the more mediocre public schools in science teaching. I say *some*. It is buyer beware. My own thinking for K-8 would be a willingness to teach science and good science teachers before worrying about lab facilities. Good and engaging math teachers are also very important.

    Interestingly, one of the best math teachers I saw last year was in the Spanish Immersion program at Alvarado. (3rd Grade.) But beware, many parents put this at the top of their list and went 0/7.

    A number of people seem to be interested in K-8 science teaching, as I am. I'll make some enquiries and see what the follow-up to the National Academies Report will be here in the city.

    I hope to post something on this blog again in about a week.

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  92. " Most parochial schools have their own testing (Iowa Test of Basic Skills… or something?)… and they can tell you the results, also."

    IIRC, the Iowa test sounds familar from the parochials I toured. However, I didn't get the sense that they would reveal the results directly. You might get a hint if the school did well, but that's it. It seems the Archdiocese doesn't want the scores used as a marketing tool by principals.

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  93. Re 3rd grade math teacher at Alvarado--talking about Mr. Sierra? He is a phenomenal and very dedicated teacher. We loved his multi-faceted approach to teaching math. I also loved how he talked about the history of Mayan mathematics--math is part of the ancestral history of many of these kids' cultures in Mexico and Central America. Mr. Sierra rocks.

    Yes, it is a popular school, and so is Lincoln on the high school level. But Mr. Sierra was teaching there before Alvarado climbed the charts. Surely there are Mr. Sierras in other schools that are flying below the radar.

    I agree with you that for K-8 the most important thing is the good teaching. Some teachers have special backgrounds in science, or environmental science. At Alvarado it seemed like the kids in 4-5 were always going on environmental science trips on the Bay, following the waste stream, and on and on, plus doing experiments in the classroom.

    Question is, who are the good teachers in the not-impossible-lottery schools? I know they are out there. If I were a parent touring, that's what I would try to figure out. You can't control which teacher stays at a school, but if you know of a critical mass of good ones, that's a good indication that things are going well, and it makes it more likely that the good teachers will stick around.

    Before Flynn started turning around its numbers, I remember some of their teachers visiting the Alvarado science lab to observe, and I remember thinking that Flynn would be a school to watch. If the teachers want to learn from other programs that are successful, that's a good sign.

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  94. Yes, I am talking about Mr. Sierra. He is terrific.

    I wish there were more Mr. Sierras.

    He seemed to be talking the best of the SFUSD material, but not being driven by it.

    I didn't know he taught the Mayan counting system, but I am glad to hear it. Our family is quite close to a very bright little boy who's father is and speaks Mayan. Unfortunately, the boy didn't get into Alvarado and I often worry about the quality of the schooling he is getting.

    I guess that just shows how important it is to have more Mr. Sierras.

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  95. If I were in charge of school reform I would be focusing on how to work with the teachers' unions and others to raise the quality of teaching. I say work with the unions. I am far from anti-union, because they have held the line on driving teacher compensation into the ground in our recent era of "government is bad," but there is a need for 21st century solutions and for them to work the teachers have to be at the table. Raising standards, figuring out how to sort for and train the best teachers for different levels of teaching and diverse populations, and raising teacher compensation in parallel with these efforts. Like health care reform, it's a complex problem that relies on all the pieces working together.

    The Prop A campaign here, and the MOU signed by UESF and the district as a part of it, was a good example on the local level that this can be done. The union was willing to have more flexibility in pay scales for certain teaching positions in return for raising pay overall.

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  96. Of all the people throwing around stats about Oakland Tech... I am insanely curious as to how many people have actually visited the school. I grew up in Oakland and knew kids who attended Oakland Tech. Let's just say it's a rough and tumble school. It's not even remotely fair to compare Tech to Lowell. Lowell is basically a private public.

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  97. It is a private-like public in the sense of having "screened" kids for academic ability, but very different from private in the sense that it is available to smart and hard-working working-class kids who couldn't get into or afford private school. Much more meritocratic in that sense. Even though we know that achievement tracks demographics, so Lowell will always skew higher on the social class scale, private schools select for social class even more than an achievement barrier like Lowell's does.

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  98. "Of all the people throwing around stats about Oakland Tech..."

    Uhhh, am I not supposed to talk about this school?

    No, I haven't visited Oakland Technical High School, but the Chronical has done a good job talking about it and since I am interested in technical education, I read those articles. Rough or not, it has done a great job of providing a top notch technical education for those students driven to pursue it.

    My husband, who has a PhD from MIT, went to a similar rough but good high school and was from a disadvantaged background.

    No, I am not putting down Lowell or saying that Lowell is better or worse than private high schools.
    For the last time, Lowell is quite hard to get into, increasingly, for a number of reasons!!

    If we could all get our kids into Oakland Technical High School or Lowell, we'd be rocking, lemme tell y'.

    But the point shouldn't be about getting our kids into the one or two good public high schools or handful of private high schools in SF. It should be about broadening the base of good science and math teaching all round.

    I just don't think that the current approach of sticking the kids of middle class parents in very disadvantaged schools is going to work without more Mr. Sierras and more support all round.

    As I've said before, you can't do that on the backs of a few overburdened, and tapped out moms.

    Thanks to the person who posted with the comment about working with the teacher's union. Agreed.

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  99. M, 8:47:

    " Also, compared to most independent schools (except other language immersion schools, like FAIS), I would assume CAIS has a larger percentage of students with parents for whom English is a second language."

    M, I was surprised that CAIS would have a large percentage of non-fluent English speakers, if only because I thought the numbers of Mandarin speakers interested in immersion in SF was small, given that Starr King and Jose Ortega have a hard time filling their slots for Mandarin-speaking kids. Are the English as a second language kids Mandarin-predominant, or another dialect?

    Thanks.

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  100. "I just don't think that the current approach of sticking the kids of middle class parents in very disadvantaged schools is going to work without more Mr. Sierras and more support all round."

    Yeah, but "hire better people" isn't a real strategy, anymore than it is in the corporate world. ('Cos the question then is: why aren't you doing that already?) In addition, the budget chaos thanks to the minority of anti-tax cultists in Sacramento has probably caused a direct and indirect loss of the best of a generation of California teachers. No seniority? Off you go. (Hey, low pay, no job security - what a career, eh?)

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  101. "Uhhh, am I not supposed to talk about this school?"

    No, please talk away! I just felt it worth pointing out that Tech has its shortcomings. Reading about something in a newspaper and being around the school give two totally different perceptions.

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  102. 2:25

    You are right that the anti-tax cult we call the CA GOP is a huge problem. (And you wonder why the unions hunker down?).

    A good and creative approach would bring together good ideas from across the spectrum: more flexibility, but more pay, and so on, and forge a new paradigm for recruiting and training and retaining teachers. But I can't think of any solution that doesn't involve more $$$ inputs from the public sector to support it. The hope would be to do what we did on a small scale here in SF: Vote to approve more funds in return for a known set of reforms. Win-win.

    But as long as the CA GOP controls the purse strings via their 1/3 minority coup, that can't happen. There may be more of interest happening on the federal level, where Obama is fending off the crazy national GOP, but has a little more power to overcome it. But alas, we in CA may not be beneficiaries because of our inability to get anything done, or even get the political system reformed. Back to square one. Sigh.

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  103. 2:19pm --

    Old-timers on this blog may be tired of me saying this, but I think overall interest in Mandarin is high.

    It's mostly where the programs were located (far from the majority-Asian neighborhoods on the west side) and to an extent the schools' overall test scores (still lower but rising fast) that are hurting enrollment.

    If they'd established a Mandarin program at Dianne Feinstein as originally discussed, or at DeAvila as was an opportunity last year, I'm certain it would have been just as much in demand as Alice Fong Yu and West Portal.

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  104. "I just don't think that the current approach of sticking the kids of middle class parents in very disadvantaged schools is going to work without more Mr. Sierras and more support all round."

    Yeah, but it was one of the few degrees of freedom that the district has, given that it has to achieve equitable outcomes across ethnic groups, but can't use ethnicity as a factor in assignment. Trying to draw middle-class parents into previously unappreciated schools through e.g. immersion programs is part of that.

    Unfortunately, the choice aspect of the lottery doesn't quite solve the problem either, given that only 3/3 of Latino and 1/2 of African-american applicants get their applications in before the Round 1 deadline; hence those populations are underrepresented in the more popular SFUSD schools.

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  105. ""I just don't think that the current approach of sticking the kids of middle class parents in very disadvantaged schools is going to work without more Mr. Sierras and more support all round."

    Yeah, but "hire better people" isn't a real strategy, anymore than it is in the corporate world."

    The National Academies Report doesn't suggest that 'the hire better people' approach as a front line strategy. It suggests many approaches, one of which is to better train existing teachers. And that was what the Teacher's Union was asking for during the campaign for prop A.

    No GOP in the mix anywhere.

    The rubber has to meet the road for us democrats sometime. And I hate to bring politics into it.

    We can't go on spending, spending without looking at ourselves in the mirror once in a while.

    γνῶθι σεαυτόν
    gnōthi seauton (romanized alphabet)
    know thyself (translated)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
    Know_thyself

    At this point, I actually don't give a rat's ass what the corporate world is or isn't doing. I do care if I am getting value for my hard earned tax dollar.

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  106. I'm the one who posted the stats for Oakland Tech, and I wasn't putting the school down. I was just pointing out that the facts don't support the claim that it's doing a better job than San Francisco schools teaching science (note that SFUSD's averages are higher than Oakland Tech's scores in every category).

    This is oversimplified, a statement that could only be made my someone not actually familiar with either school:

    "Lincoln and Lowell are doing a great job, but they also get some of the most able and advantaged public school kids in the city."

    Lowell gets the most academically able kids -- from public and private (many families go private for K-8 and then send their kids to Lowell if the kids qualify). That's the design of the school. It also has many economically disadvantaged students, and students who have very little parental support -- mainly from the Chinese immigrant community. The implication that it's mostly rich kids is definitely not valid.

    Lincoln gets students assigned by lottery, not based on academic criteria, so there's no basis for saying it gets more able kids than any other school. It IS also popular with the Chinese community, who tend (on average, statistically) to outperform every other demographic. Like Lowell, Lincoln has many students who are economically disadvantaged and have little parental support. I'm largely referring to immigrant parents who don't speak English and don't have the skills to "work the system" -- huge numbers of kids from such families do the entire college process on their own, without help from their parents, for example.

    This is more complicated than it looks too:

    "I was talking to one Dad who had a twenty-year-old son, who had gone to Lowell. But he told me that with the changes in the lottery system, he was sending his 5-year-old daughter to private school." Parents like that are generally objecting to the fact that in the past, the assignment process was very open to being worked by assertive parents -- the appeals process was open to anyone who could make the best case, on any basis. Now it's much more impartial, and assertiveness provides little advantage.

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  107. 3:59:

    I don't know what your point is. Are you saying it is OK that we only have one or two really good public high schools teaching science?

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  108. 3:59:

    I think I would add that "parents like that" may or may not be reacting to a change in the lottery process. They are simply trying to insure that their child has a good chance at success. When they go through the lottery process for kindergarten and find out that they have been assigned to a very challenged school, many parents are forced to leave the city or send their kids to private school.

    You mention disadvantaged Asian children. Most disadvantaged Asian children do get a leg up in that they are assigned to schools with at least reasonably good test scores because they are non-English speakers. Also, by shear number, they are in their own demographic group. If you don't think so, have a look at E R Taylor, Sunset, West Portal, etc. Other children in other demographic groups do not have this advantage and that does tend to make the school environment more challenging.

    I would add that there are now many middle and upper middle class Asian families that still get the leg up on their K application because of the advantage given to non-English speakers.

    Middle class children who are native english speakers do not get this advantage in the kindergarten lottery.

    I am sorry that you have taken exception to my comments about Lowell and Lincoln. Again, I am not trying to categorize the student group as advantaged or anything else. I am saying that there is not enough good science teaching at all levels in our schools.

    I am sorry that you have to find fault with this.

    Did you read the National Academy of Sciences report on science teaching in our schools?

    They seem to think there is a problem, but I guess you know better.

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  109. Both Galileo and Washington also have good science high school programs.

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  110. "Are you saying it is OK that we only have one or two really good public high schools teaching science?"

    I'm not really sure that's the case. But truly, I'm not a great judge of science curricula. My point was just to check out whether it was valid to cite Oakland Tech as a model. If it IS a model and test scores are any gauge, than SFUSD schools are better. and that's great news.

    "Forced" is relative here, because many/most families who work the process all the way through get a school that they're happy with in the end, and some families are shut out of private schools too.

    "When they go through the lottery process for kindergarten and find out that they have been assigned to a very challenged school, many parents are forced to leave the city or send their kids to private school."

    But the big difference in the process from the point of view of a family with a 20-year-old would be that in the past he could employ pure assertiveness to get the school he wanted, and it doesn't work that way anymore. The good news is that there are so, so many more schools considered acceptable to excellent than there were when his 20-year-old started -- multiple times the number back then. I wonder if he even has a clear picture of that.

    It's not that I was offended by your comments about Lowell and Lincoln. I just don't think that characterizing them as schools that enroll the privileged gives an accurate picture.

    I'm not finding fault or disputing the conclusion of the NAS (which I haven't read). No, I don't know better, and of course I think there should be improved science teaching in our schools. I only questioned the claim that Oakland Tech had the answer, because I'm somewhat familiar with Oakland schools, which made me suspicious of the view that it would be a model.

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  111. Dont buy $700 stollers. Please

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  112. So, which public elementary schools do a good job teaching science (they can't all be bad)? And does anyone have any first-hand knowledge re: Spring Valley (supposedly a "Science Magnet" school)?

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  113. Great question. I would also like to know the extent your neighborhood school plays into factor as your #1 choice with diversity? What makes someone diverse? Is it the preschool question, the qualified for free lunch, speak a different language, live in public housing questions? Because for our neighborhood school we would add racial diveristy but not of those diversity points. Anyone know?

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  114. Grattan.

    Alvarado has a very good math teacher in the Spanish immersion program and a good science program, as discussed earlier in this thread.

    Others, anybody?

    Diversity, as it is processed in the K lottery, has been thouroughly covered earlier in this thread.

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  115. 8:50

    sorry, but by law your individual race is not allowed to be considered. the lottery only considers the socio-economic factors. as i understand the algorithm, if your child adds diversity by any of these factors at any point that the computer is adding names to the list and then recalculating the diversity profile of the school, then your child may be chosen. if you are in the neighborhood assignment area of that school, then you will be considered before those in the app pool who are outside the neighborhood, but the computer will seek out diversity beyond the neighborhood area before returning to non-diverse profiles within the area. there is no perfect profile, only what makes the school diverse (along any of these factors) at a given point in the process.

    hope that helps.

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  116. That was a great description of the lottery process. There is more on SFUSD website http://portal.sfusd.edu/template/default.cfm?page=policy.placement.process and even a 15 page document http://portal.sfusd.edu/data/epc/DI_Handout_Combo.pdf
    technical description. It's a good point that there is no perfect profile. If for example the K class begins with 6 or 7 siblings that happen to be from low income families and you are not low income (no free lunch, no section 8 housing, went to preschool), then you add diversity. Same is true for the opposite, 6 or so non-poor siblings start the class then the lotto will grab a poor kid next to add diversity.

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  117. "If for example the K class begins with 6 or 7 siblings that happen to be from low income families and you are not low income (no free lunch, no section 8 housing, went to preschool), then you add diversity."

    Right. And so for a heavily immigrant school like ER Taylor or Marshall or maybe even AFY or West Portal, being from a non-native English family ain't necessarily going to give you a leg up.

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  118. The way the algorithm was described to me from someone at PPS and from someone at the Enrollment Fair last fall, the computer assigns you a binary "yes" (1) or "no" (0) according to the questions on the application. These binaries are used by the computer program to determine your diversity as it relates to the others already enrolled (either siblings or students already placed by the program). The computer is constantly trying to balance the diversity when assigning to a school.

    My husband and I disagree on what happens next, though. Say the computer is trying to assign students at a school they listed as #1 on their list. He thinks that the computer program pulls students from #1 placement but, if there is not enough diversity, it starts pulling from applicants who placed the school #2 on their list and so forth down the application to the #7 listed school.

    On the contrary, I think the system always tries to give you your highest choice. To me, this means that the computer program ONLY looks at people who placed the school as #1 on their list. If there's not enough diversity, that's too bad... it does the best it can.

    We have contemplated this because it would make a big difference in strategy. If his way holds true, you would list your favorite schools in order. If my way holds true, you put your favorite schools in order UNLESS they were popular schools. In that case, you would list your favorite school first (maybe your second, too) and then place "safer", less popular schools lower on the list.

    Did that make any sense? If so, does anyone know which is true?

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  119. @1:04am -- Neither one is quite correct as I understand it.

    First siblings and special-needs kids are assigned. Then the computer looks at all the applicants for all the schools (in other words, all seven of your choices at once) and determines which schools your kid would add diversity to. Kids in a school's assignment zone have priority if they add diversity. If there is a tie, it goes to the kid who ranks the school higher. If your kid adds diversity to more than one of your choices, you get assigned to your highest choice.

    General wisdom:
    1) List 7 schools that you'd be willing to attend in order of preference. If you don't list 7 schools in the first round, odds are higher you'll be assigned to a random school you didn't want, and additionally you have lower priority in later rounds.

    2) Don't bother lying when answering the diversity questions. You have no idea what the applicant pool will look like for your school choices that year.

    3) If you want a popular school, odds are slim you'll get it in the first round if you don't rank it #1, and then odds are still slim. Only put a popular school #1 if you're a risk-taker or if you have a backup plan (private/parochial school or holding out your kid a year.) A less-risky strategy is to rank an acceptable but less-popular school #1 then enter the waitpool over the summer to try to get into that more-popular school.

    Good luck.

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  120. Actually, your school ranking (1 through 7) is not used to break ties between students but to break ties between YOUR choices should YOUR name come up at more than one school.

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  121. There are lots of predominantly Asian schools with lots of English language learners that have decent scores and would be relatively easy for an English-speaking family to get in the lottery.

    Open your minds, people.

    You DO add diversity at lots of good schools.

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  122. "So, which public elementary schools do a good job teaching science (they can't all be bad)?"

    I will second Grattan. We do have a lot of ucsf parents, but we don't really tap that the way we could. We're working on it. Science teaching however is viewed as an integral part of the curriculum, way above and beyond the garden/natural science program.

    To offer concrete examples: The CA standard in K is something like the scientific process. Our K class did a lot with light and shadows. Our K kept a science journal in which he would ask a question, conduct research the try to find the answer, drew pictures of his experiments to show his work and then try to write the answer. It wasn't so much about right or wrong, but about the process.

    In 1st grade the teachers did many experiments using the FOSS kits about the different types of matter. They seemed to focus on learning terminology a bit too much for my tastes, but there was lots of experimental components as well.

    In 2nd grade,he moved on to more complicated experiments about sound, electricity and magnets and other stuff. Again the emphasis seemed to be on having the students make guesses about why something happened or how something worked and then conduct experiments to confirm their thoughts and then use that knowledge to make the materials do something else.

    Clearly I am not a scientist! But I can recognize my child's engagement with the material and it looked to me like they were expanding their minds through the material rather than just blindly following a set of instructions.

    I know Grattan is not longer a hidden gem like it was when we got in. There is however a lot on movement on that waitlist.

    My advice on finding a hidden Gem... Strong principal who has a good relationship with her teachers and a staff with a range of new and old teachers. Parents are important, but the core vision has to come from a unified staff.

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  123. "My husband and I disagree on what happens next, though. Say the computer is trying to assign students at a school they listed as #1 on their list. He thinks that the computer program pulls students from #1 placement but, if there is not enough diversity, it starts pulling from applicants who placed the school #2 on their list and so forth down the application to the #7 listed school."

    Both you and your husband have it wrong, but your husband is a bit more right. The algorithm's objective is to maximize the diversity [index] of a particular school. The algorithm will pick students from the applicant pool who are the most different in the 4 diversity variables than the current pool of entrants (starting with the sibling pool and addign on from there). For attendance area schools, it looks for the student who does this best first in the attendance area, then from the general applicant pool. For the alternative schools, there's no attendance area. If it has more than one student who's optimal in terms for changing the diversity index of the school, then the rank of the school on that student's application is used as a tiebreaker between the candidates.

    What this means is that if a school has a lot more first choices than open slots (about 2/3 of the capacity in the entering year) then listing it less than 1 or maybe 2 is wasting the pick. (Unless you're playing the long game and are maximizing your waitpool chances if you go 0/7)

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  124. "it's funny how the current system engenders such a frenzy of contemplation, when, in reality, applicants who don't add diversity to places they're likely to apply have little to no control over their assignments at all. for this reason, i have come to think of the current enrollment formula as "illusion-of-choice-based" for almost anyone with the resources to attend tours, read greatschools or "shop around," as it were."

    I thought your comment was very well thought out, particularly that few of the schools in the City (maybe 15 out of 70-odd publics, no idea for the privates & parochials) are heinous.

    However, I don't believe that the "illusion of choice" for the lottery is there, anymore than choosing a house (where you have other people competing to buy or rent) or choosing a college (where you face rejections) or a private school (where you face rejections also). It's not choice like going to the store and choosing a flavor of ice cream, but choice is still an element, as is having an overall strategy (like a Plan B).

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  125. Based on observing this process for several years, I think the educated parents are overthinking the impact of the Diversity Index.

    It seems unlikely that there'd be any difference to most people with a straight lottery. If there are 5 applicants per opening, it's luck of the draw, Diversity Index or not, except maybe in very clear-cut cases (a child in public housing applying to Clarendon, perhaps).

    The obsessing with the details of the Diversity Index may not be the best use of parents' time. Using it to seek out some "safety" hidden gems that aren't in huge demand would be more productive.

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  126. 6:59
    "Actually, your school ranking (1 through 7) is not used to break ties between students but to break ties between YOUR choices should YOUR name come up at more than one school."

    This is not true. As the other poster commented. "If it has more than one student who's optimal in terms for changing the diversity index of the school, then the rank of the school on that student's application is used as a tiebreaker between the candidates."

    7:27
    I disagree that "educated parents are overthinking the impact of the Diversity Index." Everybody should learn as much about the process as possible. There is so much mis-information out there. Parents who spend time to understand the system can make better informed choices. And then wind up with whatever you get, but at least you'll know you did the best you could for your child.

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  127. thanks to the Grattan parent who posted about their science program.

    sounds terrific.

    thanks for your information.

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  128. '"Actually, your school ranking (1 through 7) is not used to break ties between students but to break ties between YOUR choices should YOUR name come up at more than one school."

    This is not true. As the other poster commented. "If it has more than one student who's optimal in terms for changing the diversity index of the school, then the rank of the school on that student's application is used as a tiebreaker between the candidates."'

    Well, actually, both are true. Ranking is used as a tiebreaker in allocation of students, and to decide which slot to free up if a student gets assigned to more than one school while the algorithm is doing its stuff.

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  129. "The obsessing with the details of the Diversity Index may not be the best use of parents' time. Using it to seek out some "safety" hidden gems that aren't in huge demand would be more productive."

    Also, I'm skeptical that there are that many hidden gems out there, given this blog, parent email lists, and greatschools.net

    What there are *underappreciated* gems, schools that because the principal ain't a good marketer, the ethnic balance is off, or they're not in a central location, or their buildings are ugly as sin, or there's some other factor (like, say, folks being put off by the religious affliation of the parochial schools) that is causing their tours not to be mobbed like tours of Rooftop.

    Moscone and E.R. Taylor come to mind (heavily immigrant, but kick-ass test scores). Sunnyside and Jose Ortega similarly up until this year. St. Paul's, St. Finn Barr's, St. Elizabeth's, Mission Dolores, Epiphany and Corpus Christi also come to mind in the parochial sector.

    There's no hidden Clarendon out there in the backwoods. But there are schools where your kid can be happy and get a good education, provided you can be a bit contrarian about it.

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  130. 11:43,

    great comment. it is tough for many parents to know what school is no longer in the "hidden gem" category, as happened last year with Miraloma, but I think the schools you mention are very good.

    They is a beautiful new library near E R Taylor and I believe they are thinking of renovating the recreation center.

    Nice neighborhood, lots of sun.

    No, I am not a real-estate agent.

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  131. "A less-risky strategy is to rank an acceptable but less-popular school #1 then enter the waitpool over the summer to try to get into that more-popular school."

    Does anyone know anyone who go into a popular school off the waitlist - when they received a round 1 pick? Just curious about the odds - Thanks!

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  132. '"A less-risky strategy is to rank an acceptable but less-popular school #1 then enter the waitpool over the summer to try to get into that more-popular school."

    Does anyone know anyone who go into a popular school off the waitlist - when they received a round 1 pick? Just curious about the odds - Thanks!'

    I actually think the advice is mistaken, at least for the Alvarados or Miralomas or AFYs of the world, as I don't think those will empty out their 0/7 and 0/less than 7 waitpools. I might work for some of the not-quite-so-crazy popular schools or some of the Spanish immersion programs (like Buena Vista or Monroe or Fairmount).

    It might work for Clarendon or Claire Lillenthal, as there's a lot of movement into the independent privates in those schools and possibly the 0/7 waitpool might empty out, but it's a real long shot.

    I know of one family getting into Alvarado GE, despite getting one of their Round 1 picks, but as the 0/7 waitpool hadn't emptied (as I found to my chagrin when I posted about it), I think that was a screw-up by EPC.

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  133. 11:43 here:

    I forgot to mention SF Community - another good school in the SE.

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  134. There are definetily two strategies:

    1) put the schools you really want in 1-3, even if they are over-subscribed. Then pad the bottom of the list 4-7, with popular schools you know you won't get. This gets you either one of your top three schools or into the 0/7 cohort where you'll have a better chance at getting one of your 1-3 choices off the waitlist.

    2) put the schools you really want in 1-3, even if they are over-subscribed. Then for the bottom of the list 4-7, but some of the less popular, more likely to get in Round 1 schools. This gets you into a school in Round 1 that is one of your 7, but dashes all hopes of getting into any other school off the waitlist (one of your top 3 choices perhaps) b/c you will not be in the 0/7 cohort which gets priority over you in the 1/7 cohort.

    This is where the choice comes in to the whole "choice" system. There are choices to make, even though you don't get to choose exactly what school your child goes to.

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  135. 1:14

    Your strategy did not work for us.

    Also, waitlisting Sunset did not work for us. (Someone mentioned that they didn't think it would be very hard for a Non-Asian to get into some of the schools with a large Asian population.)

    Never got the call.

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  136. 1:24

    Being Asian or not-Asian would have no bearing on the lottery as race is not a factor, only socio-economic questions. If the Obama girls were applying through the lottery for Clarendon, they would be in there with all the rest o' ya posting here--Not Poor. Being black would not matter. All the not-poor folks are competing against each other for those slots, for the most part. The only thing that might have mattered at Sunset would have been ELL or not-ELL status, but the Sunset District is so mixed in that factor (unlike Chinatown proper and Vis Valley) that who knows what would have been the right profile?

    Being Asian or not-Asian would definitely have had no impact whatsoever on the waitpool process, as of course race but also socio-economic factors are also NOT considered in the waitpool runs. You just happened to be in a large waitpool with little movement and didn't get lucky. [Guessing that the Sunset District schools have less movement because there are fewer families applying to private, but that is speculation.]

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  137. Did you do strategy 1 or 2? Just curious. I'm doing it this year. Also, Asian or non-Asian has nothing to do with it. It's poor vs. non-poor. And I'm certainly not saying either of these strategies work. Just saying, you have to choose which one to do. How to fill out the form. And then you think about it and stress about it, what schools to put down and you just end up with whatever they give.

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  138. 1:14, I think there is a third strategy, especially with the increase in public school applications in the last few years:

    Seek out and apply to only very moderately popular or yet-to-become popular schools, especially for your #1-3 spots. Don't waste your spots on the popular ones, but go for broke on getting *something* you like in Round 1. Here is the reasoning:

    Since rank order DOES matter in breaking ties between two equally diverse candidates (or between two non-diverse candidates when diversity has been exhausted), it may very well come into play at a school that is moderately oversubscribed. A school that has somewhat more apps than spots could very likely end up deep into that part of the algorithm. So listing a school at #1 could make the difference in getting that spot when there are 120 kids going for 60 spots. Look at the numbers for the past five years. There is a 5-year-demand spreadsheet available on both SFUSD and PPS websites.

    If you really really want to make sure you are holding an acceptable by the end of Round 1, if possible, then I would go with this strategy.

    Definitely also consider those schools whose diversity profiles may differ from yours -- Taylor being a good example.

    This is how you make the lottery work in your favor rather than trusting in dumb luck with bad odds (like roulette). You have be fairly dispassionate about the numbers and the process though. Most schools really are fine even if they don't look the same. There are only a few that are a mess. And many off the radar that are excellent, like, again, Taylor.

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  139. Yes, I think the idea of listing popular schools #1-3 and listing less-popular (but still acceptable) schools #4-7 as backup is a little risky. You may very well get one of your backups, if you have the right profile, but some of those less popular schools are climbing the charts and will be actually be snapped up in a tie-breaker by those who put them at #1. Remember we are in a baby boom and a recession. I wouldn't be expecting fewer applicants this year.

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  140. @12:57pm --

    As the writer of the more risky/less risky post, I agree that that the less risky method gives you less chance -- slim chance, in fact -- of getting one of the hot schools. But it can happen, especially after school starts. More importantly, you also won't be stressing out all summer after going 0/7 in the lottery, which is why I consider it less risky.

    1:14pm outlined two options well if you're set on a hot school, but it's still taking a greater chance of going 0/7 and getting assigned somewhere random.


    I forgot to add one more bit of general wisdom:
    4) Accept your first-round assignment whatever it is. Failing to enroll doesn't give you additional priority in future rounds. The only reason not to enroll is if you're totally certain you'd never go to that school, you've already got a backup plan, and you don't want to bother with the paperwork.

    You'll be amazed how great some of the "lesser" schools look after you've gone 0/7 and get assigned somewhere you REALLY didn't want. It's kind of like looking around the barroom at 2 a.m. -- suddenly options you initially rejected look a lot more attractive.

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  141. For privates, if nice (kind, gentle, openminded) is your biggest criteria, I'd suggest looking at Friends, Live Oak, and Marin Country Day for private schools. If "Anna" is actually a boy then I'd also include Cathedral. Education level is excellent and the teaching style was very comforting. Please don't bother telling me about people you know that are horrible at those schools. Just giving our impression based on our multiple tours and discussions with other families that attend there.

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  142. Hi 2:25 and 2:27,

    Yes, I know that being Asian or non-Asian does not affect rank in the lottery.

    I am responding to the previous 7:00am glib poster:

    "There are lots of predominantly Asian schools with lots of English language learners that have decent scores and would be relatively easy for an English-speaking family to get in the lottery.

    Open your minds, people.

    You DO add diversity at lots of good schools."

    Well, we did open our minds and rather than wait listing Clarendon or Miraloma, we wait listed Sunset. More diverse in our eyes.

    This did not work. I am simply pointing out that there are factors I could never have anticipated such as the movement at the waitpool at Clarendon rather than Sunset. Also, I would like to know why someone who is ELL, or probably not ELL, but bilingual (we've already found out that the SFUSD doesn't test this, it is a complete crap shoot) gets more brownie points than a child who speaks English.

    My husband was an ELL and he was fully fluent by third grade without any special intervention at all.

    I can understand the differentiation based on income, but not on language. Most young kids pick up a new language in one or two years.

    The Asian community got fed up a few years ago with the SFUSD and filed a lawsuit, and maybe the Caucasian community should do the same.

    At least, spare me the comment to "open my mind."

    The current system penalized native speakers of english who sent their kids to preschool. Well who could that be? Primarily Caucasian families. The current criteria for the lottery are proxies for race and specifically work to put Caucasian families at a disadvantage in the K lottery. If a host on NPR can see that, then so so can everybody else.

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  143. 4:32,

    It's true that Sunset was a better bet than Clarendon. It had "only" 321 requests for 60 spots (and probably more like 300 requests for 45 spots after sibling requests) in 08-09, although demand was clearly rising: by last year, it received 518 total requests for 66 spots, 71 of which were first-choice requests. You happened to be one of the unlucky ones. I'm sorry.

    People here keep talking about the Asian community as if it is monolithic. It is not. There are well-off and middle class and poor. There are native English speakers and ELLs. The Chinese community (not to mention other ethnic groups) has been here in SF for a long time. Those who live in the Sunset *tend* to be more established in socio-economic terms, including both income and language. Thus a predominantly Asian school in the Sunset is likely to have a different lottery profile than one in Chinatown, or one in Visitacion Valley.

    In lottery terms, if you follow this advice re "opening your mind" (not my choice of words, btw) and consider a predominantly Asian school, and your profile is across-the-board not-poor, and English-speaking, then you might want to consider the schools in Chinatown, or Taylor and others over in the SE. THAT is where you will add diversity to the school's lottery profile. Not in the Sunset, where you are competing against legions of similarly not-poor folks of various ethnicities, including, of course, Chinese American families as well as others.

    The thing about waitpool movement is no guarantee or anything, just an observation that there is usually more movement in the waitpools at Grattan and Clarendon, which tend to have a whiter population, than at others; I speculate that there are more families there on the private school waiting lists. A higher percentage of our Chinese American families go public than is the case with white families. Guessing there is hardly any movement in the pools in the Sunset--once they're in, they have a party to celebrate good fortune and good value, and don't look back.

    I really believe that unless you are stepping out of your comfort zone to apply to a school whose profile is very different from yours--a poor kid applying to Clarendon, or a middle class kid applying to Cesar Chavez--that the lottery is pretty much luck of the draw, and the S/E diversity thing plays only a small role. What happened was, you put a popular school, and you didn't get lucky. Again, I'm sorry.

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  144. Going back to an earlier topic in the thread, one possible metric for trying to identify a greater concentration of good teachers in a school or a specialization in a particular subject is to ask how many of the teachers at the school are National Board Certified. This is an additional certification process that is quite extensive and rigorous, which for the short term at least it leads to more salary for teachers and correlates to teachers that at the very least take their profession very seriously and are motivated. Annoyingly, there is no easy clearing house to determine which schools which teachers are at. You sort of have to figure it out or ask and even then most administrators may not even know. There are 154 NBC teachers in SFUSD. I was told by someone that Flynn has 7 teachers which seems like a pretty high number. They may make a point of it at the tours this year. Full disclosure: my wife is a NBCT so I know how difficult it really is to get – but she specializes in teaching English Language Learners so not so useful to the readers of this blog.

    http://www.nbpts.org/resources/nbct_directory

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  145. "The current criteria...specifically work to put Caucasian families at a disadvantage in the K lottery."

    For the sake of argument, I'll accept that native-English speakers who send their kids to preschool tend to be white.

    So does the current system discriminate against white people? Here's what I see:

    Percent of students enrolled in SFUSD who are white: 9-12% depending on the report.

    Percent of students who are white at the most requested elementary schools from last year, per the SFUSD website:

    Clarendon 33.0%
    Rooftop 21.5%
    West Portal 14.3%
    Lawton 6.9%
    Lilienthan 31.4%
    Alice Fong Yu 10.3%
    Alamo 18.7%
    Miraloma 46.9% (!)
    Feinstein 30.1%
    Sunset 23.1%

    I think Grattan is tops at 47.4% white.

    So only two of the top ten most popular schools from last year have less than the average number of white kids, and six of the 10 have a significantly higher than average number of white kids.

    I don't think the current system specifically puts white people at a disadvantage. What puts white people at a disadvantage is applying to the same 10 schools when the system is trying to create diversity at each school. It's simply limited by its applicant pool.

    Being a native English speaker who went to preschool is actually an advantage to get into many schools in the district -- just not the ones white people apply to in droves.

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  146. mibb, I think that does illustrate the point very well, thanks.

    I hope folks understand that this advice is being offered not as a point of snark, or to make anyone feel bad for wanting a certain school. It's to encourage everyone to look at the numbers so you can make your choices with your eyes open. You have every right to put only the schools that happen to be most popular. But you should probably know that you are competing with hundreds of other families (for the most part, ones a lot like yours) if you do that. You might get lucky, but you probably won't.

    I keep returning to Kim Green's early post on this thread: few schools in the city are heinous, objectively speaking. Most really are fine. And if she had to do it again, she'd take a look at those perceived 2nd-tier schools with no buzz that are close to home. I can't remember my parents stressing about any of this, and objectively speaking my elementary school was not nearly as good as most schools here.

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  147. Nice try, 6:28,

    You hit the nail on the head with the percentage of kids enrolled in the SFUSD who are Caucasian is 9 to 12 %. (White, by the way, is not a correct genetic classification, even if the SFUSD thinks so.) The percentage of San Franciscans who are Caucasian is 40 to 50 percent.

    The birth rate for Asians and Caucasians in San Francisco is about the same.

    So what happened to the other 30 to 40 percent of Caucasian children?? You don't mean to tell me that 30 to 40 per cent of Caucasian families in SF are all so rolling in doe that, by choice, they all decided to send their kids to private.

    In only two schools, Miraloma and Grattan, does the percentage of Caucasian children match the percentage in the city.

    On the other hand, I can think of at least five schools where Asian kids have clustered at almost double the percentage, compared to the general population of Asians in the city. One of the reason
    for this is the lawsuit that was made by Asian families that challenged the attempt by the city to diversify this concentration.

    And I am not trying to finger Asians. I actually think it is fine if an Asian neighborhood wants to work toward creating a "neighborhood" school.

    What is asymmetric about the situation is that everytime a school starts to look too "white" as you put it, the lottery comes at it with everything in its arsenal to "diversify" the school. There is no ELL to hide behind and the SFUSD seems to be particularly determined to break up these "white" schools.

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  148. 7:24

    You are wrong about the numbers. About 24-25% of the KIDS in this city are white. And yes, a large % of them, more than half of the white kids actually, are in parochial or private. Some families were always "rolling in dough" and went private, some were always Catholic/parochial, and the rest fled to private/parochial when the consent decree came down to desegregate the schools. That is the history. Recently people have been returning so the % of white kids has been creeping up.

    If the district is trying with the lottery to break up these white enclaves (just kidding, sort of) then they are not doing a good job! The schools have become more concentrated by race with the lottery. However, the district believes they would be even MORE concentrated with a return to neighborhood schools (such as existed before the consent decree). The lottery has been the compromise solution between the extremes of segregated neighborhood schools and forced busing.

    Now they are thinking of returning to an assignment system aimed at diversifying the schools, based on achievement levels block by block. Now that would be a real attempt to break up the white cabals (again, j/k) at Miraloma, Grattan, and Clarendon.

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  149. At least 40% of the city's population is caucasian. That was my assertion. The percentage of children may be about 25%, but that is most likely because the other 15% of children who are caucasian, at least in part, were forced out of city prior to starting kindergarten by the draconian policies of the SFUSD.

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  150. 8:21

    Well, you also asserted that the percentage of caucasian children at Miraloma and Grattan matched their percentage in the city, which is not true. They are about double the population of white kids in the city, and quadruple or quintuple the population in the district.

    The percentage of white adults in SF is much higher than the percentage of white children. There are many reasons for this. Sure, some of the formerly childless white couples leave town for suburban pastures when their kids are born or hit school age. This happens in most cities. There are other factors too. The demographic curve for white folks in this towns skews older in general, as it does in the state. Both city and state are becoming less white every day due to deaths, births, and immigration. The deaths are more white, and the births and immigration are more not white.

    I'm really not sure how the current policies could be called draconian in their impact on white children, who overwhelmingly populate the more popular schools relative to their population in the city generally and especially relative to their population in the district. The fact that there are not enough popular schools to go around for all the white children who apply to them is not due to draconian policies. The kids who don't get one of those popular spots are simply unlucky in the lottery.

    On the other hand, forced busing, which btw they are talking about again as part of the student assignment redesign (see option #3 in the materials, aka the zebra plan), might be called draconian. If that plan is chosen then folks here will be very, very nostalgic for the lottery.

    I think the biggest issue middle class+ people have with our system is that we are used to being in control, or being able to figure out how to be in control. We're used to going on line and figuring out the system. But the lottery doesn't let us do that. The only thing we can control is whether we apply for super-popular schools or not (or a mix) in order to improve our odds of getting one.

    Btw I do agree with you that there is no genetic "white." Race is a social construct. But it is used as a political and social category and that is what is happening here.

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  151. The birth rate for Asians and Caucasians in this city is about the same.

    I think you would be hard pressed to say that the difference between the percentage of Caucasian adults (40 to 50%) and Caucasian children (25%) in SF is just because of low birthrate.

    As many studies have shown, the exodus of families from the city happens before children turn 6.

    It is not a matter of a particular group's perceived need to control. It is a matter of fairness.

    Many middle class families have shown a willingness to try schools outside the cluster of "white" schools. Unfortunately, the lottery places them at the back of the pack and they have trouble getting into any moderately good school in the city.

    Our conversation has not left me feeling warm and fuzzy, and the lottery process leaves many families feeling bitter.

    It actually steals from the generosity, warmth and cultural sharing that naturally happens in a diverse city without a program of social engineering.

    Best of luck!

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  152. You misunderstand. I'm not a fan of extreme social engineering like busing. I don't actually think it works. I just think you are wrong about the facts.

    The lottery as it actually plays out is not, objectively, hugely unfair to middle class or white kids. Most families who want the popular schools are competing with families who share their the same diversity characteristics, so the "diversity" part of the index doesn't come into play too much; it's a red herring. It's a situation of too many middle class+ (and white) kids competing for the same spots. Sure, this means many middle class+ (and white) don't get lucky in the lottery for Clarendon. But many do get lucky.

    And where do you get the idea that middle class families are placed at the back of the back in the moderately popular schools? Their percentages in those schools reflect the degree to which they apply. The more buzz a school gets, the more middle class+ (and white) kids you will see populating those schools. Eight years ago Grattan was not in that category. Nor was Miraloma. Now they are, and plenty of middle class (and white) kids are snagging those spots, in part because their parents are highly represented in Round 1 (as compared to lower-income, and African American and Latino parents).

    You talk about generosity, warmth, and cultural sharing. I wonder how much of that was felt by the African American parents who originally brought the anti-segregation lawsuit that led to the consent decree. It sounds to me like you have a vision of golden age that never really existed for everyone. I think there is a lot of generosity and warmth and sharing in this city, but when oh when did it ever settle around issues of school assignment? What system would you suggest that really would be fair to everyone? Serious question. I guarantee you that whatever you suggest, someone will be screaming though. Even if we returned to neighborhood assignment, the system favored by lots of folks outside the SE sector, then the popular schools would still get overcrowded as they do in other cities, and then there would need to be a system for assigning those kids once again outside their neighborhood. It's the grand shuffle. Problem remains that the same too many people want the same spots.

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  153. 9:50, just a point of clarification. It was Asian American families that filed the lawsuit that led to the consent decree, not African American families.

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  154. "At least 40% of the city's population is caucasian."

    It's 45% non-Hispanic caucasian, according to the census.

    Also, 45% speak a language other than/in additional to English at home (!), according to the census. 24% speak English less than "very well". 11% speak Spanish at home, 26% speak Asian languages at home.

    Only 5% of the total SF population are under 5, which is way lower than the state average. San Franciscans are just not prolific breeders.

    "That was my assertion. The percentage of children may be about 25%, but that is most likely because the other 15% of children who are caucasian, at least in part, were forced out of city prior to starting kindergarten by the draconian policies of the SFUSD."

    Look, this isn't even close to true. The %age of kids in SFUSD before the lottery started was 13% caucasian. It's now 10%. You can get this off the SFUSD site or greatschools.net

    The percentage of kids K-12 in the city that are non-hispanic caucasian is about 30%. There are a lot of parochial schools, and there are a lot of privates in the city, and non-hispanic caucasians disproportionately go to the private sector. Some of it is family tradition & religion (the principal of West Portal sends his kid to St. Cecilia's, even though he'd get his kid in automatically to WP), and some is social expectations, and some is frankly an unjustified fear of the public schools. But the fact that the majority of white kids in SF go to privates or parochials predates the draconian jackbooted thugs of SFUSD imposing their hellish scheme of giving parents an element of choice over schools with the lottery.

    Also, in my experience, not that many parents move out of the city 'cos of the schools, probably because of Prop 13 and the hit to property taxes they'd take. [I only know of one couple in my social network who did so, with a 3-year old. But the move was more to exploit the bigger drop in Marin real estate compared to SF real estate.]

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  155. "What is asymmetric about the situation is that everytime a school starts to look too "white" as you put it, the lottery comes at it with everything in its arsenal to "diversify" the school."

    Legally, there is nothing the lottery can do to diversify the school ethnically. The diversity variables used in the lottery are

    The lottery is a compromise, and a better option than is realized, between non-contiguous attendance zones (i.e. so-called "forced busing") and segregated . The idea being that everybody has an equitable chance of getting into a school on their list of seven, whether you're in Pacific Heights or Bayview.

    Unfortunately, the rate of participation in Round 1 is low in the African-American (~50% participation in Round 1) and Latino communities (~66%) compared to Asians (88%) and non-Hispanic whites (84%). In the current situation, this means non-Hispanic white and Asians are actually doing *better* out of the lottery than AA and Latino families.

    " There is no ELL to hide behind and the SFUSD seems to be particularly determined to break up these "white" schools."

    Well, legally the district can't use ethnicity as a basis for student assignment. I'd suspect that Sup. Garcia spends more time wondering how he can make more schools like Taylor or SF Community or Moscone or Monroe than he does wondering how to destroy Miraloma. But that's just me and my.

    As shown above, because of participation rates in other ethnic groups, whites (and Asians) actually are at an advantage in round 1 of the lottery. The fact that a non-insignificant fraction of non-Hispanic caucasians over-emphasize getting into Miraloma or Clarendon ain't the districts fault, nor is it when they can't squeeze them all to those schools.

    As Kim Green said, there are a buttload of good schools in the district, if you widen your horizons.

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  156. OK, here's the stats on the rankings of SFUSD by "similar schools" API ranking, based on the 2008 stats. The short story is: SFUSD has a lot of great schools, but it also has a lot (although smaller) number of pretty bad schools, but much fewer in the middle.

    API rankings (similar schools; absolute rankings in parentheses)

    Rank 9-10: 19 (16)
    Rank 7-8: 14 (18)
    Rank 5-6: 7 (11)
    Rank 3-4: 5 (5)
    Rank 1-2: 19 (14)

    Notice the dip in the middle? You have two peaks in the scores: at the high end and the low end.

    What's more, when you adjust for socioeconomics, you end up with more really good schools and more really poorly performing schools: the distribution gets even more bimodal. So there's more going on than just the low-API schools having high %ages of low-SES kids.

    [2009 rankings should be a bit better, as most schools gained in API scores, but the state hasn't released the rankings yet.]

    Now, there may be some sorting of parents valuing education : e.g. parents in the Mission who strongly value education picking Moscone over Bryant or Cesar Chavez ES causing this effect.

    So what do these stats mean for prospective applicants?

    Firstly, more than 62% of SFUSD schools have an similar schools API rank of 5 or above; 52% have a similar schools rank of 7 or above. So you have an almost two-thirds chance of getting into a solid school, an an evens chance of getting into a very good to excellent one. Yay!

    The downside: you have a one-third chance of being assigned a school that is, even adjusting for socioeconomics, not doing that great a job educating its kids. Uh-oh.

    Guess which schools have open slots in Round 2? [Moral: get your application in on time.]

    So, when someone tells you: "There are so many good schools in SFUSD, public is a great option", they are correct.
    And when someone tells you "SFUSD is really failing a lot of kids, and has real problems with an achievement gap", they are also correct.

    It's almost a like two school districts rolled into one: one looking like Mountainview or Sunnyvale, and one looking like Vallejo.

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  157. What everyone seems to forget when complaining about how "white" certain school are is that many of these were 1/2 empty schools that no one wanted and the diversity index 0 white folks (who couldn't get into any of the popular schools) decided to jump in and give it a shot because they were impressed with the staff. The diversity index is doing all it can to diversify the popular schools and anyone with any points on the div scale will get in. PPSSF is promoting these schools in the SE part of the city and is generally working hard to try to increase the number of Round I participants among people of color. The wait list for the popular schools is going to be all div index 0 folks (of all races) and that's where a many of the new white families come from - not as many from Round I or Round II. I don't think there's much more that can be done short of forced busing, which I believe would be a disaster.

    It's interesting that there's a lot more hostility toward a 40% white school than there is toward an 75% asian school. There is also a lot of less visible diversity to consider, GBLT families for example.

    My 2 cents is that they should just simplify the lottery incrementally and replace the neighborhoood schools (tiny) advantage with a largish zone advantage. I think they should look carefully at whether the preschool and second language option is helping diversity or just helping cheaters & Europeans and see if some other more verifiable method could be used as a race proxy.

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  158. @9:23pm

    First, I want to say I have no dog in this fight. I went through the process last year, and when we had this same discussion I learned some things that surprised me.

    Second, I'm obviously a computer programming look-at-the-numbers kind of person, so I apologize if I what I write comes off as stiff or brusque.

    With that in mind, here are some numbers I found interesting:

    22-25% of all school-age kids in SF are Caucasian, but only 9-12% of kids enrolled in SF public school are Caucasian. The number varys depending on the report, which differs mostly in what school year and age group they're reporting.

    (As you're touring public schools, keep that in mind. Evenly distributed there would be two Caucasian kids per class, and only four Caucasian kids per class even if every single Caucasian kid in SF went to public school.)

    30% of all school-age kids in SF are enrolled in private or parochial school, and yes, over 50% of Caucasian kids are in private or parochial schools. Rumor has it that 30% number is the highest in the country outside of Manhattan, but I've never seen a citation for that.

    That number predates the lottery system, which began in 2002. Some say it began with the consent decree to desegregate the schools in 1983, while others say it was the same back in the 1950s because SF has always had a strong Catholic school tradition. I've never been able to find data that goes back that far, so I can't say which is correct.

    People move out of SF when they kids for a lot of reasons, starting with the fact that it's more expensive, the weather is worse, houses are smaller, crime is higher, parking is tougher, and your lifestyle simply changes after kids (no more late nights at restaurants/clubs/shows).

    Do people move out of SF because of the lottery system? Maybe some, but a bigger factor is simply that SFUSD is rightly or wrongly still perceived as inferior to the suburban systems, though that is changing.

    I'd say most people are unhappy with the uncertainty and effort involved in the lottery system, which is why the process is being redesigned for next year. Now is a great time to get involved!

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  159. 9:50, just a point of clarification. It was Asian American families that filed the lawsuit that led to the consent decree, not African American families.

    Actually, no. Clarifying right backatcha:

    The original desegregation lawsuit was filed in 1978 by the San Francisco NAACP on behalf of African American families. At that time the schools were assigned by neighborhood and extremely segregated, and the Black and Latino kids had worse schools (facilities and everything else). San Francisco wasn't different from other cities, where desegregation and remedies were also underway.

    The consent decree to desegregate was issued in 1983, and thus began the busing era. As part of the consent decree, no more than 45% of any school could be one race/ethnicity, and no school could have fewer than 4 ethnic/racial groups.

    In 1983, Chinese American families (called the Ho Plaintiffs) filed a suit alleging that the racial/ethnic constraints violated the Equal Protection Act. This suit was settled in 2001 and modified the assignment process by eliminating race as a factor.

    In 2005 the consent decree expired entirely.

    From 1983 to 2001 there was an Optional Enrollment Process. Students got an automatic assignment that balanced race and ethnicity at each school. Students could also apply for alternative citywide schools--and many parents scrambled to do so. Kids in certain zip codes got preferential treatment in this process--including 94110, which made Bernal parents very happy! Parents worked the system like crazy. It was a bit of a mess.

    For the 2000-2001 year, a randomized choice lottery was used.

    Since 2001, the diversity index lottery has been used, although it has been modified over the years, for example to expand to 7 choices, to allow parents to rank their choices, and to drop mother's education from the index.

    The BoE is working on a new system to start the year after this one. In their last meeting they looked at neighborhood assignment with some controlled choice/alternative assignment to citywide schools (sounds to a lot like OER) or a "zebra zones" plan that would assign based on block-by-block achievement patterns in order to assure diversity and might send students far from their neigbhorhood.

    Public comment will be taken at several events starting on Nov 16.

    Some of us are wondering if the current lottery, with some tweaks, isn't a better way to go after all.

    I urge everyone to study and participate!

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  160. fyi, re: the WP principal who could "automatically" get his own kid in the school, this is simply no longer true, and could possibly be why the principal's kid is attending St. Cecilia's. Teachers, staff, principals, SFUSD high-ups now have the same chance as you and I in the lottery, although this did not used to be the case.

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  161. "From 1983 to 2001 there was an Optional Enrollment Process. Students got an automatic assignment that balanced race and ethnicity at each school. Students could also apply for alternative citywide schools--and many parents scrambled to do so. Kids in certain zip codes got preferential treatment in this process--including 94110, which made Bernal parents very happy! Parents worked the system like crazy. It was a bit of a mess."

    I can imagine. I thought though, the preference for 94110 was removed well before 2001. Also, Bernal was still a pretty rough neighbourhood until the early-mid 1990's. It wasn't always the Eastern Annex of Noe Valley.

    "Some of us are wondering if the current lottery, with some tweaks, isn't a better way to go after all."

    As a Bernal parent, I think we need to go back to the priority given to zip codes including 94110. ;)

    Seriously though, it looks, from Rachel's blog, that a pure neighbourhood school is off the table, and that the commissioners are wavering between what looks like a tweak on the choice/lottery system and the zebra zones, but that SFUSD staff are very skeptical on the zones concept because of cost issues.

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  162. My vote for the modified lottery:

    Current system, except:

    Drop the english language learning provision. Language testing for a 4 or 5 year old is kinda difficult, isn't it? You'd probably have more kids hiding under their parents' chair than talking to the examiner.

    Keep provisions for low income, etc. as is.

    Make income verifiable. For instance, use W-2 income from the previous year. I'm not sure how this is currently done.

    Drop the preschool provision. Do we really want to discourage parents from sending their kids to preschool, or force them to lie about it?

    Drop all proxies for race.

    If schools are failing, make them STAR schools. Lower the student teacher ratio to 10:1 in the lower grades for particularly challenged schools. To make this possible, increase the student:teacher ratio to 25:1 in high achieving schools.

    Develop, encourage and reward great teaching beyond the testing mandates. Develop cultural identity and culturally appropriate academic learning in the students of racially disadvantaged groups.

    Provide teachers with the support to enforce discipline and order in their classes.

    Reduce the load of the testing mandates on teachers.

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  163. "fyi, re: the WP principal who could "automatically" get his own kid in the school, this is simply no longer true, and could possibly be why the principal's kid is attending St. Cecilia's"

    As I understand it, Staff at a particular SFUSD school get preferential placement for the school they work at, but not for the lottery in general.

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  164. One more thing,

    Hire some truency officers. Get the kids back in the classroom.

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  165. "Keep provisions for low income, etc. as is.

    Make income verifiable. For instance, use W-2 income from the previous year. I'm not sure how this is currently done."

    Low income is based on receipt of different public assistance programs. SFUSD doesn't verify income itself, presumably reckoning that's done by the public assistance programs.

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  166. Wow!

    What happens to all the people who are low income who are not on assistance?

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  167. Seriously though, it looks, from Rachel's blog, that a pure neighbourhood school is off the table, and that the commissioners are wavering between what looks like a tweak on the choice/lottery system and the zebra zones, but that SFUSD staff are very skeptical on the zones concept because of cost issues.

    I'm still trying to figure out what they mean by option #2--what you are here calling a tweak on the choice/lottery system.

    Option #2 sounds like more than that to me, especially since they would guarantee an assignment area school. I just can't see how that wouldn't exclude kids from outside the assignment area from getting a more popular pick, and how it wouldn't leave some kids stuck in low-performing schools entirely based on where they live. Which means savvy parents would be scrambling to get their kids into non-assignment area alternative schools, and that sounds a lot like OER to me. Which had its problems. It seems like the folks in Bernal, Mission, Excelsior, Potrero, SOMA, Vis Valley, Portola, and Bayview/Hunters Point would be most negatively affected.

    The zebra plan sounds totally nuts and unaffordable. Trekking across Twin Peaks?--the westside parents are going to be shrieking. And where is the money for buses?

    I still favor a modified version of our diversity lottery. I know that preschool and ELL status do correlate with achievement, but they may be unworkable as verifiable concepts. Perhaps drop those, stay with verifiable low-income measures like section 8 housing, calworks, and free lunch--can anyone really deny that these kids need a leg up? Then invest in huge community campaigns to improve participation in the lottery. Go door to door if you have to! And leave it at that.

    The schools have improved year after year with the lottery. It's aggravating, but it has worked, and it is fairer than neighborhood assignment. Ultimately most parents get something that is workable. No system is going to satify all parents, that's for sure.

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  168. 3:08

    Most low-income people are on assistance. It's how they survive. These are programs for really, really low-income families. Poverty is measured along several vectors, so those who are not in public housing, or foster kids, or in transitional housing (homeless) may qualify as poor via free lunch. Many kids in our CDCs and Head Start are already on this program.

    Our binary diversity lottery assures that only these folks get the lottery points. Working-class or the working poor who are above these very, very low standards for defining poverty do not qualify.

    That is why I laugh when people complain about being frozen out of Clarendon by the diversity lottery. Not that many folks who are truly poor by these measures are actually applying to Clarendon. The lottery there is among people are considered not-poor by these standards.

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  169. 3:23

    I'm still amazed that there is no middle in this system. And beyond being very poor, there are no verifiable standards of "diversity." The lack of preschool and ELL are not verifiable.

    Say you inadvertently managed to get your child into a First Five California program and you happen to be a second generation immigrant, still trying to get a foothold in this country, and are a native English speaker.

    Or you are a working poor, english speaking single mom.

    This system is shamefully uneven and very open to abuse.

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  170. "I'm still trying to figure out what they mean by option #2--what you are here calling a tweak on the choice/lottery system."


    Option #2 sounds like more than that to me, especially since they would guarantee an assignment area school."

    Yeah, I now read the presentation at the BoE and realise it is more of a change than Rachel made it seem on her blog.

    It looks a lot like Seattle's system which (surprise!) they're in the process of changing.

    "I just can't see how that wouldn't exclude kids from outside the assignment area from getting a more popular pick, and how it wouldn't leave some kids stuck in low-performing schools entirely based on where they live. Which means savvy parents would be scrambling to get their kids into non-assignment area alternative schools, and that sounds a lot like OER to me."

    Which was what the district-wide lottery replaced.

    "Which had its problems. It seems like the folks in Bernal, Mission, Excelsior, Potrero, SOMA, Vis Valley, Portola, and Bayview/Hunters Point would be most negatively affected."

    Particularly BV/HP, as well as SOMA in particular (I think there's only Bessie Carmichael ES there? Good school, but you'd need more capacity than just one), and there are a lot of condos and strollers around the ballpark these days. Plus you've got all the development around Mission Bay.

    One thing I hadn't realized is that there's slack capacity in the North and West (because of the high rate of private school attendees). But there's also fewer private schools in the South East, especially non-Catholic privates, so it's not like there are a lot of local alternatives outside of SFUSD or the Archdiocese.

    In general, this would be a problem for the district, but going to an attendance-area school by default is going exacerbate this. I can't see how they can guarantee that in the SE of the city, particularly given that the immersion programs are going to remain district-wide.

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  171. "I'm still amazed that there is no middle in this system. And beyond being very poor, there are no verifiable standards of "diversity." The lack of preschool and ELL are not verifiable."

    I think there's a lack of appreciation of the diversity of this city.

    This city really does not look like Noe and 24th or the Marina. Especially when you get into the school-age kids, and even more for the SFUSD intake.

    According to census data, 45% of the families in the city are not English as a first language. Did that surprise you? It surprised me. Given that, ELL doesn't look too bad as a diversity variable.

    However, it's pretty crappy as a proxy for race, because roughly 40-50% of Hispanics and Asians in SF are first-language English. So schools like AFY and Marshall have a diverse mix of monoglot English and ELL Asians and Hispanics, respectively, but not much of other ethnicities.

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  172. 4:05,

    I like your comments. Very true that so much of the city does not look like Noe.

    I actually love the Excelsior, love the true diversity of it, love going into El Chico, the Asian fish store, and the Greek wholesaler up the way in Daly city.

    I mentioned earlier that I think all proxies for race should be eliminated. That isn't because I don't love diversity, but I just think it is very difficult to create.

    As I've said, I think we should go to a system that honors those on social assistance, etc., but moves a step further and uses family income to give priority in the lottery.

    By the way, in France, families get assitance for schooling of their children which depends on family income. So it is possible to do this.

    I think this would be a lot fairer. Our family is high enough income that we would probably be placed at the bottom of the pile again, but I would feel a lot better about this system than a proxy for race system.

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  173. "As I understand it, Staff at a particular SFUSD school get preferential placement for the school they work at, but not for the lottery in general."

    What do you mean by "preferential placement?" I know this is not the case at Lilienthal, for example, where staff's children have gone 0-7 and 0-15 in the lottery in recent years, and have received no special privileges.

    In the past (prior to 2001, possibly), such preferences may have existed, but there is no longer any favoritism, and from what I understand, SFUSD makes it a point of avoiding nepotism.

    Do you know for a fact the WP principal could have gotten his/her child in the school, or are you making an assumption?

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  174. I believe children of school staff receive some preference at that school after the first round. And I think the staff member must have worked there for the previous three years. This is fairly new (three or four years maybe). Before that, there was no preference for staff.

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  175. tmcvey said...
    "OK, here's the stats on the rankings of SFUSD by "similar schools" API ranking, based on the 2008 stats. The short story is: SFUSD has a lot of great schools, but it also has a lot (although smaller) number of pretty bad schools, but much fewer in the middle."

    For whatever it's worth, Miraloma was a 1-1 school (or maybe 2-1 or 3-1) for years until just a couple of years ago. My kid's scores were great there, and he's in 11th grade now. His class was 90% immigrant Asian. API scores and ranking change dramatically with the population.

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  176. "Our family is high enough income that we would probably be placed at the bottom of the pile again,"

    You're not placed bottom of the pile. Really. Not being low-income means you have a lower chance of getting into a school that doesn't have a lot of low-SES kids, but means you have a better chance of getting into a school with a lot of low-SES kids; and there are some schools in the city which buck the odds and do get good test scores despite the socioeconomics. I'm thinking of SF Community, ER Taylor, Moscone, Monroe GE, and Parker. Those schools would be good options for your 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th picks.

    *There's no ideal profile*, really.

    "but I would feel a lot better about this system than a proxy for race system."

    Well, I feel a certain pride that we're trying to try to mix up kids from differing socioeconomic status in the schools. But I don't think the diversity variables used work as racial proxies, as SFUSD has found out. There's too much socioeconomic diversity within different ethnic groups for that to hold.

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  177. "What do you mean by "preferential placement?" I know this is not the case at Lilienthal, for example, where staff's children have gone 0-7 and 0-15 in the lottery in recent years, and have received no special privileges."

    Read the enrollment guide, and staff at a particular SFUSD school have priority placement after Round 1 after medical hardship appeals (i.e. they're ahead of general hardship appeals, 0/7 cohort, etc.) So if the waitpool gets tapped, then they're probably in, given the number of medical appeals is usually zero or very low.

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  178. someone wanted to know why people balk at schools that are 40% White but not at schools that are 70% Asian.

    That is because Whites are grossly OVER represented at the first category of schools since only 22% of school-aged kids in SF are white.

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  179. Only 11% of SFUSD students are white, so a school with 40% white kids has 4x the district average.

    Whereas 41% of SFUSD students are Asian, so a 70% Asian school is out of whack with the district profile, but not by 4x.

    Btw, I'm not an advocate that every school should exactly mirror the district profile, but it is good to take note of enclaves of privilege, underprivilege, and whatnot for several reasons--equitable distribution of resources, avoid some schools being overwhelmed, etc. To the extent that white correlates with not-so-disadvantaged in this town (it doesn't everywhere, but largely it does here), then high concentrations should lead to questions, anyway.

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  180. Perhaps a more salient question--how many kids in the school qualify for free lunch? The district average is 54%. Perhaps not surprising, many of the most popular schools are not only whiter looking than the district average, they also have a much lower percentage of kids who qualify for free lunch.

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