Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Rachel Norton: Recap: Closing in on a student assignment policy

A blog post from Board of Education member Rachel Norton about last night's student assignment system meeting:
Tonight’s meeting was a mixture of information we’ve already processed and other information that is really hard to relay accurately, but I think we’re starting to close in on a policy. Commissioners pressed for more hard policy recommendations and less theory, because time is really growing short. The staff is scheduled to present a preliminary recommendation for the new assignment policy just a week from tomorrow, on Feb. 2. We’re scheduled to vote on a final policy at the March 9 full board meeting.
Read Rachel's full post


  1. Rachel, I have heard that the new system may do away with sibling preference? This is a false rumor right? I could not imagine requiring families with 2-3 elementary age children to shuttle to different schools if they do not want to...

  2. Are there numbers (based on the Ivy League team simulation model) for the existing system? Don't they need a benchmark? How will they know if the new assignment system is more or less effective than the existing?

  3. I am thrilled to be in a good public school in this city, but if they do away with sibling preference, I would really start to consider private school. That would just be too ridiculous.

    And, sorry to be off topic, but the "Ivy League" obsession on this blog irks me, and no, Stanford is not "Ivy League". It is a great school though.

  4. No sibling reference? Please let this be a rumor, this is getting grimmer and grimmer by the hour.

  5. Sibling preference will remain, of course. Look at the SFUSD website.

  6. "Rachel, I have heard that the new system may do away with sibling preference"

    I've been to two town halls and one of the Ad-Hoc meetings, and there's no mention of such a move.

    The Ad-Hoc meeting last night was pretty impressive, actually. The Board is more on top of the complexities of this issue than they are given credit for. I'm confident we'll get as good a resolution as is possible, given the constraints on the Board.

  7. sibling preference will remain.

    (and apologies for the ivy league reference. don't know what else to call them)

  8. Sibling preference will remain. There has never been a proposal to remove it, and the economists helping SFUSD to redesign the assignment system have been crystal clear about it from the very beginning.

  9. Here's the deal.

    I hated the lottery when I was going through it. But once I got in to a school I loved, Yick Wo in Russian Hill, which is across town and would never have been on my radar as a 22 year Mission District homeowner, I became a convert. The open lottery is a mess, but it gave my kids a diverse excellent public school that I love.

    Bottom Line: I have come to believe that if neighborhood assignment were the main line into the public schools, virtually all the schools in SF would be severely racially segregated, the real estate markets would shift and shudder, and worst of all, a diverse public school population would cease to exist. How could it not?

    Two schools within three blocks of my house are already over 85%+ one race, which is insane. And sadly, I think they are the low scoring sad examples because the families just wanted convenience, didn't care about test scores, or weren't really plugged into the system. This is what happens when you just show up and attend a school if the surrounding area is transient and not very diverse economically.
    On my block for example, there are homes worth 1-2 million, but also tenancies full of 10 families. It's like that in many neighborhoods in this city.

    This therefore will be a further flight out of the city.

    Listen, I felt TOTALLY DIFFERENT about this issue before/during my lottery experience. But I finally did see that, yeah, it all did sorta work out in the end. The result of all this mishigos is that instead of having 3 or 5 decent elementary schools (the perception back in the 1980s) we now have a good solid 20-25 awesome elementary schools.

    Little by little, this whackjob system has worked.

    The only way, it seems to me, that a neighborhood assignment process would improve things is if you outlawed private schools and just made every kid within a 15 block radius attend the school. And even then--even then!--it would leave whole sections of the city with bombed out poverty underperforming schools. Not a bargain to any citizen who cares.

    It's sad, but a majority of the City is rather segregated racially and financially, and the only way to mix it up is to... just mix it up. The lottery does that.

    As I said, I'm a convert.

    I'm not crazy about how this whole debate has evolved. The lottery is a beeyatch, but if it changes, my fear and conviction is that you're going see all the new converts to the public schools flee the city. I'm sorry to say.

  10. Sorry 1:32 - I disagree. The current system has led to racially isolated schools. Many of the good schools are in "good" neighborhoods, so I can't really see much of a real estate shift happening. I also don't believe that people who send their kids to their neighborhood schools do so becuase they aren't invested in their children's education. Living near your kids school increases your likelihood of being involved in your kids education. Generally parents who are able to volunteer at the school in some way are probably going to be more involved with their kids education, and probably the kid will do better as a result. I would like an enrollment that gave choice, which includes some kind of garuntee that you COULD get into your neighborhood school if you so chose. Too bad you didn't invest your energy in your neighborhood school, you may have found it to be just as grand at Yick Wo.

  11. 1:32 and 2:32 - Correct me if I am wrong but they ARE NOT proposing a neighborhood system. The proposal, as I understand it, is a lottery with weighting to the "academic performance" of your neighbhorhood and then a weighting to your neighborhood school.

    Under this system, 1:32 - You would do great in the "new lottery" as the schools in the mission have low academic performance scores.

  12. You are right, 2:36 pm, but, assuming that this person in the Mission still did not want to go to her local option, she would lose the local option preference. The million dollar question for this Mission person from the presentation last night are: is local preference going to be weighted equally/more/less so than academic area performance preference? If academic area preference is more important, then you are right. If, however, they are weighted equally, then it is a wash -- she want Yick Wo, she's got the academic area performance preference, but she does not have the local preference. So things get complicated pretty fast. I have to say that I agree with 1:32 -- what she said totally jiives with our family's experience. We live in an area with so-so local options (it is hard to read that map at p 39 of the powerpoint but we'd probably not get any academic preference like she would); we made the tough decision to go with a "second-tier" school; and now, for better or worse, we like it. And we really don't like the middle school local option we are facing. So I am in 1:32's camp -- I want the system to stay as it is.

  13. 1:32, glad you're happy at Yick Wo, but it's about 60% Asian, 20% white, and 10% multiple or decline to state, pretty much a classic balance for high API schools in the NE and NW quadrants of the City (some of the high API schools are even more heavily Asian). Yick Wo is maybe a little more white and a little less Asian than some, but given the surrounding neighborhood, that's not a huge surprise. The board wants to change the composition of schools like Yick Wo because it's not an ideal in their minds, no matter how well it works for the kids who go there. There are so few African-American and Latino kids attending the school that the Yick Wo SARC does not even report data about what percentage of those kids are performing at or above grade level.

    A bit of data that seems to be missing (I could not glean it from the powerpoint slides if it's there) is how many people who live near low-performing schools request schools with rankings of 8 or higher even though they have inconvenient locations. It seems like that would be extremely useful to compare real-world demand to the BOE's hopes for decreased racial isolation. If the board's objectives are not consistent with families objectives (as measured by the schools they currently request), it may be better to use ever-more-limited funds to target low-performing schools for increased resources so that fewer students are isolated at under-performing schools instead of trying to somehow force more people to shuffle their kids around town to achieve greater racial diversity in individual schools. For a lot of families (though apparently not 1:32), proximity and community triumph over API scores, especially if a shift would involve logistical difficulty and an effort to fit into an unfamiliar community.

  14. 2:53 pm -- The only way to substantially change the composition of schools like Yick Wo is to offer new programs that will attract a more diverse group of parents to the school. Nothing in the reworking of this lottery will change that. The only thing this reworking of the lottery system could do is make it even harder for folks to get into the school they want to be in. And that's what I -- and 1:32 -- are terribly afraid of. I also think that what I see in the powerpoint from last night is the beginnings of an SFUSD game -- they will overplay the "local" preference, underplay the "academic" preference in selling this new system to parents as a way to get the middle class folks in the city behind it. And then they'll make the academic preference weight much greater than the local option weight, with the result that middle class folks in the high API neighborhoods will find that their local option doesn't do them much good, and, because schools adjace to their neighborhood are filling up faster with academic (and local) preferenced people, they will be forced even farther away than they would be under the current system. And nothing I've seen in Rachel's postings or postings here have allayed this concern.

  15. I don't believe the new system will bring any benefit to the middle class familiesf. SFSUD concerns the API scores of the whole districts, i.e. it uses a "lottery" assignment to balance the performance of "good" and "bad" schools.

  16. It would seem that there just aren't enough great schools in SF to satisfy everyone who wants to send their kid(s) to a great school, no matter what the assignment process is. With the current system, the number of great schools is growing, but at the cost of losing many families... who for whatever reason feel the school they have been assigned is not acceptable. (Could be location, start time, academic underperformance, or a culturally awkward fit.)

    The problem I see with the proposed redesigns is this: they offer a ticket out of a bad neighborhood, but there is little emphasis on improving the underperforming schools. Are there plans to offer more magnet programs in these schools to make them higher demand schools? (I know this has worked with immersion programs.)

    My niece attends a magnet high school in Raleigh, NC, and has gotten an incredible IB education (SAT 1500+) in one of the roughest neighborhoods in town.

    Is the board now afraid to create magnet programs because of what happened with Cobb and Montessori? If so, that's a real shame.

  17. Point of information: The SAT now has 2400 possible points, so 1500 is not very high.

  18. No, this was 1500 out of 1600. She did not score low on the SAT.

  19. Ivy League SAT Scores

    Survey data at http://www.studentsreview.com/MA/Harvard_University.html (survey data) shows (The addition of SAT I CR and Maths):

    Harvard 1494
    Princeton 1472
    Yale 1450
    Columbia 1458
    Brown 1466
    And other top schools are listed at www.studentsreview.com/2005_NYD_rankings/top_50_universities_official.php3 as:
    MIT 1485
    Stanford 1470
    Dartmouth 1483

  20. Those SAT scores are from 2005; 6:22 is correct that 2400 is now the top score, with a writing test having been added to the verbal and the math.

  21. Hi, 1:32 PM (Yick Wo parent) -
    I have to say I am right there with you. And I never, ever thought I'd say that. I was so angry when we first went 0/7 and I was denied what I felt was my "right" to attend the fabulous school down the street. No surprise that the dozens and dozens of other parents of school-aged kids in our neighborhood applying to K felt the same way. No matter what the assignment system is, there just isn't room for all of us in our local school. The process did force our family to expand our horizons, and we ended up finding a school we never would have otherwise considered, where our child is happy and the school is meeting our needs.
    I remember two years ago reading all the pep talks here about how a lot of "lower performing" schools in the district are actually fine, that your kids will be fine if you enroll them there, and that it doesn't take a lot to make a school better. I wanted to scream! (I thought, "They just don't understand MY situation! I work full time and don't have a lot of spare time! MY child is different!") Now I realize -- they all had a valid point!! There are wonderful teachers, principals, and administrators at so many schools out there. And it doesn't take a whole heck of a lot to make a difference.
    I'm not arguing that the system is perfect, or that the current lottery or any particular proposed new version is designed to or will create 100% perfect schools where everyone is happy. But it's kind of like parenting in general -- nothing, NOTHING, turns out quite the way you expected, but as long as you're doing your best, things generally work out fine.

  22. I looked up my elementary school score on Great Schools, it has a ranking of 5. When I look back, I was bored and never challenged at school but the "nice" factor was there from all the teachers. Did it hamper my basic education? Not really. Did it inspire me to intellectually grow or otherwise? No. Was it in our neighborhood? Yes. I walked to school every day. This new system seems more ridiculous than the last. Addresses? Zip Codes? SF does not work that way. Like SF, I recall a study done in the lower east side of NY, in a one square block neighborhood, for a 2br apt, the rents ranged from $600 to more than $3500. Please, consider the kids. I rather my kid go to a school ranked with a 5 then one across town with a 8 or 9. Time is something that is very valuable.

  23. Okay! Got it. Apparently my niece is a tad dense. Perhaps she takes after her aunt on the West Coast. I regret ever having mentioned her SAT score. I don't think she would be considering the colleges she's applying to if she indeed has a marginal SAT score, but what do I know?

    I was just trying to point out that some very good schools exist in unsavory neighborhoods elsewhere because they offer rigorous programs that attract ambitious students from all over town.

    Rosa Parks is a good example at the elementary level, and we would have put it on our list if it had a later start time. I think it would be great to have more such schools, and not so heavily weighted in immersion programs.

  24. "The result of all this mishigos is that instead of having 3 or 5 decent elementary schools (the perception back in the 1980s) we now have a good solid 20-25 awesome elementary schools."

    I'd agree that 20-25 are awesome (your AFYs, Clarendons, Alvarados), but there are also another 20-odd doing good solid work and bucking their demographics (Longfellow, Monroe, SF Community, Milk, Moscone, E.R.Taylor), another 10 on the turn (Flynn, Fairmont, Revere, Webster), and only about 10 where you'd scratch your head and say "oy, what to do".

    Seriously. I visited 25 publics, and would have sent my kid to any of them.

  25. "Rosa Parks is a good example at the elementary level, and we would have put it on our list if it had a later start time. I think it would be great to have more such schools, and not so heavily weighted in immersion programs."

    Well, Rosa Parks is a JBBP, so it's using language (albeit not immersion) as a magnet.

    I know there is skepticism on immersion for some on this blog, but the problem the board has is that while you can get a low-SES family to take a chance with a high API school, you have to have an incentive for non-low-SES families to send their kids there.

    So if the district takes a falling enrollment school and converts a Spanish bilingual strand to a Spanish Immersion strand, it's a win - you're lowering segregation between and within the schools, and you're converting what's seen as a liability into an asset, and you shift some of the demand from your trophy schools onto Flynn, Fairmont, Revere, Webster, etc.

    Obviously this works well for schools with high Spanish-speaking or Cantonese-speaking populations. It's harder to see it working for schools in the BV/HP where you don't have the same non-English speaking population locally to feed into an immersion program.

    I don't think magnet programs in science & technology are going to have the same draw, at least in the K-5 age group - there's a lot of technically educated people in SF who might feel that with their background and the awesome science museums in the Bay Area they can give their kids a good grounding in the sciences themselves. That's the way I feel anyway.

  26. "Is the board now afraid to create magnet programs because of what happened with Cobb and Montessori?"

    The impression I got from Rachel's blog was that the Board was frustrated that the Montessori program hadn't done the outreach to the community that was needed to sell the Montessori program as an eventual replacement to the Cobb GE program.

  27. 8:47 wrote:" Well, Rosa Parks is a JBBP, so it's using language (albeit not immersion) as a magnet."

    That was my point. Rosa Parks is a good example of a magnet school in a not so desirable neighborhood that isn't immersion but does offer an added value to the typical elementary school curriculum.

    We may end up there in the end, and would feel good about the fit - but it's not close to our flat and it's start time is too early for our work schedules!!

  28. Rachel said:

    "I felt the most interesting and unexpected revelation in her report was the finding that communities at lower-performing schools she studied were highly aware of the absence of “high-status” groups (e.g., whites, asians, and generally more affluent students) at their schools. The converse was not true at higher-performing schools, where teachers and students were more likely to see the lack of language diversity as the biggest “diversity” problem at their schools."

    I don't get it. What is the revelation? - That kids are aware of their surroundings. Can anyone explain what this person is talking about?

  29. Rachel reported that:

    "Two of us said choice should be strictly limited, and expressed ongoing interest in assignment zones or clusters."

    (It is almost like she doesn't want to mention the names. (Hello you're on candid camera)

    Of course parents should have no choice in the matter of the education of their children.
    These kinds of important decisions about children must be left to the higher functioning beings who know best how to educate your children. Thank God there are only two of them on the Board.

    Leadership is not telling people what is best for them, but listening to what people want and helping them to get it. Even though Rachel spends far too much time in discussion about everything other than the most important aspect of schooling -student achievement (just read her blog)- at least she pays lip service to it. That is more than I can say for the other commissioners.

  30. 10:51 PM: Don, the Board members were Fewer and Kim.

    Their "restricted choice" is that there's a tension between guaranteeing a place in your local school versus giving a choice - you can do one but not the other. Fewer and Kim believe in neighborhood schools (or, neighborhood schools with a limited number of district wide programs) rather than parental choice.

    I don't agree with them (I think it's better to have choice, but you can't have that without a lottery also), but there's good reasons to believe in giving guaranteed slot at your neighborhood schools, especially if you're needing to trim the transportation portion of the budget.

  31. In this article Rachel says:

    " In the end, the researchers seemed to be saying that we can offer families who want to attend the school closest to them a true “local preference” and still offer children with limited opportunity a way to access our most-resourced schools."

    Rachel seems to be agreeing that you can have both. I think you can have both. But I would prefer that neighborhoods schools be guaranteed over time for those that want them. If the district could offer more in the way of alternative choices we could spread out the demand further for the highly desired schools and lower the applications, allowing room at more neighborhood schools.