Monday, January 25, 2010

Rachel Norton: Tonight’s student assignment meeting should be interesting!

A blog post from board of education member Rachel Norton. Be sure to read Rachel's blog at rachelnorton.com.

Tonight’s meeting of the Board’s ad-hoc Committee on Student Assignment should be interesting stuff (the agenda is posted here). We are scheduled to hear a presentation from a group of researchers from Harvard, Duke MIT and Stanford (the same group that presented in October on various choice mechanisms). Tonight’s presentation will focus on the results of simulations conducted on the six options currently being explored by the Board, using Round I and Round II request data from earlier years. I’ve seen a draft of the presentation — it’s very information-dense, and comes to some interesting conclusions. (Update: the presentation is now posted).

In addition, we’ll hear the preliminary results of a qualitative study conducted by Stanford researcher Prudence Carter. Professor Carter’s study is based on interviews conducted with students, teachers and administrators at 24 schools across the district.

It’s important to note here that we have received tremendous financial and logistical support for this whole redesign effort — from local foundations like the Hellman Family Foundation and the Zellerbach Foundation, from Stanford University, and other funders like the Council of Great City Schools, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and the U.S. Department of Education. Given the current budget crisis, this level of thoughtful and careful analylsis would have been impossible without the help we’ve received from these groups.

The meeting is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. in the Board room at 555 Franklin Street. The meeting will also be televised locally on SFGTV (Channels 26 or 78) and streamed online at the SFGTV web site. Meetings are usually archived here after 24-48 hours.

Be sure to check out Rachel's blog at rachelnorton.com.

18 comments:

  1. OK. My quick reading of this presentation is that the school distict is heading to "make everyone happy." It is going to institute a lottery system with a preference for local area AND a preference for academic performance. The slides make it clear that, for whatever reason, the preference for academic performance swamps whatever effect the local preference has, so that the local preference is "free." Read another way: the district can make all the middle class parents happy by mouthing support for a local preference, while using academic performance as the real hammer to force parents' choices. The key is the CST tract map on page 39 -- they are going to split up the city into tracts and designate certain tracts as having low to high academic performance based presumably on the testing achievement of the schools in that tract. If your tract is a high academic performance one, you are sunk -- you get no preference and whatever local preference you MIGHT get gets swamped by the folks pouring in from the tracts that have low academic performance. If one were a cynic, one might say that this new system only pretends to offer local preference, but is a thinly veiled effort to force social engineering outcomes. Of course, as with any system, there are tons of ways to game the system -- check out the census tracts -- there are definitely areas (Western Addition, Portola, Excelsior, Mission Terrace, some parts of SOMA?, choice spots in the Mission?) where one could move to to get the highest bump in academic performance preference. Probably a good thing for real estate there too -- those areas have been hard hit by the real estate slump and now will be able to advertise that they offer you a bump in the lottery system. Happy gaming, folks!

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  2. Now that's an interesting take.

    I went tonight and, while there was no presentation from the district staff, the researchers presented the results of simulations from 5 assignment models. All of the models are simpler than we have now, and there is only one "bump factor": where you live. For the model that looked the best, a family would get a bump from living in a school's (all new) attendance ares. A family would also get a bump for living in a census tract where students with low test scores lived.

    The simulations were done with data from the 2009 entry data, so it took into account real choices (disregarding any "I'll put this school at #2 even though it's really my #1" strategic thinking). Incoming kindergartners living in low scoring areas will get their choice 90-100% of the time, but those living elsewhere don't seem to get hit so badly.

    I didn't get the feeling that the low-scoring preference overwhelmed the local preference, but I guess that it depended on the school

    The good thing with all these proposals is that they only required address verification. While that can (and will) be gamed, it's a simpler idea than we have now.

    Of course, the district staff still have to come up with their official proposal. There is definitely a division on the board as to whether a choice system makes sense for elementary schools or not.

    Stay tunes.

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  3. "The slides make it clear that, for whatever reason, the preference for academic performance swamps whatever effect the local preference has, so that the local preference is "free.""

    No, you're reading it wrong. Adding preference for locals doesn't adversely impact low many low-SESkids get into the better (API rank 8 or greater) schools. It *does not mean* the neighbourhood preference does not make an impact on who gets in. That was explicitly made by the Stanford academics who ran the simulations.

    "Read another way: the district can make all the middle class parents happy by mouthing support for a local preference, while using academic performance as the real hammer to force parents' choices"

    Without the academic performance preference, the percentage of low-SES kids in schools with API rankings of 8 or greater is ~17%. With academic preference, the percentages are 29%.

    Don't worry, you'll still outnumber the ghetto kidz.

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  4. "Incoming kindergartners living in low scoring areas will get their choice 90-100% of the time, but those living elsewhere don't seem to get hit so badly."

    My impression was that the proposed system would be slightly worse for non-low-SES kids than the current one, but better for low-SES kids.

    I wasn't convinced by the "strategic simplicity" criterion advocated by the Stanford researchers: I thought one of the features of the current system was the advantage in likelihood of acceptance gained by those who decide to list an underhyped school (like, say, Taylor or Moscone or Milk) higher than a trophy school: this "pushes" savvier parents out into the on-the-turn schools.

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  5. Was there any discussion about how the ADP correlates with race? Was there any discussion re SFUSD desiring to comply with the Seattle Schools decision?

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  6. "Without the academic performance preference, the percentage of low-SES kids in schools with API rankings of 8 or greater is ~17%. With academic preference, the percentages are 29%.

    Don't worry, you'll still outnumber the ghetto kidz."

    10:18 pm again -- I don't get this comment I quoted above. If 11% more kids from tracts with low academic achievement numbers get into high-performing schools then ipso facto 11% fewer kids from tracts with high academic achievement numbers. So this system will be worse for kids living in high academic performing areas than the current system. There's no other way to dice that. I also agree with the comment above that the choice being proposed does not do what the presenters want to do: create "simplicity" where parents are not gaming the system. My comment above gave a really easy way to game the system: many of the low academic performing tracts on page 39 of that chart are quite nice neighborhoods that have plenty of rentals. And home prices in those areas have declined substantially, so to the extent that someone wants to buy a house in those areas, there are definitely bargains. Parents wanting to move will be particularly incentivized if their "local option" is not an attractive one. For example, our "local" middle school option is not attractive, so, since our kid is heading to middle school for 2011, we'll probably move to a new rental in one of the low achieving tracts this fall if this system goes into place. So much for simplicity. If they want simplicity, they would have instituted a pure lottery system with no preferences whatsoever or a locked in neighborhood school system.

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  7. why don't they leave it as your participation in programs like free lunch/Calworks, etc. instead of where you live? otherwise you get people that understand that and game it by moving there, or benefit like the people in the Mission or Bernal who are middle class. This was very beneficial for people living in Bernal before when zip code was used. It actually seems like if they do that they will be taking a step backwards.

    My take on this is that they don't have the funds to implement a busing system that would truly help kids from disadvantaged neighborhoods change and that they should just leave the system alone and spend the energy on really finding ways to improve schools.

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  8. 10:18 pm again -- I would agree with the last comment. I'd just live the current system in place rather than take what the school board is moving too. I would also seriously urge parents who want to jump for this "local option" to think long and hard about how much this preference is really going to help them with this other new academic performance preference. I may not be reading this powerpoint right, but my sense is that the comments about the preference being a "freebie" suggest that this may not be getting you very much. Also, what you all think is your neighborhood school may not be what SFUSD thinks is your neighborhood school. Go to the SFUSD website and check out the map. TO my mind, the real problem is going to be that high academic performing schools will continue to fill up fast and that, even if your local option is such a school, you'll find yourself quickly locked out of it. The question then becomes -- where does this system put you? If your local option doesn't get you into your neighborhood school and the nearby high performing schools fill up with people with academic performance preferences, you may be looking at quite a drive to get to the school you end up.

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  9. "why don't they leave it as your participation in programs like free lunch/Calworks, etc. instead of where you live"

    The way I've heard it explained by Orla O'Keefe is that they want to get away from self-reporting to a more automatic system.

    I wouldn't stress on it though. Whether they use address as a proxy for academic achievement, or use receipt of public assistance is one of the dials that can be tweaked after the big decision of choice & lottery versus no limited choice but guaranteed local placement is made.

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  10. "So this system will be worse for kids living in high academic performing areas than the current system."

    No, the comparison is with a theoretical system with *solely a local preference*.

    In any case, the low-SES kids (~50% of the districts intake) would still be underrepresented in the high-API schools. The proposed use of academic achievement of that neighborhood would correct that inequity somewhat, but not completely.

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  11. " I may not be reading this powerpoint right, but my sense is that the comments about the preference being a "freebie" suggest that this may not be getting you very much."

    No, you're misreading the presentation. Giving a local preference does not adversely impact socioeconomical diversity of the schools between Options 2 and 3. But under Option 3, more local kids do get into their local school: the difference between Option 2 and Option 3 for a particular is what the makeup of the non-low-SES kids is.

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  12. "The simulations were done with data from the 2009 entry data"

    That's not what they said last night. They said it was taken from the 2007-2008 year.

    Does anyone know how the numbers for low CST kids in the proposed new assignment model compares with the existing model?

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  13. "There is definitely a division on the board as to whether a choice system makes sense for elementary schools or not."

    Frank, who were the board members favoring restricted/no choice & neighborhood assignment?

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  14. While simplfying the mechanics of the algorithm is a good thing (as well as the "swapping" mechanism that the Stanford woman referred to), I think the Academic Diversity Preference seems similar to our current Diversity Index -- even less exacting if anything. Its a device to try and capture disadvantaged kids and place them into schools where they will add diversity.

    The issue I have is that it still does not seem to addres the real problem with assignment as it exists and as proposed in the future: the non-participation of these kids in the process.

    I missed the first half of the presentation which shared the findings of interviews with 24 schools. I'm not sure what the goal of the study was nor the nature of the findings. Was there any light shed?

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  15. 11:28 AM said "That's not what they said last night. They said it was taken from the 2007-2008 year."

    My mistake. Thanks for the correction.

    12:24 PM asked "Frank, who were the board members favoring restricted/no choice & neighborhood assignment?"

    Commissioners Fewer and Kim were for a very strong local assignment system and Commissioner Yee also talked about a local assignment "cluster" system.

    It was actually a little bit shocking to me to hear them propose this after hearing the presentation. The local assignment systems that were simulated showed markedly reduced racial and economic diversity than the full-choice, academic diversity system. If they want to eliminate diversity as a goal of the assignment system, then fine. But leaving the goal there, but proposing a system that goes against that was very surprising.

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  16. Oh, and about the first presentation. It was interesting in that the evaluated how minority students felt in high API schools and how kids in lower-performing schools noticed that there were few "high status" (read white and Asian) students there. Kids at high API schools didn't notice this, but saw diversity as represented by language.

    But while it may have been interesting, it was wholly irrelevant to the discussion of student assignment.

    It would have been much better time spent interviewing parents of those kindergartners who didn't sign up for Round I or Round II, but sent their kids to public schools. Understanding low participation rates would be very helpful to having an effective student assignment system. But it's too late for this iteration.

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  17. "Oh, and about the first presentation. It was interesting in that the evaluated how minority students felt in high API schools and how kids in lower-performing schools noticed that there were few "high status" (read white and Asian) students there. Kids at high API schools didn't notice this, but saw diversity as represented by language.

    "But while it may have been interesting, it was wholly irrelevant to the discussion of student assignment."

    Agreed, Frank. It was interesting, but more of a sociological dissertation lets-get-a-few-publications-out-of-this than anything practical.

    Your idea of looking into why certain groups don't participate in Round 1 is a good one.

    If its "I didn't know I had to get the form in", then the solution would be more outreach.

    But if its "all the choices were too confusing", then there could be a check box like:
    a. I primarily want schools close to my house
    b. I want schools that are strong in test scores, but which are close to my house
    c. I want schools with language enrichment, irrespective of location
    d. I want schools with arts/science enrichment
    e. I want schools with very strong academics, irrespective of location

    - and then have the district or a program autofill the form with seven schools reflecting the general preference of the parent.

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  18. "Commissioners Fewer and Kim were for a very strong local assignment system and Commissioner Yee also talked about a local assignment "cluster" system."

    That's disappointing, especially as Kim seems one of the sharper minds on the board, and to go against what the research is showing is given the aim for diversity, like you said, a bit shocking. I guess they're matching their constituents or campaign promises, especially as Kim is running for Supe in District 6.

    Anyway, my bet is the board will opt for Option 3.

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