Friday, February 19, 2010

Rachel Norton: Delving into the student assignment proposal: recap

This from Rachel Norton's blog:
I’m pretty much whacked after tonight’s three-hours plus meeting and lots of new information. Essentially, the board got an opportunity to hear much more detail about the staff’s proposal for a new student assignment system, but I have to say that the presentation left me with more questions than answers.

Let me start by saying that there are a lot of things I like about the proposal, from a simplicity perspective and from a predictability perspective. I think it will make many more families happy than our current system does, at least those applying for elementary school. I like that it uses slightly different mechanisms for K, 6 and 9th grade assignment, taking into account the different needs of students and families at each level. I *love* the emphasis the system places on simplicity and non-wastefulness (in other words, creating a simple system that is user-friendly and works best when people are honest about what they want). I like that it is flexible and can be “tweaked” in various ways to maximize particular outcomes (e.g., diversity in schools).

But I’m worried that the proposal relies too much on forcing students in lower-income neighborhoods — many of whom now choose schools that are far away from those neighborhoods — to attend their local schools, hoping that we will improve the system on their backs. That doesn’t seem fair, even though I know that increased enrollment and involved parents (the ones who opt for different school choices out of their neighborhoods!) are all we need to make schools like Visitacion Valley Middle School really soar.

70 percent of public school families in Bayview-Hunters Point choose schools outside their neighborhood, and what this proposal would do is instead give them strong incentives to stay closer to home (and remove the current incentive the choice system gives them to leave). The influx of new, more empowered and aware parents will almost certainly lift achievement at the schools in the Bayview, but only after the first class or two of “pioneers” is forced by lack of other choices to enroll. Again, does that seem fair? Any fairer than forcing families to leave their neighborhoods through a busing-based policy?

The answer to this problem is supposed to be the CTIP — Census Tract Integration Preference (which desperately, desperately needs rebranding, but I’m too tired to come up with any alternatives). CTIP is derived by calculating the average score on the California Standards Test (CST) for each census tract in San Francisco (there are about 150 census tracts city-wide). The census tracts are then arranged from highest average score to lowest average score, and divided into quintiles (fifths). The highest three quintiles are designated as CTIP 2; the lowest two quintiles are designated as CTIP 1. CTIP 1 students do receive some level of priority in the process, higher or lower depending on whether those students are applying to high school, middle school or elementary school. In the end, CTIP 1 is supposed to “level the playing field” for students who are educationally-disadvantaged based on where they live.

Read Rachel's full post


  1. Don Krause ( adonymous)February 19, 2010 at 11:13 AM

    Some questions about Rachel's take-
    Is it so simple? It seems quite complex.

    Is it predictable? Without knowing how many will opt to use preferences, we don't know how many will lose a neighborhood seat with capacity scarcity at high demand schools. I question the demographer's claim that space will be available with little exception. It seems counterintuitive.

    3. How can Board goals of diversity be achieved w/o transportation provided? That is the elephant in the room. You said transport is 4 to 5 times the national average. Lower the cost. Use the Transit First model. Take categorical flexibility and use savings to provide 3 million to make choice a reality.

    4. Given the contentious issue with Cobb, are you really ready to hand over authority to the administration to change school classifications and boundaries with no public comment. That seems to me to be a serious curtailment of the public's right of review. These are their schools. Not some corporate franchise decision to expand or not.

    5. The CDC preference will turn preschool into a horse race. What is the logic behing giving a preference to CDCs and not other other local preschools?

  2. Question. Has this happened? The change in the borders of the ctip? Who can we talk to about it? It doesn't seem fair to change the borders without also changing the school district (leaving people in the worst school district but not giving them an opportunity to get out).

  3. Our family is also affected and I agree. I understand that we were never the intended beneficiaries of the CTIP1 preference but I think that those families removed from the zone should also be moved to a different school district. I was just speaking to another family in the neighborhood and we want to figure out what, if anything we can do about this. It seems like the families in the areas that are no longer CTIP1 but still assigned to one of the worst schools in the city- and who cannot afford private school- are in a terrible position.