Tuesday, February 9, 2010

SF Chronicle: Revamp simplifies S.F. school choice

This from today's Chronicle:
A school assignment system that for nearly a decade has failed to desegregate San Francisco's public schools while frustrating parents in its complexity is about to be replaced.

56 comments:

  1. Arrggggh. Why didn't the Chron use Option A and Option B, like the district staff did, to avoid the confusion with the six options floated during the public consultation?

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  2. "It's really, really simple," said Orla O'Keefe, the district's special assistant to the superintendent. "They just have to tell us where they live, what their choices are and where they rank them."

    I don't get it. How is this any simpler than what parents do now?

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  3. "Children who had attended preschool in the school's attendance area."

    What does this mean? It sounds broader than just children who attended preschool at the school's CDC - i.e. you get priority at Grattan if you went to the Grattan CDC. If attending preschool in the desired school's attendance area gets you second in line next to siblings that's a huge advantage. Wouldn't this be even harder to verify than some of the categories we just got rid of?

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  4. I think it's simpler because all the "CalWorks, Section 8 housing, preschool" questions don't matter for enrollment anymore (though they still might ask the questions, like they do for race and ethnicity now).

    And I read the preschool preference as a SFUSD CDC preference, not any private preschool or daycare.

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  5. How would spots in language immersion programs be assigned?

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  6. What if it is easier for us to have our child attend school near work or near Grandma, who provides childcare afterschool?

    School proximity is important -- but is not always defined as proximity to home!

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  7. I like the second option. It's simple. Automatic assignment to your local school, and if you're not happy with that, then go through the lottery.

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  8. Speaking as someone who went thru the lottery last year, I would have preferred the idea of "zones" where you were guaranteed a school rather than a specific neighborhood school.

    With either of these options, the number of kids who appear to live in Clarendon's attendance area is going to triple next year. It's a lot easier to fake your address than whether you're in CalWorks or Section 8 housing.

    And the frustration with the lottery will be replaced by anger of parents who didn't get into their neighborhood school because it was too full, like what happened in NYC last year.

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  9. This is kind of like "Dora, the Explorer." You know, "It's the map, it's the map, it's the map, it's the map . . ." The way I read these two options is that everything is going to depend on the "neighborhood zones" (for your local preference) and the "census tract" you aer (for your academically challenged preference). (It is unclear whether these are one and the same and from earlier powerpoints that Rachel posted I think the census tracts for academically challenged areas are going to look much different than the neighborhood zones.) Pro-neighborhood schools folks jumping up and down thinking that either option is going to mean that the Noe Valley kids are all now going to be able to go to Alvarado should be first asking tough questions about the maps SFUSD is proposing. You can go on the SFUSD website today and see a previous iteration of what SFUSD constituted as one zone system. Not exactly contiguous neatly packed areas I'm afraid. Second, this whole academically challenged preference is going to be rife with potential for gaming. I'm guessing they are going to try to draw those areas as tightly as possible, but, as others have posted, there are many parts of the southeast where you've got blocks with poor families wedged between million dollar condos, so good luck SFUSD. Third, a lot will depend on how strong the neighborhood preference is via-a-vis the academic preference. I'm guessing, based on the powerpoint Rachel put up a couple of weeks ago that referred to the neighborhood preference as a "freebie" that wouldn't affect distribution, that SFUSD is going to make the neighborhood preference very weak and the academic preference very strong. All in all, my personal preference is to junk all these preferences and just have a pure, unadulterated lottery with no one getting any preference whatsoever. A pure luck of the draw. That takes the gaming out of the system and makes it transparent. Second best alternative is to keep the system as it is now. I'm afraid the jury-rigged system that these two options offer are bound to seriously constrain parents' choice and, ultimately, frustrate those who think they now have a preference that isn't real.

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  10. what does the article mean by 'census tract'?

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  11. They are going to go with the first option - the academic performance option. They will never go to a straight neighborhood option b/c that would shut-out kids from bayview/HP from attending a different school.

    The academic performance option is awesome for people living in the mission.

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  12. I agree with 10:07 and 10:10 that either system will only increase the ire of parents wanting their neighborhood school. At least in the current system, people know they aren't guaranteed their neighborhood school, and that if it is a popular school, the chances are slim. The way these new options are being presented will raise expectations of getting the neighborhood school, but those expectations are likely come up short.

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  13. Option 2 with carefully drawn maps seems the best option to me, though I have no idea how the immersion, montessori programs, etc. factor in.

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  14. @10:29, the U.S government divides areas into "census tracts" to conduct the census every 10 years. A census tract is the smallest area for which we have really good data about who lives there.

    There's a good discussion about the issue on Rachel Norton's blog here:

    http://rachelnorton.com/2010/02/03/recap-board-zeroes-in-on-a-new-student-assignment-system/

    If you click on the link at top to the presentation, you'll see the census tracts on slide #53.

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  15. Maddening. SFUSD spent millions on this re-design to make the system even more complicated.

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  16. "Children who had attended preschool in the school's attendance area."

    Now pre-school parents will be angling to get their kids into pre-schools close to Sherman and Grattan and Claire Lillenthal, et al, even if they live all the way across town.

    That was my first impression when reading the article in the Chron this morning.

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  17. 12:08 -- I think Frank is right that the preschool-nearby preference is only going to apply to SFUSD's child development centers. Otherwise, you are right, that would be a huge loophole. On the issue of the census tract, the commenter is right that this will be a huge boon to folks in the Mission as well as many areas like Excelsior, Portola, Outer Mission, Mission Terrace, Bernal Heights and the like. These are all areas that will be able to claim an academically challenged census tract but are relatively nice areas of the city. I also think that the Stanford folks number crunching is not that good -- if they are trying to balance out the heavily ethnic Chinese schools on the westside, this preference isn't going to change things a darn -- there are plenty of Asian families in the southeast. I have to agree with the comments here -- this is terribly disappointing to me.

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  18. If you go here: http://rachelnorton.com/2010/02/03/recap-board-zeroes-in-on-a-new-student-assignment-system/

    you can see the actual power point presentation. It lays out which neighborhoods are rated as disadvantaged and spells out the options a bit more clearly than the Chronicle.

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  19. what is the reasoning behind giving preference to neighborhood CDC attendance?

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  20. Do you hear the stampede...that is Mom's running to sign up their kid at Tulle Elk or Grattan CDCs to guarantee a spot for K. Prefernce for preschool CDCs is just going to make it harder for those who really need a CDC and the lack of transparency at the pre-k level is going to get serious flack. It shoves the madness to an earlier point in time and those who do not jump on the bandwagon when their kid is 2, will be screaming.

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  21. I agree with those who are wondering how this is simpler. Popular schools will either be filled only from their neighborhoods, or will have very small attendance areas. People near less popular schools will be effectively banished from others unless they worm their way into a pre-school.

    If the griefers on SFGate are any indication, many people are under the impression that there will be no contention over who gets into popular schools, and that the lottery was a form of artificial scarcity with "social engineering" as its only goal. People in North Korea are told the same thing about capitalism.

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  22. Getting into CDC centers is next to impossible. I tried that route years ago. If you are not low income, it's almost not worth trying to get in. You must provide proof of income and also proof that both parents work or attend school full time. Every CDC center I called (about 7 of them), which each seem to manage enrollments separately, told me not to really bother unless we were low income, as there were very few spaces set aside for "paying" parents.

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  23. If I had a kid enterng K in 2011 or later, I would be calling Argonne, Grattan, Flynn and Fairmont today to get on any list I could for pre-K before the reality sets in.

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  24. The Grattan CDC has had openings every year that I've been at Grattan Elem. It's not a bad program, but I've always felt like there was room for improvement. I'm sure some of the slots are saved for low SES families, but not all.

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  25. It's unclear whether the pre-school area preference applies to all or only some of the below: all preschools in an area; full-time CDCs; the free part-time pre-K programs at some public schools that run 8:30 to 11:30 only.

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  26. We are going to look again into moving to the suburbs. Sigh. My brain hurts thinking about trying to work this system all the way through high school with two kids four years apart.

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  27. It's not actually more complicated, just different and unknown at the moment--and we've had years to develop collective wisdom about the old system and how it works in real life.

    Agreed that a small number of not-poor families in the Mission and Lower Haight may benefit from the census tract designations, and that may not be the fairest thing, but the tracts actually do show the level of academic achievement (which tracks poverty) in each area to a high degree of accuracy. The benefit of using CTs over the using Section 8, CalWorks, non-preschool, etc. is simplicity. No system will be loophole-free. An all-neighborhood system would have the problem of address fraud, and so forth. I doubt on a year-to-year basis that that many will benefit who would not otherwise benefit under the old system. A few, but not many. That is the trade-off for more simplicity.

    I guess if you don't like it, you can move into the 'hood next to the projects in the Haight or the Mission or the Bayview. I don't mean to be flip, but that is probably more easily done for most middle class families than it is for very poor Mission and BVHP families to move into West Portal as would have to happen in an all- neighborhood system for those kids to get access to the "good" schools.

    I actually didn't mind the old system, but everyone complained about the complexity of ranking choices in a free-for-all, and the loopholes of using so many factors. People were vocal about wanting a better chance of getting a neighborhood school. Either option A or B will actually do that, so the neighborhood advocates should be pretty happy.

    To my mind, the real losers in moving from the old to the new will be those who live in non-poor areas of town who don't want their neighborhood school. As it stands in the current system, a family living near Commodore Sloat could consider Sunnyside or Jefferson as a viable option--maybe it's on the commute route, or they just like the other school better. Such a family could take a chance in the lottery with anyone else in town who wanted Sunnyside or Jefferson.

    In the new system, whether A or B, Sunnyside or Jefferson will likely fill up with a combination of local residents and kids from CT 1 areas (priority and proportions determined by Option A vs. B and how the "dials" are used to determine number of slots for each category). Think about it this way, though: most of the CT 1 kids would have had priority anyway through the diversity index, since the applicant pools tend not to be very diverse at most of these schools. The real competition was always the other middle class families.

    The new system will be a boon for Sunnyside-area or Jefferson-area middle class residents who would look on in frustration as similar families from other parts of town took "their" spots in their neighborhood school. These families will have a much better chance in the new system of keeping "their" spots.

    This is good for those who want to walk to school, and bad for those middle class families who want broader choices, like between CS and Sunnyside, or CS and Jefferson--all of which are quite good schools, by the way. It will continue to offer an outlet to families living in the poorest neighborhoods.

    I could go either way as to what to prioritize between neighborhood and middle-class choice, but hey, let's give it a try and see how it works this way.

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  28. does anyone have a sense if this affects sibling priorities at all? I've got one in K and 2 still at home. Our school is popular yet not our neighborhood school. I am hoping that siblings still get priority...

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  29. My biggest question mark is what the impact will be on middle schools of giving more preference to local attendance area. I'm a middle school parent already who will not be affected by this at that level, but I just want to say that we love the diversity at our middle school, which is achieved by drawing kids from all over town to attend several program strands. It's a really diverse school. Middle school kids can travel, so why create limitations that they themselves may not want? There are so many fewer middle schools than elementary anyway, so why not make them citywide as is proposed for high school? Again--I don't have a horse in this race, other than for high school, but I wonder how this will change the diverse character of my kids' middle school.

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  30. 1:49, according to *everything* that has been said, siblings will still get top priority at all levels for attending the same school (just as now, not for past attendance, but if both kids will still be in the same school at the same time).

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  31. I wonder if we would have a different school board if we only allowed families with school-age children to vote for and serve on the school board. It seems so obvious that the people actually impacted want sound academic programs and logistical practicality, especially, it seems, for the families with the fewest resources. Their priorities are not the Bay Guardian's priorities. Almost everyone wants diverse schools, and we want art and music every day and cool science labs and lots of other stuff that is simply beyond the district's capacity to provide, either because they don't have the money or they can't force the behavior. The Board CAN manipulate teacher and administrative assignments and provide training and expertise so that the most troubled schools get the strongest resources. I would rather have the highest possible percentage of the district's students proficient, whether the school is Charles Drew or John Yehall Chin, than shuffling kids around to different schools so the classrooms become more ethnically diverse. The shuffling has been largely ineffective at both desegregation and improving services to children from the most challenged backgrounds. There simply are not enough academically advantaged children for the district to shuffle around to raise the averages at all the schools, assuming such children would allow themselves to be shuffled rather than leave the system. Change has to come from within individual schools, and so it should.

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  32. Immersion programs will also be put under more pressure. The only way to get a travel pass under the Attendance Area system will be to apply to an immersion or other special program.

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  33. moving to the suburbs does nothing. Those schools are all impacted (more kids than spaces available in the classrooms) and in all likelihood, your kid will be assigned to a non-neighborhood school in that case too.

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  34. When Orla O'Keefe talks about "adjusting the dials" it makes me feel like my kid is just a lab rat in their grand experiment.

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  35. Being able to 'adjust the dials' is yet another way they'll remove transparency from the process. Too many of a certain type of kid in a school? Let's adjust the dials!

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  36. oh yes, indeed, god forbid the board should want to ensure access for poor kids to the better schools.

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  37. I keep reading about the options, hoping I'll see somewhere that 'Making All Schools Acceptable, If Not Great' is a top priority - not just ensuring that kids from low performing neighborhoods can get into the best schools.

    We live within a stone's throw of a totally non-diverse, under demanded, and depressing school, but we don't live in an underperforming census tract. Fortunately we're in the K lottery this year, but if we strike out and end up with an unacceptable school, I guess there's no hope for next year, either.

    The problem is there just aren't enough great schools to go around. Which brings me back to my original concern. I hate to sound cynical, but the social engineering feels contrived.

    I would be much more in favor of a straight lottery with no index points. You apply, you rank your choices. You put down as many as you want. You aren't dinged for being in a big pool. And then put more focus on the underperforming schools to create magnet programs, hire better principals, incentivize teachers, intervene with after school programs etc. I realize it's much more easily said than done, but just giving a child a ticket out of a failing school does not fix the school.

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  38. Moving to some suburbs (Albany, Piedmont, Marin) does provide one thing: certainty. You know your kids are going to the school down the street, the local middle school, and then the high school. The schools may not be that much better (though in 'good' burbs they often score over 900), but at least you know where your kids will go to school through high school. That sounds like a luxury to me after three years of going through the lottery and still at a so-so school. I'm scared of the high school lottery. Only 17% of kids who wanted Lincoln got it in the first round in 2009.

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  39. Nobody wants to deny poor kids access to better schools.

    Problem 1: The parents of non-Chinese poor kids are less likely to participate in a choice system. If they were participating, the current lottery, which looks at poverty factors, would not result in such an imbalance towards non-poor children at high-performing schools like Clarendon. There IS access, but utilization is limited. The Board can offer a choice system, but it can't force people to choose anything in particular.

    Problem 2: There are already not enough spaces in "better" schools to go around; otherwise we would not have all this middle-class angst about the lottery. The addition of immersion programs in low-performing schools is making the middle-class more adventurous and mitigating the problem somewhat, but it's far from over. It remains to be seen who these immersion programs will most benefit. Latino students have the lowest percentage of proficiency on standardized tests at Alvarado, an established Spanish immersion school.

    There are a few non-Chinese general ed schools where a high number of poor ELL poor children are doing well, and they appear to draw primarily from geographically close populations. ER Taylor and Moscone are examples. Instead of all this hair-tearing about the assignment system, wouldn't it make sense to figure out what those schools are doing right and devote resources to replicating it other high-poverty schools? That seems like a far more direct approach than trying to get kids to go to schools that their parents find inconvenient and uncomfortable.

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  40. Looking at the current attendance area maps, the zone issue is going to be interesting particularly if you live in a corner. For example,, if you live SOMA - Bessie Carmichael is the only realtively close school. Outer Richmond, its Lafayette, Alao or Argonne (perhaps time to think about moving). Inner Richmond/Presidio, also not bad, Peabody, Sutro, McCoppin, perhaps DeAvila and Cobb and who knows where a school like CL with a split campus will be assigned. However, only 2 language schools there. The Marina, only has Sherman and CL with perhaps the new Cobb Montessori (no idea how that works with the pre-K req). Outer Sunset (also, not bad) - Sunset, Francis Scott Key, Ulloa, RLS, Feinstein, Lakeshore, and Lawton. The rub if they even consider to stick with what folks might consider to be a neighborhood school looks like its really going to be those in the middle, Cole Valley, Haight, NOPA, Glen Park, Mission, Noe Valley.

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  41. I haven't heard anything about attendance zones. I thought this latest round of options (A and B) are about being assigned to your attendance area school or you enter the lottery like everyone else. No?

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  42. None of this solves the basic problem: if low CTIP families don't PARTICIPATE in the assignment process (no matter what it is), how can you assign them to high CTIP schools?

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  43. I think that's right--the new system will make some changes, mainly to favor neighborhood over a wide array of choices for most middle class families (while still offering wider choice for low CTIP families). Also, the new system will be a little easier to understand, whether or not it is fairer; it just has fewer elements in play so it will just not be so byzantine as before.

    But the vexing problems will remain--especially getting low CTIP families to participate in choice from the beginning, and also in providing resources where they are needed to the most challenged kids.

    And finally, here's the kicker, bulding quality schools for all, which especially in the case of most challenged communities, will take serious, serious bucks to increase teacher pay by a lot (in exchange for union givebacks on tenure rules), increase the school day and year, add real enrichments, and provide wrap-around community supports that engage the whole family in the project of education and what it takes. Community dinners, nutrition classes, literacy support for parents. Big goals, and will to achieve them.

    Seriously. We know how to do this, but it will take $$$. Moving pieces on the chess board via a new assignment system won't close the achievement gap--the assignment system just gets us middle/upper folks excited as we contemplate what it means for us and how do we work around it. What it will really take is real, honest-to-god, visionary investment in the whole system. California and the nation need to step up here, and we need to make them.

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  44. 5:21, I believe you are right. Zones are dead. Assignment areas apply to one school only, or you can be in the lottery. Not sure what the other person was drawing from to make that comment about grouping schools.

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  45. I think the point of the Zone poster was that the folks that live in those neighborhoods on the borders are going to get some great preference for neighborhood schoools no matter how they draw the lines for a neighborhood. How do you go wrong with Sherman and CL as your two closest schools if you are in the Marina? Alamo, Argonne and Lafeyette - ditto. Whereas if you live in some of the middle areas, your neighborhood school becomes a little fuzzier depending on how the assignment areas are drawn because you are closer to many more schools.

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  46. I think the point of the Zone poster was that the folks that live in those neighborhoods on the borders are going to get some great preference for neighborhood schoools no matter how they draw the lines for a neighborhood. How do you go wrong with Sherman and CL as your two closest schools if you are in the Marina? Alamo, Argonne and Lafeyette - ditto. Whereas if you live in some of the middle areas, your neighborhood school becomes a little fuzzier depending on how the assignment areas are drawn because you are closer to many more schools.

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  47. I'm more interested in the new map than the new assignment system because the current map vastly predates the current assignment system and it contains many anachronisms. I'm also interested in seeing what changes there will be in the transportation system. My guess is that it will be cut back significantly.

    So, between neighborhood schools or lottery non-participation (take your pick) and a reduced transportation system, the result will be de facto segregation greater than the silo schools of today.

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  48. "60% will get their first choice, 80% will get one of their choices." (these numbers appear to include those families who get sibling preference.) Where's the improvement? These are the same statistics as the current lottery.

    Is it true that "alternative school" status no longer exists for non-immersion schools like Rooftop, Clarendon, CL, etc?

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  49. That seems likely and it will have big implications for the new map.

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  50. The new system sounds like it is so dependent on where you live - whether it is living in a neighborhood close to a school that you want or living in a a certain census tract neighborhood that will give you an edge for a particular school. I don't see that as being simple or fair. And not everyone who lives by a popular school is going to be able to get into that school. Where would they be assigned? It seems you will have much less choice and you will have to like your neighborhood school or have to move.

    I know everyone complains about the current system, but I think it's a pretty fair system. There is already a neighborhood preference built into in the current system but it is balanced with diversity. It gives you more choice. There are things that I would tweak with it, but overall I think it is more fair than these new options. In the current system one thing I would get rid of is the preference based on how you rank your choices so you don't have to worry about how other people are ranking the schools you like. That would be a major way to simplify the current system.

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  51. The 60% and 80% estimates for people getting what they want don't sound like they will be accurate -maybe only in wealthy neighborhoods.

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  52. When do the maps come out? And if the new systems are so "simple" why can't parents be notified in February of their assignments.

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  53. If you read the Superintendent’s Redesign Proposal 102-9SP2 it states that some schools will be designated as City-wide schools for which there will be no attendance area boundaries. It says the Sup. has the authority to designate whether a particular school or program will be considered city-wide at any time. The noted criteria for designation as CW include newcomer programs, language programs, K-8 schools, Lowell and School of the Arts. For the purpose of the initial rounds, it says programs with discrete language choices that are listed in the 2010-11 application form will be considered city-wide. I read this to mean that Clarendon JBBP and Alvarado Sp Imm will be city-wide, but the GE programs at those same schools will be we given a designated attendance area. Roof-top and CL, K-8s, will be city-wide.

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  54. I certainly hope they do keep some schools as city-wide/alternative. It will provide more options for those of us who don't like our neighborhood school but aren't in low performing census tract.

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  55. The current lottery system has neighborhood preference. The proposed lottery systems have "attendance area preference."

    Attendance area school does NOT = neighborhood school.

    Attendance area school does NOT = closest school.

    Attendance area boundaries can change from year to year!!!

    Your child will be assigned to your attendance area school (or you have priority at your attendance area school, depending on the option).

    Oy, oy oy! How does anyone plan where little Alice and Joey will go to school?

    And what if I live near New Traditions, but my attendance area turns out to be Daniel Webster? Or if I live near Flynn, but my attendance area turns out to be Bret Harte?

    Or what if my attendance area school starts at 9:30 am, with inadequate pre-school childcare and no breakfast, and I need to be at work at 8 am. What are my odds in new lottery of finding good school that isn't sucked up by the attendance area?

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  56. All the people who kept saying they wanted "certainty" in the process will surely be happy now.

    There will always be happy and unhappy people in the process. This just shifts it around is all.

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