February 10, 2010 (San Francisco) –Superintendent Carlos Garcia has presented a proposal to the Board of Education for a new way of assigning students to San Francisco’s public schools.
The recommended policy would allow elementary and middle school students who live within the attendance area of a school to receive an initial assignment to attend that school.
This is a shift from the current system, which requires families to submit up to seven choices and participate in what is called the diversity index lottery. The current system has had limited connection to where students live and has resulted in racially isolated schools, the dispersion of students throughout San Francisco, and under-enrolled schools in certain areas of the city.
The high school assignment process will be simplified, but will remain a choice process.
Staff, who spent over a year working with researchers and gathering community input to develop the superintendent’s policy, say the proposal allows for predictability and reduces the amount of parent effort required to enroll children in school while maintaining a degree of choice for families who may not wish to attend their neighborhood school, and provides an opportunity for the district to use multiple strategies to create diverse learning environments instead of relying on student assignment alone. The increased predictability also provides the district with an opportunity to more cost-effectively create instructional coherence from preschool through high school.
“This proposed method is simpler for families,” says Special Assistant to the Superintendent, Orla O’Keeffe, who leads the redesign initiative. “All you need to tell us when you sign up for school is where you live and where you want to go to school. This will require less time and effort for parents. If they choose to, elementary and middle school families can participate in a choice process that will allow them to apply for city-wide schools and programs in attendance areas other than their own.”
The Board of Education established three priorities for the redesign of student assignment: reverse the trend of racial isolation and the concentration of underserved students in the same school; provide equitable access to the range of opportunities offered to students; and provide transparency at every stage of the assignment process.
Creating a policy that met these goals was difficult. After months of conducting simulations for more than six different options, staff concluded that different choice systems are limited in their ability to reverse the trend of racial isolation — and the concentration of underserved students in the same school — because the applicant pools for individual schools are racially isolated. In addition, not all families have the same opportunity to understand which schools they might like and submit their choices on time.
Neighborhood schools are similarly limited in their ability to reverse the trend of racial isolation and the concentration of underserved students, although some schools may become less racially concentrated than they are today, and many schools would have a more robust enrollment.
After thoroughly investigating the options and consulting with national experts, staff concluded that to reverse the trend of racial isolation and the concentration of underserved students in the same school through student assignment alone, the Board of Education would need to assign students to schools they have not historically requested and to schools far from where they live. For example, some students living on the west side of the city and in the north of the city would need to be assigned to schools on the east side of the city and the southeast side of the city, and vice-versa.
Instead of taking an aggressive approach that would not take parent choice or proximity into account, the proposed policy is designed to work with other initiatives that will encourage families to enroll in schools where they will add to the diversity of the school.
“A new student assignment system is one part of creating educational environments in which all students can flourish. Making sure every school is high quality is the most important concern for all of us, and a student assignment system alone cannot ensure school quality, although it does have a role to play,” says Superintendent Carlos Garcia. “We believe that this investment in neighborhoods is a strategic use of limited resources and will enable us to assure more quality schools in every neighborhood.”
O’Keeffe says that the policy provides a framework that can be modified over time.
“This is designed to be flexible and easily monitored and adjusted if it is not accomplishing the Board’s goals,” says O’Keeffe.
HOW IT WOULD WORK
All schools, except those designated as city-wide schools, will have attendance areas, which will change over time. Current attendance area boundaries will not be used. The superintendent will identify programs and schools that will not have attendance areas, and these will be designated city-wide programs or schools.
Elementary and middle school, transitional year students (incoming kindergarteners and sixth graders) will receive initial assignment offers to their local attendance area school or, if their attendance area school does not have sufficient capacity, to the nearest attendance area school with openings. For elementary and middle school students who enter the optional choice process, if there are more applicants than seats, the choice process will give preference to applicants in the following order: 1) younger siblings,
2) students who reside in Census Tract Integration Preference (CTIP)1 areas, and 3) all other students.
Students will not receive initial assignment offers for high school. High school enrollment will be exclusively through the choice process.
Immersion schools, K-8 schools, and language programs will be designated as city-wide and will fill up through the choice process. There will be no local preference or initial assignment process for city-wide schools or programs.
MORE DISCUSSION TO PRECEDE FINAL VOTE
Members of the public are encouraged to attend the Board of Education’s Committee of the Whole meeting on student assignment in the SFUSD Board Room on February 17, at 6:00 p.m. The board is scheduled to take action on the superintendent’s recommendations on March 9, 2010.