Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Hot topic: Sibling preference in immersion programs

This from a reader:
I'm struggling with the whole EPC process and I'm hoping to get a reality check from your readers. Will they be as outraged as I am over my situation...or will they tell me to suck it up and wait in line like everyone else?

5 sibling families were denied assignment to their siblings' immersion program for kindergarten at my school this year. According to EPC, the district is strictly enforcing the language ratio across all immersion programs (more of a priority than siblings): 13 target language speakers to 9 English speakers. At my particular school, there were 14 siblings (all designated English Speakers), vying for 9 English spots, so 5 siblings were assigned to the school's general program instead of immersion.

I asked the language department and EPC to reconsider the ratio (down to 11 target to 11 English speakers) if it meant more hardship appeals or siblings could get in for Round 2. They denied my request. They were adamant that 13 - 9 was consistent for all immersion programs, and no exceptions will be made, "to ensure equity". So I can only get a spot if another English speaker drops out (fat chance because they are all taken by other siblings). Although my child does speak the target language a little, apparently, it was not good enough to "pass" the target language test (it's all or nothing).

So I asked around some of the parents at my school and it turns out that there were at least 2 native target language speaking siblings that I know of (and they indicated that on the enrollment form). However, they were only called in for English testing, not target language testing. So presumably, they must have been designated native English speakers (even though they are not).

The EPC process has just been killing me. My native speaking mother lives with us. I LOVE how my daughter has grown so much closer to my mother since she's started her immersion program. I can't imagine giving one child the opportunity to learn about her heritage, culture, and language (and develop a more meaningful relationship to her grandmother living in the same household)…and not give that same opportunity to my other child. It has also been horrible for our school's sense of community. The district has put all the denied sibling families in a position where we are competing directly with each other for any possible future openings, creating a very divisive environment of distrust.

There are two separate issues. First, I need a reality check. For all the parents out there looking for an immersion school, and have tested as a "native speaker" of a language other than English, do you think it's unfair to ask for special dispensation of the language ratio to accommodate for family hardship grants and/or siblings?

Second, there seems to be inconsistency of language testing and designation. For all the parents who put a language other than English as a home language, were you tested for both English and your home language? Although certain students identified themselves as native speakers of another language, because EPC didn't test them (for whatever reason), they were arbitrarily designated English. I've asked EPC to review this prior to Round 2 assignments and I'm awaiting their response.


  1. One thing that would have solved your problem is this:

    You get a sibling preference *only* for the same program that your older sibling is in. In other words, you can't have your older kid go to Alvarado GE and then put your younger kid into Alvarado SE with sibling preference. The younger kid would get a sibling pref for Alvarado GE and that would be it.

    If they changed that idiotic rule, there is no way you'd be in a situation where 14 english-only siblings are vying for 9 spots.

    Doesn't help you in the here and now though - you are yet another victim of this unfortunate process. For the sake of next year's parents, I hope the new assignment system works a lot better (and doesn't make what seems to be very obvious mistakes with easy fixes).

  2. Hmm...I think that the School district is right to stick to their goal but should any spots open up in Round 2 they should go to siblings. That said, it looks like you will be at least have the same drop off/pick up and after school options so think of the positives.

  3. This is horrific. If I had known in January what I know now about the ridiculous immersion placement process, I never would have put one immersion program on my list.

    What kills me the most is this false sense of perfection by the EPC. Our schools are crumbling.. but god almighty, let's make sure that we keep 13-9 split (you know, the magic number they made up this year!!!) WTF?? Aren't there better wars to fight given all that we have going on? Besides, since when does a 13-9 split trump sibling preference? Where is that documented??

    I am kicking myself for putting two immersion schools at the top of my list. What a waste for my family. I am also very sorry for your family.

  4. 10:09? Stick to their goal? Are you out of your darn mind??

    Did you even read the post? The EPC doesn't even ask the right questions in order to code the applicants properly. Therefore their "balance" is a bunch of BS.

  5. At least both your kids will be in the same school. Things could be a LOT worse.

  6. As a parent who didn't get in an immersion program way back when, I've watched while EPC fiddles and messes this process up year after year.

    It's ridiculous that siblings could not be in the same program. Since when is EPC or SFUSD so pure about the program? They can't think beyond their noses - otherwise why would they have opened up program after program year after year only to have it grind to a halt in 6th grade with no continuity?

    Your kids should be in the same program - over and out. "Integrity of the program" be damned - I don't believe it for a second.

  7. I think immersions should be opened up after Round One.

    My deepest sympathies to you! Your points are totally good. What a lunatic system.

    There could be a chance of your child getting in later in kindergarten. I've heard (I think) of some GE folks going into immersion in grade 1 at Alvarado but don't quote me on that.

    My best wishes to you!

  8. Yes, EPC should stick to the goal. The process is a mess and often doesn't work, but that does not excuse them from the goal.

    What they should have done:
    1. Use different school code for native speakers and English speakers. So instead of using SN, there should be two separate codes - SN/EN and SN/SP, for example. This helps future applicants to evaluate demands.
    2. Sibling preference for the physical location, not program. So sibling can get into the GE program if immersion is full.
    3. Create more one-way immersion programs.

    In any case, immersion is in high demand. The fundamental issue is there aren't enough spots for everyone, even for siblings. This problem will not go away with the new assignment system next year.

  9. This totally sux for you. How are there 14 siblings and only 9 spots for older siblings? Is it b/c there are several sets of twin younger siblings? Or is it b/c the older siblings are in the GE program? Or is it b/c there are more than 9 English speaker older siblings b/c they got in when spots opened in Round 2 their year?
    Also, how in the world did EPC decide which siblings got in and which didn't? Did they explain that to you? I would want to know. It must suck at your school right now. I'd be so pissey with the families that lucked out and got in. My fingers are crossed for you. I hope it somehow works out.

  10. I have to say, my main thought reading this post was that the people who really get the shaft here are the people who are trying to get their only/oldest child into an immersion program.

  11. 11:26 - I totally agree. How are we supposed to know that there are exactly zero spots available for new english speaking students at a particular school? What a waste for english speaking families that stupidly put this school (and probably other immersion schools) on their list.

  12. This also makes me think that there is no "algorithm" when it comes to immersion programs. How can there be? Did they change their "code" so that siblings don't get in first but the target/non-target mix of 9/13 is achieved? I don't think so.

  13. Double agree.

    EPC should do a pre-round for sibling only, and publish the number of spots AFTER all the siblings are settled.

  14. I hear you 11:26. The immersion programs have become family programs and if you weren't there at the the start of the program your chances of getting in are low. You have to sit around until august telling your kid we still are working on kindergarten when she asks where is she going because all of her class mates know where they are going You miss all the welcome getogethers whatever the school is your kid ends up at and missed sign up for afterschool programs with limited places. One way immersion! There are many parents who would like to give there english speaking kids the gift of a second language. I'm anxious about our 2nd round letter but I fully expect from what I've read on this blog is that they are not opening up the open native speaker spots to english speakers in this round and it isn't clear when that will happen so I'm trying to brace myself (and family) for the long haul.
    Good luck to all the second rounders

  15. Sibling preference is only for the program, I believe. I could see how English speaking families with kids in 5, 4, 3, 2 or 1 could all have younger siblings coming into kinder this year (well, maybe less 1st graders and more 2nd, but still).

    But I also bet that a lot of parents just put one school on the list for the younger kid. Getting place at the same school site is the "least bad" option.

    Those kids should get preference though, even in Round II.

    I also wonder what school this is. From the first waitpool report, there are no schools or programs with 5 siblings in the waitpool. So is that data wrong? Or is this a fairy tale?

  16. Why aren't there more one way immersion programs like AFU?? The demand for learning a 2nd language while young is so high and it would really keep folks in public schools who would otherwise go private. As AFU, CAIS, French-American all show, it CAN work.

    And why withhold native language seats if they can't be filled, especially in this world of budget cuts? If there are 9 English speakers and only 5 native speakers, it really isn't going to change the dynamics that much if there are 16 English speakers and 5 native lanugauge speakers.

    Anyways, I love some of the ideas here about (a) doing a round I with siblings first so that rest of the pool knows what's available and (b) using a different code of English Language versus native language speaker. It would really help everyone know what the real availabity in the school is.

    Does anyone in the EPC read this for ideas?

  17. Yeah, is this made up? The hi-est sibling WP for any school is 2. And for language programs their is 1 for Flynn SN, 1 for Hillcrest SB, 2 for CL KN, 1 for Parker CB, 1 for Parks JB, 1 for Sutro CB.

  18. I doubt anyone from EPC reads this blog.

  19. I'm the original poster and here are some answers to questions asked...

    EPC said there was a mini-lottery of the 14 siblings to decide which 9 got in and which 5 didn't.

    To the anonymous 12:05pm who linked the "waitlist pool" and didn't find any sibling co-hort with 5, I saw that also and informed EPC that they made a mistake. I specifically stated that although waitlist pool was labeled a "draft" dated April 5, it was misleading because other families have a right to know that there are 5 siblings ahead of them. It may influence their decision which school to waitlist.

    EPC responded that due to confidentiality of families submitting their waitlist requests, they cannot and will not comment. So I presume that there are several possibilities:
    (1) the other siblings were OK with their General ED assignment and didn't waitlist themselves,
    (2) EPC made an honest mistake and felt no obligation to admit it to me,
    (3) EPC knew listing 5 siblings in the wait pool would raise a lot of questions, so they deliberately disclosed an inconspicuous (and incorrect) number.

    I also believe that they miscoded all siblings as English speakers. When I mentioned the few native speaking siblings I knew of, EPC is citing confidentiality and will not comment. So I guess I'm totally out of luck.

    To all the parents out there who think EPC should disclose how many spots are really available (after taking into account siblings and language test), I agree 100%. The district didn't inform anyone that they were changing the language ratio for this year to 13 - 9. They also didn't inform the public that for certain schools/programs (like mine), if you are an English speaker, you have 0 chance of getting into the immersion program.

    Getting the school is your choice is difficult. I went through this painful process with my older child. My older child started parachial school when I "got the call" a week after school started. I was naively thinking/hoping that my younger child didn't have to go through this again. Oh well.

    Thank you for all your support and well wishes. I know there are a lot of anxious parents out there. Best wishes for Round 2 everyone!

  20. Hi Orgininal Poster, thanks for answering all the many questions. I suspect EPC of:
    (3) EPC knew listing 5 siblings in the wait pool would raise a lot of questions, so they deliberately disclosed an inconspicuous (and incorrect) number.

  21. Can't the school administration talk to Margaret Peterson and her staff at Multilingual Programs to help the 5 siblings get in the program? Might the EPC make an exception and admit they may have made a mistake? Also, is there a reason no one is mentioning which immersion program this is?

  22. At the end of the day, the problem is still there are only 9 spots.

    Regarding the testing, I can see some reasoning for testing English instead of the target language. There are only so many native language test admins there. There are dozens of kids who need to be tested. There simply isn't enough time to have the native language test admin to test all kids. As a way to simply things, they would test the kid's English. If the kid fails the English test, they assume he is a native language speaker.

    It can be very inconsistent on how a bilingual kid get classified. The "miscoded" kids in the OP must be bilingual kids. This is not the ideal method. However, with the current budget situation, I just don't see how they can have enough native test admins to test all kids.

  23. Keep advocating for yourself and the 4 others in your situation. The EPC makes stuff up as they go along. At least it is some consolation that your younger child is at the same school. However, how is THAT equitable for others. It just KILLS me. Good luck!

  24. The EPC makes stuff up as they go along.

    100% true, that.

  25. 2 points to chip in:
    Although this situation totally bites, let's look at it from the other side. I met a family - a recent 1st generation immigrant family with a kid who could not get into the immersion program that would've supported their ESL kid. Two-way immersion programs should absolutely serve ESL kids; and from a equity perspective, this should probably be a priority even over guaranteed sibling assignment. The heritage stuff is really great but I'm unsure of how you could argue that this takes a priority over serving ESL kids. 60/40 is a good way to ensure quality too. Put too many English language speakers in a two-way immersion program and the whole program suffers as the Flynn teachers will tell you (reference Flynn fiasco two years ago). Immersion is finally getting some traction in the immigrant community as a viable means of acquiring English. The 13 spots should be saved for these kids. If they can't be found, then the spots will open up eventually and you'll get in…. again.

    The other point is OP's grief with lack of transparency. There may have been a coding error… OP should ask the Principal who should have access to that data. But there is a lot of conjecture in the original post and very little hard data to substantiate. Is it certain that 5 siblings did not get in? Why are only 2 showing up on the waitlist? Did 3 drop out? EPC may be understaffed, maybe I seriously doubt there is a cover up or conspiracy. Is the roster known, at least for the 9? If the Principal is not willing to release the data, it seems like the school community is small enough to backtrack and get the data from the parents. After all it's only a matter of time before it's known in the fall. I4 siblings is remarkable for a class of 22. I'd be somewhat concerned that some siblings from the GE slipped in and took spots from the Immersion siblings.

  26. If the supposed 5 on the waitlist are known, it seems like you could ask them yourself if they put themselves on the waitlist or not to validate the number on the Waitlist Pool.

  27. I don't believe there is a cover up. It does not do epc any good. Their job is to match parents with schools. Cover up will actually create more work for them.

    I also believe they make up rules as they go along. One reason is that a lot of issues are new. They are still inexperienced with managing the immersion programs and demand is certainly way higher than demand. They only started language testing this year.

    I also believe OPs story. I don't think the story was made up. However, there can be a lot of explanations, some may not be fair, but some may be reasonable.

    For example, even the kids with sibling preference have to have an applications, right? They have seven choices just like everyone else. If they don't get into the school with sibling preference, they still participate in the regular lottery. Given that 60% get one of their 7 choices, that can easily explain why there are only 2 or even 1 on the waiting list instead of 5.

    That's why it would be helpful if we have the school name. For some schools, parents would list as WP even if they get one of their other choices.

  28. There's a separate category for siblings on the Waitlist Pool.

  29. "Also, is there a reason no one is mentioning which immersion program this is?"

    Well, if the numbers given are correct, it has to be one of the schools with only one immersion class per year and a GE program also. So it's not Fairmount, Flynn, Alvarado, Marshall, AFY, DeAvila, Buena Vista, Monroe, Revere, Starr King, Webster, or West Portal (WP has 1/2 classes/yr)

    So it's likely either Claire Lilienthal or Ortega. But I didn't know either of those programs met their quotas for target language speakers.

  30. My guess is CL b/c there were 2 siblings on the WP list for CL KN, and all the others only had 1. And I can see why parents would be fine with their kid getting the CL GE program and not waitlisting the immersion strand. It's not like some schools where parents feel the GE program is no good and would only go to that school if their kid got into the immersion program.
    And, I don't think anybody said the school met its quota for target language speakers, just filled up it's English speaking seats with siblings. The school is probably still holding seats open hoping for target language speakers.

  31. I like the proposal to split the immersion programs into two, one for the target kids and one for the English kids. Then we could see that there are 13 and 9 spots. Kids would only be allowed to apply for the target language spots if they passed a target language assessment. It'd be like how the Montessori program gives priority to Montessori kids.

    But yeah, they make it up as they go.

  32. According to the original post, the 5 siblings who did not get assigned to the immersion strand were assigned to the gen'l ed. program. If the school really is CL, which has a much more popular gen'l ed. program, the district should let people know ahead of time that sibling preference for the gen'l ed. prog. is not just the gen'l ed. siblings but also the immersion siblings. This makes a new families chances of getting into CL even tougher!

  33. Sibling preference would work both ways. If immersion program siblings get assigned to GE, that probably means the GE siblings get sibling preference for immersion too.

    That will explain why there are so many siblings applying for 9 spots.

    Sibling preference is for school, not program. That would have explained the whole story, and I wouldn't even say that "they make it up as they go". It is probably the policy all along. I would even say it is a reasonable policy.

    However, they really should do a pre-round for siblings and release the data before the general round.

  34. Does anyone know what happened at Alice Fong Yu? The old WP info said 39 were on the waiting list and the latest one says 6 people!?

  35. If sibling preference only gets you to the school rather than the specific program, once you accept the assignment do you lose sibling preference cohort status? That might explain the confusing wait pool numbers.

  36. This is CL Korean immersion program she's talking about. It's true - 5 siblings were not let into KIP. Since it's K8, its easy to see how there could be 14 siblings within KIP. With growing interest in Korean language and culture in this city, I think there's a definite need for another KIP class per grade or another Korean immersion program, perhaps in the southern/central part of town. If anyone knows of qualified Korean teachers, please send them to SFUSD.