Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Rachel Norton: Update on the new student assignment system

An excerpt from SFUSD Board of Education member Rachel Norton's blog:

I’ve been receiving a lot of questions from parents on the new assignment plan, mostly centered around the planned release of the new attendance area boundaries and middle -school feeder patterns next month. In a recent meeting with district staff developing the new plan, I received some further information about how the review process for the new boundaries and feeder patterns will work:

  • The proposed list of citywide schools, draft attendance area boundaries and draft feeder patterns — as well as a proposed transportation policy — will be formally released to the public on August 18, the date of the next Ad Hoc Committee on Student Assignment.
  • After that meeting, members of the public will have several weeks to comment on the proposed citywide schools list, the draft boundaries and feeder patterns as well as the proposed transportation policy. In addition, these proposals, draft boundaries and draft feeder patterns will be further discussed by the Board at a yet-to-be-scheduled Ad Hoc Committee meeting in early-to-mid September.
  • The citywide schools, attendance area boundaries and feeder patterns will be finalized after taking into account any public comment and Board discussion; the final version of the boundary map and feeder patterns will be released by September 28.
  • The Superintendent’s proposed transportation policy will be formally presented to the Board as an action item for final adoption at that September 28 meeting.

Read the full post.


  1. It will be interesting to see if they actually meet these Aug. 18 and Sept. 28 deadlines. After all, when have they EVER met any of the past deadlines in this entire process!

    Also, it will be interesting to see how quickly real estate agents use elementary school boundaries (and their companion middle schools) in property descriptions. They expect properties associated with (perceived) trophy elementary schools to go up 10% (or more) immediately. In this housing market, ANY advantage is a selling point advantage.

  2. I doubt this will affect real estate values that much given that a kid is not guaranteed a spot in their neighborhood school. If there are too many kids in an area, the overflow will get assigned to the nearest school with spots. As I know from the lotto this year, the schools with spots are not desirable or near! Since it's not guaranteed, I can't see people being willing to pay more for just a chance at the good neighborhood school.

  3. Does anyone know whether there will be a cap on how many gets assigned to the citywide schools from the lower scoring zones before others are being considered? (say 25%, 30% 40%???)

  4. 10:14, in my experience, real estate agents know very little about the public schools now. Many seem to assume they are universally bad, even though the 60% at least of our schools compare very favorably with many suburban districts that people buy into for the schools .... yes, the lotto aspect of this can be quite rattling, but the two notions (they are all bad versus more than half are quite good, but there is a tricky process) are quite different. It will be interesting indeed to see if they leap upon the new system as a point of sale. Even with moveable boundaries, I have to think this will increase the sale value on the west side, since there are few if any despised schools out there.

    10:38, if you read the documents passed by the BoE, you see that Superintendent Garcia will have discretion to move those percentages in order to tweak the system. However, I think I have heard that they plan to start with reserving 20% of spots in citywide schools at most levels for CTIP1 students--which makes some sense since CTIP1 kids represent approximately 20% of the students overall. That will leave 80% for CTIP2 applicants.

    It will be interesting to see how many CTIP1 students actually want to travel outside of the Bayview and Inner Mission; I am personally doubting it will reach the full 20%. There also may be less desire on the part of westside parents to compete for a spot in immersion programs, and to travel daily for them, if they know they have a spot at Feinstein, Sunset, Peabody.

    Yes, it will be interesting to see how hot and heavy the competition is for those citywide spots. Even for "iffy" schools, neighborhood schools advocates have long said that people will be willing to stick with their local school if it is really local and they can work with neighbors to improve it, and they are more or less guaranteed the spot. Guess we'll be seeing if that is true! Sort of like Junipero Serra this year and the Bernal parents. If it is true that this will happen, then there will be less pressure on the citywide schools; it would mainly be those who really really want immersion and are willing to travel for it, and those whose assigned school seems beyond the pale.

    [Reminder that CTIP1 is determined by dividing census tracts into 5 more or less equal groups (in terms of numbers of students) representing quintiles of academic achievement. CTIP1 is the lowest quintile and is basically BVHP, Mission, Sunnyvale, and parts of the Western Addition.]

  5. I think people that buy into suburban districts buy into the certainty of it as well as the high test scores. It's true many SF schools are just as good, but who knows if your kid can acutally get into one. The new SF system still won't have absolute certainty and that peace of mind is why lots of people head to the burbs. And agreed, realtors are clueless about SF schools.

  6. I'm also wondering if the new feeder school system will affect the parents' choices of elementary schools for their list. For those parents who think long-term, an elementary school that feeds into a desirable middle school might become more attractive as well.

  7. I think the desirable elementary schools that feed into mediocre middle schools, will just start improving those middle schools. How can a middle school stay bad/or even average if truck loads of kids from high scoring elementaries start automatically attending.

  8. We phased out transportation at the high school level this year. In the years ahead, look for more phase outs at the middle and elementary school levels, until only special ed is left.

    We barely have the money to staff the schools, so the yellow school buses will have to go.

    What is our transportation policy? We are broke.

  9. This year the BoE is scheduled to look at revising (reducing) the transportation for 2011 and beyond. I really hope they can find a way to still offer transport for SE, aka CTIP1, students who want to travel to out-of-neighborhood schools; I fear they will not. That will have the effect of easing up the # of spots for CTIP2 parents who want citywide schools such as immersion, but poorer families in the SE who don't have $$$ for cars and gas may be stuck in high poverty schools, and we will become all the more like Oakland with its stark division between the hills and the flats. I hope I'm wrong about this. It will be interesting to see the plans and boundaries and ultimately the school bus plan.

  10. Rachel says,

    "But the (SAS) process is moving and progress is being made. In the coming weeks a lot of things will become clearer — and hopefully put minds at ease without raising too many new worries (perhaps I am an optimist."

    I think naive is more apt. This statement reminds me of our own Nancy Pelosi, who claims that the House needed to pass the (health care) bill to see what was in it.

    No one knows, including 555, how this plan is going to work out because there us so much fuzzy policy in it. But it isn't fuzzy for no reason. The unanswered questions, some of which are represented in the former comments and on other threads, ia a lassitude that allows flexibility for the administration to tweak the enrollment numbers as they see fit.

    It is that very flexibility that is the problem because it equates into lack of assurance and confidence for parents trying to plan. That's why Rachel's "concern" is so pale and disingenuous. If parents need information, (and she purports to empathize with that need to raise and educate their children), why then did she not support a more transparent process in the first place? Garcia wrote provisions in the plan that allow him to revise annually. This in effect gives him the power to change the SAS's parameters and outcomes in perpetuity.

    I don't doubt that on some emotional level Rachel Norton has the best interests of students in mind. And to her credit I don't think she is trying to use the BOE as a stepping stone to higher office like Fewer, Kim or Maufas. But while talks a good talk and writes well, she fails to deliver as an elected official. We need at least one board member that will not be an outright patsy for whatever Carlos and Co. wants.

    She claimed in her blog last year that she didn't like his request for certain professional education funding, but voted for it anyway in a display of reluctantcy on the heels of capitulation.

    Another example of her failure to deliver is the BSC review she promised at the BOE. Now 555 is scrambling trying to make its Balanced Scorecard meet the basic requirements of State Law and to simultaneously keep those efforts under wraps to avoid the spectacle of the abject failure of the strategic plan, the heart of which is the BSC. That's happening because it totally crumbled last year after Smith's departure. But I diverge.

    After siblings, CDC zone residents, and 20% to CTIP1, and taking in consideration the potential for address fraud with elementary enrollment, it seems likely that many neighborhood residents, particularly in high demand areas, will be very dissatisfied with the new SAS. If SFUSD really thought that most neighborhood residents would get assigned to their local school, why then would they need to give a preference to CDC families who live in the neighborhood?

  11. The public will have time to comment on the proposed boundaries and so forth? What a laugh. You can't get Jane Kim to look up from her copy of Cosmopolitan.

    The public weighed in on it overwhelming support for neighborhood schools and the result of that was the Board altering the preferences to make it more difficult for neighbors to get a local school.

  12. What's with the calculated attack on Rachel Norton? I'm sure she isn't perfect, but I've got to think we have better things to do than plan arguments against every little thing she has done.
    From what I can tell, Rachel is the only board member who gives one iota about letting the community know what is going on with SFUSD. I'm grateful for her commitment to us as parents, even if I might disagree with some of her opinions.

  13. Elected officials are supposed to undergo scrutiny. That is part of open government. I'm trying to point out that appearances are not the same as performances.

    Should we stop scrutinizing our local officials , our governor or our president? Communicating with the public is not the same as adequately representing them. If it were all the Board members would have websites and blogs. What is more important is how one votes.

    But if one does criticize it should be based upon facts and not just a gotcha. That sort of thing belittles the efforts for reform.

  14. When polled San Franciscans by and large want racially diverse schools. This entails a lottery or giving preferences like 20% of spots for CTIP1. When their children get assigned to a diverse school that the parents don't like they demand to have choice. Which one is it? Choice and diversity don't mix.

  15. I think it depends on what the people polled meant by "diversity." If they meant "my kid isn't the only middle-class blonde," they they want it. If they meant "schools with large numbers of poor/nonwhite children," then they don't.

    That's why diversity, with its implications of a lovely mosaic of middle-class skintones, is such a dumb word. Either a school is serving large numbers of poor/nonwhite children, or it is not. "Diversity" can mean anything.

  16. Right, which is why parents flock to private schools that claim to be working on "diversity" issues with their mosaics of a few (upper-middle class) kids of color in a city that is over 75% school-age kids of color, with significant levels of poverty as measured by school lunch qualification and other metrics. When someone says a school is diverse, always ask: "define diversity."

  17. Isn't the point that liberals want diverse schools by the standard definition which means a mixture of blacks, whites, Latinos and Asians in relative proportion to the school population? If their children get assigned to a school with something like that they insist they should have choice.

  18. I think most parents want a high-performing school first, diversity second.

  19. I think most parents want a high-performing school first, diversity second.

    I don't think that SFUSD data supports this point, necessarily. Although I don't believe that test scores tell us a great deal about school performance, they are a popular metric. Based on those:

    *Rooftop is outperformed by many district schools, but far more popular.

    *Grattan is outperformed by many schools, including some serving mostly students of color (Sheridan, for example). Grattan is hugely oversubscribed and Sheridan was not full after the first round of letters.

    I could go on, but the biggest problem is that given SFUSD's current demographics, the kind of diversity that many parents seem to want isn't possible. Unfortunately, the impact of wealthier and whiter parents' decisions (those who choose to send their children to private schools or only enroll at schools like Lilienthal, which do not at all match district demographics) make diversity across the system less possible.

  20. ^^^ There is a lot reality in this post. Parents seem to look more at demographics than school performance. At least it seems that way from what are the buzz schools (some high scoring, some middling) versus some significantly higher-scoring schools that have no buzz and suprise! few white faces.

  21. We we told that assignment areas for elemetary schools would be contiguous, but that assignment areas for middle schools were not necessarily going to be contiguous. We were also told that identified elementary schools would feed into identified middle schools.

    This can get complicated. Please keep the lines simple and contiguous, even at the middle school level.

    To promote academic and ethnic diversity in the middle schools, do the gerrymandering in an aboveboard fashion. No elementary school is to feed into the closest middle school. The intial assignment from elementary school to middle school should be out of one's area, and, known, from the first day of kindergarten.

  22. Please make the start times at all the schools something reasonable! The 9:30 a.m. time is absurd for working parents. If not, then ensure there is before school care on site at every school that starts after 9:00 a.m. The current system is ridiculous.