Thursday, September 9, 2010

New American Media: S.F. Parents in an Uproar Over New Way of Assigning Students to Schools

This from New America Media:
Just two weeks into the start of the academic year, San Francisco parents are already focused on the process for selecting schools for 2011-12—and if a community meeting this week is any indication, district officials are in for a long, unhappy year.

Parents in the San Francisco Unified School District, which serves some 55,000 pupils, have long been critical of the current student assignment process, which seeks to balance the desires of families with the economic and language diversity of the schools. This complicated “diversity index” has often resulted in students being dispersed throughout the city, far from their neighborhoods, with no guarantee that children from the same family will attend the same school at the same time.

Read the full story
Videos from the story:

SF Parents Frustrated by New Placement System from New America Media on Vimeo.

SF Parents Frustrated by the New Placement System from New America Media on Vimeo.


  1. I and others were raising bloody hell about this back in March, but no one was listening. Maybe it was because the District left the details out back then and waited six months to produce these maps and feeder patterns, something that they could have done THEN. This is a prime example of how not to do an assignment system. The people who are getting screwed now are the fifth grade families -- who will have to wait months before the District figures out what to do. Just appalling!

  2. The first lady says she has "absolutely no choice about where to send her child to middle school." But she does. Her school will feed somewhere but if she doesn't want to go there, she can go in the lotto for somewhere else. Also, I hate how now everybody is is romanticizing the old system of "choice." There was no realy choice other than your choice to right down whatever schools on your application, the chances of actually getting one were really slim. There have been lots of parents on this blog that were totally shut out of any other their middle school choices. How quickly we forget.

  3. The first mom also says that the feeder middle schools will drive parents out of SF, to private or parochial. Isn't this already happening in droves? Of course it is. And what parochial school is she going to choose for Spanish immersion? I don't think there are any.

  4. 88% middle school applicants get one of their picks, and sibling preference is a much smaller factor than ES.

    So, "the chances of actually getting one were really slim" is simply not true.

  5. Is it that these people don't like the feeder program or they just don't like what school they are being fed to? It's a bit of sour grapes I think.

  6. .... no different than the sour grapes of families that went 0/7 and didn't like their assigned school. All this does is move the chess board around in terms of which families don't like what they get. It gets framed as a philosophical argument, but it's really about getting what you want for your kid, or not. Now, there will be more certainty of happiness for west side parents, and more certainty of unhappiness for east side parents. Before, the uncertainty was all around but the results were spread more evenly.

  7. Of course it is about what MS the kids are feeding into. You can also say that the supporters are the ones who are getting the good schools.

    That doesn't invalidate any of the arguments they (both sides) bring up.

    Jose Ortega parents are happy. Starr King parents are upset. My kid is in neither program, and I can say it is a waste of resource to have two small separate Mandarin programs in different schools.

    I can also say it is unfair that Aptos are getting way better feeding schools than Denman, when they are a very close. It is easy to swap some of their feeding schools to have a more balanced plan for them. (My kid is feeding into neither one and I have no interest in either.)

    Having almost two dozens of new language programs over the next three years is completely insane. Even GE parents should be upset about this because they take resources from regular GE programs.

    Keep in mind, the district used social engineering - adding immersion programs in poor-performing ES's - as a model to turn around schools. It has been successful in almost all cases. So, give immersion parents some credit. They are the driving force for some of the success in this district.

  8. I am tired of all the hoopla around the immersion programs. Yes, it's cool kids can learn another language, but does the district have to make policy for 55,000 kids around what is best for the immersion programs? I don't think so. Immersion is just part of the whole, the GE, the special ed, language programs, etc.

  9. And what about all the whining from the East side parents. Clearly these people are intelligent, why do they chose to live in an area where they wouldn't send their kids to school? I don't get it.

  10. ^ to answer the question seriously:

    * couldn't afford housing elsewhere; we're tied to the city for various reasons outside our control (long-term family care, job and other); we are definitely middle income not professional-class salaries.

    * previously the system didn't constrain us by neighborhood. we liked that system. and we hated how the west side whiners went on and on and on about how their little darlings were not guaranteed a spot at (pick your high-scoring school). now the system has changed and we are the ones whining


    * please bear in mind that there are many, many families who could not afford to leave their apartments or homes in the southeast. many of them are not posting here on this list and their voices are not being heard. but they previously were very happy to send their kids out of the neighborhood. will be interesting to see how this new system will work for them as many will have ctip1 status but buses will be different.

  11. 3:20

    Either have language programs and make them successful, or not.

    Language programs cost money. The library needs books. The computer labs specially configured hardware.

    So, you tell me whether GE parents should want 20 different language programs everywhere. The district has enough money problem as is.

  12. I think this is really about the unhappiness some parents feel about their child's (children's) elementary school feeding into a (currently) dismally performing middle school. It's also about the specific schools feeding into the low performing middle schools: generally, it's not the best resourced, highest performing elementary schools feeding into the lowest performing middle schools. Clarendon and West Portal and Sherman and Grattan and Lawton and schools of that ilk are not feeding into low performing middle schools. Rather it's middle of the road schools and low performing schools feeding into the low performing middle schools. And that kind of engineering makes people angry.

  13. It's also about the insane assumption by the district that they will be able to successfully inaugurate several middle school immersion programs in less than a year. Why split the immersion programs into several different schools instead in of consolidating them into a few?

    Not to mention the fact that, as 5.18 noted, there are some gross discrepancies in the ways that many higher income schools (Clarendon, Grattan, W. Portal) are fed into one MS and many lower income schools (Guadelupe, Vis Valley, Hillcrest) are fed into another. There will be blood if the district doesn't sit up and pay attention, in the form of a lawsuit.

    Apparently there were several meetings and hearing back in March 2010 with parents and community and the feedback from those meetings was ignored. Key among the findings was that very few people had complaints about the citywide choice system of middle school assignment since nearly 90% of parents got their first choice. If it ain't broke, don't fix it!

  14. 3:22
    "And what about all the whining from the East side parents. Clearly these people are intelligent, why do they chose to live in an area where they wouldn't send their kids to school? I don't get it."

    I am SE side parent and given the current economy, rental prices, daycare/preschool tuition prices etc I can only afford to live here. I have no choice but to stay in a somewhat crappy neighborhood. Even though I AM intelligent, educated, hoping to put my kids into good schools where they can truly excel in the future.
    Don't be too quick to judge based on home address!

  15. 1:24 -- it is flat out deceptive to say that 88% of all families got one of their choices for middle school without also revealing that that number is only 8% higher than the percent of k parents getting one of their choices! Look at this blog to see what a mess that created for the ones who didn't. Anecdotally I can tell you that a far larger percent of middle school applicants drop out in the early rounds when they don't get what they want. The stakes are too high atvthat level for most parents to sweat through the summer wait pools.

  16. I am shocked at the sour grapes of these parents. The second parent actually says, "We need to slow down the process at least two years." Didn't she say her second kid is in 4th grade...Convenient that her kid would get into the school she wants if the process is slowed down.

  17. I am confused now by Rachel's position. She says on her blog that she is a strong supporter of elementary schools feeding middle schools (rather than a lottery or straight neighborhood system, I presume). But she also says she supports delaying implementation of the process to further discuss feeder patterns.

    The Board took a long time to mull over this SAS. It is time to act. To delay is a show of no confidence in the new SAS as another commenter pointed out.

    The SAS story was always about the boundaries. I commented about this many times last year on this blog. The boundaries should have been drawn before not after the SAS was voted on. Nevertheless, the patterns can change annually so why delay?

    School reform and turnaround is essential to implementing a fair SAS. Without it there will always be greater demand at higher performing schools. With the unprecedented SIG money, SFUSD has a once in a lifetime opportunity to make good on its promise to students and families.

    SFUSD officials repeatedly claim that it is money that is needed to solve the achievement gap. The Feds put up the money and now let's see if SFUSD can go "Beyond the Talk...", to quote the strategic plan.

  18. I think they should go through with the middle feeders except make some changes for the language programs. Now a whole school (GE and immersion) feed to one middle. Why can't they just change it so the GEs all stay as proposed but just consolidate the immersion programs from the different elementaries into one school (a school that already has that language program). The immersion families will have to drive/muni all over town, but they are doing this now probably. Location was not the main factor that they had when choosing an immersion elementary program so it shouldn't matter so much if they have to commute far for middle school.

  19. I don't like how the second parent threatens a lawsuit. How very American of her.

  20. If there are roughly 55,000 kids in SFUSD, with 13 grades, there are about 12,000 kids in middle school. If 12% didn't get a school of their "choice" in the old lotto, that leaves over 1,500 families in the cold. When you put a number on it, it is much more personal than a percentage. Yeah that's great 88% got something on their list, but what about the 1,500 families that didn't? I think the new system is an improvement. At least you know what you are getting. Like it or not.

  21. 8:06

    What logic is that? "At least you know what you are getting"? even if it is a crappy one?

    12% is still 12%. No matter how you slice and dice it, the real problem is the number of spots in "good" schools is not enough for all the kids.

    If we use your logic, we should simply randomly assign everyone, like it or not.

  22. I do think that some of the parents at those elementaries that are now complaining are being a little disingenuous in being shocked at the middle schools their kids are going to be going to. I mean, come on, did anyone at Sanchez really think that, when the Board announced that elementaries would feed into middles, that Everett, which is barely two blocks away, would not be their middle? And McKinley folks, did they really think their middle would be Hoover or Lick, with Everett so close by? No, what they are doing is the time-honored San Francisco tradition that happens anytime any big change is about to happen. Wait til the last minute and then start a ruckus, show up at meetings and cry, call the "New American Media" and pout, and freak out the politicians so they end up doing nothing. That's what is going on here.

  23. "If we use your logic, we should simply randomly assign everyone, like it or not."

    Yes. They should have kept middle school choice the way they did for high school. It would be fairer than assigning schools based on where you can afford to live.

    9:16, you are right that 12% is 12%. Someone gets the short end of the stick as long as there are schools that are not popular. The assignment question is how to do that--by where you can afford to live? Random lottery? Etc.

    Obviously they should be figuring out how to improve the schools that few people want--which will take resources (SIG money will help, for a time). It is also true that promoting diversity has proven to help as there is more money and culture shifts when middle class families are part of the mix. The old choice system had already lifted Aptos and Roosevelt and to an extent Lick and Marina.

    However, this new system was not asked for! I was at several meetings last spring and parents overwhelmingly said they wanted CHOICE for middle and high school while neighborhood for the little kids had more value. This feeder idea came directly from Supt. Garcia--imposed from the top. This is not last-minute grumbling--lots of us have been opposing this all along. It's only reached this pitch because people can now see, and it is obvious looking at the map, how unfair it is. Plus there have been broken promises re language pathways--it makes no sense at all to add multiple programs all over the city all at once, and parents and teachers actually doing immersion now know how hard a lift that would be.

  24. Right on the money 9:25.

    What is missing from the SAS outcry right now is the understanding that the massive influx of SIG resources that will transform opportunity at those schools. Many students will have benefits not available at other schools as a result of these resources. Do you want a school with dramatically lower class sizes? Specialized reading courses for example? Attend a SIG school.

    Some motivated students will flourish as a result of this funding windfall and the subsequent reforms. Parents who feel relegated to SIG schools as a result of loss of choice should take notice of the possibilities.

    SFUSD is doing a terrible job of explaining how this money will transform these low performing schools. As long as they don't completely blow it by wasting the money outside the classroom, the reforms will change the landscape. Being assigned to a SIG school offers unprecedented opportunity. Parents should take their energies and get involved in reforming those schools.

    in the meantime the balanced scorecard is being revamp as a result of my uniform complaint. The new focus on achievement rather than equity in the Single Plan for Student "Achievement"/BSC gives parents an opportunity to push that agenda on site councils. Equity is no longer the issue at SIG schools with double and triple budgets. Parents get busy and hold SFUSD to its commitments by participating in the process.

  25. 10:32

    "I was at several meetings last spring and parents overwhelmingly said they wanted CHOICE for middle and high school while neighborhood for the little kids had more value. This feeder idea came directly from Supt. Garcia--imposed from the top. "

    I find this to be a very interesting comment. Could you expand on the meetings you went to and what was said?

  26. I went to a community meeting held at Washington HS. The overwhelming majority of people supported neighborhood placement. However, only about 25 people showed up and that isn't much of a sampling. Many there complained about the lack of promotion given the community meetings. But the PAC and SFPPS did a great deal of surveying on the subject. The results of those efforts were reported to the Board. There was a general view that more certainty was needed, hence the feeder system.

  27. Why did SFUSD redesign the SAS?

    1. Because the consent decree expired
    2. Because current law changed invalidating busing for most districts.
    3. Because of widespread dissatisfaction with the Diversity Index.

    This is what the PAC and SFPPS reported to the BOE based upon their community outreach:

    “Parents want the schools in their community to be high quality. They want access to quality schools, and don’t want to have to send their children across town to have a
    good education.”

  28. Check out the community input document in the new SAS area of It is 466 pages long. Read the whole thing to get a flavor. Also remember that the response skews wealthier and whiter than the district as a whole, and as you read, remember that the voices from the lower-income families that are there are under-represented--but there are some, and their voices are not mostly parroting the neighborhood schools line.

    With regard to middle school assignment, the response is very mixed. Much more so than the response at the elementary level. As you would expect, west side parents were in favor of more neighborhood preference and east side parents more in favor of choice. Of course, because this is self-interest. But lots of people, even while supporting strong neighborhood bias at the elementary level, understood that choice might be better/easier for older kids, and some were passionate about choice being good for middle and high schoolers. No one talked much about feeder schools--it was "local" versus "choice."

    The feeder school concept was introduced in the staff proposal to the board--well after most of the community discussions. I also heard it came directly from Carlos Garcia.

    Re Don's contant quoting of this one phrase:

    “Parents want the schools in their community to be high quality. They want access to quality schools, and don’t want to have to send their children across town to have a good education.”

    Yes, of course!!! But since parents on east side of town are very well aware that the middle schools their children are supposed to feed into are not exactly "high quality," they have been clear--again, I urge you to read the comments in the 466-page document and see for yourself--that they vastly prefer having the opportunity and choice to send their kids across town to a high-quality school rather than be forced to send them to a low-quality school that is local. If you could guarantee the first sentence in this quote, Don, there wouldn't be a problem, would there?

    It is obvious why Don and other west siders are happy about being fed into Presidio, Hoover, Giannini. But that doesn't mean that this policy is responsive to the community feedback. In fact, the implications of the feeder school idea were never really fully discussed. And of course, community feedback is a funny thing anyway--there is hardly monolithic agreement amongst the parents about this question, which is really about how to allocate the spots at the low-performing schools. Would be nice if as much energy really were poured into the question of how to actually improve those schools. I can tell it would be a huge lift--and it is magical pony thinking to believe that neighborhood school model alone would solve it, too. Convenient as that idea might be for west side parents. Geez, you guys basically won the elementary assignment battle. Can't you leave some hope for middle?

  29. 8:02am

    I like the idea of a lawsuit. How very UNAMERICAN of you to support the feeder system (which seems more like India's caste system).

  30. Check out the 466-page document detailing community input to the new SAS. It's on the SFUSD site on their SAS page.

    Bear in mind while reading it that the voices of white, wealthier, and western-dwelling residents are statistically over-represented. Take note of what parents are saying from the east side, from communities of color.

    Also note that the feeder system was not really talked about until the district staff presented the draft to the BoE ad hoc committee. In other words, feedback on the feeder system concept was not really solicited. It was all about neighborhood versus choice, but not the feeder idea.

    Of course there is divergence in the comments between west side (pro neighborhood) and east side (pro choice) comments. This reflects self-interest. But also notice that even many pro-neighborhood comments observe that older kids can benefit from choice and that neighborhood is more important for the little kids. In other words, comments were far more MIXED with regard to middle school assignment than they were for elementary. Certainly they were not overwhelmingly pro-neighborhood or pro-feeder (which was not even asked about).

    The endlessly quoted comment about parents wanting high-quality schools that are local misses the point. I mean, of course that is the ideal. But east side parents are very well aware that east side middle schools are not high-quality. If you actually read the comments in the 466-page document, you will see that parents overwhelmingly favor having an option or choice to send their children across town to a high-quality school if the local school is not high-quality. That is said over and over.

    Yes, the district (and this blog) might think about putting as much energy into improving the east side schools as is given to moving pieces around the chess board, aka student assignment. But as much as west side neighborhood advocates find it convenient to assert that neighborhood schools will improve the quality of those schools, that just is too simplistic an argument for overwhelmingly low-income neighborhoods. It is very, very hard to raise the quality of a school whose kids are 95% poor, ELL, and overwhelmed by various social factors. If it were easy, then urban districts all over the country would be doing a lot better.

    While there are not easy answers, diversity has been shown to be an effective strategy at the middle school level for raising performance--example, Aptos, which has raised test scores for all sub-groups and is now a magnet for Latino kids from the Mission and the Excelsior and OMI neighborhoods while also becoming a draw for more advantaged kids from places like Miraloma and Lakeshore and Sloat. Now that option is to be taken away from the Mission and Excelsior kids.

    I'm agnostic on feeders vs. choice IF the feeders are fairly constructed. If they created more socio-economic diversity then I could see giving it a try. As it stands right now it is indeed creating a caste system in several of the schools.

  31. The first mom in the video is a friend, and I dont' have a kid in immersion (missed the boat in kindergarten 8 years ago and no ones given any thought to the fact that my kid will get ZERO language, but I digress...)

    I have to ask, seriously, what the immersion program parents think will be BETTER for curent 5th grade parents by delaying this plan? SFUSD with this plan is saying they will commit to make the immersion programs in middle work - I might add that this gives WAY, WAY more lead time to get this up and running than just about any other immersion program that has been launched in elementary schools over the past 8 years. Usually, they'd pop it open and announce it in the spring (or summer) and get it running. Seriously, a year ahead feels like a giant improvement.

    And if they DON'T implement it, what choice do those current 5th (and likely 4th, too) immersion kids going to do for middle? The current system forces a large (the majority?) portion of thos kids out of the program as it is. Why not go with a serious deadline and make it happen?

    I agree with the earlier poster - we have more than just the language immersion families to consider here. If families are going to leave from 5th grade to middle school that are language immersion kids, where else are they going to go? CAIS take them all? What else provides spanish immersion for middle school?

    I've gone back and forth on this, but feel that it's time to move on, make it happen and let's talk about how to focus on the things that are really going to make ALL the schools better for ALL the kids.

    I think I'll shoot myself with another decade of student assignment blather.

  32. 1:57 PM

    "I'm agnostic on feeders vs. choice IF the feeders are fairly constructed. If they created more socio-economic diversity then I could see giving it a try. As it stands right now it is indeed creating a caste system in several of the schools."

    Thank you for for your thoughts and your conclusion (above - it bears repeating) and the document referral. Well said.

  33. What I am gathering from watching these videos is that there are not enough middle school seats for all Spanish immersion students transitioning to middle school next year, no matter what the assignment process unless the district opens up new programs, or expands seats at current sites.

    The district created a bunch of new Spanish Immersion programs (and expanded Fairmount's) during the last 5 years. Now all these kids are hitting middle school age, and unless these programs are expanded, there will not be spots for all these kids to continue. Historically the district has created new SI strands at under-enrolled or low-performing schools in order to expand enrollment and diversify the student body (typically on very short notice.)

    Using a feeder system and not choice is a different take on the same strategy of opening a sought-after program in an under-enrolled school. Of course there are additional challenges in middle school (text books, finding qualified bilingual teachers in specific subjects, etc.)but I'm not sure that it's the feeder system that makes that any more easy or difficult.

    I'm not an immersion parent so possibly I am missing some important nuances here.

  34. After taking into consideration the criticisms of the feeder pattern proposal and the various petitions circulating out there, I made a stab at making some suggestions. Rather than retype what I wrote, have a look here.

    Please be gentle if you disagree. Just putting in my two cents on how to improve the proposal so the larger public is happy.

  35. What do you mean by "fairly constructed"? If the rubric is socioeconomic diversity then a feeder system is a poor choice from the get-go. Without proximity as the primary factor what point has a feeder system that is geographical in nature?

    A true feeder system is just another term for neighborhood schools. But in the case of SFUSD, the elementary school selection process is not neighborhood based given the preferences. As such neither is the feeder system for middle school given the selection process for elementaries.

    You are just engaging in semantics when you say "fairly constructed". According to whose measure? If it is SES than the feeder system as proposed is unfair. But if proximity is the measure than the feeder system is also unfair as it is predicated upon the neighborhood unfriendly elementary process.

    SFUSD's feeder system cuts the baby in half. So neither neighborhood advocates nor choice advocates are happy. My sense is that the end result of this new SAS will be more of the same - more flight, decreased diversity, lower achievement and diminishing economies of scale that go along with the attrition from public schools.

  36. I forgot to mention in response to those that are complaining about the lack of community input - SFUSD has absolutely no legal responsibility to get the separate input of the community. The community's elected officials are that input for legal purposes. Except for legally mandated public comment at Board meetings as per the Brown Act, the District has no other obligation to get feedback. So the threats of lawsuits are just ridiculous.

    On a ethical basis SFUSD has every reason to include the community. But I'm afraid that no input method would satisfy everyone.

    Right now they are redrafting the Balanced Scorecard template due to its abject failure as pointed out previously. Are they asking for the community's input? Did they get communuty input on the Community Engagement and Parent Partnership Plan? A little, but they did a very poor job of informing the community to speak out,especially consider it is a plan of and for parent involvement. SFUSD usually does little to encourage feedback. Most of these community meeting that take place have a few dozen people at most. The primary reason isn't district negligence, though. It is parent negligence and lack of effort. Then when the community don't like the outcome of the SAS they cry foul and threaten lawsuits. Get real.

  37. As a parent who is dissatisfied with the process of community feedback I feel it is important that the school district keeps its word, whether or not it is legally mandated. If SFUSD says it is going to get feedback from the community then, by golly, it should do so and do so in a way that makes some sense. Instead the parents responded to the six options, only one of which of which was actually adopted as high school all choice lottery system. By the time the Board of Education voted the options had morphed and that undermined the community engagement process.

  38. If the district does a bad job of getting community feedback as you contend, why then is it not their fault when they don't get that feedback?

  39. I was not clear. The district has to operate under the Ed Code. There are few legal requirements for community engagement. Site councils are the only entity that require lawful participation by the community. The District Advisory Council and DELAC must sign off on the consolidated application by law. But otherwise the district is just engaging in good PR when it gets community input. There is no other requirement for public comment except at Board meetings. The Board represents the community's interests with the above exceptions.

    It is really up to parents and community to take an interest, stay informed and be vocal. The idea that the district is somehow legally negligent is ludicrous.

    However, the administration has made it clear that they are a partner with the community. Obviously much of that is just rhetoric, but they should be held to their strategic plan.

    That plan which is grounded in the BSC has gone belly up. The site scorecards were shallowly conceived documents with major legal omissions that must be corrected to deliver the mandated transparency and accountability required by law.

    I realize that this particular issue is not well understood by the general school public. It is somewhat obtuse in the sense that most don't understand how SSCs work or that they are the prime tool that parents have to participate in their school's programs and budgets. To the extent that they don't get involved they default on site governance and leave all decisionmaking to school personnel instead of shared between all, as the law requires.

    So, for example, if the school uses funds that do not serve the students' interests, the parent reps on the SSC should stop that with their vote on the SPSA/BSC. While many believe that this is not much of a problem, it happens all the time.

  40. SE (nonimmersion) parentSeptember 16, 2010 at 11:01 AM

    Why not add SI and MI tracks to Mann MS and Everett MS for next year and give parents of current 5th grade parents the option of enrolling their kids there next year? Some kids (particularly those at Buena Vista, Webster and Starr King) will likely choose to continue with immersion at these nearby schools.

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