Monday, October 25, 2010

Touring Season

As of today, we have toured only one school, although the calendar is filled for the next month or two with more tours than I had planned on. I recently attended a meeting by PPS-SF (I highly recommend attending one of their sessions if possible; it was very helpful), at which they said it was still worthwhile to tour schools that were not city-wide or your neighborhood school. So we added a few more local schools to our list. I have sort of thrown in the towel at figuring out the assignment system at this point. How much does it really matter if I understand the way a computer system is going to assign my child to a school? Assuming there are no loopholes, it seems like we should apply to the schools we want our children to go to, and see what they get. But remember, I am new to this process. Are there loopholes I am just not aware of?

The one tour we went on- to Buena Vista- was encouraging in terms of how amazing public schools can be. Immersion schools seem to give all students an academic advantage, which makes me wonder why there aren't more of them. However, what was discouraging was our chances of getting in. There are only 22 spots available for English speakers, of which students who attend the on-site preschool and siblings get priority. It's hard to imagine there will be more than five spots for an English speaker, if that. So while I would happily send my child to such an enriched school- besides the immersion, they have programs by Acrosports, the SF Ballet, and a part-time arts curriculum instructor- I realize our chances of getting in are almost nil. So onward we go. The two schools we are to tour this week are the two I am most interested in due to proximity and local buzz- Fairmount and Junipero Serra. I hope they impress me as much as Buena Vista did...


  1. "There are only 22 spots available for English speakers, of which students who attend the on-site preschool and siblings get priority."

    That's not quite right. According to Carol and Vicki at PPSSF, the district is aiming for a 9/13 split between anglophone-only and target language speakers (either bilingual or only proficient in the target language). So that'd be 27 slots for English-speakers. Still long odds, but remember you can list all eight Spanish immersion schools if you want. Heck, all 16 elementary-level immersion programs if you want.

    If you think your kid is bilingual in Spanish, Cantonese, Mandarin or Korean and you're interested in immersion (e.g. from attending an immersion preschool or one or more parent being a native speaker of another language), talk to EPC when you hand in your form on how to get them tested - basically, you need to indicate that non-english language in their background on the form. Then they'll get tested for their proficiency in the target language (and for English proficiency).
    If they're assessed as bilingual, their odds are a lot better of getting into an immersion program.

    The test for proficiency is fairly stringent: a nanny speaking to your kid in Spanish isn't going to give the level of profiency needed.

  2. Been there, done thatOctober 28, 2010 at 11:05 AM

    Oh dear. Every year, a new crop of innocents blindly goes down the same path.

    This year's group of kindergarten bloggers is quite something. There was one who was asking for the moon. There's another who seems to have fantasies about being a character in Harry Potter, and whose ideal Hogwarts was a school that hasn't even opened yet. And now there's you, saying you can't wrap your head around the assignment system, when you clearly can. In saying you don't think you have much chance of getting into BV, the glimmers of understanding are there.

    Start with one basic premise -- families like yours are not the district's top priority. They care more about closing achievement gaps than making someone like you happy.

    It sounds like you live SE. Look at the choices around you, and that big block of CTIP1 around you too. I don't know what your neighborhood school is. But the better schools in your area will fill up heavily with CTIP1 kids.

    Then look at the less popular schools nearby, like Bryant or Chavez. The district wants families like yours in these schools. Go tour one. See where the district wants you to wind up.

    And then, if you don't like what you see, get busy on a back-up plan. Passing the district language proficiency test is one loophole. Moving to CTIP1 or to the west side is another. Getting your kid into a CDC at a popular school is another. You can bet there are families scrambling to get into Fairmount's pre-K program right now.

    Don't just apply to schools you like that everyone else likes without some kind of loophole in your pocket. If you apply to a bunch of high-demand schools, each where you have about 10-20% chance of getting in, your overall chances are grim.

    You are not sitting someplace like the Sunset, where you are considering Jefferson and have FSKey or RLS as backups. Without finding a loophole, you are likely to be a sitting duck, like I was.

  3. Maybe expand your choices to more GE programs and you'll have better luck. Also, if you do live in the SE, have you considered Webster for SI? You'll have a much better chance of getting in there than Buena Vista. Good luck.

  4. How much does it really matter if I understand the way a computer system is going to assign my child to a school?

    According to PPSSF and everyone who knows the assignment system, it DOES NOT matter if you understand the computer system. Just list all your choices in the order of your preference. DONE.

  5. Thanks been there done that. We don't live in the SE, but we live in the John Muir school district and are CTIP 2. I have maybe a 5% chance of getting any school in SFUSD that has an API of 5 or higher. I could list the top 35 schools in the SFUSD, and that would not change my chances. We own, pay a ridiculous amount in real estate taxes (because we bought in the last 5 years), we are pro public schools, we are the kind of family the SFUSD should be recruiting, and yet we are very unlikely to get any school we list, let alone a school with an API over 5. We are literally the the last tie-breaker for every single school in the district (other than Muir, of course). I am "hopeful" I guess, but even if I get a school assignment I can live with (let alone one that I actually would really want), I still can't help but feel that we were simply luckier than the vast majority in our situation. The SFUSD does not care about families like ours - and that is true even if we somehow defy the odds and get assigned a decent school.

    Go Giants!

  6. "According to PPSSF and everyone who knows the assignment system, it DOES NOT matter if you understand the computer system. Just list all your choices in the order of your preference. DONE."

    Yes, DONE, as in "stick a fork in you, you're done."

    PPSSF is great when it comes to understanding and explaining the assignment system. They are less great in terms of how they try to mind-control people to accept the outcome of the assignment system.

    If you don't understand the system, have a realistic view of your chances, and have a backup plan if you don't like your chances, you are in for a rough ride.

    And sorry ,PPSSF, suggestions to cheerfully say "Oh, goodie, I'm going to troop on down to the gnarly school I just got assigned with a smile on my face and a song in my heart" does not count as a backup plan.

  7. Only in San Francisco is it some weird badge of honor to send your kid to an under preforming school. Most places in this country praise parents for seeking out the best education for their children, but not here. The worse off the school is you send your kid to, the more enlightened/open/at one with your spirit/etc you are. It makes no sense.
    Why not celebrate ALL parents who want the best education for their children, even if that means sending them to a "trophy" school or, GASP, going private.
    PS- This comment isn't directed at the original poster/tourer. Just a general observation.

  8. So how do we deal with a district that has a high proportion of kids coming from families that are less prepared and less likely to do well in school? I look at the demographics and I can't come up with anything that makes sense. 30% of families opt out entirely, by going private. Another unknown percentage opt out by leaving town. Do you create walled garden schools for high achievers? Do you create honors courses so that high achieving kids have a place to go? And are some of those high achieving kids actually kids who elsewhere would be just middle of the road except here?
    What's the answer? I get the anger, the frustration, I want the best for my kid too. But how do you make the system work? What are they not doing that they should? I just don't know.

  9. 10:48-I get you're angry but I've seen quite a bit of equal opportunity hating on this board from the private school set. There have been a lot of posts heavily bashing some public schools without even having the right info on them.

  10. The risk factor at the low-performing school is not so much the schools. There are lots of committed, hard-working teachers in those schools. It's the parents. If the critical mass of kids in a school come from homes where education is not valued, by about 3rd or 4th grade, most of the kids are going to lose their focus on academics. And honestly, some school administrators are really not interested in making their schools better. That's why people seek out privates and trophy publics--there's an established critical mass of parents who value education. A few schools (e.g., Miraloma, Aptos) have "turned around" their aggregate test scores with the right confluence of education-valuing families willing to try the schools and administrators willing to embrace those families. "Turn-around" schools generally change their populations, not their performance.

  11. The last couple of posters have been exactly right - the data supports you. SFUSD strategy should be to try to get every school to the 30% diversity level. This means don't strand a small group of CTIP-2's in a poorly performing CTIP-1 school, and also put in caps so that a school can't be 100% CTIP-1, the CTIP-1's should be distributed across the whole city.

    I posted the following a few weeks ago on a different thread:

    What is the tipping point for a school in practice? According to SFUSD data, in San Francisco, a school can afford maximum diversity of 30% before its test scores are statistically likely to be impacted. Every reduction in diversity down to 30% seems to be very tightly statistically correlated with an improvement in test scores.

    [Before you flame me, look at the chart on page 9 of the URL below which was commissioned by SFUSD, and which shows a correlation coefficient of r = -0.8 (*extremely* tight correlation) between diversity and CST. To be precise, I am using the same definition of diversity that SFUSD does. Also I personally believe that a school filled with only affluent diverse students would be high performing, but for the most part affluence and diversity are inversely correlated in San Francisco’s public school population.]

    Note that diversity below 30% is not a guarantee of high test scores, although the odds are in your favor. But there is no school with diversity above 30% with CST above 370.

  12. What's the definition of diversity?
    "According to SFUSD data, in San Francisco, a school can afford maximum diversity of 30% before its test scores are statistically likely to be impacted."
    Does that mean low-income kids? Or just no more than 30% of any one ethnic group?
    The next question would be what percentage of SFUSD is made up of whatever population group is that 'diversity.' Is it possible to construct all schools with no more than 30% of any one ethnic group? (I realize it's also a geography thing, but I'm just wondering about the raw numbers first off.)
    Thanks, this is a fascinating discussion.

  13. 10:48 - uh, yah... Some of us aren't willing on driving across the city for a trophy school and still believe in the neighborhood school - even if it is 70% low income and low performing. I know my kid will do fine without SF Ballet and an after school gardening program. He will know more about Latino culture than I've ever known, and that's fine with me. He will score just fine on all those tests - as if they even matter.

  14. Beth, I am referring to the specific definition used by SFUSD in page 9 of the following URL

  15. IS there no cap proposed on the CTIP-1 percentage that gets preference to a school? I seem to remember someone here saying it was 20% or 30% a while back, but is that not right?

  16. 9:42

    I do remember a cap in an earlier version of the assignment system. But the current one doesn't mention any kind of cap. I also wondered about this.

  17. '"Turn-around" schools generally change their populations, not their performance.' -from a previous poster.

    This is right on. Gentrification is the magic dust that turns schools around.

  18. I am trying to get the link to the document which defines "diversity" to open, but it keep giving an error message. Can someone who knows what this link leads to either post a working link or else just cut and paste the district's definition of "diversity" for all of us to read?

    Meanwhile, if the definition is based on socio economic factors, the district is currently close to 60% kids qualified for free or reduced price school meals, so trying to enroll no more than 30% low income kids at each school would not be possible.

  19. To 5:36 on 10/30: well, that probably true. But I tell you, if your kid is bright, it will break your heart to see him bored out of his mind at school, sitting at his desk for hours doing nothing because he already knows how to do the work, getting no help or attention from his teachers b/c they are trying to get the other kids up to grade level. If you are lucky, that boredom and lack of engagement in school will not turn him towards less desirable activities.

  20. This is where really excellent teachers, and really on-top-of-it administration, is key. A good teacher can, most of the time, cope with the kind of differentiation needed when you've got kids working at a three-grade-spread in a class. I've seen it happen in our school (Starr King.) But I've also seen it not happen.
    It's such a chicken and the egg problem - if all the kids in private school (most of whom are going to be middle to high achieving compared to public) were in the public schools, the public schools wouldn't be so heavy with kids that need a lot of help and support.
    But it's hard to blame parents in private schools who want the best education they can get for their kids.
    The only way I see it changing is school-by-school changing its demographics, and a lot of that demographic change is happening with parents who might otherwise have left the District. So it's bringing families in who might not otherwise have been there. It's going to happen gradually and it's going to be grueling, especially for those pioneer parents who are first in to a school.