Friday, October 19, 2012

Data, Values, and Shoot-em-up Tea Parties

I self-soothe with data. When the prospect of sifting through 80+ public and private schools for my first-born gets too crazy, I start crunching STAR test scores, API and enrollment data.

Recently I put down my spreadsheet and got fuzzy. At a tour of at a top-performing school, the principal advised families not just to look at metrics but to consider our own values, and to look for a school that matches our values. 

I looked at the underlying values for my criteria and was surprised.  My central values were that a school
  1. Foster a sense of belonging without having to deny parts of oneself, and
  2. Be academically challenging.
Almost all the school criteria below were derived from #1.
  • People who look like my child. Being around people who look like you matters. I didn't move to SF for my child to be the only Asian in his class.   
  • LGBT family-friendly 
  • Other middle class and upper-middle class families
  • Diversity valued and present, not just for the good reasons already discussed on this blog. A culturally homogeneous school, where even small differences stand out, can lead to more pressure to conform and "fit in." Racially or culturally homogeneous schools off the list, with the exception of language immersion. 
  • Diversity of religious and spiritual beliefs. I don't want my compliant child to feel obliged to conform with a particular set of religious beliefs at school. Parochial schools, off the list.
  • To continue to enjoy the company of the opposite gender, and to feel able to cross gender lines. Single-sex schools, off the list. Bring on the shoot-em-up tea parties!  
And then there's
  • Academically rigorous. 
Back to downloading CST scores...What are your values underlying your school selection criteria?  


  1. You might want to consider McKinley or Harvey Milk. They meet a lot of your criteria. Not sure if they have enough of an Asian population for you. Populations tend to draw each other, which helps keep things looking less intermixed than they could be. For privates, Live Oak sounds like a good fit, maybe Synergy (not sure if that would meet your academic standards.)

  2. Sorry but is location not a factor? If the perfect school is across town, are you willing to/have the means to add ~1 hour a day driving around the city?

    I did a spreadsheet too with all sort of data but one of the columns is miles from home + miles from work and estimated time to travel (google is great for this). It is amazing how different two schools can be.

    Distance shouldn't be a major factor in your decision making but definitely a great tiebreaker.

  3. Thanks for the links. Let us know what your ends up on your list. You might want to look at San Francisco School on Gaven if you're considering privates and live in the south-eastern (Glen Park, Bernal, Noe, Mission) part of town.

  4. We went through this process last year; I also used lots of data, toured 20+ schools; had the following criteria & weightings (went a bit nuts - needlessly, actually).
    Every criteria then had a score on a GoogleDocs shared spreadsheet, all added up; and this let us rank our preferences logically, or in some cases discuss our criteria and score and why we ranked our choices as we did. Perhaps these criteria can be food for thought:

    Teachers 8 - How do they engage/interact? Do they stay?
    Language 9 - We wanted Spanish immersion
    API 6 - The "Affluent Parent Index" isn't a top criteria but we knew shouldn't be ignored.
    Technology 3 - How is tech used/taught?
    Diversity 7 - Hugely important for our bicultural family. We ended up in a school that is majority NOT our background, and are quite happy.
    PE/ Sport 5 - Very important for our active kids
    Art 5 - Our family values this / my FIL is a professional painter
    Theater/Dance 5 - Our family values this
    Music 5 - Our family values this
    Building/ Environment 3 - We like the nicely-renovated old buildings
    Outdoors / Garden 6 - Is it a big play-yard with space or at least potential?
    Parents involvement 6 - We want some; not hugely critical. We knew we'd be involved; and didn't want to be forced into certain roles.
    After school program 9 - On-site ideal; important because we work
    Start-time; timing 8 - Very important. We're not morning people!
    School style 8 - "Rigorous" or "disciplined" scored higher - our kids need structure and rules. Purely project-based doesn't seem to work for my over-social kids.
    Location 10 - Top criteria by far. Could've been a 12. We're not driving cross-city 2x/day.
    K-5 vs K-8 3 - Nice-to-have a K-8 as we have 2 kids
    Food 2 - Nice-to-have, most SFUSD was average, but our school won points for trying to do better with better vendor

    We ended up at Thomas Edison Charter Academy (TECA) in the Spanish-English dual-immersion program, and have been really happy.

  5. 10:45am wrote:
    Distance shouldn't be a major factor in your decision making but definitely a great tiebreaker.

    Each family's criteria are different, but as parent of a 3rd grader and incoming kindergartener I will disagree here and agree more with 9:55pm.

    I tell my friends that the most important considerations for us were/are:

    1) Location -- we gave ourselves a 15-minute radius by car from our house. Other people might consider access to public transit or location along a commute path.

    2) Availability of before/after school care if necessary -- not just the presence of a program but the chances that you can actually get a spot

    3) Language immersion if you want it

    4) Start time