School Beat: Student Assignment Redesign Update

by Lisa Schiff on November 12, 2009

The redesign effort for the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) student assignment process is continuing as scheduled, which is good news for those who have been watching this work over the many years it has been unfolding. At this point, adoption of a new policy this spring seems almost certain.

The Board of Education (BOE) Ad Hoc Committee on Student Assignment had another meeting this past Monday the 9th (for which, as with all BOE meetings, there are both a video and a transcript available online), focusing on the community engagement components of the process that can now get underway, given the work that has happened to date.

Important decisions and a recap of where the process has been and where it’s headed were presented to the Committee and are available in a public document (“Update”) on the SFUSD website. Two lynchpin components of the redesign effort are laid out in this document.

First are the three general types of assignment options the BOE is evaluating — lottery, zone and local school (e.g. attendance area school) — and the modifications that could be applied to each of them (Update, pp. 10-13). For instance, one lottery variation would be that students could apply to any school, but assignment preference would be based on academic performance in an effort to have the greatest diversity of academic performance at any given school. A variation on the local school option would be that students would be assigned to their attendance area school, but could apply to “city-wide” schools that would include schools for language immersion, newcomer programs, and schools with criteria for admittance (Update, p. 10).

Second, and equally important to identifying various assignment options, is the identification of strategies for comparing those options in relation to the BOE’s priorities. To that end, the BOE has examined data and information presented by staff and consultants to develop criteria specific to each of the previously agreed on priorities, which are presented below and can be found on p.8 of the “Update” document. Further refinement is still required for at least some of these options (at some point soon “x%” will have to turn into a specific target number), but at least there is a clear direction being set.

The above criteria will be used to evaluate the results from simulations and presumably will be a lens through which to consider results from other efforts, including a qualitative study of 24 randomly chosen schools, paid for by the Council of the Great City Schools and the Legal Defense Fund (results to be presented at the January 25th student assignment meeting), and a quantitative study by Professor Linda Darling-Hammond of Stanford, looking specifically at achievement and diversity in the SFUSD, who will hopefully present her findings at the December 14th student assignment meeting.

While these studies and simulations are underway, community input will be gathered through multiple strategies that will reach hundreds of families, including:

• An online survey;

• A series of town hall meetings:
o November 18, 6pm to 8pm Mission High, 3750 18th St
o December 2, 6pm to 8pm, Washington High 600-32nd Ave
o December 15, 6pm to 8pm, Dianne Feinstein 2550 25th Ave
o January 7th, 6pm to 8pm Drew Elementary 50 Pomona St
o January 14th 6pm to 8pm, Francisco Middle 2190 Powell St

• “Community Conversations” organized by the SFUSD Parent Advisory Council and Parents for Public Schools of San Francisco, that will convene families at 30-50 meetings at various locations across the city and will especially target those schools and communities that statistically don’t participate in town halls, BOE meetings or have low-rates of on-time applications.

All in all, this is the most rigorous, transparent, and community-informed/engaged effort that’s come out of the SFUSD many of us have ever observed and participated in and is definitely a model for how to tackle the many complex and serious issues our district and our families are facing.

Lisa Schiff is the parent of two children who attend Everett Middle School in the San Francisco Unified School District and is a member of Parents for Public Schools of San Francisco and the PTA and is a board member at the national level of Parents for Public Schools.

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