Friday, July 12, 2013

THE STUDENT ASSIGNMENT GAME OF SPITBALL



I'm not one for conspiracy theories, but I've often wondered if SFUSD's preoccupation with student assignment isn't just a game of spitball intended to distract parents from the real education issues, ones the District doesn't want you to think about - like how we spend our district dollars, if or how we evaluate teacher performance and, last but not least, how we make each classroom the best place for student achievement. 
Of course I don't really think it is a conspiracy in the true sense. It's more a game of subterfuge with some ideological bullheadedness thrown in. In years past we did have to comply with the consent decree court orders and certain seminal court decisions as they applied to student assignment and desegregation.  In 2013, SFUSD is years past mandated diversification through forced student assignment. All attempts here and elsewhere failed during those many decades to have much influence over diversity, which has been proven over time to have had little influence over the primary goal of academic achievement. But that hasn't stopped our District from going headlong again down the same diversity-above-all path in the name of an ideologically driven idea of social justice.  Other similar urban districts have refocused on the prize, academic achievement , while SFUSD spends much of its time and energy on its complicated and arcane student assignment system and the fourteen schools in the Superintendent Zones to the exclusion of the other ninety. In the name of social justice SFUSD has ignored the needs of students in those ninety other schools of our district. In the name of social justice SFUSD allocates district funds away from the coffers of some schools into the coffers of others. But when it comes to what's really important, student achievement, no one says a thing, especially the members of the Board of Education, unless they are talking about the fourteen.

This happens in part because the San Francisco public school community lacks clout. No one is fighting for the interests of the ninety school majority. There's a dearth of reform-minded advocacy organizations here, which is not the case in LA and San Diego. The Board has a single-minded ultra-liberal agenda and there are no detractors because they've  up and left SFUSD  for greener more moderate education pastures.  Whereas the disenfranchised are usually the ones who gravitate to rebellion and reform, they're long gone and what's left are parents who are singularly preoccupied with the assignment lottery. And on that assignment battlefront we expend most of our educational  steam. Figuring out how to get into the right school is not only time-consuming, it's emotionally draining. It's a preoccupation that exposes us both politically and personally.

Two years ago Prop H, the neighborhood schools measure, divided the city in half. As witnessed on another blog, SF K Files, student assignment raises deep political divides within the parent community, adding to what I like to think of as "education fatigue". In this milieu, centered around the misguided policies of diversity over achievement, the most important education issues go by the wayside. Parents, concerned with getting a boarding pass, forget to notice whether the ship is seaworthy. They have a refugee mentality. They're just glad to have passed go with the lottery while the assignment game losers beat it out of town or head to the private schools. 

Everyone knows getting accepted into college and getting a degree are two different things. Enrollment in a good school and a good education are also different. We spend far too much time doing the first.  Meanwhile school budget deficiencies are being exacerbated by SFUSD's spending policies. Satisfied with any school over an API of 800, district leaders move funding to schools under 800 . Talk to any principal outside the Superintendent Zones and they'll tell you what they have to deal with.  SFUSD doesn't want to talk about its  policies - its lop-sided funding of schools, its complacency over failing teachers or its lack of any larger plan to make all classrooms successful, not just those in 14 schools.

Tired and worn out trying to raise a family in a family-unfriendly city,  parents must undergo yet another rigor having to compete with each other over student assignment and spending time commuting to schools far from home. It's SFUSD's Hunger Games. This is happening because SFUSD tells us that it is more important to have the opportunity to attend any school than it is to be able to attend one in their own neighborhood. They say we are just one big community. Have they noticed? The communities in San Francisco couldn't be more different.

With the  time-consuming distraction of our assignment system the District has tamed the alternative voices in our community, resurrecting a failed period of forced student assignment policies. Busy competing for entrance to affordable public education, parents aren't thinking about how those schools will survive SFUSD's school funding paradigm.

The lottery might not be a conspiracy, but it's a spitball - or perhaps "screwball" would be the more apt term.

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

If not absolute zones, they could at least guarantee everyone an elementary school within 1 mile, 2 max, and highest priority for local residents if the person bumping is not poor and Latino or African American or Samoan or Native American. Or at least poor. Many middle class people bump other middle class people, some who would have made their own neighborhood school more diverse by going, I see white and Asian parents at Alamo and Presidio from the Tenderloin, the Mission, the Fillmore, these aren't liberal victims, they are middle class people of privelege who would make their own school more diverse.

It does distract, you're right. It takes us away from focusing on the achievement gap, how much tutoring is available for kids, how many hours kids study, how hard they study, how their behavior in class is. Dennis Kelly was against it because it would have forced him to address study habits, not the ubiquitous vague villain of poverty. If parents had control, it would take it from the union, who wants to control who is on the school board and control them like puppets.

Anonymous said...

I don't know if that's the reason but extremely little effort has been made to close the achievement gap or even investigate why it is so persistent. The union has no strategy to close the achievement gap, merely claiming poverty is the only issue and if it could be solved, which they know it can't, you could improve performance. I haven't heard Ed Lee, Dennis Kelly, or anyone else address this issue in significant detail.

Don Krause said...

There's a problem with your idea about guaranteeing a school within a certain distance. In BVHP there are far more students than seats available. This is the aftermath of assignment policies and school closures that resulted from them. Unless you build out capacity, many student in those areas have no choice to be sent further afield. Of course some of theme would prefer to be closer to home and some are willing to travel further, even without busing. I don't know what the facts and figures are but a guarantee might work out for the ones who want to stay close to home. On the other hand it might not work out. But in that regard, many people who want to attend a school close to home can't because of the competition for spots and the lottery. But those are usually higher performing schools than most found in BVHP. Anyway, SFUSD has a grander plan. They'd prefer if all kids from BVHP were scattered throughout the district, regardless of what the parents of those children want.

Anonymous said...

The lottery is more about providing equal opportunity than it is about diversity.

Don Krause said...

11:09 Equal opportunity in the legal sense? Or do you mean everyone should get a chance at any school?

In response to 4:16 where he said there hasn't been much effort to close achievement gap or investigate it persistence - I don't know where you've been, but this area has probably been researched more than any other single topic concerning education. There are a multitude of studies to read from, some of which have been front page news.

Anonymous said...

I've never seen the Chronicle address hours studies per week by ethnicity, I had to search and find it in some random academic site. All the key info, you have to find on academic sites. If it's so important for AA kids to go to a diverse school, why do AA and L kids at Presidio, Gianninni and Hoover do worse than Asian and White kids at James Lick, Visitation Valley, Denman, etc? No one wants to go there. It's based on home support, hours studies per week, focus in class. At Presidio African American kids are 5% of the school and 45% of the suspensions, but now they want to cover that up by not suspending anyone. We aren't addressing the persistence of demographics and why it is so hard for everyone except Asians to do well if poor.

Anonymous said...

If we didn't have a lottery people on one side of the city would have inferior schools. This doesn't seem fair to me. Shouldn't everyone get an equal chance?

Whether the lottery is a diversion I don't know. But I do know the administration is devoted to making this school district more diverse.

Don Krause said...

Diversity is a obviously worthwhile goal. There's another higher goal, though. It's student achievement and the Supreme Court has ruled on this. Diversification is not the purpose of a school district. Schools cannot be held to responsible for integrating communities.

On the other hand that doesn't mean SFUSD can't try. But it not been demonstrated that diversity leads to greater student achievement. What really important is that everyone have the same opportunities within their neighborhoods so that no one is required to spend more time and effort just getting to and from school.

Anonymous said...

Why does one side of the city have inferior schools? Why is it that even with the lottery we still have failing schools? Wouldn't it make sense to implement a policy that addresses those issues and improve those schools instead of holding the rest of the city hostage? That doesn't seem fair to me.

Most people, low income or not, wants convenience. Most want to send their kids to schools that are closer to home or along their commute route for scheduling reasons. Using the lottery to force the issue of diversity is not practical. Parents from the south east side of the city will not send their kids to the west side of the city because it is logistically impractical.

Anonymous said...

The parents on the East side who will go to a school far away are the most well off of such districts, and deprive their local school of diversity. They should strictly limit those taking west side spots to low income, low education students. We should try to guarantee a reasonable distance so families can plan to stay. I know at Alamo, Over 95% of the families taking spots from outside the district are white or Asian and not on free or reduced lunch. Most of the reduced and free lunch students are from the area. Those driving in have a car, time, etc.

Don Krause said...
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Don Krause said...
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Anonymous said...

If there is no certainty you will not get those with the most options. There is too much political correctness. You can get diverse schools, we have, but you can't talk about why some kids outperform others. Hard work is part of it, but resources is another. Integration is only a first step and not even really necessary. What is necessary is the focused approach, giving kids, as Geoffrey Canada says, what it takes to get them to a certain place, not just this much and if they don't get there, too bad. That's why KIPP is such a high performing school. They fire bad teachers, they provide support, and they don't accept excuses, they require a wholesale cultural change in the families. KIPP is the example to follow more than Lowell. Lowell is just good because it gets the best students. KIPP has a system which works.

Anonymous said...

There are lots of great examples of reforms leading to success in schools that have struggled historically. What there aren't a lot of examples of are teachers unions signing on to any of them. I'm afraid that this blog is all so much talk. Until we have some really monumental changes that affect the whole way we go about educating, we won't see much change. And it certainly isn't going to happen from within the establishment.

Anonymous said...

Very true, I've paid a lot of attention to what the union says as I've seen them at a lot of education forums. They always seem to talk about issues they've been talking about for 40 years and which have made no difference. It is very difficult to see a way that anything they propose would make a difference. Poverty? We have school lunch yet still hear the kids can't learn because they're hungry, even when the ethnicities they say are malnourished have higher levels of obesity than the ethnicities which are thriving. Money? Double it, very little would change, we'd just be deeper in debt. Look at DC. You won't see true education reform until you can decide which teachers to hire, fire and promote based on merit.

Anonymous said...

I'm 100% in agreement with that.

Don