Friday, August 30, 2013


Thoughts and insight on:

SFUSD  2012-13 Annual Report on Student Assignment 

I recommend to anyone who wants to comment on this thread to first read the report or to skim it if time doesn't permit.

This post focuses on the race-related data in isolated schools and how this data is reported and analyzed by SFUSD. I believe the statistics are used to mislead rather than inform upon the issue of racial isolation. That said, I think SFUSD is on the wrong track by focusing its attentions on diversity rather than student achievement given the paucity of data that links more diversity with significantly greater student achievement. Not to imply that diversity is not in and of itself a good thing, but the purpose of a school district is not, as the United States Supreme Court has ruled, to alter the racial demographics of schools, but to teach students a curriculum that will further their abilities to be productive members of society. Be that as it may, is SFUSD's diversity goal being met? (jump to "isolated schools" for the answer)



Reading the above report was a trying experience. It brings tears to the eyes imagining the cost in the millions of dollars required to develop, implement and maintain all the complex pieces of this new student assignment system (P5101) - piles of money that could have gone directly to classrooms that are so much in need of extra funding, money that's being spent for a purpose with limited value and less chance of success. To understand the folly of this new system is to understand the ethnocentric predilection of SFUSD leadership, to understand how race politics is paramount in the minds of the leaders and to understand that student achievement is little more than an afterthought to them.

At the time of this writing, two weeks after the start of the school year, there are still hundreds of people who are hoping to get a call from EPC to receive news of their children's assignments because of this complicated, slow  and laborious assignment system. Frustrated parents across the city are wringing their hands and hoping against hope to get that call with good news. Many have spent every day at the district placement office hoping to be able to advocate for their children's best school placement. In the meantime, classrooms are in flux, students are coming and going and all this is a major disruption to the teachers and their students.


Anyone who has followed this process knows as it clearly states  in the Board resolution as well as in the subsequent literature that the purpose of the assignment system is, first and foremost, to decrease racial isolation (increase diversity). The text is replete with race language despite numerous studies in case after case showing more diversity having very limited efficacy on student achievement .  The resolution  also says that school choice is only a tactic in the larger context of decreasing isolation, not the purpose of the resolution which is diversity - an outdated reform by modern standards that focus on achievement.

So is the new assignment system decreasing isolation and increasing diversity given that these are the stated goals? They say a trend won't reveal itself for several more years. I doubt that's true and I'll tell you why. On p.14 of the report it says:

 "Our current student assignment system has been in place for two years, which means it has been used to assign students to six out of 13 grades (kindergarten, 1st grade, 6th grade, 7th grade, 9th grade, and 10th grade). Over these two years, there has not been a shift in the number of schools with an enrollment of more than 60% of a single race/ethnicity".

The devil is in the details. Having looked at the data for the 26 schools that had more than 60% of one race and have an API rank of 1, 2 or 3 (racially isolated), 15 of them increased in isolation while only 8 decreased and three were neutral between the years 2009 and 2012. Is this subterfuge on the part of the District and the way they report the numbers? I think so. Please see for yourself starting on p.11 of the report.

There's a distinct increase in isolation when one looks at actual percentages rather than deciles that cover up the true numbers. SFUSD states in the report that the results appear relatively flat so far. Not true. Currently isolated schools are moving towards greater isolation overall.  They say that it will take years to determine a trend.  But two years into the policy we already have double the number of schools getting more rather than less isolated.


Moving on to the next point, the Board says a diverse applicant pool is essential to a diverse school. True. Below they also say  the assignment system is only one factor in determining applicant pool diversity, betting an entire assignment system's success on altering those pools:

"Student assignment has a role to play in reversing the trend of racial isolation and the concentration of underserved students in schools; however student assignment alone cannot overcome the complex elements that contribute to the current state. For example, the demographics of the city, parent request patterns, and language pathways all have an impact on the demographics of our schools."

The SFUSD strategic plan says that demographics is the biggest predictor of student achievement and it's widely accepted that schools can only exert so much influence over social factors  which can enhance or impede achievement. But when it comes to student assignment the leadership overlooks the predictive power of demographics and indulges itself in the notion that it can change many of the same social factors that drive school choice decision-making - that it can increase diversity of the applicant pools despite the social factors that inhibit diversity.  SFUSD's free ticket called CTIP1 is based upon a contrivance that a  family will travel cross town twice every day to exercise a preferential seat at a school further from home. How many people will travel across town even once to see a movie that doesn't interest them just because they get a free ticket? How about twice a day 180 times a year? The CTIP preference hasn't worked so far because it is extremely difficult to change people's ideas about where they want to attend school and especially those people for whom travel poses a particularly difficult challenge, and, as such, it is unwise to predicate an entire assignment system  on believing it will change attitudes without any data to back up such a supposition. You cannot force people in a free country to do things that they don't want to do when given a choice otherwise. Districts across the country have failed for decades to convince people to voluntarily swap out their neighborhood schools for distant schools that pose much greater challenges in time, money, convenience and comfort.
With a stated 20% reserve for CTIP1 applicants at high schools, the Superintendent has had to let many of those spots go to non CTIP1 applicants because of this lack of demand by those students who simply don't want to attend schools far from home, particularly as school bus service has decreased. At elementary schools the CTIP1 preference has been largely unused by those that attend the racially isolated and underserved schools which remain even more isolated because, as SFUSD would have you believe, the families don't know any better for lack of outreach. But the fact is that those target applicants will and are choosing the schools that serve their communities, not the distant ones, and rather than coming to terms with the idea sooner than later that the CTIP1 golden tickets are not the carrot they were attended to be, the District is telling us that the trend has not yet been revealed and that it will take several more years. Unless we see a sea change in attitudes this lack of interest in utilizing CTIP is likely to persist. In the meantime many families of means have been able to get trophy placements using their own CTIP addresses. The transportation and convenience issues are far less important to them. QED


Lastly, I don't know why the Board would only classify as racially isolated those schools that have both 60% of one race AND an API decile rank of 1,2 or 3 when there are many other racially isolated schools in the district. If  diversity is the general goal, why only label underperforming schools as racially isolated when other schools are equally isolated?


In any case, it seems that only in San Francisco school leaders still believe in the debunked theory that diversity increases academic performance. If they don't believe in that hackneyed theory to explain this assignment system, they would be abdicating their primary responsibility to educate our children and instead would be engaging in a social engineering experiment with no proven educational benefit, likely perpetrated upon the school public to espouse a politically correct diversity agenda despite its actual value in increasing diversity. That is to say, in politics appearances and good intentions are is often more important that real results, which can be fudged, as in the case here. While consent decree orders have expired here and elsewhere with a whimper, school districts across the country have retrenched and rethought their assignment policies and have moved on to other academic and achievement-related reforms.  Expensive diversity-first agendas have been a colossal failure and this sixty year old American experiment has driven new thinking about the way students learn and what is the proper role of school districts. But not the SFUSD.

Do we desire diversity and want to promote it? Yes. One of my children attends a very diversified middle school, but the school lacks sufficient funding. With all the costs and resources spent attempting to achieve greater diversity through this and  former assignment systems, all the while failing to achieve it, we are taking our eyes off the prize  of student achievement.  This year SFUSD has turned flat in math and negative in English on the STAR tests, and in the meantime we are putting our children's education in peril by throwing precious education dollars down the drain for an unproven  and questionable purpose for a school district.  Strangely enough,  if SFUSD really wants to generate more school diversity, it need only take advantage of the inherent diversity of our city's neighborhoods and assign students geographically.



Don Krause said...

I have to apologize right from the start because I somehow deleted 4 comments accidently. I've spent more time trying to write worthwhile posts than in trying to understand the inside workings of blogger. I still have the four comments saved in blogger, 3 quite short and one longer, but I can't copy then to repost.

Once again, my apologies to those that commented. I will do my best to avoid that happening again.

Anonymous said...

I would say the elephant in the room is the middle to high income parent from the Mission, Western Addition, Excelsior, Glen Park, Bernal Heights, Bayview, Potrero Hill and a few other neighborhoods who knows how to use the algorithm to get into a west side school. If you could prevent this, it'd be better. Parents for Public Schools has a high number of these people in high positions and advises parents how to use the algorithm to game the system. The reason this is particularly immoral is that the purpose is diversity. If you are going to a west side school when your own neighborhood school is suffering from few white/Asian/middle class parents and at the same time making a family near the school miserable with no resulting diversity impact, you are being immoral. They should say you have to be poor to do it, CTIP1 and CTIP1, but you as an individual, regardless of algorithm/switch trick, cannot displace anyone who wants to go to their own neighborhood school unless you are truly a poor, disadvantaged person.

Anonymous said...

It would be interesting to see the percentages by race from the preceding years before 2009. Maybe they have been growing more isolated for some time.

Don Krause said...

Going camping with a broken leg turned out to be a real pain in the neck - or in this case, a pain in the back caused by limping. But the kids had fun. I hope everyone enjoyed the holiday.

I did look at longer term statistics for a couple of those schools as someone suggested in the previous comment. The homogeneity of the schools were on a very slight downward trend, almost statistically negligible, until 2010 when they turn reversed and turned a little more isolated. Is it a trend? What constitutes a trend. If the current situation of more isolation persists, they will look back and see the trend beginning with the implementation of the assignment system. The first year you can call a blip. The second year becomes a red flag. If the statistics in the third year, this year, continue much the same, I would call that a trend. But you can be sure SFUSD won't because that would be admitting failure. Either way, they are not reporting the real numbers by lumping them into deciles where multiples of ten hold some special and magical importance.

Anonymous said...

Don they have stats from 2008-2009 on the web site. They haven't updated their demographic stats in years. They falsify stats all the time. I registered my daughter as white and SFUSD re-registered her as Hispanic, just because they felt like it, maybe it helps them in some way, not sure. They put many whites as DS and ONW to get stats in a certain way, and they overstate the percentage on free and reduced lunch or disability.

Don, I don't believe any of their stats. I don't believe one word the board says. They lied in public many times. Prop H was just one example.

Don Krause said...

Ok, that's fine to tell us your personal experience. But one experience is not a trend and you have to back up your assertion of wrongdoing with facts, otherwise it is nothing more than an accusation. That is what I have tried to do here with these statistics. If I have it wrong then I'd like to know. But the case I laid out seems reasonable, IMHO.

SFUSD does have ethnic stats and it can be crosschecked at the CDE. But the source is SFUSD so they are likely t be identical. I'm not questioning the validity of the stats themselves, though you raise a good point. Many people write down ethnicity and there is no attempt to verify. I'm making assertions on the basis of what I've been given in the report at the top of the post.

I have two children and they are half white, half Japanese. I always mark both white and Asian. There are no established parameters as to how to definitively identify ethnicity AFAIK.

Anonymous said...

The one thing they cannot legislate away is that most truly disadvantaged people don't want to go to school far from home and many relatively advantaged people close to a bad school, even those who say they are liberal, will do anything to avoid that school. Therefore any system which enables gamesmanship among those who care and apathy among those who don't will, ironically, end up more segregated than neighborhood schools. The ideal would be to have buses ONLY for those on free or reduced lunch. Every system they come up with has a gimmick, and everyone connected always wins.

Do you actually think there was a chance Chris Miller, enemy of the board, would have gotten her daughter into Presidio and Eric Mar would be driving his daughter to Marina or Visitation Valley or Francisco every day? Do you truly think this was an equally likely scenario as what happened? If so, I have a bridge I'd like to sell you.

Don Krause said...

I don't think board members lay around at night sticking pins in my look alike doll or pay one second of time on me unless I'm in a group challenging them with a ballot initiative as we did 3 years ago. But they don't like me and still I don't believe they would have any part in using their influence to give my children a bad assignment. We got assigned to Presidio so I would have to say I think you are incorrect in that regard.

Anonymous said...

I do think they will ultimately decide it is impossible to increase diversity. It's kind of like the homeless budget, spend more, attract more homeless, spend less, more current homeless suffer. It's lose-lose. With assignment, every system they have come up with leads those with more means to try to take spots far from home and virtually no one truly disadvantaged, not fake/on paper but truly disadvantaged, to take those spots. It may simply be impossible without busing and race-consciousness which are no longer legal.

This system makes me think, why not include other indicators, but that was what the last system did and it was an absolute failure. Without the money for busing and satellite zones, I don't know if a system can be designed which will integrate the schools. It may be better to innovate, try to get better teachers at the SZ zones, try to provide more services, require more tutoring, require struggling kids to go to that tutoring, I'm sure there are millions of other ideas.

After over a decade of horrific new systems which drive the middle class out of SF and into private schools, we have decreasing integration despite increasingly integrated neighborhoods and the lowest performance of black and Latino students of the 137 largest districts in California, in the words of Sam Rodriguez and EdTrust.

It simply hasn't worked. My guess is they'll try to stay in denial for a while, but will at some point admit it, maybe around 2020, if we're lucky.

There's talk of another ballot initiative in 2015, but who knows if that will actually materialize.

Anonymous said...

It's very clear that students who actually listen [rather than talk during lessons] learn more and achieve better grades than those who don't. For whatever reason, a disproportionately high number of black and latino students talk a great deal in class and get poor grades. Diversity indexes and such like merely obscure this reality; they don't change it.

Financially punishing schools which suspend more than a certain percentage of black students and calling it "ethnic disproportionality" is a bullying tactic used by SFUSD tp support its sheer and utter
denial. Nobody wants to face the real issues of single parent families [often a Mother's ticket to section 8 housing] etc, etc, etc.Instead SFUSD enables lousy student behavior with its overuse of Restorative Circles as if suspending a "student of color" were a sin.

Speak honestly about these issues and somebody will call you a "rascist" [a term coined in 1930 by Leon Trotsky, mass murderer and founder of the Soviet Red Army]. In the absence of open dialog which avoids manipulative, puerile labels such as "Racism", "Sexism", "Homophobia", "Anti- Semitism", "Sterotype" "Ageism" and so on, SFUSD and our public institutions will continue their enablement of "Victims" unopposed .

The founders of Political Correctness [who certainly weren't raised in poverty and were mostly white] were clever and manipulative people who chose those terms very carefully, -to shut down dissent! Most people Liberal or Conservative don't believe the P.C. crap that institutions such as SFUSD constantly insult our intelligence with. Yet they tolerate this prattle out of fear of being called one of the P.C terms that seek to shut down free speech and independent thought.

"SFUSD, always ready to sacrifice the needs of the many for the few" God bless her! Whoops, I forgot that in the land of political correctness we can't use the word "God", its part of the "Patriarchy"

What a mess we're in! The only way out of a problem is to first admit the existence of that problem [low grades amongst Black and Latino students directly correlated to the amount of talking done in class]. Yet sure enough, someone will come along and call you [or me] a "racist".

To those of you who feel the urge to do that, I urge you to first consider whether there might actually be a relationship between the amount of non-relevant talking an individual student in class and a students test scores. Then feel free to call me whatever you like!

-A retired SFUSD teacher.