Developing a Community Based Student Assignment System for SFUSD

First Reading

Subject: Resolution №189–25A1

- Commissioner Stevon Cook, Rachel Nortn and Matt Haney

WHEREAS: Families should have a right to predictability, simplicity, and transparency as they go through the student assignment system. The student assignment process is often one of the first experiences that families have with the district; and

WHEREAS: Student assignment alone does not create quality schools, but has a role in creating diverse learning environments where all students can flourish and providing equitable access to the range of opportunities available in SFUSD; and

WHEREAS: The SFUSD strongly believes that students are best served in learning environments that are racially and socioeconomically integrated; and

WHEREAS: There is a robust body of research that demonstrates benefits for all students from diversity — academic, cognitive, social; and

WHEREAS: In 2008, the Board of Education recognized that the student assignment system was not meeting SFUSD’s long time goals of reducing racial isolation and improving educational opportunities and outcomes for all students; and

WHEREAS: In 2008, the Board of Education recognized that the student assignment system at the time was often unpredictable, time consuming and difficult to understand; and

WHEREAS: The Board of Education initiated a process in 2008, which included demographic studies, establishing priorities, designing and analyzing different options, gather community feedback, simulating different options, redrawing attendance area boundaries, presenting options to the Board, and ultimately kicking off the enrollment period for the 2011–2012 school year under the new system; and

WHEREAS: A high level summary of key findings from the community reports, including:

• * Most families want their school communities to reflect San Francisco’s socioeconomic and cultural diversity. But for families across the city, diversity is often trumped by a school’s location, academic quality, and their own feeling of belonging.

• Even families who are happy with their children’s schools want more predictability in the enrollment process and are uncomfortable with a process that feels excessively complicated or random.

• Families want SFUSD to provide clear and accessible information that will help them choose a school that is a good fit for their child.

• Families want to participate fully in the enrollment process, but many encounter significant language, time, and information barriers.

WHEREAS: After this process, the Board of Education was presented with six different options: lottery with local school preference, lottery with academic diversity preference, zones, local school with choice, and local schools with restricted choice; and

WHEREAS: At the time, the desired hope was that the lottery, combined with local school preference and academic diversity preference, would lead to more integrated schools, more equity, and greater simplicity and predictability; and

WHEREAS: The new policy, which is still mostly unchanged at the elementary school level, was intended to minimize the number of racially isolated schools, decrease the number of under enrolled schools, and make equitable access to high quality opportunities independent of on time participation in the student assignment system;

WHEREAS: The three primary goals of SFUSD’s current adopted student assignment policy are:

- Reduce the trend of racial isolation and underserved students in the same school.

- Provide equitable access to the range of opportunities offered to students.

- Provide transparency at every stage of the process.

WHEREAS: Policy 5101, which established the current assignment system, had 10 goals: facilitate student diversity, work in alignment with other District initiatives, support strategic use of limited resources, provide equitable access, create robust enrollments at all schools, be simple, easy to understand and transparent, offer families a degree of predictability, minimize the degree of effort families must invest, permit the efficient use of school facilities and transportation, be cost effective to implement and sustain overtime; and

WHEREAS: The current school assignment system has thus far not significantly reversed the trend of racial isolation and the concentration of historically underserved students in the same school; and

WHEREAS: The number of schools with more than 60% of a single race/ethnicity grew from 24 to 30 schools in 2015–2016. Since 2015–2016, there has been a reduction in the total number of racially isolated schools, due in large part to the overall reduction in African American students in the district. There has also been a significant increase in the racial isolation of a significant number of schools; and

WHEREAS: SFUSD is one of the only, potentially the sole, major urban district with an “all choice” lottery based system. The large majority of urban school systems in California and around the country provide for a neighborhood school based assignment to an elementary school, while others have controlled choice with citywide options, controlled choice within zones, or individualized controlled choice based on a family’s address; and

WHEREAS: SFUSD’s choice system has increased inequity and has not provided equitable access to a range of opportunities. Meaningful ability to choose is inequitably distributed, and therefore the “all choice” system has accelerated inequitable choices and outcomes in our district; and

WHEREAS: Choice systems are limited in their ability to reverse the trend of racial isolation and the concentration of underserved students in the same school because the applicant pools for individual schools are racially isolated, and all families do not have the same opportunity to choose schools and submit choices; and

WHEREAS: District analyses have concluded that the current student assignment system exacerbates racial segregation significantly and exacerbates socioeconomic segregation; and

WHEREAS: A lack of predictability in student assignment can lead to significant anxiety and stress for families, can be time consuming and burdensome, and at times lead families to choose private schools or move out of the city; and

WHEREAS: Despite the fact that transparency is one of the primary goals of the current system, there continues to be widespread concerns about transparency, as well as lack of accessibility, predictability, and simplicity; and

WHEREAS: The student assignment system was revised to include “middle school feeders,” in order to offer families a degree of predictability and create community. Since then, we have seen a dramatic growth in the percentage of families that are choosing their middle school feeder school, demonstrating the power of predictability and cohorts; and

WHEREAS: There continue to be serious concerns with the effectiveness and fairness of the “CTIP preference”, which has not been an effective way to ensure equitable access to high quality schools or desegregate racially isolated schools; and

WHEREAS: Despite significant changes to neighborhood demographics over the last 10 years, there have been no changes to the individual attendance areas, other than small changes to two areas; and

WHEREAS: Families traveling across the city to attend schools far from their home increases congestion, can contribute to tardiness and truancy, and increases difficulty in ensuring strong community connections to local schools; and

WHEREAS: In 2016, the school district did a simulation of a “neighborhood” model that showed fewer racially isolated schools than our current assignment system, and the size of ethnic majorities at schools is smaller under the neighborhood model. This simulation did not include more intentionally drawing lines to enhance diversity; and

WHEREAS: In this simulation, the average SBAC proficiency score is higher at most schools, and the average commuting distance is lower; and

WHEREAS: There continues to be a mismatch between where students live and where schools are located, with not enough schools and spots for students in the south east part of the city; and

WHEREAS: Given the mismatch between where students live and where our schools are located it is not at present time physically possible for every child to enroll in their attendance area school with current attendance area school capacities; and

WHEREAS: SFUSD has a significant number of citywide schools or strands, often language based, that are not a part of any particular attendance area; and

WHEREAS: Any move away from an all lottery based system would have to ensure that families can access a school that is relatively close to their home, accessible, while also maintain a strong commitment to equity and integration; and

WHEREAS: In San Diego Unified, Long Beach Unified, Fresno Unified, Sacramento City School District, Elk Grove Unified, Capistrano Unified, and nearly every other major school district in California, a student can enroll directly at their “neighborhood,” “home” or “base” school without going through a school choice process. School choice applications are only necessary if you want to attend a school other than your neighborhood school. In most cases, enrollment occurs at the school itself, not the district office; and

WHEREAS: School districts across the country have had success with drawing intentionally diverse attendance area zones to maximize integration within attendance area schools; and

WHEREAS: In Berkeley Unified School District, the city is divided into 3 zones, and within each zone, families are guaranteed access to one of a set of elementary schools. The zones are designed to maximize diversity. Families can then make choices within that zone; and

WHEREAS: Boston Public Schools uses a “Home Based “student assignment system, where each family is offered a customized list of school choices based on where the family lives. A family’s list includes every school located within a one mile radius of a family’s home, and also includes other schools based on performance factors.

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED: The SFUSD will initiate a process to develop a new student assignment system, which will be predicated on greater predictability, transparency, accessibility to neighborhood options, equity, and a strong commitment to integrated schools; and

FURTHER BE IT RESOLVED: The revised student assignment system will end the “all lottery” based approach for elementary schools, and will instead include either (1) an initial or “home” based assignment with choice of citywide or specialized options, (2) individualized choice based on a family’s home address, or (3) a zone based assignment within which they will have guaranteed access to a set of schools, or some blended approach that best meets the needs of San Francisco families; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED: Any revised student assignment system would not require anyone who is already enrolled in a school to change schools; and

FURTHER BE IT RESOLVED: The goals of any new student assignment system should strive to guarantee the following rights for families:

1. Access to an elementary school within a reasonable geographic distance and accessible to transit

2. Access to a high quality school

3. Access to a diverse school

4. Access to a school where sibling(s) attend

5. A predictable, transparent and accessible student assignment system

6. A human centered process, which should include options of schools with information online and in language of preference

7. The opportunity to have the final choice rest with the family

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED: The Board of Education directs the Superintendent to develop a plan, which will include extensive outreach to families, staff, and community, and to develop a recommendation for revised student assignment system to present back to the Board of Education; and

FURTHER BE IT RESOLVED: The Board of Education directs the Superintendent to conduct an analysis of transportation needs and plans, as they relate to student assignment; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED: The Superintendent’s plan should include a timeline for feedback, review and implementation.


Stevon Cook