School lottery sacked, but questions remain 

School officials have agreed to disband the long-criticized lottery assigning children to public schools in The City, though questions remain whether a new system scheduled to begin in fall 2011 can offer adequate education and racially diverse classrooms at schools citywide.

During a marathon meeting that lasted late into Tuesday night, the Board of Education voted unanimously to replace the complex assignment lottery that has frustrated parents for years with a new system that largely emphasizes sending kids to schools near to their home and uses test scores to achieve academic diversity citywide.

For years, parents and school officials have wanted to change the nearly decade-old lottery that uses socio-economic factors when assigning student to schools. The system was the latest attempt to diversify schools in The City stemming from a 1978 lawsuit decrying racial segregation.

However, the system has ultimately failed to diversify schools and has done more to frustrate parents.

The new system voted in Tuesday does is not expected to solve the diversity void at schools, and officials say there is no system in existence that is perfect. But the process has been amended recently in an effort to achieve greater academic equality in schools citywide.

The goal of the new system is to offer a more predictable school assignment method for parents without abandoning The City’s goal of offering both academic and racial diversity in schools, officials said.

There are reservations about the new system. Board members and civil rights groups are worried that a more neighborhood-centric assignment process will decrease diversity. The district said it will monitor the system annually to ensure that will not happen.

Some parents Tuesday said they did not feel the system goes far enough to create neighborhood schools, since elementary and middle school students living in low test score areas will have priority in choice of a school over those living near the school. They reasoned that schools nearby their home saves on traveling time, makes it easier and more affordable for parents to be active at schools and ultimately will keep families from moving to the suburbs.

Some parents complained the new system will not get rid of the chaotic atmosphere of the current system, where parents must strategize and jockey-for-position to get their kids into their school of choice.

Other parents said the school assignment process would not be this controversial if the district ensured that every neighborhood in The City, low or high income, equally had quality schools.

The district needs to focus its attention on “teacher quality, principal quality and program placement” and ask questions such as, “Do we have the same kinds of programs distributed among all schools?” said Michelle Menegaz, chairwoman of the Parent Advisory Council.

However, distributing quality teachers, principals and programs equally across the district will not be easy as the district faces a $113 million deficit during the next two years, she said. The district plans to cut programs and lay off staff to deal with the fiscal troubles.

Nevertheless, the current system does not appear to have created an academically diverse schools system, according to results of test scores tabulated during the last three years.

A dozen schools in The City that made a state list this week for being among the lowest-performing in California are located in the Bayview, Mission and Western Addition districts, where low-income families, many of whom do not list English as their primary language, reside.


New parameters

The proposed tweak to the school assignment system would give preference to students based upon these factors (listed in order of priority):

Elementary schools
Siblings already attend school
2. Students living in attendance area of school and are attending a district pre-K program in same attendance area
3. CTIP1 (test scores, demographics)
4. Students living in attendance area
5. Students living in attendance areas with insufficient capacity
6. All other students

Middle schools
Students receive initial assignment to middle school based upon elementary school attended
2. Siblings
3. CTIP1 (test scores, demographics)
4. Attendance area
5. Students living in attendance areas with insufficient capacity
6. All other students

High schools
1. Siblings
2. CTIP1 (test scores, demographics)
3. All other students

Source: San Francisco Unified School District

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