The New Student Assignment Plan will have some odd consequences that may not be apparent at first glance.
First, I cannot overstate the importance of the elimination of the distance tie-breaker. This means that students living in the Rainier Beach attendance area will have the same chance for assignment to Ballard High School as a student living in Crown Hill, just north of the Ballard attendance area. Thanks to the end of the distance tie-breaker and the creation of the 10% set-aside for out-of-area students, 8th graders living in the south-end will suddenly have access to Ballard, Roosevelt, and Garfield like never before. Of course, a lot of those out-of-area seats will go to siblings of students who gained access under the old rules, but that can't last long. Between the greater access to the popular schools in the North-end, the predicted availability of seats at high schools in West Seattle, and STEM drawing away every local motivated student, Rainier Beach High School will continue to be be significantly under-enrolled.
Second, I don't think a lot of people will participate in Open Enrollment. Remember that prior to Open Enrollment, everyone is going to get a letter with their child's default assignment. That letter will say "Your child has been assigned to _____ School for the 2010-2011 school year." A lot of people will not think that there is any decision for them to make or any action for them to take. This will be the case among the less engaged families in particular. They will think it is over. Also, a lot of the families living in the attendance area for a popular school will be done. They will accept that assignment and choose not to participate in Open Enrollment. The media and the common wisdom is that Seattle has gone to a neighborhood assignment plan and that's it. Case Closed. Choice is Over. The District has not gone out of their way to dispel that notion. The only people who will be participating in Open Enrollment will be those who are not accepting their default assignment - people choosing Option schools and people who find their attendance area school unacceptable. But FIRST they have to know that they CAN choose another school, and I think that number will be way down. There are going to be a lot of people - particularly in the communities that are difficult for the District to engage - who won't know they have a choice.
Third, the absence of geographic zones this year may have its greatest impact at South Shore K-8 (formerly The New School). This is the best funded school in the District (if not the state). This is the school that the superintendent chose for her own child (instead of their reference area school). Without a geographic zone or any sort of distance tie-breaker, enrollment at this school has been thrown open to the whole city on a totally equal basis. Moreover, with their big new building, I expect this school will have to expand enrollment to make good use of the space. If you EVER wanted to get your child into this school, THIS may be your best chance. I don't know how many people are willing to drive their child back and forth from this school from outside the neighborhood, but if you were thinking that private school was your only option and you were going to have to drive to and from the private school, you should consider South Shore as an alternative. Given the goals of the New School Foundation, I would expect South Shore to get a very carefully drawn geographic zone in the future. This year, however, the only tie-breakers are siblings and lottery. Go for it.
Fourth, the tie-breakers for access to Elementary Spectrum are Service Area and Lottery. This means that a Spectrum-eligible student living in the Wedgwood attendance area has no better chance of getting assigned to Wedgwood Spectrum than a Spectrum-eligible student living in the Bryant attendance area. Heads up for that.
There may be a number of other odd consequences of the New Student Assignment Plan that aren't obvious. We still have to see the Program Placement decisions. They are due in February, prior to the start of Open Enrollment. In particular, it will be interesting to see which elementary schools will have Spectrum programs. There will be interesting consequences if its Muir for the Washington Service Area, Hawthorne for the Mercer Service Area and Laurelhurst for the Hamilton Service Area as the staff have proposed.