Tuesday, September 18, 2007

More Thoughts on Student Assignment

So now the Seattle Times weighs in on the pro bono issue with an editorial this morning entitled "Winner Ought Not Take All". Considering that the Times' is a client of Davis Wright Tremaine, this might be considered a not-so-subtle hint to DWT.

Good for them. The Times' did make an odd statement:

"But in our view, the better method was investment in the struggling schools, not in a protracted legal fight. The U.S. Supreme Court's 5-4 ruling last winter outlawed the racial tiebreaker. As we predicted, the judgment came at a high cost, $435,000 in legal fees and growing racial isolation in some, mostly South End, schools."

I found it confusing that the Times says they had been for the District settling and that continuing created "growing racial isolation" in some schools. Well, wasn't that the point of the District continuing on - to fight racially segregated schools?

The Times' also says:

"The matter goes before a judge at the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Judicial temperament ought to rein in the legal fees. Somewhere between the costs of photocopying and billable hours lies a figure both sides can live with."

And I agree. If DWT is set on exacting a price from the District, then let the judge decide if the plantiffs did prevail (which has to be done legally, no matter what) and then the judge decides on a fee.

The other article which speaks to this on-going issue of school assignments was on the front page of the NY Times yesterday about a rezoning plan in Tuscaloosa, AL. This city of 83,000 is 54% white but the 10,000 student school district is 75% black. They have segregated neighborhoods similiar to Seattle and the schools tend to fall that way as well.

From the article:

"After white parents in this racially mixed city complained about school overcrowding, school authorities set out to draw up a sweeping rezoning plan. The results: all but a handful of the hundreds of students required to move this fall were black — and many were sent to virtually all-black, low-performing schools. " The plan ended up moving about 880 students, a little less than 10% of their student population.

The issue?

"Tuscaloosa’s rezoning dispute, civil rights lawyers say, is one of the first in which the No Child Left Behind law has become central, sending the district into uncharted territory over whether a reassignment plan can trump the law’s prohibition on moving students into low-performing schools."

From the school superintendent:

"Dr. Levey said that all students forced by the rezoning to move from a high- to a lower-performing school were told of their right under the No Child law to request a transfer."

However, the article notes that nationally, less than 2% of parents have used this law to transfer their students. But, since the rezoning in Tuscaloosa, at least 180 students (out of the 880) have requested a transfer.

How did this get started?

"At a meeting in February 2005, scores of parents from the two majority white elementary schools complained of overcrowding and discipline problems in the middle school their children were sent to outside of the northern enclave.

Ms. Tucker [a parent of a child in the district] said she, another board member and a teacher were the only blacks present. The white parents clamored for a new middle school closer to their homes. They also urged Dr. Levey to consider sending some students being bused into northern cluster schools back to their own neighborhood, Ms. Tucker said. Dr. Levey did not dispute the broad outlines of Ms. Tucker’s account."

To me, there's a ring of familiarity to this story (but, of course, there are many differences). What I wanted to point out was that we currently have a 90% first choice rate when parents enroll their children in SPS. I am pretty neutral on the issue of whether we should change from a choice system to a feeder system. I do believe, however, that if we do change, we will just have a different 10% people not happy with their assignment. We may gain more predictability but more happiness?

And, as this article makes clear, parents whose assignments place their children in underperforming schools can ask under NCLB to be reassigned. So when would this happen? After the feeder assignments which could force some high performing schools to open their doors wider? Or would the district have to take this into account during the assignment process so as to not overcrowd popular schools?

The District is taking the right steps now to shore up some south end schools. But that isn't going to happen overnight so NCLB may play an important role in our assignment plan especially as more parents become aware of this option.


Anonymous said...

I think in Seattle, folks are soon going to uncover evidence that choice + no race tie breaker results in increasing school segregation based on free lunch/race.

I also think the 90% first choice rate cited by the district underestimates who really gets their first choice, because people rank their choices based on possibility and they leave the system if they don't get a high enough choice.

Charlie Mas said...

This is an interesting possible skew in the statistic. The District often reports that 90% or 86% of students are assigned to their first or second choice. Does this number include families who get some assignment other than their first or second choice and subsequently leave the District?

If every student who didn't get their first or second choice for assignment left the District, would the District report 100%?

Melissa Westbrook said...

As far as the 90% goes, people put down their first choice and get it. Whatever they do after that is anyone's guess. The point is what they write down is what they likely get and that results in the 90% rate.

Again, if we don't really like this system, there are alternatives. But, there is no system that will make everyone happy. My point is that there are a certain number of people unhappy now and there will be if we change to a feeder system; it'll just be a different group.

Anonymous said...


You should post Danny Westneat's cloumn of today. He reviewed the DWT bill, and it is insane. They have spent over $80,000 just preparing the bill.

Anonymous said...

Under NCLB parents can request reassignment from a school with improvement status to a school with no sanctions. Aren't most Seattle high schools currently at some level of improvement status? What would happen if large numbers of parents in those high schools requested a transfer?

Melissa Westbrook said...

Wendy, I thought of that and I'm going to do some research and find out. Stay tuned.

Anonymous said...

There is no transfer right unless the school recieves Title I funding. Summit K-12 is the only school in the District that has a high school program that is Title I and is in School Improvement. I don't think Summit actually would be in AYP if you only looked a 9-12, but OSPI lumps together a whole school.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Not sure that last comment is right (but it sounds right). The only reason I question it is because I know that some students from Madrona K-8 did transfer into McGilvra under NCLB. It's worth a look into to figure this out.

Anonymous said...

Yes, because Madrona is a Title I recieving school.

The issue is that it does not matter what grade is not making AYP. If you are a K-8 or K-12 and your 4th graders don't make AYP, the whole school is impacted, not just K-5.

Summit is the only SPS school with high school grades that a student could get an NCLB transfer out of, because it is the only school in School Improvement that also recieved Title I fund.

See the OSPI report if you have doubts. http://www.k12.wa.us/Communications/pressreleases2007/AYPResults200708.aspx

Charlie Mas said...

Here's an interesting wrinkle in that transfer rule.

Yes, only students at schools that received Title I funding are granted the right to transfer to a school which is not under an improvement plan. Title I funding is for students living in poverty.

However, a school does not have to get Title I funding to be exempted from list of destination schools. So, if your school doesn't make AYP, even if it hasn't ever made AYP, it will never be subject to sanctions if it does not receive Title I funding. It will, however, be exempted from receiving students from schools that don't make AYP and DO receive Title I funding.

If McGilvra had just engineered missing AYP - something which is easy to do - they would not have gotten all those transfer students from Madrona.

As you may have noticed, only schools with low-income populations ever suffer any consequences under NCLB.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Checked with Tracy Libros and yes, you have to be a Title 1 school to have transfer rights. Summit and Secondary BOC are both receiving Title 1 funds.

Anonymous said...

Melissa or Charlie:

Another request here to post the Danny Westneat article from today's Seattle Times about DWT.

Johnny Calcagno said...

Here is the Danny Westneat article.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting the link. Finding out just how is so outrageous this fee request is makes me hope that the article gets posted tomorrow on the main page, and other people join in the efforts to convience DWT and PICS that what they are doing is, as Danny put it, INSANE.