The problem with the Students First initiative


I'm not surprised that there's an initiative in circulation that would set this as city policy:

The proximity of a student’s home to the assigned school should be the highest priority in San Francisco Unified School District’s student assignment system.

For those of you who are new to San Francisco: To enroll a child in a San Francisco public school, parents apply to seven schools and then pray their child gets into one of them. Unless a child has a sibling at a particular school, he or she will be assigned based on a secret algorithm created by monkeys throwing darts (or something like that).

Actually, most people (about 80 percent) get at least one of their school choices. And yeah, the algorithm is a bit complicated. But there's a good reason why:

Many San Francisco neighborhoods are still racially segregated. Which means if everyone goes to his or her neigborhood school, we will have some schools at are 70 percent black, some that are 70 percent white and some that are 70 percent Asian. And that's a bad idea.

San Francisco fought for years to comply with a 1983 consent decree in a lawsuit filed by the NAACP. THe idea was to desegregate the schools; part of the process that was developed involved giving parents a choice (which many want) over where to sent their kids -- and a system for maintaining some degree of ethnic balance in the school. Subsequent litigation has made it almost impossible to use race as a factor in placing kids, so now the district uses a different system. Since we've stopped using race, the federal monitor reported five years ago on

the increasing resegregation prevalent in the District since 1999, and the parameters of an achievement gap that only became apparent over the past few years.


The district's making progress on a lot of fronts, but the achievement gap and segregation are still serious issues in the district. The other serious issue is resources: In an era when there's no public money, kids who go to schools where most of the parents are rich get better educational services. The parents raise money to pay for libraries, special classes, music, art, enrichment programs etc. Schools that have a demographic base that doesn't allow for extensive fundraising can't offer those programs to the students.

So ideally, you'd have a mix -- poor kids and rich kids in the same schools. Some of that has happened at McKinley Elementary, where my daughter is going into third grade and my son just finished fifth. There are better-off families who contribute and raise money, people with financial connections who get grants etc. -- and that benefits the majority of the kids, who come from lower-income families.

Actually, ideally you'd have fair property taxes, and every kid in every school would get enough tax money to thrive. But you get the point.

So this "neighborhood schools" rhetoric sounds good. But until we desegregate the neighborhoods -- and change the distribution of wealth -- it just ain't gonna work. The system we have is imperfect -- but it's certainly better than what it could be if we just send everyone to school where they live.


Good article on the message it sends. Integration did more for kids than 40k. Private school people aren't even paying for education, as the same is spent, they're paying to keep their kids away from the poor and make sure they only know and marry another rich white person. Read below about Jimmy Carter.

At a press conference at the White House on Monday, Education Secretary Arne Duncan spoke about President Barack Obama and his mission to transform public education around the country. I couldn't help but wonder, If their own children went to D.C. public schools, wouldn't that be a transformative experience in itself?
Obama's children attended private schools in Chicago (University of Chicago Lab School) and are attending private school (Sidwell Friends Lower School) in Washington.

Only 44 percent of Senators and 36 percent of Representatives send their children to public schools. Arne Duncan's children do attend public schools, albeit in Arlington, Virginia.

We haven't had a sitting president with children attend public school since Jimmy Carter's daughter, Amy, attended Stevens Elementary and Hardy Middle School in Washington, D.C., before going to Holton-Arms, a private school in Bethesda. At the public school, Amy wasn't allowed outside for recess, because the school's playground was too near the street. She also had trouble making friends because of security around her all of the time.

Her being there, though, sent a powerful message to other students around the city. I was in public school at the time, and we were proud that the president's daughter went to a school like ours. It also lent credibility to Carter's mission to improve public schools-he was struggling with the system like every other parent.

Of course, choosing a school is a parent's decision often made based on the individual personality and challenges of their particular children. But for students in elementary school, socialization is a large part of the learning process. I feel blessed that at that age I was able to go to school with children from a variety of socio-economic backgrounds and races. Do you think that politicians should walk the talk and send their children to public school?

Posted by Old Hippy on Jul. 28, 2010 @ 3:32 pm

are not an old hippie.

Public officials on the federal level shouldn't send their kids to public schools. It is a security and disruption issue. Obamma should not send his kids to public school. It surprises me that any president, congressman or senator would send there kid to a public school.

Posted by matlock on Jul. 28, 2010 @ 4:04 pm

And you shouldn't either, right, and no one should, except the poor. You're probably the type who would cry if his daughter dated an African American boy who lived in public housing, and tells his kids they'll get mugged if they go to the Mission. I wasn't in school in the '70s, I cut and pasted that article and gave credit to whom it was written by in the Subject. 36% of the house and 44 Senators do. It's no distraction, it's about saying I back up what I believe in with more than just words. All you've done is find excuses to support class segregation in schools, which basically is the only time most upper class people know people who aren't upper class. You believe in apartheid. You will call it something else but it's what you believe in. You never say what you believe in, just criticize others. You have no solution for all, just a solution for your rich children. I hope they don't grow up to be as narrow-minded, racist and hateful as you and actually explore the world.

Posted by Old Hippy on Jul. 28, 2010 @ 4:25 pm

I cut and pasted that and gave credit, I wasn't in school in the '70s, never said I was. Erika Danois wrote that. It's called putting your money where your mouth is and being liberal in actions, not just words. You never say how you will solve the problem, only how you will solve it for your kids, who are already elite rich kids. You just criticize, never propose a solution.

Posted by Old Hippy on Jul. 28, 2010 @ 4:31 pm

I never said I was in school in the '70s. I cut and pasted that article and gave credit for it to Erika Danois. You only criticize, never propose solutions, or if you do only for your elite children, not for all children. You just criticize what others say but you seem to want to continue the status quo and hope things change someday without making any sacrifice. Good idea, let's keep taxes lower than the nations beating us in Europe and Asia, pay little for schools, underpay teachers, have the rich send their kids, money, time and resources into private schools, and keep guaranteeing tenure to teachers after a year, and hope things change. Wonderful ideal. You have no ideas man, none. You are just defending the status quo as it benefits you and your elite, priveleged wife and children.

Posted by Old Hippy on Jul. 28, 2010 @ 4:36 pm

Hey Mister Tambourine Man, the '60s are over. It's dog eat dog now. No one cares. The immigration of Asians made it so whites have to look for angles and buy privelege and cheat, put their kids in SAT prep classes, etc. just because they want their kids to go to a good college but know they won't work hard enough to get in on their own. I worked to get into Cal. Then I read that Asians are having to get 140 more SAT points than whites to get into the Ivy League. Whites are cheating like crazy. When whites get in more than blacks, it's merit, it's SAT, GPA, but when Asians start getting in, you rig the game and make it so they can't get in. The real racism is against Asians, not other minorities.

Posted by Jeff L on Jul. 28, 2010 @ 4:39 pm

You keep saying the same thing over and over. Are you insane! You're mostly right but say it once then let someone else talk for crying out loud! You look like a crazy person!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Posted by Guest on Jul. 28, 2010 @ 5:03 pm

I didn't read some of the recent comments yet, but I had to immediately correct the error made by Old Hippie. Prop 98 does not provide funding on a per pupil basis in any of the three tests. It provides a minimum level of funding as a percentage of the budget (39%). If a huge influx of children entered the system, there would be no legalbasis for the legislature to increase funding above current levels.

Posted by Don on Jul. 28, 2010 @ 5:20 pm

Actually, to correct myself, the right technical percentage as of last year was 41%, but they didn't fund education at 41% anyway so 39% is probably correct in practical terms.

A huge influx of students would not be fundable under any Prop 98 test or given the economy. Sure it would be great if every school was a rainbow, but some people just want there kids to get a good education and don't want to put up with the public system for any number of reasons. Some want a religious education, others boys or girls only. There are many reason not to go public That does not make those that don't want it racists. And throwing that label around so loosely is frankly disgusting in this day and age..

It is the same as with immigration law in Arizona, which parallels Fed law. There is nothing racist about following the law. The federal law is stronger than Arizona's law. The only difference is that the Feds don't enforce it and the Arizonans want to. It is Federal law that you must have papers in hand if you are in the country and not a citizen.

Posted by Don on Jul. 28, 2010 @ 6:13 pm

I agree with you on Arizona. Right on, if we could control immigration we'd be a lot better off. San Francisco has so much money, we'd find it, we have 16% kids vs. 26% of the state and the highest property values around, with higher turnover, which matters. We aren't short of money, only will. San Francisco's government wastes a tremendous amount of money on so many things. We have twice as many city employees as in the '70s when we had the same population. People may have a reason, and they may not be racist, but the effect of doing so pushes people apart, doesn't bring people together. The effects are racist even if the people aren't. You don't have to be racist to cause racism, just go along with the status quo. However, our budgets bleed due to all the illegal immigration and Arizona has the right plan. That's one thing we spend tons on, we never deport ANYONE, even if they have no parents and we catch them dealing drugs out of a park. Our homeless budget, public hospitals, jails, in which over half the inmates did not live in San Francisco prior to being arrested, we waste so much money. That's a separate issue from the social ideal of racially integrated schools. I agree each case is different, but the ideal should always be integration. Somehow I think if San Franciso paid for 90,000 kids to go to school in the '60s, with much lower housing values and no sales tax at the time, they could afford it now if it jumped from 55,000 to 75,000 kids, give me a break.

And in my view, you have to be insane to want your kids to go to school with only one gender. High school years are the prime social/dating years, you never get that experience again. It's like suspended development, I knew a couple girls from Mercy who got into college and went nuts, it was like they missed a beat and didn't understand the way dating works.

Posted by City Girl on Jul. 28, 2010 @ 6:31 pm

There are several well known studies that show that boys in particular do much better on average in a boys-only school. Public education could be more diverse more ways than just SES. They could have non-coed, more alternative pedagogy, more nonacademic track, etc. What is bad is having elite schools like Lowell that skim off the highest 10% of students. This leaves the academic diversity at other schools impaired. All the liberals talk about diversity and the horrors of tracking, but they allow a school like Lowell to exist to the detriment of all the others.

In the 60's schools were not funded by the state. The bureaucracy was much smaller. More ed dollars actually went to teaching whereas now less than 5K of the more than 12K total actually is used for classroom instruction. It is a sorry state, but that is the nature of big government. Why people who believe in grassroots local control also want large governmental institutions that are notoriously inefficient - I don't know.

But the real big problem with education is the lack of will to enforce behavioral standards. The same mentality that insists that kids can do as they please in the classroom is responsible for the failure to enforce sovereignty at the borders.

Posted by Don on Jul. 28, 2010 @ 8:40 pm

If 'Old Hippy' was really an old hippie and not the fake guy that posts under a different name on a daily basis, he would know that hippie was spelled with an ie.

Posted by Don on Jul. 28, 2010 @ 8:52 pm

I lived through it and remember both being used. Here are the definitions and trust me, lucky for me I'm more of a hippy than a hippie..

Hippy: A person who has long hair, is peace loving and wants to make friends with everybody. A hippy makes for the best of neighbors; they are naturists (aka nudists); most of them are into free sex and love; they don’t worry about the race of other people; hippys smoke a lot of weed (and like all heads, they do not have to have it pointed out to them to be able to see where, in this site's pages' background, a dude is smoking a roach - Hint for non hippys and non-heads: - he's inside the spiral); they eat healthy foods (and may or may not be vegetarians); raise their children in liberal but very loving ways. Hippys are groovy and very cool. They are anti-establishment. They are amongst the most discriminated people on the planet. Hippys love all animals. They can be very much like Buddhists and into Zen. They also love to listen to rock and or country music (especially late ’60s psychedelic rock music); and totally believe in the saying “don’t worry, be happy”.

Hippie: Hippies are close cousins to hippys, but they are not the same. Politically charged and very much to the left – and not afraid of the word “liberal”, in fact hippies like to be noted as being liberal. They are not afraid to speak out for what they believe in – hippies will take on anybody. They will get in another’s face if that is necessary to get their point across; they like to take part in protest marchers; are anti war; pro human rights. They are very much anti-establishment. They are misunderstood and discriminated against. One doesn’t have to have long hair to be a hippie, or smoke weed, even if many of them do. They are for the legalization of all drugs. Most hippies watch their diets, but do not go overboard on that either. They are not groovy but are very cool never-less. Hippies like all music styles and are not restricted to digging only rock or county music. They have no problem with free love but usually don’t partake in it themselves. Many of them are naturists, but not all. Like hippys they are very liberal in raising their children.

Posted by Okd Hippy on Jul. 29, 2010 @ 10:52 am

You seem more of a wiki hippy than a sixty hippie

Posted by Don on Jul. 29, 2010 @ 12:43 pm

Is it true that they spend less than 5k of 12k on in-class education? If so, why don't they get rid of a lot of this to lower class size? I had heard the board makes a pittance and we didn't have that many useless people doing nothing like in some districts, NYC famously pays hundreds to sit around doing nothing. Why don't they have a measure to fix that? What about enforcement of behavioral standards, you get suspended and expelled if you fight, argue, disobey teachers, sexually harass kids, I thought they were so politically correct now you could get expelled just for insulting people? Michael Savage talked about a kid who got expelled for calling another kid a faggot a year ago. What can they do to change this? Don't they have Saturday detentions and explusions galore in the public schools? It's always in the news, what's the deal with this?

Posted by Guest on Jul. 29, 2010 @ 2:31 pm

The CDE publishes a figure of just under $10k per student. But this does not include numerous other sources of revenue to schools like Basic Aid districts get from local taxes. Nor does it include parcel taxes, grants of many kinds or money owed in arrears. It is very hard to establish exact numbers on total allocation, but I have often seen the figure of 12K as at or near the total. Oakland Unified is well known for its allocations in excess of 12K, but has one of the lowest in-class allocations. Even if the total is actually the lower 10k number, SFUSD dropped below 5K per student last year and much of that is not spent in the classroom.

You ask why this is allowed to continue? Ask the unions, special interests and their lobbies why so much of education funding fails to be used to actually teach children.

I understand that some management is necessary and no doubt the complexities of our Ed Code makes it more expensive, but until major reform is made to the bureaucracy, it will be hard to get Californians to accept more taxes. Everyone knows what is going on and how inefficiently our schools are run.

One more thing, SFUSD would like to perpetuate the idea that they have little fat. I talk with various people down there on a regular basis and I am amazed at how many completely pointless jobs are filled with high salaried individuals. SFUSD has no less than 5 different departments that deal with community engagement/ parent involvement and none of them do anything to help parents. They fly off on junkets and refuse to answer their phones. They couldn't care less about building up community involvement in schools. But they talk it up. That's just one department. Try calling the Department of Knowledge Management.

Posted by Don on Jul. 30, 2010 @ 9:19 am

It's not true on 5k/12k. It's more like 8 of 10. It's a real exaggeration that's been going around since the '70s. Most of the funding goes directly to the children and class size is much smaller than it used to be, usually no more than 20 kids in a class. Kids do get suspended, but not enough. If you're black, it's very difficult to be suspended because the Supervisors passed a law that you have to balance historical racism with your actions and consider the previous percentage of suspensions, which are disproportionately black, actually not often Latino, and this is from a far left position and Asians are placed in the side of whites, so they balance under-represendted minorities (African American, Latino, Native American, Pacific Islander) with others (white, Asian, Decline to State, ONW). Therefore if a black kid beats up an Asian kid, they take a balance of what the black kid did to the Asian with the historical oppression of whites (and Asians, presumably) over blacks, balance the two, consider the racial percentage of suspensions, and usually when you would logically expect a kid to be suspended, he'll be warned, and it's almost always he, not she. It's too liberal, they make it so hard to suspend or expel it rarely happens, similar to firing teachers, costs $250,000, so it rarely happens. It doesn't cost as much to suspend or expel, but it's rare. At ISA a Samoan girl hospitalized a white girl and was back in school in a week. They balanced the supposed exploitation of Samoa by whites with the beating and came to the conclusion that she deserved a second chance. She graduated and to this day the white girl cannot sneeze properly. I know these people personally. I don't know how you possibly measure the actions of the past with something concrete that just happened, but they try to and it's insane. Look it up. The current suspension policy is reverse racism and insane.

Posted by Republican with Facts on Jul. 30, 2010 @ 9:37 am

The CDE publishes the total allocation per pupil. It is just shy of 10K. This is all posted as You can google the the amount SFUSD spends per student. Last year it was $5,300. This year it dropped below 5K. That is a well known established fact, Mr. Republican with Facts. The amount of that which goes go classrooms at Alamo ES, for example, is around $2500 per student. That is according to the principal.

As far as racism, there is no such thing as reverse racism. Racism is racism.

Posted by Don on Jul. 30, 2010 @ 2:18 pm

I go to a highschool in North Carolina, here we have neighborhood schools, about 6 or 7 per county. My school is predominately white. Maybe 10% black and 5% other, I don't feel like having a mass caucasion population at my school has hindered me in any way from being schooled in the ways of the world and life. And to be honest, most teenagers are over the race thing, course' everyone still cracks their jokes but when it comes down to it we know people are people. I think by everyone making it out to be a problem is the reason it still is a problem.

Posted by A teenager from NC on Aug. 14, 2010 @ 3:47 pm