Welcome to round one of The Learning Curve!
Last week, I asked you to send some questions about how our local schools work. You stepped up. Thank you. We are now friends. I got questions ranging from charter schools to anti-bullying policies to why kids have so much homework these days.
Each week, I’ll be tackling your submissions. If you submitted questions but don’t see responses here, it doesn’t mean I won’t address them – I’m just squirreling them away for future editions or stories.
I’ll also include a few links to Reads of the Week and talk about some goings-on in the local school scene. We’ll make a kind of newsletter out of this thing. Those are trending, I hear.
Let’s get started.
Question: “School choice: How does the system work?” – Amy Redding, a San Diego Unified parent
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My husband and I qualify as a SDUSD School Choice survivors, with one graduating senior and one freshman having gone through school choice north of 8, a charter school, school choice for Seminar, and finally school choice for 'language continuity" . When you choose to go outside your neighborhood school matters a lot -- kindergarten and 1st grade are the worst years. Later elementary is easier. When we moved back to the US, three schools told me that they wanted my 4th grader, but had no room for my 1st grader. The winning school principal (thank you again, Mr. E!) told me "I want your 4th grader so badly, I will make a space for your 1st grader." My other comment is that this conversation, so far, is parent-centric. I can tell you that post-elementary school, your children's opinions on their future school will be very important and I encourage parents to include their older kids on site visits and other explorations. Sometimes the best academic choice you can make for your kids is to keep them with the solid group of friends/families that they have established. It can be devastatingly destabilizing to move kids around for 'the great school" as folks who won the High Tech lottery have found out.
It is a sad thing for neighborhoods to export their children to other neighborhoods. I know that my children scarcely know their pre-school friends, because kids went private, out of district, charter, out of neighborhood -- a million different ways. I admire the communities that choose to embrace their schools and fight to make them a better place. But you need critical mass to do that, and I can tell you that in the early '90's in my neighborhood, export was the way to go. The district even paid for a bus to take approx. 170 kids north of 8 every day. I don't blame parents for wanting schools with better academics, better physical facilities, and more experienced teachers. It is very sad that SDUSD has so much inequality. Are we making choices to seek the good, or more to escape the 'bad'? What happens to those who can't or don't make such a choice?
Good luck to everyone in the journey.
Mario, great to see this effort getting started! Can you expand on your answer to Amy's question, specifically "If there's space at your top choice"? Exactly what (and who) determines how many Choice students are admitted into a particular grade at a particular SDUSD school?
@David Meyer I can answer that, but it will cost you extra. I joke. Standby...
Thanks for taking my question Mario. This is something I've grappled with for awhile, and I've spent time looking at SARCs and API scores. Obviously, what constitutes the "best" school is highly subjective and will vary wildly. But, even if we just focus on academic achievement, I've never really found an objective, evidence-based analysis of what really matters. You point to APIs, but from what I know, an API score is highly correlated to socioeconomic status. Does the actual quality of the school, as judged by API score, actually have a large effect of individual student performance? For example, if you took a kid from a rich, white, well-educated family and put him at a school with a low API score, is there evidence that he would be less likely to succeed academically? Conversely, if you took a kid from a poor hispanic family with parents that don't speak English and sent her to a school with a high API score, is there evidence she would be likely to succeed? I know there is no absolute answer, but I was curious if someone with more knowledge than me could explain whether it really matters where you send your kid to school. Likewise, I've seen a lot of people argue that class size is largely meaningless. Perhaps the part of the question that I didn't really explain was: what factors can a parent safely ignore when choosing a school?
Thanks for doing this, I think it will be a big help for parents and others in the community.
Hey, thanks, @Matt. The pleasure was mine. Your response makes this an even meatier question. I'm especially interested in this part:
"Does the actual quality of the school, as judged by API score, actually have a large effect of individual student performance? For example, if you took a kid from a rich, white, well-educated family and put him at a school with a low API score, is there evidence that he would be less likely to succeed academically? Conversely, if you took a kid from a poor hispanic family with parents that don't speak English and sent her to a school with a high API score, is there evidence she would be likely to succeed?"
As you say, there may be no absolute answer. But I'm betting research exists that could shed some light on this. I'd like to look at this more deeply -- maybe do a Learning Curve follow-up. In the meantime, I invite other readers to share insights they might have.