schools.jpgThe laborious process of getting a child into a San Francisco public school ends this Friday with the wait list deadline. The San Francisco Examiner predicts that the wait lists will be long this year, since 20% of 13,676 applicants did not receive one of their seven preferred schools. This is the last year of the current school assignment system, leaving many parents hopeful that next year’s system might make the process a little less challenging.

Parents have been disgruntled by the school placement system for the past few years because of how inefficient and laborious they said it was. The placement system was designed to make the city schools more diverse, but many argue that it has not been effective in doing so.

The San Francisco lottery system is much more complicated than the suburban policy whereby a student attends the school closest to his or her home. In San Francisco, the current system uses a computerized lottery to assign students to schools drawing on five factors. The factors include a family’s economic status, the student’s English abilities, and academic performance at a previous school, if applicable.

In March, the San Francisco Unified School District revealed a new system for school selection that will take effect in March, 2011.

The new rules are expected make the process simpler by making it easier for students to attend schools closest to their homes. Though children will still be able to apply to schools throughout the city, if two students are competing for one spot at a school the student that lives closer to the school will have an edge.

One special circumstance in the new policy favors students living in areas in the city where test scores are notoriously low. These students will have an advantage for school placement out of an effort to maintain academic diversity.

The main concern in response to these new rules is that the schools across the city will ultimately lose diversity. Dave Mertz, who lives in the Inner Richmond, told the Examiner that he wants his son to be exposed to the City’s diversity at school. He said, “to me, it would be very boring that a certain race and certain kid is all at one school.”

Other parents share this concern for diversity, but some believe that the new system will make it easier for more students to be placed in the schools of their choice. There will still be two rounds of application — if after a first round the student does not have a place at one of his or her top schools, the family can try again in Round 2, submit an appeal, or be listed on a wait list.

Current statistics show that about 63% of children are placed in their first choice school, while 82% are placed in one of their top seven.

It is difficult to predict how the new system will change these statistics because there is no historical information on which to project.

Vicki Symonds, Network Coordinator at Parents for Public Schools, San Francisco, said that though statistics will be difficult to predict, the new system will be simpler and easier to understand. “Previously there were a lot of diversity indexes… the new system will be much simpler and easier to understand,” Symonds said in a phone interview this morning.

For parents, the system will remain similar because parents will still need to tour, evaluate, and ultimately rank schools. Though students living in the neighborhood of a preferred school will have more pull, they will not necessarily be guaranteed placement at that school.

“My guess is that there were winners and losers in the last system and there will be winners and losers in the new system,” said Symonds. The big question is how will parents behave. “With neighborhood assignment bearing more weight, will parents choose their neighborhood school?” Symonds asked.

As for this year’s class of students, they’ll be notified of their school decision by August 6th.

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