Friday, March 16, 2012

Racial Isolation in San Francisco Public Schools

From the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights:

San Francisco Unified School District Report Shows San Francisco Schools Remain Racially Isolated
Lawyers’ Committee Calls for Changes to Student Assignment Plan

Contact: Suman Murthy, 415-543-9444 x218, smurthy@lccr.com

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – This week, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area (Lawyers’ Committee) called on the San Francisco Unified School District (District) to take more aggressive steps to reduce racial isolation in the city’s public schools after the District released findings that its new student assignment policy has had virtually no impact in reversing the trend of racial isolation.

The District’s new student assignment policy, adopted in March 2010, relies on a choice-based model for determining student placement. In this model, students rank their top school choices and are admitted using tie-breakers when the number of requests exceed the number of seats at a school. The District posited this plan would increase racial diversity in San Francisco’s schools, but findings from the report – published by the District earlier this month – show the city’s schools continue to remain racially isolated with underserved students concentrated in the District’s lowest-performing schools.

The number of racially isolated schools actually increased in the 2011-2012 school year, the first year of the new student assignment plan, from 23 to 24 (SFUSD Report, p. 30). Moreover, the percent of students attending a racially isolated school increased from 18% to 20% (SFUSD Report, p. 31).

Board policy mandates that the District Superintendent recommend changes to the student assignment plan if the plan is not effective in reducing racial isolation, defined by the District as having “more than 60% of a single racial/ethnic group” at a single school (SFUSD Report, p. 17). “It is clear that the current student assignment plan has fallen far short of achieving its goal of reversing the trend of racial isolation in San Francisco’s schools,” said Cecilia Chen, Thurgood Marshall Fellow at the Lawyers’ Committee. “The District must uphold its duty to reduce racial isolation in its classrooms and ensure that our schools reflect and benefit from the diversity of our city.”

Other findings in the report raise concerns about the effectiveness of the student assignment plan in reducing racial isolation and improving equity in San Francisco’s schools. The tie-breaker for students who live in areas of the city with the lowest average standardized test scores (CTIP1), which was created to promote racial and socioeconomic diversity, has had little impact in reducing the number of racially isolated schools (SFUSD Report, p. 37). Additionally revealing was evidence that applicants’ school choices often differed by race and ethnic group, resulting in segregated applicant pools (SFUSD Report, p. 18).

Other school districts consider race as one of many factors in determining student assignment, and California courts have held such plans to be constitutional. Lawyers’ Committee Executive Director Kimberly Thomas Rapp commented, “The District made a commitment to its students to take more proactive steps to reduce racial isolation. Race-conscious measures may be part of an effective and constitutionally viable remedy to this issue facing our schools.”

In light of the report’s findings and following Board policy requirements to address racial isolation, the Superintendent should consider recommending the following:

Incorporate race-conscious measures into the student assignment plan. Courts have consistently recognized that communities have a vital interest in integrated schools, and that districts may therefore properly consider race as one of many factors in the assignment process. Moreover, studies have shown that the use of race-conscious measures is the most effective way to achieve racial diversity in public schools.
Place magnet and highly desirable educational programs at racially isolated, underperforming schools. The District must take steps to change choice patterns. Educational programs, such as dual language immersion, are highly sought after throughout the District, and could provide incentives for parents to make diverse choices in selecting schools.
Targeted outreach to CTIP1 communities. Families living in CTIP1 areas must be able to make informed choices in order to participate equally in the student assignment process. Targeted outreach to families living in CTIP1 areas is necessary and must include education on the CTIP1 tie-breaker and its significance.
Establish academic diversity goals at each school. The District currently reserves a minimum of 20% of seats at each high school for students living in CTIP1 areas. Per an earlier recommendation by the Lawyers’ Committee, the District should consider expanding this policy to elementary schools.

To view the District's full report, click here.

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