Why We're Redesigning Student Assignment

Why We're Redesigning Student Assignment

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The San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) is currently revisiting our policy for how elementary students are assigned to public schools in the City. This won’t affect families applying to schools for next fall but it may change things in future years.  

Our Current Policy

The current policy was approved by the Board of Education in 2010. Under the current choice enrollment system families may apply to any elementary school in the District. Families submit a ranked list of choices, and students are placed in their highest requested school as long as there are openings. 

If there are more requests for a school than openings, the student assignment process uses a series of preferences to ensure that all students are equitably assigned to schools. Students who do not get assigned to a requested school because there is not enough space are offered the school closest to where they live that has space.

This policy is intended to reverse the trend of racial isolation and the concentration of underserved students in the same school; provide equitable access to the range of opportunities offered to students; and provide transparency at every stage of the process.

Time for a Change

Despite these well-intentioned efforts, the Board of Education determined last year that the policy is not working as intended. In December 2018 they passed Resolution 189-25A1 Developing a Community Based Student Assignment System, which began the process of developing a recommendation for a revised Student Assignment Policy. 

The resolution itself stated a number of concerns with the current system. In addition, parent and community groups have provided extensive feedback over the years (you can find summaries of much of that feedback at the bottom of this article). 

Here are the top reasons why we’re redesigning the elementary school student assignment system.

Segregation by Race/Ethnicity

There are serious concerns about the ability of our current choice system to facilitate diverse enrollments in all schools. Many San Francisco neighborhoods are already segregated by race and ethnicity, and our current choice system leads to further segregation. This results in many schools that are less racially/ethnically diverse than the neighborhoods they’re located in. A 2016 analysis by SFUSD staff found that the current student assignment system actually exacerbates racial segregation compared to a system where all students were assigned to their neighborhood schools (though, under the current system fewer students are segregated by their families’ income status). As part of the work of developing a new assignment policy, SFUSD will develop concrete, measurable definitions for diversity and integrated schools, and will strive to design a new policy that reflects the rich diversity of San Francisco. 

Segregation by Income

SFUSD strongly believes that students are best served in learning environments that are socioeconomically integrated. Last year, 54% of SFUSD elementary school students qualified for free or reduced price meals, yet there were dramatic differences in the percent of students who qualified across schools. 

Inequitable Access to Choice

Another concern is that not all families have the same resources to select a school for their child. Families with the most time and resources to invest in the choice process are better able to understand how the current system works; research and visit schools; and submit an on-time application. Even though the current system includes a tiebreaker that is intended to give priority to students who live in the areas of the City with the lowest average test scores, this tiebreaker is only helpful if families are able to navigate the choice process and submit an on-time application. 

Stress and Anxiety for Families

We’ve heard from the community that our current student assignment system exacerbates the amount of stress and anxiety that many families feel when applying to and enrolling in schools. We know this is caused in part by the complexity of the system, the number of options available to choose from (72 different elementary schools), the amount of time that the application and enrollment processes take, and a lack of certainty around where families will be assigned.

Even families who are happy with their children’s schools want more predictability in the enrollment process, and are uncomfortable with a process that feels excessively complicated or random. Despite the fact that transparency is one of the primary goals of the current system, many families feel that there is currently a lack of transparency, predictability, and simplicity. 

Lack of Community Confidence in School Quality

We’ve also heard that our current choice system undermines families’ confidence in the quality of some schools. The Census Tract Integration Preference (CTIP1), which is intended to provide equitable access to high quality schools, is seen as discouraging families from selecting schools in CTIP1 areas. Public data that show how often schools are requested (or not requested) also reinforces families’ perceptions of which schools are most and least desirable.  

Lack of Community Cohesion

In our current system, many residents of a neighborhood do not share a common local school experience; this weakens the connection between schools and their surrounding communities. In some neighborhoods, students are enrolled in all 72 elementary schools in SFUSD. 

Under-Enrolled Schools

We’ve heard consistently that our current choice system creates unhealthy competition between schools, and can have a negative impact on schools’ ability to build robust and consistent enrollments. Currently, elementary schools range in size from about 100 students, to nearly 700 students. 


As we undergo the process of redesigning the elementary school student assignment system, hearing from current and prospective parents of SFUSD students is critical. That’s where you (or someone you know) comes in.

In spring 2020, community input will help staff form a policy recommendation, which is scheduled to go to the Board of Education for a vote in June 2020. If a new policy is adopted in June 2020, it would likely go into effect for students enrolling in kindergarten for the Fall of 2022.

Stay up to date and participate. Visit www.sfusd.edu/studentassignment for more information.

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