Significant improvements in “Schools of Choice” school assignment

Stephanie Stuart has posted the results of the most recent (2014-2015) school assignment stats:

http://www.champaignschools.org/news-room/article/6585

 

It is excellent that we are chipping away at the number of unassigned:

“This year’s initial assignment process resulted in 681 total applicants. Of that number, 671 students were initially assigned to a kindergarten seat for the 2014-2015 school year, with 88.7% receiving their first choice. The remaining 10 families were contacted individually to be placed and provided with waitlist options. Last year, 85% received their first choice and 42 applicants remained unassigned following the initial assignment process.

Stephanie also notes several other enhancements implemented this year as well. I am curious why we still had 10 that were unassigned – from a scientific point of view, what makes these 10 applicants special? Was it merely because they chose a very small number of schools and opted to waitlist for their first choice? If this is in fact true, perhaps being “unassigned” is not necessarily a bad thing?

 

In an earlier email, Stephanie told me that one of the priorities of this process is to take “a look at how we are serving families throughout the process as a whole.” I think this is a wonderful perspective to take. How are we doing on that count?

 

I have modified my yearly request for data to be simpler and hopefully more palatable to Unit 4. 🙂

“I am requesting an aggregate count for both the 2013-2014 Kindergarten school assignment process and the 2014-2015 Kindergarten school assignment process showing how many of each choice were made for each school.”
We will see what happens.

Codagami's RFP response is now online

re: http://www.champaignschools.org/sites/default/files/finance/BidsRFPs/201312/Choice%20Student%20Assignment%20Proposal%20-%20Codagami.pdf

A good bit of details on what they plan to do, including a proposed timeline. I’ll be reading and commenting more later.

UPDATE: Some background on why I posted this.

Since about 2002 or so, the District had contracted with Dr. Michael Alves and his “Educational Consultants Group” to conduct school assignment for all children entering the schools, most widely known in supporting the District’s “Schools of Choice” program which grew out of the Consent Decree. Most parents experienced the “Kindergarten Lottery”, although some came into contact with the program as a transfer student. Basically, the district conducted a “registration period” in March with paper forms which were them typed into electronic media and sent to Dr. Alves so he could run his program, sort students into various schools, and analyze the results. More recently, the program become more and more electronic, up until the point last year when AECG debuted an online form for parents, including a so-called “dashboard” that garnered mixed emotions. (Disclosure: Since 2009 I have submitted FOIA requests for the outputs of Dr. Alves’ program, and last year was the first year I was denied; I followed up by requesting that the Attorney General’s Office on Open Government Public Access Bureau review the case, which is currently pending).

In 2012, the District put out an RFP for the school assignment program (aka, “Controlled Choice Student Assignment Plan”). No local vendors touched the Choice RFP at the time, and AECG was the only candidate considered for the one-year contract. After that contract expired in 2013, Unit 4 put out another RFP. At least one local vendor and possibly AECG responded to the first 2013 Choice RFP. After languishing for a little while, Unit 4 re-issued the Choice RFP on October 23rd. Again, an extremely small number of vendors responded, Codagami being one of them.

At the last regular Board meeting (Nov 18th), Dr. Zola disclosed that the district has spent over a million dollars (averaging roughly $100,000 per year) to AECG, and that with the transition to Codagami, we would pay one more year at the near $100,000 price, but this time we own the software. A few community representatives (most notably those from the Ministerial Alliance) conveyed their concerns that the district was moving away from using AECG. While on the one hand I quite understand their worry about going back to pre-Consent Decree days, I believe those particular worries are unfounded. None the less, it is something to keep on the discussion table.

In reading the Codagami response/proposal, I am excited to travel with them on this experience. For a brief overview, here is the Proposed Schedule (which I am reproducing on my own, since the original cannot be easily copied and pasted – hence I own my mistakes):

November 20, 2013:    Project Kickoff with Unit 4 project leaders.
November 27, 2013:    System requirements and user story documentation completed.
December 11, 2013:    Mockups finalized and approved by key stakeholders.
January 29, 2013:    Development completed.
February 21, 2013:    User acceptance testing completed.
February 28, 2013:    Training completed and project ready for use.

 

UPDATE: Here is the original electronic copy

Requesting your help to update the Choice Policy

I am attempting another “crowdsourcing” effort to see if you readers want to take a stab at 1) reading and understanding the current policy on Choice (aka, School Assignment, Policy 705.09), and 2) suggest how it might be made better.

I am linking three documents that were attached to a meeting announcement for the Choice Committee coming up next week (wow, Monday is going to be super busy for some people!):

Controlled Choice Committee Agenda for 9 23 13 – self-explanatory

RevisedChoicePolicy clean copy  – what the modified Policy 705.09 would look like after the changes are made

RevisedChoicePolicy – the old version with inline comments and “corrections”

I will be reading these myself and will make further comments. I am a little concerned that it is a bit involved (and overly complicated), but I don’t have the procedural bandwidth to scrap the entire thing and suggest a new rewrite. If you do, please let us know! 🙂

Again, the more comments the better – my personal goal is to hear from 20 of you, either publicly here on this blog, or personally via email (or, like, in person or something *grin*).

Another thing that confuses me – the Choice Committee does not even have a website, and none of these documents (the agenda and the proposed changes) are to be found on the Unit 4 website. Why not? Why isn’t the Choice Committee seeking your input? Yes, I realize you cynics are going to say that’s the way Unit 4 does business, but in this case, being cynical isn’t very helpful to me. I am looking for productive responses, constructive criticisms, and at least a glimmer of hope. *smile*

Choice Committee meeting, Friday August 9th

Attendance:
Dr. Susan Zola
Doretha Simmons
Michele Brown
Becky Laws
Charles Schultz
Laurie Bonnett
Stephanie Stuart
Amy Aviram
Maria Alanis

The agenda was initially split up between 9 10-minute segments to cover various things (including the Wait List, RFP, Registration, Transfers, etc); we started off talking about Policy 705.09, which actually covered almost half the agenda items. And we covered that one policy for the entire 90 minutes. 🙂

We had some really great discussion; I wish it was recorded so that more folks could listen and chime in, even if after the fact. (In fact, I just sent an email to Stephanie Stuart and Laurie Bonnett asking this).

Dr. Zola walked us through the policy. The first part is about parents choosing their top five schools and capacity (aiming for 23/classroom at the K-1 level, 24 if they have to really push it, 25 is almost unthinkable). I questioned the “top five schools” – why not open it up and let parents choose as many as they want. While the FIC staff currently allows this, the policies and the software (previously) did not. We did not come to a conclusion. Some did mention that some parents already struggle to fill in three choices (which is saying something in itself – if I really like one school, why do I have to “choose” 4 others?). My point is, just remove the restriction on the number of schools. When I thought about it, if you want to totally remove “unassigned” cases, one of the best ways to guarantee it is to either have everyone rank order all schools or simply just flat out assigned a parent if they don’t make their top n choices. The point is, there are ways to technically deal with “unassigned”, but what is the root problem? I pose that part of the problem is the sheer complexity of the system; another issue is the desire for “fairness”, for which nobody agrees on a universal definition.

We than got into a long chat about SES (the next section in the Policy). We all agreed that the language used in the policy has to be clarified significantly. Some of us also expressed the desire that SES be defined unilaterally across the district – no more where SES means one thing in one context and another thing in another context. We also talke about the need to clarify the precedence of priorities; Sibling has highest priority, but what about SES and Proximity? It’s a sliding scale, which further leads to complexity and confusion. We talked about the need to be as up-front as possible, even to the point of broadcasting the SES ranges (ie, +/- 15% of what?).

We next moved on to Sibling priorities. One thought that came up was allowing parents of siblings to register in February, or really any time. Which lead to the thought – if a parent knows where they want to go to school, why not just allow them to submit their choice anytime, instead of just a one-month period? Even if you still “run” a school selection month, you can pre-process a significant number of sibling applications thus allowing more accurate numbers for capacity.

Next in the policy is Proximity. Dr. Zola had previously submitted to the Board of the time a revision that was hammered out by the Choice Specialists; we revisited that revision this morning and liked it a lot more than the previous wording. Essentially, it removes Proximity B and simplifies the language. We also talked about removing the April 1st cutoff, since those with extenuating circumstances should be able to contact the FIC any time.

Last, we dove into Unassigned Students. A parent in attendance was able to share a specific case whereby the placement of unassigned students on the waiting list was done in a controversial manner. Via discussion, we strove to hammer that out a bit more, shedding light and sharing information on several different levels. For example, about 5 years ago an Assistant Superintendent had proclaimed that all unassigned students would bump up to the top of the wait lists, ahead of any students that were also assigned to any other school. We spent a bit of time talking about this, trying to figure out what is “fair”; in the end, I think it comes down to having integrity and being open about all the practices, instead of providing a kind of Gnostic special knowledge for only certain folks.

During our conversations, we talked about how some folks in the public have developed a negative perception of the school district in general, and maybe even more specificially various staff, because of the School Assignment system. While many of these perceptions may be formed regardless of reality, they in effect become a type of reality for that parent. I feel that this was an important made by certain members of our group this morning.

Personally, I felt it was an excellent way to hash out various perspectives – I only wish more folks could have benefitted from it. We agreed to follow-up in the near future, perhaps at the end of September after registration and school assignment dies down a little.

2013 Kindergarten Lottery preliminary observations

Even though the bulk of my FOIA was denied, the few images I did receive still has a tiny bit of meat to chew on.

 

  1. For instance, on April-19 we had 790 total Kindergarten students, but on April-22 we only had 751. Hmm…
  2. Likewise, 768 applicants on the 19th, 720 on the 22nd. Keep in mind that registration was in March.
  3. But what gets me the most is that on April 22nd, we had 31 folks unassigned and still 113 open seats. Ouch.

 

It would be interesting to have the dashboard up and running so we could see more information about the waitlist and how school assignments change throughout the summer. The initial kindergarten lottery is only just the start of this yearly saga – our district has a ton of mobility and seats open up and change all the time.

 

Now if only I could find a dependable program to convert grainy pdf images into real spreadsheets…. (I tried Nitro, but it has a number of quirks).

2013 School assignment data FOIA *DENIED*

I am beside myself. Here I have been requesting the same data for the past 4 years, and this year my request is at first misunderstood and when I followed-up, flat out denied. Why is this so hard?!? On top of that, the data I get back is a frickin’ image of data – not even raw data. It’s a picture of a couple pages of a spreadsheet which summarizes the results of the 2013 school assignment program.

 

Pattsi has been urging, cajoling and nearly begging me to go to the Public Access Coordinator (PAC) at the Illinois AG office. Ok, I am finally fed up with this stuff and will start down that path. So frustrating…..

 

Here is the basis for why I think the public owns much of this data, or at the very least, has the obligation and the responsibility to view it; all the money was paid out of the tax payer pocket. Maybe some money came from a grant (in the past, we used one of our grants, perhaps TAP?), but that is still tax dollars. Not only that, but the school assignment system is convoluted at best, and never really explained well (especially not in a language that most people can understand), thus it gives the appearance of total lack of transparency. Or in other words, opaqueness. Lots of parents have frustrations about school assignment, but I do not see those frustrations being addressed satisfactorily.

 

This is just so wrong.

 

I realize my emotions are running a tad high at the moment – it is easy to hop on the warpath and go hunting. So I plan to sleep on this. I just don’t understand why the district, and the school attorney, perpetuates an environment that is totally and utterly not user-friendly. The feeling I have from this experience is as if the district is saying “thank you for your money now go away.”

 

Response letter

data” *cough cough*

quick Schools of Choice update

re: http://www.champaignschools.org/news-room/article/3921

Parents of incoming kindergarten students who registered during the month of March should receive their kindergarten assignment in the next few days, as letters were mailed the evening of April 26. This year, 85.0% of students who registered received their first choice assignment.*
While last year’s kindergarten class was the largest in Unit 4 history topping out over 860 students, kindergarten registration for 2013-2014 is on track to meet this year’s projection of 800 kindergarten students. In anticipation of the projected enrollment for next year’s Kindergarten classes, three bubble classrooms have been added Bottenfield, Barkstall, and Carrie Busey. These classrooms have been added in order to avoid exceeding the District’s classroom capacity, set for 2013-2014 at 23 students.

This year, 94.2% of all students registered received one of their top five choices.** Family Information Center staff members are contacting families of the 42 students who did not receive one of their top five choices. They will continue to work with these families so that each child may be assigned a seat as soon as possible and those families are offered seats on the waitlists at each of their top five schools should a seat become available.

Schools of Controlled Choice – Historical Assignment Statistics

Percent Receiving First Choice Assignment*
09-10 – 84.2% received their first choice assignment
10-11 – 78.3% received their first choice assignment
11-12 – 85.4% received their first choice assignment
12-13 – 89.1% received their first choice assignment
13-14 – 85.0% received their first choice assignment

Percent Receiving One of Top Five Choices**
09-10 – 91.9% received an assignment
10-11 – 92% received an assignment
11-12 – 95.4% received an assignment
12-13 – 95.4% received an assignment
13-14 – 94.2% received an assignment

 

I have requested the full suite of SoC data (as in previous years). I have also asked for an update on the SoC RFP. I am curious why the percentage of folks being unassigned went up slightly.