Kindergarten registration: it’s not a race, so slow down

As of January 4th, Unit 4 officially opened up the annual Kindergarten Registration (http://www.champaignschools.org/news-room/article/11806) period. For the next three months (up until the end of March), parents are encouraged to consider which schools they might want their young child (or children) to attend for Kindergarten.

 

The school selection process (which goes by many names, but the school district calls it “Schools of Choice”) has been steadily evolving; the current iteration now includes a small subset of historical data.

This is just a resource for those that like to peer under the covers a little more (like me *grin*). The Choice Committee is trying hard to stay away from terms like “overchosen”, while simultaneously offering a simple website to review and links for more research for those that want it.

 

As I suggested previously, I highly recommend you figure out what you want first (ie, a school nearby? balanced calendar? STEM? Dual-language immersion?) and then start taking advantage of the many resources on the Choice website, including the not-so-small 56-page booklet packed with information, or social communities like chambanamoms.

 

If you have any questions, please feel free to ask. The idea is to help reduce stress as much as possible. 🙂

 

Next Choice Committee meeting: November 3rd

A “save the date” was recently sent out for the next Schools of Choice Committee meeting:

Please save the date for our next Schools of Choice Committee meeting on Tuesday, November 3rd from 10:0011:30 a.m. at the Family Information Center!

Additionally, here is a link for the meeting minutes from the last meeting (June 2nd):

http://www.champaignschools.org/sites/default/files/meetings/minutes/School%20of%20Choice%20Meeting.pdf

I expect that an agenda will be sent out in the days before the meeting. I am quite pleased that the district is considering the possibility of posting historical data for the purposes of showing trends and informing parents; as such, this may be the last Choice meeting I go to. In my opinion, the next big hurdle is dealing with the frustrations that come out of being unassigned, and the inherrant confusion for parents trying to choose only one or two schools. I believe the district is very much aware of these issues, and it seems like they are going down a better path than previous years.

Schools of Choice will always be contentious; we will always have parents that move near a school and expect/hope to go to their nearby school (which makes a lot of sense, who wouldn’t?!?). But because our housing patterns are very much segregated, the current approach to promote and promise diversification of our schools is to assign and bus students hither and yon. On that note, the late Greg Novak had an idea to address these issues:

https://thecitizen4blog.wordpress.com/2013/05/07/a-possible-plan-by-greg-novak/

Personally, I really like the idea of community schools, and I would augment Mr. Novak’s plan by placing one or two “community schools” in traditionally low-income areas – if anything, those areas are more in need of community (I think, I could be wrong). The one big question is one of equity (as opposed to equality); how do we ensure that every child is receiving and has access to all the tools they need to succeed? Every. Single. Child.

Ultimately we must answer the question “What problem are we trying to fix?” My response to that question is that I see a problem of kids who drop out, commit crimes and end up in a punitive, misnamed “correctional facility”. It is our moral and societal obligation to do all we can to make sure each child is successful and supported, and we have to do that while working together.

Analyzing choice data

In my previous post, I mentioned that the school district provided some new choice data for me. Ironically, I had asked for aggregated data, but the district pleasantly surprised me with disaggregated data. For those not familiar with the jargon, basically I asked for the summary and they sent me the details. I like details.

One major caveat: all the data below, and the analysis thereof, are from snapshots at specific points in time. I am told, and I believe, that the assignment data is very fluid. I have tried to focus on data that is fed into the relevant software at the time of the “big run”, when parent choices are inputted en masse.

First off, I had to massage the data quite a bit. Even though the district provided a PDF spreadsheet, the document does not convert well to a real spreadsheet; one program I used removed all the “empty” boxes, another program put all the pages on separate worksheets. So in the end I wrote my own script to convert the PDF to a SQL script which inserts data into a database. And from there, we can do all sorts of magic – like dumping it back down to an Excel spreadsheet:

My typical question is along the lines of “how many people chose each school?”

total_choice_count_2015

u4Dashboard_sample_2015The term “overchosen” is a bit nebulous, and perhaps even outdated at this point. But I use it intentionally because the school district still uses it, even though the district has had a history of not telling which schools are actually overchosen. 🙂 This past year I understand that the Family Information Center (FIC) provided a dashboard snapshot to help answer that question, but this was never provided online – you had to visit the FIC in person. You might wonder, why is this important? Sure during the registration process it is helpful to a degree, but afterwards? The purpose of this post is to address that question head-on, in two different aspects.

First, let us pretend this is the middle of March; you are a parent of a child who is entering Kindergarten in the Fall. Let us say that you are busy and have not had time to visit all the schools (all twelve schools!), but you have a pretty good idea of which ones you like, and there are two you least like (maybe the balanced calendar does not fit your work schedule). You visit the FIC and a choice specialist frowns upon your first choice because it is an “overchosen” school and your chances of getting it are less than 100%. This is where the fun starts. Are you the type of person that just really wants to know exactly what your chance is so you can weigh your options? If so, you will be frustrated because nobody will tell you. However, if you can let it go and not get hung up over it, you will be much happier, just pick a couple other schools that you want. The choice specialist will look at your list and tell you if all your top three or five choices are likely candidates. For instance, if you choose Barkstall, Bottenfield, Carrie Busey, Westview and Robeson as your top five and nothing else, there is a good chance you will not get any of them. Why? Again, are you the type of person that needs to know, or can you let it go and take the FIC counselor’s advice in choosing other schools?

Here’s the thing. The FIC staff are smart people; they understand the “system” and they know about the back-end software. However their communication styles/methods differ from person to person. I have talked to many parents who get extremely frustrated with the FIC staff, and I have also talked to many parents who are totally thrilled with the FIC staff. Some people click, some people don’t. Don’t let it ruin your day. 🙂

And here is the second aspect. There is a wealth of information that the school district does not initially make available. Why? I am not sure. At one Choice Committee meeting I raised this question, and it seems the consensus is that sometimes there is “too much” information – it becomes overwhelming and increases stress. Which is a very tricky balance. My goal is to decrease stress. How do we do that successfully for everyone? Ultimately, I think it comes down to being able to differentiate well; which is extremely appropriate because that is exactly what we want our teachers to do. This is no different. Think about this as a class in choosing a school for your precious child, and the FIC staff are the teachers.

For instance, here is a chart showing the trends of the first school choice (choice 1) made my parents who ended up with the infamous and dreaded label “unassigned”:

unassigned_summary_2015

You will notice that Barkstall dominates the top. In other words, of the people who ended up being unassigned, a majority of them chose Barkstall as their number one school. Further analysis of the disaggregated data shows that almost all of those parents did not choose any “underchosen” school as a “backup choice”. However, there is something else I wish to tease out from this graph. I will make it clear with trend lines:

unassigned_trends_2015

In words: for those that end up unassigned, more and more are choosing Carrie Busey as a first choice, and fewer are choosing Barkstall, Bottenfield and South Side.

Another group of factoids from the data. 19 total families chose Barkstall as 1st choice and had no priority (sibling, proximity, low-ses), and only 1 got into Barkstall (18 did not). So that is a 1/19 chance. For Carrie Busey, it was 0/12. 8 of those that chose Barkstall ended up being unassigned – right there is more than a third of the total “unassignees”. The lesson here is that if you do not have priority to a “overchosen” school, your chances of getting in are really really low. And the way the FIC will put that to you is that you are throwing away your first choice. 🙂 Which significantly increases your chances of ending up with no school assignment.

As one parent recently told me, it would certainly be fascinating to find out “why” parents choose the schools they do. Unfortunately, the data we currently have is really bad at answering the “why” question; it is really good at answering the “what” and the “how” questions.

The district is (rightfully) rather proud that the number of families getting their first choice is relatively high. That translates into happy customers. How can we make even more customers happy? What is the next hurdle? For one, I think it comes down to understanding why parents make the choices that they do. I had a great email exchange with a parent from the 2015 School Assignment process that took the time to explain to me why she made her choices, and it totally makes sense. For this parent, being unassigned is stressful; even the ensuing aftermath of dealing with waitlists and being assigned to a second choice school that was (at the time) overcapacity was stressful. I believe the FIC could have done a better job to make this one parent less stressed; maybe by patiently explaining the trends shown above, and encouraging more choices. Or taking the time to listen a little more closely. In general, can we meet each and every single parent where they are at and try to learn what their needs are?

At the end of the day, I am really proud of our Unit 4 schools. I try to tell parents that no matter what school they end up at, most likely their child will love it and have a great experience.

“A new kind of Kindergarten”

This morning I was sent a fascinating TEDx talk about this amazing Kindergarten concept: an oval shaped building with no boundaries, no walls between the classroom or the outside, kids can run on the roof or in the “atrium”. The speaker does not go into the psychology involved – it would certainly be interesting to learn about the scientific basis behind this “out-of-the-box” idea.

http://www.upworthy.com/a-new-kind-of-kindergarten-design-encourages-kids-to-be-their-silly-selves?c=ufb2

2014 Choice: some stats

Tom Lockman, the Unit 4 School Attorney and FOIA Officer, responded quite quickly to my request for aggregated stats about Kindergarten assignment for next year, as well as this year (2013 Registration). I still have to give Unit 4 a hard time for delivering data-unfriendly formats (ie, images in PDF pages – what?!?), but at least I have the data:

 

2014_overchosen_schools

Click to go to interactive graphs for the past 5 years

 

As you can tell, Bottenfield, Barkstall, Carrie Busey and Washington were all oversubscribed for “first choices”, meaning that of all the people who selected one of these four schools for their first choice, a small percentage were bumped to their second choice. Discounting SES ratios*, at all 8 other selections everyone made their first choice. (* a family can be denied their first choice even if there are seats available if they would upset the district-wide SES goals of 35% +/- 15%).

 

There was a very interesting trend this year, now that folks can choose 12 schools. The first thing I noticed is that slightly fewer parents registered than the year before, even though registration was open for two months longer. Also, some schools had an amazing number of choices in 11th and 12th place. Makes me curious.

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.

Preview of 2014-2015 Kindergarten “lottery” results

Champaign-Schools-of-Choice-Dashboard-2014

Original photo courtesy of Chambanamoms.com and Jenny Loshkin. Used with    permission. Photo taken on March 25th.

2014 – 2015 Dashboard

Registrations for Current Year 542 Students
Free/Reduced Lunch 269 273
Transfers for Current Year 15 Students
Free/Reduced Lunch 9 6
Bottenfield 81 Barkstall 79 Carrie Busey 66
Washington 48 Stratton 40 South Side 40
Westview 38 Garden Hills 37 Int. Prep 36
Robeson 35 Kenwood 28 Dr. Howard 14

 

 

Registration 2014

welcome_to_kindergartenThe infamous “Kindergarten Lottery” has been in full swing, having started a couple months early this year (January as opposed to March). Aside from policy changes and a new Kindergarten program (Dual-language immersion housed at the revolving door school building on Kirby), I learned a couple things from Stephanie Stuart today.

First, she played a major role in curating a bunch of relevant information and teaming up with a graphic designer to produce a “Welcome to Kindergarten” booklet. The booklet does a really good job of explaining the complexity of Schools of Choice, why we have it, how it works and even has a little lexicon for icons used on the registration form and the jargon used in the Policy. It also includes a list of frequently asked questions (with requisite answers, of course *grin*), and a two-page spread that introduces and highlights each of the 12 elementary school choices. And the very end, the Policy of Controlled Choice is laid out in 6 pages. Overall, the booklet is 42 pages – a little meaty, but it is packed. I am anxious to hear what other parents think of it.

Secondly, I feel like a buffoon for having missed this, but parents this year will not be using an online registration program at all. Last year, the District debuted  a program from Dr. Alves that was problematic, but it got the job done. This year, the District contracted with Codagami, and apparently the contract called to replace only the internal part of the tool, such that Unit 4 staff will utilize the new program. Parents are dialing back to 2012 and having to fill out forms which they submit to the Family Information Center. The current form does not appear to have any of the helpful icons from the booklet, so I am a little confused as to whether the form listed on unit4registration website is really the same form parents are filling out or not.

As stated on the Unit 4 webpage, here are some dates for those wishing to attend a scheduled information event:

  • February 27th, 9:00 a.m. – 9:30 a.m. and 1:15 p.m. – 1:45 p.m.: Tours at all elementary schools
  • March 3, 6:00 pm: Schools of Choice Community Forum at Stratton Elementary School
  • March 5, 8-9 a.m. & 12-1 p.m.: Informational Choice Chat at the Family Information Center
  • March 6, 5-6 p.m.: Informational Choice Chat at the Family Information Center
  • March 11, 8-9 a.m. & 12-1 p.m.: Informational Choice Chat at the Family Information Center

UPDATE: Please use the Proximity App, not the old WebQuery tool.

In an interesting little twist, the district’s web version of “EduLog” (a program that tells the distance from a given address to all schools, sorted by proximity) called “WebQuery” even includes St. Matt’s and Prairie Elementary. 🙂

edulog_sample

Kindergarten registration now open

A new thing this year is that registration for Kindergarten school assignment is open two months early. Keep in mind, the online software from Codagami is not yet available – basically, parents are invited to start researching the schools, visit the Family Information Center, and fill out registration forms in person if they so wish. The results will still be posted sometime in April, and there are no “early bird” points.

Another new thing is that the language has changed such that families are encouraged to rank all 12 Kindergarten options (including the newly announced Spanish-English dual-language immersion program at the Kirby Street school). The sole purpose of this language change is to reduce the number of parents who end up “unassinged” at the end of the registration period. The downside is that some parents might be more stressed and more confused (“Do I have to rank all 12 options?”; “What if I only rank 3?”; “Is the Magnent School Registration still concurrent, and if so, what if I mark a magnet school as my 5th choice?”; etc). The bottom line is that if a parent only “chooses” popular schools, their chances of being unassigned is above zero percent (maybe only 1%). If a parent “chooses” more than seven schools, the chance of being unassigned drops to a fractional number, and if they rank all 12 options, they are guaranteed to be assigned to one of them. (Just straight up logic and common sense there *grin*)

http://www.champaignschools.org/news-room/article/6446

Starting January 2, 2014, families with incoming kindergarten students residing in the Champaign Unit #4 School District may register for the 2014-2015 school year and rank their elementary school preferences in the Schools of Choice process.

Families should register during the designated period that runs from January 2-March 31, 2014 to increase chances of placement into one of their preferred schools. Students must turn five on or before September 1, 2014 to register. Families will need to visit the Champaign Schools Family Information Center (1103 N. Neil Street) to register and will be asked to provide a birth certificate and proof of residency at the time of registration.

This year, families will be advised to rank all elementary school choices in the Schools of Choice process. In addition to the 11 elementary school options, families will also have access to a 12th option, theSpanish-English Dual Language Two-Way Immersion Program that will begin next school year with kindergarten students at the  1605 W. Kirby Avenue school location.

A number of community forums and tour dates will be held during the registration period to allow families the opportunity to visit schools and have them questions answered by the Schools of Choice specialists.

For more information on registration, Schools of Choice, community forums, tour dates, and hours of operation, please visit www.unit4registration.org.

Families may also contact the Family Information Center:

1103 N. Neil Street

Champaign, IL 61820

217-351-3701

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