Crowded schools cause strain for parents

March 10, 2008 9:33:54 PM PDT
It was a big weekend for more than 13,000 families in San Francisco. They found out which public school their children will attend. They're supposed to have some choice where they go, but fewer families received their top pick this year -- or even one of their top seven choices.

Maureen Barend got none of her seven school choices for her daughter.

"Almost tears, frankly, major disappointment and shock," says Barend.

18 percent of San Franciscans who applied to public schools are in the same boat --left without their choice.

The school district did assign a school for Barend's daughter. As she discovered on the internet, it's an underperforming school which is 3 to 4 miles away.

"Grade two standard test comparisons, 19 percent are at grade level. Grade three, 8 percent are at grade level. Basically, I just got angry that there is a school like that, that exists in San Francisco," says Maureen Barend.

If you select a school and there is room, you're in. But, if a lot of parents apply for the same school, even if you live a block away, then you're part of the so-called "student assignment" system. The selection process is not based on race, but to maintain diversity the district looks at a family's profile.

"That includes socio-economics, whether or not they are on free and reduced lunch, whether or not for kindergartners have had preschool," says Darlene Lim of the San Francisco Educational Placement Center.

Home language and proximity to the school are two more criteria, but this choice based enrollment system has not worked to desegregate schools in San Francisco. In fact, it has done the opposite. There is less diversity today than a few years ago.

Parents are asked to pay attention to the odds. Ellie Rossiter is with San Francisco Parents for Public Schools. She says "if a school gets 1,000 applicants for 30 spots, that is going to be a very hard school to apply for, no matter where you live, no matter who you are, no matter how much you want that school. Other schools have better odds and are just as good. "

Despite all of this, the district received 308 more applications this year than the year before.

There is still hope for families who did not get any of their school picks. They will be on a waiting list and given priority.