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Should younger siblings come first in school assignments?

By Katy Murphy
Wednesday, May 28th, 2008 at 11:35 pm in enrollment.

sisters.jpgThat’s a proposal the school board’s Special Committee on Admissions, Attendance and Boundaries is considering Friday morning. The committee meets at 7:30 a.m. in the school district building to discuss — and possibly adopt — new enrollment priorities for the school system.

The current policy gives first dibs to “neighborhood” children. Kids who live in other areas of the city, but whose brothers and sisters go to the school they also want to attend, come next.

This new policy would essentially flip-flop the sibling and neighborhood advantage, giving all kids with brothers and sisters at a school — regardless where their families live — top priority, before children who live near the school but who don’t have older siblings enrolled there.

Kids who don’t get into their neighborhood school would be third in line — behind the sibling and neighborhood groups — to attend another one in their local school’s “megaboundary,” a new concept for OUSD. (Each school would have a unique megaboundary list, which you can find through the above link.)

Any seats left, under this scenario, would go to children who would otherwise attend low-performing (Program Improvement) schools, followed by everyone else in a random lottery.

In drafting this proposal, staff took into account the comments made in a series of community forums — some which were better attended than others. Here are some different scenarios which have been considered, in addition to this one, Scenario D.
Obviously, when there are more interested families than seats, no policy can please everyone. But what do you make of this one?

image from Miz_Moose’s site at flickr.com/creativecommons

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  • Hills Neighborhood Parent

    Neighborhood children should continue to be the top priority. The existing policy is what keeps the hills schools strong. If neighborhood children are not able to access their local school, this will have tremendous negative consequences for enrollment and test scores. There will be less interest in living in the Oakland hills, housing prices will drop and neighborbood cohesiveness will decline.

    Here are some thoughts on what will happen:

    - Families who would have otherwise supported their public elementary school will bypass Oakland in favor of other communities. We only moved into our neighborhood because of the high performing elementary school nearby. Without this schooling option, we would have looked in other cities.

    - Families who moved in thinking their children would be able to attend their local school will now move or go private.

    - Families who try out this new system and aren’t assigned to their neighborhood school probably would NOT take up the option to attend another school within the mega-boundary. I’ve seen a proposed mega-boundary for my area and our neighborhood school is the only good school among the several elementary schools included. There is NO WAY my child would attend one of the other schools.

    - Families who do get into their neighborhood school will find that it isn’t the same school without the high-performing neighborhood kids. The quality of schools and test scores will decline. Eventually even neighborhood families wouldn’t want to attend!

    - OUSD will lose their high-performing students and the families who are the greatest assets to the schools. Those middle class and upper middle class families who volunteer in the classroom, drive on field trips, donate time, work at the school on weekends, attend PTA meetings, etc…. well these are the families that will take their time and money to other, non-OUSD schools.

    The neighborhood schools policy works for the highest performing schools. The school board and OUSD would be foolish to change something that works.

  • Nextset

    I believe priority for siblings is so important to the families that it’s not unreasonable. It’s also political judgment in the absense of state law to compel it. This is an instance when the parents (and families) are being given consideration. It’ salso important for physical safety since the presense of siblings adds to the security of the children.

    I wonder, why the change now? Has something in particular happened?

  • Steven Weinberg

    Does anyone know the purpose of the middle school mega-boundaries?

  • Sue

    This policy makes complete sense to me. Having two kids in different schools makes getting each there on time every morning such a challenge. When both our boys were in the same elementary school (K and 5th grade during 02-03), it was the easiest school year.

  • hills parent

    Take into consideration a school like Redwood Heights, in which a large number of families do not live in the boundaries and in the past have used falsified addresses. This policy would allow their siblings to take the place of children who actually live in the boundaries. This only seems to encourage more falsification of addresses. Please don’t say that OUSD has cracked down on this. I know of many families, including OUSD employees, who have falsified their addresses to get their children into school.

  • Realist

    And….the potential splitting up of siblings is still there. With the new proposal, it will now apply to neighborhood families whose children’s siblings can’t go to the neighborhood school because priority has been given to those outside of the attendance area.

  • Katy Murphy

    Realist: I don’t think that’s true, but maybe I’m not understanding your point.

    All siblings, including neighborhood siblings, would still have top priority under Scenario D. (In fact, neighborhood siblings might have an added advantage, but it wasn’t clear from the document.) The change would potentially affect neighborhood kids who don’t have siblings at the school.

    Are you talking about younger siblings of kids who couldn’t get into their neighborhood school to begin with?

  • Realist

    Katy, thanks for the clarification.

    I guess I wasn’t clear on the fact on whether or not neighborhood siblings would get priority over non-neighborhood siblings in getting into the neighborhood school. As you pointed out, perhaps this applies only to kids who don’t have an older sibling already in the school (from the document: Priority is given first to students who already have a sibling attending the school. Second priority is given to neighborhood
    residents.).

    I think Oakland needs to decide on whether or not it wants to follow the “neighborhood school model” or something else in determining school assignments.

  • Sharon

    When my daughters were at Redwood Heights from 1993-2004, many, many of the families were from Laurel Elementary School’s boundaries, including us. I presume this phenomenon is still going on. These families had the resources that could set a positive tone at any school.

    The time is right for Laurel to undergo the type of change that has occurred at Peralta, Glenview, and now Sequoia. With some effort it would open up as a perfectly acceptable school for young neighborhood families. Such a shift would take the pressure off of the tensions at Redwood Heights, too. A group of people just needs to meet and agree to get this snowball going.

    By the way, I refused to falsify my address because I personally believed it was wrong and did not want to set that example for my children. I know that other parents felt differently.

  • Pamela

    “OUSD will lose their high-performing students and the families who are the greatest assets to the schools. Those middle class and upper middle class families who volunteer in the classroom, drive on field trips, donate time, work at the school on weekends, attend PTA meetings, etc…. well these are the families that will take their time and money to other, non-OUSD schools.”
    Really? Funny I didn’t know that being Upper and Middle Class made to a greater “Asset” to your school. So I guess that if you live in the “Flats” you couldn’t be a asset you a great hills school. Curious comment, and very telling.

  • Sharon

    Asset: A useful or valuable quality, person, or thing.

    In terms of trying to create a healthy school community when there are limited resources (think OUSD), parents are assets when they are able to contribute additional resources like time, supplies or money, thoughtful input at meetings, organizing enriching events, etc. It is a benefit to any school to be supplemented with morale building things like student awards luncheons, teacher appreciation events, classroom help, community work days, multicultural fairs, talent shows, refreshment sales at performances, newsletters produced and sent to parents, PTA’s that can give small grants to teachers, etc. Middle class families don’t have to struggle with making ends meet so they have the time, money, and orientation to be able to provide these things.

    Other assets to schools are students who are well-behaved in public and who are kept on task by their parents to do homework, attend school, etc. Families who might not have the time or income to do the other things can still contribute children like this, as long as a specific set of values is present. Think Lincoln Elementary.

    Unfortunately, not every family provides the school with a child who is being encouraged at home to comply with what the school is trying to do. Many of those children are needy, and a few use up most of the time and energy of school personnel. In that way they are liabilities to the (insufficiently staffed and/or inefficient) system because they prevent more progress in the positive direction from being made.

    To me, watching these schools struggle is like looking at movement along a number line. Schools want to move forward and make more progress but the conditions are such that they just can’t seem to get away from the negative side for long.

  • Unclear on the Concept

    If parents want younger siblings to go to the same school as their older siblings, they can.

    Simply have the older sibling attend the school they are zoned for, rather than the school they have transferred into.

    If you live near a school (and schools are a factor on where families choose to live) you should have priority on getting into that school.

  • Sue

    Nice theory, Unclear. Too bad it doesn’t always work that way in real life.

    Back in ’02, the district started a (very cool, amazing, and cutting edge!) program for Aspergers and high-functioning autistic students. My older son was assigned to one of the two elementary schools in the district where the program was implemented.

    Younger son started kindergarten in our neighborhood school – which looked good from the outside, and was the reason we’d bought in that neighborhood, eight months before. Once we got into the school we found out just how deceiving appearances were at the neighborhood school. It was awful!

    After older son was late to *his* school because of the horrible situation at younger son’s school, and DH explained the situation to the office secretary at older son’s school – the principal at the good (not neighborhood) school helped us get younger son transferred there.

    Sometimes, there’s a really good reason – like a spec. ed. program, or a GATE program, for example – for one child in a family to be at non-neighborhood school. If all the kids in the family are allowed to attend the same school, it’s so much easier for the whole family.

    I think it’s also good for the schools. We have been so loyal to our good, non-neighborhood school for the last six years. Younger son will be moving on to middle school next fall, but we’ve told the families of younger kids and school staff at our elementary school that we’d be happy to come back and help with events just as we have in the past.

    If we’d been stuck with our younger son in the awful neighborhood school all this time, we probably wouldn’t have been active parent volunteers there – and we certainly wouldn’t have been at the good school where we’ve volunteered for six years.

    If a good school can’t accept the younger siblings of its students, then that good school won’t have the benefit of long-term parental volunteers who can keep up long-term events and projects over multiple years, and can show parents of new families how things get done. The school loses its family-community sooner.

  • Hills Neighborhood Parent

    When families enroll their children in a school other than their neighborhood school, they know that they were not the highest priority. They got in because they were either lucky or persistent or maybe because they had connections, but still, they know that they were not the top priority to enroll at the school. They should have known, also, that they were “taking their chances” with respect to second or third children. It’s not a guarantee.

    I think it is great if children within a family can be at the same school, but it should NOT be at the expense of neighborhood families.

    Most of the neighborhood families in my community struggle to live in this area. They are, by and large, two-income families with a steep mortgage. They have made sacrifices to live here and, in many cases, they moved here solely for the elementary school. It is unfair to possibly deny these local families access to their neighborhood school.

    I also know lots of people who live walking distance from their school. It makes absolutely no sense to send their kids to a school further away when they can walk across the street or around the corner to a good school.

  • Hills Neighborhood Parent

    Pamela, yes, middle class and upper middle class families are great assets to any school. It does not mean that a flatlands families or a poor families can’t be an asset too, but generally speaking, they are not (at least not to the same degree). Read Sharon’s comments for more information.

    At our school efforts from all parents are appreciated. Anyone can contribute. It can be time or money or know-how or money. Parents are needed during the day, but also in the evenings or on weekends. But, no matter what, it is usually the same parents who do everything and they tend to be middle class and upper middle class parents. If these parents weren’t there, the school as a whole would suffer greatly.

    So, if the school board knows what they are doing, they will do everything they can to retain these parents within OUSD. But these parents are smart and they value education and that’s why they won’t hesitate to look beyond OUSD if the neighborhood schools model is thrown out.

  • Katy Murphy

    I’ll be covering the meeting and, most likely, writing something tomorrow – Friday – about the decision.

    Want to be interviewed for the story? (I know you do!) Send an e-mail with your contact info, even if you think I have it, to kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • John

    Pamela (#10): I don’t think it’s “funny.” It’s just sad and true. Having had kids in a hills school and worked (for 25 years) in flat land schools it’s a simple fact that hill school “families volunteer in the classroom, drive on field trips, donate time, work at the school on weekends, attend PTA meetings, etc….” Flat land families (for good or sad reasons) do so infinitely less. Ever sat around waiting for (near) zero parents to show up for on parent/teacher conference days!? And yes, It’s “very telling” as evidenced by the unfortunate academic and social consequences suffered by so many flat land kids.

  • Public school fan

    I attended a couple of OUSD meetings where the different scenarios for change to the Options program were presented. Frankly, the majority of people who attended and expressed their views favored placing the highest priority on siblings. This was true across a pretty diverse band of people. For schools that are overenrolled (i.e., too crowded with not enough spots for incoming kids), placing a priority on siblings ensures that those siblings will go to the same school. Imagine how difficult it would be to have your kids go to two different schools (not by choice). Your volunteer time, money, and energy would be divided and thus not nearly so effective. This would hurt the schools at issue.

    For some parents in the “flats” who tend to move around a lot, the sibling policy was also very important to them. Some families in this situation spoke about how very important having their kids at the same school is. Some of these families noted that they wouldn’t be able to participate at all in their kids’ schools if they had to go to several different schools to do so. Many of them take public transportation, work several jobs, and so forth.

    From what people said at those meetings, having a sibling priority would seem to make sense for most schools.

  • Lisa Hopkins

    “If you live near a school (and schools are a factor on where families choose to live) you should have priority on getting into that school.”

    I COMPLETELY agree with this. The reasons siblings of outside transfers should be evaluated every year is b/c if someone moves into the neighborhood for a school, pays the money to be in a neighborhood that has a good school, and will be paying taxes and voting on issues for that school/district, then they should be at that school. As a teacher it bothered me when people cheated their address or somehow got in when others were being pushed away. Like another person quoted here– “I wouldn’t want to teach my children that’s okay to do”. Exactly!

  • Peter

    “…if someone moves into the neighborhood for a school, pays the money to be in a neighborhood that has a good school, and will be paying taxes and voting on issues for that school/district, then they should be at that school.”

    I disagree very strongly with this statement. The implication is that if you can afford it, you “deserve” a better public education than other people in the same district. Public education is not designed to be a “pay to play” environment, instead is supposed to reflect and engender the equality of opportunity our society espouses. When the price of a house & high income bring government sanctioned entitlement to greater opportunities, we are supporting the idea of separate & unequal access education and opportunity.
    Voting on issues and paying taxes is also a bit of a misdirection, as I do not believe that anyone is suggesting that the issue is that people are coming in from other districts to Oakland, nor are there situations where votes affect a single neighborhood school.
    All that being said, I too would be irritated if my child could not attend our neighborhood school. Still, I could not in good conscience make the argument that the child sitting in that school does not deserve to be there because their family can not afford a home in the area.

  • Nextset

    Peter: And what do you have to say about Piedmont Unifies School District?

    Of course better services go with the better, more expensive neighborhood. And this is news?

  • Nextset

    typo; “Unified” School District…