It’s almost a cliche at this point: bad urban schools chase middle-class families out of infill environments and out toward sprawling suburbs, with all the negative environmental consequences. But in the case of San Francisco, it’s entirely self-inflicted (I know from experience, having previously attempted to stay in the city with a school age child but finding the system untenable).
The school board, in response to a lawsuit back in the 1970s, implemented a system to try to diversify the public schools. Through a lottery, students are assigned to schools all over the city. The result is that only a few students attend their neighborhood schools, and they are forced to spend sometimes hours a day commuting to a faraway school. Meanwhile, they don’t get to know the neighborhood kids, because everyone is going to different places.
Well, at least it means more diversity, right? Wrong. The schools are as segregated as ever. But the school board refuses to revisit the policy. San Francisco Chronicle columnist C.W. Nevius lays into the board members:
The board patiently explains that families who are unhappy with the system are merely chronic complainers not willing to do the right thing.
So if this were a business, the board would be saying: Although many of our customers do not approve of what we are doing, they are wrong, and we are going to continue to do it until they understand that they are mistaken.
Certainly, the numbers are incontestable. Nearly one-third of white, school-age students in San Francisco have opted out and are attending private school. Families routinely cite the byzantine school assignment system as a reason to leave the city and live somewhere where choosing a kindergarten isn’t a full-time job.
It will take a change in board membership to reverse the policy. There have to be ways to ensure diversity and also neighborhood school attendance. But one thing we do know: the current policy is demonstrably ineffective on both counts.