SFUSD Lottery

S Aufrecht

“San Francisco Had an Ambitious Plan to Tackle School Segregation. It Made It Worse.”

—Dana Goldstein, New York Times1

The New York Times published an article about how San Francisco’s school lottery is messed up. In missing the point, misses a much bigger opportunity to shit on SF. Goldstein’s narrative is that SF started using a lottery system to solve segregation, but it failed, and everybody hates it, so take that, nerds!

A truer narrative is that San Francisco has never tried an ambitious plan to tackle school segregation, but has instead, when forced by lawsuits, offered a series of deeply inadequate compromises that continue to accommodate White segregationist preferences and avoid spending money appropriately.

The NYTimes says “The district had previously used busing to try to desegregate schools, under a 1983 agreement with the N.A.A.C.P.” An earlier lawsuit, Johnson v. San Franciso Unified in 1969, led to busing starting in 19712, still almost two decades after Brown v Board of Education. Both the NYTimes and the SFUSD’s official history of the lottery3 skip this minor detail. The common narrative after busing, which I’ve heard personally from ‘experts’, is visible in this this KQED story4:

The lottery as we know it today is the product of more than 40 years of trying to solve the problem of segregated schools. In the 1970s, SFUSD tried bussing kids from one neighborhood to another, but parents hated that and many left the district altogether.

What actually happened is that a third of White parents fled within 2 years, and demographically never came back5. This racial element is also prominently missing from the NYTimes and the SFUSD narratives.

The lottery happened after two more lawsuits, and was an attempt to resolve the lawsuits without busing. The lottery is unpopular among White and richer Asian-American families, who have trouble getting their kids into predominantly White schools on the first try. The lottery itself is less unpopular among disadvantaged families, but the lack of busing sabotages its effectiveness for them.

The lottery obviously has flaws; depending on your perspective, the worst flaw is either that parents have up to a year of anxious uncertainty, or that the lottery is an inadequate partial measure taken to avoid real efforts to solve segregation.

No more tinkering; no more sticking with the current approach … I do think it’s my responsibility to say, ‘Hey, I’ve seen lots of analysis, I’ve heard from thousands of families, and what I can tell you for sure is that it’s time to move on,’ “ [SFUSD Board of Education Commissioner Matt] Haney said.6

That’s this guy …

Matt Haney

… who is now my District Supervisor, replacing London Breed. “[T]he vote requires district staff to come up with a new plan that includes one of three possibilities” 7, all of which are based primarily on home address. 65 years after Brown v Board, SF is no closer to integration. Which is a shame for White kids too, because8:

  1. White students’ test scores don’t drop when they go to schools with large numbers of black and Latino students.
  2. Diverse classrooms teach some of the most important 21st-century skills, which matter more than test scores.
  3. Graduates of socioeconomically diverse schools are more effective in the workplace and global markets.