In partnership with the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD), research teams at UCI, UC Davis, and University of Wisconsin, Madison are conducting a mixed-methods study that will enhance our understanding of the district’s equity priority and its potential for reducing inequality in educational attainment. By giving priority spots at oversubscribed schools to students from underserved neighborhoods, the new district’s student assignment system aims to provide equitable access to high quality schools. To evaluate whether the equity priority impacts choices, assignments, and outcomes, we will use a regression discontinuity design that compares families on either side of the borders around the neighborhoods eligible for the equity priority. We will supplement this with a difference-in-difference analysis that exploits changes to the neighborhoods eligible for the priority. To understand why the equity priority changes (or does not change) choices and assignments, we will also integrate survey and interview findings to shed light on parents’ school choices. Survey and interview findings will reveal not only the factors that make it difficult for parents to take advantage of this equity priority, but also the ways in which SFUSD and other districts could reduce these barriers. Overall, we hope this work will inform debates and decision making about student assignment policy in San Francisco and beyond. This includes the decisions that will be made as SFUSD reforms the current assignment system over the next few years.
Our work began in 2020 with funding from the William T. Grant Foundation. In late 2021/early 2022, the research team will administer surveys to several thousand families with students entering kindergarten, 6th, and 9th grade to examine the school attributes that parents prefer, how their preferences and beliefs about schools shape their school choices, and barriers they may face in their choice processes. In 2022, we will be conducting interviews with a subset of surveyed families to build on and contextualize parents’ responses related to their preferences, beliefs, and choice processes.