When parents move their child from one campus to another, they likely have their child’s academic and social needs in mind. They’re not necessarily considering the effects of the transfer on the demographic makeup of the campus they’re leaving.
But officials in the Santa Monica-Malibu school district are doing just that.
The local Board of Education recently discussed adding language to its intradistrict enrollment policy to say that an applicant seeking a transfer “may be denied” if the transfer would increase the proportion of socioeconomically disadvantaged students at the school the applicant is leaving.
The proposed change, prompted by a December discussion, comes as SMMUSD administrators and educators attempt to address longstanding issues revolving around equity, access and student outcomes.
“The board expressed concern about actions that could exacerbate achievement gaps,” said Mark Kelly, the district’s assistant superintendent of human resources. “There was continued interest from the board to have something in there along those lines.”
The district received 187 applications for intradistrict transfers this school year and approved 103 of them, according to data in a board memo by student services director Tara Brown. The memo did not include demographic data on the transfers, although SMMUSD tracks that kind of information for each of its schools overall.
Board member Ralph Mechur said he wanted to see demographic data specifically dealing with intradistrict transfer students but added that he generally supported the proposed language.
“Having a more socioeconomically integrated school is to the benefit of lower socioeconomic students and does no harm to, if not benefit, the upper socioeconomic students,” he said.
Board president Laurie Lieberman also said it would be wise to review recent figures before approving changes to district policy.
“It’s worth understanding the data and being clear on what we’re saying,” she said. “We’re all of the same general mind, but it’s easy to get caught up in grand ideas that are somewhat ideological but don’t necessarily match what is really happening.”
Of the approved transfers this school year, more than half (57) were at the kindergarten level.
Kelly said it’s difficult to determine whether incoming kindergarten students are socioeconomically disadvantaged because their parents haven’t necessarily applied yet for discounted lunch programs at that point.
“That’s a little tricky in terms of the implementation of the policy,” he said.
The most popular destination for intradistrict transfer students this year was Will Rogers Elementary School, which accepted 22 permits, down from the 31 approved there in the 2013-14 school year. More than 53 percent of the Will Rogers student body was designated as socioeconomically disadvantaged in 2014-15, according to district data.
Santa Monica Alternative School House (19), Franklin Elementary School (10) and Grant Elementary School (10) were also common receiving campuses in the district. Just 4.4 percent of SMASH students and 5.7 percent of Franklin students were deemed socioeconomically disadvantaged in 2014-15, while that figure jumped to 29.9 percent at Grant.
Kelly said the district could collect more data on the socioeconomic impact of intradistrict transfers and hold off on making any changes to the language.
“I don’t know how pervasive this problem is,” he said.