Author Archives: rpnorton

Superintendent: A milestone towards more holistic measures of school quality

Today the CORE districts (the consortium of districts that applied to the Federal government for a waiver from NCLB requirements) released the school results in the new School Quality Improvement Index (SQII or the Index). Here is Superintendent Carranza’s email to all district staff about this important milestone:

Dear Colleagues:
I am so excited that San Francisco is part of a movement toward a more holistic approach to school and district accountability. We know that academic performance is only one of many factors to consider when measuring school quality. That’s why, in addition to academic achievement, the School Quality Improvement Index (the Index) includes a first-in-nation use of social-emotional learning and school culture-climate indicators. The Index also makes more students visible by including results for any student group with 20 or more students.
While many SFUSD principals and educators have been using the data included in the Index for several months already, today parents and other community members can view each school’s Index report online.

Year One
The first year Index findings provide a baseline of information about both academics and newly designed measurements of social and emotional learning. Academic information accounts for 60 percent of the Index and includes measurements of English Language Arts and Mathematics learning, graduation rates (for four, five and six year cohorts) and High School Readiness Rates of 8th Graders.
The social-emotional & culture-climate indicators are weighted at 40 percent of the Index and currently include measurements of chronic absenteeism, suspension/ expulsion rates, and English Learner re-designation rates. Later this year, the Index will measure growth in academic achievement and these social-emotional and culture-climate indicators.
Next year, the Index will measure growth in academic achievement and the social-emotional and culture-climate indicators will expand to include student, family and staff surveys, as well as indicators of Social-Emotional Skills. The Index was developed by educators working in collaboration across school districts in CORE, including Los Angeles and Oakland, with input from academic experts in educational accountability systems at Harvard, Stanford and other institutions.
All Indicators for the index are intended to be measurable, actionable and meaningful.

Key Principles of the School Quality Improvement Index
The School Quality Improvement Index represents a set of fundamental shifts in school accountability, grounded in the shared values and continuous improvement philosophy shared by the CORE districts.
From accountability as a hammer to accountability as flashlight: The Index and the reports included here are designed to help school communities identify strengths that can be leveraged, and challenges to address. Interventions and supports are focused on capacity building through peer learning and collaborative action.
From a narrow focus to a holistic approach: The Index includes a basket of measures with indicators in both the academic domain, and the social-emotional and culture-climate domain.
Making more students visible by moving from an “n” of 100 to an “n” of 20 (“n” represents number): At the heart of the Index is a focus on eliminating disparity and disproportionality. For that reason, the Index includes results for any student group with 20 or more students.
From just achievement to achievement and growth: Starting in Fall 2016, the Index will include measures of individual student growth over time on state assessments in ELA and math.

San Francisco makes a Strong Showing among Peers
Over 600 elementary schools in the six CORE districts were measured and SFUSD had 5 in the top 10, including the two highest ranked schools. Of the over 200 middle schools, SFUSD had 5 of the top 10. While we’re well represented at the top, very few SFUSD schools are in the lowest rankings.
In introducing the new School Quality Improvement Index, CORE districts today released several examples of CORE-wide findings from the Index data. The initial findings show that schools with strong social-emotional /culture-climate performance tend to have stronger academic performance, but also indicate that schools with similar levels of academic performance can have markedly different results when it comes to the non-academic factors.
The examples also show how Index data can be used to identify schools that are beating the odds with high poverty populations that can be models for other schools, as well as to identify schools that may be struggling. The findings also confirm continuing and substantive gaps in performance among student groups. As our school communities delve into planning for next year, this kind of information provides actionable places for school communities to focus their improvement work.
During the transition in both state and federal accountability programs, I am proud that our district has been a critical player in developing this new more balanced set of measures. I am also proud of our many schools that are effectively serving the whole child.

Warm regards,

Richard A. Carranza

Know a great teacher or principal?

Every year the Mayor gives awards to teachers and principals of the year. The award process for 2015-16 is open! Nominate an amazing teacher or principal who you think deserves recognition. More information is here:

Awardees receive wonderful donated gifts like laptops, hotel stays, event tickets and spa days, but the most important thing they receive is high-level recognition and gratitude for the incredible efforts they put in every day.

Nominate every teacher or principal who has made a difference in your life or your child’s life — you don’t have to limit yourself to just one in either category! Teachers and principals who do great work in our schools every day deserve our thanks and recognition and this is one tangible way to offer it.

What is “adequate” education funding?

Yesterday the 1st District Court of Appeals for California heard an appeal on Robles-Wong v. California, a landmark case originally filed by the California School Boards Association in 2010 and then combined with Campaign for Quality Education v. California, another funding adequacy case filed the same year. The judges must rule within the next 90 days whether to overturn an earlier dismissal of the case.

News reports on yesterday’s arguments:

I also highly recommend downloading and reading the California School Boards Association’s recent, very comprehensive report on funding adequacy. It’s packed with facts and figures and makes a strong case that California is still not funding its schools adequately, even with the real and significant increases we’ve seen through the Local Control Funding Formula. The report estimates that the state should add between $22 and $42 billion (with a “b”!) annually to adequately prepare students for college.

Download the full report here (PDF)>

P.S. After I wrote this post, I came across this article from the Atlantic, “How Rich Parents Can Exacerbate School Inequality,” which makes a strong case for adequate funding for ALL schools to lessen the need for parent fundraising. Among the gems:

[Robert] Reich also pointed out that when wealthy people give money to their town foundations, their tax-deductable donations stay in their own communities. The contributions enhance the schools’ success, which in turn increases the donors’ property value. In other words, the rich receive tax credits for giving money to themselves. “All of us are subsidizing the magnification of inequality in public schools,” he told me. It’s preposterous.”

And:

Parental fundraising activities may even detract from local political activity, too, according to Reich. These highly educated, affluent parents, he said, use their finite energy and wallets to do some something that exclusively benefits their children. As a result, the parents may be less likely to advocate for policy changes that would benefits kids in other school districts, taking away some of their “political voice,” Reich theorized. Instead of going to Trenton or Albany to fight for public schools, they are running the town’s science fair.

One more:

Reich contrasted the fundraising efforts across school districts in California. He found that parents in the wealthy suburb of Hillsborough, California, raised about $2,300 per student on top of the district’s standard per-pupil allocation. Through online auctions whose items included a vacation on an island off of Belize in a house with a dedicated butler and a trip to see to the final episode of The Bachelor, they financed class-size reductions, librarians, art, and music teachers, along with smart technology in every classroom. In contrast, a foundation in Oakland raised only $100 per child. And, Reich said, parent foundations are nonexistent in most of the country’s poor cities and rural areas.

Recap 1/26/16: Audit, Title VII and smoking prevention

Several business items of note in tonight’s meeting:

  • First, the school district’s auditors presented the annual financial report for the year ending June 30 2015 — another clean audit with one finding regarding the unduplicated count of students in our Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP).  The LCAP rules say you can only count a student once — so a student who is in foster care and eligible for free or reduced lunch cannot be counted in both categories. This is a new level of precision that was not required before the implementation of the LCAP, and district data systems did not adequately account for the fact that some students fall into more than one category. Therefore, the auditors found that our unduplicated count was overstated and resulted in the district qualifying for more supplemental or concentration grants than it should have received under the state’s new Local Control Funding Formula — $2.5 million more. The auditors testified that many school districts are encountering this finding due to the increased demands, and fiscal impacts, of the reporting required in the LCAPs. In other words, procedures that were appropriate prior to the implementation of the LCAP now need to be updated because the rules have changed, the auditors said, and added that they believe the district’s corrective measures (including reporting the error to the state) will address the problem in future years. We’ll discuss in budget committee next week how this error might affect our budget going forward.
  • Supervisor WienerCommissioners Walton, Haney and Mendoza-McDonnell authored a resolution in support of legislation being sponsored by Supervisors Wiener, Cohen, Mar and Farrell that would ban the sale of tobacco products and e-cigarettes to people under the age of 21. Supervisor Scott Wiener was on hand to urge the Board’s support, which was unanimous. As a former smoker — I had my first cigarette at age 13 and smoked a pack a day until I was 30. It took me three tries to quit for good, and I’m happy to say I haven’t had a puff in over 10 years. Never again. National data shows that 95 percent of adult smokers began smoking, as I did, before the age of 21. Needless to say, I am strongly supportive of this idea.
  • The Board unanimously reauthorized three separate but related charters held by the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department for Five Keys Charter schools. These institutions serve adults and juveniles who are either incarcerated or on probation, helping them to get back on track and complete a high school education. These are truly innovative programs first begun by former sheriff Mike Hennessey and continued by his successors Ross Mirkarimi and Vicki Hennessey (no relation to Mike).

We also had an informational report from the Title VII Indian Education Program and Parent Advisory Council. Under the Indian Education Act, a Federal law passed in 1972, school districts must create programs to serve the unique educational needs of American Indian/Alaskan Native students. Since that time, the school district was required to have a Title VII program serving the needs of this population, but in the early 2000s the program fell into decline. In 2008-09 the program was re-established, but did not have a permanent home. In 2014 the Parent Advisory Council for the program came to the Board and district leadership advocating for a permanent space so that they could better serve their students and families, and eventually moved into a bungalow at Sanchez Elementary. There, they now host monthly Family nights, community events and Cultural Nights, offer academic workshops and after-school tutoring, and hold Parent Advisory Council meetings.

Federal funding is available to support the Title VII Indian Education programs, but school districts can only claim this funding for students whose families have filled out a special Federal form — Form 506. As of October 2015 only 145 students in SFUSD had a Form 506 on file, but community members testified tonight that the eligible population is significantly higher, perhaps more than 400 students. More outreach to parents and training for staff is needed to document the true number of indigenous students eligible for Title VII funding, the group said. They also stressed the need for much greater cultural competency and sensitivity from school staff–this is a population with a lot of needs but also a proud and distinct culture that is not always respected or honored in our schools.

Public comment: United Educators President Lita Blanc testified on behalf of staff at Charles Drew Elementary, who have raised concerns about their facility. Drew is an open plan school, with classrooms that can be reconfigured by opening or closing temporary sliding walls. Perhaps this seemed innovative when the school was built (in the 1970s) but now “pods” have gone out of fashion and for good reason: students and teachers find it almost impossible to focus in them. Cabrillo Elementary on 25th Avenue had such a design when I looked at it as an option for my children a decade ago –I liked a lot of things about the school at the time but the facility design made the classrooms feel like they had been set up temporarily in someone’s living room. Now, Cabrillo has been converted to district office space, and Drew and George Washington Carver might be the last true “pod” artifacts in the district. Commissioners asked for the facilities department to give us a report on what can be done to mitigate the impacts of the facility on teaching and learning.

Recap 1/12/16: New Leadership

Congratulations to Matt Haney and Shamann Walton, who were unanimously elected President and  Vice President, respectively, to the Board of Education for 2016. Other news from today’s meeting:

  • The Parent Advisory Council has done significant outreach to families that are usually underrepresented as a community engagement project for the new Our Children Our Families Council (the advisory body created as part of Prop. C in 2014, the charter amendment that linked and extended the Children’s Fund and the Public Education Enrichment Fund).  They presented their findings to the Board tonight.
  • We heard the annual and five year reports on our Developer Impact Fees — wow. Under state law, we are allowed to levy impact fees to real estate developers to mitigate the impact of new residential and commercial developments on school district facilities. San Francisco’s real estate market has been booming for a few years, so we’ve raised the fees twice since 2013. For the year ended June 30, 2015, we received $8 million in fees; and that was before the latest fee increase took effect July 1, 2015. We should expect the 2015-16 total to be even higher. Developer impact fees can’t be used for programs or salaries — they can only be spent on facilities and must be used to mitigate the impact of growth. So, for example, we can use the funds to build a new wing at a school or modernize an aging facility to accommodate more students. Projects underway at Lowell HS, Junipero Serra ES and several Early Education sites are all financed by developer impact fees.
  • Commissioner Sandra Lee Fewer and I introduced our resolution expanding access to Mandarin and other World Language programs;
  • President Haney and Vice President Walton introduced a resolution supporting programs for children of incarcerated parents (and maybe the only SFUSD Board resolution that will ever reference the TV shows “Empire” or “Orange is the New Black”).

Other news

I filed my paperwork for re-election last week, so I’m officially a candidate for the Board of Education in 2016. I’m grateful to my colleagues, friends and family who joined me to pull papers. Much more news and information about the campaign and my plans for a third term to come.

Filing photos

The Governor also released his preliminary budget proposal last week, and while staff is still doing the analysis for what it means for SFUSD,  it’s good for K-12 education in general. We do need to worry about what happens when Prop. 30 expires in 2018, and about an eventual slowdown in the state economy, but for now times are good. The Rules Committee will take up the state budget outlook on Jan. 21, and the Budget Committee will take up the outlook for SFUSD on Feb. 3.

Increasing access to Mandarin

Tomorrow night Commissioner Sandra Lee Fewer and I will introduce “Expanding Access to Mandarin and Other World Languages,” a resolution asking the Superintendent to begin the Program Placement process to pilot Mandarin world language programs at elementary schools that feed into middle schools with a Mandarin language program.

The idea is to build a more robust pipeline of students who continue their study of Mandarin into middle school. Currently there are just two elementary schools offering Mandarin Immersion and a three offering Cantonese pathways with some study of Mandarin; Alice Fong Yu offers K-8 dual-language immersion in Cantonese with Mandarin starting in middle school. We’d like to expand language pathway options to more students — it has never seemed quite fair that if you don’t win a seat at a language pathway in Kindergarten, you’re likely not to be able to access second language instruction until high school (some middle schools offer world language as an elective but most don’t).

The Program Placement process consists of a rigorous review of the budget, facility and community impact of new program proposals, so it’s not clear what the outcome of the process will be if the resolution passes (it will have to undergo review in the Budget and Curriculum committees before returning to the Board for a final vote probably sometime in late February). However, given real challenges in recruiting teachers with both Mandarin language skills and content knowledge–essential for dual-language immersion programs– and the ongoing popularity of language pathways in general, it seems like the right time to look at new ways to expand second language access for more of our students.

Math achievement: Looking at the data

I thought it would be interesting to look at the math achievement data that district leadership reviewed, in detail, before recommending our math placement policy. I should note that the data is from the California Standards Test (CST), which has now been discontinued in favor of the Common Core-aligned Smarter Balanced Assessments (SBAC). You cannot compare SBAC results to CST results, because they are very different assessments. So, while we do have one base year of SBAC scores, I’m only using CSTs here because of the comparability issues. That’s why there are no scores past 2013 — the state stopped administering CSTs after 2013 and did not administer SBACs until 2015.

ENROLLMENT: The graph below shows the percentage of students in each grade who took each version of the California Standards Test. This graph documents the overall trend in the 2000s towards more students taking Algebra I in 8th grade, which in turn increased the number of students taking Algebra II in 10th grade.  Percent TAKING tests

PERFORMANCE: More students took these courses earlier in middle and high school than previously, but how did they perform? Perhaps not surprisingly, as more students took these courses, that were previously considered to be very advanced, performance gradually declined. The next graph shows the percentage of students in each grade who took each test and scored advanced or proficient. I find it troubling that achievement in Algebra I, as demonstrated by the CST anyway, clearly flattened out at under 50 percent scoring advanced or proficient in recent years. And Algebra II scores — remember, by 10th graders, who would most likely have to have been placed in Algebra I two years earlier to take Algebra II in 8th grade — show an even sharper decline.

Percent taking who scored adv prof

The last graph is a different perspective on the size of the cohort of students scoring advanced or proficient on each state test. Instead of basing the percentage on the universe of students who took the test, as in the graph above,  I calculated students in each grade scoring advanced or proficient on each test as a percentage of their entire class cohort — not just those who took the test. If you accept that these CST scores are a reasonable proxy for mastery of the subject (and there are arguments about that), you can see that indeed we had little to brag about in terms of math proficiency in secondary school. The Algebra II CST scores are particularly dismal — just 14 percent of all 10th graders (and 40 percent of those who took the course) scored advanced or proficient in Algebra II in 2013.

Percent of all students in grade who are adv prof

 

 

 

 

 

I have shared the underlying data for these charts in a Google Doc which you may view if you’re interested. That data and much more is also available here, from the California Department of Education.

What the data tells me is that we really did/do need to overhaul math instruction to improve achievement in Algebra and other advanced math topics. In my view, reasonable people can disagree on the district’s chosen course for math policy, but it’s not an unreasonable assumption that giving students time to develop a firmer foundation in math — particularly as the rigor of the Algebra courses most students will encounter under the Common Core has increased dramatically — is a good idea if we want to improve achievement and get more students to attain higher levels of mathematics.

Anyway, Algebra II is a basic gatekeeper to the future: you cannot go to a four-year college as an 18-year-old if you cannot pass it. And even good “vocational” careers requiring apprenticeships rather than college degrees (like being a union carpenter, for example) require this level of math mastery. I’ve been hearing a lot from the parents who are concerned their children need to move at a faster pace. I would like all of us to pause for just a moment and contemplate how many students’ futures have been curtailed because our system has not prepared many students very well for the math they need in the future.

That said, I am continuing to have a dialogue with parents and with district leaders about how we can continue to improve our Common Core implementation: I’m particularly interested in additional class size reduction in middle school math, because I believe teachers need that space to fully realize the paradigm shift that Common Core represents. I’m also really inspired by some great conversations that are starting around redesigning high school, which is another pillar of the district’s Vision 2025. By deepening and extending our relationship with City College, for example, we can expand the acceleration options available to students, while allowing much more flexibility around where (and when) students take courses.