Category Archives: BOE

A mini FAQ, and a book review

Lots of email after last Tuesday’s Board meeting, and comments too. I got one comment I decided not to post because I thought it was too likely to be misconstrued. Still, I engaged in a great exchange with the author–a parent of a young child new to SFUSD–and based on that exchange I think it’s helpful for me to rephrase his comment as a series of questions and answers. After that, some thoughts on the book Mission High by Kristina Rizga. But first, the FAQ:

  • Has GATE been eliminated? GATE is not being eliminated, though new GATE identifications have been suspended for a time due to the lack of standardized testing data. Read my post on this topic, which goes into much greater detail.
  • Are all honors and AP courses being eliminated?  First, let’s be very clear up front that Honors courses are not the same thing as AP. Honors at the middle school level has been eliminated. Some high school honors courses for 9th and 10th graders will be eliminated. No AP courses are being eliminated that I know of. AP courses are overseen by the College Board, with a recommended curriculum and a test at the end. Honors courses do not have a standard curriculum from school to school, and prior to 11th grade a student receives no consideration from UC for taking most Honors courses. My opinion:  I am much more comfortable with the idea of expanding AP than I am with Honors, which seems to me to be somewhat arbitrary. I do, however, acknowledge that with the elimination of Honors in middle school, we need to be sure that teachers have the resources and the foundation they need to adequately differentiate curriculum for students at every point in the spectrum of learning. I also think we should begin to look beyond AP as a stand-in for rigor, and deepen our partnership with City College to expand dual enrollment in SFUSD and the College. Students who have real college courses, and credits, on their transcripts will be incredibly attractive to colleges.
  • Will the district turn Lowell and SOTA into ordinary lottery schools?  No.  It’s possible–for example, in response to my resolution last year that called, among other things, for examining the audition process at Ruth Asawa School of the Arts–the district may from time to time tweak admissions processes at these schools. My opinion: I do not expect, nor am I advocating for, any major changes in the competitive-entry admissions at either of these sites.
  • Is there a desire to remove any workaround (summer school, doubling up, validation exams) for students who wish to advance more quickly in math before 11th grade?  District policy does allow students to double up on courses and students who have either passed online courses or the validation exam have already been allowed to advance prior to the “decision point” that is envisioned as coming at the end of 10th grade looking forward to 11th grade. Those options aren’t necessarily recommended, but they are available. My opinion (not necessarily district policy): I see some equity issues, particularly with the online course that some students have taken, since it costs a considerable sum of money. However, I do not think that if an online course is accredited, and accepted by the UC regents as a CCSS Algebra course, that we should refuse to offer credit for it, and I also acknowledge that allowing students who can pay for such a course to move ahead doesn’t feel quite right if there are other students who want to take such a course but can’t pay.  (My children would rather poke their eyes out with hot pokers than take a summer math course online, but maybe that’s just my kids.)  I am discussing this issue internally and asking for some ideas and solutions to that problem.
  • Will students be forced to take non-math-based physics in 9th grade? No. The Board just heard a presentation on the implementation of the Next Generation Science Standards in the Curriculum Committee and was told that schools will either choose Biology or Conceptual Physics for 9th grade OR every school will offer both Biology and Conceptual Physics as options. The final decision is still yet to be made–the Curriculum Committee strongly came down on the side of students having options at every school–but requiring every student to take Conceptual Physics in 9th grade is absolutely off the table.
  • How do the new the CCSS  Math for 8th grade and CCSS Algebra I course in 9th grade compare to the previous Algebra I taught in 8th grade?  Well, I’m glad you asked. Here’s a handy graphic that shows the overlap between the old/new courses:

Screen Shot 2015-11-20 at 12.34.03 AM

And now a book review:

I’m really excited to recommend the book Mission High to anyone who cares about the future of public education, and in particular about the future of public education in San Francisco. Kristina Rizga, a writer for Mother Jones, spent several years “embedded” at the school, building strong relationships with students and teachers so she could tell their stories. Even before I read the book I was recommending Mission to people because of what I know about the teaching and leadership at the school. And the book just underscores my positive impression, giving a deeper and more detailed view of classrooms where teachers are working every day to encourage students to do more, learn more, and think harder. The book makes it so clear that much standardized testing only captures a fraction of what students know and can do (I knew that already but she makes a great case). I love social studies teacher Robert Roth’s focus on writing — “analyze, don’t summarize” he is quoted as saying over and over again to his students — because as a writer I know how much harder it is to write a good argument, citing evidence,  than it is to answer a true or false or multiple choice question.

I love the way the students at Mission High grow in confidence and ability and become powerful advocates for themselves and their school. I love the way they reject the label of “failing student” or “failing school” even though the school’s test scores aren’t stellar. The students, through the course of the book,  become writers and advocates and scholars. They go to college. They achieve. They lead.

Reading about the teachers and students profiled in “Mission High” makes you believe in the power of teaching to transform any life — not just the lives of those who have experienced incredible adversity–but also the life of any young person who has great potential and needs encouragement and instruction to reach it. I believe this kind of teaching is present in every school in SFUSD. Perhaps not in every classroom, perhaps not every day of every year– yet the ability and the potential is there. “Mission High” challenges me as a Board member to create those conditions where great teaching can flourish, for every student, in every school, every day. Have you read the book? Tell me in the comments what you think.

Recap: Board Meeting Nov 10 2015

A large crowd for public comment tonight, mostly to advocate against the District’s Common Core math sequence, now in its second year of implementation. Jill Tucker from the Chronicle did a good job summarizing the comments, so I’ll just link to her article, which quotes me, parents and the Superintendent.

Last spring, when families began to advocate against the math sequence, I hosted a meeting of concerned parents with Jim Ryan, our STEM expert, and Lizzy Hull Barnes, our math curriculum expert. The input we heard at that meeting, and in subsequent public comment at the Board, as well as conversations with outside experts, led me to propose additional investments in coaching for middle school math teachers and decreasing class size in 8th grade Common Core math to 22-24 students. That’s what has been implemented this year, and I’m watching the results. The Superintendent has also set benchmarks he’s willing to be judged against as we complete implementation of the Common Core, and he’s announced those benchmarks publicly (see this update from the San Francisco Parent PAC for more information).

A community member recently forwarded me this interview with Donna Ford, PhD, a professor at Vanderbilt University, conducted by one of our parents who is critical of the district’s math sequence and heterogeneous class groupings. I actually think the professor is quite insightful on these issues and I encourage you to listen to her comments — the interview is about an hour long.

We also heard an update on our Lau Plan implementation to serve English Learners. (Here’s the background on Lau v. Nichols, the landmark court case that led to SFUSD’s being under court supervision to provide appropriate supports to English Learners). There was a lot of data presented — the biggest takeaway for the Board is that being more aggressive to reclassify English Learners has had a positive effect on achievement. The plight of LTELs (Long Term English Learners) who languish for years without achieving fluency is appalling and unacceptable. So seeing that many of the students who we managed to reclassify are now achieving at the same rate (or higher) as their English-fluent peers is a good thing. Of course we still see a significant gap between the achievement of Spanish-speakers and Cantonese/Mandarin/Korean speakers so that is still a major issue.

There were also some parents present to protest the district’s support for SB 277, which was signed into law months ago. They are requesting transcripts from one of our committee meetings, so as a public service here is how you can get recordings of our meetings, as well as other information:

Regular board meetings are streamed on and broadcast on KALW FM 91.7. You can stream or download video or audio of all of our regular meetings by visiting this link.

Committee meetings are recorded and I’m told this year the recordings are now digital, though it doesn’t appear they are posted for easy download. I’ll try to work on that. In the meantime, you may request a recording of any public committee hearing of the Board of Education by contacting the office of Equity Assurance at 415-355-7334. You can also always make a public records act request of the school district by filling out this form and faxing it or mailing it to the school district (the fax number and address is on the form). There may be a nominal fee for recordings or document reproduction.

Quick recap: assignment projections, SBAC results at Board meeting

Last night’s Board meeting didn’t end until almost midnight, and I have to get to my day job soon, so very little time for a recap today. There were a few items I wanted to quickly highlight, however.

The first is a high-level preview of the work the staff has been doing to refine our enrollment projections over the next 15-20 years. The City is growing, and the current housing affordability crisis has pushed a huge increase in building permits for housing at all price points. Those new units will come on line gradually over the next decade, but the impact on potential school enrollments will be huge. These numbers show we need to urgently begin the work of  planning new schools — not only in Mission Bay, which some of us have been saying for a while, but in Hunter’s Point and also Treasure Island. Parkmerced and the Financial District will also see big increases. These are all places where we don’t have schools or where existing schools are at capacity! I’ll have a lot more to say about this later.

The other presentation was an in-depth look at our SBAC results. There is a lot of very interesting information there, even if you already absorbed the headlines from the release last week. While we have some good news, there are also clear challenges in the data when you look at our subgroups. It will be interesting to hear how some of the other CORE districts were able to move their subgroups  (CORE is the consortium that received a waiver from No Child Left Behind requirements).

Thank you to the Community Advisory Committee for Special Education, which gave a measured report of successes and challenges for students in district special education programs. I am so grateful to these volunteers for the work they do on behalf of our students with disabilities.

Congratulations to Commissioner Walton, whose resolution (co-sponsored by Comissioners Haney and Wynns ) on cultivating SFUSD graduates for future employment opportunities in the district passed unanimously.

Finally, we had a lot of wrenching public comment from families and community members about Willie Brown MS. Opening a new school is challenging, but families are rightly upset about the way the first six weeks of school have played out. I believe the problems are fixable, and we are getting daily updates of things the district is doing to address all of the issues from behavior support for a few disruptive students to facilities glitches to staffing needs. Still, it’s important to acknowledge that the families are right — they had a right to expect the first six weeks of school to proceed much more smoothly than they have. Last week we announced that Bill Kappenhagen, the well-loved and effective principal of Burton HS, will take over the helm of the school later this month. The problems at Willie Brown are not about one person, but I do think that having this strong and experienced leader in place will help.

Recap: August 25, 2015

A relatively light agenda with just one major item — a status report on the Safe and Supportive Schools implementation, now in its second year.  The policy seeks to end disciplinary practices that disproportionately affect the education of students of color, and instead offer training and support to school staff to help de-escalate conflicts and minimize disruptive and negative behavior.

We’ve definitely made progress — suspensions have decreased dramatically from 1921 in the 2012-13 school year to 1269 in 2013-14. Out-of-class referrals have increased as well. Students report that school climate is improved, and this summer alone, almost 1,400 school site staff received training in various aspects of the policy (Restorative Practices, Response to Intervention, Positive Behavior Intervention and Support, etc.). Our educator union, United Educators of San Francisco, partnered with us and secured a grant from the national American Federation of Teachers to train teachers in promoting pro-social behaviors.

In other news, Governor Brown will sign a bill hastily passed by the Legislature to fix the CAHSEE mess that left almost 150 students in San Francisco (and countless others up and down the state) in limbo, unable to graduate from high school and unable to take the test because it will no longer be offered by the state. Friday, August 14 was a day I won’t soon forget — we cut the ribbon on the gleaming new Willie Brown MS in the morning and in the late afternoon broke state law to stand up for students, issuing them diplomas in an impromptu ceremony (Commissioner Haney played “Pomp and Circumstance” through his computer speakers) to get them out of limbo. Glad to see the state backed us up and we are no longer a rogue district.


Here’s a slideshow of shots from the new Willie Brown Middle School:

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Recap: First meeting of the 2015-16 school year!

Students aren’t actually in school yet but as far as the district is concerned, the year is under way. Administrators returned to work in late July, teachers report back this week, and the Board resumed its normal meeting schedule tonight after the annual July hiatus.

There were a couple of very interesting items on tonight’s agenda:

  • Willie Brown Middle School preview – 6 out of the 7 Board members have never opened a new school before (the last brand new school the district opened was Dianne Feinstein Elementary in 2005) , so the unveiling of the sparkling new Willie Brown Middle School this week is really exciting for us. The numbers are good: 215 students enrolled in the inaugural 6th grade class, with 33 on the waiting list. Our goal was to open Willie Brown as a fully-enrolled, diverse school, and it looks as if we’ll achieve that goal — the incoming class is 45% African American, 23% Latino and 32% all other races (Chinese, Caucasian, Filipino, Pacific Islander, etc), coming from 38 different SFUSD elementary schools and 15 different zip codes. Every student will receive their own personal Chromebook on the first day, and have an advisor who will work with them on their individualized learning plan throughout the school year. Principal Demetrius Hobson has hired a new staff that has been working together for several weeks now to build the new program. After the humiliation and defeat that was the old Willie Brown MS (someday I’ll write up what it was like to visit that school in the last few months before it closed), I’m feeling confident we have set up the new school for success.
  • Schools in The Shipyard – You know The Shipyard, right? That’s the Hunters Point Shipyard to you old timers. Lennar Corp. and the City of San Francisco are hard at work in the area creating a “revitalized waterfront neighborhood . . . offering a mix of residences, retail, entertainment, a research and development campus, community space, and a business incubator.” Early on, the school district was offered space for a school within the development, which is good because the plan calls for almost 5,800 new residences. Tonight, we heard that the early vision (much more planning and analysis will be needed) is for two schools in The Shipyard: an “elementary professional learning school,” which would be a collaboration between SF State and SFUSD to provide training and professional development for emerging and experienced teachers and focus students at an early age on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), and a STEM “excelerator” that would be “a state-of-the-art research and technology facility where high school and college students design and complete projects in collaboration with partners in the local business community.” The big question mark, aside from how much all of this would cost and where the money would come from (more about that in a minute), is the demographic analysis. San Francisco is changing rapidly, and will look very different 10 years from now than it does today. So are these school visions what we will truly need?  One thing that has always bothered me, and many others, is that a few years ago  our demographers said we didn’t need to rush to build a school in Mission Bay because so few of the market rate homes being built there would yield public school students. That prediction has held true, as Commissioner Wynns observed tonight, but I would argue that we didn’t build it, so they didn’t come.  To risk a long Mission Bay digression, we have two schools that are near(ish) to the Mission Bay area (reportedly swarming with young kids)–Bessie Carmichael K-8 and Daniel Webster K-5. Both are almost a mile away from the core of the neighborhood, straight up a steep set of hills and/or on the other side of a freeway. Not walkable.)  Anyway, I strongly made the point tonight that we need to dig deeper on our demographic analysis, and not simply decide that middle- and upper-middle class kids will never come our way, so we shouldn’t build for them. Demographic analysis to inform The Shipyard school discussion, as well as our larger ongoing discusssion on student assignment policy,  should be available sometime next month.  Finally, as far as funding the vision for The Shipyard schools, we’re beginning to plan for a bond issue in November 2016. Considering Willie Brown cost $54 million, this might be a big one. Stay tuned for more on that.

I’ve made a new school year resolution to blog more regularly — reading back over old posts from a few years ago makes me realize how little I’ve posted in recent months. Hold me accountable! In the meantime, wishing everyone a very happy and productive start to the school year. I’ll post Willie Brown pix after Friday’s opening ceremonies.

Recap: April 28 – TFA, TFA, TFA

Packed agenda but most of the airtime in tonight’s meeting was consumed by additional discussion and a vote on the district’s proposed contract with Teach for America. (Jill Tucker from the SF Chronicle wrote about the controversy this morning, and posted a followup story on tonight’s vote).

There is a national teacher shortage because there aren’t as many people going into teaching (which is hard work, and not paid as well as it should be) as there are teachers reaching the end of their careers and retiring. The district is projecting 300-500 openings next year, and my first priority is making sure that every classroom is covered with a permanent teacher on the first day of school. As I wrote someone earlier today in an email:

In SF TFA is not our only or even our biggest strategy for filling teaching jobs. Would I rather have every one of the 400 teacher openings we expect for next year filled with teachers with more than a few months experience, who expect to stay in the profession long term? Yes. That isn’t going to happen, and we need to have permanent teachers in every classroom starting on the first day of school in August. Teachers will not magically appear from elsewhere if we cancel the TFA contract. We’re talking about 24 teachers that are guaranteed — given that we have to screen four resumes for every teacher we hire, that’s 96 resumes we don’t have to evaluate and interviews we don’t have to conduct because TFA guarantees us those hires.

Many of our TFA teachers are wonderful teachers, and some are not. Many of our teachers from traditional credentialing programs are wonderful, and some are not.

My expectation for the Superintendent is that he opens school for the year with fully-staffed classrooms, and I will hold him accountable for that. I will not tell him how to do his job nor will I limit the tools he thinks he needs to meet that goal.

The Superintendent did reach a compromise to ensure the contract would be renewed. He decreased the number of teachers we’ll hire from TFA next year to 15 — the same number we’ve hired each of the past three or four years — down from the 24 teachers he originally requested. In the end, four Commissioners voted to approve the contract with three voting no.

It was a very negative debate, and felt very personal and unfair on all sides. I think the Board and staff will bear some bruises on this one for a while. From the outside, it’s one of those crazy debates we engage in from time to time — hours and hours of air time spent on what ended up to be a $37,000 contract to hire 15 teachers (3 to 4 percent of what we’ll need come August). But the real issue–one that the Board is united on–is that we need to improve our support for beginning teachers because so many of them leave the profession after a few years; we also need to build stronger pipelines and partnerships so that we have a reliable supply of new teachers to fill openings left by retirements. I think to move forward, we need to focus on these two areas where we all agree we need to pay attention and put resources. So in the end maybe some real, long-term good will come out of all this negativity and discord.

We also renewed Gateway Middle School’s charter by a vote of 6-1, and unanimously adopted an ambitious rewrite of the Wellness Policy. We had another lengthy discussion, late, after most spectators had left, about a proposed agreement with The New Teacher Project to recruit and support administrators. Things got a little hot between the Superintendent and Commissioner Wynns when she accused him of acquiescing to the anti-democratic privatization agenda she believes The New Teacher Project represents. In the end, the proposal passed 6-1.

* * *

In other news, our 2014 cohort graduation rate has been released by the state and there is both good news and really bad news. The good news is that SFUSD is graduating more kids ready for UC/CSU than ever before, and the rate is higher than the state’s as a whole — 56.9 percent of students in SFUSD’s class of 2014 completed the A-G course sequence with a C or better in every class, compared to just 41.9 percent for the state as a whole.

The bad news is that our overall graduation rate fell slightly behind the state’s — 79.9 % of the Class of 2014 graduated in four years from SFUSD, compared to 80.8% for the state as a whole.

And the really bad news continues to be the performance of some of our subgroups (Class of 2014 four year graduation rates — SFUSD/State):

  • English Learners – 66%/65.3%
  • Latino/Hispanic – 61.2%/76.4%
  • African American – 57.3%/68.1%
  • Special Education – 55.7 %/62.2%
  • White – 84.0%/87.4%
  • Asian 89.4 %/92.3%

The dropout rate also went up — from 11.3 percent last year to 11.9 percent this year. The state’s dropout rate for the Class of 2014 is 11.6%.

While I think it’s fair to own these numbers and admit that we need to do a lot better, I also think one explanation behind the slight dip we see this year is that the Class of 2014 was the first class who had to satisfy the much more rigorous A-G requirements — requirements that were instituted when the members of this class were in the 7th grade.

Pause for amendments

Well, there will be no Equity in Student Assignment vote tomorrow. At the Student Assignment Committee on April 13, Commissioners asked for amendments that would underscore our commitment to improving conditions in schools that have concentrations of underserved students and are located in CTIP census tracts.

We circulated a draft amendment but it needs more work. Commissioner Walton in particular is watching this keenly and I welcome the opportunity to work with him on wording an amendment that gets this support across.

(Thanks to Parents for Public Schools-San Francisco‘s Miranda Martin for the Board Watch notes linked above).