Category Archives: Improving schools

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

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.

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.

The problem we all live with

I finally listened to Part II of This American Life’s two-part series on desegregation in America, and I highly recommend taking some time to listen to the series if you care about school assignment policy and diverse schools.  Part I is about the benefits of integrated schools, and has some truly awful-to-hear excerpts from public comment at a Missouri school board meeting after a white-majority district learns that students from a black-majority school in a neighboring district will be coming to their community.

Part II is fascinating. It’s about Hartford, Connecticut, a majority high-poverty black/latino district, and how after a long court case, the district is trying a voluntary desegregation program. There are several important ways that the Hartford situation differs from San Francisco, and some important parallels.

In many ways we are already trying a voluntary desegregation program  here in San Francisco and failing badly. Maybe the attractions of the new Willie Brown MS will help us turn that corner — building a program that clearly will attract white and asian families. Maybe. But if these programs make one thing clear, it’s that desegregation policy is not easy.

Listen to the programs (free if you stream them from the web site) and let me know what you think.

Let’s celebrate inclusive schools week!

Every year, the first week of December is Inclusive Schools Week. More than anything else, Inclusive Schools Week is about inspiring all of us to think bigger about who we are, which students our schools serve, and how we can serve every student better.

So, to help get you in the mood, here are some stories I find incredibly inspirational:

Including Samuel is a documentary made by a photojournalist whose second son, Samuel, was born with a disability. Samuel’s family believes strongly he should be included in mainstream classrooms, but they also understand the trade-offs that full inclusion can require.

Here is Samuel’s father, Dan Habib, giving a TED talk:

Harper’s Playground came to be after  Harper’s parents learned they would be parents of a child with a disability. They immediately wondered: how would they help Harper play with other children and find friends? From that, a movement toward more inclusive play spaces for children was born.

Big news on student achievement

The school district’s Academic Performance Index (API) for 2012 has been released, and it breaks through an important psychological barrier: 800. The state has set that number as the target for all schools, and last year the district fell just shy at 796. This year — 807.

“Surpassing the 800 API mark is a huge milestone for our city and our schools,” Superintendent Carranza was quoted as saying in the school district’s press release on the API data (PDF). “San Francisco can count itself among only a few large urban school districts in the State that have exceeded the 800 target for academic performance.”

Out of 98 schools reporting, 51 have an API score of 800 or above; of the schools with an API of 799 or less, most met their state “growth targets” — the minimum level of improvement expected by the state.

Of course, it’s important to keep these things in perspective –many schools did not meet their growth targets for all subgroups — African American students, Latino students, Samoan students, students with disabilities–and the school district continues to have a broad gap in achievement between different racial groups, between English speakers and English learners, and between students with disabilities and their non-disabled peers.  Still, the state has set the yardstick: an API over 800 means that more students are achieving at grade-level than not, and that is something to pause (briefly) and celebrate.

Download district schools’ 2012 API scores (PDF) >>>>>>>>

SFUSD posts strong academic results for 2011-12

Last Friday, President Norman Yee and I were proud to stand alongside Superintendent Carranza and other district leaders to announce the district’s scores on the 2011-12 California Standards Test (CST or STAR test). The scores added another data point to the trend of gradual improvement for all SFUSD students in English/Language Arts and Math.

English/Language Arts:
Overall, 60.5 percent of all students in grades 2-11 scored proficient or above, up from 50.5 percent in 2008. In the Superintendent’s Zone, fewer students scored proficient (35.5 percent) but compared to just 19.4 percent proficient in these schools in 2008, the gains were impressive. The nine SIG schools (those receiving three-year Federal School Improvement Grants ending in 2013) increased to 36.6 percent proficient compared to 18.2 percent proficient just four years ago.

Mathematics
Overall, 67.6 percent of all students in grades 2-7 scored proficient or above, up from 59.4 percent in 2008. In the Superintendent’s Zone, fewer students scored proficient in Math (48.8 percent) but compared to just 25.1 percent proficient in these schools in 2008, the gains were impressive. The nine SIG schools (those receiving three-year Federal School Improvement Grants ending in 2013) increased to 50.4 percent proficient compared to 23.5 percent proficient just four years ago.

More data and charts are posted here, and at the Committee of the Whole on Sept. 18 the Board will receive an in-depth presentation on our 2011-12 achievement data. Stay tuned!