Apologies, blog followers – the last week has gotten away from me and so I never completed a recap of last Tuesday’s (Oct. 11) board meeting. Here it is, better late than never:
The major item of the evening was an update by the Early Education Department on the plans for Transitional Kindergarten. To review, last year the state passed legislation that gradually moves back the date of eligibility for Kindergarten from December 1 to September 1. Over the next three years, the date moves back one month per year so that by the 2014-15 school year and beyond, students will have to be age five by September 1 of the Fall they enter Kindergarten. Students whose 5th birthday falls between September 1 and December 1 will be eligible for a new, optional two-year program called Transitional Kindergarten (TK).
The content of TK isn’t really spelled out in the legislation other than to say it is a “modified kindergarten curriculum that is age and developmentally-appropriate” and that TK “shall not be construed as a new program or a higher level of service” (because otherwise school districts would demand actual funding for the program). In fact, TK was largely conceived as a way to hold school districts harmless from the financial consequences of losing a chunk of potential Kindergarten students during the transition to a new eligibility date. Enrollment of young fives in SFUSD schools varies a great deal by school, with three elementary schools enrolling no students who would fall in the TK window; others have as many as 13 (most elementary schools enroll between three and six TK-eligible students in Kindergarten).
Much of the presentation given to the Board centered on the experience in other districts which have already implemented some form of a TK program. LAUSD, for example, started its program with 36 standalone TK classrooms in 2010, originally funding those programs with Title I monies (Federal aid given to school districts to educate low-income students); Title I is no longer available for this purpose. LAUSD’s program is the largest in the state, but San Diego, Long Beach, Santa Clara and others also have programs — SFUSD is participating in a statewide professional learning community with these other districts to share strategies and best practices.
Some of the lessons learned:
- Most of the districts serve TK students in standalone classrooms dedicated to just this transitional age group. However, districts have found this approach to be challenging because it is difficult to find enough students to fill the standalone classrooms without busing and other expensive logistics. LAUSD now recommends combination classrooms as the best model for TK. Districts have also found that standalone classrooms cost more than they generate in per-student funding from the state.
- TK enrollment is very difficult to predict. Some districts found that students seeking TK programs were primarily low-income and/or English Language Learners; most found that boys were much more likely to enroll in TK classrooms than girls (often classroom ratios were two-thirds boys to one-third girls). Some districts found that families preferred tuition-based preschool models for young fives, and had trouble filling their classrooms with eligible students.
As a result, staff is recommending an approach that could be described as “wait and see where kids land, then we’ll respond with programming.” Kindergarten teachers would be given additional professional development with the help of a TK coach, funded by a grant from the Packard Foundation. Schools with high concentrations of TK-eligible students would perhaps group those students into one classroom, with a modified curriculum; schools with just a handful of TK students might add in additional supports for them and allow those students to stay in Kindergarten for two years (the law says that schools and families can accelerate students into first grade from TK on a case-by-case basis).
It’s important to remember that TK-eligible students are already here, being served today in our Kindergarten classrooms. While parents might have been hoping for an additional preschool-like option for their young fives, the current staff proposal is to keep things more status quo — TK-eligible students would apply to Kindergarten like all other students, go through the same student assignment process, and land in the schools they would have attended should the state never have mucked around with the eligibility date in the first place. Once they land, however, they do have the option to stay in Kindergarten for two years, and presumably some modified curriculum and staff development would be in place. Yeah, I know — some of you are thinking that “presumably” is perhaps too large a leap of faith.
The Board’s reaction to all of this was doubtful, and a bit apprehensive — while there’s absolutely no money to create a new standalone program, we also don’t want to give TK-ers the same old Kindergarten, only two-years of it. And it doesn’t feel fair to Kindergarten teachers to say “Oh by the way, now you are teaching TK as well as K — good luck with that!” At the same time, I’d like to avoid the logistical issues of trying to find places to put standalone TK classrooms — there is space at some under-enrolled schools, but it’s not clear families will want to enroll their kids at schools they haven’t traditionally requested for Kindergarten. In addition, would we offer busing to kids to get to TK programs (when we are cutting busing for our traditional K-12 programs)? How would we deal with the inevitable requests for transfers out into more desirable Kindergarten placements after the first year of TK is up. Basically, the only thing that is clear is that there are still a lot of questions. Staff said they hoped to have things more fleshed out by early November, when the enrollment season for 2012-13 kicks off.
The Board also took up a Student Advisory Council resolution in support of free Muni passes for all youth under 18 in San Francisco. The resolution mirrors one currently under discussion by the Board of Supervisors, authored by Supervisor David Campos. Supervisor Campos’ resolution calls for SFMTA, SFUSD and other city agencies to work out a pilot for such a program, including how to pay for it and how to implement and administer it. Board members agreed in principle, but did discuss our inability to contribute much in the way of funds towards free Muni, at least not without a serious discussion of what we would be giving up in order to pay for it (the estimated cost of providing free public transportation to all youth under 18 is $5 to $6 million annually). So for now, the school district supports Supervisor Campos’ plan in theory, and pledges to participate in the planning for how to implement it.
Coming up this week: a Committee of the Whole (Oct. 18) on priority-setting for the 2012-13 school year; and the first annual report on the outcomes of the new student assignment process (Oct. 19).