Tag Archives: recap

Pondering unintended consequences: a recap

Long meeting at the Board tonight, starting with:

  • Five charter-school related items (Board voted 6-1 to pass material revisions to the KIPP HS and Gateway HS charters — Wynns dissenting; Board voted unanimously to adopt our Facilities Use Agreement for charters currently operating within our district; Board voted 6-1 to deny One Purpose school a charter — Mendoza-McDonnell dissenting; SF Flex HS renewal petition introduced and sent to Curriculum and Budget committees)
  • A long line of commenters for general public comment, including SEIU and UESF members, the bereaved family of a former SFUSD student who was gunned down last week  and parents from one elementary school commenting on the out-of-control behavior of an inclusion student (I had to leave the room for that – so inappropriate to publicly shame a child and his family in that way).
  • Sufficiency hearing on the availability of books, supplies and instructional materials for the start of school. I learned some interesting things: including that complaints from one middle school about the lack of a science textbook aligned with Common Core were a)accurate — the school has no such textbook; b)misplaced — no such textbook exists because the state hasn’t adopted one yet. On the one hand you have to sympathize with a teacher looking for an appropriate text and not finding one, but on the other I might be excused for feeling exasperated that the teacher has apparently complained to parents before discussing the issue with her principal, who could have explained the situation and helped the teacher resolve it before it got parents upset and escalated the issue to the school board.  I also learned, after asking questions about the Common Core math rollout, that the entire curriculum is available to teachers through School Loop, but being provided on paper a few units at a time. Many teachers don’t appear to know this and have complained to me and to their students’ parents that they are having trouble planning, so I urged administrators this evening to redouble their efforts to communicate the availability of an entire year’s worth of curriculum to those teachers who are looking to plan ahead.

Then, the main event: the proposal to modify the previously adopted set of feeders and preferences for elementary schools feeding into the new Willie Brown Jr. Middle School  (as the Superintendent stressed this evening, there’s a pause between the “Jr.” and the “Middle” to make clear this is not a junior middle school but a bona fide middle school). Let’s call it WBMS for short.

To recap, on August 26, the Board adopted a feeder plan that offered 5th grade students at eight elementary schools (Dr. George Washington Carver, Bret Harte, Malcolm X Academy, Dr. Charles Drew, Miraloma, Gordon J. Lau, E.R. Taylor and George R. Moscone) an additional feeder preference to WBMS. Under that proposal, students at these eight schools would still retain the feeders they already have but be offered additional access to WBMS.

Tonight, the Superintendent asked the Board to modify those preferences, so that 5th grade students would be offered admission to WBMS using the following order of preferences:

  1. Younger siblings of students who are enrolled in and will be attending the school during the year for which the younger sibling requests attendance (sibling preference);
  2. Students attending 5th grade at one of the following four elementary schools: Dr. George Washington Carver, Dr. Charles Drew, Bret Harte, and Malcolm X Academy (Bayview preference)
  3. Students who reside in 94124 (94124 preference)
  4. Students who reside in CTIP 1 census tracts (CTIP preference)
  5. Students attending 5th grade at one of the following four elementary schools: Gordon J. Lau, Miraloma, George R. Moscone, E.R. Taylor (Brown preference).

In addition, the Superintendent suggested modifying the high school choice process to give preferences to 8th grade students applying to high schools in the following order:

  1. Younger siblings of students who are enrolled in and will be attending the school during the year for which the younger sibling requests attendance;
  2. Students graduating from WBMS who were enrolled in and attended WBMS in 6th, 7th and 8th grade;
  3. CTIP1, with a minimum of 20 percent of seats reserved at each high school for students who live in CTIP1 census tracts;
  4. all other students.

The Superintendent further requested: “This new tiebreaker would become effective in the 2018-19 school year when Brown’s first cohort of students graduate from middle school and apply to high school and will continue for the 2019-20 and 2020-21 school years, but may be reviewed, modified or extended for future implementation.” (emphasis mine)

After a lengthy but cordial discussion, the Board voted unanimously to accept the Superintendent’s recommendations, but with an amendment proposed by Commissioner Wynns and passed 5-2 (Norton and Haney dissenting). That amendment deleted #5 from the list of elementary school preferences for WBMS admission. The result of the amendment is that the only elementary schools that will receive an additional, temporary feeder preference for Brown are the four elementary schools in the Bayview: Bret Harte, Dr. Charles R Drew, Dr. George Washington Carver and Malcolm X Academy. For now, meaning the 2015-16 and 2016-17 enrollment years, 5th graders at those four schools will have two choices for feeder middle schools. Depending on demand and other factors, the feeder to Brown may become permanent for those schools or the Board may choose to further revise feeder patterns district-wide to best support diverse, stable enrollment in all of the district’s middle schools.

There weren’t a lot of people in the audience by the time we got to this item, and there were only two public speakers — the Board Chair and the Executive Director of Parents for Public Schools San Francisco (PPS-SF). Both urged us to proceed carefully on making changes to student assignment. They were rightfully dismayed that PPS hasn’t been part of the conversation on two recent proposed changes to student assignment: the recent CTIP proposal and now these proposals on WBMS. President Fewer offered an explanation of sorts when she pointed out that it’s been a long time since we opened a school, and that we desperately want the new WBMS to succeed. I would agree: the Chronicle article this morning wasn’t wrong when it said there was a “whiff of desperation” in the speed with which this proposal  is proceeding.

(An aside: Some of the online chatter on this topic has focused on comparing the opening of WBMS to Chinese Immersion School at DeAvila — let’s just say: talk about desperation! The Board–let alone the public–didn’t even know about the CIS reopening until it was a fait accompli and had we had almost NO input on the format or programming of that school. It’s a long story and maybe all’s well that ended relatively well, but the way the reopening of CIS happened was not the administration’s finest moment. We continue–with limited success–to try to prevent old mistakes, not repeat them.)

I’m rambling, and it’s late, so I’ll end this recap by saying that I agree the process has been flawed, and I accept that whatever we do around student assignment is guaranteed not to be universally popular. But I think this WBMS high school preference,  limited as it is by the sunset provision thankfully inserted by the Superintendent, is worth trying. For a moment tonight it appeared as if a majority of the Board was veering towards doing almost nothing — adopting a limited set of additional elementary school preferences for WBMS and kicking the question of the high school preference down the road. From the process perspective that was an appealing course of action: it would have given us more time to let people know about the proposal and hear input. But it also would have ensured that the 2015-16 enrollment process that kicks off at the enrollment fair on Oct. 25 wouldn’t have offered complete information about a  WBMS enrollment incentive, or worse, might have derailed an enrollment incentive altogether for this year.

If all my years as a PPS member, school ambassador, enrollment coach and then school board member have taught me anything, it is that once a school earns a bad reputation, it takes years to clear — even after the conditions that caused the bad reputation in the first place are resolved. The previous incarnation of WBMS had earned its bad reputation over a decade before it closed. So even if we were to reopen a WBMS that is perfect in every way, with every bell and whistle we can think of and even throw in a set of Ginsu knives, it could be years before parents are willing to take the plunge, because of long memories and efficient networks. I have several current examples I won’t name publicly of schools that I think are much better than their reputations — at some point a bad reputation becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Opening WBMS with a robust, diverse enrollment will ensure a better education for every child who attends that school, and will ensure better odds that the school becomes a successful school for the long term. If I have to offer a set of Ginsu knives or some other gimmick for a few years to help accomplish that goal–so be it.

 

A challenging discussion

I’ve been surprised at the level of controversy our CTIP proposal has generated since it first appeared in the Chronicle in early June. Honestly, since the very beginning President Fewer and I have seen it as a “tweak” that encourages people to take another look at their attendance area schools by placing very modest limits on the currently very strong preference enjoyed by residents of priority census tracts.

Tonight the Board had a deep, substantive discussion of the proposal. It was a challenging discussion for me, because (as often happens when you put forward a legislative proposal) the longer and harder I think about the issue, the more convinced I am that we are right: the current strength of the CTIP proposal represents a perverse disincentive for families in certain census tracts to select or even consider their attendance area schools (you could even call it a hard shove away from those schools!).  What happens instead? “The Same Starting Line: Erasing the Opportunity Gap Between Poor and Middle-Class Children,” a report by the Appleseed Foundation on how school boards can promote educational equity, puts it this way:

The most active voters and most vocal stakeholders routinely live in and send their kids to school in more middle-class neighborhoods. Their political activism, coupled with a Board’s likelihood to follow previous resource distribution practices, works to the comparative disadvantage of people in poor neighborhoods. Teachers may transfer to progressively more middle-class schools as they build seniority, forsaking schools in tougher neighborhoods perceived as less safe or desirable. When permitted, some of the most ambitious and well-prepared children from higher poverty neighborhoods leave their own community to attend the higher-wealth schools, leaving behind an academically struggling population with various out-of-school challenges as well.

My Board colleagues are proving a bit harder to convince. There were concerns raised about the amount of time and community engagement we’ve put into this proposal (some think not enough, even though we eliminated two priority CTIP census tracts last summer without even a vote of the Board and barely got a peep) and also whether it will do enough to reverse our trend of racially-isolated schools and an achievement gap between students of different races. My personal feeling is that our proposal will not, on its own, either reverse the trend of racial isolation nor reverse our achievement gap, but I do think it might provide a slight nudge in a different direction. I am also hoping that if our proposal passes, it will increase faith in the transparency and predictability of the system — I hear complaints about those two things a lot.

What I know is that our current policies aren’t pointing us in a good direction, and I think our currently strong CTIP preference isn’t helping. There are some pretty staggering statistics when you look closely at the data the Board reviewed tonight. For example: On page 26 of the most recent annual report on student assignment, there is a chart showing the 20 schools that received more than 15 first choice requests from residents of CTIP1. Those requests listed in that chart represent 529 of 829 total first choice requests from residents of CTIP1, or about 64% of all first choice requests from residents of CTIP1. Of those requests:

  • 177 requests, or 21 percent of total first choice requests from CTIP1 residents, were for K seats at citywide schools. These requests would not be subject to our proposal.
  • Another 167 requests, or 20 percent of total first choice requests from CTIP1, were for K seats in citywide programs. These requests would not be subject to our proposal.
  • 51 first choice requests from CTIP1 residents–6 percent of total requests–were for attendance area programs with more than 60% African American, Latino or Pacific Islander students. These requests (based the race of the requesters and the racial makeup of the programs would not add to the diversity of the programs.
  • Overall, of those 20 schools receiving the bulk of requests from CTIP1 residents, 8 are more than 60 percent African American, Latino and/or Pacific Islander, and another one or two are very close.

This document, showing first choice CTIP requests, by race, for non-citywide programs, shows the self-segregation perpetuated by our CTIP program clearly. The key for the tiebreaker abbreviations is as follows:

AAP- Requests from students who live in the same attendance area of the school and are also enrolled in an SFUSD PreK or TK in the same attendance area.

AA – Requests from students who live in the attendance area of the school requested.

PK-Requests fro students who attend an SFUSD PreK or TK program at the citywide school they are applying to.

S - Requests from a younger sibling of a student who is enrolled in and will be attending the school.

CTIP1 – Students who live in areas of the ciy with the lowest quintile of average test scores.

One of the other arguments from this evening is that this change doesn’t do enough to either address segregation or the achievement gap. Well, yeah. It’s a very modest change, because this was about all President Fewer and I thought the system could handle. And yet, the level of pushback we’ve received makes me realize we may be — for now – stuck with a system that doesn’t work and doesn’t meet our goals, because no one can agree on what might work better.

UPDATE: I have a question. One Commissioner raised the relatively small number of families who list their attendance area school first as evidence that most families don’t actually want the closest school — that they would actually rather choose a school and that predictability and proximity are less important to families. If you support this proposal, but didn’t list your attendance area school first, I’d like to know why, and what your reasons were. Leave me your answer in the comments.

Meeting recap: April 22, 2014 – teachers rally, QTEA, and a-g

Big raucous rally by UESF members at last night’s meeting. Our teachers, paras, nurses, counselors and security guards are worried — as many San Franciscans are–about the City’s growing income inequality and cost of living. The past five years of budget cuts were very tough on our school employees and last night they let us know  that they need a raise.

The Board and the Superintendent agree — our employees need and deserve a raise. Negotiations are ongoing and I have no doubt that we will be able to come to an agreement that is fair to our employees and is within our means.

We also heard a report from the QTEA (Quality Teacher and Education Act, otherwise known as the Prop. A  2008 $198 parcel tax) oversight committee. This committee serves as the taxpayers’ representatives in overseeing expenditures of  QTEA revenues ($35 million in fiscal 2013, according to the audit we received last night).  The vast majority of those funds go each year to some form of teacher compensation: sub days for teachers and paras receiving professional development, retention bonuses and bonuses for teaching in hard to staff subjects and schools, tuition reimbursement and coaching for teachers seeking to improve their skills, and much more.

The oversight committee reported on these and other uses of the QTEA funds and expressed satisfaction that more funding has gone to professional development in the most recent budget. They continued to express concern about the Board’s decision in 2010 to use the last half year of funding under the tax (payable 20 years from now) in 2010 to defer teacher layoffs — while the oversight committee agrees that the use of the money was appropriate they are concerned that it will represent a “double-dip” over the long term.

Finally, the Board heard a report on the progress of the Class of 2014 towards meeting the a-g graduation requirements. Graduates in 2014 are the first to be expected to meet the UC entrance requirements, otherwise known as the a-g course sequence. Since the Board passed the more stringent graduation requirements in 2010, we have been monitoring the progress of these first graduating classes — 2014 and 2015 — towards meeting it.

While we have made a good amount of progress — especially considering the dismal predictions early on about whether our students would be able to meet the more rigorous standard–there are still a lot of students in the class of 2014 who are not on track to graduate. First, the good news: more than half of the class met the entry requirements  for UC (meaning a C or better in a-g classes) this fall, and another third will likely meet those requirements by the end of this school year. Three-quarters of current 12th graders will meet the requirements to graduate.

The bad news is, of course, that half or more of some subgroups (African American students) are not on track to graduate. It was the right thing to do to increase the rigor of our graduation requirements, but the data for this current class shows the price we have paid for that decision: this class represents, as the Superintendent asserted last night, the most prepared class we have ever graduated from San Francisco Unified. And at the same time we must recognize that this class represents a group of  students who were largely unprepared by our schools for the requirements we are now saying they must meet. I do have every confidence that we will get more of our students over the line by the end of the 2014 school year and in subsequent school years, but at the same time it is important to pause and absorb where we are now.

The crux of the data for the Class of 2014, a snapshot as of February 7, 2014, is here, and here.

From tonight’s meeting: English Learner achievement

At tonight’s meeting we heard a fascinating presentation of the results of the district’s research partnership with Stanford. Specifically, the partnership has looked at longitudinal data on English Learner achievement in several pathways — English Plus, Bilingual/biliteracy and Dual Immersion (full descriptions of each of these pathways are here).

I’ll post the presentation as soon as I have an electronic copy, and it’s pretty straightforward to understand. But basically, our concern as a district has been that we didn’t have solid data supporting the big investment we’ve made in dual-language immersion as a strategy to support the achievement of English Learners. (And in addition, until the last two years, we didn’t have accurate data on the English proficiency/background of all the students enrolled in our language pathways).

Dual-language immersion–offered in Spanish, Cantonese, Mandarin and Korean– is wildly popular among English speakers and was designed to support both the English language instructional needs of target language native speakers as well as their content instruction needs.  These programs have exploded throughout the district and have been one of the district’s key strategies over the past decade for integrating schools (look at Bret Harte, Fairmount, Monroe, James Lick, DeAvila . . . the list goes on).

There is some data — not unique to our district — indicating that English Learners who are educated in dual-language classrooms (the ideal ratio is debated but generally held to be 2/3 English Learner/bilingual with 1/3 English native speakers) are slightly more likely to be reclassified English proficient by middle school than English learners educated in other environments.  Still, the sample sizes of the existing studies are small and the data they generated hasn’t been regarded as definitive (though to be fair it is considered “promising”).

But the Stanford longitudinal results are  much more robust and definitive than past studies, and I have to say that I was relieved when I saw that they basically support the earlier studies and our general approach up till now.

Essentially: students in English Plus programs (where they are immersed in content instruction in English much of the day and pulled out for specific English Language Development for a certain number of minutes per day) become English proficient faster and achieve at a higher level  in the earlier grades, but students in Bilingual and Dual-immersion pathways eventually catch up by middle school.  The takeaway is that it doesn’t really matter what pathway you’re in by the time you reach middle school.

The down side is that there is still a significant gap in achievement and overall English proficiency between students whose first language is Spanish and those whose first language is Chinese (Cantonese or Mandarin).  And an additional down side is that all students — whether their first language is English, Chinese or Spanish — are not achieving at an acceptable level in math by middle school.  So we have a lot of work to do.

Also from tonight’s board meeting:

  • We reauthorized charters for Gateway High School and Life Learning Academy;
  • We heard public comment from community members at the Claire Lilienthal K-8 Korean Immersion Program, the Filipino pathway at Bessie Carmichael K-8, and Hunter’s View residents advocating for the district to refurbish and reopen the Hunter’s Point Youth Park;
  • We celebrated 33 teachers who achieved the rigorous National Board Certification this year — bringing the number of district teachers who have achieved this professional honor and badge of achievement to 239! Congratulations!

Proposed changes to the A-G graduation requirements

Tonight the Board had a good discussion on the Superintendent’s proposal to modify our A-G graduation requirements to address concerns that students in our Court/County or Continuation schools will not achieve a diploma under the new, more rigorous requirements.
Longtime readers of this blog will recall that in 2009, the Board voted unanimously to change the district’s graduation requirements, starting with the class of 2014, to align with the entry requirements for the UC/CSU system — known as the A-G course sequence.
Since that time, the Board has monitored the new policy with trepidation, noting that large numbers of African-American students, Latino students, students with disabilities and students who are English Learners were not on track to graduate.  Tonight, the Superintendent presented data on the progress of members of the class of 2014 towards graduating under the new requirements. Here’s a snapshot (complete data in this Excel spreadsheet):

2014 and 2015bwThe very good news is that 91 percent of the class is either fully on track, or on on track in credits but missing one or more required classes (Algebra 2 in many cases, or a semester of P.E., or for English Learners, a required additional English course).  Currently, 920 students at comprehensive high schools (e.g., Lowell, Washington, Lincoln, Balboa, etc) or continuation high schools (Ida B. Wells or Downtown) are OK with credits but missing a course, and that situation is fixable. Counselors have already met with each of these students and their families, and developed individual plans to make sure these students can make up the necessary courses and graduate on time or over the summer.

The bad news is that as you can see above, 262 are at least a semester off track, and 97 are severely off track — more than a year behind. Still, even as recently as last spring, the Board and staff thought we might be looking at numbers that are much worse.

So: what are we going to do about it? In addition to existing supports like improved communication of student-level data to sites (to identify and work with struggling students earlier), stepped up counseling, individual academic review plans, credit recovery options like summer/night school or Cyber High, the Superintendent tonight proposed the following important changes:

  • Presenting a “seal of College Readiness”  to each graduating high school student who completes the required A-G course sequence with a grade of “C” or higher; and
  • Create new graduation options for students in County/Court schools and Continuation schools.*

Essentially, the Superintendent’s proposal would allow students in County/Court or continuation schools to graduate with 220 rather than 230 credits, and waive one year of world language as well as the requirement for Algebra 2. Commissioners had a lot of issues with that recommendation tonight, noting that a good number of our students in these schools — despite being our most disadvantaged in many cases — have managed to meet the requirements up to now.  The counter argument is that under the current policy, there are a lot of students in the class of 2014 who would qualify for a diploma under the previous requirements (which didn’t include Algebra 2, for example) but not under the new A-G requirements.

San Francisco USD is unique because it is both a county system and a unified school district — no other district in the state has that dual role. And so we are also the only county school system that is currently requiring all students to graduate having passed the A-G course sequence. Other unified school districts require A-G for graduation — San Jose, Los Angeles, Oakland and San Diego, to name a few — but they also can refer students to separate county systems with less rigorous graduation requirements. Under our current policy, San Francisco does not have that “loophole” or “escape valve” (what you call it depends on your point of view).

Based on tonight’s discussion, it appears that the Board would rather see a one-year waiver of the requirements for members of the class of 2014 who attend Court/County or continuation schools (so that they could graduate with the previous graduation requirements if necessary), and for the district to continue to push for universal A-G completion in future years.

A final vote on the proposal is scheduled for Dec. 10.

*(County/Court schools serve students who are incarcerated, on probation or otherwise involved in the juvenile justice system, as well as students who have been expelled or had other disciplinary issues. The county also maintains Hilltop HS, a school for pregnant or parenting teens.  The school district’s continuation high schools serve students who are age 16 and over and severely behind in credits).

A recap, some data and more data

First, a recap: We had a Board meeting last night, August 13. Not much actually happened but we had some very good conversations and comments. Rev. Amos Brown of the NAACP came to remind us that the 50th Anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington, and Rev. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech will occur on August 28 (read full text here and video appears below):

We introduced the negotiated Project Labor Agreement for first reading — the agreement incorporates the district’s new Local Hire policy for the 2011 facilities bond measure and was completed in record time — hat tip to the Building Trades Council and David Goldin, the district’s Chief Facilities Officer.

We also had a long conversation about the decision to re-bid the district’s security contract, previously held by Securitas and now offered to ABC Security. I don’t know that Board members have strong feelings about the company we bid to — both companies are signatories to an agreement with SEIU to pay union wages and benefits, but there are some concerns that ABC will not honor its obligations under its agreement with SEIU. We do have strong feelings about their employees, whom we know well from their presence at the front desks of 555 Franklin and 135 Van Ness (Johnnie, Vao and colleagues– we’re looking at you!). The upshot of the evening’s discussion was that we will be vigilant that our security guards are being treated fairly, regardless of whether they work for us as employees or on contract.

Commissioner Wynns honored the late Ruth Asawa with a tearful tribute at adjournment,  and Commissioners decided to withdraw a slate of nominees to the Quality Teacher and Education Act (QTEA) oversight committee in order to give staff better guidance about the desired qualifications and diversity of the group. This group is incredibly important as an oversight body for the spending of our parcel tax, and because we have a dedicated and relatively diverse (but parent-heavy) group already in place, we have a bit more time to think more deeply about whether there are specific groups we should be sure are represented (e.g., retired teachers and homeowners, just to name a few).

Second — data. Oh how much data at tonight’s meeting of the Ad Hoc Committee on Student Assignment.

A lot of the data is here, in this presentation, so if you are really a geek, download it and pore over it after you read this very brief summary. I have asked for a tape recording of tonight’s meeting and I will eventually (see  * below) post the audio that has all the detail you could possibly want.

* When I request the audio it comes to me on a regular old cassette tape — I had to buy a special digitizer that allows me to convert magnetic audio tape into a digital file. It takes a LONG time to a)get the tape b)find time to convert it and c)edit the file into something you, my loyal blog followers, would actually spend your time listening to. If you hate waiting for info, I suggest you come to committee meetings. The Board attempts to stay on the posted committee meeting schedule , but no meeting is legally scheduled until a notice is posted under the “Upcoming Meetings” column  on the  far right of the school district’s home page.  If you want a transcript, sorry — I can’t help you. :-)

So — it’s very hard to summarize the  Student Assignment Committee report this evening. The easy parts: There will be some minor changes to the CTIP 1 areas for the 2014-15 enrollment season. Our demographers have incorporated changes to census tracts from the 2010 census, and based on that have been able to refine some of the CTIP 1 census tract areas. Several tracts in the Western Addition and one in the Bayview will be reclassified as non-CTIP1; another tract in the Tenderloin will become a CTIP 1 tract. (Download the presentation — there are detailed block-by-block maps).

I learned more about how we actually determine the “average test score” for each census tract. It’s an average of all scores posted over seven years. So let’s say Student A is enrolled in SFUSD and took the test five out of the seven years averaged, while Student B was enrolled in SFUSD and took the test three out of the seven years averaged. Student C was enrolled in SFUSD and took the test seven out of the seven years averaged. That gives us a total of 15 test scores out of seven years to average — as opposed to three or fewer scores in any given year to average. According to our demographers, they are confident this gives us a less random and more stable average test score figure to use.

When we analyze the people who are using the CTIP preference, it appears that the vast majority are African American and Latino. Based on figures presented this evening, five percent of CTIP 1 applicants are white and nine percent are Chinese. 44 percent are Latino and 25 percent are African-American.

Interestingly, there is one census tract —  230.3, in the Bayview neighborhood (again, look at the presentation — it gives you a detailed map) that has increased so high in achievement that it no longer qualifies as CTIP 1 (or CTIP 2 or 3 for that matter).  Most of the students from that census tract are Chinese students who have chosen schools that are higher-performing than the school they would have been assigned in their neighborhood.

The demographers have also updated their enrollment forecasts to take into account the building boom that San Francisco is currently experiencing. These forecasts predict that we will continue to experience enrollment growth in areas where affordable or below market rate housing is being built — a tiny bit in Mission Bay but mostly in Bayview, Hunters Point and other HOPE SF projects. This is a pattern that –according to our demographers–is visible in most urban areas and/or areas where there is a wide disparity in income –affordable housing yields much more public school enrollment than market rate housing.  By contrast, areas (like suburban areas) that have more income-level homogeneity or uniformly high test scores regardless of income do not exhibit this pattern of public school enrollment. In other words, in areas where test scores are uniformly high, everyone goes to public school, regardless of income. But in areas where there are very affluent and very low-income people, and a corresponding disparity in test scores, people who cannot afford market rate housing go to public school;  people who live in market rate housing either do not have children or do not send those children to public school. I’m curious to hear how families who are “on the bubble” interpret this phenomenon — it’s also important to note that even our demographers admit that their forecasts would be wildly inaccurate should this observed pattern — residents of market rate housing don’t send their children (if they have any) to public school — shift suddenly in San Francisco.  And shouldn’t we want it to? How would we — San Franciscans — make such a shift come about?

Finally, the demographers have uncovered a trend they say is “unprecedented” in their previous analyses of SFUSD data. More high school students are staying in school and fewer are being held back for lack of credits — this will greatly affect our forecasts for high school enrollment in future years. The demographers (and board members in attendance) urged the district to conduct an internal analysis to understand why our high school attendance/enrollment patterns have changed so dramatically in such a short time.

And we have a budget!

Just getting home after a long meeting, but a substantive one: the Board had a lengthy budget discussion and passed the 2013-14 district budget unanimously.  The district will receive $360.58 million in unrestricted general fund revenues and spend $378.424 million, drawing down the beginning balance of $34.102 million to  about $700,000 after the required $15.566 million reserve.

There are a lot of big questions the Board has about the current direction of the district, including:

  • The special education budget is bigger than ever, representing about 25 percent of the general fund when special ed transportation costs are included — Commissioners are increasingly worried that the annual growth in special education spending is unsustainable and asked for more clarity on how the district expects its current investments to pay off in reduced future costs and better academic outcomes. The CAC for Special Education has posted some great analysis and data on its web site;  committee members spoke at the Board meeting and expressed concern that the district’s plan to invest in professional development and coaching for teachers — while needed — might divert too much money away from the classroom. My personal feeling is that while accelerating expenditures are alarming, it’s not time to change course: we have been identified as significantly disproportionate in how we identify students of color for special education, and are now required to spend 15 percent of our Federal special education allocation on interventions in general education. General education teachers desperately need more tools to help students who are struggling achieve, so that special education is not the district’s only safety net for students who aren’t achieving at grade level. Coaching and professional development are the best ways to provide general education teachers with the tools they need. We’ve reduced our spending on out-of-district private school placements for students with disabilities, by almost $5 million since I got on the Board.  But our choice-based student assignment system increases our special education transportation costs, and one of my goals over the next year or two is to look at ways to maintain equitable treatment of students with disabilities in our system while decreasing our exposure on transportation.  Overall, though, I think the request for more clarity in the district’s expectations and strategies for the next few years would be a good thing and I support the need for vigilance in gauging the return on our increasing investments in educating our students with disabilities.
  • One of the Superintendent’s centerpiece initiatives — Multi-Tier Systems of Support, or MTSS–is still confusing for board members and members of the public. Essentially, the initiative seeks to place resources where they are most needed, so that schools that need more supports get more supports even as all schools get a base “package” that includes ample counselors, nurses, librarians and other support staff.  Fully-realizing this vision will take more money than we currently have, but there have been significant investments in the current budget in social workers, counselors and nurses for many schools.  Elementary area teams will now consist of an Assistant Superintendent, and Executive Director, a Family and Community Engagement Specialist, two teachers on special assignment who can provide instructional support to principals and schools, as well as clerical support and a small discretionary budget. The expectation that goes along with this is that area teams will be more effective and proactive at problem-solving so that complaints are less likely to languish and fester. Some Board members worry, however, that this represents a big expansion in central administration, and that it represents a dismantling of site-based autonomy and decision-making.
  • Board members also expressed concerns about the perception that there is a lot of “new money” represented by the passage of Prop. 30 and the state’s rapidly improving economic outlook, and asked where this “new money” could be seen in the budget. The answer to that question is complex, because you first must accept the Superintendent’s argument that we are climbing out of a deep hole represented by the cuts of the last five years (see cartoon below). It helps if you remember the general fund revenues vs. expenditures I cited at the top of this post: even with the “new money” from Prop. 30 and additional taxes, we still expect to spend about $18 million more than we take in in revenues in 2013-14. That $18 million deficit represents people, programs and instructional days that otherwise would have had to be cut in the coming year. The “new money,” is simply helping us climb out of the hole rather than sink deeper:  gasping fish 2
  • The 7-period day for high school: Tonight Commissioner Haney introduced a resolution urging the district to expand A-G qualified course offerings at high schools; the Superintendent introduced a proposal that would lessen the credit requirements for students attending continuation or county high schools. Both resolutions will be discussed in August when the Board reconvenes after its July recess. Most of us agree that our students will have a much easier time meeting the more stringent A-G graduation requirements in place for the Class of 2014 and beyond if we are able to offer a 7-period day, but it’s expensive and Board members wanted to know how the Superintendent proposes to get there.  Similarly, common planning time for teachers is a widely-endorsed way to improve student outcomes, and Vice President Fewer introduced a resolution last summer asking the Superintendent to implement common planning time at all schools by the end of this year. However, the Board has not voted on this resolution as yet because transportation and other logistical issues make it daunting to fund and implement.  Board members also asked how to make common planning time a reality in coming years, given our belief that it is a best practice in improving achievement.

That’s it for now: I’m going fishing for the month of July (metaphorically, not literally.  As my husband likes to say, fishing is boring until you catch a fish–then it’s disgusting. And sorry for all the fishing references).  I’ll start blogging again in August. Happy summer vacation everyone!