Mind the (achievement) gap

Much has been said already about the encouraging results on the California Standards Test for students statewide and here in San Francisco. In case you’re late to the party, students in grades 2-11 in San Francisco scored 54 percent advanced or proficient in English/Language Arts, a 3.5 percent increase over last year; San Francisco students  in grades 2-7 scored 62 percent advanced or proficient in Math, which represents a 2.8 percent increase over last year.

In addition, our African American and Latino students improved at a greater rate than their white and Asian counterparts — which means we made progress on our achievement gap. Still, even taking into account steady improvement over the past few years, it would take 30 more years at this rate to completely close the gap, which is among the widest in the state for African American students. (Statewide, at current rates of progress, it would take 105 years to close the gap for Latinos and a whopping 189 years to close the gap for African Americans, according to Jill Tucker’s analysis in the SF Chronicle.)  So it seems a little premature to open the champagne.

What I found striking about yesterday’s press conference was the strong agreement between each of the principals who spoke about the factors behind their schools’ successes. We heard from Dina Edwards of Sheridan Elementary; Paul Marcoux of Aptos Middle School; and (my friend the fabulous Assistant Principal) Zoe Duskin of Galileo High School. Each admininstrator remarked that encouraging teachers to collaborate and plan with one another, and a stringent and continuous focus on achievement data, were key to their strong results.

What also seems clear is that San Francisco is in better shape because of the significant investment by our community. This month I spent some time with family who live in Contra Costa County; their fourth-grader sadly told me that every fourth grade teacher in his school had been laid off, to be replaced by teachers with more seniority who had in turn been laid off from other schools.  Because of the Rainy Day Fund, the parcel tax, and the ongoing support of the Public Education Enrichment Fund, we did not have to take such drastic steps, and our schools were relatively unscathed (if bare bones) from additional cuts in 2008-09 and 2009-10.

San Francisco used to be known as “The City that Knows How,” a name we picked up from the City’s incredible recovery after the 1906 earthquake. And I feel like we know what to do in San Francisco Unified. We are finally starting to make some progress because for the most part everyone (administration, community, parents, students, teachers, etc.) is pulling in the same direction. But I am worried because the Rainy Day fund is running out; the state’s revenue problems promise to continue for at least two or three years. Superintendent Garcia has said consistently that the budget pain we are seeing in other districts is “a preview of coming attractions” — and (pardon the tortured metaphor) this is a movie that couldn’t be opening at a worse time. What we should be doing now is doubling down on our investment, because there are signs that it has started to pay off. But instead we may be forced to reverse direction.


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