Misinformation everywhere: is it just a bad week?

Lately I feel like I’m playing Whack-a-Mole. Yesterday, I wrote about a blogger’s parting shot on the quality of our public schools; today’s ARGGH comes in the form of a Chronicle blog post that is supposed to be about whether San Francisco is affordable for families, but is really just another piece of lightly-informed judgment on the school district, blithely masquerading as fact.

Atop the piece is a photo of children in school uniforms jumping for joy, with the caption: “Yay! Our children can afford private school!” (Right, because everyone would attend private school if only they could afford it!) But what really got me steamed was the blogger’s attempt to describe how student assignment works:

The district, in order to foster socio-economic and ethnic diversity, does not enroll students in schools based on where children live. Instead, students are bused from one corner of the city to the other, ensuring that for instance not only Chinese students end up in schools in Chinatown, or that only well-to-do students end up in Pacific Heights. Such a mission is laudable in theory. Unfortunately, this means that the idea of living next door to your child’s school is about as likely as winning the lottery.

We do not arbitrarily and involuntarily bus students from one corner of the City to the other. We allow parents to submit a list of up to seven school choices; from some neighborhoods we provide busing to our alternative schools. The system seeks to assign parents to their highest choice where they add the most diversity, and last year, 78 percent of families received once of the schools on their list. Upshot: the system has a lot of problems,  but busing kids “from one corner of the city to the other” isn’t one of them.

Then I heard about an interview with Marc Benioff, founder of Salesforce.com that appeared in the Chronicle earlier this week. Among other things, cloud computing pioneer Benioff was asked: “You have long San Francisco roots. If you could change one thing about the City, what would it be and why?”  Here’s his answer:

I just cannot understand why we can’t have better schools. That private schools are the only option for the kind of high-net-worth crowd, I think, is ridiculous.It should be a major initiative. It should be something we’re all working on. We have to get our head out of the clouds. All this green stuff is great, it’s great we don’t have plastic bottles or plastic bags and all of that, but how about some great schools?

Do I really have to say it again? The schools aren’t perfect, but they are better than any of these folks are saying. And instead of beating us up on various platforms (hasn’t the Chronicle been accommodating in that department lately?), why not get involved and help us? I am sending an invitation to Mr. Benioff to sit down with the Superintendent to see if he can marshall some serious resources to get through the next two or three years with our forward momentum intact (I’ll post my letter once I’ve written it; I just had the bright idea as I was writing the post). Here’s his contact information if you’d like to chime in:

Marc Benioff
Chairman & CEO
Salesforce.com
1 Market St., Suite 300
San Francisco, California 94105

Phone: 415-901-7000
Fax: 415-901-7040

Couldn’t find an email address, but he does have a Facebook account.

*Thought added after a full night’s sleep: It should be pointed out that Salesforce.com, the company founded by Mr. Benioff, is a very progressive company, and its employees do a lot of volunteering in our schools. Last fall, for example, I was at Daniel Webster Elementary when at least 100 (probably more) volunteers from Salesforce.com were busily painting the interior of the school.

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6 responses to “Misinformation everywhere: is it just a bad week?

  1. No, I’m referencing Oakland as a model that demonstrates that a system of neighborhood schools does NOT work to “turn every school around.” There are more good things happening in Oakland schools than we would think, but they have neighborhood assignment and have a huge, glaring gap between their successful schools and their troubled schools.

  2. caroline,

    please tell me you are not referencing oakland as a successful model? aren’t they in federal receivership and control? the day they let piedmont secede from the city was the beginning of the end of that town and district. they never should have let them on basic finance and city founder principals. imagine if nob bill or sea cliff or presidio heights left our tax base? we would never recover as a city, ever!

  3. Sorry, James, ample experience shows that’s not the result. School districts all over the country with guaranteed/mandatory neighborhood assignment have fantastic schools in wealthy neighborhoods and struggling schools in poor neighborhoods.

    For one easy-to-check-out example, take a look at Oakland, with its well-equipped hills schools for the privileged and its challenged flatlands schools for the disadvantaged.

    If guaranteed/neighborhood neighborhood assignment were the solution, it would have long since been evident, since that’s been the system in place in school districts all over the country. Yet SFUSD is the highest-achieving large urban district in California, even though the others all or mostly have neighborhood assignment.

  4. A San Francisco parent, speaking from a position of clout, sent Benioff a well-informed, thoughtful response backed up with data, and said he responded positively.

    Meanwhile, I blogged a point-by-point response to the SFGate characterization of the lottery process:

    http://www.examiner.com/x-356-SF-Education-Examiner~y2009m11d20-Some-comments-on-a-blast-at-the-SFUSD-enrollment-lottery#comments

  5. ps here is marc’s email. go easy on him. he cares alot and i agree with him 100% as do most people in hi tech.

    other mbenioff@salesforce.com

  6. rachel,

    until you shoot the lottery system in the head, do not kid yourself that you can rectify this disastrous opinion about how our public school enrollment process works. it’s not even worth fretting about.

    start over with neighborhood schools and watch the local communities turn every school around.

    i guarantee it!