This will be an incomplete summary, because I had to depart tonight’s meeting after about 90 minutes and the SFGov TV video stream isn’t up yet. I was there for the main event, however, a presentation by Stephen Newton, a doctoral student working with Professor Linda Darling-Hammond‘s School Redesign Network at Stanford University.
Entitled “Racial Concentration and School Effectiveness in SFUSD,” the presentation came the closest we’ve seen to really connecting the dots between low student achievement and high concentrations of African American, Latino and Samoan students (AA/L/S) in San Francisco schools. This was a complex, highly statistical presentation, based on a review of SFUSD student data from 2003-04 through 2008-09. Researchers used some esoteric measurements, including “Value-Added/Productivity,” defined as using statistical models to estimate future achievement, then comparing actual achievement data with those predictions; and “Propensity Score Matching,” which matches students based on similar demographic characteristics (like race/ethnicity, gender, english-language learner status, special education status, income status, parent education level, etc.). Some key findings appear below:
- Did students in schools with high conentrations of AA/L/S students have different academic outcomes compared with similar students in other SFUSD schools? Yes. Researchers found that in English/Language Arts and in Math, schools with high concentrations of AA/L/S students were less effective. When the student-matching technique was used, researchers found that students from otherwise similar demographic backgrounds achieved at different levels depending on the racial composition of the school they attended. In other words, students of any race who attended schools with high concentrations of AA/L/S students showed lower levels of academic achievement than those students with similar demographic backgrounds who attended schools without high concentrations of AA/L/S students.
- When a school’s proportion of AA/L/S students changed, did its achievement also change? Yes. Researchers focused on the change between 1999 and 2008 in SFUSD schools. They found that as the number of AA/L/S students in a school increased, Math and English/Language Arts scores decreased for all students enrolled at the school.
- Was the concentration of AA/L/S students related to non-academic outcomes? Yes. SFUSD schools with high concentrations of AA/L/S students had lower graduation rates than other SFUSD schools.
- Was the concentration of AA/L/S students related to teacher experience and teacher turnover? Yes. Schools with high concentrations of AA/L/S students had teachers with significantly less experience than other SFUSD schools (average, based on data for 2004-05 through 2007-08, was 10.3 years experience at AA/L/S concentrated schools vs. 13.4 years for other SFUSD schools). Moreover, schools with high concentrations of AA/L/S students were much more likely to be staffed with first and second-year teachers (3.7%) vs. other SFUSD schools (2.1%). Finally, schools with high concentrations of AA/L/S students were less likely to retain teachers over the period than other SFUSD schools.
None of this is really surprising to anyone who has been following along with the Board as we’ve reviewed reams and reams of data from our own district and nationally over the past year. But it is striking to see a second opinion so closely jibe with our own assumptions, and I think we can now be confident that the patterns we are seeing in the data — that schools with high concentrations of AA/L/S students are less effective for all students who attend those schools, regardless of their race — are real and verifiable.
Some secondary findings from tonight’s presentation are also instructive as we push ahead towards the goal of redesigning student assignment – in delving deep into student achievement data, researchers found that the effect of high AA/L/S concentrations were most pronounced at the high school level, second-most pronounced at the middle school level, and least pronounced at the elementary school level. In a strange way, this is good news for us: we only have one high school that is over 60 percent AA/L/S (John O’Connell HS); most of our schools with 60 percent or more AA/L/S students are elementary schools. Still, elementary schools will be the hardest to desegregate, due to segregated housing patterns in San Francisco.
In the ensuing discussion of the presentation, I thought that Orla O’Keeffe, the staff liaison managing the Board’s redesign of student assignment, made a striking statement. She told the Board that our own data and the experience of many of the districts we’ve consulted with on this problem show that choice processes and local (neighborhood) school assignment processes result in segregated schools. The only thing that results in perfectly desegregated schools, Ms. O’Keeffe said, is a process she hasn’t heard anyone on the Board support: assigning children purely based on their diversity to a school in another neighborhood, with no mechanism for parent choice. As she spoke, I looked out into the audience and mostly what I saw was a vigorous shaking of heads – I don’t know that our audience was representative of the entire community but based on the nonverbal communication I observed, it was pretty much uniformly opposed to a highly restrictive system based only on the diversity of students.
The upshot? At this point (with the caveat that I haven’t yet been able to listen to the parts of the discussion I missed, including public comment) it seems that there is agreement on several points: that we should strive to pick a system that gives us maximum desegregation of schools that now have high concentrations of AA/L/S students; that we cannot afford widespread busing as a strategy to support desegregation; that program placement and program enhancements will have to play a role in attracting families to programs we want to desegregate; and that we will probably implement a system that is different for K-8 and high school.
Areas of disagreement? The role of school choice as a mechanism – Commissioners seem divided as to how much or how little choice families should get under a new K-8 process (I’m reading that full choice for HS is probably an area where most of us can agree). One Commissioner said we should focus more on outcome than mechanism; I don’t agree with that – I think it’s unrealistic to think that we will be able to convince people to support a system because of its outcome if it utilizes a mechanism that places larger burdens on families (just look at our experience with choice! in theory, it was supposed to desegregate, but in practice it became highly complex and unpredictable, and failed to desegregate schools). Another Commissioner said the data we heard tonight paves the way for us to be able to use ethnicity caps at schools to avoid the kind of resegregation we have observed over the past eight years; I’m not interested in getting dragged into yet another expensive lawsuit over whether we can or can’t use ethnicity in our assignment system. Finally, a third Commissioner said that our dual language immersion programs were failures because they placed (for example) more Latino students in programs that already had high concentrations of Latino students. I don’t think our experience shows that at all – Spanish immersion programs have helped diversify schools like Alvarado, Flynn, Buena Vista and Fairmount.