Tonight’s meeting started out great, and went downhill from there. First up: a unanimous vote in favor of a resolution to finally name School of the Arts after renowned artist, arts advocate and local treasure Ruth Asawa. Even Commissioner Wynns cried, and that takes some doing. It was a sweet moment.
Second: a resolution authored by Commissioners Fewer and Kim on establishing an Ethnic Studies course in every San Francisco high school. The program would pilot at up to five high schools in 2010-11 and expand district wide in 2011-12. There are some very good reasons for implementing/expanding an Ethnic Studies program: for one thing, we need a 9th grade social studies course that will help prepare students for World History in the 10th grade. Second, students are clearly enthusiastic about the course, judging from the crowd that came out in support of the Fewer/Kim resolution — and increasing student engagement is a major goal for the Board. Third, SF State has offered our students college credit for passing the course, and significant help in getting the course started in SFUSD. Still, I do have a few personal reservations about Ethnic Studies as a discipline. An email I received tonight from an administrator (a person who is committed to social justice and not at all a reactionary person) sums it up:
ALL history classes should be reflective of the students’ history in the classroom. The danger with ethnic studies is that it takes everyone else off the hook. We should offer ethnic studies AND do a better job of integrating ethnic studies into everything else.
Commissioner Kim spoke eloquently tonight about being a product of Ethnic Studies, and movingly about discovering the words of Malcolm X and other great leaders and people of color. I agree, it’s thrilling to read about people who have triumphed over oppression and led others out of oppression as well. In my U.S. History courses, I learned about Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. and Frederick Douglass, about the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II and about the oppression of Chinese-Americans even as they helped build California and other western states. I learned about Navajo culture and about the Trail of Tears, and about American imperialism around the Pacific Rim and in Central America. That history is all of our history, not isolated histories of isolated peoples. I hope we are not letting history off the hook or dividing the discipline into Ours and Theirs.
Anyway, I was a little taken aback when I was hissed by the crowd for simply asking how likely it was for an Ethnic Studies class to be approved by the UC system as meeting the UC system’s A-G requirements for entry (and graduation from SFUSD). This is not an idle question — we’ve tried several times without luck to have the class approved, and the resolution calls for the course to meet the “G” requirement. In my question, I think I expressed clearly that I was OK with going ahead with a pilot, but that I was concerned about implementing the course district-wide without approval from UC that the course could meet A-G. Luckily, there was a UC representative in attendance who assured us that we could make the course meet A-G by introducing a co-requisite, like English or some other core course, to be taken concurrently with 9th grade ethnic studies. Anyway, it’s fine to come to a Board meeting with a strong opinion, but it’s bad manners to hiss someone for asking a tough question.
The other issue for me was the budget, but the Budget Committee did a good job of coming up with a compromise that everyone could live with, so my concerns there were put to rest. Still, this is about $220,000 in new spending, and yes, we’ll have to cut something else to put it in place. Final vote: 7-0.
Next up: a resolution authored by Commissioners Fewer, Kim and Maufas about expanding access to AP courses across the district. Now, this is a concept I strongly endorse. At CUBE last summer, several districts that are bigger, more diverse and lower-scoring than ours presented strong evidence that the challenges and academic rigor inherent in AP courses are very motivating and energizing for students, even when students don’t score well enough on the AP tests to earn college credit. The challenge and the rigor in and of themselves have a big motivating effect, and a positive effect on future achievement. But–we’re in the middle of a budget crisis, and we can’t afford to do everything we know is right and beneficial for students. In the end, the authors amended the resolution to state the expansion of AP as a major priority for the Board, and directing the Superintendent to work on the issue, acknowledging our current budget constraints. Final vote: 7-0.
Then came the real fun of the evening: voting to authorize the district to issue layoff notices to hundreds of teachers, administrators and paraprofessionals. Members of UESF waited for hours during the earlier action items to argue in front of the Board that the district has not met its burden of proof, that we don’t have to issue layoff notices to paraprofessionals until April (certificated employees like teachers and principals must be notified by March 15, while paraprofessionals and other classified employees must be notified in late April– 45 days before the layoff date of June 30), and that the budget numbers are based on projections that may or may not come true. I hate having to look our unions in the eye and vote the other way, and yet I don’t see that we have any choice at all. The budget is only going to get worse in the next six months, and while its true that we don’t have to issue paraprofessional layoff notices until April, I’m not sure what the point of waiting would be. Wouldn’t you rather know now that you’re getting a pink slip, rather than waiting until April to find out? Hopefully, we’ll be able to rescind at least some of the pink slips, but not nearly as many as we’ve been able to rescind in past years. Pardon my language, but it sucks. Final vote: Authorizing paraprofessional layoffs 5-2 (Maufas and Kim voting no); Authorizing teacher/administrator layoffs 6-1 (Maufas voting no).