Meeting recap: January 10, 2012

Notes from last night’s Board meeting: The Board elected new officers
tonight — Commissioner Yee will be President and I am Vice President. Board members also expressed sincere thanks to Commissioner Mendoza for her two years of service as a member of Board leadership.

Parents from Alice Fong Yu Alternative School (accompanied by former Board of Education member Dan Kelly, whose child attended the school) came to express their alarm with a plan to change the school’s immersion model. Originally, the school was “one-way” immersion (where every child comes in English-proficient and everyone is immersed in Cantonese and eventually Mandarin). A few years ago, the school began admitting English Learners as one-third of every Kindergarten class (to be admitted as an English proficient student at AFY, children have always had to pass an English skills test). Now, the district is proposing to turn the school into a true dual-immersion model, which would shift the incoming class composition to one-third English-proficient and two-thirds English Learner.

AFY is an award-winning school, one of the school district’s highest-scoring and most highly-requested, but its instructional model (requiring a large number of students who are already proficient in English) ensures that fewer students with challenges will enroll in the first place. AFY parents argue that changing the instruction model will cause the school to become less ethnically diverse; they argue that their school is successful and that changing the instructional model will endanger that success.

I don’t know that I think changing the model will make the school less successful, but I haven’t heard the district’s arguments for why this must happen now. As I understand it, research on one-way vs. dual- immersion programs is inconclusive; just as the research on whether English Learners do better in immersion as opposed to bilingual education is also inconclusive. But judging from the green shirt-clad crowd who came to support AFY, this issue is very important and not going away. I will be bringing the topic to the Curriculum & Program committee on January 18 at 5 p.m. for further discussion.

A group from Paul Revere PK-8th school came to speak in support of their principal (blog readers might remember that another group of parents has come to speak to the Board several times to express their unhappiness with the same administrator).

Other items of note:

  • Superintendent Garcia told the Board and public that he has reviewed the Governor’s proposed budget (inadvertently released last week), and that it contains very bad news for SFUSD. Our deficit could grow to $40 million in 2012-13 after we had been planning for a worst-case scenario of $20 million. The news coincided with the release of initial contract proposals for bargaining with United Educators of San Francisco and United Administrators of San Francisco. Leaders of both unions were on hand to remind us that their members have already given — a lot. With the “sunshining” of proposals, bargaining can now begin, but I would expect it to take a while as there are no good agreements to be made.
  • The Board honored members of the District English Learners Advisory Committee (DELAC); workers on the district’s building at 1601 Turk St. who went above and beyond to warn residents of a large, destructive fire on December 22, 2011; and writer Katherine Otoshi, who together with the Japanese American Citizens League, arranged for copies of her two wonderful anti-bullying books (“Zero” and “One“) to be donated to SFUSD elementary school libraries.
  • Finally, the Board passed President Yee’s resolution affirming district support for an upcoming summit he has organized and will chair (possibly with Mayor Edwin Lee). The purpose of the “Pre-K – 3rd: Looking Back, Moving Forward”  summit is to create and to support a vision of a PreK to 3rd Grade which would allow many different entities and organizations working on early literacy to better work together and align their efforts. The summit will include a national speaker, Ralph Smith, Senior Vice President ofthe Annie E. Casey Foundation,  who is leading a national initiative to have all children read at grade level. It is scheduled for February 25, 2012, location and time TBA.

8 responses to “Meeting recap: January 10, 2012

  1. Rachel,
    I know that the issues at Paul Revere have figured prominently in the public comment section of the last few meetings. Why don’t you devote any significant space to Paul Revere in your meeting recaps?

  2. I don’t think it’s fair to accuse Commissioner Yee of using the BOE as a stepping stone. He has spent eight years on the Board, and been fully engaged as a Commissioner throughout that time. He’s served as President and Vice President of the Board twice, and authored important legislation like the parent engagement plan. He has paid particularly close attention to early childhood education, kindergarten readiness and truancy over his tenure on the board.

    This job is incredibly hard, with long hours that are essentially unpaid (Commissioners receive a stipend of $500 a month for their service). I don’t think you can blame anyone for deciding to do something else after eight years!

  3. Why do politicians feel that they can use our school system as a stepping stone to advance their political careers? That’s the way it works, right? Convince the voters that you’re really concerned about SF schools and use the publicity to launch your bid for Supervisor?

    Who are Mr. Yee’s constituents? The parents and students who he is paid to serve, or the voters in District 7? Whose opinions is he most concerned about?

  4. I found the misinformation given about this by EPC baffling. The current Enrollment Guide is misleading about this issue by implying that a two-immersion system is already in place at AFY (the list of language options does not include “one-way immersion,” for example). This is seconded by anybody I’ve talked to at EPC. The people and most of the publications that are meant to provide us with accurate information about the described current hybrid system, that attempts a split between one- and two-way, parent- and district interests, are failing to do so, it seems.

    It has been an open secret among Chinese families (including newcomer families with English learning needs) for years that, if wanting a shot at AFY, one must lie on the forms and put down English as only home language to avoid the testing. There’s nothing new about this. This city has a lot of English learners. It may be time for AFY parents to get over their sense of entitlement and help pull their weight by welcoming those English learners into their school, even if that compromises the stellar scores of which they are so proud. I do not understand why AFY seems to be exempt of the “social equalization” policies by the city and the board that keep pulling other schools down and then, when asked to participate in the effort of dealing with this challenge, ends up balking and crying foul.

    AFY’s dazzling API scores (and resulting high number of families who want to get into this school because they value intellectual achievement) are skewed by their admission policies. If one avoids the bulk of English learners and “counsels out” children with learning disabilities (as it happened to a family I know personally), then one will of course end up with high scores. But to present this as a successful teaching model (rather than a way of playing the system) is problematic in my eyes.

    It appears to me that one of the greatest draws of AFY is its K-8 status and related promise of continued language instruction (both Cantonese and Mandarin), combined with honors type middle school level classes for all of its children. This city’s K-5 two-way Cantonese immersion schools, on the other hand, have to hope and pray that the district manages to scrape together the funds to continue Cantonese and offer Mandarin for Cantonese pathway students as well as honors options (after having having been promised such continuity by city officials in the past) on the middle school level. I bet you that you, if you fix that, have a lot less people pushing into AFY.

  5. Hi Rachel,

    I’m a parent member of AFY’s SSC and I was one of the speakers at the Jan. 10th Board meeting.

    > A few years ago, the school began admitting English Learners as one-third of every Kindergarten class

    Up until and including SY10/11, AFY was still a one-way immersion program, and all entering students were supposed to be English proficient. So, in theory, there should have been no English Learners (ELs) in the school. However, in practice, there ended up being about 1/3 ELs across grades K-5 for SY10/11 (my data comes from ELs have been trickling into the program for many years, but in recent years, the numbers have spiked. So how do ELs end up in a program when all entering students are supposed to be English proficient? One can only speculate, but I will offer a couple of possibilities. First, not all applicants were tested for English proficiency. If an applicant answered English to the first three questions on the Home Language Survey, that applicant was not tested for English proficiency. So any applicant who wanted to avoid testing could simply exploit this loophole. Second, the EPC was using the English PreLAS test for evaluating English proficiency during the application process, but EL status is actually measured by the CELDT, which is administered after admission. We have seen some students pass the English PreLAS test but not meet the CELDT criterion when tested after admission. In a SSC meeting with EPC representatives during Fall 2010, these EPC representatives acknowledged that the English PreLAS test may not be accurate enough, and they told the SSC members that they would be implementing a new, more accurate test in the future. Not only has the EPC not switched to this new test, but they have eliminated English testing completely for the the SY12/13 enrollment cycle.

    As you probably know, language immersion programs, by design, do not offer much time for English language instruction. In Kindergarten, instruction time in English is about 15%. The percentage increases to 20% in 1st, 2nd and 3rd grades, and then to 50% in 4th and 5th grades. For students who are native English speakers, this limited English instruction time at school is supplemented by English spoken at home. However, when can ELs get additional exposure to English? At Alice Fong Yu, the ELs are also successful because the school offers supplemental instructional services, including before, during, and after school tutoring, all paid for by the Alice Fong Yu Parents Association.

    > In what way is AFY ethnically diverse now? It is at least 70% Chinese and getting more so, looking at the incoming K class stats.

    For the SY11/12 enrollment period, the EPC used a 1/3EL, 1/3EP, 1/3 Bilingual target for Alice Fong Yu. Since 1/3 EL (Cantonese) are most likely to be Chinese, and 1/3 Bilingual (Cantonese and English) are also most likely to be Chinese, it’s almost a guarantee that at least 2/3 of the SY11/12 Kindergarten students would end up being Chinese. And indeed this is exactly what happened. Here’s another interesting statistic – the District told the SSC that 59% of the Alice Fong Yu applicant pool for SY11/12 were Chinese, but of the students actually assigned to the school, 65% ended up being Chinese. On the other hand, 17% of the applicant pool were White, but of the students actually assigned, only 6% ended up being White. These statistics reflect the ethnic bias implicit in the language cohort ratios. The White applicants had access to only the 1/3 EP cohort, so statistically, they had a much lower chance of being assigned to the school.


  6. I guess the argument goes that restricting the incoming class to 2/3 Chinese-speaking English Learners will ensure that every incoming class is at least 66% ethnic Chinese. Under the current admission policy, you could argue that 2/3 of the incoming class (as fluent English speakers) would be less likely to be ethnic Chinese, but that is indeed not borne out by the current makeup of the incoming class. Looks like the school is attracting more ethnic Chinese (whether English fluent or English Learners) than anyone else (perhaps not surprising given that ethnic Chinese are the single biggest group in SFUSD).

  7. AFY parents argue that changing the instruction model will cause the school to become less ethnically diverse

    In what way is AFY ethnically diverse now? It is at least 70% Chinese and getting more so, looking at the incoming K class stats.

  8. Dan Braunstein


    Thanks for bringing some much needed sanity into this conversation. Needless to say us parents with children who attend AFY were highly disturbed by this proposal. I was one of those people last night in green and you are very right that this issue is not going away. The PA is very strong at AFY and we will fight to preserve the model that has been so highly effective all these years. From the looks on the other Board members faces I don’t think they were prepared for the backlash that this would present. I sincerely urge you and the rest of the Board members to reconsider and to preserve the legacy and the heritage at AFY.


    Dan Braunstein, parent of 1st grade student at AFY