In November, the Board routinely cancels the second meeting of the month due to the Thanksgiving holiday; agendas tend to be short this time of year anyway. Tonight’s meeting was over by 7:30 p.m., with a few items of note:
— A proposal from the Superintendent, introduced for first reading, which would allow the district to exempt students under certain circumstances from physical education if they do not pass the required four semesters by the end of 10th grade. This is one of a number of components of the district’s action plan to address the fact that large numbers of the class of 2014-15 are not on track to graduate with the required A-G course sequence. Exempting students from P.E. after the 10th grade would free up space in their schedules and allow them to re-take other core courses required for graduation. The proposal will be discussed at the Rules committee on November 14 and then return to the full Board for a vote on Dec. 10.
–The Superintendent’s Thoughts for the Evening, which stressed the district’s commitment to providing every child with a well-rounded education. This commitment has been a topic of discussion recently, after claims in the press that some schools in the district–at least one in the Superintendent’s Zone– were teaching only English and math — “no science, no social studies, no art, no music.” Based on my discussions with the Superintendent, I have no doubt of his personal commitment to providing every child in SFUSD with a rich, broad curriculum featuring art, social studies, science and music as well as math and English. But I’ve also reached out to teachers, and to their union, United Educators of San Francisco (UESF), which has a more skeptical view. And over the weekend, after I was quoted in the Chronicle article asking for evidence of the narrowing curriculum, I met with two longtime educators in our district. While they didn’t completely agree with the characterization that no science was being taught in our classrooms, they did stress–strongly–that teachers are not receiving enough support for teaching science and that many are scared to veer too far from literacy instruction to teach truly hands-on science lessons. UESF officials, who also met with me this week, underscore this point. But UESF has refused to identify specific schools named in the reports they have received from members, citing fears of retaliation (I know of one school, but I have not yet revealed the name to anyone because I am also concerned about maintaining the anonymity of the people who spoke with me). UESF plans to conduct a survey of its members to determine how widespread the problem is but declined my suggestion that they work with district staff to come up with specific questions.
–Also tonight, Board members accepted the annual required Williams Settlement report certifying that students at the 28 lowest-performing schools were enrolled in classrooms with adequate staffing and instructional materials and housed in facilities that meet basic standards of cleanliness, maintenance, heating and cooling.
Finally, there were several commendations recognizing the 25th anniversary of the Omega Boys’ Club, an amazing organization that mentors students and encourages them to dream big for their futures; the Indian Education Program on the occasion of Native American Heritage Month; and the Lowell HS JROTC cadets who competed (and won) a national academic competition for an unprecedented fourth year in a row.