Recap: Board meeting Feb 10 2015

Here are the key issues discussed at this week’s Board meeting:

Memorandum of Understanding with SFPD: In January of 2014, the District entered into a landmark agreement with the SF Police Department (SFPD) that clarified the rights and responsibilities of students and families in situations where police are called to schools. At tonight’s meeting the Board received an update on the progress of the MOU and the ongoing relationship with the SFPD. The report was quite positive, and Lt. Colleen Fatooh (the supervisor for officers assigned to SFPD schools) was on hand to answer questions and engage with the Board. It’s not required for our district (or any district) to have such an MOU in place with the local police department, but in our case it has greatly helped the relationship between our two institutions and served our students and families better.

KALW Annual Report: Many people don’t know that the school district owns the license for KALW (FM 91.7), the public radio station that airs our meetings twice a month and offers lots of other great programming. KALW is a wonderful community resource, and it’s unusual for a school district to have such an asset — radio licenses aren’t exactly a dime a dozen. As the license holder, we operate no editorial control over the stations and are not involved in programming decisions – so long as the station complies with FCC regulations and finds an audience, it can broadcast what it wants. Financially, it’s almost completely independent of the district, mostly supported by individual donations and institutional grants (though it does occupy district-owned space at Burton HS). A few years ago, during the Great Recession, we extended a line of credit to help the station maintain cash flow, but they have paid it back in full and are in better shape now. There are plans to re-launch a companion philanthropic “Friends of KALW” organization and interest in programming continues to be strong (Note to self: check out the popular home-grown “99% Invisible” design podcast, available on  iTunes).

Superintendent and Board agree on three-year contract: Board members were all smiles and full of compliments in the run-up to voting on a new three-year contract for our rock star Superintendent, beginning July 1 of this year. Richard will receive $310,000 in annual salary, up from the $282,500 he is currently receiving.  The Board and Superintendent have a great relationship — we trust him and we (based on everyone’s comments at the Board meeting, I think it’s safe to use a “we” rather than an “I”) think he’s doing a great job. Is everything perfect?  No –not even Richard would say that. But the important things are: Richard shares the Board’s values and works with us constructively and collaboratively, the district is running smoothly and moving in the right direction, and he’s a great public face for us.  We’re lucky to have him and other districts know it — he was courted extensively over the past year by major urban districts all over the country.

(For a flashback of the day we voted on Richard’s first Superintendent contract, read this post — it tells you a lot more about the man who is leading the work).  In addition, the Board approved agreements with five more labor unions, including United Administrators of San Francisco. Negotiation season is drawing to a close, which is good news for everybody.

We heard almost two hours of public comment, on two main topics:

Ida B. Wells/John O’Connell HS co-location:  Ida B. Wells is one of the district’s continuation high schools, for students who are behind on credits or otherwise at risk of not graduating. The school’s longtime home, on Hayes Street across from Alamo Square, is undergoing construction so the community was co-located with John O’Connell High School for a year starting last month. The adjustment, let’s just say, hasn’t been smooth. Though both high schools have generally been peaceful places, there have been some safety issues now that the communities are occupying the same space and parents and teachers are alarmed. They came to talk to the Board about the issues and plead for more support (some John O’Connell parents argued strongly for Ida B. Wells to be relocated elsewhere, but that’s not really an option).

Finally, a number of teachers and students from Lowell came to discuss the new Common Core Math Sequence and its effect on Lowell students (more about the math sequence in this post and on the district’s excellent math curriculum site,  The issue, as I understand it, is that incoming 9th graders from SFUSD schools will not have taken Algebra I under the new course sequence. However, students coming from private schools may have taken Algebra 1 in 8th grade, raising the question of whether the new course sequence will create a community of private school “haves” who are eligible earlier for advanced math courses, and public school “have-nots” who will not have the opportunity to take an advanced math course until a “compressed” Algebra 2/Precalculus course in 11th grade.  (Why Lowell in particular? The contention is that Lowell HS receives a high percentage of students who attended private schools K-8 and I’m willing to stipulate that is probably true, though I’ve asked for the data to see if other high schools should be concerned about this issue as well).  Lowell teachers testified that the compressed course will not work because it will not give students enough time with Precalculus concepts to prepare them for Calculus in 12th grade. Other math teachers from other high schools testified in favor of the current course sequence. I just have to be honest and say I don’t know who is right — it feels a bit like he says/she says at the moment. I’ve talked to the Superintendent and our math content specialists at length about this topic and they are convincing on the idea that the new course sequence/Common Core offers a stronger foundation that will serve students better in the long run (and it’s true that we weren’t exactly hitting it out of the park on math instruction prior to implementing the Common Core standards). At the same time, no one wants to disadvantage our students coming from public schools who have the aptitude to handle advanced mathematics early.   I’m told there are productive discussions going on about the idea of giving everyone a math placement test on entering the 9th grade, whether or not they took Algebra in 8th (Oakland USD does this).  Stay tuned.


21 responses to “Recap: Board meeting Feb 10 2015

  1. Elizabeth Statmore

    I’m sorry that we Lowell teachers did not do a better job that night of explaining the collision course we find ourselves on.

    This past Thursday night, we (the Lowell PTSA and Lowell math teachers) had an excellent first community meeting with the district leadership team for high schools and high school math.

    However, we are quickly reaching the point of no return, and we believe it is our obligation as teachers, as taxpayers, and as citizens to sound the alarm.

    We — our PTSA, our students and families, our Alumni Association, and our math faculty — need to raise the question of whether or not you, the Board, really intend to achieve the dismantling Lowell’s entire AP math and sciences program through this new board policy.

    Here’s the situation.

    As we, the Lowell faculty, explained in Thursday night’s conversation with leadership, the current board policy pits Lowell’s math and science programs for gifted and talented students against an error-riddled misreading of the California Common Core’s intentions and its actual foundational documents.

    As we have gotten deeper into it, we have discovered that the new one-size-fits-all placement policy will put Lowell and SFUSD out of compliance with district, state, and federal laws regarding the entitlement of Gifted And Talented students to a Free and Appropriate Public Education.

    In fact, it even puts us out of compliance with California’s own foundational legal document for the Common Core and its guidelines for appropriate acceleration in mathematics (see State Board of Education-Adopted Common Core document, Appendix A, lines 241 and following).

    To implement the new program will require Lowell to dismantle a math and science program that has been built up over decades — and that has produced more Nobel Laureates in the sciences than most world-class universities.

    Lowell is the GATE school in San Francisco. It serves as a magnet school for gifted and talented students who want to challenge themselves to their utmost. Nowhere is this more true than in our mathematics program. In 2014, we administered 529 AP exam— with a pass rate of 83%.

    These students do not suffer from a shallow or weak understanding of mathematics.

    As we all agreed at our community meeting, our new Core Curriculum is a first draft — not a fully fleshed out program. Many essential pieces are still missing.

    So we came to the board meeting to ask if the dismantling of the Lowell magnet programs in AP Math and Science are indeed something the Board seeks, in fact, to eliminate.

    As a math teacher who has been actively involved in training and developing teacher tools and strategies for the implementation of the Common Core, I hope not.

    As a taxpayer and voter in San Francisco and for the sake of our community, I hope not.

    And as a citizen of our country and of our world, I sincerely hope not.

    Elizabeth Statmore, Ph.D.
    Mathematics Teacher, Lowell High School
    San Francisco taxpayer and voter

  2. I enjoyed hearing all the teachers, parents, and community members speak up about SFUSD’s chosen math sequence implementation of CCSS-M. I would like to understand why San Francisco and Oakland have adopted such widely different math sequences? Why does SFUSD offer only two decision points beginning in 11th grade while OUSD offers seven decision points with the first in 7th grade? It seems that the same group of experts, after reviewing the same body research with the same objectives, has reached completely different conclusions for SFUSD and OUSD. Why don’t our students require the same choices and opportunities as Oakland students?

    Thank you for posting the SFUSD CCSS-M recommendations to your blog at . “A joint partnership between mathematics leaders in Oakland Unified and San Francisco Unified school districts” prepared that position paper and the recommendations adopted by SFUSD. Thanks also to Annette Hurst for linking the OUSD math sequence at . Both of these contain a nice course sequence graphic for easy comparison. They even use the same shapes, colors, and fonts; however, the content is very different. Why?

  3. as a parent of a current sixth grader and second grader, the algebra/public-private equity issue concerns me greatly — especially in the current climate, which, following the elimination of honors offerings in MS, to my eyes looks like another example of SFUSD lowering the bar across the board in order to chase this elusive concept of “equity” (at the expense of accelerated students of all ilk). the idea that we would hamstring — or risk hamstringing — not just our AP-capable high school students, but also our college applicants floors me. is there something i’m missing? mind you, i’m a proponent of common core math generally; my concerns have nothing to do with those standards or the scaffolding plan per se. here’s my question: what do you suggest concerned parents do in the coming weeks and months to advocate for equal access to algebra for our public middle schoolers? beyond signing the petition, which i did, i don’t know how to direct my efforts.

  4. Louise Whitlock

    Has the Board of Ed. already voted on the new/proposed math sequence? I’m confused about this point and would appreciate it if you could let me (and likely others on this thread) know what the status is. I’ve looked on the SFUSD Board of Ed website, but I can’t find anything official about it.

    Thank you.


  5. Hi Rachel, actually Oakland also has an 8th grade algebra option. Looks like they compress 2-into-1 during 8th grade. Here is a link:

    We seem to be seriously out of step with every other Bay Area District.

  6. Immersion Parent -frustrated

    So basically afree 13 years of California requiring kids to take algebra 1 in 8th – an ambitious goal at the time for most kids – the district adopts 9th grade Algebra 1 and ignores those kids in need of more math in middle schools?

    This means our family will have to either look at middle schools that are private and offer richer STEM environment – sorry W. brown school, I have little faith in this middle school program will work for us plus you offer no language program.

    I have a child just beginning the SFUSD track and one about the enter middle and I can tell you we wil be putting more money away for private. I love social justice and that my kids will be bilingual but all my tax increases are not going to help my child better academically in SFUSD and to compete with the rest of the state for college placements.

    GATE is gone here unlike a lot of the state (and they have crowded classrooms and still manage GATE tracks) and the teachers are unable to do the differentiation thing because of the fear attached to equality for those behind and the teachers do not have a plan or bandwidth. This is a HUGE problem for most of my peers and their kids and it seems the only solution for many of them is to have their kids skip grades for purely academic reasons (that comes with a side of socialization issues which also taxes a teacher) or just move along to an alternative school or put all eggs into a gifted homeschool program which removes them from social equality issues.

  7. This conversation is very compelling as it brings up the question of equity. As the public schools have shifted from educational institutions to providers of social equity, I think it is valuable to think about what equity means and how the district provides it. The discussion around “equity” and math curriculum points to the conflation of the two prongs of service provided by SFUSD – one is education, the other is social services. For children with little or no home resources, the district can help provide “equity” by filling the social services gap which has widened since the 1980s, but it is not providing equity by narrowing down the academic choices. It would be beneficial to separate out SFUSD’s role in providing social programs from their role as an educational institution. As an educational institution, SFUSD should be curriculum neutral. As a provider of social services, it should be class and race sensitive. Within SFUSD, you could have a hungry child who is advanced at math and who needs both free meals and advanced math. At the same time, you could have a middle class child who needs access to a vocational or apprenticeship program. The schools should offer a variety of curriculum and pathways while simultaneously providing robust and generous social services (food, therapy, tutoring, child care, mentoring, medical care) to those children in need. Equity happens when children, regardless of class and race, are given all the resources they need from a hot meal to an after school tutor to a full-time PE teacher to AP calculus to succeed.

  8. Louise Whitlock

    Annette Hurst’s proposal sounds like a perfect solution to this problem. Thank you, Annette! (I also recommend reading the article she linked — it is an excellent piece on this subject).
    Rachel, would you be willing to support this proposal and present it to the rest of the Board and Superintendent? It would go a long ways towards keeping our middle schools competitive and compelling for San Francisco families and obviate potential problems at the high school level.

  9. Hi Rachel,

    Just a clarification. There are two different AP Calculus courses — AP Calculus A/B and AP Calculus B/C. The new compressed 11th grade course prepares students to take the lower-level AP Calculus A/B in 12th grade. Here’s what AP Calculus B/C covers (according to the College Board website):

    Explore the key concepts, methods, and applications of single-variable calculus including all topics covered in AP Calculus AB (functions, graphs, and limits, derivatives, integrals, and the Fundamental Theorem of Calculus) as well as additional topics in differential and integral calculus, such as parametric, polar and vector functions, and series.

    Parents are upset that students will not be prepared to take AP Calculus B/C in the new sequence.



  10. Thanks again. Last question, you said that you’re looking at a math placement test for all incoming 9th graders regardless of whether they took algebra 1 in eighth grade, which is what Oakland does now. As I understand it from the study that you linked to, the new eighth grade math under common core teaches some algebra (65%), some geometry (25%) and some statistics (10%). Is the placement test for skipping 9th grade algebra going to be designed to identify kids who have learned a little more algebra but no geometry and stats? I’m not sure why that makes sense and it certainly does seem to advantage private school students who will effectively have been taught to pass that test. If you’re trying to identify advanced math students, it seems like you should be testing to see who best understands the concepts that SFUSD kids have been taught. But if you’re trying to identify kids who can successfully skip 9th grade algebra, it seems like you should just teach kids algebra earlier. In other words, as it’s currently set up, 9th grade algebra appears mainly redundant for kids who get common core 8th grade math, but not redundant enough that they can skip it.

  11. I know for a fact Oakland has implemented this course sequence; don’t know about other districts. Not sure about the sequence at nonSFUSD high schools.

  12. Thanks, Rachel. Two follow ups: (1) has any other school district implemented this? and (2) for kids who, for whatever reason, don’t end up at SFUSD high schools, how do they end up on track for AP Calculus?

  13. Read the post on the math sequence I linked to. Advanced students would take a “compressed” Algebra II/pre Calculus in 11th grade and be eligible for AP Calc in 12th.

  14. Can you tell me how a public middle schooler will be able to get to AP calculus by his/her senior year? Is the sole option just doubling up in high school? If you go to a math placement test for 9th grade, how would public school kids who hadn’t been taught algebra be able to compete with private school kids who had? This new system doesn’t seem to offer any attractive choices for kids who want to be able to take AP calculus. That in turn will affect their ability to get into top colleges. Please tell me if I’m missing something, Rachel.

  15. I agree with the other posters. If private schools and other public districts are able to offer advanced math sequences and subsequent course work in the sciences, then SFUSD students are at a distinct disadvantage not only when applying to college but in college as well. In our “post-race” world, where affirmative action has been eroded both in the private and public spheres, it does not bode well for students who are not educated with a competitive curriculum. The district has an obligation to its students to offer honors classes and advanced math and science curriculum. Regardless of race and class, SFUSD students will be competing against students who have had better educational resources and opportunity both in college and in the workplace. As SFUSD’s largest populations are minority and low-income students, it seems imperative that the curriculum be competitive with other public districts and private institutions.

  16. Rachel Norton there is an option to restore a track that includes 8th grade algebra, thus having two tracks in each MS: one for 9th grade Algebra 1 and one for 8th grade Algebra 1. The Common Core standards as written explicitly contemplate this option, and it has been implemented in other schools throughout the Bay Area. The implementation comes as either a 4-into-3 approach (starting in 6th grade) or a 3-into-2 approach (starting in 7th grade) where the Common Core curriculum is compressed over a period of time to allow students to reach the equivalent of Algebra 1 in 8th Grade. Here is an article by Tom Loveless at Brookings summarizing some of the programs around the Bay Area.

    I am organizing parents all over the City to address this issue. In less than 4 hours this morning we received more than 100 signatures on a petition at with dozens of thoughtful comments:

    I am requesting that you please put this on the agenda as an item at the next board meeting. I am already organizing parents to attend. This approach will solve all of the problems raised by the Lowell issues, and allow all of our students an option to reach AP Calculus (and advanced science classes) by their Senior Year. This is not just an issue of the test, it’s an issue with the curriculum.

    Every SFUSD Middle School can have 2 tracks for math, and with the rigorous standards of the Common Core, nobody will be disadvantaged. The only students being disadvantaged under the current system are our high achievers, and we are depriving them of the opportunity to pursue the highest level of advancement in STEM subjects. Add asSequence for Algebra 1 in 8th Grade to Sequence for Algebra 1 in 9th Grade. That’s all we need to do.

  17. I remember being quite impressed with the testimony from math teachers at other schools at the meeting last spring that I heard on the radio. I came away with a greater appreciation for what teachers could accomplish with Common Core. It was very inspiring. I felt like the newly adopted sequence would serve my freshman and the majority of SFUSD students very well.

    However, I also noticed that the majority of schools represented that night (Ruth Asawa SOTA excepted) were schools with relatively homogenous populations socioeconomically and additional funding for class-size reduction. Also the teachers appeared to have benefitted from a lot of additional training and support. It would have also been good to also include testimony from some larger schools such as Washington or Lincoln with greater socioeconomic diversity and larger class sizes.

    Also, no one addressed how aspiring engineers, chemists and physicists would not only meet the admission requirements for these competitive programs, but be fully prepared to thrive once they entered them. Many of these programs have a high attrition rates overall, but particularly for those who do not have adequate high school math and science backgrounds. While AP courses are not perfect by any means, they do ensure that students have met a certain threshold of competency in their subjects.

    My resident expert senior says that the new course sequence would not have allowed her to take Physics C (calculus-based physics) at all, and would have forced her to choose between taking a lower-level AP Physics course and AP Chemistry senior year (because AP Chem also requires a certain math proficiency that students would not obtain until after Junior year with the new 11th grade compression.) She is grandfathered under the old sequence, and had enough math to take AP Chem Junior Year and AP Physics C Senior year (in addition to AP Calculus B/C.) I really believe we should be preparing students with interest in STEM careers, particularly girls, to the highest level possible so that they have the skills and confidence to excel in these majors in college. This may not be the majority of students, but it’s a sizable enough minority that their needs should be considered.

  18. I’m so happy to see this discussion of the math sequence. I’m a proponent of making an advanced sequence available to public school students so they have the same curriculum available to them as private school students. Have you looked at Berkeley Unified or the Mill Valley School Districts? They seem to have addressed this issue. They are both using Common Core and have alternate math sequences. Maybe it would be helpful to speak with other neighboring districts to see how they have implemented Common Core and also kept a sequence of Algebra in middle school. Let’s make sure our low-income, minority students have access to Algebra 1 in middle school so there is not such a huge gap between private and public education. Let’s give our next Neil DeGrasse Tyson the educational resources he or she needs within SFUSD.

  19. Louise Whitlock

    Rachel, Re: the proposed new math sequence, I’m hoping that you can clarify a couple of things: (1) Why wouldn’t the school district allow all public school students in all high schools the opportunity to take the same math test that will be afforded to the in-coming private school students? What on earth is the rationale for this? (2) It seems that that our current SFUSD high school math teachers were not consulted on this proposed change (e.g., you say that the high school teachers from other schools testified in favor of the current course sequence and the Lowell math teachers testified that the compressed course system will not prepare students well enough for those who want to take 12th grade calculus/AP calculus. It looks like the teachers were not consulted on this very major change and I find this very troubling. The teachers are the ones on the ground teaching our children and I certainly trust their experience more than an outside expert . Please explain this matter to all of us parents.

    Lastly, in reading the attachment you kindly provided which outlines the proposal, it appears that there is an outright disdain for the idea of tracking and that it is somehow that considered anti-equity. This is also very disturbing and is actually ridiculous when it comes to math ability and skills. Some students do get the concepts easier and excel more quickly and can handle more advanced coursework, and some need more assistance and need more time to cover the same material (I know this first hand with my own two children). We can all understand that it is not fair and not equitable with a child who needs more help, but where’s the “equity” for the child who has mastered the material and is eager to go on to the next level? It certainly appears that the School Board and Administration has little concern for the kids who want to achieve at I higher level. Please explain why this is.

    With the push over the past couple of years to narrow the achievement gap and provide more equity to the under served students, the school district has unfortunately taken options away from the higher achieving students (e.g., eliminating the decades old Honors Program at schools like Hoover Middle School, reducing the higher level math course offerings at the middle school level, pretty much taking away the ability of students and families to choose the middle school of their choice as a result of the automatic middle school assignments based on where a student goes to elementary school, and now this new proposed math sequence, which seems heavily influenced by an anti-tracking political bias. Probably all of the parents who receive your email postings really care about SFUSD and providing a better education to all students and narrowing the achievement gap. If you realize it or not, these changes have come at the expense of the higher achieving students, who are also made out to be wrong and somehow elitist. That’s wrong on all counts. How about Stand and Deliver? Shouldn’t we be raising the bar for all students and not lowering it? This is what all parents want at all levels.

    I’m fearful that these changes will force more SF families into the arms of the many excellent private schools in the City or out of the City altogether. That would be a shame, because SFUSD would lose some excellent students as well as their hard working, caring families who put countless hours and resources into the schools.

    Thank you for your response. And thank you for your service on the Board.

    mother of a 10th grader and a SFUSD grad (’14)

  20. I don’t believe there is an option like that.

  21. Can current eighth grade SFUSD students take algebra I in school district summer school this summer?