Recap for Oct 27 2015 — Focus on African American students

Short meeting tonight with two major items on the agenda – a report from our African American Parent Advisory Council (AAPAC) and then an update on our African American Achievement and Leadership Initiative (AAALI).

  • AAPAC was established in 2013 as part of a district-led process to interrupt inequitable outcomes for African American students in SFUSD. This group of parents and community members has been meeting regularly since then, working together with district staff to organize itself into an effective advisory body that listens to and reflects the concerns of African American students in San Francisco Unified, educates families on district initiatives  and resources, and advocates on behalf of African American students and families. Tonight, the group reported on its accomplishments so far this year (including adoption of and distribution of a letter supporting the district’s math sequence) and made a few recommendations, including expanding its opportunity to speak to the Board on a regular basis, encouraging more site-level AAPACs, and extending the focus of the AAALI initiatives (below) beyond high schools). The committee meets monthly (next meeting is November 19). More information here.
  • AAALI is headed by Landon Dickey, a Special Assistant to the Superintendent who joined the district last year. While Landon is responsible for coordinating the many strands of work around the district to improve academic outcomes for African American students in SFUSD, the Superintendent took pains tonight to emphasize that every educator in the district owns this work — not just Landon. The AAALI was established last spring through a resolution authored by Commissioners Haney, Murase and Walton, and is supported by a partnership with the San Francisco Foundation and the City of San Francisco.  There are a number of academic initiatives in place for 2015-16 — too many for a complete list but notably some programs to support African American students in applying to, enrolling in and persisting in college.  Of 253 African American students in the class of 2015, only 113 actually sent a transcript to a 2- or 4-year university. So we have our work cut out for us.

In other news, you might have read that the Obama Administration has reversed itself, somewhat, on testing. The President and his Secretary of Education now say they don’t think students should spend so much time taking tests.  The reason for the change of heart? Perhaps a new report, kind of jaw-dropping, from the Council of the Great City Schools, showing that the average American student will take 112 mandatory standardized tests between Pre-K and high school graduation, consuming 20 to 25 hours of class time per school year. (The press release summarizing the study is here).

San Francisco students do take standardized tests that are required under state and Federal law, and they also take some district-sponsored assessments that are designed to inform instruction and help teachers see where students need more or less support. To learn more about testing in San Francisco schools, you can read the Superintendent’s column about the study from today’s Examiner newspaper.


12 responses to “Recap for Oct 27 2015 — Focus on African American students

  1. Both of those letters were interesting reads. I don’t see why the Common Core math sequence can’t be successful for most students and at the same time, an accelerated track be available for the students for whom it is appropriate, and it should be available to kids at all schools. I say this as someone who attended a so-called high-performing, suburban school district and was myself tracked into a lower, non-algebra-in-8th-grade, non-calculus level (while my siblings were higher tracked and did both). Many of the kids who were in the accelerated track went on to medical and science careers because they were so inspired by those classes. What does it say to talk about differentiation and then not provide it in the STEM subjects? Whether or not my kid will need this has no bearing on not wanting to hold others back.

  2. I agree. That is why I think parents should fight for better funding for SFUSD to help make public schools have educational parity with private ones. If you look at private schools, it is all about boots on the ground – how many teachers, how many specialists, how many teacher’s aides. Rich people believe that people not computers make good teachers. Yes, wealthy schools have computers but they also have small class sizes, art supplies, and PE teachers. When tech companies give money to the school systems, we should be asking for endowments to raise teacher pay, provide teacher housing, and to hire more teachers. We don’t need computers, we need qualified, well paid teachers in our school systems. There is a strong initiative moving forward concerning Prop. 13. If we reform Prop. 13, it could add 9 Billion dollars into the public school system. All school board members and PTA presidents should be educating their constituents about Prop. 13 and these reform movements. If we could return Prop. 13 to its original intention of protecting primary residences and not have it be a tax shelter for wealthy corporate real estate entities, we would have a lot of money to rebuild our school system and make it competitive with private ones.
    You can check out Prop. 13 info at Make It Fair California

  3. Some of the comments here do not reflect the reality of how poor SFUSD actually is and how underfunded California public education is in general. There is no way to fund small class sizes, advanced classes, basic classes, medium classes, electives, support personnel and quality experienced teachers in every classroom. The richer districts cited here receive up to $5000 per student per year due to how California funds its schools. Local wealthier communities use local taxes to provide for its schools, while poorer, urban and rural districts that serve higher numbers of students of color depend on the state and receive much less money (yes, even here in SF, we pay thousands of dollars less per student than San Mateo and Palo Alto, and our kids have higher needs!). To even begin to discuss equity, we must start to dismantle and rebuild how we fund public education, AND, we must honor the moral and societal obligation to INTEGRATE our children. As a parent and a teacher, I can attest to how important it is to integrate students – if my son is in a class of upper middle class kids from educated families like him, then he is not receiving the benefits of a truly public education. I am a proud graduate of integrated urban schools in Oklahoma City and it had a profound effect on me – it truly made me a more wise, conscious and moral person. I believe in giving students different pathways and different opportunities; I believe in giving students extra support and services, but I also strongly believe that kids learn best when they learn WITH EACH OTHER. Let kids track in the higher grades, not in the younger grades while they are still forming their ethnic and academic identities. It’s harsh to see all the black and brown kids in one classroom and the white and Asian kids in another, and it creates a fiction in all of their minds of who is smart and who isn’t.

  4. Jane: That was an interesting read. Is there any evidence that SFUSD students are assigned to advanced math classes based on race as the AAALI letter suggests? Are Black students are assigned to classes with low-expectations and teachers with less experience? Those are serious allegations. As a remedy I would think it would be possible to assign students who struggle with math to small classes with experienced teachers. Eliminating advanced classes will probably narrow the gap but that is probably not the best way to do it.

  5. I would like to bring to attention this article about how SFUSD is created two types of education: one for the rich and one for the poor.

  6. It’s rather sad that the district is holding people back in the name of equity. What’s worse is that this will not empower low income students to compete with their peers. How will SFUSD kids compete with kids of every other Bay Area school district that offers advanced math tracks or the private schools?

  7. Maybe I haven’t been following as closely as I should but when I toured schools last year all the schools said they had the GATE program. Now it is not available? What’s going on here? Why is SFUSD taking away honors classes? Not only did I go through a year of hell to get my kid into a school near my home, now I find out there are no honors classes in the district? Families are just not going to stand for that. This is disgraceful.

  8. One more comment. Just out of curiosity, does the district think parents with children who would be slotted for honors and advanced math tracks will stay in the district when they can go north, south, or east and find public districts which have both? Parents can also stay within the city and go private where advanced math is part of the curriculum. I am sure private schools within SF recruit high-performing African American students for high school. How many African American students are historically admitted to Lowell? How many African American students actually attend Lowell? How many go private instead? SFUSD will be an education island in terms of its curriculum but the rest of the world does not inhabit an island of less competitive standards. Corporate America does not have any obligation to address issues of historical racism and social injustice. In fact, affirmative action programs within the college admittance system and corporate America have lost ground in our “post-race” politics. Corporations and universities simply take the best prepared, most competitive applicants. It is a huge dis-service to not offer a competitive curriculum in a district which is majority low-income and majority minority. SFUSD is neither white nor affluent majority. There are many such districts in the Bay Area but SFUSD is not one of them. And of course, in districts where affluent and middle class people are in the majority, there are honors tracks, advanced math tracks, and GATE classrooms. What you are addressing as a race issue is really a class issue. Those who can afford it will move into more competitive districts or go private. Those who can’t will be left to try and compete without the educational opportunities their peers receive. Instead of limiting education, the district should be trying to offer the same curriculum and classroom choices as wealthy districts and private schools. We should be aiming for smaller classrooms, teacher’s aides, advanced math course work, fully funded libraries and classrooms, specialists, longer school days, and a wide-variety of electives. We should not be committing our low-income students to a low-income education.

  9. It is disturbing to see that honors, GATE, and differentiated math sequences have been eliminated from SFUSD. SFUSD is a majority low-income minority district; if SFUSD students do not have the opportunity to engage in this competitive course work, they will have a very difficult time competing for college admissions and being able to complete college level course work. With the UC campuses opening up admission acceptances to a much wider pool of international applications, SFUSD students will be competing not only against their private school peers but also foreign students coming from countries with ample funding for education and rigorous curriculums. The district needs to ask themselves why there are not more African American students in higher level math classes and do what is necessary to develop these students. Rather than taking away the opportunity for advanced math classes for African American students, the district should be building a pathway from Pre-K to high school and nurturing students so that a higher percentage of African American students partake in these classes. There is absolutely no reason why African American students could not participate in an honors math track. We need to be supporting our African American students and also providing them with the rigorous curriculum which their international and private school peers receive.

  10. 253 African Americans in last year’s senior class sounds like a low number. I would have expected more like 4 or 500.

  11. Is there racially based tracking as the letter alleges? I find that hard to believe. However, I can believe that higher ability students and lower ability students are tracked into different classes. In any case the letter makes good point. If students who have difficulty with math are placed in classes with low expectations and less experienced teachers and those who are gifted are in smaller classes with more experienced teachers then that practice needs to be reformed.

    I do know there is a tendency of teachers to give greater attention to students with the greatest potential and give less attention to students with less potential. I have seen studies that confirm that. It seems to be part of the teaching culture. The recent student government election results at Everett middle school may be an example of that. It may be possible to change teachers’ mindsets but that would be a difficult cultural change. Changing the structure is probably needed.

    There are schools that are doing a better job than others on Black math performance on the common core tests. Perhaps those schools should be examined to see if they have policies or procedures that can be exported.

  12. Louise Whitlock


    It’s really unfortunate that “GATE” and “honors students” and their families have been vilified as the cause of the achievement gap within SFUSD. And it’s awful that it appears that the the pro-tracking vs. anti-tracking debate has broken down along racial lines as well. Shame on the Board of Ed and SFUSD Administration for allowing this to happen (although having a scape goat is always convenient). It’s the responsibility of the Board of Ed and the SFUSD Administration to provide a high quality education for all SFUSD students, not just the achievement gap students, or the middle level students or the honors students. The bar needs be to be raised for all, not lowered. Parents won’t stand for anything less.

    Louise Whitlock
    Mother of a SFUSD high school
    junior and a SFUSD graduate