Recap: Board Meeting Nov 10 2015

A large crowd for public comment tonight, mostly to advocate against the District’s Common Core math sequence, now in its second year of implementation. Jill Tucker from the Chronicle did a good job summarizing the comments, so I’ll just link to her article, which quotes me, parents and the Superintendent.

Last spring, when families began to advocate against the math sequence, I hosted a meeting of concerned parents with Jim Ryan, our STEM expert, and Lizzy Hull Barnes, our math curriculum expert. The input we heard at that meeting, and in subsequent public comment at the Board, as well as conversations with outside experts, led me to propose additional investments in coaching for middle school math teachers and decreasing class size in 8th grade Common Core math to 22-24 students. That’s what has been implemented this year, and I’m watching the results. The Superintendent has also set benchmarks he’s willing to be judged against as we complete implementation of the Common Core, and he’s announced those benchmarks publicly (see this update from the San Francisco Parent PAC for more information).

A community member recently forwarded me this interview with Donna Ford, PhD, a professor at Vanderbilt University, conducted by one of our parents who is critical of the district’s math sequence and heterogeneous class groupings. I actually think the professor is quite insightful on these issues and I encourage you to listen to her comments — the interview is about an hour long.

We also heard an update on our Lau Plan implementation to serve English Learners. (Here’s the background on Lau v. Nichols, the landmark court case that led to SFUSD’s being under court supervision to provide appropriate supports to English Learners). There was a lot of data presented — the biggest takeaway for the Board is that being more aggressive to reclassify English Learners has had a positive effect on achievement. The plight of LTELs (Long Term English Learners) who languish for years without achieving fluency is appalling and unacceptable. So seeing that many of the students who we managed to reclassify are now achieving at the same rate (or higher) as their English-fluent peers is a good thing. Of course we still see a significant gap between the achievement of Spanish-speakers and Cantonese/Mandarin/Korean speakers so that is still a major issue.

There were also some parents present to protest the district’s support for SB 277, which was signed into law months ago. They are requesting transcripts from one of our committee meetings, so as a public service here is how you can get recordings of our meetings, as well as other information:

Regular board meetings are streamed on sfgovtv.org and broadcast on KALW FM 91.7. You can stream or download video or audio of all of our regular meetings by visiting this link.

Committee meetings are recorded and I’m told this year the recordings are now digital, though it doesn’t appear they are posted for easy download. I’ll try to work on that. In the meantime, you may request a recording of any public committee hearing of the Board of Education by contacting the office of Equity Assurance at 415-355-7334. You can also always make a public records act request of the school district by filling out this form and faxing it or mailing it to the school district (the fax number and address is on the form). There may be a nominal fee for recordings or document reproduction.

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16 responses to “Recap: Board Meeting Nov 10 2015

  1. Currently there is a petitition circulating regarding SFUSD strugles to fill substitute teaching positions and provide quality subs when teachers are out. This issue didn’t come up at the latest board meeting but I would like to know what the board is doing to address problems with finding quality substitute teaches.

  2. Hi Don E,
    Thank you for responding to my post. I would love to see SFUSD present some data on how these curriculum changes support low income, especially latino and African American students, graduate from college. In my cursory reading on the subject, it seems that most institutions which are trying to achieve high college graduation rates for low income students of color (see SEO Scholars – http://www.seoscholars.org -, the September 3, 2014 NYT article on Eva Moskowitz and Success Academy Charter schools,the Harlem Dream Zone, Kipp Academies, Mission Prep) start early, provide longer school days or additional schooling, provide wrap-around services, and increase the rigor of courses. I am wondering if SFUSD’s new curriculum has any research to support its goals.
    I am also wondering how changes (if there are any) at Lowell will help achieve the goal of college graduation rates. I am imagining that students at Lowell already have a high rate of graduation from college and would think that the district would take that as a bird in the hand and not disrupt Lowell’s history of success.

  3. Regarding KH’s question, I have the impression that the goal is to have more students graduate from college. College bound students have always been favored by teachers. That is the problem related to the gap. There needs to be greater attention paid to those who are not likely to graduate from college.

    KH is correct that there are good jobs for those without a college degree, but more and more post high school education and training is needed for those jobs and most of those jobs require some level of math literacy. It seems that the equivalent of two years of post-high school education or training is the minimum for most well paid jobs.

    Regarding Emily’s concerns, the problem is that we only listen to those who agree with us and dismiss or ignore those with whom we disagree. That may be the problem with most university education departments. I would like to hear more from those who share Stan’s opinions. He identified a problem but I don’t see him offering any solutions. Teachers must deal with the raw material they are given.

  4. Hi Rachel,
    Thank you for taking the time to do this work and to also keep parents informed. It is a great service.

    In terms of parents’ trust in the district, I think if the district was more proactive in communicating their curriculum changes that would garner more trust with the parent community. For instance, it seemed that parents heard about changes in the math curriculum in a circuitous way. The district should have been peppering their own website and all schools with information about the changes which tracked what the math sequenced looked like before and what it looked like after the changes. Also, there needs to be a graphic showing the pathway students need to take to achieve the same curriculum results which the old pathways presented.

    The other issue of trust revolves around the district’s focus and goals. It is unclear to me if the district’s goal is simply to have more students pass algebra, if its goal is to have more students enter college, or if its goal is to have more students graduate from college. These are not necessarily mutually exclusive goals but do require different preparation and curriculum.

    As you probably know, most data shows that low-income students have a difficult time graduating from college because they are not academically prepared, do not have the same financial resources as middle and upper middle class students, and are less familiar with the social and institutional environment. Many low-income students go to college but end up without degrees and some even with debt. If the district’s goal is college graduation, it really needs to get some data on what curriculum and preparation most support low-income students in their ability to graduate from college. What high-school classes, curriculums, and standards are best at achieving this goal? If college graduation is not the district’s goal, then SFUSD needs to clearly articulate its goals for their curriculum choices.

    I have heard that the district is also considering curriculum changes at Lowell High School. As Lowell is one of the most prestigious public high schools in the United States, I am wondering what changes are being implemented and the purpose of these changes. How do the changes fit with the district’s goals and mission?

    One final comment is that I believe the district should really communicate
    to students that the 21st century will be a century of continual learning and that, as adults, they most likely will jump into the educational stream many times. I hope SFUSD can show students many educational pathways from community colleges to state schools to professional degree programs to careers in the trades. I hope the district has relationships with trade institutions so that students who do not want to go to college or do not have the finances could find employment as electricians, plumbers, carpenters, auto mechanics and other crucial professions which also provide living wages. I would like students to know they could learn a trade to support themselves and could also go back to school in their 30s to learn another profession. Students should also have a course in high school on financial literacy, loans, public versus private school, pay scales, unions, benefits, and other basic information on how our economy works so they will not be at an informational disadvantage when it comes to making financial decisions.

    Thank you again for your work.

  5. @Emily you are right – the minutes are supposed to be posted here: http://www.sfusd.edu/en/about-sfusd/board-of-education/meeting-documents.html but as far as I can determine there are no minutes posted. I have asked Ms. Casco and also Gentle Blythe, who is in charge of our web site.

  6. Thanks Emily. I absolutely disagree with Stan’s rhetoric as quoted and I did hesitate to link to the interview. I decided, however, that Professor Ford’s statements deserve a broader audience. I respect my constituents ability to distinguish between the interviwer’s rhetoric in other forums and the insights of a highly qualified interviewee. I also understand that some of Professor Ford’s comments have been mischaracterized so I thought it was important for others to hear her out for themselves.
    The Board minutes are posted on the agenda page. Ms Casco the Board secretary prepares the minutes for approval and posting and you may call the Board office if a particular meeting is missing. 415-241-6421

  7. Hi Rachel,

    I appreciate the effort you make to share information with your constituents here. I have two concerns, first about BOE minutes. I can no longer find BOE minutes on SFUSD.edu. We need an easily accessible record of BOE votes. No one should have to listen through an entire BOE meeting to find out how our elected officials vote. Please share a link. I hope that I’ve just been looking in the wrong places. (I’m particularly interested in the April 2015 meeting.)

    Second, I’m concerned by your choice to link to Stan Goldberg and the message that sends to the parent community. To his credit, Stan Goldberg has been very upfront and public with his negative views of African American parents, students, and educators. While dialogue is important, and Donna Ford has much insight to share, some have taken your link to Stan Goldberg’s site as a subtle endorsement of his divisive rhetoric. Here’s what Stan Goldberg has said on Parents for Public Schools listserv. Judge for yourself:
    “One reason there were fewer people of color in honors classes is by middle school not enough people of color had learned enough to qualify. They started behind and they stayed behind. I place the blame squarely on their parents. ”

    “Why should we listen to Black educators or for that matter White, Green, Orange or Blue. They haven’t come up with a solution to educating poor children of color since the civil war. There needs to be systemic change to the family education methods of people of color or you will continue to see the same results. You can point the finger with your ignorant bias of white privilege but the finger needs to be pointed squarely at black families. My family was poor. We had books from the library and my parents read to us. We went to free museums and free concerts. We saw plays and performances and went to political gatherings (yeah a red diaper baby). Being poor is not an excuse for not giving your child the love of education or neglecting to give them the basics to start school and expect everyone else to pick up for what the parent did not do and then cry racism because the child is behind in school. What do you expect a miracle? With children you only get back what you put in.”

    Thanks,
    Emily

  8. I think I know what lack of differentiation looks like for my high achieving middle schooler. She’s bored out of her mind in Math class. She used to think that math was fun too.

  9. Hi Rachel, Thanks for always putting yourself out there. It is a vulnerable position and I admire you greatly for it!

    We (you and I) have had an exchange about this idea of “trust” before and Superintendent Carannza brings it up in the quote Jill Tucker uses in her piece. I believe the Superintendent and the Board have good intentions but trust is something that needs to be talked about. We can’t just expect that trust is there or that it is building. We need to talk about how the schools and the school system has let people down and the reasons people are not able to trust. What is getting in the way of parents’ trust? Only then can we begin to move forward. Until there is a sense that an honest dialogue can take place around trust we are stuck in the comfortable place of doing and saying all “the right” things but not getting to the heart of the matter.

    In my own case, I can honestly say that I have no idea how to hold the district accountable. And why should I have to? Why does the school and school district not hold itself accountable? I did know when I became a parent how much energy it would take to parent my child with integrity while s/he attended public school.
    When a school or school personnel does not follow through there is no recourse. Same for Central Office personnel. There are hoops to jump through, certainly. And I have jumped them. But the system has failed. Failed miserably and sadly. Until I see evidence that schools, school personnel, and central office personnel respond appropriately to concerns and take immediate responsibility and action, I have very little faith in the system. And I only hear more stories like this, and worse, from parents across the district. Unfortunately, I believe this may be many people’s experience.

    How can I trust a system that has no accountability structure built into it for all the promises it makes?

    My idea has been to share successes. Very specifically share what is working. This feels supportive and affirmative – to both parents and teachers. Allow success to be the story. Allow the success to inform the places where there are challenges. The success story can provide accountability. Tell parents what is being implemented and how. Implement it. Then show parents how it has been implemented. Success! Do this often.

    I believe that you will find that where there are successes it is largely due to support and leadership which take a whole lot of effort. An increase in genuine, authentic support and leadership will lead to more success. Share this success.

  10. That is a great observation, Alison. I think that many parents do not understand the sophistication of the Common Core math curriculum, and likewise do not see how a skilled teacher might be conveying the concepts in a non-obvious, non-test-based, non-algorithmic way, in a heterogeneous setting that employs differentiation.

    My concern is that the district also has no way of evaluating the effectiveness of differentiation–particularly with regards to providing challenges to higher-achievers.

    And in fact, Carranza’s goals EXPLICITLY DO NOT INCLUDE HIGHER ACHIEVERS. Instead, they center around increasing the fraction of students meeting minimum levels.

    So the district:
    a. does not have any goals relating to providing challenging math experiences to higher achievers;
    b. does not have any way of measuring success in this area.

    If a goal is not explicitly stated and its success is not explicitly defined, there is zero chance that it will be met. Zero chance.

    So the assurances that the district has any concern for high-achieving students is simply pandering. Where it counts, the district is choosing to ignore the needs of high achievers, and they need to stop telling parents otherwise.

  11. Superintendent Carranza is quoted in that article as saying “At some point [parents have] got to trust their school.” I say that at some point, the school (and the district) has to earn the trust of the parents. Over the years and decades, that trust has been lost, and having a bureaucrat say “trust us” just isn’t sufficient.

    I think that the underlying issue is a micro-vs-macro mismatch. Any given family is responsible for 1 to 5 children, while the district is responsible for 50,000 or so. A poor educational outcome for one child is 20-100% failure; for the district, it’s a vanishingly small percentage. But it’s also true that families only have anecdotes, not data. It’s hard to bridge that divide, but it seems like the district is saying “trust us” and parents are saying “no” or maybe “why?”

  12. Hi Rachel,

    Thanks for posting info on how to get recordings of committee meetings – and glad to hear they are finally digital! Any suggestions for how we might move into an era where these meetings (even just audio) could be live streamed and archived online? Also would love for the public to have access to the reports, handouts, presentations, etc. discussed. Always so much good information shared at those meetings but really hard for families to attend in person.

  13. Thanks Rachel, as always, for keeping us in the loop. I very much appreciate all you and other Board members are doing to ensure teachers are supported in providing meaningful differentiation in all classes, and especially in math.

    At the same time I also think families need clear communication around what real differentiation looks like. I’ve heard from many parents that “differentiation is not happening”. I think in some cases this is true (e.g. kids are being asked to tutor lower-performing peers). On the other hand, when students receive skillful differentiation, it may not be that evident to parents. With good differentiation, kids receive enrichment and support and no one is the wiser–thus they don’t get stigmatized as they do with skill-based ability grouping through honors/GATE tracked classes. Investing in more family communication would also support families from under-resourced communities in advocating for meaningful differentiation when it’s NOT happening because they will know what it looks like.

    On this note, your blog does a great deal to share information. Thanks again for your advocacy for your continued efforts to support ALL our kids!

  14. I don’t know that the district has such a list, and we are still determining what our obligations are to accept these online courses. My understanding is that the APEX course is certified by the UC Regents as being a-g eligible and that is why it was accepted.

  15. A group of parents had a meeting with Brent Stephens recently. They reported out that he said approved summer school/on-line common core Algebra 1 classes would be accepted for incoming 9th grades this August. Would it be possible to get a list of the approved classes from the district? Apex is one I hear will be accepted, but I’d appreciate official confirmation.

    Thank You.

  16. Hi Rachel,

    That is very good news about the reduced class size for 8th grade math. I would love to see the concept expanded and extended, to the point where it is truly meaningful to talk about differentiation in math throughout middle school.

    I am also looking forward to seeing what standards to district has set for itself to gauge success in this endeavor.