Category Archives: Improving schools

Grrr. SF charter school counsels out child with mild-moderate disabilities

I got an email today that is really setting me off. I am redacting identifying details to protect the family, and because I believe this happens all the time: in many ways the specific school doesn’t matter. Read:

I did some research to see what would be the best option for my child. I really liked the idea of [redacted], and I thought it would work for my child with the right support. [redacted} charter school was one of my choices, so I spoke with its resource specialist. [redacted] was very fair and kind, but . . . told me that children with [disability] are typically not a good fit for [charter school]. This school is recommended for children who are independent and are able to learn without much of adults intervention. [emphasis added] I sent [redacted] my child’s last IEP in advance, and [redacted] thinks [redacted] disability is too severe that [school] may not be able to support [child] as it is a charter school with limited resources.

Wow. The parent who wrote me describes the child as having a speech delay and lacking social skills compared to peers. She wrote: the child is  “advanced academically and is able to follow directions. . . I would not call [child]’s’ disability ‘severe.'”

So here’s my question. Would the same charter school tell parents of typical children that it serves children who are able to learn without much adult intervention? I really doubt it, since that wouldn’t be a very good selling point.

This is a hot button for me because the practice of “counseling out” children who are more difficult and time-intensive to educate (read: expensive) is a common complaint about charter schools. Charters are particularly notorious for failing to serve students with disabilities — and parents of students with profound intellectual or physical disabilities often don’t even try to enroll their children at charter schools because it’s so rare that their kids are actually served at these institutions, even though Federal laws governing the education of students with disabilities apply to charter schools in the same way they apply to district-managed public schools.

I want to believe what the leaders of our district’s charter schools tell me — I really do. Every school talks about its commitment to serving all students, particularly those with challenges, how they want to increase opportunity for all students and how they are just struggling, underfunded public schools just like district-managed schools. And then I hear things like this parent’s story.

Tonight I did talk to a parent whose child with autism was served well at this particular charter school, and she urged me to get a fuller account before judging. Indeed, it appears that the professional that the original parent who wrote me talked to might be an SFUSD employee and not an employee of the charter school. So there is more fact-finding to do about this particular situation. On the other hand, in response to a Facebook post this evening I got an email from a different parent who experienced a similar situation a year or two ago:

My child is visually-impaired and when we were applying to SFUSD high schools, I called the head of special ed at each of the schools we were looking into, [redacted], [redacted], [redacted] and [charter].  I was really, really interested in [charter].  I’d heard that it was great . . .  When I spoke to the RSP, that was not my impression.  I was told no students with visual impairments had attended [charter], they don’t offer as many special education services as most of the schools in district. They didn’t have any special day classes.  I was told that because they were a charter school, [child’s] IEP didn’t really apply. 

To be fair, the parent also said that a highly-selective district-managed comprehensive high school was similarly discouraging. Her child is now in another district-managed high school and doing great. She isn’t looking to rock the boat, but was interested in sharing a perspective because I raised the topic.

I want all public schools, whether they are privately-managed charter schools or district-managed traditional schools, to be very thoughtful about their obligations to students with disabilities and to remember that their charge is to serve ALL, without barriers. Tonight’s communications have reminded me that we aren’t there yet and need to do much, much better by our students with disabilities.

History and school names

Last week President Haney posted an idea on his Facebook page (now private, due to threats and other bad behavior from people who should know better), suggesting that maybe certain school communities should have conversations about re-naming their schools if those schools are currently named after slaveowners.

In SFUSD, we have four schools named after historical figures who owned slaves: George Washington High School, Jefferson Elementary School, Monroe Elementary School, and Francis Scott Key Elementary School.

I want to be clear about two things: first, I have not seen any proposal to rename schools and I would be very leery about doing so unless such a proposal had broad support in the community and came from the students, faculty and alumni of a particular school. I believe President Haney feels the same way — he just suggested a conversation and I support that suggestion. In particular, I think George Washington, as the first President of the United States, still deserves to have a San Francisco school named after him.

I think we should have a deeper conversation about school names and when/how/why we decide to rename a school. We have many schools named after people or events or places, some of which are now largely forgotten (or at least less-remembered than they used to be). Below are some examples — without using Google, do you know for whom these schools are currently named and why? (Confession: without Google, I know the reasons for some names but not all).

  • Argonne Elementary School
  • Leola Havard Early Education Center
  • Everett Middle School
  • Claire Lilienthal K-8
  • Rooftop K-8
  • James Lick Middle School
  • Commodore Sloat Elementary School
  • Dr. William Cobb Elementary School
  • James Denman Middle School
  • Guadalupe Elementary School

My point is not that some of these names are becoming obscure, but rather that many/most of them had enough meaning at some point that an earlier school board/community decided to honor them with a school name. Sometimes ideas and values change (one of the schools above was renamed three or four years ago with broad community support after the NAACP reminded the Board that the previous name for that school honored someone who, a century ago, harbored and promoted racist ideas).

Today is the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks and I thought about this question while watching the movie “United 93” — a drama about the passengers on the fourth hijacked plane who fought back and probably prevented more loss of life and destruction in the nation’s capital that terrible day. I would be happy to consider naming a school after Mark Bingham, the gay PR executive, UC Berkeley graduate and rugby player who is believed to have played a major role in the passenger rebellion (in fact, the gymnasium at Eureka Valley Recreation Center is named after Mr. Bingham). I could also see naming a school after Betty Ann Ong, a George Washington HS graduate and American Airlines flight attendant who perished in the attacks after providing key early information about the hijackers to authorities (a Chinatown recreation center is named after Ms. Ong).

I would also be thrilled to name a school after Maya Angelou (as President Haney suggested), another George Washington HS graduate and the first female African-American Muni conductor, among many other achievements. More people probably recognize Ms. Angelou’s name than Mr. Bingham’s or Ms. Ong’s, and yet most of us would be willing to recognize any of their contributions as historically important and significant. And 100 years from now, will anyone remember any of these people? I hope so, and I also wonder.

Whose responsibility is it to keep a historical honor like the reason for an institutional name alive? I would argue that this responsibility rests with the school district for names of schools. If we have a school named after someone that we no longer want to honor, we as a district should be brave enough to argue that point, and we should have a strong enough argument to convince the broader community that such a change is deserved and necessary. If not, we should be proud of that school name and be willing to promote broad and ongoing understanding for why we have a school named after a person, place or event.

Safe and supportive schools

That’s what we all want, right? Tonight at our Committee of the Whole the Board got our annual report on the implementation of the Safe and Supportive Schools resolution we passed in 2014. That resolution followed on the groundbreaking Restorative Practices resolution the Board adopted in 2009, which has completely changed the way the district approaches discipline.

I don’t want to minimize how much of a shift it has been, nor how much more has been demanded of teachers — sometimes without the necessary support and training. Passing resolutions and demanding change is one thing: you also have to back it up with dollars and training and support, and sometimes these resources haven’t been as available as they should have been.

Mainly what the resolution has accomplished is a big drop in suspensions. We have also seen much better tracking of out-of-school time–absences and also out of class referrals. We now have a much better idea of how much time students-especially students of color–are spending out of class, and while the picture is still quite depressing we at least are beginning to be able to trust the data.

No one should point fingers or be happy about this data: as a community we all own it and have a responsibility to improve it. Teachers are doing their best to manage sometimes difficult behaviors from students, parents are doing their best to get kids to school, and kids are doing their best to engage in class. And all of us can do better, if we support each other and figure out how to meet the most pressing needs in our communities.

Anyway, I highly recommend a close read of the latest report. It does a great job of detailing the district’s current approach and investments in safe and supportive schools, and is a good resource for anyone who wants to know more about the implementation of this very important and beneficial policy.


Superintendent: A milestone towards more holistic measures of school quality

Today the CORE districts (the consortium of districts that applied to the Federal government for a waiver from NCLB requirements) released the school results in the new School Quality Improvement Index (SQII or the Index). Here is Superintendent Carranza’s email to all district staff about this important milestone:

Dear Colleagues:
I am so excited that San Francisco is part of a movement toward a more holistic approach to school and district accountability. We know that academic performance is only one of many factors to consider when measuring school quality. That’s why, in addition to academic achievement, the School Quality Improvement Index (the Index) includes a first-in-nation use of social-emotional learning and school culture-climate indicators. The Index also makes more students visible by including results for any student group with 20 or more students.
While many SFUSD principals and educators have been using the data included in the Index for several months already, today parents and other community members can view each school’s Index report online.

Year One
The first year Index findings provide a baseline of information about both academics and newly designed measurements of social and emotional learning. Academic information accounts for 60 percent of the Index and includes measurements of English Language Arts and Mathematics learning, graduation rates (for four, five and six year cohorts) and High School Readiness Rates of 8th Graders.
The social-emotional & culture-climate indicators are weighted at 40 percent of the Index and currently include measurements of chronic absenteeism, suspension/ expulsion rates, and English Learner re-designation rates. Later this year, the Index will measure growth in academic achievement and these social-emotional and culture-climate indicators.
Next year, the Index will measure growth in academic achievement and the social-emotional and culture-climate indicators will expand to include student, family and staff surveys, as well as indicators of Social-Emotional Skills. The Index was developed by educators working in collaboration across school districts in CORE, including Los Angeles and Oakland, with input from academic experts in educational accountability systems at Harvard, Stanford and other institutions.
All Indicators for the index are intended to be measurable, actionable and meaningful.

Key Principles of the School Quality Improvement Index
The School Quality Improvement Index represents a set of fundamental shifts in school accountability, grounded in the shared values and continuous improvement philosophy shared by the CORE districts.
From accountability as a hammer to accountability as flashlight: The Index and the reports included here are designed to help school communities identify strengths that can be leveraged, and challenges to address. Interventions and supports are focused on capacity building through peer learning and collaborative action.
From a narrow focus to a holistic approach: The Index includes a basket of measures with indicators in both the academic domain, and the social-emotional and culture-climate domain.
Making more students visible by moving from an “n” of 100 to an “n” of 20 (“n” represents number): At the heart of the Index is a focus on eliminating disparity and disproportionality. For that reason, the Index includes results for any student group with 20 or more students.
From just achievement to achievement and growth: Starting in Fall 2016, the Index will include measures of individual student growth over time on state assessments in ELA and math.

San Francisco makes a Strong Showing among Peers
Over 600 elementary schools in the six CORE districts were measured and SFUSD had 5 in the top 10, including the two highest ranked schools. Of the over 200 middle schools, SFUSD had 5 of the top 10. While we’re well represented at the top, very few SFUSD schools are in the lowest rankings.
In introducing the new School Quality Improvement Index, CORE districts today released several examples of CORE-wide findings from the Index data. The initial findings show that schools with strong social-emotional /culture-climate performance tend to have stronger academic performance, but also indicate that schools with similar levels of academic performance can have markedly different results when it comes to the non-academic factors.
The examples also show how Index data can be used to identify schools that are beating the odds with high poverty populations that can be models for other schools, as well as to identify schools that may be struggling. The findings also confirm continuing and substantive gaps in performance among student groups. As our school communities delve into planning for next year, this kind of information provides actionable places for school communities to focus their improvement work.
During the transition in both state and federal accountability programs, I am proud that our district has been a critical player in developing this new more balanced set of measures. I am also proud of our many schools that are effectively serving the whole child.

Warm regards,

Richard A. Carranza

What is “adequate” education funding?

Yesterday the 1st District Court of Appeals for California heard an appeal on Robles-Wong v. California, a landmark case originally filed by the California School Boards Association in 2010 and then combined with Campaign for Quality Education v. California, another funding adequacy case filed the same year. The judges must rule within the next 90 days whether to overturn an earlier dismissal of the case.

News reports on yesterday’s arguments:

I also highly recommend downloading and reading the California School Boards Association’s recent, very comprehensive report on funding adequacy. It’s packed with facts and figures and makes a strong case that California is still not funding its schools adequately, even with the real and significant increases we’ve seen through the Local Control Funding Formula. The report estimates that the state should add between $22 and $42 billion (with a “b”!) annually to adequately prepare students for college.

Download the full report here (PDF)>

P.S. After I wrote this post, I came across this article from the Atlantic, “How Rich Parents Can Exacerbate School Inequality,” which makes a strong case for adequate funding for ALL schools to lessen the need for parent fundraising. Among the gems:

[Robert] Reich also pointed out that when wealthy people give money to their town foundations, their tax-deductable donations stay in their own communities. The contributions enhance the schools’ success, which in turn increases the donors’ property value. In other words, the rich receive tax credits for giving money to themselves. “All of us are subsidizing the magnification of inequality in public schools,” he told me. It’s preposterous.”


Parental fundraising activities may even detract from local political activity, too, according to Reich. These highly educated, affluent parents, he said, use their finite energy and wallets to do some something that exclusively benefits their children. As a result, the parents may be less likely to advocate for policy changes that would benefits kids in other school districts, taking away some of their “political voice,” Reich theorized. Instead of going to Trenton or Albany to fight for public schools, they are running the town’s science fair.

One more:

Reich contrasted the fundraising efforts across school districts in California. He found that parents in the wealthy suburb of Hillsborough, California, raised about $2,300 per student on top of the district’s standard per-pupil allocation. Through online auctions whose items included a vacation on an island off of Belize in a house with a dedicated butler and a trip to see to the final episode of The Bachelor, they financed class-size reductions, librarians, art, and music teachers, along with smart technology in every classroom. In contrast, a foundation in Oakland raised only $100 per child. And, Reich said, parent foundations are nonexistent in most of the country’s poor cities and rural areas.

Math achievement: Looking at the data

I thought it would be interesting to look at the math achievement data that district leadership reviewed, in detail, before recommending our math placement policy. I should note that the data is from the California Standards Test (CST), which has now been discontinued in favor of the Common Core-aligned Smarter Balanced Assessments (SBAC). You cannot compare SBAC results to CST results, because they are very different assessments. So, while we do have one base year of SBAC scores, I’m only using CSTs here because of the comparability issues. That’s why there are no scores past 2013 — the state stopped administering CSTs after 2013 and did not administer SBACs until 2015.

ENROLLMENT: The graph below shows the percentage of students in each grade who took each version of the California Standards Test. This graph documents the overall trend in the 2000s towards more students taking Algebra I in 8th grade, which in turn increased the number of students taking Algebra II in 10th grade.  Percent TAKING tests

PERFORMANCE: More students took these courses earlier in middle and high school than previously, but how did they perform? Perhaps not surprisingly, as more students took these courses, that were previously considered to be very advanced, performance gradually declined. The next graph shows the percentage of students in each grade who took each test and scored advanced or proficient. I find it troubling that achievement in Algebra I, as demonstrated by the CST anyway, clearly flattened out at under 50 percent scoring advanced or proficient in recent years. And Algebra II scores — remember, by 10th graders, who would most likely have to have been placed in Algebra I two years earlier to take Algebra II in 8th grade — show an even sharper decline.

Percent taking who scored adv prof

The last graph is a different perspective on the size of the cohort of students scoring advanced or proficient on each state test. Instead of basing the percentage on the universe of students who took the test, as in the graph above,  I calculated students in each grade scoring advanced or proficient on each test as a percentage of their entire class cohort — not just those who took the test. If you accept that these CST scores are a reasonable proxy for mastery of the subject (and there are arguments about that), you can see that indeed we had little to brag about in terms of math proficiency in secondary school. The Algebra II CST scores are particularly dismal — just 14 percent of all 10th graders (and 40 percent of those who took the course) scored advanced or proficient in Algebra II in 2013.

Percent of all students in grade who are adv prof






I have shared the underlying data for these charts in a Google Doc which you may view if you’re interested. That data and much more is also available here, from the California Department of Education.

What the data tells me is that we really did/do need to overhaul math instruction to improve achievement in Algebra and other advanced math topics. In my view, reasonable people can disagree on the district’s chosen course for math policy, but it’s not an unreasonable assumption that giving students time to develop a firmer foundation in math — particularly as the rigor of the Algebra courses most students will encounter under the Common Core has increased dramatically — is a good idea if we want to improve achievement and get more students to attain higher levels of mathematics.

Anyway, Algebra II is a basic gatekeeper to the future: you cannot go to a four-year college as an 18-year-old if you cannot pass it. And even good “vocational” careers requiring apprenticeships rather than college degrees (like being a union carpenter, for example) require this level of math mastery. I’ve been hearing a lot from the parents who are concerned their children need to move at a faster pace. I would like all of us to pause for just a moment and contemplate how many students’ futures have been curtailed because our system has not prepared many students very well for the math they need in the future.

That said, I am continuing to have a dialogue with parents and with district leaders about how we can continue to improve our Common Core implementation: I’m particularly interested in additional class size reduction in middle school math, because I believe teachers need that space to fully realize the paradigm shift that Common Core represents. I’m also really inspired by some great conversations that are starting around redesigning high school, which is another pillar of the district’s Vision 2025. By deepening and extending our relationship with City College, for example, we can expand the acceleration options available to students, while allowing much more flexibility around where (and when) students take courses.

The problem we all live with

I finally listened to Part II of This American Life’s two-part series on desegregation in America, and I highly recommend taking some time to listen to the series if you care about school assignment policy and diverse schools.  Part I is about the benefits of integrated schools, and has some truly awful-to-hear excerpts from public comment at a Missouri school board meeting after a white-majority district learns that students from a black-majority school in a neighboring district will be coming to their community.

Part II is fascinating. It’s about Hartford, Connecticut, a majority high-poverty black/latino district, and how after a long court case, the district is trying a voluntary desegregation program. There are several important ways that the Hartford situation differs from San Francisco, and some important parallels.

In many ways we are already trying a voluntary desegregation program  here in San Francisco and failing badly. Maybe the attractions of the new Willie Brown MS will help us turn that corner — building a program that clearly will attract white and asian families. Maybe. But if these programs make one thing clear, it’s that desegregation policy is not easy.

Listen to the programs (free if you stream them from the web site) and let me know what you think.