Category Archives: issues

Recap 1/26/16: Audit, Title VII and smoking prevention

Several business items of note in tonight’s meeting:

  • First, the school district’s auditors presented the annual financial report for the year ending June 30 2015 — another clean audit with one finding regarding the unduplicated count of students in our Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP).  The LCAP rules say you can only count a student once — so a student who is in foster care and eligible for free or reduced lunch cannot be counted in both categories. This is a new level of precision that was not required before the implementation of the LCAP, and district data systems did not adequately account for the fact that some students fall into more than one category. Therefore, the auditors found that our unduplicated count was overstated and resulted in the district qualifying for more supplemental or concentration grants than it should have received under the state’s new Local Control Funding Formula — $2.5 million more. The auditors testified that many school districts are encountering this finding due to the increased demands, and fiscal impacts, of the reporting required in the LCAPs. In other words, procedures that were appropriate prior to the implementation of the LCAP now need to be updated because the rules have changed, the auditors said, and added that they believe the district’s corrective measures (including reporting the error to the state) will address the problem in future years. We’ll discuss in budget committee next week how this error might affect our budget going forward.
  • Supervisor WienerCommissioners Walton, Haney and Mendoza-McDonnell authored a resolution in support of legislation being sponsored by Supervisors Wiener, Cohen, Mar and Farrell that would ban the sale of tobacco products and e-cigarettes to people under the age of 21. Supervisor Scott Wiener was on hand to urge the Board’s support, which was unanimous. As a former smoker — I had my first cigarette at age 13 and smoked a pack a day until I was 30. It took me three tries to quit for good, and I’m happy to say I haven’t had a puff in over 10 years. Never again. National data shows that 95 percent of adult smokers began smoking, as I did, before the age of 21. Needless to say, I am strongly supportive of this idea.
  • The Board unanimously reauthorized three separate but related charters held by the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department for Five Keys Charter schools. These institutions serve adults and juveniles who are either incarcerated or on probation, helping them to get back on track and complete a high school education. These are truly innovative programs first begun by former sheriff Mike Hennessey and continued by his successors Ross Mirkarimi and Vicki Hennessey (no relation to Mike).

We also had an informational report from the Title VII Indian Education Program and Parent Advisory Council. Under the Indian Education Act, a Federal law passed in 1972, school districts must create programs to serve the unique educational needs of American Indian/Alaskan Native students. Since that time, the school district was required to have a Title VII program serving the needs of this population, but in the early 2000s the program fell into decline. In 2008-09 the program was re-established, but did not have a permanent home. In 2014 the Parent Advisory Council for the program came to the Board and district leadership advocating for a permanent space so that they could better serve their students and families, and eventually moved into a bungalow at Sanchez Elementary. There, they now host monthly Family nights, community events and Cultural Nights, offer academic workshops and after-school tutoring, and hold Parent Advisory Council meetings.

Federal funding is available to support the Title VII Indian Education programs, but school districts can only claim this funding for students whose families have filled out a special Federal form — Form 506. As of October 2015 only 145 students in SFUSD had a Form 506 on file, but community members testified tonight that the eligible population is significantly higher, perhaps more than 400 students. More outreach to parents and training for staff is needed to document the true number of indigenous students eligible for Title VII funding, the group said. They also stressed the need for much greater cultural competency and sensitivity from school staff–this is a population with a lot of needs but also a proud and distinct culture that is not always respected or honored in our schools.

Public comment: United Educators President Lita Blanc testified on behalf of staff at Charles Drew Elementary, who have raised concerns about their facility. Drew is an open plan school, with classrooms that can be reconfigured by opening or closing temporary sliding walls. Perhaps this seemed innovative when the school was built (in the 1970s) but now “pods” have gone out of fashion and for good reason: students and teachers find it almost impossible to focus in them. Cabrillo Elementary on 25th Avenue had such a design when I looked at it as an option for my children a decade ago –I liked a lot of things about the school at the time but the facility design made the classrooms feel like they had been set up temporarily in someone’s living room. Now, Cabrillo has been converted to district office space, and Drew and George Washington Carver might be the last true “pod” artifacts in the district. Commissioners asked for the facilities department to give us a report on what can be done to mitigate the impacts of the facility on teaching and learning.

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.

Recap: Final meeting of 2015

We had a very packed agenda last night, with many substantive items and some good discussions. First up is a summary of actions:

  • We recognized winners of the 2015 QTEA Innovation Awards — these are schools that successfully applied for innovation funds provided through the 2008 Quality Teacher and Education Act (the school parcel tax that also provides key support for teacher salaries and professional development);
  • I was proud to sponsor a resolution commending the California Academy of Sciences‘ Guest Services Department for their amazing support of students with disabilities by providing job support and training for students from AccessSFUSD:The Arc. It was kind of an accident that we ended up issuing the commendation during Inclusive Schools Week but utterly appropriate. I am so grateful to the Academy and also to Heidi Seretan and Jennifer Kabbabe of AccessSFUSD:TheArc. I also love seeing their students (I care about them all but there is a special place in my heart for DeMian and Chris — love you guys!).
  • The Board voted 6-1 (Wynns voting no) to issue a charter to Mission Prep, previously a state-authorized charter school in SFUSD . I’ll add more about that below.
  • We unanimously passed Commissioner Fewer’s resolution recognizing the historical contributions of Chinese Americans in San Francisco public schools. It was an honor to hear from retired principal Lonnie Chin and family members of Gordon J. Lau (San Francisco’s first Chinese American Supervisor), and chilling to be reminded of the horrors of the Chinese Exclusion Act and its impact on Chinese Americans in San Francisco and all over the country. There are some similar xenophobic strains reverberating through the country right now, so it is more important than ever that we learn from our history.
  • The Board approved the 2016-17 instructional calendar, which has school starting on Monday, August 15, 2016 and ending on Monday, May 26, 2017. The full calendar is printed on page 59 of the agenda. (big PDF document; don’t download on your phone).
  • We also accepted the Balanced Scorecards/Single Plans for Achievement for every school. If you would like to see your school’s Balanced Scorecard, please visit this link, then click on the link for the school you would like to view.
  • Finally, we heard an informational presentation on the progress towards fully-realizing the Afterschool for All initiative. The vision is that there will be ample, sliding-income-scale capacity for any student who needs or wants afterschool enrichment programming at every school. We aren’t there yet, but great progress has been made, and the goal is to make sure the vision is fully-realized during the 2016-17 school year. I commend the staff for the great work that has been done on this initiative so far.

In depth: The Mission Prep charter was a tough decision for many members of the school board. This is a charter that five years ago was not at all ready for prime time when it was first submitted. It was unanimously denied, but subsequently granted by the State Board of Education. In my opinion, the State Board approves many sub-par charter petitions that were appropriately denied by school districts and county offices, more out of ideology rather than some deep understanding of educational value. However, because of the actions of the State Board, Mission Prep was established and began enrolling students in 2012-13.

They have, contrary to my expectations in 2010, done a good job. We have had three hearings on the renewal petition — in the Budget and Curriculum committees, and again last night at the Board. It’s been clear at each of those hearings that the Mission Prep families are passionate about their school, and that they believe strongly that the school is serving their children well. The school’s outcomes are so far very good. And the staff analysis of the petition and the program found no deficiencies and a strong financial position. Here are the remarks I prepared for last night’s meeting about the Mission Prep application. I didn’t deliver them verbatim, but they’re close enough:

I intend to support the petition, for two reasons.

First, the petition is a very strong petition. I have no doubt that should we deny this petition this evening it will be granted by the State Board of Education, which has granted much weaker petitions than this and imposed schools we didn’t ask for and didn’t want on this school district. Given that reality, it makes sense for us to have a relationship with Mission Prep as the authorizer of its charter.

The second reason is the families. I have heard in testimony tonight and at the Budget and Curriculum committees that this school is a positive place where your children are learning and growing. That counts for a lot. I cannot look each of you in the eye and say you can’t have a school that is working for your children.

I do, however, want you to understand the impact your request for a building is going to have on other students and families in the school district. Prop 39 requests displace existing school communities or they result in co-locations, which rarely work. There are many in-district schools that are working for their families and their students as well — your request for space may result in this board having to disrupt some other student’s education. I don’t think it’s fair and I think the law is a bad law.

I hope that should this petition be successful this evening, you will be mindful of your impact on the entire district and on other students.

The ongoing and most difficult issue with the charters, as I see it, are facilities. (Note that I said most difficult, as facilities are not the only issue). Prop 39 requires school districts to offer appropriate space to charter schools (meaning, that if a school is a high school it should have, for example, science labs and athletic facilities, so that it can meet the requirements of the education code ). We must comply with the law even if we denied a charter and the state is the authorizer.  This drives me crazy because it is so unfair and so contrary to the principle of local governance. We have school communities that may well be displaced or forced to co-locate with charter schools because the State Board thought that a charter was a good idea for our district even when the locally-elected board unanimously denied it.

Anyway, in the case of Mission Prep, I think we’re trying a somewhat new tack. We could easily have denied the petition, because in the end it would have made no difference, as I said above — indeed, in her remarks last night Commissioner Wynns said we could regard the hearing on the Mission Prep petition as a “procedural requirement,” or a box to simply be checked before proceeding to virtually guaranteed reauthorization by the State Board. In that scenario, it would have been the state’s job to oversee it and SFUSD still would have had to provide an adequate facility. (Note also that “adequate” is a key word — charters do not get to choose the facility they are offered, though often these offers are subject to intense negotiations. So long as the district’s Prop. 39 offer meets the adequacy standard, the district has met its legal burden under Prop. 39.)

However, as I also said, simply kicking the can down the road to the State Board probably wouldn’t have been fair to Mission Prep either — the school is clearly doing a good job for their students and there is an argument to be made that we, as the SFUSD governing board, have an obligation to make sure that continues to happen.

Anyway, when it comes to charters there aren’t any easy answers. It would help if state law created more of a level playing field, but the current education code basically says charter schools have more rights and fewer responsibilities than traditional schools. I fail to see how that kind of skewed policy-making helps all students in California. It certainly helps a few, but very likely at the expense of the many.

All of that said, I congratulate Mission Prep for successfully navigating the renewal process, and most importantly for their demonstrated commitment to their students. Now that the district has reauthorized their charter, I hope we can forge a newly collaborative and mutually beneficial relationship going forward.

A mini FAQ, and a book review

Lots of email after last Tuesday’s Board meeting, and comments too. I got one comment I decided not to post because I thought it was too likely to be misconstrued. Still, I engaged in a great exchange with the author–a parent of a young child new to SFUSD–and based on that exchange I think it’s helpful for me to rephrase his comment as a series of questions and answers. After that, some thoughts on the book Mission High by Kristina Rizga. But first, the FAQ:

  • Has GATE been eliminated? GATE is not being eliminated, though new GATE identifications have been suspended for a time due to the lack of standardized testing data. Read my post on this topic, which goes into much greater detail.
  • Are all honors and AP courses being eliminated?  First, let’s be very clear up front that Honors courses are not the same thing as AP. Honors at the middle school level has been eliminated. Some high school honors courses for 9th and 10th graders will be eliminated. No AP courses are being eliminated that I know of. AP courses are overseen by the College Board, with a recommended curriculum and a test at the end. Honors courses do not have a standard curriculum from school to school, and prior to 11th grade a student receives no consideration from UC for taking most Honors courses. My opinion:  I am much more comfortable with the idea of expanding AP than I am with Honors, which seems to me to be somewhat arbitrary. I do, however, acknowledge that with the elimination of Honors in middle school, we need to be sure that teachers have the resources and the foundation they need to adequately differentiate curriculum for students at every point in the spectrum of learning. I also think we should begin to look beyond AP as a stand-in for rigor, and deepen our partnership with City College to expand dual enrollment in SFUSD and the College. Students who have real college courses, and credits, on their transcripts will be incredibly attractive to colleges.
  • Will the district turn Lowell and SOTA into ordinary lottery schools?  No.  It’s possible–for example, in response to my resolution last year that called, among other things, for examining the audition process at Ruth Asawa School of the Arts–the district may from time to time tweak admissions processes at these schools. My opinion: I do not expect, nor am I advocating for, any major changes in the competitive-entry admissions at either of these sites.
  • Is there a desire to remove any workaround (summer school, doubling up, validation exams) for students who wish to advance more quickly in math before 11th grade?  District policy does allow students to double up on courses and students who have either passed online courses or the validation exam have already been allowed to advance prior to the “decision point” that is envisioned as coming at the end of 10th grade looking forward to 11th grade. Those options aren’t necessarily recommended, but they are available. My opinion (not necessarily district policy): I see some equity issues, particularly with the online course that some students have taken, since it costs a considerable sum of money. However, I do not think that if an online course is accredited, and accepted by the UC regents as a CCSS Algebra course, that we should refuse to offer credit for it, and I also acknowledge that allowing students who can pay for such a course to move ahead doesn’t feel quite right if there are other students who want to take such a course but can’t pay.  (My children would rather poke their eyes out with hot pokers than take a summer math course online, but maybe that’s just my kids.)  I am discussing this issue internally and asking for some ideas and solutions to that problem.
  • Will students be forced to take non-math-based physics in 9th grade? No. The Board just heard a presentation on the implementation of the Next Generation Science Standards in the Curriculum Committee and was told that schools will either choose Biology or Conceptual Physics for 9th grade OR every school will offer both Biology and Conceptual Physics as options. The final decision is still yet to be made–the Curriculum Committee strongly came down on the side of students having options at every school–but requiring every student to take Conceptual Physics in 9th grade is absolutely off the table.
  • How do the new the CCSS  Math for 8th grade and CCSS Algebra I course in 9th grade compare to the previous Algebra I taught in 8th grade?  Well, I’m glad you asked. Here’s a handy graphic that shows the overlap between the old/new courses:

Screen Shot 2015-11-20 at 12.34.03 AM

And now a book review:

I’m really excited to recommend the book Mission High to anyone who cares about the future of public education, and in particular about the future of public education in San Francisco. Kristina Rizga, a writer for Mother Jones, spent several years “embedded” at the school, building strong relationships with students and teachers so she could tell their stories. Even before I read the book I was recommending Mission to people because of what I know about the teaching and leadership at the school. And the book just underscores my positive impression, giving a deeper and more detailed view of classrooms where teachers are working every day to encourage students to do more, learn more, and think harder. The book makes it so clear that much standardized testing only captures a fraction of what students know and can do (I knew that already but she makes a great case). I love social studies teacher Robert Roth’s focus on writing — “analyze, don’t summarize” he is quoted as saying over and over again to his students — because as a writer I know how much harder it is to write a good argument, citing evidence,  than it is to answer a true or false or multiple choice question.

I love the way the students at Mission High grow in confidence and ability and become powerful advocates for themselves and their school. I love the way they reject the label of “failing student” or “failing school” even though the school’s test scores aren’t stellar. The students, through the course of the book,  become writers and advocates and scholars. They go to college. They achieve. They lead.

Reading about the teachers and students profiled in “Mission High” makes you believe in the power of teaching to transform any life — not just the lives of those who have experienced incredible adversity–but also the life of any young person who has great potential and needs encouragement and instruction to reach it. I believe this kind of teaching is present in every school in SFUSD. Perhaps not in every classroom, perhaps not every day of every year– yet the ability and the potential is there. “Mission High” challenges me as a Board member to create those conditions where great teaching can flourish, for every student, in every school, every day. Have you read the book? Tell me in the comments what you think.

So let’s talk about GATE . . .

GATE is the acronym that stands for Gifted and Talented Education. It’s established by the state of California, which has posted what looks to be a pretty comprehensive history of educational programs and requirements for students who are academically gifted.  I’m not going to go into all that, and instead mostly confine this discussion to San Francisco Unified and where we find ourselves today.

Here is what the research, as I understand it, says: fewer than five percent (most say two to three percent) of the population is truly gifted–meaning they are Einsteins or Mozarts or similarly brilliant artists, thinkers or theorists. That two to five percent absolutely need differentiated instruction and academic supports tailored to their needs, just as the 10 percent of students identified as having a disability absolutely need differentiated instruction and academic supports tailored to their needs to derive a benefit from their education. For the academically gifted, those supports could include: individualized learning plans, more challenging material, a faster pace, and less structure.

Now let’s talk about San Francisco Unified, and many other districts that, like us, relied on test scores and academic performance to identify gifted students. In SFUSD, 32 percent of students are currently GATE-identified. One of my favorite segments from Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion show on NPR  is News from Lake Wobegon, “where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.” Sorry. Though I think highly of our SF students, including my GATE-identified daughter, there’s no way that 32 percent are Mozart- or Einstein-level gifted. We aren’t Lake Wobegon. So how did we get here?

Prior to 2014-15, the California Standards Test (CST) served as the primary identification mechanism for GATE students. This led to the state of affairs we have in SFUSD, as in other districts, where we tend to lump high-achieving students together with those who are truly gifted and talented. But using the CST favored students who are good test takers and those who know English well, creating a selection bias. The CST was suspended two years ago to align new assessments to the Common Core.

In the two years since the CST was suspended, the district’s Office of Equity and Access suspended new GATE identifications and has been reconsidering how students should be identified as gifted  in SFUSD. Current research, as summarized for the Board by district curriculum experts, suggests that we should be wary of several issues in GATE identification: that the use of traditional academic tests will place undue value on test-taking skills; that no single measure should be the sole bar for identifying giftedness; and that giftedness exists in equal proportion across language, racial and class groupings.

But identification is only part of the issue. The much more important part, of course, is curriculum. To provide an experience that is meaningful for gifted and talented youth, it’s important that the district respond to and meet their individual differences and tailor learning to their needs. It’s important that gifted and talented students be afforded opportunities to work with other GATE students in addition to their non-GATE identified peers. We also need to be mindful of the needs of high-achieving students who aren’t necessarily GATE, but still need challenging classes to realize their academic potential.

The Curriculum & Instruction Department is working to craft all of the above into a future proposal for the Board. The important thing for parents to understand is that GATE is not going away, but it is likely to change to provide a richer experience to a smaller, more rigorously identified group of students.

WordPress, which hosts my blog, allows you to add a poll to your posts. I’m experimenting with it — curious to know what you think and if this is a helpful feature for blog readers to share their views (I do moderate comments, so sometimes it takes a while for me to post comments).

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.

I hate this: State bungles CAHSEE policy, hurting students

UPDATE: Here’s the California Department of Education’s response: “Our hope is that the few students who find themselves in this situation will only have to defer their dreams of attending the college of their choice for one semester,” said Keric Ashley, deputy superintendent at the state Department of Education. “In the meantime, there are other options available to these students, including our California Community Colleges. I received excellent preparation at my local community college before attending university.”

Last night, several students from International High School, along with their principal and several teachers, came to talk to us about a really confounding and desperate problem. Details are in tomorrow’s San Francisco Chronicle, but essentially, here’s the story:

Last spring the state Legislature eliminated the California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE) as a graduation requirement. It wasn’t aligned to the Common Core State Standards. Anyway, the CAHSEE was never good education policy, unless you believe that one standardized test is a better gauge of high school academic achievement than four years of requirements and alignment with the UC/CSU’s required A-G course sequence for admission. Most members of the class of 2015 had already passed the CAHSEE, so for them the elimination of the test as a requirement was a moot, if somewhat annoying, development. But for newcomer students — those who came to the United States after being educated (or not) in other countries for most of their lives, the English Language portion of the CAHSEE represents a major barrier.

In San Francisco Unified, there are about 45 members of the would-be class of 2015 who had not passed the English language portion of the CAHSEE by graduation day. Per regulations from the State Board of Education, SFUSD (or any other district in California) is not allowed to issue a diploma without evidence that a student had passed the CAHSEE, even though the state legislature voted in June to dump the CAHSEE altogether.

There was supposed to be a July administration of the test, which our 45 students were counting on as their last chance to pass the CAHSEE and receive a diploma. But because the state isn’t recognizing the test, the July administration was canceled. And, because it went on vacation or otherwise decided to stop paying attention, the State Board neglected to update its direction to school districts to allow us to use our discretion — and rigorous graduation requirements–to issue diplomas to this group of students.

Watch the heart-rending testimony of our students here:

They’ve passed their classes. They’ve applied to college and been admitted. Their teachers, and their principal, agree they are ready to succeed. And yet the state, through either a bureaucratic bungle or a lack of concern, is saying that the San Francisco Unified School District may not issue a diploma.

I think we should defy the state and issue a diploma. What do you think?

You can help sway officials on this situation by contacting Tom Torlakson, the State Superintendent of Public Instruction. His telephone number is 916-319-0800; or you can reach him on Twitter at @TomTorlakson . His email address is: superintendent “at” cde.ca.gov, or you can post a message for Superintendent Torlakson on Facebook at: www.facebook.com/torlakson . Finally,  you can write him a letter here:

The Honorable Tom Torlakson
State Superintendent of Public Instruction
1430 N Street, Suite 5602
Sacramento, CA 95814-5901

Student assignment committee report: 12/8

I am chairing the Ad-Hoc Committee on Student Assignment for the 2014-15 school year, and we had a meeting December 8 to discuss the pending resolution I authored with Commissioner Fewer that would change the strength of preferences offered to students applying for Kindergarten. Finally, I’ve got some time to recap that meeting!

We had a wide-ranging discussion that touched on an earlier simulation of the effect of implementing the change on the assignments made for the 2014-15 school year, other methods of weighting CTIP (Census Tract Integration Preference) that would add an income qualifier, and other analysis that Commissioners would like to see.

The staff presentation from the meeting is here. Most of the information in the presentation centers on the current effect of weighting CTIP 1 residency above attendance area, and what might happen (based on 2014-15 requests) if we re-weighted that preference to give attendance area more weight.

Let’s cut to the chase first: there are nine schools that are so impacted that at least some attendance area residents who listed those schools as a first choice for 2014-15 K admissions were not offered a seat in Round 1. Those schools are shown in the graphic below:

Screen Shot 2014-12-19 at 9.57.31 PM

It’s important to emphasize that all other schools/pathways with an attendance area (meaning schools that are not citywide schools or do not have a citywide language immersion pathway) offered a seat to 100% of attendance area residents listing that school/pathway as a first choice in Round 1. Commissioner Wynns noted that this is remarkable — and she’s right, so it bears repeating one more time. The vast majority of families who list their attendance area school as a first choice — siblings or non-siblings — are offered that school in Round 1.  Put another way: 109 K applicants who listed their AA school or pathway as a first choice were not offered admission to that school or pathway in Round 1, but those 109 represent a scant two percent of all 4701 first choice requests in Round 1 last year. So: if you live in any other attendance area than the nine schools listed above, you are almost assured of receiving your attendance area school in the lottery if you list it as a first choice, even if you have no other tiebreakers.

So let’s talk about Clarendon. Commissioners noted that Clarendon is clearly an outlier among the nine impacted schools, let alone all schools. There are a couple of reasons, we think, why  Clarendon attendance area residents do not, essentially have an attendance area school. Those include:

  • Clarendon only has 44 out of 88 seats that are subject to the attendance area preference. The other 44 are citywide seats due to a language pathway.
  • Clarendon has a huge number of younger siblings applying for K seats. In 2014-15, 51 younger siblings of current Clarendon students applied for admission in all pathways.
  • Up until 2011-12, Clarendon was an alternative school with significant busing. This means that families from all over San Francisco had access to and were encouraged, through busing and other means, to apply to Clarendon.

There’s an issue here, and Commissioners remarked generally that our current system — prioritizing siblings and CTIP1 residents — adds to the very slim odds we see for anyone without those two tiebreakers being admitted to the school. Indeed, the district’s simulation of re-prioritizing attendance area would have resulted in nine more students from the Clarendon attendance area being offered seats in Round 1. (In total, 39 additional students from each of the nine attendance areas listed above would have been offered seats in their attendance area schools if the Fewer-Norton proposed adjustment to the assignment preferences had been in effect for 2014-15 enrollment).

I should also note that re -prioritizing attendance area would result in three fewer African American students and two fewer Latino students being assigned to Clarendon. Overall race/ethnicity impacts of re-prioritizing attendance area at the nine schools the proposal affects are on page 17 of the staff presentation. However, these simulations are based on current applicant pools. And there is the problem: our applicant pools for almost every school are less diverse than they should be. Our problem, quite simply stated, is that our choice system is allowing families to self-segregate.

Here is some more data that illustrates the problem. It shows 22 schools with the largest numbers of AA residents (in percentage terms) who do NOT choose their attendance area school in any position on their list of choices for Kindergarten:

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Of these 22 schools, at least half are located entirely or partially within CTIP1 areas, and many of them are serving majority African American, Latino and Pacific Islander students. These groups of students are more likely to apply late (post Round 1), and so are more likely to be placed in schools where there is space — after all of the people who applied on time for Round 1 are placed.

If we believe that a strong CTIP tiebreaker is most likely to benefit families who are in a position to research their choices and take advantage of options without worrying unduly about logistics like transportation and start times, then it makes no sense to actively encourage these families to leave the attendance areas for schools where their presence would add socioeconomic diversity, if not racial diversity.

We need to be looking at mechanisms that make applicant pools for all schools more diverse — we already know that while choice does empower certain parents, it has failed to increase diversity. One thing that is striking in looking at the simulations is how modest and weak CTIP is as a tool to desegregate schools. We also need to prioritize the areas where we most need racial and socioeconomic diversity — the areas where racial isolation is definitely depressing academic achievement for all children. Those areas, in my opinion, roughly correlate to the CTIP areas.

In the end, it’s good to offer parents choices, but not at the expense of children whose parents can’t or won’t take advantage of the choice system, and not at the expense of overall faith in the system.

So: how do we fix it? The CTIP  “flip” we’ve proposed will have a modest effect on nine schools — allowing more attendance area residents to access some of our most popular and most middle class schools. There will be a slight — very slight — decrease in diversity at those nine schools. The bigger question is what will happen at the 22 schools shown above where residents are choosing out in large numbers. The district’s simulation of the effect on these schools isn’t particularly helpful, in my opinion, because so few people are choosing these schools in the first place, and so many people who live in these attendance areas are choosing different schools in other parts of the City. Would a system that still allows you to choose other options but prioritized admission to your attendance area school make a difference on enrollment at some of our most challenged schools? Maybe. In my opinion, it’s worth a try.

The committee did discuss adding an income qualifier to the CTIP preference, but there’s no great way to do this for Kindergarten. Eligibility for free/reduced price lunch is problematic because eligibility for these programs is determined much later in the cycle — starting about four weeks before school starts. We could ask parents to sign a form, under threat of perjury, that they are eligible for Free/Reduced Price Lunch, but we’d have to be willing to enforce it in order to have any confidence in the results. Anyway, doing this is still a possibility, but we need to discuss it more, which we will do at the next meeting on February 5.

The other options available to us are more expensive: program placement and busing. I am not interested, at this point, in entertaining a large-scale return to busing — even if we could afford it. Buses are expensive and in my opinion not the most high-impact strategy for raising achievement of all students. Program placement is very much an option, but you have to be willing to invest a lot of new dollars in under-enrolled schools, and be thoughtful about whether the programs you’re putting in a school will be for the benefit of all children at the school — and not just serve as displacement mechanisms.

This is what we are trying to do at Willie Brown MS, which will open in August 2015. We’ve invested millions in a new facility, and are designing state of the art academic programs. Coupled with the high school “golden ticket” mechanism, we hope these investments will be enough to attract a diverse, robust enrollment of students at a school site that has, in recent history anyway, failed to attract many families at all.  If it works, we’ll have a roadmap for how to do this in other places. If it doesn’t . . .

The next meeting of the Ad Hoc Committee on Student Assignment will be Thursday, Feb. 5 at 6 pm in the Board Room at 555 Franklin Street.

Coming up: December 9 Board meeting

A few items to note on the agenda for our upcoming Dec. 9 meeting:

Ethnic Studies: In 2010, the Board voted to pilot a new Ethnic Studies course at several high schools. The course has since been offered at five high schools and has been popular with students. On Dec. 9, we will vote on a proposal authored by Commissioner Fewer that would expand our Ethic Studies offerings to all 19 high schools. Ms. Fewer originally proposed making Ethnic Studies a graduation requirement, but has since amended her proposal to say that the district should “explore ways to institutionalize its commitment to Ethnic Studies by including Ethnic Studies coursework as a requirement of graduation” within five years of the passage of her resolution. Los Angeles Unified recently approved Ethnic Studies as a graduation requirement for its students.

At the Budget Committee last week, we spent a fair amount of time analyzing the cost of the proposal, which comes to about $480,000 in the first year. The bulk of the costs will result from hiring more teachers and bringing the current content specialist up to full-time in order to develop and oversee the course. The findings from the Curriculum Committee made it clear that there is work to be done in aligning the Ethnic Studies curriculum with Common Core, and it would be beneficial to get the course qualified as meeting the A (History) requirement under the UC/CSU A-G framework. Otherwise, adding Ethnic Studies or any other new graduation requirement is very costly; it also takes up time in schedules where students are now taking electives.

Ultimately, the Budget Committee and the Curriculum Committee recommended that the Board approve the Ethnic Studies proposal.

Movies and TV in the classroom: Over two years ago I wrote a post asking parents if they thought students were being shown too many movies or television shows in the classroom. The responses, an unscientific sampling, seemed to point to yes, so I’ve been paying attention to this topic. I get complaints about this from parents on a regular basis, and have always been told that the district discourages movies being shown in the classroom and that any movie shown must relate to the standards being taught. I have not, however, been able to find any written policy on this topic. When I learned recently that my teenagers have been shown full-length Disney movies in science classes, I decided it was time to make sure we have something in writing.

I’ve submitted a proposal that will be heard for first reading on Tuesday; it will come up for a final vote of the Board sometime in late January or early February. I want to be clear that I think most teachers try to use movies and television to bring standards to life in an engaging way, and I really have no problem with excerpted material being shown to illustrate a particular concept or point. But when this content consumes an entire class period, is not age-appropriate and/or isn’t academically rigorous, I have a problem. So I thought it would be appropriate to ask the Board to clarify our beliefs on this topic, in order to help the Superintendent convey clear standards to site administrators and teachers.

Instructional calendar for 2015-16: The Board will adopt the calendar for the 2015-16 school year on Tuesday. School will start August 17, 2015 and the last day will be May 27, 2016. Old timers will remember that sometimes in the past the calendar didn’t get approved/set until spring — causing a big problem for families that were trying to make summer plans. We’ve gotten much better about this in recent years.

Let’s celebrate inclusive schools week!

Every year, the first week of December is Inclusive Schools Week. More than anything else, Inclusive Schools Week is about inspiring all of us to think bigger about who we are, which students our schools serve, and how we can serve every student better.

So, to help get you in the mood, here are some stories I find incredibly inspirational:

Including Samuel is a documentary made by a photojournalist whose second son, Samuel, was born with a disability. Samuel’s family believes strongly he should be included in mainstream classrooms, but they also understand the trade-offs that full inclusion can require.

Here is Samuel’s father, Dan Habib, giving a TED talk:

Harper’s Playground came to be after  Harper’s parents learned they would be parents of a child with a disability. They immediately wondered: how would they help Harper play with other children and find friends? From that, a movement toward more inclusive play spaces for children was born.