Category Archives: News

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.

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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.

Recap: Vote 16, Lowell BSU, Condom policy

Tuesday evening was very emotional, with lots of highs and lows. Among the highs: the amazing testimony from students on the Vote 16 resolution I  co-sponsored with President Haney and Commissioner Fewer. Parents and other adults are often skeptical about lowering the voting age, but after listening to the testimony of the young people who came to talk to us, I challenge anyone to say they aren’t ready to weigh in on the important issues of the day.

Commissioner Fewer and I are also sponsoring a related resolution that would, regardless of whether Vote16 passes or not, educate students about their right to pre-register to vote ahead of turning 18.  Voting is a habit, and studies show that the earlier one gets into the habit, the more likely one is to become a lifelong voter. I’ve even heard that it takes new voters four consecutive election cycles to actually get in the habit. In SFUSD, every senior takes American Democracy and that is a perfect training ground for new or prospective voters. While we need to be careful that undocumented or otherwise ineligible students don’t register or pre-register in violation of state and Federal laws, it’s still worthwhile to use the state’s existing Elections code to encourage every eligible student to pre-register, or otherwise exercise their voting rights.

Students, parents and alumni from Lowell HS came to talk to us in the wake of a horribly racist and upsetting incident at the school. (And may I just say that I am in AWE of these amazing young women leaders).  The video below is over 30 minutes, but I think anyone who cares about social justice and wants to be careful and respectful around issues of race and privilege should watch it and reflect. There’s a history here, one that is painful and ugly and not discussed enough. I don’t have a lot of answers at this point but I think it’s crucial to hear:

Oh and then there is the condom policy. I’m going to post the Superintendent’s remarks on the policy, and then my own, because (if I do say so myself) I think we covered the issues. I get that on its face, in the way the proposed policy has been framed by the media, it sounds alarming. My children aren’t in middle school anymore, but if they were I would not be worried at all by our current policy. I talk to my kids about keeping safe if they are contemplating sexual activity, and most parents I know do as well. The kids we are hoping to reach are those who don’t have parents to talk to, and I trust and thank school nurses and social workers for the care they are providing to our most vulnerable students already. This limited policy change will give these educators an additional tool to help students who really need assistance and adult guidance. I’ve received some email from religious activists claiming that our policy will  hurt young women who are in exploitative relationships, but I don’t agree at all. The whole point of the policy is to encourage vulnerable children to have an honest conversation in a safe space with a trusted adult.

Superintendent Carranza’s comments:

My comments:

Finally, we also got an update on the third year of implementation of the Safe and Supportive Schools resolution which has sought to transform the district’s discipline policies while decreasing the amount of time students spend out of the classroom for behavior issues (referrals, suspensions and expulsions are all part of this issue). The update can be summed up by the two charts below: on the one hand, we are making real progress in reducing suspensions:

suspensions

 

 

 

But on the other hand, suspensions are still disproportionately of African-American students:

disproportionality

 

There’s more data in the powerpoint posted above.

Important parent engagement event next week – please make sure this flyer (page one is in English and page 2 is in Chinese) is distributed at your school sites, particularly to monolingual Chinese-speaking families – the district is hosting a special parent engagement event in Cantonese (with English interpretation) at Jean Parker Elementary School next Saturday, March 5. The event represents what I hope is a first step in real efforts to engage and inform Chinese-speaking families about curriculum and other initiatives in the district. I think we have to do a lot more in parent engagement across all communities but recent events and conversations have convinced me we have a particularly urgent problem in the Chinese community.

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

Elementary school assignment predictability: analysis in SF Chron

Jill Tucker of the Chronicle has analyzed more of the data on elementary school choices and outcomes and it’s very interesting. She finds that:

Many parents see San Francisco’s annual school assignment process as an unpredictable and agonizing crap shoot. But which school they get — or don’t — is a lot more predictable than parents think.

As I posted late last month, there are only nine elementary schools where attendance area residents aren’t assured of admission if they list the school first on their list. And then there’s Clarendon: Of the 1,505 non attendance area residents who listed the school first, only three got in. And how many of the 1,337 families outside the attendance area who listed the school somewhere other than first choice got in? 0. My advice: Clarendon is a great school but if you don’t live in the attendance area and don’t have any tiebreakers? Don’t bother.

Anyway: applicants for Round 1 are due TODAY. Get those applications in! I was at the district HQ yesterday and things were moving very smoothly, with extra staff on hand to guide parents through. Instead of standing in line, you get a number and can sit in the Board room to wait your turn.

URGENT: SFUSD schools will be closed TOMORROW Dec 11

Due to forecasts for a very strong winter storm tomorrow, Thursday Dec. 11, the Superintendent has decided to close the schools for the day. Please visit sfusd.edu for further updates.

Catching up: Notes from the Nov. 12, 2013 meeting

I have been neglecting the blog — I am so sorry about that. In my defense, though there is a lot happening, there hasn’t been much actually decided in the last few meetings — most of the big initiatives happening at the moment are in community engagement mode, or in the hands of the State Board, or just not quite cooked. Mainly, though, I’ve neglected blogging because I’m working full time and there is only so much I can juggle.

Anyway, let’s get a little caught up by reviewing events from last night’s meeting:

  • The Quality Teacher and Education Act (QTEA) — also known as the 2008 Prop A parcel tax — Innovation and Impact cash awards for 20 schools were announced last night. To receive the $15,000 prize for Innovation or for Impact, a school serving historically underserved student populations must demonstrate an impact on student achievement or innovative strategies and practices (some schools received two awards, including Paul Revere K-8). A  full list appears here.  Heartfelt congratulations to these 20 school communities: you are making a difference and I am very grateful for your efforts!
  • In his remarks for the evening, Superintendent Carranza noted that the Council of the Great City Schools (an advocacy group formed by the nation’s 50 largest school districts — of which SFUSD is one) is completing a study of outcomes from Federal School Improvement Grants (aka “SIG”) in their member districts. Though results aren’t yet final, SFUSD’s results are very positive compared to other districts, and our SIG work was highlighted at the organization’s most recent conference last month in Albuquerque.  Superintendent Carranza also noted that the number of books in circulation in SFUSD libraries has reached 1 million — pretty impressive!
  • The Board discussed the charter renewal petition for Creative Arts Charter School, a K-8 charter currently co-located with Gateway Middle School at the old Golden Gate Elementary School campus on Turk and Pierce Sts.  Creative Arts (CACS) is one of the oldest charter schools in SFUSD and no Board member seriously opposed renewing the charter, though several (notably Commissioner Wynns) noted the lack of racial diversity — the school is 45 percent white and 9 percent decline to state — compared to the district as a whole (11 percent white and another 10 percent not-reported).  Commissioners also pointed out that the school’s academic scores rank it as a 2 among schools with similar demographics — meaning it is underperforming based on its demographics under the state’s (very imperfect and now moot) API accountability system.  Nevertheless, the Board voted unanimously to renew CACS’ charter for another five years.
  • We heard a report from the Indian Education advisory committee, a Federally-mandated advisory committee that advises the Board on the education of students who are of American Indian descent. One of the bigger issues for this group of students is that there is no permanent space for the many cultural artifacts and curriculum materials the advisory committee maintains. The Superintendent pledged to make a recommendation for permanent space and to make sure that the group has access to the materials it needs to function.
  • We also heard an update on the district’s implementation of Behavioral RtI (Response to Intervention, a major component of the district’s strategy to reduce the number of African American, Latino and Samoan students being referred to special education). Teachers and the principal at Lakeshore Elementary demonstrated new, positive discipline strategies they are using in the classroom, with good results. Overall, the 25 schools in the first cohort of school communities trained in Behavioral RtI have seen a 33.5% decrease in referrals to special education, compared with a 23.9% percent decrease for schools not in the first training cohort. Referrals of African American students to special education have declined 14% at schools in the training cohort, compared to a 5% reduction at schools that have not received training.
  • We heard a very short update on the district’s Vision 2025 process — a large group of parents, students, educators and community leaders are meeting over the next few months to help the district envision its goals for 2025 — the next frontier for our strategic planning. It’s been exhilarating and sobering at the same time: there is so much to do and really so little time and resources to do it with; and it is so exciting and energizing to think about where we can be in the future.
  • Finally, the Board voted to extend the district’s contract with the Friends of School of the Arts (FoSotA), a nonprofit that raises funds for the Ruth Asawa School of the Arts (RASotA) and has over the past few years administered the essential Artists in Residence program at the school. The Superintendent said he will move this program back under district control starting in the 2014-15 school year but needs a bit more time to put the necessary structures are in place to be sure that the transition is smooth.

There’s a lot more to dig into– the plans for the A-G graduation requirements for the class of 2014 are slated for a Board discussion on Nov. 26, and the Board must also have a discussion soon about the plans for reauthorizing the Public Education Enrichment Fund (PEEF, also known as Prop H), which expires at the end of the 2014-15 school year. In addition, there are community conversations going on about the possibility of combining PEEF with the reauthorization of the Children’s Amendment in some way — the Children’s Amendment is up in 2015 and currently provides upwards of $200 million in funding for all manner of children’s services from childcare to nutrition to violence prevention  in San Francisco (including $5o million in annual funding for the Department of Children, Youth and their Families).  Commissioner Haney is currently drafting a proposal to ban “willful defiance” suspensions, which disproportionately affect African Americans. While no one really disagrees with the proposed ban, it will require some careful analysis and discussion to be sure we really address the root causes of disproportionate suspensions of African American students.

Also, hopefully you heard that there are big changes coming to student assessment. Because of the adoption of the Common Core, students won’t take the CST this year — instead the district will pilot new computer-based assessments.  There are still a number of very key questions to be answered about the implications of this change — like the effect on Lowell admissions for the 2015-16 school year and beyond, since in the past Lowell admissions for SFUSD students have used  CST scores to help determine academic ranking;  in addition our cohort analysis that determines which schools get what services under the multi-tiered systems of support adopted this year is based at least in part on CST scores.

More next time.