Tag Archives: ethnic studies

Recap: A big crowd for Ethnic Studies

We had a large and upbeat crowd of students, teachers and other supporters of the proposal to expand the Ethnic Studies course pilot (currently at five high schools) to all 19 SFUSD high schools starting in August 2015. Students were articulate and passionate in their support of the program, telling us it was revelatory to learn about the history of groups that are sometimes left out of mainstream social studies or history textbooks. “Asian-American history is like a page and a half in some textbooks,” said one senior. “My history is so much more than a page and a half!” Student after student told us how much they love the course — and preliminary academic outcomes presented by Deputy Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero seem to bear out that 9th grade students who are members of at-risk groups and who enroll in Ethnic Studies do better in their other academic courses and have fewer unexcused absences. I was impressed by the passion and the engagement from students, and I do believe we have to think more broadly about whose history, and which history, we teach. I also read this essay recently, by a progressive education blogger I respect, and found it compelling. An excerpt:

Ethnic Studies is a path to self-understanding for students otherwise denied the histories of those who speak and look like them, but it’s also how all people can empathize across lines of race, culture, religion, ethnicity, and language and feel in our bones the deep commonalities of shared hopes, struggles, and dreams of our individual lives. Yes, empathy can be taught. Anti-racism can be learned and racism and bigotry unlearned. But first we have to set aside blinkered monocultural lenses.

It was also moving to hear the Superintendent describe his experiences as a young social studies teacher in Tucson, seeking to give his Chicano (Mexican American) students a deeper understanding of their own history and culture. “What if we taught people their own history?” he asked the Board and the public in his remarks just before the Board’s unanimous vote. Ethnic Studies will be expanded to every high school starting in 2015-16 after the Board’s vote, and this spring the Curriculum department will work to flesh out the existing curriculum and align it with the Common Core. New teachers will need to be hired and given professional development to effectively teach the course. There’s a lot of work to be done but I think this is a positive step for our district.  Here’s a panoramic picture of tonight’s crowd (thanks to Mark Murphy):    10476337_10152469609891776_7245363341865845698_o

And . . . The Board wished departing Commissioner Kim-Shree Maufas well — tonight was her last regular Board meeting. Commissioner Maufas did not run for re-election in this last cycle. Commissioner-elect Shammann Walton will be sworn in with returning Commissioners Mendoza-McDonnell and Murase at a celebration on January 6. We also approved the 2015-16 instructional calendar  and the annual report auditing the developer fees we collect to mitigate the financial impact of real estate development on the district. Finally: Stay tuned . . . I do intend to blog the meeting of the Student Assignment committee on Monday, but that will have to wait for a moment when I have more time.

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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.

Saving the best for first: meeting recap

Tonight’s meeting started out great, and went downhill from there. First up: a unanimous vote in favor of a resolution to finally name School of the Arts after renowned artist, arts advocate and local treasure Ruth Asawa. Even Commissioner Wynns cried, and that takes some doing. It was a sweet moment.

Second: a resolution authored by Commissioners Fewer and Kim on establishing an Ethnic Studies course in every San Francisco high school.  The program would pilot at up to five high schools in 2010-11 and expand district wide in 2011-12. There are some very good reasons for implementing/expanding an Ethnic Studies program: for one thing, we need a 9th grade social studies course that will help prepare students for World History in the 10th grade. Second, students are clearly enthusiastic about the course, judging from the crowd that came out in support of the Fewer/Kim resolution — and increasing student engagement is a major goal for the Board. Third, SF State has offered our students college credit for passing the course, and significant help in getting the course started in SFUSD.  Still, I do have a few personal reservations about Ethnic Studies as a discipline. An email I received tonight from an administrator (a person who is committed to social justice and not at all a reactionary person) sums it up:

 ALL history classes should be reflective of the students’ history in the classroom. The danger with ethnic studies is that it takes everyone else off the hook. We should offer ethnic studies AND do a better job of integrating ethnic studies into everything else.

Commissioner Kim spoke eloquently tonight about being a product of Ethnic Studies, and movingly about discovering the words of Malcolm X and other great leaders and people of color.  I agree, it’s thrilling to read about people who have triumphed over oppression and led others out of oppression as well.  In my U.S. History courses, I learned about Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. and Frederick Douglass, about the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II and about the oppression of Chinese-Americans even as they helped build California and other western states.  I learned about Navajo culture and about the Trail of Tears, and about American imperialism around the Pacific Rim and in Central America.  That history is all of our history, not isolated histories of isolated peoples. I hope we are not letting history off the hook or dividing the discipline into Ours and Theirs.

Anyway, I was a little taken aback when I was hissed by the crowd for simply asking how likely it was for an Ethnic Studies class to be approved by the UC system as meeting the UC system’s A-G requirements for entry (and graduation from SFUSD). This is not an idle question — we’ve tried several times without luck to have the class approved, and the resolution calls for the course to meet the “G” requirement.  In my question, I think I expressed clearly that I was OK with going ahead with a pilot, but that I was concerned about implementing the course district-wide without approval from UC that the course could meet A-G. Luckily, there was a UC representative in attendance who assured us that we could make the course meet A-G by introducing a co-requisite, like English or some other core course, to be taken concurrently with 9th grade ethnic studies.  Anyway, it’s fine to come to a Board meeting with a strong opinion, but it’s bad manners to hiss someone for asking a tough question.

The other issue for me was the budget, but the Budget Committee did a good job of coming up with a compromise that everyone could live with, so my concerns there were put to rest. Still, this is about $220,000 in new spending, and yes, we’ll have to cut something else to put it in place.  Final vote: 7-0.

Next up: a resolution authored by Commissioners Fewer, Kim and Maufas about expanding access to AP courses across the district. Now, this is a concept I strongly endorse. At CUBE last summer, several districts that are bigger, more diverse and lower-scoring than ours presented strong evidence that the challenges and academic rigor inherent in AP courses are very motivating and energizing for students, even when students don’t score well enough on the AP tests to earn college credit. The challenge and the rigor in and of themselves have a big motivating effect, and a positive effect on future achievement.  But–we’re in the middle of a budget crisis, and we can’t afford to do everything we know is right and beneficial for students. In the end, the authors amended the resolution to state the expansion of AP as a major priority for the Board, and directing the Superintendent to work on the issue, acknowledging our current budget constraints. Final vote: 7-0.

Then came the real fun of the evening: voting to authorize the district to issue layoff notices to hundreds of teachers, administrators and paraprofessionals. Members of UESF waited for hours during the earlier action items to argue in front of the Board that the district has not met its burden of proof, that we don’t have to issue layoff notices to paraprofessionals until April (certificated employees like teachers and principals must be notified by March 15, while paraprofessionals and other classified employees must be notified in late April– 45 days before the layoff date of June 30), and that the budget numbers are based on projections that may or may not come true.  I hate having to look our unions in the eye and vote the other way, and yet I don’t see that we have any choice at all. The budget is only going to get worse in the next six months, and while its true that we don’t have to issue paraprofessional layoff notices until April, I’m not sure what the point of waiting would be. Wouldn’t you rather know now that you’re getting a pink slip, rather than waiting until April to find out? Hopefully, we’ll be able to rescind at least some of the pink slips, but not nearly as many as we’ve been able to rescind in past years.  Pardon my language, but it sucks. Final vote: Authorizing paraprofessional layoffs 5-2 (Maufas and Kim voting no);  Authorizing teacher/administrator layoffs 6-1 (Maufas voting no).