Originally, this post was supposed to be three top ten lists in one: the top SFUSD events of 2010, the top education news stories nationwide in 2010, and the biggest education stories of the decade. But the SFUSD list alone got so long, I realized I’d better do this in parts. So, here’s Part I:
The 10 most important things that happened in SFUSD in 2010 (all lists are Letterman-style, 10th to first, and of course highly subjective):
10. Funding our Future town hall meeting: In early 2010, six moms at Sherman Elementary decided to act after hearing dreadful forecasts for the California education budget. On February 25, they held a town hall meeting, inviting all of our local elected officials and interested members of the public. Amazingly, over 1,000 people showed up, showing the intense concern of parents up and down the state over cuts to education. The momentum from this meeting has led to the formation of Educate Our State, a grass-roots organization of parents across California who are advocating for the state to take action to fix and fully-fund our educational system.
9. SFUSD expands 9th grade Ethnic Studies course, promising students college credit. The college credit promise didn’t pan out after SF State brass balked at giving high school freshmen credit for the course; the district planned to petition the UC system to allow the course to meet its A-G subject requirements (I’ll have to check in to see if we received this approval).
8. SFUSD shifts the start of school a week earlier, to mid-August: OK, the Board’s vote to begin school earlier actually occurred in mid-2009, but the implications didn’t start sinking in for most parents and students until spring 2010. Elementary school parents did a fair amount of grumbling, but on the whole, the earlier start of school didn’t seem to be that onerous.
7. SFUSD posts great results on the California Standards Test: District students posted the biggest test score gains in five years, with the district’s Academic Performance Index rising from 775 to 791 for the 2009-2010 school year. Fourteen of the 17 SFUSD schools with statistically significant African-American populations met their growth targets, compared to seven of 19 schools in 2008-09.
6. SFUSD is lead plaintiff in historic school finance lawsuit: Robles-Wong v. California was filed in late May, alleging that the California school finance system is unconstitutional. The suit has since been combined with another, similar lawsuit filed by Public Advocates and groups representing low-income families in California. Earlier this month, the judge in the case heard a crucial motion, called a demurrer, asking to dismiss the lawsuit. His ruling on the demurrer is expected in January.
5. Student Support Services investigation: Earlier this fall, news broke that several top administrators in the district, including recently-retired Assistant Superintendent Trish Bascom, were being investigated for embezzling money from after-school grants. Investigations are ongoing, and I expect that the district attorney’s office will bring charges against at least some of these individuals.
4. 10 SFUSD schools listed as “persistently underperforming.” The state of California, following the wisdom of the Obama administration, set out early this year to identify the five percent of schools with the lowest performance. This was not a straightforward sorting exercise — each state set up its own criteria for determining low performance, and in California we exempted very small schools and charter schools. The upshot: SFUSD had 10 schools land on the list, which means we had to decide whether to replace administrators and/or teachers, close schools, or convert schools to charters. The process has been painful, but we were awarded significantly large School Improvement Grants this fall to help us make these changes.
3. SFUSD cuts $113 million from its budget through 2012: Cuts that would have seemed unimaginable even two years ago became unavoidable. Most notable: four furlough days in 2010-11 and again in 2011-12, eliminating summer school, and cutting all high school transportation. During the very contentious negotiations over the budget cuts (which required concessions from each of the district’s labor unions), hundreds of layoff notices were issued to teachers and paraprofessionals, which caused additional pain and much discussion about the disproportionate effect of layoffs on struggling schools (most of the notices were eventually rescinded).
2. SFUSD releases results of highly-critical audit of its special education programs: The Urban Special Education Leadership Collaborative released a scathing report after spending several months interviewing teachers, parents administrators and community members and observing programs. Among the findings: students of color are disproportionately identified for special education, and special education programs in San Francisco are unnecessarily segregated; the district spends too much on its special education programming and gets unsatisfactory results for that investment.
1. SFUSD Board adopts new student assignment system: I am not sure the impact of this event can be overstated. Not only did we institute a system that is simpler and more predictable (after what seems like a decade of debate), but the new system led to a complete overhaul of the district’s transportation system as well as a major investigation of SFUSD address fraud that has in just a few months uncovered a large number of cases. I think the Board and staff did a great job staying focused on the data and our ultimate goals for the system, but only time will tell whether the years of arguing, studying and community feedback have led to a system that will truly be fairer and more effective than what came before — I have high hopes but will be anxiously waiting for the first round of data in March.
Tomorrow: The biggest education stories nationwide in 2010