I don’t want to minimize how much of a shift it has been, nor how much more has been demanded of teachers — sometimes without the necessary support and training. Passing resolutions and demanding change is one thing: you also have to back it up with dollars and training and support, and sometimes these resources haven’t been as available as they should have been.
Mainly what the resolution has accomplished is a big drop in suspensions. We have also seen much better tracking of out-of-school time–absences and also out of class referrals. We now have a much better idea of how much time students-especially students of color–are spending out of class, and while the picture is still quite depressing we at least are beginning to be able to trust the data.
No one should point fingers or be happy about this data: as a community we all own it and have a responsibility to improve it. Teachers are doing their best to manage sometimes difficult behaviors from students, parents are doing their best to get kids to school, and kids are doing their best to engage in class. And all of us can do better, if we support each other and figure out how to meet the most pressing needs in our communities.
Anyway, I highly recommend a close read of the latest report. It does a great job of detailing the district’s current approach and investments in safe and supportive schools, and is a good resource for anyone who wants to know more about the implementation of this very important and beneficial policy.
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:
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:
But on the other hand, suspensions are still disproportionately of African-American students:
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.
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.
Reducing suspensions and expulsions has been a goal of the Board for years — it makes no sense to discipline our most troubled students by barring them from school, since school is the place where we have concentrated the most resources and supports for those students. Of course: students should not be allowed to menace others or disrupt anyone’s learning; at the same time, barring our lowest-achieving and most troubled students from school does them no good and certainly does not ensure future achievement. So we need a better way, and this resolution seeks to define it.
I have several questions about whether this is the best way, however — in the Budget committee we heard that the original motion would cost the district something like $2.4 million to implement at 25 schools. The resolution has been amended significantly since then, so perhaps its budget impact has been significantly reduced; that is my first question. Second, I am uncomfortable with the long list of “policy components” in the Appendix to the resolution. To me, resolutions are more properly a broad statement of policy with a directive to the staff to figure out how to best implement the policy; dictating precise and detailed policy components seems a bit heavy-handed for a Board resolution and I would be more comfortable if these policy components were contained in administrative regulations completed by the Superintendent and his staff. This does not, in my opinion, water down the policy directive in the original resolution at all — since the resolution contains a clause that the Superintendent should report quarterly to the Board on the progress towards the policy goal definied in the legislation.
Finally, not to discourage anyone from attending a Board meeting, but tomorrow night is supposed to be the worst weather yet of the year. If you can, I recommend staying home and listening to the meeting on the radio or watching online, saving yourself a trip home in high winds and heavy rains.