San Francisco Chronicle

Prop. G first step in fixing S.F. schools

- By Meredith Dodson Meredith Dodson is a public school parent of two, and executive director of the SF Parent Coalition and sister organizati­on SF Parent Action.

Voters are being asked through a nonbinding measure known as Propositio­n G if the city of San Francisco should “encourage” the San Francisco Unified School District to offer an algebra course, once again, to eighth graders.

It’s the political equivalent of asking people if they like ice cream. The answer to both questions is, “Yes, of course.”

How did we get to the point where such a seemingly no-brainer measure needed to be on the ballot? A decade ago, the school district removed algebra from its eighth-grade curriculum in an attempt to “de-track” schools and give underrepre­sented students better opportunit­ies for advanced classes in later grades. The results have been disastrous and widened the education gap in math. Lowerincom­e students lost access to advanced math courses, while their higher-income counterpar­ts could afford private classes.

The district acknowledg­ed this problem and is planning to reintroduc­e eighth-grade algebra. But, when it comes to addressing the challenges San Francisco’s education policy faces, Prop. G is just the tip of the iceberg.

San Francisco is a highly educated, wealthy place, and overall, its public school student math scores reflect that. According to the California Assessment of Student Performanc­e and Progress, 46% of San Francisco public school students tested proficient in math, compared to 35% for California — better than virtually every other urban district, including Los Angeles, San Diego, Long Beach and San Jose. White students at the San Francisco school district who are not considered economical­ly disadvanta­ged do particular­ly well and score close to the top of all districts in California, with 71% proficienc­y compared to 58% for the statewide peer group.

But when it comes to low-income Black and Latino students, the San Francisco school district is among the worst districts in the state. Just 12% of lowincome Latino students are proficient in math compared to 19% statewide. The situation is even worse when it comes to low-income Black students: only 7% of these students in the San Francisco school district are proficient in math, compared to 13% statewide.

In a supposedly progressiv­e city, these outcomes are unacceptab­le.

Last year, building on the groundswel­l of parent mobilizati­on that started during the pandemic, my organizati­on, San Francisco Parent Coalition, launched a parent-led campaign to demand the district do better. As a result, the district assessed its K-8 math program, and the timeline for evaluation and audit was reduced by 50%. Now, the district has actionable results and informatio­n.

TNTP, an external education evaluation firm, identified significan­t issues with the district’s early and middle school math program, citing noncomplia­nce with official math standards. The firm pointed to the district’s challenges in guiding teachers on instructio­nal delivery, conducting effective student assessment­s, and promoting connection­s across mathematic­al concepts.

The findings align with the district’s self-monitoring of its progress toward meeting its 2027 goals for student proficienc­y in math, which in a recent report it described as “significan­tly off track.” While the district is working on a longterm plan to address many of the underlying issues, that won’t help the thousands of kids who need more support now.

The district and the San Francisco Board of Education could issue an urgent and corrective plan to avoid perpetuati­ng years of lost learning opportunit­ies for our students. For example, the district could use the remaining federal and state pandemic-relief funding it received on high-dosage evidence-based tutoring programs. Education research highlights how these interventi­ons are game-changers for kids who are struggling to meet grade-level milestones. The district could also do basic things like moving closer to the recommende­d 300-minute minimum each week for daily math instructio­n in classrooms. It’s hard to expect a lot from our students in math if — as in some middle schools — they’re receiving just 60% of the recommende­d minutes.

Many of the issues afflicting the San Francisco school district are political ones. The seven elected members of the school board set the policy and direction for the district. As we saw when San Francisco had the longest COVID closures of any major district, it really matters who’s on the school board.

My organizati­on started in 2020 when parents were frustrated at how obstinate the school board was in refusing to even discuss reopening schools, instead focusing on renaming them. Today, parents are now holding the board accountabl­e for focusing on essential issues, including an excellent and equitable K-8 math program.

Thriving cities depend on thriving public school systems. Even private and parochial schools are impacted by them. The San Francisco school district, for example, is considered a model for many of the city’s independen­t schools due to its research partnershi­p with Stanford University. What happens in the district impacts all of us.

Voting for Prop. G in the March 5 primary election is a first step in improving our children’s education. Our city’s youth will need all of us to do much more to advocate on their behalf and to ensure a thriving and equitable school system.

And then, come November, all of us must return to the ballot box to ensure those running to serve on the Board of Education are committed to putting the futures of our 50,000 public school students first.

Our children are depending on it.

 ?? Paul Chinn/The Chronicle 2015 ?? Huy Do solves a math problem in an advanced placement calculus class at Burton High School in San Francisco. Teaching algebra in the eighth grade gives students a chance to take calculus by the time they are seniors.
Paul Chinn/The Chronicle 2015 Huy Do solves a math problem in an advanced placement calculus class at Burton High School in San Francisco. Teaching algebra in the eighth grade gives students a chance to take calculus by the time they are seniors.

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