Archives for category: San Francisco

The San Francisco school board resolved the question of how to grade students for a school year cut short by giving everyone an A.

The city’s school board settled on the idea during a meeting Tuesday, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. The grades will be given to every middle school and high school student. Elementary schoolers don’t receive letter grades.

“Why not just give students As,” school board member Alison Collins told the Chronicle. “Let’s just consider this a wash and just give all students As.”

“This is an unprecedented situation,” another board member, Rachel Norton, told the Mercury News. “To continue to have grades as an accountability system doesn’t really seem to meet this moment very well.”

Parents, educators, and community activists in San Francisco formed an organization to protest the inequities in over reliance on distance learning. They call themselves StrikeReadySF. This is their manifesto.


Despite my ongoing struggle to overcome the remnants of the flu, I managed to get through an event last night with the United Educators of San Francisco. I have become very comfortable with a new format, in which I don’t give a speech but instead engage in conversation with the interlocutor. Last night, my partner was Susan Solomon, the union president. I learned from her about the difficulty that teachers have affording a place to live in one of the nation’s most expensive cities. A one-bedroom apartment typically costs about $3,500 a month, she said. Most teachers have long commutes, and many move to districts where living costs are affordable.

Teachers in San Francisco seem hopeful, as they enter contract negotiations, because the elected school board has their back. The board banned TFA because it did not want a continuing influx of inexperienced, unprepared teachers to instruct the highest-needs students. The district has few charters and doesn’t want more. What it wants is more funding from the state. Even though California is one of the richest states in the nation, its per-pupil spending is about at the national median, or somewhat below. Last year when I checked, I found that California’s per-pupil funding on par with South Carolina.

As you walk through this affluent, booming city, it’s hard to understand why its schools are underfunded. Its teacher salaries are “high” compared to poor states, but the cost of living is sky-high.

I especially enjoyed meeting school board member Alison Collins, who worked closely with Julian Vasquez Heilig and Roxana Marachi, both NPE board members, to support the NAACP call for a charter moratorium in 2016. She is a dynamo.

The weather in San Francisco was picture-perfect. Sunny, in the 60s. Perfect for everything. One morning we took the trip to Alcatraz, “the Rock.” The weather and the boat trip were delightful. I found the historic prison very depressing. Men trapped for years in squalid little cells. The pervasive sense of hopelessness, rage, and despair lingered in the air.


Larry Cuban posts here an opinion piece that appeared originally in the New York Times about a decision by the San Francisco School Board to paint over (and thus destroy) a Depression-Era mural that is highly critical of the U.S.

The artist Victor Arnautoff was a Russian immigrant and a Communist. His mural “Life of Washington” depicted George Washington and other Founding Fathers in a very negative light.

The 13-panel, 1,600-square-foot mural, which was painted in 1936 in the just-built George Washington High School, depicts his slaves picking cotton in the fields of Mount Vernon and a group of colonizers walking past the corpse of a Native American.

The School Board decided that the mural was offensive to Native American and African-American students. And they voted not to cover the mural but to paint over it so that it would be utterly destroyed and never seen again.

These and other explanations from the board’s members reflected the logic of the Reflection and Action Working Group, a committee of activists, students, artists and others put together last year by the district. Arnautoff’s work, the group concluded in February, “glorifies slavery, genocide, colonization, Manifest Destiny, white supremacy, oppression, etc.” The art does not reflect “social justice,” the group said, and it “is not student-centered if it’s focused on the legacy of artists, rather than the experience of the students.”

And yet many of the school’s actual students seemed to disagree. Of 49 freshmen asked to write about the murals, according to The Times, only four supported their removal. John M. Strain, an English teacher, told The Times’s Carol Pogash that his students “feel bad about offending people but they almost universally don’t think the answer is to erase it.”

So the school committee voted to condemn a work of art that acknowledged and by doing so condemned “slavery, genocide, colonization, Manifest Destiny, white supremacy, oppression, etc.”

This action by the School Board is nuts.

In San Francisco, KIPP wants to open a new school in a neighborhood where teachers and parents are working together to improve their local schools—and succeeding. Parents are demonstrating against the charter invasion by a corporate chain. KIPP is the Walmart of charter schools, opening in communities where they are not wanted and destroying local public schools where parents are heard.

Test scores should not be the basis for refusing a chain school in the community. But when faced with aggressive charter pushers, this is the fallback position.

The parents and the community want to save their schools. They don’t want charter schools.

From the San Francisco Bayview National Black Newspaper:

“Recently, there have been many notable accomplishments in our public schools in the Bayview. Dr. George Washington Carver Elementary School’s principal was awarded Principal of the Year. Students at the Willie Brown Academy just won a statewide competition on healthy eating. And Malcolm X Academy’s fifth grade math and English test scores beat out KIPP Middle School’s fifth grade scores – that’s the charter chain that wants to take space away from Malcolm X.

“The students at Malcolm X Academy, a public school, didn’t need to be coerced to promote their school because the school’s dramatic improvement results from their own personal achievements. They have a right to be proud and to call for a stronger public school, not a charter, and for respect for their many victories despite the odds. – Photo: Steve Zeltzer
Our public schools are rising, our kids are getting good support and, with our community’s help, our students can go even farther.

“It’s up to us to support our neighborhood schools so they can build on their success. We already have respected indigenous organizations and leaders, dedicated teachers and administrators and involved parents who are leading that change. I am proud to say that I am one of them.

“Consider what’s happening at Carver Elementary School. My organization, 100% College Prep, is partnering with Umoja, a group that works with African American young boys at recess and after school. They focus on character, history and culture, and stress the importance of education.

“What they’ve seen at Carver is that with their support, behavior issues went down while attendance and minutes in the classroom went up. In addition, math scores have gone up in the school overall. These are the kinds of programs we want to see more of in our classrooms and community.

“Parents should know that Carver has a lot to offer. Not only has it been renovated, it has a Wellness Center staffed by social workers, a computer lab where students learn to code, a light-filled library with a teacher-librarian, and a full-time family liaison – who is also a former Carver parent and current co-chair of the district African American Parent Advisory Council. Its principal, Emmanuel Stewart, is a San Francisco native and Bayview resident who has become an inspiring and well-respected leader.

“At another local elementary school, Malcolm X, parents tell us their kids are well cared for. Eighty percent of its students are reading at grade level. There is outside play and learning, with a newly renovated garden classroom and recess playtime organized by Playworks.

“Students can take music, dance, theater and arts in partnership with community organizations, performing in a showcase at the end of the year. There are counseling and health services at the Wellness Center, and each student is served three meals a day.

“Students can attend an on-site afterschool program and each child is learning to code. More funds will flow into this school with Community Schools grants.”

San Francisco is woke!

Last night, the San Francisco Board of Education voted unanimously to reject an “Innovate” charter school. The Walton Family Foundation has poured many millions into the Innovate chain in a sustained effort to disrupt public schools and replace them with non-union, privately managed charters.

Innovate will appeal the rejection to the County board. If they lose there, they will appeal to the state board.

The great change in last night’s hearing is that the board was not fooled. They know that the charter is there to take money away from the schools that are open to all students.

The NAACP was very effective in saying so.


The rightwing, anti-union Walton Family Foundation has funded a group called Innovate to push charter schools as the solution to achievement gaps in San Francisco.

Innovate targets Black and Latino families and peddles the hoax that charters have the secret formula for closing achievement gaps that are rooted in poverty.

“Innovate is a South Bay-based group founded in 2013 and describing itself as a “nonprofit organization whose mission is to build the parent and community demand for world-class public schools, and to accelerate the growth of these schools, particularly for low-income students and students of color.”

“Fair enough. But achieving this end has, reliably, taken the form of agitation for charter schools. The organization is generously funded by pro-charter outfits such as the Walton Family Foundation, which has put hundreds of millions of dollars into bankrolling taxpayer-funded, privately operated schools nationwide. Innovate’s own founding documents state that its raison d’être is to “focus on education reform that will support the creation of new charter schools and innovative district schools, parent choice, and strong systems of accountability.”

“Prior to turning its eyes to the north, Innovate won contentious battles in the San Jose area, besting opponents claiming that charter schools are cannibalizing the public system. They began quietly cultivating black and Latino parents in the Bayview and Mission two years ago, but it’s only in the last several months that this has garnered much attention. The organization began saturating area residents’ social media feeds with links to its report claiming San Francisco schools are the very worst in all of California for poor students of color.

“(The district disputes Innovate’s use of the data — but there’s no way to make the stats look good; generations of minority parents have complained that San Francisco’s schools have failed them, and the gaping achievement gap shows no indications of narrowing in the short term.)

“Innovate’s report is titled, “A Dream Deferred,” a Langston Hughes reference lost on few. Also lost on few is the exquisite quality of this document’s online form, which allows readers ample opportunity to share it with elected officials — and share their personal data with Innovate — at the push of a button.

“Innovate’s most recent tax forms indicate it grossed more than $4 million in 2015 alone, and its slick materials, excellent website, and a communications staff dwarfing the San Francisco Unified School District’s are indicative of that.”

Innovate implied that it has the support of the NAACP, but failed to mention that the state and national NAACP have called for a moratorium on new charters. They used the words of Amos Brown, the head of the local NAACP, and he was unhappy.

““You can tell everybody you see, whether in hell or heaven, that it is not my position to support Innovate and their move for charter schools,” Brown told us. “I want to make it crystal clear to those people: They are not to use my name in support of no charter school! I don’t appreciate this one bit.”

”Mission Local has heard many such stories: Innovate staff packing public meetings and clapping and shouting at the right times; Innovate employees crashing seminars intended for parents, participating in them, and scouting for recruits; Innovate staff trying to gain entry into community organizations.

“These are tactics more befitting campus Marxists or Lyndon LaRouche acolytes than a multi-million-dollar nonprofit with dozens of employees and a coterie of extremely wealthy backers. But the strategies employed by scrappy ideological groups do work — and can be even more effective when you have big bucks on-hand to pay professional organizers.”

Innovate is preying on parents’ hopes and fears. You can be sure that parents will never hear about the many failed charters that litter California, Tennessee, Nevada, Michigan, and other states.





Dr. Julian Vasquez Heilig reports that the San Francisco school board has dropped Teach for America for 2016-17. It is not clear what precipitated this decision but it may have been the high turnover rate of TFA teachers.

Lita Blanc, a veteran teacher in San Francisco, won election as President of the United Educators of San Francisco, the union representing 6,000 employees of the district.


Blanc, a teacher at George Moscone Elementary School in the Mission District for the past 27 years, has been a long-time union activist, both in a leadership capacity and as a rank-and-filer. The UESF reform caucus was created 8 years ago, seeing a need to challenge UESF leaders on issues of democracy and representation.



Educators for a Democratic Union ran three races against the UESF leadership, winning positions of leadership, while consistently lobbying against erosion of working conditions and striving to advance the status and power of all members, especially classified employees.



Taking the example of the reform movement of the Chicago teachers’ union as a guide — where the union was revitalized both from below and from increased outreach to parents and the broader community — Blanc ran as part the Educators for a Democratic Union (EDU) slate.



Two other candidates from the EDU slate also won top union office: Lisa Gutierrez Guzmán was elected secretary, and Tom Edminster was elected treasurer. EDU candidates were also elected to the union’s executive board to represent elementary, middle-school, and high-school teachers.



The election, which witnessed a higher turnout than the one three years ago, was described as an “experience of democracy in action” by Lalo Gonzalez, a new young teachers’ aide at Balboa High School. Gonzalez and others criss-crossed the city to deliver their last-minute ballots. “We wanted to make sure that our ballots were counted,” he said.



“It truly made me believe in the grassroots movement,” wrote another teacher right after the election. “People who wouldn’t usually participate really believe that there needs to be a change.”



Another teacher was equally moved by the election results. ” I have hope again!” said Deirdre Elmansoumi, a librarian at Flynn Elementary. Yet another union member raised the bar even higher: “It’s time for San Francisco teachers to lead our school district toward a world-class model for public education.”



Blanc spelled out her priorities in an interview. She made clear that the union must fight for the children, their families, and communities, as well as opposing the test mania that has overtaken education:



In an interview with Beyond Chron, Blanc said she is looking forward to “bring[ing] together the experience and wisdom of the current leadership with a vision of a reinvigorated union that puts membership empowerment and participation first and foremost.” She said she is hoping that the union will organize a fall conference to give members the tools necessary to fight for the resources their students need at school sites.



Outreach to parents is another top priority. “We are not going to wait three years for the next round of contract negotiations to connect with the parents of our students. Together we need to ensure that the new tax dollars coming from Sacramento go to guarantee the services that our children deserve: PE teachers, counselors, social workers, a teacher aide in every classroom.”



UESF must deepen the fight for affordable housing. Blanc said that the “union is fighting for the soul of our city — and that means not just securing mortgage assistance for educators but also protecting the two-thirds of city residents who are renters. These are the parents of our children and our young teachers, many with families, who cannot afford to live in the city. Both are being driven out of San Francisco by skyrocketing rents. ”



Blanc said that a priority must be vacancy control, an end to evictions, and the moratorium on market-housing development in the Mission proposed by Supervisor David Campos. “There is nothing more urgent than strengthening the parent-community coalition for affordable housing,” Blanc said.



On the issue of standardized testing, Blanc wants to see the union educate parents about their legal right to opt-out their children from standardized testing, noting that an “opt-out upsurge” occurred across the country this past April.



“Standardized testing has narrowed the curriculum, robbing our children of the chance to explore music and art,” Blanc continued. “The move to computerized testing has resulted in the net transfer of million of dollars from SFUSD to tech companies and to the corporations that produce these tests.”