NAACP Calls for ‘State of Emergency’ to Close Achievement Gap in SF Schools

Jenna Lyons, San Francisco Chronicle, November 24, 2017

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Seventy-four percent of black students did not meet 2016-17 state assessment standards in at least one subject area, [Superintendent Vincent Matthews] noted. Similarly, 61 percent of Latino students and 65 percent of Pacific Islander students did not meet those standards.

Yet San Francisco boasts one of the highest-scoring urban districts in the state. The city was the only urban district where more than half the students were proficient in both math and English in the most recent standardized tests, school officials have pointed out.

That’s because of higher-scoring peers of African American students. Only 14.6 percent of whites and 16 percent of Asian Americans failed to meet standards in one subject area, Matthews noted.

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The push to close the divide has endured, too. It goes back to the 1970s, when the San Francisco NAACP sued the school district for alleged discriminatory practices and purposeful segregation. The result was a 1983 federal consent decree that capped enrollment at no more than 45 percent of one race at any San Francisco public school as a part of a desegregation plan.

As the population of Chinese American students grew, their parents sued the school district in the mid-1990s, arguing the decree prevented their children from enrolling in the school of their choice. That led to renegotiation of the decree in 2001 that eliminated the district’s consideration of race in school assignments. Court supervision over the policies ended in 2005.

With the district back in charge of school assignments, it has given preference to school choice for those who live in census tracts where the student population has the lowest test scores — a method that has not effectively diversified schools.

The newest call for action came at the Nov. 14 school board meeting at which Matthews presented his report. San Francisco NAACP President Amos Brown told the board that it should declare a state of emergency, a largely symbolic gesture intended to bring attention to the issue.

“It’s not that the children are failing,” Brown said. “We are failing. This board is failing. This city government is failing. And you have professionals in the school district who have woefully failed when it comes to respecting the worth and the dignity of African American students.

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One of their initiatives {snip} African American educators work with black students in elective classes to foster a “positive sense of purpose in their roles as valuable family and community members.”

At the start of 2015, the district tapped Landon Dickey, a Lowell High School and Harvard Business School graduate, to lead the African American Achievement and Leadership Initiative. His annual salary was $100,898 in 2016.

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Matthews said “systemic barriers to equity” in district schools help explain the African American performance gap. He cited research from Sean Reardon, a professor of poverty and inequality in education at the Stanford Graduate School of Education, that concluded, “The greatest predictor of the black-white achievement gap is the disparity in poverty rates at black and white students’ schools.”

Matthews said racial inequities exist in other areas. Overall, 1.8 percent of students were suspended last year, but among African Americans the total was 9 percent. Seventy-one percent of eligible African American students graduated, compared with 94.7 percent of Asian American students and 83.8 percent of whites.

Some ways to combat the equity gap, Matthews said, include changing the culture at campuses. Teachers may develop unconscious stereotypes of black youths that lead to disproportionate disciplinary action and lowered expectations for African Americans, the superintendent said.

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