Fooling Some of the People
SFSOS’s School Fantasy
petition going around, sponsored by SFSOS, that urges “the San
Francisco Board of Education to support neighborhood schooling and
incorporate neighborhood schools into the SFUSD 2006 student assignment
The petition offers whiffs of mom and apple pie:
Throughout the course of history worldwide, the
public school has, as much as a town square, a city hall, a library or
similar community fixture, served as an anchor point of a neighborhood,
fulfilling not only its purpose as a facility of education but also as a
central cultivator of local civic pride and participation.
It also raises a smoke screen, or rather, a series of
smoke screens. Hidden behind them are the facts, and they directly
contradict SFSOS’s arguments.
This campaign by SFSOS is not new. The organization
raised the possibility of a
ballot measure last year to return the city to a neighborhood-school
system. But this year, now that time may be running out, it has redoubled
Beginning tonight, when the
Community Advisory Committee on Student Assignment
reports to the School Board, the subject is
up for discussion and decision.
According to the Examiner, “two of the three new possibilities
for school assignment do not give an advantage to underprivileged or
minority students, resulting in more opportunity for students to get
assigned to schools within their neighborhood.”
Ackerman says she’ll stay on the sidelines, leaving the Board to deal with
the angry hordes that SFSOS has stirred up.
SFSOS offers this explanation of the timing for its petition:
In San Francisco, a 1983 court order aimed at
promoting a cultural balance throughout schools citywide created a student
assignment process known as the “diversity index” which effectively
removed the neighborhood presence of schools by transporting students from
their own neighborhoods to schools in other neighborhoods, often resulting
in young children riding public transportation unaccompanied and
unsupervised for long distances; and,
… in 2005 the “diversity index” order will
expire, allowing the Board of Education to replace it with another student
assignment mechanism in 2006.
What’s this all about?
In 1978, the San Francisco Chapter of the NAACP
sued the school district in federal court, charging that the city’s
schools were segregated and the educational system was therefore unfair.
The NAACP won. And the SFUSD agreed to the terms of a federal consent
decree to remedy the situation, leading to school assignments based on the
diversity index, which has apparently endangered the city’s children by
making them ride the bus. The decree is due to expire in December 2005.
An independent monitoring team has been keeping track
of the city’s progress. In 1997, the team filed an
optimistic report that began:
The most important
trend to emerge from our research is the evidence of positive growth and
change — consistent with Consent Decree goals — over the past five years.
While this positive
turn of events is very encouraging, it must be noted that there are still
some basic Consent Decree compliance issues that need to be addressed. In
the area of desegregation, the district is substantially in compliance
with regard to school-by-school desegregation, but the same is not true
with regard to desegregation of programs and individual classrooms. In the
area of academic achievement, the district has recently demonstrated
significant and sustained growth in most of the relevant sub-categories,
but it has not yet completed the reforms that would enable it to achieve
full compliance across the board.
In general, the
district is very aware of the complex problem areas addressed in this
report and is not at all content with the status quo. Indeed, it is clear
that SFUSD has done a much better job addressing these difficult issues
than many other districts in the state with similar urban problems.
That was in 1997. In 2001 the “Ho plaintiffs”
successfully argued that the consent decree’s racial quotas were keeping
some Chinese students out of prestigious schools like Lowell. The district
switched to socioeconomic criteria in deciding which students would attend
In 2004, SFSOS president Wade Randlett argued that
the problem had been solved: San Francisco was providing good schools in
all parts of town, and where they didn’t already exist, Ackerman’s Dream
Schools would soon make them a reality.
Yes. And a flock of pretty pink piggies just flew by
In reality, thing are worse than before.
A report from the consent decree monitor, filed just this month, says:
Our review of final
Fall 2004 enrollment figures obtained from the District has revealed that
the resegregation documented in our previous reports continues unabated.
The number of SFUSD schools severely resegregated (60% or higher) at one
or more grade levels increased again during the past year.
In addition, as
reflected in Appendix 1, the actual percentages of students of one
race/ethnicity at these schools are higher overall than they have been at
any time since resegregation began. In the first years of resegregation
after February 1999, percentages of one race/ethnicity at the
resegregating schools were typically in the 60-70% range. Now, however,
more than half of the resegregated schools show 70% or more of one
race/ethnicity, 10 schools show 80% or more, and at least five elementary
schools are moving very close to 90% of one race/ethnicity at one or more
In addition — look out!
here comes a piggie! — the jury is still out on the Dream Schools:
All three of the new
Dream Schools are currently among the most highly segregated schools in
Of course, the hope is that these schools will
improve, and will thereby be more likely to attract diverse student
populations from across the City, in the same way that original “Consent
Decree” schools Burton and M.L. King have done since 1983.
But in the end, according
to SFSOS, questions of justice may not matter anyway.
In a suggested letter to “Urge
School Board to Address Declining Enrollment” that appears on the
color:black"> the real issue is financial:
You are losing money
because of declining enrollment. Enrollment is down 40% since the 1960's,
with 4,000 kids leaving in just the last four years. You are losing money
because of declining enrollment! Yet over that same timespan the City
population of school-aged children has remained static. So, you are losing
money because of declining enrollment — because of something you are doing
to push students away.
Oh dear! Now those cute
little piggies are building nests in the trees!
Time for a reality check.
Last week, the city’s Department of Children, Youth, and Their Families
released a report, “Mapping the Future of San Francisco’s Services to
Children, Youth, and Their Families,” which includes a section called “The
Demographics.” The figures are anything but “static.” Since the 1960s, the
city population of children has fallen from 181,532 (24.5% of the total
population) to 112,802 (14.5% of the population).
The report adds that yes,
it is true that public school enrollment is declining: there’s been a 5 %
drop between 1999-2000 and 2003-2004. But the picture changes when a few
more pieces are added:
experienced an 8 percent decline during this same period. In the
elementary grades the drop in enrollment ranged from 7 percent to 15
percent in SFUSD and 13 percent to 18 percent in private schools. Over the
same period of time, San Francisco’s birthrate for women age 15 to 44
declined from 55.3 to 45.7 births per 1,000 women.
Surely the School Board
can’t be held responsible for the city’s declining birthrate!
And in the end, the
controversy may all come to naught. In June 2004 the team monitoring the
consent decree argued that the district’s plans had failed and urged the
court to extend the decree. In September the team added:
In light of our
findings over the past eight-year-period, we have concluded that the
current student assignment plan should be modified immediately, and that
the relevant parties should seriously consider replacing it — in its
entirety — as soon as possible. We continue to find that while the plan
was a good faith effort to comply with the terms of the recent Settlement
Agreements, it has clearly not furthered either the racial and ethnic
desegregation goals or the academic achievement goals of the Decree.
The report filed this month
echoed the team’s earlier concerns, emphasizing particularly the way that
the present system has short-changed San Francisco’s African American
While all [California]
cities show a gap between their overall scores and the scores of their
African American students, the gap between San Francisco’s overall score
and its score for its African American students remains 164 points, far
and away the widest achievement gap of the seven major urban districts.
This gap is 85 points higher than the gap in Sacramento City, 96
points higher than the gap in San Diego, and a full 118 points higher than
the gap in Los Angeles.
The parties to the decree
have been instructed to file a joint response to this report by April 18.
On April 20, the court will convene once more to consider what to do.
This time, perhaps, without flying pigs.