The recent article published in CalMatters on black student achievement in San Francisco does a mediocre job of telling half the story of the work we have done in the district for the black community; it also makes a damaging statement about an entire population of children by calling them the worst in the state. As Black members of the Board of Education, we won’t and can’t stand for such vicious characterization of our children, especially when there are so many inequities that exist in our schools and communities. The persistent disparity in achievement outcomes of our children were some of the primary reasons we decided to get involved at the policy level.
The implications of calling our kids the “worst” in the state is dangerous because it perpetuates an internalized message to our children that is deficit based; it also tells a false narrative to the larger society that Black children are inferior. The tone of the article suggests that achievement is solely limited to testing and the City’s leaders are ignoring these trends. The facts are that we are changing the narrative of the community we have been entrusted to serve.
Yes, the test scores for many Black students are low across the state. Yes, that has been the case for generations. There are systemic issues that have always played a role in student achievement: biases in testing, lack of culturally relevant curriculum, an inequitable distribution of resources in schools and how stress factors from the community create difficult conditions for learning.
We consider ourselves responsible for the current outcomes for our students. We commend the persistent focus on this issue by our partners at the NAACP and organizations like Coleman Advocates that seek to hold the district accountable. Long after the news-cycle ends, we know those partners will continue to work with us to address the issues we have been working on as a community.
Since being elected, our response to these outcomes has been aggressive, research based and prioritized with the limited funding we do have at our disposal. We understand that it hasn’t been enough to create the systemic changes we have been seeking, but we are on a path forward. In the future we will see to it that we have smaller classroom sizes, more incentives for our educators and additional para-professionals in our classrooms where more support is needed. Below are just some of our strategies that have demonstrated success over the past couple of years:
1- Through aggressive recruitment and retention strategies, we have decreased turnover of educators and site leaders in our schools that suffer from the biggest achievement gaps in our district;
2- We have also been working under the guise of promoting the fact that there are all Black environments where our children can and do excel. That is why we work closely with Urban Ed Academy, that provides Saturday and summer school programs specific for Black and Brown boys (and they are building educator housing). That’s why we are working closely with Black to the Future, which offers our students and their families an array of services from mental health supports to tutorial and one-on-one supports in some of our schools with large Black student populations;
3- We now have more resources going into our African American Achievement and Leadership Initiative (which by the way, we are one of the very few school districts that have an intentional focus on ensuring resources go directly towards Black student achievement and publicly spell it out);
4- Together—along with our colleagues—we have made sure that even through the era of high educator turnover, we instituted strategies that have led to ensuring educators in all but four of our classrooms to start this school year vs. over 35 for the 16-17 school year;
At the end of the day, after the initiatives have been announced and funding has been spent, we want the same outcomes our Black families want. We want to ensure our students are thriving in literacy and math, they’re prepared to enter the world as global citizens and they have the knowledge of self, which results in them seeing themselves as the kings and queens we know they are. Then and only then will we have achieved what we set out to do. That way, even when the next article is published pushing a lie and calling them the worst in the state, our Black students will know the truth and persist to take their place as leaders just as their ancestors have done before them.
Stevon Cook and Shamann Walton are Commissioners on the San Francisco Board of Education