The San Francisco NAACP is calling on city officials to declare a state of emergency over the the achievement gap between black and white students. Seventy-four percent of African American students failed to meet 2016-17 state assessment standards in at least one subject area, according to the district. In this hour, we’ll talk with new San Francisco Superintendent Vincent Matthews about efforts to address the achievement gap. We’ll also hear about his plans for the district, and a proposed double-digit salary raise for the city’s teachers.

Related:

SFUSD: The ​First ​Ninety ​Days ​- ​Listening ​and ​Learning ​Report

New S.F. Schools Chief Vincent Matthews on the Achievement Gap 8 December,2017Michael Krasny

Guests:
Vincent Matthews, superintendent, San Francisco Unified School District. Former superintendent in San Jose.

  • Marina

    SFUSD is the only large urban school district in California, except for Berkeley, that eliminated Algebra 1 in all middle schools deceptively attributing the move to adoption of the Common Core standards. Before this elimination, at least a quarter of 8th-graders who took Algebra were passing and moving on to Geometry in 9th grade. While all other school districts are still offering accelerated math pathways for high-achieving middle-school students, it appears that the SFUSD has chosen to narrow the achievement gap in Math by prohibiting advancement in Math curriculum to those who are ready. Please comment.

    • turquoisewaters

      All this policy of not accelerating students withing the public school system does is provide business to private summer school programs where you can advance a year over summer for $1000 (and virtually no one fails these classes). If your parents can’t put out this money, you are out of luck.
      Even less equity, because now you advance based on money instead of based on merits.

  • Reynolds Cameron

    At a June 2017 BoE Meeting, several supervisors expressed opposition to the K-8 New School of SF charter school to extending their lease st Enola Maxwell campus because “the board has plans for that property.” The Central Waterfront neighborhoods of Mission Bay, East SoMa, Potrero Hill & Dogpatch do not have a single MS or HS within their borders. There is rumor that SFUSD wants to privatize the school site for real estate developers. Despite the fact that the Central Waterfront District has the most ethnically and economically diverse area in San Francisco. How do you justify razing schools in underserved populous neighborhoods with no functional schools for local students?

  • Steve Shapero

    The lottery system keeps upper middle class families like mine out of SFUSD. It’s a failure. You need parents like us to opt back in. What are you doing to fix this?

    • Sanfordia113

      That is a feature, not bug, of SFUSD’s lottery. Their objective is to rid the City of anyone who earns money or excels in school.

      • turquoisewaters

        I disagree. Having strong classmates is essential for any student in order to find educational success. I think it is a financial trade-off by the district. But you are doing weaker students a big disfavor if you push strong students out of public schools. We should instead strive for strong public schools in which all students can reach their full potential.

  • Ben Rawner

    Could your guest walk through the process of turning around a struggling school? What would be a realistic timeline for the turnaround?

  • Robert Thomas

    Here’s how it works:

    1) Successful primary education takes place mostly At Home; good public schools provide a valuable adjunct to this education.

    2) Successful secondary education takes place mostly In School; a rich home environment provides a valuable adjunct to this education.

    3) Where (1) above is inadequate, (2) above will fail. The “achievement gap” will not be bridged.

    The habit of convolving the challenges of primary and secondary schools is pernicious in discussions such as these. These challenges are distinct.

    • William – SF

      What, if any, role does society provide for parents to succeed, because as is obvious, not all parents resources are created equal?

      • Robert Thomas

        Society sure depends a lot on attentive and dedicated parents.

        I think that not all positive effects of public education are easily scalable. If there are a few members of the community in distress – a few families – schools and teachers may be able to provide a substantial substitute resource and external support for those affected kids. If the fraction of families of the community who are disturbed and distracted too great, I think it’s very difficult to help them merely by shoveling more money into the schools. In other words, the conduit with which progressive-minded people are most comfortable in using to improve social progress and cohesion – public schools – may not be the most effective channel for healing damaged communities. I don’t know what the best alternative is. I fear that between the confounding phenomenon that schools are increasingly seen to be more important as daycare than as institutions of education, on the one hand and the oversold expectations that schools can do more parenting than they’re truly able on the other hand have conspired to deflate popular support for public schools.

        I think that good schools are required for a community to be healthy but not even the best pK-12 schools will rescue a community in severe distress.

    • Nori

      @disqus_JguYD79xL9:disqus interesting theory! Having gone to a mediocre elementary school but great high school i feel this is right…but is there evidence or some research that backs this up? first time i’m hearing about this.

      this is in reference to your points 1 and 2

      • Robert Thomas

        It’s “primary research”. I’m only a lay person and I’m well aware of the problem that everyone who ever went to school is liable to think they know something about education. My observations are informed by a couple of decades of interest in the subject and through many, many conversations on the topic with my sibling who was twice-elected to four year terms as trustee of a 65% English Language Learner Santa Clara County K-8 school district. School board members are politicians and not professional educators; as trustees, their remit is to represent their constituents to their Supervisor and the professional educators of the Superintendent’s staff. Politicians will communicate the concerns of the tax payers to the professionals and the professionals describe challenges and solutions to the politicians; an alert trustee learns something about education in the process. Through question and answer, I learned things, too. The comment I wrote above is a conclusion I’ve drawn on the subject.

  • CSNIronclad

    Yo Bro – let’s drop discipline and stadards – that will fix it.

    Where are the schools where all races score the same? Whoops – none there?

    One std dev away difference – and it’s been there for decades and decades

  • Sanfordia113

    With the emphasis on restorative justice and deemphasizing expulsion, it would follow that enrollment at the district’s handful of reform schools will fall. What are your plans for these school sites?

  • Kay

    Do you have economic data across race groups? For instance what is the achievement gap (if any) for low-income whites, low-income asian students? And conversely is there an achievement gap for Black, Latino and Pacific Islander students that are not low income? Wondering how much of the achievement gap is income related vs. just race (though I do understand there is income inequity across race), and if there are solutions that generally support low-income families can benefit the school system in aggregate. For instance, focusing on primary education and preschool (which benefits low-income families significantly).

  • Sanfordia113

    Does the Superintendent view the responsibility of public schools to educate all kids, or only those whose background is socioeconomically disadvantaged? SF has the highest proportion of students attending private schools in the nation, in part in response to SFUSD dereliction in teaching all students to achieve at their highest levels possible.

  • Eddie

    My wife is currently getting her Marriage Family & Child therapy degree at SFSU, and interns in SFUSD. She wanted to be a mental health counselor in SFUSD, but SFUSD only hires social workers for this role. How can SFUSD improve access to mental health services outside of this social-worker job function without discouraging people like my wife?

  • kingdingus

    SFUSD is getting pressured by a lot of parents right now to offer charter school alternatives. Innovate public schools in particular is making a lot of noise about this – how do we reconcile lower achievement in public schools for black and brown students with the claim that some charter schools have higher achievement for these groups?

  • Robert Thomas

    NO.

    Superintendent Matthews misspoke when he described the system of “Basic Aid” as arising in 1978 (Proposition 13). It did not.

    The revenue sharing mechanism that Matthews described, that has provided a degree of leveling among the state’s poorer regions that subsequently became eligible for “Revenue Limited” compensation while the few wealthiest district receive “Basic Aid”, was due to the advent of the three California Supreme Court Serrano v. Priest decisions in the 1970s:

    Serrano v. Priest, 487 P. 2d 1241 – 1971
    Serrano v. Priest, 557 P. 2d 929 – 1976
    Serrano v. Priest, 569 P. 2d 1303 – 1977

    Prior to Serrano, revenue sharing was minimal in California, as it remains in most other states today.

  • Nori

    What do you think about the recent research from Stanford ranking schools based on effectiveness — where they look at how well they accelerate students from where they begin?

    https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/12/05/upshot/a-better-way-to-compare-public-schools.html

    It seems the Chicago Unified School District is doing a wonderful job. San Francisco is barely middle of the pack. Are you aware of this study and why San Francisco is where it is at?

  • vanessa

    You say you are working on sustainable funding for resources from partners. I assume Verizon is one of those partners? My son’s SFUSD middle school has implemented the 1:1 iPads and although it does allow access to all, which is good, there are issues that I wonder if you could address:
    1. My child’s principal is demanding all reading and writing be done on the iPad and teachers are being scolded for using real books and paper and pencils although there are no typing classes offered. Also humanities teachers have told me that all text books must be digitized and are being abridged.
    2. Also, Verizon has included sites such as YouTube with limited filters on the iPads. Kids are watching TV on their devices during class as well as at home. Teachers, parents and students have reported this to be true. Do you agree this is not supporting quality education? And what are you willing to do about this?

  • A regular guy

    SFUSD has implemented many programs, some of them while I attended high school here years ago. Not much has changed, it’s not the system that needs to change, it’s the culture within these groups of students that you want to do well that needs to change. SFUSD has been put forth an enormous amount of effort and resources trying to tackle a problem that is cultural. These programs only punish the groups of students that do well and are also inherently racist towards those groups of students because you’re taking time and resources from one group and disproportionally giving more to another. All these kids go to the same schools, receive the same education from the same teachers. Somehow white and Asian students do better with the same or less resources. You have to ask yourself why, be honest and tell yourself that it’s cultural.

  • DaveHolden

    Is there an achievement gap between Whites and Asians? Or Whites and Jews? If so, why is that not his concern. This guy is just looking for some justification to implement his own racist views.

    • turquoisewaters

      The achievement gaps between Whites and Asians are smaller. Jews are usually not seen as a separate group.
      This as much about about socioeconomic status as it is about race.
      The US after the civil war has a long history of preventing Blacks from rising economically, especially in the South.
      Lack of access to a good education has been one tool of this.
      Lack of access to housing in safe neighborhoods was another.
      They go hand in hand.

  • grableca

    well, that was disappointing. hardly a deep dive into the causes of and possible solutions for the achievement/opportunity gap.

    i’m the parent of an SFUSD 5th and 9th grader. we have had a positive experience overall, but it has been in spite of, not because of, the district’s leadership. my children have attended high-poverty schools with huge achievement gaps, and i am volunteering at one on a weekly basis right now.

    one problem i see as a veteran parent/volunteer is that most of the district’s attempts to close the gap are really attempts to HIDE it. the ideologues in charge at SFUSD are more concerned with appearances and jargon and broadcasting their intersectional purity and less with results. perhaps they are simply out of their league, and don’t know what to do. perhaps the problems, rooted in systemic poverty and racism, are beyond them, but they won’t admit it. regardless, because of this SFUSD has a terrible track record at building trust with parents of all backgrounds and socioeconomic levels. because of this, SFUSD has an antagonistic relationship with its various constituencies instead of a partnership. that is on SFUSD.

    for example…

    the elimination of age-appropriate math acceleration as a middle school option for those who are ready…couching that as part of the de-tracking effort and/or common core instead of what it really is–an attack on rigor that may serve to obscure the gap by lowering the ceiling of possibility for some. why can’t we pursue both excellence and equity? why does SFUSD’s leadership believe they are mutually exclusive? why are they not asked to defend this outrageous, highly paternalistic, position?

    next example: several callers — parents and staff — presented harsh critiques of the district’s implementation of restorative practices as its primary tool for discipline, maintaining a positive climate and classroom management. replacement of the admittedly problematic punishment/consequences regime with RP sounds great, but the reality on the ground is somewhat different. SFUSD’s version of RP is a grossly undersupported restorative regime in which all stakeholders are not trained, not supported, not “bought in.” this has been a real problem. RP is intended to keep students of color in class where they belong and deserve to be…but is it happening at the expense of other factors, like teacher morale, teacher retention, student safety and REAL learning for ALL students? more significantly…has it been shown to close the gap? dr. matthews did not speak to that.

    in short, is SFUSD lowering the ceiling of possibility in both the behavior and academic realms in order to create the appearance of equity without the reality of it? how will that engender better outcomes for our students of color? again – paging dr. matthews!

    finally, it is disingenuous to speak of racial isolation at school sites as being THE problem when SFUSD schools have totally inequitable offerings, totally inequitable enrichment, totally different levels of staff stability, different percentages of high-need students, etc. SFUSD spends all its time trying to force students of all ilk to attend schools they don’t want to go to. maybe they need to focus more on improving all schools, and directing additional supports to those that need it most. i don’t think the stakeholders would begrudge them that, especially if the district was honest and open about the goals and methods for a change, instead of engaging in lies, miscasting of data, name-calling and obfuscation.

    i think the notion that SFUSD – or any underfunded, struggling, have-to-teach-everybody schools – can cope with and redress endemic poverty is both ludicrous and supremely arrogant.

    it is time to get honest about this stuff. i hope dr. matthews will rise to this challenge.

  • grableca

    Well, that was disappointing. Hardly a deep dive into the causes of and possible solutions for the achievement/opportunity gap.

    I’m the parent of an SFUSD 5th and 9th grader. We have had a positive experience overall, but it has been in spite of, not because of, the district’s leadership. My children have attended high-poverty schools with huge achievement gaps, and I am volunteering at one on a weekly basis right now.

    One problem I see as a veteran parent/volunteer is that most of the district’s attempts to close the gap are really attempts to HIDE it. The ideologues in charge at SFUSD are more concerned with appearances and jargon and broadcasting their intersectional purity and less with results. Perhaps they are simply out of their league, and don’t know what to do. Perhaps the problems, rooted in systemic poverty and racism, are beyond them, but they won’t admit it. Regardless, because of this, SFUSD has a terrible track record at building trust with parents of all backgrounds and socioeconomic levels. Because of this, SFUSD has an antagonistic relationship with its various constituencies instead of a partnership. That is on SFUSD.

    For example…

    The elimination of age-appropriate math acceleration as a middle school option for those who are ready…couching that as part of the de-tracking effort and/or common core instead of what it really is–an attack on rigor that may serve to obscure the gap by lowering the ceiling of possibility for some. Why can’t we pursue both excellence and equity? Why does SFUSD’s leadership believe they are mutually exclusive? Why are they not asked to defend this outrageous, highly paternalistic, position?

    Next example: several callers — parents and staff — presented harsh critiques of the district’s implementation of restorative practices as its primary tool for discipline, maintaining a positive climate and classroom management. Replacement of the admittedly problematic punishment/consequences regime with RP sounds great, but the reality on the ground is somewhat different. SFUSD’s version of RP is a grossly undersupported restorative regime in which all stakeholders are not trained, not supported, not “bought in.” This has been a real problem. RP is intended to keep students of color in class where they belong and deserve to be…but is it happening at the expense of other factors, like teacher morale, teacher retention, student safety and REAL learning for ALL students? More significantly…has it been shown to close the gap? Dr. Matthews did not speak to that.

    In short, is SFUSD lowering the ceiling of possibility in both the behavior and academic realms in order to create the appearance of equity without the reality of it? How will that engender better outcomes for our students of color? Again – paging Dr. Matthews!

    Finally, it is disingenuous to speak of racial isolation at school sites as being THE problem when SFUSD schools have totally inequitable offerings, totally inequitable enrichment, totally different levels of staff stability, different percentages of high-need students, etc. SFUSD spends all its time trying to force students of all ilk to attend schools they don’t want to go to. Maybe they need to focus more on improving all schools, and directing additional supports to those that need it most. I don’t think the stakeholders would begrudge them that, especially if the district was honest and open about the goals and methods for a change, instead of engaging in lies, miscasting of data, name-calling and obfuscation.

    I think the notion that SFUSD – or any underfunded, struggling, have-to-teach-everybody schools – can cope with and redress endemic poverty is both ludicrous and supremely arrogant.

    It is time to get honest about this stuff. I hope Dr. Matthews will rise to this challenge.

  • turquoisewaters

    The only way to have equity is to have students from different socioeconomic backgrounds in the same classroom. There is no political will for this. Think about it: Anytime an affordable housing project is planned, rich neighborhoods do their level best (using lawyers, money, and connections) to keep it out of their neighborhood. Because that project would bring down the property value. Because “those kids” would go go to “their schools” and bring down SAT scores at their schools, which would in turn bring down the property value.
    Rich neighborhoods will try their hardest to keep that “edge”, all the while hanging “black lives matter” posters in their windows.
    Obviously, there are exceptions. But this is what I observe.

  • nick tuinstra

    Could your guest walk through the process of turning around a struggling school? What would be a realistic timeline for the turnaround?

  • Sherif

    Does the Superintendent view the responsibility of public schools to educate all kids, or only those whose background is socioeconomically disadvantaged? SF has the highest proportion of students attending private schools in the nation, in part in response to SFUSD dereliction in teaching all students to achieve at their highest levels possible

Host

Michael Krasny

Michael Krasny, PhD, has been in broadcast journalism since 1983. He was with ABC in both radio and television and migrated to public broadcasting in 1993. He has been Professor of English at San Francisco State University and also taught at Stanford, the University of San Francisco and the University of California, as well as in the Fulbright International Institutes. A veteran interviewer for the nationally broadcast City Arts and Lectures, he is the author of a number of books, including “Off Mike: A Memoir of Talk Radio and Literary Life” (Stanford University Press) “Spiritual Envy” (New World); “Sound Ideas” (with M.E. Sokolik/ McGraw-Hill); “Let There Be Laughter” (Harper-Collins) as well as the twenty-four lecture series in DVD, audio and book, “Short Story Masterpieces” (The Teaching Company). He has interviewed many of the world’s leading political, cultural, literary, science and technology figures, as well as major figures from the world of entertainment. He is the recipient of many awards and honors including the S.Y. Agnon Medal for Intellectual Achievement; The Eugene Block Award for Human Rights Journalism; the James Madison Freedom of Information Award; the Excellence in Journalism Award from the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association; Career Achievement Award from the Society of Professional Journalists and an award from the Radio and Television News Directors Association. He holds a B.A. (cum laude) and M.A. from Ohio University and a PhD from the University of Wisconsin.

Sponsored by

Become a KQED sponsor