The Ups and Downs of Coleman’s Fight for Student Success under the New Graduation Requirement
It has been an emotional rollercoaster over the last year for Coleman members organizing to ensure that all SFUSD students are getting the academic support they need to stay on track to graduate.
Last academic year marked the beginning of "A-G For All" (now known as the "New Graduation Requirement"), a historic racial equity policy that Coleman parents and youth fought to pass in 2009. The policy, among a host of other district-level reforms, finally guaranteed all students of color access to the UC approved “A-G Course Sequence” they need to be on track to college, career and a secure future in their city.
But less than a year after passage of the new graduation requirement, members’ jubilation turned to frustration as state-level public education budget cuts presented unforeseen, daunting obstacles to students getting the resources they needed to succeed with the new, higher expectations. Among other cuts to student supports, the SFUSD Board of Education voted to cut Summer School in 2010, eliminating almost all summer classes except for Special Education and classes for seniors short on credits to graduate.
9th graders were just beginning their first semester of high school in the fall of 2010, and it was widely understood that summer school would be absolutely essential to ensuring that struggling students wouldn’t fall permanently behind. Even before the rigorous A-G course sequence was required, summer school had always been a crucial credit recovery option for failing students to get back on track to graduate. The cuts to summer school were a major blow to members’ confidence in the district’s commitment to closing the achievement gap.
Members’ frustration was quickly funneled into a high-energy campaign to restore summer school, shed light on the need for student supports, and raise the SFUSD political commitment to all students graduating college and career ready, regardless of ongoing budget challenges at the state level.
In direct response to our advocacy, as well as outcry across the city, Mayor Lee pledged to provide city resources to ensure that 9th graders and Newcomer students would have the opportunity to make up academic credits over the summer. Hundreds of students who were otherwise slated to fall dangerously behind were now going to have the opportunity to get much-needed credit recovery support. Our youth and parent members expressed a renewed sense of hope in the possibility of true change in SFUSD.
We were – and we continue to be – grateful for Mayor Lee’s support and commitment to a college, career, and a comprehensive safety net for SFUSD students and their families. But, this month, when we finally received the data about the actual implementation of 2011 Summer School programming, and the demographics of those who were served, Coleman members once again felt that familiar sting of a promise broken.
And once again, Coleman’s youth and parent leaders, feeling discouraged and let down, are asking: “Where is the political will in this city to truly meet the needs of our African American, Latino and Pacific Islander students?”
Summer School 2011: Too little, Too late
First, the good news: Over 962 9th graders took Algebra, Biology, English and ELD courses this past summer and 70% of the African American, Latino and Pacific Islander students who participated in Summer School recovered the credits they needed. Unfortunately, according to Coleman’s analysis of SFUSD official data, as well as our direct monitoring efforts, only a fraction of African American, Latino and Pacific Islander students who actually needed credit recovery (i.e. they received a D or F in a course required for graduation and matriculation to college) had access to Summer School this year. For example, only about one fourth of the African American, Latino and Pacific Islander 9th graders with a D or F in Algebra had access to Summer School. This lack of access appears to have been the result of a combination of insufficient slots and insufficient/ineffective outreach.
On the one hand, we are proud of the accomplishments of the students who did participate and recover credits in summer school this year. And we want to acknowledge the creative communication strategies many summer school principals utilized to get the word out about class availability. On the other hand, we are very disappointed with the demographics of who ultimately had access to these classes. In particular, we are frustrated with the way that internal challenges with scheduling caused confusion at school sites both in outreaching to and enrolling students to summer school. Many summer school notices didn’t go out to students and parents until just days before classes started.
According to SFUSD data, there is a high failure rate every year among African American, Latino and Pacific Islander students in core subjects, and there has not been a significant growth in this rate as a result of the new graduation requirement. So, the large numbers of struggling students and the urgent need for accessible credit recovery options in SFUSD are not new problems. The passage of the New Graduation Requirement, however, did suggest a new level of commitment, on the part of the district, to African American, Latino and Pacific Islander student success. For these reasons, it is especially perplexing and frustrating that the SFUSD still does not have a strategic plan in place to address the pervasive achievement gap in all SFUSD high schools and ensure that the students most at-risk for falling behind have the most access to credit recovery and other student support options.
Coleman Members Say “No More Broken Promises!”
The district, despite policies passed and promised made, continues to fail to meet the most basic needs of its African American, Latino and Pacific Islander students. At Coleman, we believe that quality education is not a privilege for the few, but rather a fundamental human right for all. And in our neighborhoods, keeping promises about quality schools is about saving lives.
Resolutions and policies are not enough. It is time for SFUSD to put its money where its mouth is and allocate resources in a way that truly reflects the district's professed commitment to African American, Latino and Pacific Islander student success.
In this spirit, Coleman is calling on SFUSD to:
1) Demonstrate its political commitment to African American, Latino and Pacific Islander student success by creating a comprehensive, credit recovery strategic plan, targeting the most at-need students.
2) Realign existing resources, including state and federal dollars, to fund a Summer School 2012 that prioritizes the enrollment of African American, Latino and Pacific Islander students.
The time is now for the district and the city to follow through on its commitment to college and career for all. And comprehensive credit recovery is a critical first step.
For more information, email Pecolia Manigo, Coleman's Education Justice Campaign Organizer, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In this issue:
• Coleman's Fight for Student Success under the New Graduation Requirement
• Summer School 2011: Too Little Too Late
• Coleman Members Say “No More Broken Promises!”