Front page of Issue 16

The winter 2015 print edition is in stores now. Special report on the persistence of segregation in local public schools. Plus: 24-page insert commemorating the now shuttered weekly San Francisco Bay Guardian, produced by the newspaper’s former staff.

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elementary education

As Parents Get More Choice, S.F. Schools Resegregate

Jeremy Adam Smith, San Francisco Public Press — Feb 2 2015 - 8:40am

Each January, parents across San Francisco rank their preferences for public schools. By June, most get their children into their first choices, and almost three-quarters get one of their choices. A majority of families may be satisfied with the outcome, but the student assignment system is failing to meet its No. 1 goal, which the San Francisco Unified School District has struggled to achieve since the 1960s: classroom diversity. Since 2010, the year before the current policy went into effect, the number of San Francisco’s 115 public schools dominated by one race has climbed significantly.

San Francisco Schools’ Changing Demographics

Paul Lorgerie and Jeremy Adam Smith, San Francisco Public Press — Feb 2 2015 - 8:39am

Over five decades, San Francisco saw a demographic transformation in its public school system. In 1969, white and black students together were the majority, as in most of the rest of the United States. Since then, San Francisco public school enrollment has fallen by 39 percent, and almost all the missing faces are white or black. But the two groups have not disappeared in the same way.

Isolated Schools Clustered by Test Scores, Family Income

Jeffrey Thorsby, Emily Dugdale and Paul Lorgerie, San Francisco Public Press — Feb 2 2015 - 8:39am

If one looks at the San Francisco Unified School District as a whole, a clear pattern emerges: Schools with the highest level of achievement tend to have the lowest levels of family poverty. And schools that are identified as “racially isolated” are visibly clustered by both income and achievement. This plot shows the base Academic Performance Index for each school in the district for which data are available, as well as the percentage of students poor enough to qualify for free and reduced-price lunches, which are used as a proxy for measuring poverty.

Ranking Schools by Diversity

Jeffrey Thorsby, Emily Dugdale and Paul Lorgerie, San Francisco Public Press — Feb 2 2015 - 8:38am

Schools across San Francisco show markedly different levels of racial and ethnic diversity. Increasingly over the last five years, schools are dominated by one racial group. With mathematical tools, it is possible to measure which schools are the most and least diverse. We chose to rank schools using a formula that economists use to tell whether an industry is dominated by monopoly ownership, the Herfindahl-Hirschman index, also known to ecologists as the Simpson diversity index. The idea is the same: Sum up the squares of all the fractions of your sample. The higher the number, the lower the diversity.

Transportation Challenges Complicate School Choice for S.F. Students

Rebecca Robinson, San Francisco Public Press — Jan 29 2015 - 1:05pm

While San Francisco’s school assignment system has benefited families with the means to transport their children to schools with the most desirable programs, it creates dilemmas for more disadvantaged students who must travel long distances to school, often without the help of their parents. Many lower-income students must choose between long commutes on unreliable public transit and attending lower-performing schools closer to home. This may help explain why San Francisco public schools, like those in many cities nationwide, are increasingly resegregating as decades of court-ordered diversity measures recede into history.

Data Confirm Link Between Parent Fundraising, Student Achievement

Jeffrey Thorsby, San Francisco Public Press — Jan 28 2015 - 1:52pm

Last winter, the San Francisco Public Press published a detailed, data-rich narrative showing how private funds have saved a few schools from the ravages of years of budget cuts, but ended up exacerbating educational inequality within the San Francisco Unified School District. As a researcher for the project, I assisted the team in scouring through mountains of public documents, including budgets, California Department of Education data reports, hundreds of parent-teacher association nonprofit tax returns and statistics from other state and local agencies.

10 Solutions to Inequality in Elementary School Fundraising

Jeremy Adam Smith, San Francisco Public Press — Feb 13 2014 - 3:58pm

PTA fundraising at public elementary schools in San Francisco is wildly uneven, with only a small number of schools raising enough money in recent years to avoid the worst effects of state budget cuts. Based on Public Press research and conversations with experts in the field, here are some options for addressing uneven access to funding for San Francisco’s public elementary schools.

Part of a special report on education inequality in San Francisco. A version of this story ran in the winter 2014 print edition.

Albany School District Levels Parent Fundraising Playing Field

Emilie Raguso, San Francisco Public Press — Feb 13 2014 - 3:58pm

Concerned about equity, 3 elementary school PTAs pool money for daytime enrichment

The tiny Albany Unified School District in the East Bay was, until 2011, like many others in the state: Schools with the best parent fundraising were able to reap all the benefits for their own kids. Superintendent Marla Stephenson said the disparities had been immediately apparent when she began working for the district in 2008. Three years later she led the switch to a single annual campaign for all three schools — one that could provide an example for San Francisco and other districts struggling with inequities made worse by parent fundraising.

Part of a special report on education inequality in San Francisco. A version of this story ran in the winter 2014 print edition.

Infographics: School Fundraising in S.F. by the Numbers

Jeffrey Thorsby, Jason Winshell, Tom Guffey and Justin Slaughter, San Francisco Public Press — Feb 6 2014 - 4:10pm

The San Francisco Unified School District aims to spend its funds equitably, not necessarily equally. That means giving more to schools with the highest needs, based on a complex formula. But in the past decade, parents at some schools have developed sophisticated fundraising operations to make up for years of tight districtwide budgets. The result: parents at a few schools are able to significantly supplement their children’s education, while most are not.

Part of a special report on education inequality in San Francisco. A version of this story ran in the winter 2014 print edition.

How Budget Cuts and PTA Fundraising Undermined Equity in San Francisco Public Schools

Jeremy Adam Smith, San Francisco Public Press — Feb 3 2014 - 4:09pm

PUBLIC SCHOOLS, PRIVATE MONEY: Parent fundraising for elementary education in S.F. skyrocketed 800 percent in 10 years. The largesse saved some classroom programs, but widened the gap between rich and poor.

In an era of shrinking public investment in schools, parents have struggled to hold the line one school at a time. Since the pre-recession year 2007, elementary school PTAs in San Francisco collectively managed to more than quadruple their spending on schools. 

With this money, some schools have been able to pay teachers and staff, buy computers and school supplies, and underwrite class outings and enrichment activities. These expenses, previously covered by the taxpayers, are increasingly the responsibility of parents.

But school district finance data, PTA tax records and demographic profiles reveal an unintended byproduct of parents’ heroic efforts: The growing reliance on private dollars has widened inequities between the impoverished majority and the small number of schools where affluent parents cluster.

Part of a special report on education inequality in San Francisco. A version of this story ran in the winter 2014 print edition.

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