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Join the conversation! 25 Comments

  1. Hi there, I just recently came across your blog from the PPS message board. I am very interested in your perspective being a teacher myself…and a mom of a 5 and a 3 year old in the city.
    I love that you write on the bridge between teachers and parents. Seems as if there is always a disconnect. Parents complain about teachers and teachers complain about parents! It is definitely peculiar to be right in the center of it all!

    Would love to hear your perspective on the new Common Core and it’s implementation in the schools. I’ve contributed to a thread once on PPS where parents were bashing CC and complaining about how their “honor student” wold no longer be challenged. Oh, I teach middle school math, so this implementation is affecting me directly. I am also a proponent of the CC especially in Math. The assessments, not so much. But, would love to hear your view of it!

    • Wow! Thanks for commenting. I should say that I’m really interested in what YOU have to say about district implementation of CCSS-Math. I work in the district office and visit sites throughout the district. It allows me to get a “big picture” perspective of district implementation. Nonetheless, I often miss out on the conversations that are happening on the ground at sites, where real implementation takes place. It is apparent to me that many middle school parents are frustrated with our current implementation of math instruction. Unfortunately, I’m not a math teacher and am not involved in district conversations about implementation of CCSS-Math, so I can’t speak about the district’s implementation plans. As an involved parent, I can say that communication could definitely be improved around this.

      I wrote a piece on my blog about the new CCSS-Math aligned course sequence and its impact on math instruction at the middle grade level. You can see my take on the piece and also read the comments. It’s clear that the district could be doing better at communicating the shifts in thinking that are taking place in math instruction as well as showing good models of what true differentiation looks like. I haven’t gotten any feedback from teachers, so I’d be very interested in hearing your perspectives on how things are playing out at the site level. More importantly, “Do you feel that systems/supports are in place for you to successfully meet the new challenges of these shifts?” and if not, what can parents do to ensure teachers are properly supported?

  2. I have what may be a stupid question, but there is a particular kindergarten (and beyond) that we are interested in. How can we improve our chances of our daughter going to that school?

    • Not sure I can answer this question. I am not as familiar with enrollment issues as others. PPS-SF is a great resource for this type of information. Go to this link for more info:

      The SFUSD Education Placement Center (EPC) office at 555 Franklin Street, SF is also a great resource. That said, you can see your overall chances by looking at the enrollment reports posted on the webpage:

      Do you live in a specific neighborhood or have specific criteria you are looking for (e.g. language programs, etc.)? Definitely apply to the school you are interested in. Don’t be dissuaded by the numbers. Many of my friends got into highly sought-after schools (Rooftop, Claire Lillienthal, Sherman and Yick Wo) Nonetheless, I COULDN’T BE HAPPEIR at a school NO ONE’S HEARD ABOUT. There are 71 Elementary schools and most folks have only heard about 5. The perfect school you’ve never heard of may be out there just waiting to be discovered!

  3. We really want to get her into Spring Valley Science, which is close and has a focus we really support.

  4. Why aren’t my posts showing up? Am I not allowed to comment? I tried posting twice to an article you wrote which insulted and offended me and it says it is awaiting moderation. Why am I not allowed to express my viewpoint? Are only those who agree with you allowed to do so? This is censorship.

  5. I read your post on cal day a while ago and thought of this link you may like. It’s from UC. It says how many people applied to each UC school from each CA high school and how many were accepted. Since your kids are elementary school age? I thought you would find this useful. It’s never to early to think about college!!!

  6. How do you feel about the public vs private debate? Recently many parents I know have been talking about this. Many feel SFUSD only cares about low income students and is pushing the middle class out. SF is becoming richer and more educated but many of my local parents don’t feel SFUSD is doing anything in response.

    A blog post has been circulating lately regarding this issue:

    Perhaps a new topic for you to explore?

    • Thanks for the suggestion… This is indeed a good topic to explore. I definitely have thoughts on this. I also think it would be interesting to gather input from SFUSD staff. I will work on it! Thanks :)

  7. Have you heard about CA SB 359?

    Kind of relates to math placement in SFUSD. I’ve heard people on both sides of the debate talk about it.

    • No. I hadn’t heard of this. Thank you for sharing. It does resonate though as I witnessed it with students in our system: an African American GATE student who was high performing both in grades and test scores was made to repeat an Algebra class even when she repeatedly informed the teacher she was in the wrong class. I was helpless in getting her properly placed myself.

      These links show that problems in educational access are more than individual. They are systemic and have wide reaching effects for both students an our society at large.

  8. Do you ever feel like SFUSD isn’t doing enough to keep upper/middle class families in the system? I understand that there are many low income students in Sf but it seems that most of the polices passed by the BOE only push people out ie schools assignment, honors, math etc.

    • Sorry for the late reply on this, school just started yesterday (Yay!) and I’m getting my bearings again :)

      I think your questions is worthy of a longer post, or several posts actually, which your questions has put on the front burner again. I’ll work on it right away, and connect with you offline in the meantime.

  9. With the new SAT, do you think SFUSD kids will be at a disadvantage for the math section.

    I just read a few articles saying that the new math will be harder and aligned to common core.

    I’m really worried that SFUSD isn’t offering 8th grade CCSS Algebra even though Common Core allows it and every other school district is teaching Common Core Algebra in middle school. For me it’s about interdistrct equity. Why should kids in these predominantly rich, white suburbs be allowed to access higher math/science kids while our urban students (mainly of color) have to wait till high school.

    • Thanks for your question. I am not a Math expert and am not familiar with how Common Core changes are SPECIFICALLY going to impact the SAT. I do know this: our current 8th grade math sequence includes Algebra in the 8th grade and in the 9th grade as well. (It’s just not called “Algebra” anymore.)

      In this way, students aren’t “behind” they are just learning things in a different sequence than before. For example, they are also learning statistics and geometry concepts in 8th grade (which previously they hadn’t). It’s both a restructuring of content (what is taught when) and also a difference in focus. It is my understanding that Algebraic THINKING is being stressed more than in the past (which was more about memorizing equations and practicing calculations.) Students need more time to go deeper, and in the past (and research shows) 9th grade brains are better suited for handling some of the conceptual load that the new Common Core math demands. (This I DO agree with as a former 9th/10th grade English teacher. Kids are still building grey matter, and are much more likely to be successful with highly abstract thinking at older grades.)

      Suburban kids won’t be ahead, they will just learn in a different sequence. Our kids will actually benefit because they will arrive at college better prepared because they have better retained what they have learned.

      BTW: I feel very confident about SFUSD’s approach because it is supported by both educational research and teacher experience in the field. The district has been working on this new curriculum for several years from the ground up with Stanford researchers and with over 300 district teachers who’ve been piloting it and revising it each year.

      Nonetheless, it does make sense parents would be concerned with something so different. The reason it stands out from other districts is because other districts are BEHIND. It’s like when we had segregated schools in some states and not others. Just because many school districts are tracking kids by perceived ability, doesn’t mean its effective or morally right. Our district prioritized high expectations for ALL students. I wrote about this several years ago when the new policy was approved. The SFUSD math department shared its own performance data showing the previous tracked system, was only working for a very small population of students. Even for those students, I heard many a teacher complain that advanced students were underprepared for the critical thinking and reasoning necessary for higher level math tasks. So in this case, rushing wasn’t better.

      I appreciate your question regarding the SAT and don’t have anything to add there. When I left the district, the CCSS was still being implemented and the SAT was in the revision process. No doubt, it will be more challenging for ALL students (in our district and elsewhere) for the reasons I’ve laid out above. Nonetheless, I encourage you to reach out to Math Department staff if you have additional questions. They’ve been very responsive whenever I’ve submitted a question.

      • I understand that Math 8 has Algebra in it but if you look at Palo Alto USD or Piedmont USD they have kids taking Math 8 in 7th grade and Commom Core Algebra in 8th grade (the same common core algebra as taught in 9th grade in SF). The Math 8 in SF is the same as Math 8 in any CA district. Same with Algebra.

        I understand that we need high expectations for all students but if you look at the sequence SFUSD picked, it is equivilent if not the same to the lowest math sequences in other districts.

      • Also, SFUSD was the only districts that had problems with kids taking Algebra in middle school. I have talked to other teachers from Oakland and Palo Alto and they said the majority of their kids did fine after taking 8th grade algebra.

        I know Jim Ryan said most kids did poorly after but looking at data/taking to people outside SFUSD, it seems that this is an SF problem and not one that affects every Ca district.

        • In response to both of your comments:

          1) Teaching isn’t the same as learning. Just because Palo Alto and Piedmont are TEACHING something doesn’t guarantee students will LEARN it. For that we’d need to look at student work (at best) or student performance on standardized tests (at a minimum).

          2) Generalizing anecdotal data from individual teachers of 8th grade Algebra classes isn’t going to tell you whether instruction is effective or equitable. In order to make a valid comparison of student performance between districts you’d have to compare apples to apples or in this case, performance data of students with similar demographics, i.e. race, socio-economic status, parent education level. (I worked in the SFUSD Assessment office and we were able to do this across the district. I’m not sure how you’d do this across districts as student data is confidential.)

          I’m sure you’d agree that student demographics in Palo Alto, Piedmont and Oakland are all very different than San Francisco. (The new infusion of funding from the state based on the number of low-income, English Learner students and foster youth is evidence of this.) And let’s be honest, students in Piedmont and Palo Alto are more likely to be White and Asian and middle/upper class. (Seriously, Piedmont and Palo Alto are like mini-suburbs of Oakland and San Jose respectively.) Additionally, students in ANY district in a tracked program are already preselected to be higher performing based on the fact that tracked “accelerated” or honors classes always have a larger number of students who are middle/upper income White and Asian kids whose parents are college educated.

          Shania, I’m not saying SFUSD DIDN’T have problems. It did. This new sequence is a response to that. And I am honestly excited about the new course sequence and curriculum (have you seen it? it’s high-level analytical thinking!) and trust in the judgement of the teachers and math experts I personally know who were involved in leading this shift. Are you unhappy with the CURRENT program your child is receiving? Just because the district adopts a new curriculum doesn’t mean every teacher is up to the challenge. If so, let me know and I’ll happily “fight the good fight” and help you resolve problems with your child’s instruction.

          • I do agree that demographics are different. The data I was looking at was API/CST which is all online. (Granted the state website is hard to navigate. I got a headache just looking at it.) If you look at African American, Latino, and Asians in SF, they are underperforming compared to their counterparts in other districts even if you take into account social class. (Ie low income students of color in SF do worse than low income student of color in other areas)

            Even LAUSD which is 60% Latino and mainly low income has an 8th grade common core algebra option.

            I agree that having college educated parents is an advantage but why isn’t the district working to provide the same opportunities. Why isn’t the district trying to get more kids of color in the same classes as educated whites? (Ie how is SFUSD combating privilege)

            I do agree that SFUSD is very different than other Bay Area districts. We aren’t as privileged or rich. Lord knows we need more $$$ to support our schools. i think we can both agree that more needs to be done for our low income students. I’m just worried because it seems other districts are doing their student of color a better job (based on CST).

            To me it just seems that SFUSD has the attitude of “well our kids can never be as great as those from privileged families so why bother trying.” I’m just worried our kids will be left behind that’s all and those kids from more affluent areas will continue to have more.

          • You have raised some good questions which I’d be interested in seeing researched, though frankly, the type of district data we’re talking about is simply not available to parents due to student confidentiality issues. (And I doubt one can find it posted online.)

            I agree we need to give all students access to educational opportunities and that is precisely why SFUSD got rid of racially segregated tracking in all its schools. That is NOT to say we should’t have really high quality math instruction that engages and challenges students, including those who are performing at the advanced level. My question to you is: “Why does it have to be either or? Zero sum thinking that dictates that we can only teach those at the top or those at the bottom? This is “old school” thinking.

            Many of us adults NEVER experienced new instructional approaches, so it’s understandably hard for us to trust such a big shift. But let’s face it, we were in school a long time ago. Think about how much has changed in the field of technology. We didn’t have personal computers, or iPads or the Internet. NEW instructional approaches are THAT different–especially in math. They aren’t teacher centered they are student centered. They are differentiated for multiple intelligences, learning styles, and aptitudes. They integrate problem-solving, critical thinking, collaboration and project-based learning. AND they are equitable. English Learner students aren’t left to sink or swim and students receiving special education services aren’t locked away in some bungalow on the backside of the schoolyard. (Another form of ability tracking from our childhood we have since abandoned.)

            I promise you I have had AMAZING experiences seeing this new approach in both MY work with students and I’ve also seen it with my daughters who are in a class of mostly low income kids who are English-Language learners. My girls are at the top of their class and yet they are not isolated from their friends. They feel challenged and also value the contributions of their peers. Here is an example of what I am talking about:

            That said, not all teachers will be up for the challenge. And it is not easy. Our new math policy is already in place and I think it’s a good one; it is supported by Stanford researchers AND a majority of SFUSD teachers. Rather than worry about what ifs, I’d like to focus our efforts as parents on helping our teachers be successful and moving teachers who are not capable or interested in doing the work along to other professions.

          • I do agree that demographics are different. However, there are many college educated people in SF. Why should their kids (or for that matter any child) be denied the right to take class early if he/she can. It seems the district wants to lower the gap by limiting achievement instead of empowering low income students.

            Lets be honest. SFUSD does not have a good track keeping upper/middle class families in the system. Despite the fact that SF is becoming richer, according to their own demographic reports, most new SFUSD students will be from public housing in the future. I know there are many low income students in SF. However, as a “public” resource, SFUSD shouldn’t just prioritize them. The fact that 30% of SF is in private school is shameful.

            I (like you) do agree that differentiation is better. I also have “reservations” about tracking. I have read almost every paper cited by SFUSD (those that you can find online without paying too much) and there are great differences between the research and what SFUSD is doing. In every paper, the schools reduced class sizes to 20 AND provided outside support for struggling students. SFUSD has only reduced class sizes in 8th grade while many high schools have 35 kids in math/english classes. You are right to say we need to support teachers. However, they (like us) are human and only have 24 hours in a day. I think it’s just wrong to ask a teacher to differentiate in a class of 25+. It’s asking too much of people who already have to deal with new standards/curriculum. Whats ironic is that this may add to the inequity. Schools on the west side that have more money will be more able to have their PTSAs cover the cost of extra teachers and 7th periods to reduce class sizes and help struggling students while those on the east side (schools with more students of color) will be left out…

            Anyway, thanks for listening! I do enjoy your blog posts and look forward to them!!!

          • I am going to close out the communications on this thread to leave space for other conversations. Nonetheless, I really appreciate you reaching out and value the pushback. We both agree that good schools and access to high quality programs are important for all kids is what is MOST important. We can agree to disagree on the best way to get there. We’ve tried the “separate but equal” method. Can I entice you to give the heterogeneous, differentiated classroom a try?

            What it really comes down to is this: are you happy with the instruction your child is getting? Are you happy with YOUR experience as a parent at the school? If not, that’s a bigger problem than just curriculum. I encourage you to reach out and let me know (offline) the specifics of the situation and I promise I’ll do what I can to support you in fixing things. Because if your child isn’t happy, there are probably other students (whose parents are maybe less vocal) who are experiencing the same things. Take care and I hope you (and your kid/s have a great year! :)

    • Thanks for sharing this! It’s an interesting article and definitely gets at some important questions related to true school quality and school “choice”.


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