Friday, June 29, 2012

In the Classroom: Burton High School's Do Now with Twitter

By: Matthew Williams

This past school year, 50 eleventh- and twelfth-graders at San Francisco’s Burton High School started tweeting in class for the first time.

Many were familiar with Twitter and some use it on a daily basis, but never for school. As in most instances, there’s a major disconnect between the role of social media in their lives outside school — where they use Twitter and Facebook to chat with friends, and update their status — and what happens at Burton. This class also demonstrates what recent studies have shown: that a large majority of kids have cell phones, even if they come from low-income families. In these two classes, 90% of students had cell phones, and 63% qualify for free or reduced lunch.

But the fact that they were tweeting in class was enough to get them excited in the project. The video below looks at the impact of KQED Do Now, a weekly activity for high school students that engages them in topical issues using Twitter, with these students and their teacher Wendy Berkelman.

“I think that using Twitter to do an assignment is maybe the coolest assignment in school,” said Jason Wong. “I like how we are able to do this through the phone and people can see our thoughts.”

Nikko Maraya piped in: “We should do it in every class.”

Beyond the novelty of tweeting, the students said they felt their voices were being heard and they created a connection to the topic. Their friends cared what they wrote and the conversation opened up to a larger community than just the class. They knew it was on the KQED site and enjoyed watching the Twitter feed update on the website.


The class assignment focused on how technology has changed how we communicate, particularly with mobile devices and social media. They talked about the value of these tools in their everyday lives and how students could use these tools in school and as citizens of the digital world.

California, Oakland, S.F. dropout rates decline

 By Jill Tucker

Summer school is nearly nonexistent.

Class sizes are larger. And five years of budget cuts have hit art, music and counseling hard.

Yet, high school graduation rates increased across California and dropout numbers declined, according to 2011 state data released Wednesday.

Just over 76 percent of ninth-graders who started high school in 2007 graduated four years later with the class of 2011, up 1.5 percentage points from the year before, the state Department of Education said.

In San Francisco, the graduation rate jumped to 82 percent in 2011, up five percentage points from the year before.

The new numbers, which also showed lower dropout rates, were based on a better system of tracking students and represent the most accurate picture to date of how many state students are making it through high school to graduation day, California education officials said.

The new data gave a much better picture among students least likely to graduate. The graduation rate for English learners went up 3.8 percentage points to 60.3 percent.

"It's heading in the right direction," state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said Wednesday. "It's not where we want it to be."

Overall, the state dropout rate for the class of 2011 was 14.4 percent, down from nearly 17 percent in 2010. The state report noted that 9.3 percent of students in the 2011 cohort were still enrolled in school or had passed a high school equivalency exam.

The data don't include students who drop out before entering high school.

Graduation numbers were up in nearly all districts across the state, raising questions of whether the improvements were based on better accounting of kids or the result of renewed efforts to keep kids in school despite budget cuts.

Perhaps a bit of both, education officials said.

Starting with the 2009-10 school year, the state began complying with a new federal law by tracking individual students, identifying those who disappeared from schools and forcing districts to figure out where they went.

Prior to that, dropout and graduation rates were based on the overall number of ninth-graders versus the number of graduates four years later.

In San Francisco, district officials celebrated gains well above the state averages, including an 8.4 percentage-point increase among Latino students, who posted a 68 percent on-time graduation rate.

In 2010, the district launched an early-warning system to identify eighth- and ninth-graders most at risk of not graduating. The district offered extra academic and personal support to keep the students on track, Superintendent Carlos Garcia said.

Summer school is also offered to high school students behind in credits, one of the few programs still offered during the summer break.

"These numbers show that more of our students are finishing high school in four years and that most of those students who didn't graduate in four years are persisting and staying enrolled with the potential of graduating," Garcia said. "We are committed to making sure students graduate from high school."

In Oakland, rates also improved significantly but were still well below the state average. The district's graduation rate rose 4.2 percentage points to 58.9 percent and the dropout rate hit 27.7 percent, down from 33.1 percent.

"I don't think anyone is declaring victory yet," said district spokesman Troy Flint.

The East Bay district has implemented literacy programs to ensure students are reading at grade level, requiring every incoming ninth-grader to take a reading assessment, and offers special courses to build up the basic skills for those lagging behind.

"We're cautiously optimistic," Flint said. "I wouldn't celebrate a one-year bump. If we go up again next year, I'll really start crowing."

S.F., Oakland numbers

Graduation RateDropout Rate
State76.3 74.814.416.6
San Francisco
African American645719.718.9
English learners70.665.515.518.2
African American55.152.430.833.8
English learners40.837.136.646.9

Friday, June 15, 2012

Fewer S.F. schools receive lowest ranking

By: Neal J. Riley

 San Francisco reduced the number of schools considered the worst of the worst in the state, according to rankings released Thursday.

California's schools are ranked annually according to the state's Academic Performance Index, which is a composite of test scores from the previous spring. Thursday's rankings reflect students' performance from spring 2011 and give parents and real estate agents a simple way to compare schools and districts across the state.

Seventy-three percent of schools in the San Francisco Unified School District maintained or improved their rankings, according to a statement from the district. Overall, 43 percent of district schools are ranked in the top 40 percent in the state, matched by another 43 percent of schools that rank in the bottom 40 percent.

The schools are ranked in two ways on a scale from 1 to 10, with 10 the highest. The first method ranks a school's test scores with all other schools in the state and the second compares schools that share similar demographic characteristics, including socioeconomic status, class size and percentage of students who are English learners.

Nine schools were ranked 1 in both categories this year, down from 14 in last year's rankings.

District spokeswoman Gentle Blythe said one possible factor behind the better rankings was that in 2010-11, the district required all schools to regularly assess how students were understanding their lessons.

Assessments were made three times a year for elementary schools and twice a year for middle and high schools.

"It looks like on the plus side we've reduced significantly the number of schools that are 1-1," Blythe said. "That's something we've focused on and I think that's promising in terms of moving in the right direction."

Schools no longer with the worst ranking were Bret Harte, Bryant, Junipero Serra, Paul Revere, Rosa Parks, and Sanchez elementary schools; Everett Middle School; and June Jordan School for Equity.

Junipero Serra made the biggest move of the group, scoring a 2 statewide and a 3 against similar schools.

Cesar Chavez Elementary School, a school that received 1 in both categories last year, was not ranked this year because an "irregularity in testing procedure occurred during the Spring 2011 testing," the Department of Education's website stated.

Once again, four San Francisco schools earned the highest possible ranking of 10 in both categories, including John Yehall Chin, Sherman, and Ulloa elementary schools; and Lowell High School.

The news wasn't all good. Dr. Charles Drew College Preparatory Academy, El Dorado Elementary School and Metropolitan Arts & Technology High School slid to a 1 rating in each category.

In the Oakland Unified School District, 24 schools had 1 in each category, compared with 22 last year. But seven schools had the highest rating, compared with four in the last report.

Blythe noted that as useful as the rankings are, they might not be telling the whole story.

"Schools can make great gains and still have the same rank because it's how well they are performing in relation to other schools," she said.

To view the school rankings, go to

Monday, June 4, 2012

Bay Area high school graduates conquer challenges

Makda Beyene searches for her mother in the crowd at 
San Francisco's Mission High School commencement. 
Beyene arrived in the United States less than four years
ago from Eritrea but has become proficient in English.
By: Jill Tucker

Thousands of Bay Area teenagers will collect their high school diplomas this spring, a rite of passage that will mark them forever as members of the Class of 2012.

Yet each followed their own path to graduation day.
Some found their way through sports. Others dedicated themselves to pursuing academic perfection. Some, new to the country, faced an uphill battle to learn English and high school academics at the same time. Still others were detoured by poverty or personal setbacks.

Elisha 'Lili' Davis: Berkeley High athlete calls basketball a 'lifesaver' that provides path for life, studies

Basketball was an unlikely choice for Elisha "Lili" Davis. She was never very tall and even now, at age 18, has topped out at 5 feet, 3 inches.

But "no" was not an option for Davis.

The Richmond native actually loved to play football. Pop Warner coaches wanted her to play quarterback.
"My dad said 'no,' " she said. "He put a basketball in my hands."

It was "an investment," he told her, although she didn't even know what that meant. The investment paid off several times over.

Davis led Berkeley High School's girls basketball team to the state finals, twice. While the team lost both times, it had already beaten the odds by even being there because it lacked the height of other teams.
In the fall, Davis is heading to Arizona State University on a full-ride scholarship to play point guard on the women's basketball team.

Basketball was her "lifesaver," she said, inspiring her to keep her studies and personal life on track through high school, even as friends got pregnant, dropped out or lost focus at school or on the court because of boys.
"Without basketball, I wouldn't be the person I am today," Davis said.

Who is that person?

She's a student with a 3.7 grade point average, although she's shooting for a 4.5 average this semester and will probably achieve "just" a 4.2.

The pint-size point guard is the captain of her varsity basketball team, the kind of player who says things like, "It's not about the height. You can't be scared."

She is a high school senior who hugs teachers, custodians, coaches, school security guards and administrators, every one of whom will go out of their way for her.

She is a daughter who describes her family as one without much money but "rich" in love and support.
And yet she's still the typical teenager just days from her high school graduation.

"I just feel like I finally made it," Davis said smiling. "But now I'm just starting life."

Julie Gonzalez: After skipping class, moving around, commuter finds motivation at S.F.'s Downtown High

Julie Gonzalez could have dropped out.

She skipped class so much at San Francisco's Burton High School that she knew she'd never finish with her class.

If she wanted to graduate, she knew she'd have to transfer to a continuation school for at-risk, struggling students.

"I have thought I wasn't the brightest person," she said.

She moved around most of her childhood, commuting from Hayward, Richmond, Vallejo and other Bay Area cities to get to school in San Francisco, where her mother worked.

Rather than giving up, Gonzalez chose to attend Downtown High.

There, teachers and Principal Mark Alvarado would not accept failure.

They called Gonzalez in the morning, ordering her to get up, hurry up and get to school on time, even though that required taking a ferry and a bus to get there from her mother's Vallejo home.

Gonzalez finished her graduation requirements six months late, but stayed in school to finish a stationary engineering program she had started earlier in the year.

And she got a job at McDonald's to help support herself and her family.

On May 24, at age 19, she graduated from Downtown, "one of the few" in her family to get a diploma.

She now is studying for an electrician's test to enter a five-year apprenticeship program.

In the meantime, she considers Downtown "the best school I ever went to."

"They cared," she said. "I know they all cared."

Max Mak: San Bruno valedictorian with perfect grades finds his focus in filmmaking after hands-on class

Max Mak was always an exceptional student, a guaranteed college-bound kid who could have picked any path he wanted.

With a 4.7 grade point average and the valedictorian of his class at Capuchino High School in San Bruno, the 18-year-old could take his pick of colleges and careers.

Engineer. Doctor. Teacher. Lawyer. Businessman. Politician. Scientist.

Yet Mak didn't find his personal calling in calculus, chemistry or any of the six Advanced Placement courses he's taking this year. He found his way in a career-tech class on making movies.

The hands-on courses, once called vocational education, help kids learn a skill that could lead to a job.
Those carpentry and auto shop classes have evolved in recent decades, to offering students insight into careers in health, hospitality or other industries, including filmmaking.

"I want to be a film director," Mak said. "This class sparked that interest."

Mak participated in the school's International Baccalaureate program in film, a two-year course.

The course includes everything from screenwriting, producing, directing, editing, lighting and the use of about $16,000 in equipment to take out on location to shoot movies.

Mak will take that real-life experience to UCLA to study filmmaking.

Days before giving the valedictorian's commencement speech at graduation, he reflected on his four years of high school, his perfect grades, his dreams and his choices.

"I feel like school is there to help guide you," he said, "to open up doors, to show you what you love to do."

Makda Beyene: Eritrean, an avid reader, thrives in S.F. Mission High's mainstream courses

When Makda Beyene arrived in the United States less than four years ago from Eritrea, the only English she knew she picked up from television shows.

That was more than her mother and three siblings, which meant she was the family translator, filling out her mother's job applications and calling homeless shelters looking for somewhere to sleep.

When she enrolled at Mission High School in San Francisco, she refused to take classes for English learners, choosing instead to take her courses in mainstream classes.

At first, she struggled.

Concerned teachers asked about her fatigue and inability to focus and then pointed her in the direction of services to help her family find stable housing and financial support.

Then, she thrived. She read voraciously to learn English and posted perfect grades.

Counselors encouraged her to think about college. Take the SAT, they told her.

She didn't know what that was. But she knew she wanted a college education, even if it seemed financially out of reach.

Apply for scholarships, teachers told her.

When Beyene graduated from Mission High on May 23, she had eight college acceptance letters and one of 1,000 prestigious Gates Millennium scholarships, to pay all her university costs and provide academic support and guidance.

She had another $40,000 in college awards, some of which she is giving back because she won't need the money.

And her English is flawless, including typical teenage intonations.

She credits her teachers, counselors and mentors for her success.

"Mission (High) has played an instrumental part in making my family's dreams come true," Beyene said.

This fall, she will attend Pitzer College, a private liberal arts university in Claremont (Los Angeles County).

She plans to double major in molecular biology and writing, and dreams of becoming a doctor.