Friday, August 31, 2012

KCBS Cover Story: San Francisco School Offers Anti-Bullying Class

Reporting Jeffrey Schaub | KCBS

SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS) – Nobody likes a bully, least of all the one being bullied. And, because nobody knows this better than kids, why not teach kids to put bullies in their place?

One San Francisco elementary school is doing just that, adding a new subject to the curriculum: bullying. It’s all about teaching kids how to stop bullies from bullying, and help those who have been victimized.

In all, 50 kids come together weekly for the anti-bullying education at the Rooftop School, a K-8 Public Alternative School in San Francisco. The Bully Ambassador class addresses bullying not only in the classroom or on the playgroup, but after school hours as well.

“They’re given sort of social skills that will serve them their whole lives,” explained program director, Katie MacDougal. “Ways to distract from what’s going on or to reason with the person who’s doing the aggression without being confrontational.”

KCBS’ Jeffrey Schaub Reports

Class Action: New San Francisco Superintendent Richard Carranza

Carranza talks about taking the helm after the retirement of previous superintendent Carlos Garcia.

View more videos at:

SF test scores rise after funding boost

By Jill Tucker | SF Chronicle

With new standardized test scores in hand Friday, San Francisco school officials answered a question long debated in the world of education: Does more money make a difference?
The answer was yes.

Nine of the city's lowest-performing schools received about $5 million each in federal funding over three years to boost test scores. Overall, their academic achievement scores shot up.

At the nine schools, 37 percent of students reached proficiency in English during the 2011-12 school year, compared with 29 percent the year before.

In math, scores climbed to 33 percent proficient or above, up from 25 percent.

"Money has made a difference," said Everett Middle School Principal Richard Curci, whose school saw dramatic gains in English and math scores this year.

Curci was quick to note, however, that the money was focused on promoting effective teaching and the use of frequent in-class evaluations to make sure students were actually learning.

The 2011-12 school year was the first full year of School Improvement Grant funding for Everett and the other eight schools. The first installment didn't arrive until midway into the 2010-11 school year.

The money has paid for teacher training, classroom coaches, counselors, literacy tutoring, nurses, librarians, summer school, parent liaisons, supplies and more.

Friday, August 24, 2012

More high school students passing Exit Exam

Lalonie Williams, 15, gets advice from 10th-grade American 
literature teacher Chris Harris at Wallenberg High in S.F. 
Photo: Jason Henry, Special To The Chronicle / SF
The vast majority of the class of 2012 - 95 percent of the state's 450,000 seniors - passed the California High School Exit Exam by graduation day, an all-time-high pass rate, according to results released Wednesday.

Not surprisingly, state education officials celebrated the news, noting steady improvement from the 90 percent pass rate in 2006, the first year students were required to pass the math and English test in order to graduate.

"When 95 percent of California students are hitting the mark - despite the tremendous challenges we face and the work we still have to do - there's an awful lot going right in our public schools," said state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson.

Yet critics of the Exit Exam have long questioned whether passing the test is anything to celebrate.
The exam, which was adopted by the Legislature in 1999, tests students on eighth- or ninth-grade math and 10th-grade English skills. Students are first required to take the exam in their sophomore year and have several chances to pass it.

Over the years, the state has spent hundreds of millions of dollars administering the test as well as providing remediation, tutoring and test preparation to ensure students who graduate meet minimum standards.
And yet the Exit Exam isn't much of a gatekeeper. Relatively few students who didn't pass would have graduated anyway because they didn't finish required coursework.

In San Francisco, for example, 109 of the district's 4,058 high school seniors were denied a diploma in the spring solely because they had not passed the Exit Exam.

And those students were eligible to take the test again after their senior year. Those results were not available.

In other words, the Exit Exam is costly, measures early high school skills on a multiple-choice test, and the vast majority of students pass it.

Is it worth the time, energy and money?

A baseline test

Many education and business leaders have time and again answered yes.

"It's a low bar," acknowledged Muhammed Chaudhry, CEO of the Silicon Valley Education Foundation, which works with local industry to support policy and programs that prepare students for college and careers. "If you can't pass eighth-grade algebra and 10th-grade English, you are not going to be ready for college. You're not going to be ready for the workforce by any means."

However, passing the Exit Exam also doesn't mean you are ready for a job or college, Chaudhry said. Still, it's a standardized way to ensure every high school graduate has at least those minimal skills, he said.
"You have to have a floor to have (a diploma) mean anything," he said.

Currently, all students must pass the test to graduate except special education students.

In the meantime, education officials note that certain students - African American, Hispanic and poor students as well as English learners - are more likely to fail the Exit Exam compared with white and Asian teens.

In a 2009 study on the effectiveness of the exam, Stanford University researchers found that minority students and girls of all races scored lower on the exam than white male students with the same level of academic achievement, a disparity attributed to a greater fear of failing on the high-stakes test rather than a lack of actual skill.

"Our analysis suggests that, to date, this is neither money nor time well spent," said one of the study's co-authors, Sean Reardon, at the time.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

94.3% Of SFUSD 12th Graders Pass Exit Exam

August 22, 2012

State Superintendent Tom Torlakson commented on "continuing positive momentum" after preliminary results from the California High School Exit Examination, or CAHSEE, were released today.

The test, administered several times throughout a public high school student's career starting in 10th grade, showed 95 percent of the state's Class of 2012 passed the standardized exit exam, according to the California Department of Education.

After taking the test at least two times prior, 12th graders throughout the state were once again tested in reading, writing and math.

Students who pass the test in 10th or 11th grade successfully qualify for graduation and do not need to re-take the exam.

The 2011-12 passing rate was up just under 1 percent from 2010-11, education officials said.

Looking back to the Class of 2006, 90.4 percent of students passed the test their senior year.

Torlakson said at a media teleconference this morning, "Despite the progress we're seeing, there's still much, much more to do."

The superintendent pointed to the 5 percent of students who do not pass the test by 12th grade and a desire to have 100 percent mastering the standardized test before graduation.

Torlakson noted gains in certain demographic groups, including African-Americans who inched up 2.3 percent to 90.1 percent passing compared to 89.6 percent in 2011.

In the Oakland Unified School District, schools have seen "gradual improvement over several years," district spokesman Troy Flint said.

Compared to the 2010-11 school year, a 3 percent increase of 12th graders passing the exam brought 67 percent of students passing in math, while 65 percent passed in English and language arts skills, Flint said.
He called it "modest improvement" that overall lagged the state average.

Within the Oakland school system, exit exam preparation is available at after- and summer school programs for students who do not initially pass during the 10th grade administration, Flint said.

In San Francisco, the school district recorded 94.3 percent passage rate for 12th grade students, with a majority of non-passing students part of special education or English language learner cohorts, district spokeswoman Gentle Blythe said.

The district also noted 70 percent of 10th grade students, who are part of the Class of 2014, last year passed the exam after their first testing.

"This shows they are on track with learning up to ninth grade, Blythe said. She said first-time test success is an indicator students are on track for graduation in two years.

The exam, which began in 1999, was created to set a standard of what a California high school diploma stands for, Torlakson explained.

Sasha Lekach, Bay City News

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Photos from the first day of school at SFUSD!

Courtesy of the SF Chronicle

Brian Flores (left), 16 years old, and Sam Ng (right), 17 years old, study as teacher Savin Teresa (middle) passes by at Burton High School in San Francisco, Calif.  Students start their first day of school during honors English class on Monday, August 20, 2012. Photo: Liz Hafalia, The Chronicle / SF

Principal Tracy Peoples (l to r) and Superintendent Richard Carranza talk at the Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy on the first day of school on Monday, August 20, 2012 in San Francisco, Calif. Photo: Lea Suzuki, The Chronicle / SF

Jimmie'yah Travis, 8 (right front); Mayor Ed Lee (center) and Hydra Mendoza (second from right), San Francisco Board of Education join students at the Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy in the "Cuban Shuffle" on the first day of school on Monday, August 20, 2012 in San Francisco, Calif. Photo: Lea Suzuki, The Chronicle / SF

Instructor Lauren Ponti (right) helps Lu Li (middle) and Zhaokun Li (left) fill out their paperwork at Everett Middle School in San Francisco, Calif., during the first day of school on Monday, August 20, 2012. In the background on left is Mayor Ed Lee. Photo: Liz Hafalia, The Chronicle / SF

Teacher Gabri Rodriguez goes through student paper work the first day of school at Everett Middle School in San Francisco, Calif., on Monday, August 20, 2012. Photo: Liz Hafalia, The Chronicle / SF

Director of PEP--Pinay & Pinoy Educational Partnership-- Allyson Tintiangco Cubales (left) greets new superintendent Richard Carranza (middle) at Burton High School in San Francisco, Calif., during the first day of school on Monday, August 20, 2012. Photo: Liz Hafalia, The Chronicle / SF

Maggie Tao (left), 16 years old, Muriam Choudhery (right), 17 years old, and Eli Orquiza (right), 18 years old, work in a group at Burton High School in San Francisco, Calif., as students start their first day of school during honors English class on Monday, August 20, 2012. Photo: Liz Hafalia, The Chronicle / SF

Noah Velasquez (left), 12 years old, checks his schedule for the next class as Kian Lonegran (right) gets ready for his next class while the bell rings at Everett Middle School in San Francisco, Calif., on the first day of school on Monday, August 20, 2012. Photo: Liz Hafalia, The Chronicle / SF

Kindergarteners Cypress Coffman, 4 holds his hands over the ears of friend Kevin Lamanna Ramirez, 5 as they stand in line and listen to speakers in the yard, at Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy on the first day of school on Monday, August 20, 2012 in San Francisco, Calif. Photo: Lea Suzuki, The Chronicle / SF

Superintendent Richard Carranza greets students gathered in the playground at the Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy on the first day of school on Monday, August 20, 2012 in San Francisco, Calif. Photo: Lea Suzuki, The Chronicle / SF

Friday, August 17, 2012

S.F. schools complete ADA access work

Ryan Henderson, project manager, checks out the new
play structure outside the Chinese Immersion School
at DeAvila, among the last schools to complete the
access work. Photo: Sonja Och, The Chronicle / SF
After 13 years under the shadow of a lawsuit, San Francisco Unified has spent about $250 million to fix some 50,000 code violations to ensure nearly 100 school buildings are fully accessible to the disabled.

The last legally required drinking fountain, elevator, ramp and toilet were installed in several schools this summer to complete work outlined in a settlement in a class-action lawsuit filed in 1999.

The district has been under the watchful eye of a federal judge since 2004 and under tight deadlines to adhere to the Americans with Disabilities Act at the schools listed in a legal case named after the Lopez family, lead plaintiffs in the class-action suit.

It wasn't easy, said David Goldin, the district's chief facilities officer.

"We have the oldest building inventory in California," Goldin said. "We're on a city of hills."

At many schools, that meant installing new elevators, multiple ramps for wheelchairs, new light switches, wider doorways, auditorium wheelchair lifts, braille signage and bi-level water fountains, among a long fix-it list.

While doing the work to upgrade access, the district spent an additional $550 million to modernize each of the 90 or so schools, replacing roofs, heating systems and windows, putting on fresh coats of paint, repaving playgrounds and upgrading wiring, among other projects.

The Chinese Immersion School at DeAvila was among the final schools on the district's legal list, and it exemplified the challenges in offering complete access to every part of a school to every child regardless of disability.

The Haight-Ashbury neighborhood school built in 1924 sits on a hillside with a 40-foot elevation difference from one side to the other.

Read more: SF Chronicle

Kenneth Renshaw hits all the right notes

Kenneth Renshaw won first prize
at the Yehudi Menuhin Young
Violinists International Competition
in Beijing.
Photo: Stephen Lam,
Special To The Chronicle / SF
From the time he was a toddler, Kenneth Renshaw was drawn to the violin. "The sound attracted my ear more than other instruments," the 18-year-old musician says, "maybe because it resembles the human voice.

"There's a way in which some violinists can slide or use certain kinds of vibrato to emulate what an opera singer does. It's very magical when that happens."

Renshaw, a San Francisco native and recent graduate of the Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts, is one of the premier young violinists in the world. In April, he won first prize in the senior division of the prestigious Yehudi Menuhin Young Violinists International Competition in Beijing.

"Beijing was just an amazing experience," he says, "because it didn't feel like a competition. It just felt like you were there with 41 other really dedicated, inspired violinists, all of a young age."

Renshaw leaves Aug. 24 to start his freshman year at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. He turns 19 in October but has the poise and eloquence of someone years older. During a conversation at his home in the Sunset District, Renshaw spoke about the musician's life: the emotional and physical demands, the exultation of playing well, the nature of competition and the benefits of growing up in a seriously musical household.

Read more: SF Chronicle

Thursday, August 16, 2012

History Lessons Blend Content Knowledge, Literacy

Shilpa Duvoor reviews primary source documents with
her 7th and 8th grade students during a lesson on
American slavery during summer school at
Sunnyvale Middle School in Sunnyvale, Calif.
—Ramin Rahimian for Education Week

Common standards could drive approach

For years, bands of educators have been trying to free history instruction from the mire of memorization and propel it instead with the kinds of inquiry that drive historians themselves. Now, the common-core standards may offer more impetus for districts and schools to adopt that brand of instruction.

A study of one such approach suggests that it can yield a triple academic benefit: It can deepen students’ content knowledge, help them think like historians, and also build their reading comprehension.

The Reading Like a Historian program, a set of 75 free secondary school lessons in U.S. history, is getting a new wave of attention as teachers adapt to the Common Core State Standards in English/language arts.

Those guidelines, adopted by all but four states, demand that teachers of all subjects help students learn to master challenging nonfiction and build strong...


Friday, August 10, 2012

San Francisco's New Schools Chief

The son of a sheet metal worker and a hairdresser, San Francisco's new superintendent Richard Carranza entered the public school system knowing no English and was the first in his family to graduate from college. He now leads a district with a huge "achievement gap" between white, black and Latino students. We'll talk to him about plans for narrowing that gap -- and discuss his vision for improving public education in an era of shrinking budgets.

Host: Dave Iverson
Guests: Richard Carranza, superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District

Interview Highlights

The Four Questions Carranza Asks Every School

"Everyone will say, 'We believe the most important thing in a school is what happens in a classroom with a teacher and a student,' but what does that really mean? What it really means is that you have to provide the support to teachers to better their craft; you have to continuously talk about and act upon the right thing. So, how do you know?
Here are four questions that I ask everyone when I visit a school:

What are students learning?
And that really goes to what is the curriculum? Is the curriculum rigorous? Is it aligned to state standards? Is it so rigorous that we're pushing kids? No one rises to low expectations, so are we making students really, really learn?
How do you know kids are learning?
So that goes to this whole issue of assessment. Right, so how do you know how students have mastered a standard? How do you know a student can perform a task that is required?
What do you do when students don’t know? When they haven't mastered that task?
That goes to the whole question of how do you intervene and how do you support [students].
What do you do when the student already knows the material that you’re teaching?
That goes to this whole question of accelerating students. We’re not about some of the critique on reforms efforts is that you dumb down the curriculum—we’re not about dumbing-down the curriculum.

On SFUSD's School Assignment System

"You're always going to have folks that are supportive and folks that say that this just doesn’t work, but you know the facts that we have are that 63 percent of our families got their first choice in this last assignment process. 80 percent got their first, second, or third choice, and 85 percent got one of their choices.
You know, we’ve heard a lot about neighborhood schools and people really want neighborhood schools. Overall, 52 percent of our kindergarteners of this latest round did not choose their attendance-area school anywhere in their first choices. So, we’re going to look at that data, and of course that doesn’t tell us the whole story, but our commitment is to keep on looking, keep on analyzing and keep on engaging the community in this conversation."

On Improving SFUSD Schools in the 'Superintendent Zone'

"In many other communities, when you look at schools that are not performing based on metrics, there’s almost, I would say, a difficult conversation that happens, that we have to do—we have to move teachers, we have to fire people, and we have to fire our way to improving schools.
What we’ve done is taken a different approach in San Francisco. What we’ve said is what are the areas that we know through research, through documented research, that make a difference in student learning? And what we’ve done is put together a plan where we've really focused our meager resources and our professional development and our focus has been on improving the instructional practice in those schools."

What he hopes to achieve for each student

"When a student gets to that precipice where they’re going to graduate, the student has a choice of whether they’re going to go to college, whether they’re going to go into a career, whether they’re going to go do what—the student has a choice. The system, the school district hasn’t decided it for them because we haven’t prepared them or we haven’t offered them the classes that they need to be able to make that kind of a choice.