Wednesday, February 26, 2014

SFUSD board approves measure favoring alternatives to suspensions

The San Francisco Unified School District unanimously approved a resolution Tuesday to reduce student suspensions for defiant behavior in favor of restorative practices, becoming the second school district in California to do so.

The Safe and Supportive Schools Policy commits the district to fully implementing restorative practices along with positive behavior intervention and support over the next three years.

“For us to pass this unanimously is a huge statement about our values, our commitment, our goals,” said Board of Education member Matt Haney, who authored the resolution.

In May, Los Angeles Unified School District board members voted 5-2 to ban “willful defiance” suspensions, becoming the first school district in the state to do so and acting on nationwide concerns that suspensions are detrimental and disproportionately affect minority students.

San Francisco’s policy includes a number of additional provisions, including a specific focus on providing more support for teachers removing students, said Laura Faer, statewide education-rights director for Public Counsel, the nation’s largest pro bono law firm for youths and families.

Among the more than 50 students and parents who rallied support for the resolution at the district offices was Downtown High School junior Francisco Craig, 17, who said he would get suspended “all the time” for talking back to teachers and not following orders.

“I feel good because the next generation of students, they’re not going to get suspended for stupid reasons like I did,” he said.

The SFUSD considers itself a statewide leader in using restorative practices over suspensions, which can intensify misbehavior and alienation, according to some studies. In 2009, the Board of Education adopted a resolution to begin implementing restorative programs districtwide and saw more than 2,500 educators attend trainings.

The systematic changes led to a 30 percent drop in suspensions throughout the district from the 2009-10 to 2012-13 school years.

Still, in 2012-13, black students, only about 10 percent of the school population, accounted for nearly 50 percent of suspensions and expulsions, and missed an average of 19 more instructional days per year than their peers, the district reports.

Under the new policy, suspensions will only be permitted in extreme circumstances and when behavioral discipline efforts have been exhausted.

The main challenges, according to board President Sandra Lee Fewer, will be funding and changing the longstanding belief that suspensions are the solution.

“I agree we as a district have been embedded in a culture of consequences and punitive measures,” she said. “[The policy] is very sophisticated, so this is going to take a lot of will.”

Monday, February 24, 2014

Tonight's homework, class: playing well with others

By: Jill Tucker | SF Chronicle  

Alexandra Vado (right) whispers into Hannaiz Elia's ear a sentence
that was started by their fourth-grade teacher and recited around
the circle in a listening exercise at Lakeshore Alternative Elementary
School in S.F. Photo: Lacy Atkins, The Chronicle
If public schools were grocery stores, their shelves would be stocked with the three R's and ABCs. Math? Aisle 3. History? Against the back wall. Science? Hang a left after literature.

In other words, they offer, almost exclusively, an array of academics. But schools in San Francisco, Oakland and a handful of districts across the state are adding to that inventory, and in the process redefining what students need to know and ensuring that schools teach it.

In the simplest terms, the districts say kids need to be able to play nice, and it will be the job of public schools to make sure they know how.

Educators call it social-emotional learning - skills that ensure students are better learners; better neighbors; better citizens, employees or bosses; and better team players.

"These are teachable skills, and everybody can improve upon their skills," said Paul Goren, senior vice president at the Chicago-based nonprofit Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning. "Almost all the businessmen and women say, 'We're looking for high competency on the academic side, but we're also looking for team players.' "

Prior knowledge

Some students show up to kindergarten knowing how to play nice in the sandbox. They're the ones who are more likely to share shovels and collaborate on building castles and less likely to throw sand in someone's face.

Others lack such skills and are unable to navigate the social mores of the playground or classroom as easily as their peers.

To many educators, they either had those skills or didn't, said Matthew Hartford, principal at San Francisco's Lakeshore Alternative Elementary School.

"If kids don't come to school prepared to collaborate, we punish them, blame their family, blame their neighborhood, blame their race, their socio-economic situation, instead of reaching deeply to teach them," he said. "Some kids need to learn it."

Lakeshore is among 48 of the district's 107 elementary and middle schools that are incorporating a program called Second Step, which teaches a range of skills in each grade, kindergarten through eighth, including how to listen, how to manage stress, how to be empathetic and deal with conflict.

Program expanding

Eventually, all K-8 students in the district will participate in Second Step lessons as part of their regular schooling, learning self management, self- and social awareness, and relationship skills.

For back-to-basics or conventional education advocates, those words might sound a little too left-coast liberal. Supporters, however, say kids who don't have these skills tend to lag in school.

"They're not really hippie-dippie in my view," said Thomas Graven, San Francisco Unified executive director of Pupil Services. "Actually, it's what great teachers already do."

San Francisco teacher Anastasia Fusscas leaned down and whispered the sentence to one of her fourth-grade students.

"We respect other people."

The Lakeshore student turned to a classmate and whispered the sentence he had heard, who then repeated it into the ear of the next person and so on until the last student in the circle whispered the sentence back to the teacher.

Fusscas started laughing. As was the case with most games of Telephone, the sentence had been garbled along the way.

"Do not touch a lot of people," she said, repeating what she heard. "Well, that's a good rule too."

But the real lesson of the day wasn't about respect or the avoidance of excessive physical contact.
The Second Step lesson was about listening and ways to listen better, like making eye contact, asking clarifying questions and not interrupting.

Critical to learning

The lesson had nothing to do with multiplication or the California Gold Rush. But it had everything to do with learning, Fusscas said.

And while it means setting aside class time, it's worth it when students are more focused, stay on task and listen.

"It teaches the socially acceptable way to be in a group of people," she said. "It makes for a better day.
"I get that time back later in math."

The eight California districts incorporating social-emotional school won't make sure every student is taught the skills, but schools will be held accountable for whether kids learned them.

In fact, the districts have promised the federal government they will do that.

The eight jointly received a federal waiver from many of the requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act, including those that require a district to achieve 100 percent student proficiency rates in math and English.

Special status

Instead, the districts, which also include Long Beach, Los Angeles, Sacramento, Sanger, Fresno and Santa Ana, have created their own plan to judge district and school performance - one that includes academic test scores as well as social-emotional assessments.

The districts are rolling out social-emotional programs and ways to measure them, with schools to be held accountable by the 2015-16 school year, said Noah Bookman, chief accountability officer for California Office to Reform Education, which is coordinating the eight districts' efforts.

"When you look at schools that have been moving kids further faster, they are also the schools developing (social-emotional learning)," Bookman said.

Indeed, research shows that social-emotional programs in general improve behavior and academic success. But creating school-based evaluations is new.

Hard to measure

For example, how does one measure, say, whether a child feels a greater level of control over successes and failures, or whether students believe they can be good at math even if they initially struggle?

Teacher feedback, parent and student surveys will likely be in the mix.

The districts will be at the forefront of a national movement to rethink the role of schools in educating students, preparing them to believe in themselves and play well with others in life's sandbox, Goren said.
"Our argument and the CORE districts have embraced this in order to do well by kids and help them be successful in school and in life," he said. "It's a grand experiment by brave and focused educators."

3 R's, ABCs and now - SEL

Five categories of social-emotional learning:

Self-awareness: Recognizing one's emotions and thoughts and their influence on behavior, including assessing one's strengths and limitations and possessing a well-grounded sense of confidence and optimism.

Self-management: Regulating one's emotions, including the ability to set and work toward goals, manage stress, and control impulses.

Social awareness: Empathizing with others; understanding social and ethical norms for behavior; and recognizing family, school and community resources and supports.

Relationship skills: Establishing and maintaining healthy and rewarding relationships by communicating clearly, listening actively, cooperating, resisting inappropriate social pressure, negotiating conflict constructively, and seeking and offering help.

Responsible decision making: Making good choices based on consideration of ethical standards, safety concerns, social norms, the realistic evaluation of consequences, and the well-being of self and others.
Source: Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning

Friday, February 14, 2014

S.F. seen as model in bilingual education over English only

By Jill Tucker | SF Chronicle

In algebra class, Walter Solórzano (left) first teaches students like eighth-grader
Arturo Gomez in their primary language and then in English as part of the Buena
Vista Horace Mann K-8 school's dual immersion program in San Francisco.
Photo: Lea Suzuki, The Chronicle

In the 15 years since voters essentially banned bilingual education in state schools, teaching English learners to read, write and do arithmetic first in their native language has nearly disappeared from California classrooms.

Since Proposition 227 overwhelmingly passed in June 1998, it's been all about learning English, first and foremost - but not in San Francisco. Nearly 30 percent of the city's 17,000 English learners are in bilingual education programs, compared with 5 percent on average statewide, according to the most recent data available.

And it's working, according to a recently published Stanford University study commissioned by the San Francisco Unified School District.

Districts can get around the Prop. 227 ban by having parents sign a waiver authorizing their children to be in bilingual education programs.

Bilingual education students, who learn to read and write in their native language and then transfer those academic skills into English, are - after a slower start - as fluent by sixth grade as those focused on and immersed in English with minimal support in their home language, according to the study.

Equally proficient

The same results were seen with English learners in dual-immersion programs, which teach native English speakers and non-English speakers first in Spanish, Chinese, Arabic or other languages before phasing English into their studies.

In other words, students ended up equally proficient in English no matter how they learned it in San Francisco schools, the Stanford researchers found.

The difference is that those in dual-immersion and bilingual education programs are taught in those five or six years to speak, read and write in two languages and are more likely to be bilingual.

Despite the state ban, "we haven't actually deterred from our goal of bilingualism," said Christina Wong, San Francisco Unified's special assistant to the superintendent. "We were very pleased, and it really helps justify the investment the district has made over a number of years to this effort."

A bad word

When Prop. 227 passed, "bilingual" was, to many, a bad word.

There was a sense that in bilingual education classrooms, English learners were segregated and languished in native language classrooms, putting them at a significant disadvantage to their English-fluent peers.

Knowing English, supporters said, was critical - even if that meant purging a first language from a student's skill set.

"Bilingual education in California means monolingual instruction, mainly in Spanish," said the measure's author, Ron Unz, during the 1997-98 campaign. "It would be a very good thing if (students) were fluent in two languages, but often they come out illiterate in two languages. I've always been somebody very skeptical of bilingual education."

The initiative passed with 60 percent voter support.
More than 15 years later, the global economy increasingly has placed value on bilingual workers, whether English is their first or second language. That demand in the United States has trickled down into schools, where policymakers are rethinking an English first approach and parents are calling for access to language-immersion programs.

In 2012, several districts in California, including San Francisco, started offering a Seal of Biliteracy for graduating high school seniors to acknowledge their language skills.

Nationally, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said last year that when teaching English to English learners, the primary language should be maintained so they can become bilingual.

"We are really squandering our linguistic resources by not supporting the primary-language instruction," said Sarah Capitelli, a University of San Francisco professor of teacher education. "I feel like it's a huge waste."

Esther Woo started teaching 10 years ago when Prop. 227 and the decline of bilingual education in California was in full swing.

'All about assimilation'

Prop. 227 "was all about assimilation into the dominant culture," said Woo, a fifth-grade Spanish dual-immersion teacher at San Francisco's Buena Vista Horace Mann K-8 school. "I feel now the focus is more student centered rather than policy centered.

"We're creating these successful citizens of the future."

While bilingual education has continued to thrive in San Francisco, parents of English learners are increasingly opting for the dual-immersion programs, which use the child's native language but don't require segregated classrooms.

Currently, San Francisco Unified has more than 5,000 students in dual-immersion programs who started as kindergarteners. Six years later, these middle schoolers are fluent in English and Cantonese, Spanish, Mandarin or Korean.

There is always more demand than seats in the classrooms.

Often, the English-speaking students have a family background in the language being taught, but through one or two generations, it was lost, Woo said. Their parents "wished they would have had that advantage."

While the Stanford study offered a generally positive review of district English-learner programs, with the vast majority of students reaching fluency by the end of middle school, the picture isn't entirely rosy in San Francisco.

The study showed that Chinese English learners reach fluency in greater numbers and faster compared with Spanish speakers, a trend that mirrors an achievement gap in test scores and other academic indicators between white and Asian students and Latino and African American students.

In addition, the graduation rate for English learners in San Francisco is 68 percent, compared with 82 percent districtwide, according to the California Department of Education.

Yet statewide, the graduation rate for English learners is 62 percent.

The Stanford study included about 18,000 English learners in San Francisco schools from 2002 to 2010 and examined their results on the California English Language Development Test as well as the percentage of students who transitioned from English-learner status to full fluency each year.

All told, San Francisco might make a good case for bringing back bilingual education in California, given the results of the study. And research has consistently backed its effectiveness.

"The research is 100 percent solid in bilingual education," said Stephen Krashen, University of Southern California professor emeritus in linguistics. "Students in well-designed bilingual programs outperform comparison students on tests of English reading. Despite the overwhelming evidence, bilingual education is still not well supported."

He blames the bilingual education wars that swayed public opinion in California, Colorado and Massachusetts.

Changing attitudes

Still, there's a shift.

"I think the attitudes have changed," said Shelly Spiegel-Coleman, executive director of Californians Together, a coalition of parents and education civil rights groups.

Yet, so far, there has been little to no political effort to officially rescind Prop. 227 given that districts can get around it with a parent signature.

But would Prop. 227 still pass today?

Spiegel-Coleman said it still might despite the demand for bilingualism.

"I think the vote would be different," Spiegel-Coleman said. "I think it would be closer."