2014 has the potential to bring a variety of changes to public education. Though these changes are a far cry from the fundamental restructuring and revisioning that our schools need and our children require, these shifts will not be inconsequential and so will warrant the attention of public education advocates.
The new year started off with a new effort to transform embedded institutional dysfunction regarding racially skewed rates of suspensions and expulsions. Earlier this week, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced new federal guidelines for school safety and discipline
. These guidelines
recognize that suspensions and expulsions are disproportionately meted out to students of color, particularly African-American students, and are frequently spurred by a harsh interpretation of student responses, for instance the sin of “willful disobedience.” The proposed solution is to focus on prevention, none too pleased
appropriate and consistent responses to infractions, meaningful and constructive consequences for infractions, and cultural proficiency building within the school community. The San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) has been attempting a similar change for several years now, including efforts with restorative justice programs, the current phase being championed in partnership with Coleman Advocates
White House level recognition of racially-based disparities in school discipline is a significant advancement and may mean a broadening of the discussion around school safety and school conflict. One component missing from all of these discussions however, is the protection of student victims of student violence. Such situations are almost always absent from discussions about reshaping approaches to discipline and school safety; this is a terrible omission that needs to be addressed.
Another White House initiative, the effort to get all states to use the Common Core State Standards
(CCSS) will also continue to unfold this year. The big news for California, and thus San Francisco, is Governor Jerry Brown's bold decision to hold off on administering the majority of state assessments this year
, given that the state's adoption of the CCSS is in mid-process and that the assessments themselves are still in early development phases. The Department of Education was none too pleased
with this principled stance, but it remains to be seem what the consequences will be, if any.
The testing situation is only one of the plots unfolding that we will be watching this year. The Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF)
, yet another bold step by Governor Brown, is still coming into effect with major components under development. Critical at this point are the state-generated templates for districts' Local Accountability Plans. These plans are supposed to describe how resources will be used to achieve LCFF goals, and are required to be completed
by July 1, 2014. The templates, however, are not legally require to be ready until March 31, 2014 and so far there is not sign of them yet at the designated partner organization's site
Brown's recent bold moves in the education arena will no doubt serve him well in the upcoming June elections
, though so far there seem to be no significant challengers. Given the probability that he will be returning to office, we will likely be staying the course with the state focus on CCSS and LCFF implementation, which means that public education activists will have some stable areas to focus their attention on.
, California's Superintendent of Public Instruction, is also running for re-election. Odds are that he too will be re-elected, and again , will be focused on the issues that are keeping him busy now—CCSS and LCFF.
Elections will also be coming up for the San Francisco Board of Education (BOE) this year. In November, three seats will be up for voters to consider, those currently held by Hydra Mendoza, Emily Murase and Kim-Shree Maufas
. Incumbents will certainly be evaluated on a number of different issues, most definitely the evolving student assignment process and the efficacy and equity of the feeder plan as it becomes more established and on the sufficient availability of schools and programs for students in all neighborhoods in the city. Apart from helping to make informed decisions for this fall's elections, an adequate assessment of how well these assignment policies are meeting overall goals will be important to develop in its own right this year.
Lisa Schiff is the parent of two children in the San Francisco Unified School District and is a member of Parents for Public Schools of San Francisco.