Exclusive to the Westside Observer

Carol Kocivar On Education

Pandemic Clobbers School Budgets—
Time for Advocacy!

Schools throughout California are facing severe budget cuts for the next few years as the pandemic has decimated state and local revenue.

This means schools are staring at staff layoffs as well as reductions in funding for early education, instruction and curriculum, technology, training, and on and on.

This is a double whammy for most school districts. 

quote marks

California did not create this problem and should not be required to solve it alone. The federal government must pass a relief package for state and local governments. Without one, deep cuts to core services like schools, universities, and safety net programs will be unavoidable—both in California and across the country.”

Event before the pandemic, they didn’t have enough money to balance their budgets.

Increased expenses for special education, health and retirement benefits, and salaries grew much faster than the money the district gets from the state and federal government.

San Francisco, for example, was facing about a $22.6 million shortfall this school year. Then the pandemic hit and added significant new expenses: feeding hungry children (and families) and providing digital learning devices for thousands of students.

The projected COVID related costs ballooned to about $40 million for this year.  That’s right, within 2 months, it grew from about 22.6 million to $40 million.

The chart below from the Department of Finance shows the projected drop in state revenues.  This means the state’s required minimum funding levels for schools dropped by $18.3 billion.  GULP!

Revenue Drop Chart

Despite efforts by Governor Newsom to minimize cuts to education and children's services, the revised May California state budget proposal leaves schools and other programs facing significant cuts.

The largest cut to K-12 funding is a 10 per reduction to the Local Control Funding Formula ($6.5 billion in 2020-21).  This is the biggest funding source for local school districts.

Time for Advocacy

Relief Graphic

San Francisco has joined with 62 other school districts to urge Congress to approve new funding for local school systems in the next coronavirus supplemental appropriations bill. 

The California State PTA is urging parents to contact their federal representatives to ask for more funding.
Governor Gavin Newsom says federal help is essential:

California did not create this problem and should not be required to solve it alone. The federal government must pass a relief package for state and local governments. Without one, deep cuts to core services like schools, universities, and safety net programs will be unavoidable—both in California and across the country.

Do you Care about Our Children and Our Schools?

Prompt:  The answer is “Yes.”

Then we all need to speak up and advocate for more money: More money from the federal government, more money at the ballot box, and more revenue in the state budget.

• Contact your state representatives: Let them know what the impact of the proposed budget will be on your school. To find your representatives click here.

• Advocate for More Federal Funding: Contact your federal representatives and ask them to support an additional $200 billion in federal funds for schools. Unless Congress acts, schools will experience major budget cuts triggered by the pandemic. Click HERE to send a message to your federal representatives.

• Help pass the Schools and Communities First ballot initiative which is on the November ballot.  This could raise about $11.5 billion dollars each year for our schools and local communities. Click HERE to volunteer

Carol Kocivar is a children’s advocate and lives in the Westside. Feedback: kocivar@westsideobserver.com

February 2020

Student Stress: COVID 19
Card image cap

A new schedule. Restricted access to friends. Living in close quarters. With schools closed it’s tough for students to adjust. Now add the disappointment of cancelling the school dance, concerns about college applications, and sports and school clubs closing down… 

It’s no wonder some kids are having a hard time. But what you may also be seeing is stress —  not exactly related to the new schedule and restrictions but to how our world has changed because of the pandemic. Here are some suggestions to help parents and students.

Students show stress in different ways at different ages. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) gives examples of what to look for.

Link to: cdc.gov/childrenindisasters/pdf/children-coping-factsheet-50.pdf

Talking to Kids about the Pandemic

Giving your children age-appropriate accurate information about COVID-19 is important in addressing the fears and stress they are feeling. They may be worried that they will get the virus or that members of their family will become ill. The CDC recommends:

quote marks

Let them know it is ok if they feel upset. Share with them how you deal with your own stress so that they can learn how to cope from you.

Talk. “Share facts about COVID-19 in a way that your child or teen can understand.”

Feel. “Let them know it is ok if they feel upset. Share with them how you deal with your own stress so that they can learn how to cope from you.”

Empathize. “Children may misinterpret what they hear and can be frightened about something they do not understand. Limit your family’s exposure to news coverage of the event, including social media.” 

Keep routines. “Try to keep up with regular routines. If schools are closed, create a schedule for learning activities and relaxing or fun activities.” (See Ed100 blog Learning at Home, 2020)

Be a role model. “Take breaks, get plenty of sleep, exercise, and eat well. Connect with your friends and family members.”

Finding the right words to use with children in times of stress can be hard. Language for Parents During Times of Worry offers these suggestions: Use words such as “I Care” or “I notice” or “How Can I Help?” Crucially: after you ask a question, listen.  

Give Kids Tools to Take Control

Child trauma experts at the Child Trends and the Child Trauma Training Center at the University of Massachusetts say having a sense of control is important in times of fear. Children can do this by helping themselves:  

Parents can explain how and when to wash hands, why you should cough into your elbow and why it is important to keep a distance away from others. Brain Pop‘s Coronavirus site for older kids can help with this message. It includes quizzes, extra readings and worksheets. 

Poster for Kids: Handwashing is your Superpower

If you have more technical questions about the virus, Boston Children’s Hospital offers a short video by Dr. Kristen Moffitt, an expert on infectious disease. The video, which addresses medical questions about the new coronavirus in babies and children, is suitable to share with late elementary students as well as middle and high school students.

What’s Age Appropriate?

The Parent Guide from the National Association of School Psychologists and the National Association of School Nurses includes examples of age appropriate conversations. They vary from simple explanations for elementary school students to helping direct high school students to reliable sources of information.

For more resources, visit Ed100.org.

Carol Kocivar is a children’s advocate and lives in the Westside. Feedback: kocivar@westsideobserver.com

March 2020

Forget the Oscars. The most inspiring and entertaining shows this month are student performances from schools throughout San Francisco.

The annual SFUSD Arts Festival — from March 21 to March 29 — celebrates student creativity in visual, literary, media, and performing arts.

You get a chance to see it live and in person at the Asian Art Museum in the Civic Center. Each day will feature different exhibits and performances.

Festival poster

To find out what’s on the event calendar, just go to the 2020 SFUSD Arts Festival web site to find festival highlights and a daily calendar.

There is nothing better than seeing children in live performance. And even if it is not your own child, there is that palpable sense of pride and excitement to watch the culmination of hard work and practice and engagement.

San Francisco is a leader in arts education. From its ground breaking Arts Master Plan to this annual festival, community understanding that the arts are essential to learning is a core value of San Francisco public schools.

Here are a couple more arts celebrations to put on your calendar:

7th Annual Mariachi Festival March 19 • 6:00 - 8:00 pm Mission HS. This special concert of mariachi and ballet folklórico celebrates the 7th year of the mariachi program in San Francisco Unified School District. This special concert will be presented in the beautiful Mission High School Auditorium. Special guests include local favorites Folklórico Cuicacalli.

Ruth Asawa School of the Arts

There are a variety of student performance and exhibits. Just check out their web site Box Office.

Lowell High School

The musical Into the Woods will be performed Thursday, March 19, to Sunday March 22nd.

Carol Kocivar is a children’s advocate and lives in the Westside. Feedback: kocivar@westsideobserver.com

February 2020

Things I Need To Work On For The New Year.

Hello, Nice to Meet you.

The other day I was introduced to someone I had never met before. At least, I thought I had never met her. So I said what I always say,” Hi, nice to meet you.”

She laughed and said we had sat next to each other at a meeting. Busted again.

I am terrible at remembering names. Ah…in my semi state of embarrassment, I quickly tried to use a mental trick. People always say that you can remember better if you put it to music. So now she is “I dream of _______ with the dark brown hair.” I still don’t need to use this mnemonic for my husband but if I did it would be “Terry Terry bo berry, Fee-fi-mo-merry. Terry!”


If it is an entirely HUGE parking facility, I take a picture of the car and the number so I can find it. Yes, I really do. But starting next year, I am using my phone’s find my car map which magically will help.”

I know I parked the car somewhere

packed parking lot
Photo: driversed.com.

I am terrible with cars. I can’t tell one car from the other.

I have a friend who picks me up regularly to go swimming. Same car. Every time. Is it blue? Black? Electric? Thank goodness she has the common sense to park in front of my house so I have a clue..

This car disability gets even worse in large parking lots. I have my tricks. It is not a coincidence that I always FOLLOW my friend or my husband back to where they parked the car.

Goodness, what if I am alone in a strange place? If it is an entirely HUGE parking facility, I take a picture of the car and the number so I can find it. Yes, I really do. But starting next year, I am using my phone’s find my car map which magically will help. (Sort of reassuring that I am not the only one with this problem.)

Read a Good Book Lately?

On My Bookshelf

I am a book club drop out. I tried, I really tried. But I flunked Book Club 101. I like the food and the social aspect but I am totally unable to have a serious discussion analyzing the nuances of a book with others. Could it be I was an English major? Could my failure to buy the book in time have anything to do with this. Hardly likely.

But this does not stop me from reading new books and even sharing books with friends. My most recent strategy: I listen carefully to what book friends recommend and immediately reserve it ON THE SPOT using the LIBBY app on my phone. This clever APP connects to the public library. Throughout the year I get these wonderful notices that the book I reserved is now ready to download—for free.

One other trick. Look at the window of BOOKSHOP West Portal. They always have great recommendations. Then pop in and buy one. Nice to support our local bookstore!

One More Thing to Work on For the New Year.

Don’t forget to say thanks. Sometimes we are too busy, too impatient. Too Too Too.

I remember once losing it completely at an airport after a multi-hour delay. The first words out of my mouth fell far short of “Thanks for trying to sort this out.”

To those folks who serve you at Peets. Thanks! To the instructor at the Y. Thanks.

Let’s try to restore more civility to a world torn apart.

Oh….. Thanks for reading this!

Children’s advocate Carol Kocivar lives in the Westside: kocivar@westsideobserver.com

December 2019

Quid Pro Quo and Other Things I Learned in School

I can remember my mother urging me to learn Latin when I was in high school. Latin! It would help me with my bona fides. Not to mention I might graduate cum laude. Etc. etc.

Thanks, mom, for the nudge.

My two years of high school Latin have come in handy in recent days. One of my favorite Latin phrases is Quid Pro Quo. A favor for a favor.

As in …. You dig up dirt on my political rival and I will give you what you want.

Quid (Blankety Blank!) Pro Quo.

Now that’s not the original Latin version. It’s the modern American translation when the Quid and the Quo turn out to be something Really Big. Like when the White House releases a summary of a telephone conversation with a foreign government and a US diplomat interprets what happened as withholding security assistance in exchange for investigating a political rival.

Quid (Blankety Blank!) Pro Quo.

It’s sort of like saying, “Russia, if you are listening, I hope you can find the 30,000 emails that are missing.”

Quid (Blankety Blank!) Pro Quo.

It’s like the acting White House chief of staff saying the President withheld military aid to pressure Ukraine to investigate the 2016 election and then walks back the statement.

Quid (Blankety Blank!) Pro Quo.

It’s like the president suggesting to China that they investigate a political rival during trade negotiations.

Quid (Blankety Blank!) Pro Quo.

Here is another timely Latin word: Emolument.

It is from Emolumentum meaning profit or gain. Our Constitution prohibits the President from profiting from his office. This is such a big deal they put it in twice.

• “The Foreign Emoluments Clause “[N]o Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under [the United States], shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.” (art. I, § 9, cl. 8)

• “The Domestic Emoluments Clause “The President shall, at stated Times, receive for his Services, a Compensation which shall neither be increased nor diminished during the Period for which he shall have been elected, and he shall not receive within that Period any other Emolument from the United States, or any of them.” (art. II, § 1, cl. 7)

The word “emolument” originally was used to describe payments for grinding corn— from the Latin Emolere meaning “grind out.” I am not touching that definition.

Now ask yourself:

What if the United States asked the G7 to meet at the President’s hotel resort for a summit. What if the US air force increased stop-over flights to Scotland and folks on those planes just happen to stay at the President’s resort.

Emoluments. Emoluments.

Now there are other Latin phrases we also can put to good use these days.

Ad nauseum. This would be an unending repetition of the Quid (Blankety Blank!) Pro Quo and Emoluments.

Mea Culpa. Not likely to be part of this national debate but it is a nice little phrase for kids to learn so they can use it when they grow up. “I’m sorry. It was my fault.”

Impeach. Impeachcomes from the Latinimpedicare, meaning “catch, entangle.”

And why are people considering this?

Pro Bono—for the public good.

One moreLatin phrase:

Qui tacet consentire videtur. He who is silent appears to consent.

Children’s advocate Carol Kocivar lives in the Westside: kocivar@westsideobserver.com

November 2019

Don’t Be Juuled.

Here is a short quiz that tests your analytical abilities.


Imagine a company whose mission is “to improve the lives of the world’s one billion adult smokers by eliminating cigarettes”. Now guess who owns a big stake in this company?

A. Healthy California

B. One of the world’s largest producers and marketers of tobacco, cigarettes and related products.

If you guessed “Healthy California”, you’ve been Juuled.

Ready for another one?

Now imagine a campaign promising to “stop youth vaping” in San Francisco—with ads like this:

Who is a major funder?

A. Healthy California

B. A vaping company whose stockholders include some of the world’s largest producers and marketers of tobacco, cigarettes and related products?

If you picked “Healthy California”, you’ve been Juuled—again.

Do you see a pattern here?

Now we come to the serious part. There really is a measure on the San Francisco ballot on vaping.

And guess who is pouring millions of dollars into the YES campaign? That San Francisco based vaping company owned in large part by big tobacco.

While lots of funding is coming from Juul, you wouldn’t know it from reading the proponent’s argument in the ballot pamphlet.

Who signed the proponents’ ballot argument? Not Juul. It is signed by that well known organization, the “Coalition for Reasonable Vaping Regulation, Including Neighborhood Grocers”, a committee created to support Prop. C.

Hmmm. Wonder why.

You need to read the footnotes in the ballot pamphlet to find out what is really happening.

Paid Argument IN FAVOR of Proposition C

Over and over it says:

No on C ad
No on C disclaimer.

So just one more question:

How would you vote if you were knew:

Proposition C is funded by Juul

Proposition C is opposed by the American Heart Association, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network Tobacco-Free Kids Action Fund, San Francisco-Marin Medical Society, Mayor London Breed.

Don’t be Juuled. Here is my vote:

No on C ad.
My vote


Children’s advocate Carol Kocivar lives in the Westside: kocivar@westsideobserver.com

October 2019

Some Things Never Change

I am about to go visit my grandson to celebrate a 5th birthday! That means finding just the right present for the smartest, cutest, most adorable little boy. (Oops, excuse me. My grandma thoughts just squirted out on the printed page.)

Let me start again. That means finding just the right present for a five year old. For fun, I did a web search on what is popular with the 5 year old crowd. Yes, people can still make a meal out of articles like “The Best Gifts for 5-Year-Olds, According to Child Psychologists.”

What’s a bit fascinating is that these lists are not much different from the list I made for my children when they were five years old. In fact, I still have the gazillion legos I gave to my kids years ago, and the books I couldn’t part with when the children grew up and left for homes of their own.


Once I make up my mind on a present, I support our local stores. Sorry Amazon, I don’t shop on line.”

I still keep a supply of these in our back room: board games, jump ropes, rubber balls, soccer balls, basketballs.

Anything that I ever bought that required electronics, batteries, or slime has disappeared. I take that as a message not to repeat expensive mistakes.

I am leaning towards my most favorite gift of all: New crayons and markers along with a nice pad of paper where all the creativity can find a safe home.

And it’s not just because I want to use the new markers. (Well, there is a little truth to that….)

What I like best about this kind of present is that it’s something I can do with my grandson. We can go outside and look at nature and try to create what we see. We can talk about his favorite colors and favorite activities and capture that in a picture. We can use this to talk about feelings and what they might look like. Or superpowers or friendships or what it looks like to be nice to someone.

Once I make up my mind on a present, I support our local stores. Sorry Amazon, I don’t shop on line.

That means a trip to Growing Up Arts and Crafts in West Portal—where I bought these same things for my kids years ago. I look at all the marker and crayon possibilities. I run my fingers over the drawing pads to judge the quality of the paper.

To top off my shopping, I head to the children’s section of Bookshop West Portal, our local independent book store. I wedge myself between antsy three year olds and let my eyes travel through the selections on trains and buses and anything that moves—but mostly trains.

I can’t let a birthday go by without at least one book to snuggle up with.

Children’s advocate Carol Kocivar lives in the Westside: kocivar@westsideobserver.com

September 2019

Schools and Money: Some Basics

There is a loud chorus of advocates calling for more money for schools. And rightly so. Even with the largest education budget in the history, local schools are struggling to keep afloat. The reasons are many.

California is Expensive

Just in case you haven’t noticed, it is VERY expensive to live in California. That means our education dollars don’t go as far as dollars spent in less expensive states.

Let’s do the math. If you have $300,000 dollars in your budget for teachers, how many can you hire? If the going rate is $50,000, then you hire 6. Or maybe you hire 4 teachers and also hire a librarian and a counselor.

But what if it costs $100,000 for each teacher including benefits? Then you can only hire 3. No librarian and no counselor.

That’s happening in lots of schools. Most of our education dollars pay for people.

As a result, we have among the largest class sizes, the fewest nurses, counselors, librarians, social workers, arts teachers, special education teachers and on and on.

Adjusted for cost of living, per pupil spending is among the lowest in the nation.


...we have among the largest class sizes, the fewest nurses, counselors, librarians, social workers, arts teachers, special education teachers and on and on. ”

There are other cost pressures, too.

One of them is pensions. California teachers don’t get social security. Instead, school districts, the state and the teachers pay into a plan to help teachers in retirement. Years ago, that worked out just fine as pension investments grew, and the number of teachers paying into the pension supported the teachers who were retiring.

No longer. (Remember the stock market collapse and near zero interest rates? And oh yes, retired teachers are living longer.)

To keep the system from going bust, California had to re-calculate how to pay for retired teachers and other staff to make up for these shortfalls. That means local school districts now pay a lot more money to support these pensions. The chart below from the California Legislative Analyst shows how much this has grown. In just 7 years, those costs have gone from about $3 billion to nearly $10 billion. BILLION.

This means that despite schools getting more money, education expenses are growing in this area at a faster clip. The result: less money for other important education investments.

A Perspective on Teacher Costs

Teacher weekly pay is LESS than workers with comparable education. Nationally, teachers on average earn 21.4 % less than comparable college grads. What about California where we pay teachers a bit more because of the high cost of living? The gap is still large: 16.5% Charts shows a steady decline in weekly pay over 40 years.

So, what about health care and pensions? Don’t they move teacher compensation to a number above other professionals? Nope. Below is one more chart that shows you the numbers. Even when you take account of those benefits, total compensation is still much less.

“Benefits” refers to the employer costs for health and life insurance, retirement plans, and payroll taxes.

The economics of low teacher pay.

There is a bit of an economic equation going on here. If you can’t pay teachers comparable wages, teaching becomes a less attractive career option. Put bluntly: We have a severe teacher shortage. High quality teachers are the key strategy for student success.

The Debate Over Education Funding

We will hear lots more about education funding in the coming year as a 2020 election looms.

One initiative has qualified for the ballot, the Schools and Communities First proposal that will reform Proposition 13 and raise about $4 billion dollars for schools per year.

Also, in the works, but not yet fleshed out, is an initiative for “Full and Fair Funding” to bring California school funding from the basement to the top 10 states.

I predict someone will argue, “We don’t need any more money. We are spending more than ever before on education!”

When that happens, you’ve now got some data that explains why “more money than ever before” is an empty argument. California still lags the nation in supporting our schools and our children. More to come.

Children’s advocate Carol Kocivar lives in the Westside: kocivar@westsideobserver.com

JULY 2019

You are what you … READ.

Here is a quick quiz. Which of the following books have you shared with your children?

• Where the Wild Things Are

• The Cat in the Hat

• The Very Hungry Caterpillar

• Little House on the Prairie

Chances are you have read all of these best sellers. In fact, they are on the New York Public Libraries list of 100 Great Children’s Books.


Do the children and families in our books reflect the broad diversity of our community? Our state? Our world? Do they help our children understand the common human values that can transcend today’s fractured and divided world?”

Now here is another list. Which of these books have your shared with your children?

• Chef Roy Choi and the Street Food Remix

• Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag

• United States v. Jackie Robinson

• ¡Vamos! Let’s Go to the Market

These books are recommended by the librarians of SFUSD and the San Francisco Public Library and reflect the diverse world in which our children live. I have to confess I have read ALL of the books on the first list and NONE of the books on the second list. My bet is I am not alone.

I recently heard California Teacher of the Year Rosie Reid make what I think is an important observation about reading. While our schools are moving to more diverse reading selections, it is important to embrace this at home.

In many ways, we are what we read.

Whether it is the grit of The Little Engine that Could, to books that show how girls can grow up to be anything they want to be, we help shape their future with every book we read.

This can, and should, be intentional. Do the children and families in our books reflect the broad diversity of our community? Our state? Our world? Do they help our children understand the common human values that can transcend today’s fractured and divided world?

Here is a gentle suggestion. Instead of picking up that well-loved book you want to share with your children, add a few new titles to your reading menu.

There are loads of ways to get started.

Your local bookstore can give you lots of suggestions. (This is my plug for my local book store: Bookshop West Portal.)

Try the summer reading list from the San Francisco Public Library with tips from Pre-K to 12th grade. SFUSD Reading List (PDF)

The San Francisco Public Library, in partnership with Soar with Reading, has installed vending machines that dispense brand new, free books for kids age 0–14. New book titles will be available every 2 weeks throughout the summer. Visit the library, choose some books, and build your own library at home with great books to keep forever. 

Learn even more through Summer Stride. This is the San Francisco Library’s annual summer learning, reading and exploration program for all ages and abilities with over 1,000 free events.

Pick up a Summer Stride Guide, packed full of our summer programs, at any branch library or the Main Library,

Children’s advocate Carol Kocivar lives in the Westside: kocivar@westsideobserver.com

JUNE 2019

What’s Happening to Charter Schools?

Since 1992, when charter schools were first created in California, the laws have been revised and updated many times. This year’s legislative debate over charter schools has sparked lots of emotion, with hundreds of advocates clogging the capitol to speak for and against new charter school rules.

These intense disagreements have an important political context. The future of charter schools was a big issue in the 2018 election for both the offices of Superintendent of Public Instruction and Governor.


…growth of charter schools adds to the financial strains facing school districts. Taken together, the election and the strikes have intensified the rhetoric about charter school policy.”

Charter school advocates spent millions supporting candidates that lost. The candidates that won, Tony Thurmond and Gavin Newsom, were strongly supported by the teachers’ unions. An additional political element in the debate is the impact of the teacher strikes in Los Angeles and Oakland. Part of their message was to draw attention to the fact that growth of charter schools adds to the financial strains facing school districts. Taken together, the election and the strikes have intensified the rhetoric about charter school policy.

Elections Count

California’s prior Governor, Jerry Brown, was a big supporter of charter schools and resisted attempts to put more restrictions on these schools. Governor Newsom has a different perspective. He started his term with two swift actions: a charter school task force and an accountability bill.

He requested Superintendent Thurmond convene a group of experts to closely examine the impact of charter school growth on district budgets. He also signed SB 126 which requires board members of charter schools, an entity that manages a charter school, and a school district have similar accountability, transparency, and conflict of interest policies.

Charter School Law Needs Fixing: People Disagree on how

A multitude of reports, from the Little Hoover Commission to the California County Superintendents to the California School Boards Association identify dysfunction in the system and make differing recommendations to fix this. Now we have four major bills in the legislature with suggested fixes. These bills look at charter school caps, moratoriums, and increasing the power of local school districts to decide whether to permit them. There is a clear contrast in each side’s view of changes.

Proponents say: A concerned group of lawmakers, educators, administrators, civil right organizations and classified personnel have come together to address many of the issues surrounding California charter schools by fixing the laws governing charter schools that have negatively impacted students attending neighborhood public schools.

These common-sense measures will empower local communities to decide whether charter schools are the right choice for their students. Placing decision-making powers back in the hands of local communities will mean more accountability and better outcomes for all of our students. The California Teachers Assn. and California Federation of Teachers

Opponents say: “Organizations hostile to charter schools are running a package of legislation that would fundamentally gut the charter schools act. These bills would create an effective moratorium on charter public schools by removing appeal rights, severely limiting new schools, and allowing school districts to close successful schools that are serving hundreds of thousands of students statewide for any reason. Charter schools are not the problem, we are part of the solution.” The California Charter School Association

A Closer Look at the Proposed Legislation

AB 1505 gives more power to local school districts to decide whether to grant a charter school.

AB 1506 establishes a cap on the number of charter schools at the state/local level.

AB 1507 deletes the authority of a charter school to locate outside the jurisdiction or geographic boundaries of the chartering school district.

SB 756 creates a moratorium on new charter schools to provide time to reconsider whether our regulatory framework for charter schools is working and reflective of our values. It would ask the Legislative Analyst’s office to evaluate the effects. The charter school moratorium would be enacted only if the changes to the law reflected in the bills above are not adopted.

What’s Next?

These bills will be debated in the Assembly and the Senate and if passed will then go to the Governor for his final decision. During that time, the Charter School Task Force will present its report. Watch to see if the report influences the final language in the bills.

Children’s advocate Carol Kocivar lives in the Westside: kocivar@westsideobserver.com

MAY 2019

California’s 100 Best Public High Schools!

Every year lists come out touting the 100 “best” high schools in California. Be wary. Any time someone creates a list of the “best”, it’s good to ask a basic question. In this case, that question is: the “best” at what?”

• The best at getting kids into elite colleges?

• The best at educating kids who are poor?

• Educating kids with special needs?

• Educating kids whose parents went to college?

• The best at educating affluent students?

Let’s Look at the top schools

The chart below drills down to look at the “best” schools on two major lists. I call them School A and School B. That’s right. These lists chose very different schools. (The schools go nameless because these lists should not confer bragging rights.)


Both schools show academic excellence. No quibbling that the kids do very well. But each list uses different selection criteria. This makes a big difference in which schools are picked as “best”.

List A scores 60 per cent for academics and 10 per cent for diversity.

List B factors in the percentages of economically disadvantaged students – who tend to score lower – identifying schools performing better than expectations.

Compare these schools. Now, ask yourself: What are these schools “best” at?

The data is from the 2017-2018 Account-

ability Report Cards for each school.

We are Number One!

So, what did you see? First off, it’s pretty clear these number one “best” schools don’t come close to reflecting the diversity of students in California schools. They represent a thin slice of schools that include very few English Learners, low income students or children with special needs. In other words, their demographics reflect students with the fewest learning challenges.

School A appears to be best at educating mostly affluent white and Asian students fluent in English with very few disabilities.

School B appears to be best at educating both affluent and low-income students who are mostly Asian and Hispanic and are fluent in English with very few disabilities.

Looking Lower on the Lists

Here are some other high schools in San Francisco lower down on the lists. I call them schools C, D, E, F, and G. (They are real schools. My kids went to one of them.)

Let’s compare how they ranked on the lists. Is there a correlation between the lists? Bottom line: Not much. The pattern though is that List B gives significantly higher rankings to schools with larger numbers of low-income students who do well. These schools more closely reflect the diversity of students in California.

The income data is from the 2017-2018 Accountability Reports for each school.

What did we learn?

First, look carefully at how schools are measured. This goes beyond great test scores and graduation rates and teachers. Who are they teaching? Are the best schools:

• Those that primarily educate wealthy students with no significant learning challenges?

• Those that help both affluent and low-income students succeed?

Or are some of the best schools omitted from these lists because the metrics simply don’t pick up their success? For example, what if a school is great at helping kids who have suffered trauma? What if a school is great at helping kids with special needs?

A Better way to measure success

One key indicator of success is improving performance over time. How well does it move the needle? It’s clear that affluent students start out with a head start. Is a school the “best” because it maintains that lead? (e.g., strong academics, but the school meets just the minimum expectations of a year’s worth of improvement every year.)

What if a school shows greater student growth but the academic results are not as high? (For example, a school with lots of low-income kids with student performance that grows significantly— more than a year each year.)

Which school is more successful?

For a good picture of performance over time, look at California’s School Dashboard. Not only does it look at growth, but it also looks to see how each group of students is progressing. It has done away with the WE ARE NUMBER ONE! mentality

What good are these lists?

These lists certainly measure strong academic success. But they also infer, even if it unintentionally, that a school not ranked high enough on the list is not really very good. Yes, they include multiple factors in coming up with a number, but in the end, they still equate a school with a single number.

How can you use this information? The next time someone tells you how well their school did on one of these lists, first, congratulate the students, teachers and parents. It takes a lot of work to achieve the academic excellence reflected on these lists. But then, you might take a moment to discuss what these lists really measure and what they leave out.

Carol Kocivar is a children’s advocate and lives in the Westside. Feedback: kocivar@westsideobserver.com

April 2019

Should Your School Start Later?

I can say with scientific accuracy that teenagers stay up late and struggle to get out of bed in the morning. While my research was limited to the two kids in my house over a six-year period, it is corroborated by every parent with teenagers I know. Argh. So why do some high schools start at 7:30 in the morning?


As children progress into their teenage years ... These changes reflect a delayed circadian rhythm that contributes to later sleep onset and later morning awakening, with teenagers typically struggling to fall asleep before 11 pm.

It turns out there is a lot of real scientific study on teenage sleep. When kids reach puberty, their bodies are wired differently. The folks at the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Center for Disease Control recommend that middle and high schools start at 8:30 a.m. or later to give students the sleep they need.

According to The American Academy of Sleep Medicine, “As children progress into their teenage years, they experience delayed patterns of melatonin secretion and a slower buildup of homeostatic sleep pressure during wakefulness. These changes reflect a delayed circadian rhythm that contributes to later sleep onset and later morning awakening, with teenagers typically struggling to fall asleep before 11 pm.”

That’s real science.

The AASM recommends that teenagers 13 to 18 should sleep 8 to 10 hours per 24 hours on a regular basis to promote optimal health…” They cite studies that show that adolescents who do not get enough sleep are more likely to:

• Be overweight.

• Not engage in daily physical activity.

• Suffer from symptoms of depression.

• Engage in unhealthy risk behaviors such as drinking, smoking tobacco, and using illicit drugs.

• Perform poorly in school.

Sleep Deprivation is an Epidemic

Stanford Medicine calls this sleep deprivation an epidemic. “It increases the likelihood teens will suffer myriad negative consequences, including an inability to concentrate, poor grades, drowsy-driving incidents, anxiety, depression, thoughts of suicide and even suicide attempts.” Now that’s not good news.

If you snooze you ... win

Many school districts individually have moved to later start times, most recently Seattle, which found an improvement in grades and a reduction in tardiness and absences.

Will California Change Middle and High School Start Times?

One of the big debates in the legislature this year is whether California be the first state in the nation to follow the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Center for Disease Control and require later school start times for middle and high school.

Last year, an attempt to move middle and high school start times to no earlier than 8:30 failed. The legislature said “Yes” but the Governor said, “No.” The bill died.

The debate

The battle over later school start times pits groups—who normally work together— against each other.

Supporters A long list of medical experts and children’s advocates support a statewide rule that middle and high school start times of no earlier than 8:30. They rely on overwhelming research that finds later school start times support the health, safety and academic success of students—big time. Their contention is that this science applies to kids wherever they live, not sorted by school district. They argue the health risks of sleep deprivation are like other statewide risks such as lead in the water or sugary drinks. You would not leave each local community to individually decide these risks

Opposition Those opposed—the California Teachers Association and the California School Boards Association—say these kinds of decisions should be made by local communities—not by a statewide law. For them, it is not a disagreement about the science but about local control. Their argument is that changing start times is complicated, involving bus schedules and teaching time and local community needs and athletics and a host of other issues, including money.

Governor Brown’s opposition to the proposed law was not a surprise. His signature education reform, the Local Control Funding Formula was all about —you guessed it— local control.

In returning the bill unsigned, the Governor said:

“This is a one-size-fits-all approach that is opposed by teachers and school boards. Several schools have already moved to later start times. Others prefer beginning the school day earlier. These are the types of decisions best handled in the local community.”.

Senator Anthony Portantino, author of the bill, characterized last year’s defeat as “Science lost to the status quo” and vowed to bring it back. Thanking a long list of supporters, including the California PTA, the Start School Later coalition, the California Federation of Teachers, California Police Chiefs Association, American Academy of Pediatrics and the California Medical Association, he said:

“They put the best interest of our children at the forefront of this public policy and public health crisis. They embraced 3 decades of health science and hard data that unequivocally substantiates the need for this.”

This year, the bill, SB 328, is back. A new governor and newly elected legislators will get a chance to decide the issue again.

What do you think?

Carol Kocivar is a children’s advocate and lives in the Westside. Feedback: kocivar@westsideobserver.com

March 2019

Click here for older columns by Carol Kocivar (Please view on desktop computer for best experience while we convert our older files to mobile).