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Carol Kocivar ON EDUCATION

Learning Graphic

Learning from Mistakes

Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha, Rosh Hashanah, and Christmas

Carol Kocivar
Carol Kocivar

•••••••••• September 27, 2022 ••••••••••

One of the best ways to learn is from your mistakes.

The San Francisco School Board just had a learning experience. Here’s what happened:

In August, the school board voted to create two new Muslim school holidays.

  1.  Eid al-Fit, a Muslim holiday that marks the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
  2.  Eid al-Adha, the holiday that marks the end of Hajj, the Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca, which is one of the five pillars of Islam.

Recognition of these holidays had been urged by active, articulate students for more than a year.

Then, in September, after a complaint that the board action violated not only the notice requirements of the Brown Act but also the US and California Constitutions,
the board voted for a “do over.”  It voted to establish a calendering process that supports students who wish to honor their cultural commitments. This put the two proposed Muslim holidays on ‘hold.’  It did not rescind them. Whether they will be implemented depends on future decisions.

quotes

Nevertheless, Le”

Background

For months, the school board has been studying the principles of good board governance. These include fair processes and concern for the financial well-being of the district.

Only one board member voted against the initial resolution: Ann Hsu. At that time, she reminded the Board of its obligations to have a good process for creating school holidays and expressed concerns over costs.

Nevertheless, the school board, which is committed to equity and inclusion and listening to student voices, voted to create these Muslim holidays. The threat of a costly lawsuit then forced the school board to reconsider.

The September resolution prompted emotional protests and charges of Islamophobia. Students were angry…very angry… that the holidays they had worked so hard to create were at risk.

Lessons Learned

Serving on a school board is not a piece of cake. Board members often must decide among conflicting, emotional priorities. They must weigh the importance of political influences and good governance.

No one wants to say “No” to student wishes. No one wants to be accused of favoring one group over another. No one wants to be accused of favoring one religion over another.

That’s where adhering to a uniform process comes in. That’s where following the rules of required meeting notices comes in. That is where adhering to the basic principles of our constitution comes in.

  1. The California Constitution Article I - Declaration of Rights Section 4 says:
    Free exercise and enjoyment of religion without discrimination or preference are guaranteed.
  2. The first Amendment to the US constitution says:
    Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...

When a board resolution even hints at the issue of separation of church and state, school board members should ask legal counsel whether it may violate the law or risk legal action. They should ask if there is another way of honoring this request that does not run this risk.

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

September 27, 2022

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Math-chalk

Solving California's math problem

Carol Kocivar
Carol Kocivar

•••••••••• September 6, 2022 ••••••••••

Imagine you have to solve the following problem:

You have three cars filled with 8th grade math students and the college or career of their choice is 50 miles away.

  • Car A has 1 student who is beyond basic proficiency standards in math.
  • Car B has 2 students who more or less meet proficiency standards in math.
  • Car C has 7 students who are not yet meeting proficiency standards in math.

All the cars need to go at different speeds and take different paths to reach the math proficiency levels needed for their unique college and career destinations.

Essay question:

What needs to be done to provide all students with math opportunities that meet their academic potential to help them get to their college and career goals?

This is the issue drafters of California’s math frameworks face.

What is a curriculum framework?

Many, many people are involved in the important work of creating textbooks, tests, lesson plans and other educational materials. As students advance from one class to another it’s important for these materials to align with one another — and that doesn’t happen by accident.

Curriculum frameworks help educational leaders, publishers and educators harmonize their work with California’s standards, the expectations of what students should understand and be able to do as they advance. A curriculum framework is sometimes compared to a roadmap — it helps you find your way to a destination without necessarily telling you exactly how to get there.

Frameworks are meant to address how content standards can meet the needs of the broadest range of students possible, making math both rigorous and accessible. They also provide research and guidance to help schools make the best local decisions that expand math options and improve math outcomes for all students.

California’s math frameworks are in review

California’s math frameworks are in the process of a contentious revision. After several rewrites and delays, the frameworks are expected to reach the State Board of Education for approval in 2023.

The drafters of the frameworks are especially interested in solutions that support students who historically have not done well in math. An aim is to respond to the “structural barriers …[to] mathematics success: equity influences all aspects of this document.”

The frameworks incorporate equity-based teaching strategies and the use of what it calls BIG ideas and connections. The framework recommends teaching BIG ideas that allow teachers and students to explore key concepts in depth, through investigations.

What’s the right level of rigor?

Some math experts have expressed concern that the proposals do not contain enough rigor and clear pathways to higher-level math. The frameworks propose a new high school pathway called data science. In public comment, some experts expressed concern that the draft framework leaves students mathematically unprepared for any STEM major.

Nearly 1,800 STEM professionals signed an open letter to the State Board of Education warning that “Reducing access to advanced mathematics and elevating trendy but shallow courses over foundational skills would cause lasting damage to STEM education in the country and exacerbate inequality by diminishing access to the skills needed for social mobility.”

Many California students are not proficient in math

California students are all over the place in their levels of math achievement.

About 30% of 8th grade students in the state (mostly Asian, Filipino and White) meet or exceed grade-level proficiency in math. About 70% of students (predominantly students of color) have not yet reached grade-level proficiency in math. Few African American and Hispanic students end up taking the most advanced AP courses.

The table below (from a report by PACE) shows 12th grade math course participation by ethnicity.

math Chart

A math problem within a math problem

Different college courses of study and career pathways require different paths of study. Some students will need five years' worth of math courses to acquire the skills they will need to pursue STEM majors and STEM careers. But high school only lasts four years. For this reason, the California Department of Education recommends different possible math sequences depending on a student’s interests and motivations.

The table below shows the possible math sequences based on the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics.

Math Model

The California Department of Education, like most state departments of education in the U.S., recognizes two primary pathways through high school math requirements. Each of these two pathways can be further compacted for students who wish to accelerate in math. Students need to be prepared to do additional work in order to compact the additional year(s)’ worth of math content into the given number of years available in high school.

Math Pathways

Note: Most schools do not provide early middle school compacted pathways that accelerate learning. This requires students to double-up on math courses in high school or take summer programs that squeeze in a full year’s worth of math.

Accelerated math and tracking.

The proposed, revised math framework has “strong reservations against traditional tracking in the early grades.” The philosophy: High-level content should not be allocated to small numbers of students and denied to most others. Schools should offer high level mathematics in a variety of ways to all students.

These proposed frameworks concentrate on describing alternatives to traditional tracking that are aimed particularly at the needs of students who have not historically done well in math. See Appendix A: High School Pathways of California’s Common Core State Standards for Mathematics.

Graduation and college entrance requirements for math

California has several stages of math requirements that strongly influence student course choices: high school graduation requirements, university entrance requirements, and requirements for different STEM majors:

Math Requirements

The frameworks are not law. They are suggestions, but they matter. Educators are keenly aware that these suggestions will influence what a local school district provides. Curriculum and textbook companies know that aligning with the frameworks is the key to unlocking billions of dollars’ worth of sales and licensing business.

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

Reprinted with permission from Ed100.org

September, 2022

Strong Child

State budget helps schools recover

Carol Kocivar
Carol Kocivar

•••••••••• August 18, 2022 ••••••••••

There is an old saying that “budgets are a reflection of values.”

This is particularly true for the record-breaking 2022-23 California state budget, which helps schools and students recover from the pandemic. This budget demonstrates that California values the well-being of children, including their education.

The top-line takeaways of this budget are all good for kids:

  • School districts get significantly more money to work with.
  • Students most in need get extra support.
  • Counseling and mental health services are prioritized.
  • More learning time is supported in the summer and before and after-school.
  • Preschool programs and transitional kindergarten are expanded.
  • All students can get free meals.

The chart below shows how core funding per attending pupil has grown significantly over the last few years.

Prop 98 Funding Chart

California education budget basics

Funding for public K-12 education in California comes from three main sources: state income taxes, local property taxes, and the federal budget, in that order.

Property taxes that go toward education were more or less set in stone by the terms of Proposition 13. State income taxes that go toward education are strongly influenced by the economy, the stock market, and the terms of Proposition 98. Prop. 98 defines in law a minimum level of spending that the state is obligated to allocate to public education. The combination of expected property tax receipts for education and state funds for education are known as the Prop. 98 miminum funding guarantee.

quotes

At about $17,000 per student, California funding no longer lurks in the national basement.”

Fueled especially by the taxes paid by wealthy taxpayers who sold investments and pocketed a capital gain, the Prop. 98 budget for 2022-23 is $35.8 billion larger than last year.

In addition to the Prop. 98 sources, which are state and local, the federal government has also poured one-time money into education to address the challenges of the pandemic. According to the Governor’s summary of the enacted budget, total educational funding per student in attendance in 2022-23 will reach $22,893, of which $17,011 per student will come from the K-12 Proposition 98 General Fund.

Beyond this funding, the General Fund budget also includes $5.1 billion for K-12 school facilities, including new facilities for preschool and transitional kindergarten.

California no longer lurks in the basement of national school funding. The state is now probably in the middle of the pack, but no one really knows. Compararable data will take years to compile.

Local Control Funding Formula

Most Prop. 98 funding is distributed on the basis of student attendance, with adjustments based on need according to the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF). School districts, charter schools and county offices of education get additional funding to the extent they have relatively higher numbers of low income students, English learners, homeless and foster youth. (Jargon tip: school districts, charter schools and county offices of education are called LEAs. The acronym, which stands for local education agency, is pronounced as letters, not like the name of a Jedi princess.)

Every district (technically, every LEA) receives a base funding amount per student in attendance. The base varies a little by grade level. Added to that is supplemental funding based on the number of students with higher needs. Districts with a very high percentage of needy students get even more support through a concentration grant.

Below are the LCFF funding rates in the 2022-23 budget.

...

More than the cost of living adjustment (COLA)

In response to rising costs, the 2022-23 budget includes a 6.56% cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) that boosts LCFF funding. It’s the largest adjustment in the history of LCFF. Additionally, to help school districts and charter schools address ongoing fiscal pressures, staffing shortages, and other operational needs, the budget includes $4.32 billion of ongoing Proposition 98 money to increase the LCFF base funding by an additional 6.28 percent.

Yes, 6.56% plus 6.28% equals an increase in LCFF funding of almost 13%.

LCFF funding increase: nearly 13%

New this year, districts (LEAs) with very high concentrations of students with higher needs — above 55% — also receive an additional 65% of the base grant for those students. In prior years, it was 50% of the base grant.

Top ten education budget allocations

The table below shows the 10 largest education-related budget allocations, grouped by ongoing funding and one-time funding. Additional detail about them can be found in the following section. Because these are big numbers, it helps to think of the numbers in per-student terms. A billion-dollar budget item evenly spread across six million students is about $166 per student.

Ongoing funding typically is money from secure ongoing revenue. One-time funding, in comparison, is from revenue sources that are not stable, like unexpected increased tax revenue. The prudent rule is that one-time money should not be used in a way that creates obligations for ongoing expenses, such as hiring new teachers or bargaining salary increases.

Top Funding Increases

More about these investments

Budgets involve choices. The budget includes many specific investments based on strategies to help children and schools recover from the pandemic:

Expanded Learning. A multi-year plan provides for expanded-day, full-year instruction and enrichment for elementary school students, including before-school, after-school, and summer school programs. Beginning in 2023-24, local educational agencies will be required to offer expanded learning opportunities to all low-income studentsEnglish language learners, and youth in foster care. Local educational agencies with the highest concentrations of these students will be required to offer expanded learning opportunities to all elementary students.

The Learning Recovery Emergency Block Grant. This limited-time funding supports increased instructional learning time, closing learning gaps, health, counseling and mental health services, instruction for credit-deficient pupils, and academic services through the 2027-28 school year.

Financial help to address attendance and declining enrollment. In most states, funding for schools is based on the number of students enrolled in school. In California, funding for school districts and charter schools has been based on how many students attend. During the pandemic, attendance declined significantly, but unevenly. To soften the financial blow for school systems (LEAs), this budget allows them to claim funding on the basis of several years of average attendance data. They can choose which of several years attendance data provides the highest funding. There are also provisions to protect funding for classroom-based schools that provide documentation of independent study in 2021-22.

The Arts, Music, and Instructional Materials Discretionary Block Grant. This large one-time allocation can fund a variety of education needs, including arts and music programs, standards-aligned professional development, instructional materials, diverse book collections, operational costs, and expenses related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Community schools. Schools can do a lot more in partnership with their community than just teach. Community schools collaborate with other organizations to integrate health, mental health, and social services alongside high-quality, supportive instruction, with a strong focus on community, family, and student engagement. This funding targets schools serving children with the highest needs.

School meals. Regardless of income, school meals are now available for all students.

Early education. To include more students, transitional kindergarten (TK) eligibility is expanded by two months to include all children turning five between September 2 and February 2. TKs will add one additional staff person to every class, reducing student-to-adult ratios to more closely align with the State Preschool Program.

State Preschool Program. Funding is increased for state preschool programs to support students with disabilities, dual language learners, and childhood mental health challenges.

Special education. Funding for special education is increased and allocations are now based on needs at the school district level rather than at the regional level. Also, the budget provides funding to create resources on inclusionary practices for families and communities.

Career education. The Golden State Pathways Program supports programs focused on technology (including computer science, green technology, and engineering), health care, education (including early education), and climate-related fields.

Early literacy. Grants are available to high-need schools to train and hire Early Literacy coaches and reading specialists. There is also funding for a Books for Children Program.

We are in the process of updating the lessons in Ed100 to reflect these changes and others. The comment sections of many Ed100 lessons now contain updated 2022-23 budget data related to that lesson. For example, the comments in the special education lesson contain many details about 2022-23 funding.

Will funding for education fall?

As summarized above, many of the increases in the education budget have been crafted as “one-time” investments. Why? Because what goes up might come down. When the stock market falls, as it has in 2022, tax-generating capital gains reverse into tax-deductible capital losses. Many school boards are scrambling to load up their reserve funds to the extent allowed by law.

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

Reprinted with permission from Ed100.org

August 18, 2022

School Absence

Time to Shine a Brighter Light on SFUSD Chronic Absences

Carol Kocivar
Carol Kocivar

•••••••••• August 1, 2022 ••••••••••

There is one flashing red light that must not be ignored as San Francisco develops strategies to improve the City’s schools: Chronic Absences.

This may be an uncomfortable subject for many. But ignoring what may be the most basic issue of school—just showing up—means children won’t get a fair shot at life.

Before you can teach kids to read and do math, they need to show up. Chronic absences mean students don't show up… a lot.

Chronic absences include all absences– excused, unexcused, and suspensions. If you are absent for 10% or more of the days you are supposed to attend, you are chronically absent. That’s as few as two days a month!

 It is a big deal. This affects your grades, your high school graduation, and your future.

San Francisco: We’ve Got a Problem 

San Francisco’s chronic absenteeism rate in fall 2021-22 is in the stratosphere, especially for African American and Hispanic/Latino students. 

SFUSD Attendance
quotes

Children living in poverty are two to three times more likely to be chronically absent—and face the most harm because their community lacks the resources to make up for the lost learning in school.”

Chronic absences are not just a San Francisco problem or a California problem. Absences have increased dramatically throughout the nation since the start of the pandemic. According to the Los Angeles Times, nearly half of all students in LA Unified were chronically absent in 2021-22.

In California, measuring chronic absences began in 2013 with the introduction of the Local Control Funding Formula. Just looking at average daily attendance (ADA) rates can lull schools into thinking everything is OK when in fact, there are groups of students with very high absence rates. School districts are now required to dig deeper to find out why this is happening and develop strategies to support families, students, and schools.

Attendance Works reports that “Children living in poverty are two to three times more likely to be chronically absent—and face the most harm because their community lacks the resources to make up for the lost learning in school. Students from communities of color as well as those with disabilities are disproportionately affected.” Attendance Works has a wide range of research-based strategies that parents and school staff can use.

Chronic Absences and the Achievement Gap

What's behind the achievement gap? One factor is just not showing up at school. Lots of times, this is not the student's fault. Unstable housing, unreliable transportation, or health issues are among the causes. 

Parents may not realize that missing a day here and a day there can add up. Pretty soon, their child is chronically absent, suffering potential dire consequences for academic success. That is why strategies to address chronic absences must include a strong communication component to help parents understand what is at stake.

This is not a new problem for San Francisco. It has been brewing for years. It has only been exacerbated by the pandemic. 

It is time to take a closer look at what's happening in some of our schools and to determine what we can do to help. Some of the strategies may be easier than we think. Take this from a study Why September Matters: Improving Student Attendance:

  1. "Students who missed fewer than two days in September typically had good attendance rates for the entire year.
  2. Half the students who missed 2-4 days in September went on to miss a month or more of school.
  3. Nearly 9 out of 10 students who missed more than four days in September were chronically absent that year. These students missed an average of 70 days."

The takeaway:  Start looking on day one. Don't wait.
What’s happening in San Francisco? 
Here is pre-pandemic 2018-19 data that looks at academic performance at a group of SFUSD elementary schools. This date, 2018-19, was chosen because we can link chronic absenteeism to school performance. The data from the pandemic years is unreliable because many students did not participate in testing, and distance learning made it difficult to keep track.
Below we compare elementary schools because parents have greater responsibility to get their little ones to school.
A sample of schools—with large numbers of students living in poverty— were sorted by chronic absence rates. A comparison group of schools with lower poverty levels is also presented.
What do these sample schools show?

  1. Schools with high attendance have much better academic outcomes than those with low attendance.
  2. Asian students attending low-income schools have high attendance and high academic success.
  3. African American and Hispanic/Latino students have higher rates of chronic absences.
  4. Schools with less students living in poverty have better attendance and generally better academic outcomes for most students.

There are lots more detail in the charts below.

What’s Next?

SFUSD needs to reduce chronic absences. Significant efforts have been made over the last few years, especially the creation of the African American Achievement and Leadership Initiative (AAALI). But still, much more must be done. One important strategy is creating more community schools to support families and students.
In a school district struggling with political and racial tensions, chronic absenteeism can be a sensitive issue.
But sometimes difficult conversations are necessary. They can help our school board and our city develop strategies to ensure that more of our children show up at school and succeed.

SEE DATA TABLES BELOW

A: Asian   AA: African American L: Hispanic/Latino F: Filipino PI: Pacific Islander W: White

Some schools did not report data for all ethnic groups

Low-income school high attendance
Med Attendance Low-income school attendance
Low Attendance Low-income school attendance
Chart 5

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

August 1, 2022

Time Warped

How parents changed school start time in California

Carol Kocivar
Carol Kocivar

•••••••••• July 19, 2022 ••••••••••

Time for change

This year, California became the first state in the nation to require later school start times for high school and middle schools. Before the law became effective on July 1, 2022, local school districts could choose how early to start, say, 7 am. Now middle schools can’t start before 8 am and high schools before 8:30 am.

The law was passed because early school start times create significant health and academic risks for teens.

Early school start times created a teen health crisis

The movement for change began in 2016 with an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times by a parent and writer, Lisa Lewis. Her local high school in southern California started at 7:30 and she could see her son struggling to wake up each morning. He came home exhausted every afternoon.

Alarmed, Lisa dug in and discovered that early start times create serious health problems throughout California and the country.

The scientific research revealed a menu of scary data related to early start times that eventually woke up the parent community. The list includes mental health issues and suicide, traffic accidents, sports injuries, poor academic performance, and more.

The American Academy of Pediatrics found that schools were starting too early for the health and academic success of teens. The finding demanded later school start times. As a matter of health, middle schools and high schools should start no earlier than 8:30 a.m.

Sleep in Adolescents

A survey by the Center For Disease Control underscored the need for policy action: it showed that more than three-fourths of the nation’s middle and high schools started earlier than the recommended 8:30 a.m. start time.

Adolescent Rest Graphic

Later school start time bill introduced

Lisa’s op-ed, “Why school should start later in the day”, caught the eye of Senator Anthony Portantino. In 2017, he introduced a bill calling for the start times recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

And presto, the legislature stood up and cheered, education organizations like the California Teachers Association joined the movement, and the Governor signed the legislation. Right?

Not even close.

It took three years of advocacy by parents and sleep experts to get the bill across the finish line.

  • The first year, there were not enough votes to get it passed in the legislature.
  • The second year, Governor Brown vetoed the legislation, citing the opposition of the teachers and school boards.
  • The third year, the California State PTA made the bill its top priority and it was signed into law by Governor Newsom. It is now law.

Know the facts. Teen sleep: simplified

The biggest challenge: most people, including legislators, simply did not understand the science of sleep and the dangers of too little sleep. Just telling teens to go to bed earlier does not work. Their bodies are hard-wired with different sleep patterns by circadian rhythms that don’t listen to the admonitions of parents.

According to the Sleep Foundation, “Circadian rhythms are 24-hour cycles that are part of the body’s internal clock, running in the background to carry out essential functions and processes. One of the most important and well-known circadian rhythms is the sleep-wake cycle… This master clock is directly influenced by environmental cues, especially light, which is why circadian rhythms are tied to the cycle of day and night.”

Now YOU know.

Teen circadian rhythms mean they usually don’t fall asleep until between 11 and 12 at night. They need 8 to 10 hours of sleep.

Do the math. There is no way a teen can get enough sleep and be at school at 7:30.

Parents from Start School Later CA compiled a BIG book, literally several inches thick, containing the scientific research on teen sleep, that was distributed widely to legislators and parents.

California State PTA supports later school start times

One of the first things Senator Portantino did after introducing the bill was to reach out to the PTA. Then he accepted friendly amendments to the language in the bill to clarify and improve it. The state PTA recommended giving school districts a three-year “heads up” to allow time to adjust to the change. The bill passed in 2019 but would not go into effect until July 2022.

The PTA also requested that the bill clarify the official school start time did not include a zero period, the time students choose to participate in a school activity before the required start of school. This is frequently something like band practice or an optional class. (One legislator dove into a detailed discussion of zero period because he wanted to protect early morning surfing! You can’t make this up.) A school district is allowed to have an optional zero-period class or activity before the official start of the school day for a limited number of students. This does not count towards computing attendance.

Advocacy campaign for later school start times

Undaunted by failing to get the bill passed in the first legislative attempts, the California State PTA doubled down on its support. It joined with Start School Later, a non-profit organization, to co-sponsor SB328, and made changing school start time PTAs highest legislative priority. With hundreds of thousands of members throughout the state, PTA had the parent power to personally reach key legislators. To persuade legislators and the Governor, the PTA created a campaign to support later school start times:

Campaign for Time

PTA leaders prepared parents for visits with their local legislators and listened as parents practiced their personal stories of why later school times are important. They met with key legislators at the state capital in anticipation of committee votes. As key votes were underway, PTA reinforced its support. One legislator publicly announced support for the bill on the floor because the PTA had just contacted him.

Third time’s a charm

The mobilization of parents throughout California helped get later school start time passed into law. Parents know they need to be persistent in getting their children up, ready for school, and out the door. They used that same kind of persistence to remind their legislators of the serious academic and health risks of early school start time. The bill finally became law in its third legislative effort.

Lessons learned

Sleep Deprived Teen

Parents make a difference. The parents were all volunteers motivated by the belief that they could improve the health and academic success of children. This was not led by a team of paid lobbyists or financed by bundles of dark money. Real stories and real facts and real research make a difference.

Teamwork Matters. It took a combination of parents and medical sleep experts to convince the legislators and the Governor to support later school start times.

Expect Opposition. No matter how convinced you are of your position, anticipate opposition. This issue split education advocates that usually work together into opposing camps. Teachers and school board members on one side and parents on the other. Recognize there are honest differences of opinion.

Be ready to compromise for the good of the cause. Even though the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended an 8:30 start time for both middle school and high school, the final law has middle school starting at 8 am. That was a compromise to pass the legislation.

Serendipity helps, a lot. No one knew that there would be a pandemic and a mental health crisis and that the benefits of longer teen sleep would kick in just when our students need it the most.

The fight is not over. Inspired by the lead of California parents, other states are now considering changing their school start times, too.

To help more parents understand why teen sleep needs to be treated as an important issue, Lisa now has a book for parents and policymakers.

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

JULY 19, 2022

Superintendent Matthews

Supt Mathews: Cheap shots at Lowell do not improve the performance of African American/Black and Hispanic/Latinx students

Carol Kocivar
Carol Kocivar

There is a well-honed political strategy that many use when reason and analysis do not work. Call people names. I was deeply saddened to see the outgoing SFUSD Superintendent use this strategy in his final message to San Francisco.

Here is an example of how this strategy works:

First, identify common values that practically everyone agrees on:

Our schools should be inclusive

Second, identify something you do not agree with:

Lowell High School's academic based admission policy

Third, assert that people who disagree with you violate these common values:
People who support the Lowell academic-based admission policy are not inclusive (and, by implication "racist.")

Wow!

quote marks

A cheap shot at the academic-based school that highlights these failures does not solve the problem.”

This simplistic approach turns the discussion of how to improve academics in SFUSD into "us" vs ""them" and skips an important analysis of why so many students, particularly African American/Black and Hispanic/Latinx, are not proficient in English and math. This is not an aptitude or ability gap. These are adult failures, not student failures. We know these students are capable of so much more.

We need to be better than that.

Ensuring that ALL students succeed must be the most important goal for a superintendent. It must be incredibly disheartening to see at the end of your tenure that SFUSD students are among the worst-performing students in reading and math. Forty percent of 8th-grade students are not high school ready.

Rather than provide ideas and suggestions for improving student performance, the superintendent directs his attention to the admission policy at one high school. It is the one high school that shines a bright light on the district's failure to prepare all students.

California and San Francisco do have a dismal history of racism in education. There is both an opportunity gap and an achievement gap.

But the way to address this is to do the hard work of starting in preschool through K-12 by analyzing what needs to change in our teaching approach to support our children.

A cheap shot at the academic-based school that highlights these failures does not solve the problem.

African American and Hispanic/Latinx parents should be outraged that so many of their children are not proficient and focus their energy on demanding better preparation in in SFUSD schools.

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

JULY 5, 2022

Kids tugging a rope

Just because you say it often enough does not make it true.

Carol Kocivar
Carol Kocivar

Icontinue to be amazed by assertions people make that are just not true. Assertions, let me say, that are made for political points rather than accuracy. Assertions by people who really should know better.

Take the last SFUSD school board meeting on the admission policy for Lowell High School.

Over and over again I heard some people–including a school board member–call Lowell High school a “segregated school.” 

quote marks

I recognize that people are frustrated and spurt out the word “segregated” to make a point.

They are frustrated because SFUSD has failed to prepare all ethnicities for a rigorous academic high school. I am, too.”

That’s pretty high rhetoric for a school that is more diverse than most of the other high schools in San Francisco. 

San Francisco High School Ethnic Diversity Scores 2021

Ruth Asawa School of the Arts

64

The Academy

63

Independence High School

59

Burton

58

Balboa

53

Lowell

51

Wells

51

Lincoln

50

Galileo

46

Mission

45

Washington

45

Marshall

43

O’Connell

40

June Jordan

34

International

25


The term “segregated” usually implies that certain ethnicities are not allowed to enroll or that one group—say over 70 per cent–is predominant.

That’s certainly not true of Lowell.

California uses an ethnic diversity index that captures the ethnic balance at a school. A school with practically all students of one ethnicity gets a low score. The higher the score, the better the ethnic balance.  The chart shows that Lowell is more ethnically balanced than most other San Francisco high schools.

I recognize that people are frustrated and spurt out the word “segregated” to make a point.

They are frustrated because SFUSD has failed to prepare all ethnicities for a rigorous academic high school. I am, too.

There is a simplistic approach. Take the easy way out. Change the selective admission policy to a lottery and water-down a rigorous curriculum so less proficient students don't flunk out.

Or take the harder but more equitable approach.

Improve the proficiency of all students so all ethnicities have a chance to succeed. That’s real equity.

Let’s see how the school board votes this week.

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

JUNE 21, 2022

Kids Reading Books

Here’s hoping you have a summer filled with the wonder of books.

Carol Kocivar
Carol Kocivar

My best memories of summer are about books. And visits to the library. And spending lazy afternoons alone with my book and my imagination. My favorite books were the Wizard of Oz series.

I lived in a little town with a tiny library that had a complete set of the of the fantastically illustrated series. Each book was a special treasure that kept me dreaming for hours.

Wizard of Oz

One of the greatest discoveries when our family moved to West Portal was a library so close even our 3-year-old could walk to it! We would go to story hour and bring home bags of books. Thanks to the support of the wonderful librarians my children became avid engaged readers.

Fast forward a bit. It is with a huge inner smile that I see that my daughter did indeed learn a few things from me. Her children know their local library and now fill up their book bags with wonderful things to learn.

Which brings me to this important message. 

Our local West Portal library is filled with activities for families this summer. 

 Summer Stride is now underway with reading and exploration program for all ages and abilities.  Register on Beanstack or at the library to track your 20 hours of learning over the summer and earn a fantastic, finishing prize! Art by Minnie Phan.

Summer Stride

The in-person family story time is in the courtyard on Wednesdays at 11:30AM.  (Songs, stories, and giggles.)

 

Summer In the Courtyard Concert Series

May - September 4th Saturday of the Month, 1:00 - 1:45

  • June 25 - Classical Guitar with Josh DiChiacchio
  • July 23 - The SF GuZheng Music Society
  • August 27 - Music from Russia and Ukraine with Jonnie Pekelny & Lee Corbie-Wells
  • September 24 - The Del Sol String Quartet

 

Here’s hoping you have a summer filled with the wonder of books.

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

JUNE 2022

Lowell Student Action
Lowell students advocate for more programs Photo: The Lowell

Time for some clear thinking about admission to Lowell High School

Carol Kocivar
Carol Kocivar

Anyone who has been following the controversy over admission to Lowell high school knows that admission has historically been based on a student's record of high academic performance.

In pursuit of both equity and excellence, this admission policy provides for 70 percent of the students to be admitted based on academics alone. The other 30 percent of the student admissions also consider:

  1. Extenuating circumstances
  2. Socioeconomic status (self-disclosed)
  3. School leadership/service
  4. Demonstrated ability to overcome hardship
  5. Extracurricular activities (school based)
  6. Community Service
  7. Creative abilities in performing and visual arts
  8. Athletics
  9. Participation in peer support/mentoring activities

Creating a diverse student body at Lowell is challenging. The chart below for San Francisco shows the students by ethnicity who do NOT meet even the most basic levels of competence in English and math.

Take a close look. Far too many black/African American and Hispanic students are not learning math and English.

Test Results

Now let’s ask a simple question:

If you changed the admission policy at Lowell to a lottery and did not take academic success into account, what would happen to those students who do not meet basic proficient levels?

What’s your guess?  My guess was that lots of students would not do very well. And my emotional reaction as a parent was that this would have a long-term impact on students, hurting their self-esteem and making them believe they are not as smart as others. I think it’s cruel.

We don’t have to guess on the impact. We now have the data.
These students have struggled.

The chart below of D and F grades shows the bad news. Students who are way behind in English and math on the state data report are way behind at Lowell. Compare how well students did in the 2021-22 school year, when admission was by lottery, to student performance in earlier years in grade 9.

D Students

This is no way to treat our children.

These students are talented and engaging and need a chance to succeed.

A lottery does not magically improve the performance of students who are not proficient in English and math.

It’s time for some clear thinking.

The lottery for Lowell is a cruel trap for students who have not been high achievers.

SFUSD must address these shortcomings in elementary school so that all children have a chance to succeed.

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

May 9, 2022

SF School Board Members

Lowell Students Pull All-nighter—but not to study

Carol Kocivar
Carol Kocivar

You’ve heard of competitive Lowell high school students pulling all-nighters? Well, some kids spend about 10 hours a week-end baking and have been known to pull all-nighters making sure their cookies are perfect.

When lots of people turned to baking during the pandemic, these students started baking for good. They created Bakes and Smiles, a student-run organization to help the youth through hosting COVID-friendly bake sales.

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Drum roll please. They have raised about $29,000!”

Their monthly bake sales fundraise for nonprofits and charities. Started in 2020, they have raised money for:

  • Larkin Youth Services, dedicated to end youth homelessness
  • Huckleberry House, a program for runaway and homeless youth
  • Oasis for Girls, providing after-school programs for teens from under-resourced communities
  • SFCHANGE , a youth-led community organization providing free educational workshops to schools in under-resourced communities
  • Lowell Clubs that support health and children’s hospitals.
Bakes and Smiles staff

Drum roll please.  They have raised about $29,000!

How does this work?  Social Media!

Bakes and Smiles has an engaging social media presence that publicizes the latest bake sales. The kids get a count of how many baked goods are needed and then start baking. Students and parents make Costco runs to buy flour, sugar, and other ingredients in bulk. The non-profits assist with the door-to-door delivery of the baked goods.

Please click on The Bakes and Smiles Team to find out about the students and their favorite bake.

Ready to Order?

Bake Sale Dates:

Menu

• Order Form closes on 6/10/2022
- Delivery occurs on 6/18-6/19/2022

Instagram Post: 

Order Form  

Deliveries in San Francisco and Daly City

 

Thank you to the proud mama who emailed to tell me about this project!!!

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

May 9, 2022

SF School Board Members
San Francisco Board of Education

Restoring Confidence in San Francisco Schools

Carol Kocivar
Carol Kocivar

After the political whirlwind that recalled three San Francisco school board members, it’s time for a steady hand and the restoration of confidence in our schools.

That’s what I see happening. The school board is pivoting away from political pandering and focusing on financial stability and the broad needs of all students.

Civility

In one of its very first actions, the school board addressed the donkey in the room: civility. (Hey, this is San Francisco. There are not many elephants lounging around.) 

At its first meeting, a civility resolution took aim at clearing the decks:

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But there are issues that can unite us. We all want to support strong education programs for all students. We all want to support both equity and educational excellence. We all want to support our educators who have been doing the hard work every day despite a pandemic and political feud. ”

The Board understands that the First Amendment provides strong protection for speech. However, the Board expects that all speech and expression will comport with norms of civil behavior on District grounds, in District facilities, during District activities or events, and in the use of District electronic/digital systems and platforms.

Yup. Time to ensure all feel welcomed and encouraged to share ideas about how we educate our children.

Training

How should school boards work? San Francisco is now (finally) following the practice of school boards throughout the state: Training for all board members on effective governance focused on student outcomes.  

School board members are also learning the basics of finance . Timely? Yes, The school district digging its way out of a $125 million deficit. Training includes:

  • The roles and responsibilities of school staff and the governing Board in budget development and approval.
  • An overview of budget management and development.
  • SFUSD sources of revenue.
  • 12 Key Points for Maintaining Fiscal Solvency.

Moving from “Left and Left Out” politics to meeting the needs of all students.

There is clearly more to come. A new superintendent. A new deputy superintendent of policy and operations. Tackling some tough issues that have torn our city apart. But there are issues that can unite us. We all want to support strong education programs for all students. We all want to support both equity and educational excellence. We all want to support our educators who have been doing the hard work every day despite a pandemic and political feud.

Time for all of us to listen and learn and work to find common ground.

Carol Kocivar is a past president of the California State PTA and the San Francisco Second district PTA. She chaired the school district committee that created the merit based admission policy approved by the federal court. Opinions are her own and not those of the PTA.

APRIL 26, 2022

SF Education Fund
San Francisco Education Fund

Hooray! 
New way to help kids read.

Carol Kocivar
Carol Kocivar

Ialways like it when someone turns a crisis into an opportunity.  That’s what the San Francisco Education Fund is doing right now. 


The problem: Thousands of students are struggling to read because of the pandemic.

The solution:  Use tutoring technology to give students the individual instruction they need delivered virtually by a credentialed teacher.

While distance learning caused more than a few parents to scream in frustration, it also forced the education community to pivot and learn how technology can help students learn.

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Each student is tutored three times a week primarily outside of school time via an online, collaborative learning platform that offers intervention through guided reading lessons, gamification, and assessments.”

That’s the “AHA” moment the San Francisco Education Fund is counting on.  For years, the EdFund sent volunteers into the classroom to help students. But with closed schools, they needed a better model.

Trained teachers brought directly to students though technology

They are now incorporating technology in the form of Book Nook, a national tutoring platform to provide individualized tutoring to some of San Francisco’s most needy students.
Over 2,300 San Francisco elementary school students from 19 public schools currently have free access to BookNook,

Each student is tutored three times a week primarily outside of school time via an online, collaborative learning platform that offers intervention through guided reading lessons, gamification, and assessments.

SFUSD is contributing over $1.3 million of one-time funds for learning recovery toward the cost of the tutoring. Additional funds come from the Department of Children Youth, and Families (DCYF) and the San Francisco Education Fund.

The SF EdFund is also a behind the scenes mom, keeping the tutors and kids on the straight and narrow, monitoring participation and keeping the paperwork flowing and on time.

I remember years ago when San Francisco attempted a community tutoring program. It took a lot of time and efforts but was a complete flop.  One of the main reasons:  the tutors were not trained teachers and did not have the skills to meet the needs of struggling students.  The tutors with BookNook must be credentialed and must have at least a year’s experience with distance learning

The Science of Reading: It works

Based on the Science of Reading, BookNook uses standards-aligned supplemental curriculum and reports that nationally it has seen two years of literacy growth in one year’s time.

Students in Kindergarten through 5th grade get help with phonics and comprehension and connect with a caring adult tutor. There are also Spanish language supports.

SFUSD Partnership: Summer Pilot Program

In partnership with DCYF, Bay Area Community Resources, and the YMCA of San Francisco, SFUSD and the SF Ed Fund served 1,000 students across 18 San Francisco sites in BookNook’s summer 2021 pilot program.

Students who consistently used the program grew 30 percent of a grade level over the summer with no additional school programming.

“Personalized tutoring is an incredibly effective way to ensure a more equitable educational experience for every San Francisco student,” according to Stacey Wang, SF EdFund CEO.
“Through our partnership with BookNook and SFUSD, we are providing targeted and personalized virtual tutoring for those students who need this support most.

Carol Kocivar is a past president of the California State PTA and the San Francisco Second district PTA. She chaired the school district committee that created the merit based admission policy approved by the federal court. Opinions are her own and not those of the PTA.

APRIL 2022

Gold Ribbon School Banner
Lowell High School displays a Gold Ribbon School Banner. The program honors some of California's outstanding public schools. Schools that are selected demonstrate exemplary achievements in implementing state standards in priority areas.Photo courtesy of Public Broadcasting System

A New Admission Process for Lowell High School

Carol Kocivar
Carol Kocivar
Jill Wynns
Jill Wynns

Lowell high school's merit-based admission policy is perfectly legal. We’ve looked at the language of the law, the history of the law and the intent of the law. We've done our homework. We have been involved in this issue for three decades as a school board member, PTA leader, community public education advocates and Lowell parents.

The San Francisco School District says just the opposite. They claim it’s illegal. And then supports that opinion by quoting only portions of the law. Legal opinions are just that–opinions. It is not lawyers who decide what the law means; it is a court that decides. Just saying it's illegal does not make it illegal.

What’s the portion of the California Education Code Section 35160.5 that the school district ignored?  It's the section that grandfathers in existing specialized schools or programs. Here is what it says:  

However, school districts may employ existing entrance criteria for specialized schools or programs if the criteria are uniformly applied to all applicants.”

When there is a question as to the meaning of the law, it is important to look at the legislative intent. The California Department of Education guidance in 1994 specifically states that school districts may continue to employ entrance requirements for schools such as magnet schools and they are not precluded from starting new programs with entrance requirements. That is consistent with the intent of the author, Dede Alpert, as stated in the Department of Education Guidance. The language is meant to assure districts with magnet or other specialized programs, including GATE, that their programs were not preempted by the random and unbiased selection process.

We are at an inflection point in this school board-created drama. For fifty-five years Lowell has used academic performance to determine admission. Why? Because the curriculum is designed to meet the needs of very high achieving students. Lowell alumni report that Lowell was more rigorous than many college courses.

quote marks

Legal opinions are just that–opinions. It is not lawyers who decide what the law means; it is a court that decides. Just saying it's illegal does not make it illegal.”

Last year, the school board dramatically changed course. It suddenly decided that the merit-based admission policy—a policy affirmed by the federal court in the SFNAACP v SFUSD desegregation case—is illegal.

It’s not like Lowell high school secretly used academics for admission. The California department of education is fully aware of the admission policy and has recognized the school many times for academic excellence.

The present school board has flip flopped on this issue.

In Oct. 2020, the school board waived the merit-based admission policy for one year only because of the pandemic. There was no assertion that it was illegal. 

Within a short few months, the school board totally flipped and illegally, without appropriate notice or public input, passed a resolution claiming the merit-based admission system is illegal. 

The law did not change in that intervening period. But it looks like they threw caution to the wind and let politics prevail. 

The school board is using language gymnastics and turning reason on its head. They have now changed the description of Lowell to be a comprehensive high school. And because it is no longer listed as an alternative school, it claims that it can’t now revert to its original mission. Whoa.

What’s the definition of a comprehensive school? A school that admits all students. If it used academic criteria for admission, it would no longer be a comprehensive high school.

To make matters worse, the school district is playing hide the ball. It promised broad wide ranging community input on the future of Lowell admissions. But in the small print, it will not consider a merit-based option.

The memo from the Superintendent to the school board explaining the continuation of the lottery includes the following language: 

Any decision to either restore the Lowell Admissions Policy or to supersede it with another admissions policy must be consistent with the requirements of Education Code section 35160.5(b)(2)(B) which explicitly prohibits public school districts from making enrollment decisions based on the student’s academic performance.

It would be foolhardy to invest time and money in a community discussion of Lowell's future using restrictive criteria which many believe is illegal and restricts the possible outcome.

A debate about the future of Lowell and its admission process is worth having. It must be a fair and open discussion not determined by the incorrect assertion that nothing but a lottery would be legal.

Job one for the Board with its new members should be to put in place a merit-based process for the next admission cycle starting Sept. 2023.

The actions of the school board fractured the community and undermined community support for the school district. Going forward, the only way to regain the trust of the public in this process is to begin a community-based discussion without a predetermined outcome.

A new Board of Education and a new Superintendent deserve the opportunity to show that they can lead on this issue.

Carol Kocivar is a past president of the California State PTA and the San Francisco Second district PTA. She chaired the school district committee that created the merit based admission policy approved by the federal court. Opinions are her own and not those of the PTA.

Jill Wynns was a six-term member of the San Francisco Board of Education and a Past President of the California School Boards Association.

 

MARCH 22, 2022

PTA 125th Birthday

Happy Birthday PTA!

Carol Kocivar
Carol Kocivar

Irecently went to quite the unusual birthday party—everyone there was the birthday girl or boy. It was a celebration of 125 years of PTA. I have to say, everyone has aged very well..

The history of the PTA can be traced right to San Francisco and the founding of the Mother’s Clubs in 1897. Since that time, it has become the largest child advocacy organization in the nation.

What has PTA accomplished? Let me count the ways.
PTA has been a driving force in the passage of important laws and guidelines that we sometimes take for granted today, such as:

  • Creating a separate criminal justice system for juvenile offenders
  • Enforcing child labor laws
  • Kindergarten in public school system
  • Supplying federally funded hot lunches
  • Supporting school bus safety regulations
  • HIV/AIDS education

Our San Francisco Second District PTA has been instrumental bringing arts and music and librarians and counselors into San Francisco public schools.

Without fame or fanfare, PTA volunteers devote hours to help make our communities better for our children.

quotes

The history of the PTA can be traced right to San Francisco and the founding of the Mother’s Clubs in 1897. Since that time, it has become the largest child advocacy organization in the nation.”

The San Francisco Second District PTA recently honored parents and school staff from throughout the city.  

Take a look.

Celebrate how they have helped our community.

Lakeshore Elementary PTA
Deb Tjoa, Fundraising chair, former president and treasurer, as well as filling in for many other unfilled positions!
Deb Tjoa is the quintessential example of a dream PTA leader and member.

Monroe Elementary 
Laura Padilla Director of Community Programs Mission YMCA
Laura wears many hats in our community: Director of Community Programs at Mission YMCA, Director of Monroe’s ExCel afterschool program, and a leader of the Excelsior Collaborative neighborhood group. In each of these roles she changes the lives of Monroe families and staff.

Francis Scott Key ES
Kai Guiland PTA President
Kai has been an incredible FSK PTA President by keeping our FSK Community in good spirits and brought us closer together during 2 years of the pandemic!

Wallenberg HS
Ixchel Acosta PTSA President 
Ixchel has tireless energy and creativity for improving the experience of students & faculty alike at Raoul Wallenberg Traditional High School.

Sherman ES
Helen Parker Principal
Helen Parker supports students, families, and staff with her steady, honest, and loving leadership.

Donna Bade PTA Secretary 
Donna consistently steps up and does all she can to strengthen the Sherman community.

Sunset ES
Eva Dober PTA President
A remarkable parent and advocate for all children, Eva is caring, hands-on, ready to roll up her sleeves and get to work.

Martin Mannion School Social Worker
Devoted, empathetic, playful, kind and engaged, he knows every student's name highlighting their strengths to empower them as they grow

Guadalupe ES
Yanira Curry Family Outreach, translator
Yanira has been essential in recruiting parents and helping transition the new members of our board onto their specific roles.

Rooftop ES
Aaron Weis Top Notch Teacher and PTA Teacher Rep
Aaron Weis is a cherished teacher of Rooftop K-8 school and has been a teacher representative on the PTA Board for over 10 years.

Grattan ES
Ibone Santiago Trojaola VP of Volunteers
Ibone has given so much to establishing a welcoming Grattan community. She is a giver, a doer, a fixer, an amazing mom, and person!

Ruth Asawa School of the Arts
Barry Schmell Volunteer Coordinator
Barry has been a stalwart participant in every single PTSA event and ever enthusiastic cheerleader for all things Asawa SOTA.

Sunnyside ES
Lori Gray President PTA
Lori has effectively brought together our parent and teacher community and has helped lead the creation of a collaborative roadmap to ensure everyone in our school community, parents, caregivers, and teachers have a voice.

PTA organization as a whole
Through the tireless efforts of committee leaders, affinity groups, teachers and site support staff, and caregivers, Sunnyside's PTA brings to light the efforts of the whole, so all are able to participate in meaningful learning in and out of the classrooms. 

Phillip and Sala Burton High School
Suniqua Thomas Principal 
The Burton PTSA executive board is nominating Ms. Thomas for her steadfast and compassionate leadership during an incredibly challenging time.

Sarah Watanabe and Angela Wang Hospitality Committee Co-chairs
We nominate the Burton PTSA Hospitality Committee co-chaired by 9th grade parents Sarah Watanabe and Angela Wang for providing an inclusive way for families to show appreciation to Burton staff through snack sales at football games this fall, to establishing our monthly staff breakfasts.

SF Public Montessori
Ms. Gloria Librarian
Ms. Gloria has been with SFUSD for 27 years! She is currently the librarian at SF Public Montessori and serves on the PTA as a teacher liaison. She works hard to engage our kids and get them excited about reading and learning new cultures. In addition to supporting our kids, she is an advocate for her fellow teachers at the school.

Patricia Tsai Volunteer
Patricia was a volunteer in the SF Public Montessori Library before the pandemic. She now makes a quiet impact at our school by weeding the gardens and grounds. No one sees her, she doesn't make a fuss. We would love to nominate her for a service award for the work she does to better our school grounds.

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

MARCH 2022

School Board-Kamp Kumbaya
It's time to find common groundPhoto courtesy of sfpublicpress.org and juliekenner.com

San Francisco:  Be a Role Model for Children

Carol Kocivar
Carol Kocivar

One of the most important parenting roles is to model the behavior you want your children to follow.

If you bully, your children will think its ok.

If you spread misinformation, your children will think its ok.

If you yell at and show disrespect to people who have a different point of view, your children will think its ok.

As your mom and teacher would say: Time out!

This is a special moment for San Francisco. A moment to act as the adults in the room.

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We must now come together as a community. It is our chance to put aside the divisiveness of the school board recall campaign and focus on what is best for our children and our schools.”

We must now come together as a community. It is our chance to put aside the divisiveness of the school board recall campaign and focus on what is best for our children and our schools.

Everyone knows serving on a school board is tough. It’s not a piece of cake. It’s not even an ice cream sundae.  It’s more challenging than being a Senator or Assembly member.

It’s the place where the community comes face to face with you to discuss their most cherished hopes and dreams. The education and health and safety of our children.

Let’s make a community wish and a community vow.

The wish:  That the new members of our school board appointed by Mayor Breed

  • Put the needs of children first.
  • Recognize that they serve ALL the community and ALL the children.
  • Know that their first most important task is to hire a highly qualified superintendent and ensure the financial stability of the school district.
  • Understand that for children to succeed, schools must meet the individual academic, social/emotional, health, and safety needs of students.
  • Encourage timely thoughtful community input and partnerships.

The vow for all of us:

  • I understand that people may have differing points of view. I will discuss issues with the same civility and respect I expect from others.
  • I will model the behavior I expect from my children. No bullying. No yelling. Discuss issues using facts, not fiction.
  • I will put aside the emotion of the recall campaign and work to ensure the success of our school board and our children.

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

February 21, 2021

Lowell Band
Lowell High School marching band Photo courtesy of lowell.k12.ma.us

The School Board Recall Election and Beyond

Carol Kocivar
Carol Kocivar

My assumption is that you have already voted in the school board recall election. What? You haven’t? Do it NOW!

Ahh…I know you are tempted to read a little further before completing your ballot.  I’ve got a blog for you to read that breaks down the issue: Yes on the Recall.

You can also take a look at my top 6 governance recommendations for—hopefully— the newly appointed school board members. Here goes:

  1. Your most important role is to select a highly qualified superintendent.
  2. Make the hard decisions to ensure SFUSD is financially stable now and in the future. That means consider all alternatives, including possible school closures, however hard that may be.
  3. Avoid political grandstanding. 
  4. Learn the basic rules of school governance and follow them.
  5. Identify the most pressing issues and focus on them. Plan for the long-term improvement of the district.
  6. Listen. Listen to parents. Listen to the community. Listen to staff. They are your eyes and ears. What’s working? What needs to change? What will have the best impact on student success?
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The failure to properly prepare all students, particularly Black/African American students, is the main culprit. While the lottery may increase diversity, it also increases the number of students at Lowell who are struggling. This year’s freshmen class, for example, has a much higher per cent of students with Ds and Fs.”

Critical Challenges the School Board Must Address

Reading

My top academic issue: ensure that every student can read by third grade. The school board needs to adopt curriculum and invest in professional development that reflects the best scientifically based strategies to help children read.  What SFUSD is doing now is not working.

The chart on the left below shows that nearly 75 per cent of Black or African American students are not proficient. (Pink and Green indicate NOT proficient.) The chart on the right below shows that about 45 per cent of all students are NOT proficient.

Literacy Charts

Lowell High School

One big mistake the school board recently made was to change the merit-based admission policy of Lowell High school to a lottery.

Considering the extremely low reading level of so many students, it’s not a merit-based admission policy that has determined the demographics of Lowell. The failure to properly prepare all students, particularly Black/African American students, is the main culprit. While the lottery may increase diversity, it also increases the number of students at Lowell who are struggling. This year’s freshmen class, for example, has a much higher per cent of students with Ds and Fs.

The sound and fury over the ethnic diversity at Lowell high school has ignored a significant data point.  Lowell is one of the few public schools that closely reflects the City’s diversity. Most other public schools do not. 

The racial make-up of the children throughout San Francisco differs dramatically from the racial mix within San Francisco public schools.  That’s because about 30 percent of children in San Francisco attend private schools (a much higher rate than in other school districts and in the nation).  

Lowell has traditionally attracted private school students back into the public school system.   

This influx of students generates additional revenue for the school district. The random nature of the lottery means many high achieving private students will not gain entry and will not apply, thus reducing this extra funding.

The school board must work to encourage more students attend public school, not less. The failure of more students to attend public school in San Francisco has a profound impact on the school district budget.

Staff
Well-paid, supported, and nurtured staff are the key to the success of a school district.

Allocation of Resources
Continue to invest in Community Schools so that our most needy students have the resources and support they need. Continue to provide extra support to school communities with the highest needs.

Meet the Needs of All Students
The school board has a responsibility to meet the needs of all students: low income, minorities, immigrants, students with disabilities, low achieving, and high achieving students.

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

December 22, 2021

Superintendent Vincent Mathews
San Francisco Unified School's Superintendent Vincent Mathews

Easy to Implement Proposal for Lowell Admissions for next year

Carol Kocivar
Carol Kocivar

Dec. 8, 2021

Superintendent Vincent Mathews
San Francisco Unified School District 555 Franklin Street
San Francisco, CA 94102

 

Dear Superintendent Mathews,

I am writing to propose a straightforward way to include both equity and excellence in the Lowell admission process for next year. By way of background, I chaired the Lowell Admission Task Force in 1996. The proposal adopted by the Courts in 2001 was based on that work.

At that time, the SFUSD, the SFNACCP and the litigants in the Ho matter agreed on Board Policy 51201.1. This policy is race neutral and still today complies with state law.

Here is the idea.

Base the admission policy for the next year on (1) 8th grade student GPAs and (2) selections by public middle school principals. For private schools, ask each school to submit student GPAs for those who want to attend Lowell in the form you need by a date certain to the school district for inclusion in the run.

Here is how it would work:

  1. Do a computer run of all the 8th graders by GPA starting at 4.0, 3.9 etc.
  2. Do not count grades for when school was closed for distance learning.
  3. Once you have hit the number of students in the incoming Lowell 9th grade class, stop.
  4. Send a letter to everyone on your list saying they have been accepted to Lowell based on their grades. They then have 10 days to respond, indicating whether they wish to enroll.
  1. You will then have a significant number of students who don’t enroll.
  2. Take that number and divide it evenly among all the public middle schools.
  3. Each principal at the school will recommend students to fill the openings.

This approach will solve the concerns of those who want to continue with a form of merit-based admissions and would also diversify the school. Principals would be free to use their discretion as to which students they believe are ready for Lowell.
They would be able to look beyond grades to consider attributes set forth in the weighted student formula that generates more income for a school side.

This proposal is race neutral and aligns with the Core Values of SFUSD.

We put student needs first
We persist through challenges
We celebrate and build on each other’s strengths.
We stand with those most vulnerable in the community
We respect and seek to understand each person.

I hate to see the city torn apart by this. I would be happy to discuss this further. Sincerely,

signature

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

December 22, 2021

FamilyStories
Time for Cute Family Stories
Carol Kocivar
Carol Kocivar

Ialways like this time of the year when we can reconnect with friends and share wishes for health and happiness. This is a tough one. The second year of the pandemic has wrought too much…too much…too much.  Whether it is financial insecurity or health or other things we never imagined, this time to reconnect is even more important.

In that light, let me share a grandchild story. Like probably too many youngsters, my seven-year-old grandson has discovered that you can search for family names on google. He pridefully shared a picture of his dad with me. And then he said he had also looked up other family members. 

So, of course, I asked if he had looked me up. Nope. Not yet.

quotes

Like probably too many youngsters, my seven-year-old grandson has discovered that you can search for family names on google. He pridefully shared a picture of his dad with me. And then he said he had also looked up other family members. ”

Let’s see what we find. He then went away for a while and came back empty handed. He could find absolutely nothing on me. Hmmm.

I asked him what he search for. What name did he use?

“I used your name,” he said. Then he spelled out OBAA in the search line and showed me that there are no results.

A word of explanation. When he was born, we decided both grandmas would have completely different names so the grandchildren did not get mixed up. The other grandma is called “Nana”
I am called “Obaa” since we lived in Japan and that is sort of the name for grandma in Japanese.

We then started to look for my real name—after which he asked, “Why are there so many pictures?” I stumbled to explain.  Finally, I said that I am a writer and “kinda in politics.”

He thought for a while. What does a seven-year-old know about what it means to be “kinda in politics.”

Then he smiled and said, “Congratulations!”

I smiled too, a lot. I guess we are bringing these kids up right when they share the idealism of someone in politics who tries to do something good.

That’s my story for this time.

And I promise for the next year I will continue try to do something good.

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

December 22, 2021

Turning in petitions
Boxes and boxes of recall petitions gathered in San Francisco Photo courtesy educationnext.org
Yes on School Board Recall
Carol Kocivar
Carol Kocivar

The San Francisco school board is now the national poster child of school boards run amuck. Inexperience, a flair for political hyperbole, and failure to follow proven governance structures has put the school board on the front pages of the national press.

  • The New York Times: “In San Francisco, Turmoil Over Reopening Schools Turns a City Against Itself. The San Francisco school board has infuriated parents and the mayor. Now it has descended into chaos over accusations of racism.”
  • Fox News: “San Francisco school board strips VP’s title after anti-Asian tweets surface.”
  • The Washington Post: “Confederate names are coming down, but San Francisco is now taking on … Abe Lincoln?”

This isn’t the San Francisco my kids grew up in where we came together as a community to support our schools and our children.

I never imagined a San Francisco school board that would ignore the warning signs of fiscal insolvency and now faces a $125 million budget deficit, and a state threatened a takeover.

But here we are.

We now must decide how to vote on the recall election on February 15th.” At first, I was sort of agnostic on the recall effort. But now I strongly support it. Here’s why:

quotes

In case you forgot, the school board wanted to rename 44 schools, including Abraham Lincoln, Dianne Feinstein, Roosevelt, and Washington, whose names they felt were linked to racism and other injustices.”

No Way to Run a School Board

The school board was in such disarray that Suerintendent of Schools quit. That was formally called a ‘retirement’ but it meant he wanted to get out of there. He then reconsidered but only if the school board promised to lay by some basic rules. Here is a simlified version of his demands.

Follow the Board Governance standards. Duh.

Remember, re-opening school is the top priority. Duh

Don’t sidetrack the board with other issues. Duh

Play well with others—that includes school staff. Duh

Do your homework so you understand what’s going on. Double Duh.

Don’t poke your nose in the superintendent’s hiring decisions. Duh. Duh Duh

Lack of Respect for Community Input

After making sure the school district is not threatened with insolvency—they flunked this one—the school board must listen to the community, be respectful of conflicting points of view and then make balanced decisions in accordance with the law. Oops. There is a problem with this one.

The school board has repeatedly violated public meeting and other rules.

Don’t just take it from me. The three court decisions below show a pattern of failing to follow basic laws in controversial cases.

1. School Renaming
Because of inadequate public notice in violation of the Brown Act, a San Francisco Superior Court Judge ordered the school board to rescind its resolution on renaming 44 city schools. The school board must also to pay legal fees of $60,000.

In case you forgot, the school board wanted to rename 44 schools, including Abraham Lincoln, Dianne Feinstein, Roosevelt, and Washington, whose names they felt were linked to racism and other injustices.

2. Washington Murals
A San Francisco superior Court judge overturned a decision by the school board to cover up an historic mural at Washington High School. The mural depicts the life of George Washington and slavery. The judge found the school board failed to follow the California Environmental Quality Act.

In a stern reprimand, the court said “political actors at every level are tempted to circumvent what they consider to be inconvenient legal requirements in order to advance parochial political agendas. It is the role of the independent judiciary to ensure that the political branches adhere to the rules of law—including in particular the procedural requirements of administrative laws— regardless of the merits of the agenda or the political actors involved.”

3. Lowell Admissions
A San Francisco Superior Court Judge ruled that school board changes to Lowell high school admissions violated the Brown Act. The judge pointedly said: “The agenda item titled “In Response to Ongoing, Systemic Racism at Lowell High School” was entirely inadequate notice to parents and others that the Board was considering eliminating Lowell’s merit-based admissions policy. … The Board could have readily complied with the Act, and it knew how to do so, but it did not.”

Add to this board member Allison Collins suing the school district for $87 million after she was stripped of her position as vice president of the board. The court dismissed the suit but the school board—in the midst of a financial crisis—decided not to pursue reimbursement of legal costs of $125,000.

No, I am not making all this stuff up. There’s more but I think you get the picture.

Education Policy not Political Grandstanding

I am a die-hard public education supporter. I helped write the legislation that now provides librarians and arts and sports in San Francisco schools. My support for bi-lingual education helped expand programs in middle school. And I chaired the bond oversight committee to make sure the money was spent wisely. This is all to say I am definitely not a right-wing advocate trying to undermine public education. Quite the contrary.

With that background, let’s look at the controversial school board resolution to eliminate the selective admission policy at Lowell High School. The school board changed the admission policy to make the school more diverse. (Ignore the fact that Lowell is more diverse than many other San Francisco high schools.)

Without a doubt, San Francisco public school students have some of the lowest reading proficiency levels in the state, especially those from low-income families and students of color.
So, let’s ask a basic question. What is the best way to help students who fail to meet academic proficiency?” Lower the proficiency standards or change the way SFUSD teaches reading, so more students are proficient?

The board voted to have a political ‘diversity’ win without doing the hard work of improving reading instruction. It voted to create a lottery that gives preference to students from low performing schools to attend a school designed to meet the needs of high performing students.

  • Is this critical to meet the re-opening needs of San Francisco schools?” Nope.
  • Does this improve the academic performance of low achieving students?” Nope.
  • Does this serve the needs of high performing students?” Nope

This political sleight of hand in the name of diversity and inclusion is exactly the kind of grandstanding school boards should avoid.

For all these reasons, I am voting to support the school board recall.

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

December 2021

Teachers are Heros
Too many students can’t read

California's literacy crisis

Carol Kocivar
Carol Kocivar

By almost any standard, California is failing to meet its most basic education goal: literacy. Millions of students struggle to read.

This conclusion isn’t based on just one test. Numerous indicators document this failure. Happily, we know what to do about it. Change will require action in every school.

Start with the data

Year after year, the Nation's Report Card (NAEP) has shown that most California students are not proficient in reading. This is the only assessment that measures what U.S. students know and can do in various subjects across the nation, states, and in some urban districts.

2019 The Nation's Report Card:

How California Compares to Other States

4th Grade Reading

8th Grade Reading

41st in nation

39th in nation

68 percent don’t read at grade level

70 percent don’t read at grade level

Find out more

This failure isn’t just a figment of how the national test is designed. California's Smarter Balanced Summative Assessments show similar disturbing results. At every grade level, about half of students do not meet English Language Arts Literacy Standards.

CA literacy rates

The California Reading Report Card draws similar conclusions from the CAASPP data. “… today, half of California's students do not read at grade level. What's worse, among low-income students of color, over 65% read below grade level. Few ever catch up.”

San Francisco Literacy Rates 2018-2019

SF Literacy Rates

Diagnose the problem

The problem is how schools teach reading

The problem is not your usual suspects — poverty, lack of resources or non-English home language. The problem is how schools teach reading.

According to the California Reading Report Card: 

“ ...it is not the students themselves, or the level of resources, that drive student reading achievement — the primary drivers are district focus on reading, management practices, and curriculum and instruction choices.…

“The 30 top achieving districts come in all types: urban, rural, and suburban, across 10 different counties, with high-need students levels ranging from 39% to 96%. Any district can succeed at teaching reading.”

The report card was designed to measure how well schools teach reading, separate from the contributions of outside resources.

How is your school district doing? Find out here.

Embrace the science of reading

Learning to read doesn’t happen naturally — it has to be taught. Years of scientific research have revealed a great deal about how reading develops. This body of knowledge from the fields of neuroscience, cognitive psychology, education and others is referred to as the science of reading. See summaries here and here

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Learning to read doesn’t happen naturally — it has to be taught. Years of scientific research have revealed a great deal about how reading develops. This body of knowledge from the fields of neuroscience, cognitive psychology, education and others is referred to as the science of reading”

Replace approaches that don’t work

Even though so much is known about reading, there is a wide gap between the science and the teaching in the classroom. Recognizing the difference between typical practices and structured literacy, the kind of teaching based on science, is important.

It’s not just a matter of preference or the swing of a pendulum. Common teaching approaches rely on  cueing, a practice we now understand impedes reading development. Cueing encourages children to guess words based on pictures and context clues. It is one among several problems embedded in typical teaching practices and curricula. The “Route to Reading Avoid a Lemon” video helps parents spot problematic instruction. 

Why is it so hard for schools to get early reading right? Many teachers have not been trained in evidence-based methods, popular instructional materials don’t reflect the science, and districts across California have already sunk millions of dollars into teaching methods based on discredited theory. 

Learn lessons from a dyslexia lawsuit

Policymakers need to look closely at the terms of a proposed settlement agreement in a federal class action lawsuit against Berkeley Unified. The plaintiffs argue, in part, that the district failed to appropriately identify children at risk of reading difficulty. Exhibit A of the settlement agreement contains a detailed proposal to develop a literacy improvement program. It includes research-based assessment plans as well as reading programs and recommends limited use of Fountas & Pinnell LLI and Reading Recovery in cases involving students with suspected reading disabilities.

What should California do?

California is not alone in its need for better reading policies. The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) focused on literacy in its 2021 report A Nation of Readers.

The California statewide literacy task force to help all students reach the goal of literacy by third grade, by 2026, presents the opportunity to do better. Recommendations will be introduced in the 2022 legislative session. We hope they include the following:

Key Recommendations for Legislation

Universal screening

Screen all students K-2 for risk of reading difficulties. Many states already do short universal screenings appropriate for the students' age and cultures. Learn more about California’s pending screening legislation SB 237 here.

Respond quickly to student needs

Provide guidance and support to schools with the implementation of evidence-based programs to give students the level of support they need when they need it, an approach called Multitiered Systems of Support (MTSS). A slightly struggling student needs less support than a child with more serious learning needs. English Learners may have different needs.

Replace outdated instruction

School districts should replace outdated literacy methods and adopt structured literacy for all students. Reading is not something that comes naturally. All students benefit from a curriculum that meets their needs in the areas of foundational skills and reading comprehension. See primer.

Invest in a better curriculum

Provide school districts with additional funding to invest in highly rated, culturally relevant curriculum with evidence of improving student achievement for students who struggle to read. EdReports is a good resource for researching curricula.

Teach educators how to teach reading

Provide ongoing professional development and coaching of teachers, administrators, and support staff in the 'why' and 'how' of instruction based in science.

Improve reading instruction at schools of education

Right now, too many teacher candidates graduate without learning how to teach the updated approach to reading. Education professors and education schools need to learn the updated science of reading including the California Dyslexia Guidelines and include it in teacher preparation coursework, as defined in the new California law SB 488.

Help parents help their children

Parents can benefit from training on how to support early readers at home. Tennessee’s recent Free Decodables to Use at Home to Build Strong Reading Skills initiative is a good example of how to extend learning at home. Families are provided free “sound out books” along with guidance for helping their children learn how to read. Schools can work with PTAs and other community organizations to support this effort.

Ed100 Logo.

This article originally appeared in Ed100.org, a web resource to help you understand the education system.

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

November 2021

Teachers are Heros
SFUSD Unsung Heros

San Francisco Education Heroes: Marge Summerville and Nob Fukuda

Carol Kocivar
Carol Kocivar

We all have different ways of reading the morning news. I probably rely too much on twitter. Every morning as I drink my coffee, I nourish my mind with a variety of news sources, including
the latest dog and baby pictures and alerts on local bird activity.

My husband, on the other hand, is much more meticulous. He reads the San Francisco Chronicle from start to finish. Which is what prompts me to this blog.

He was on the finish part of the news the other day and told me that my friend Marge Summerville had died. Marge was the first friend I made in San Francisco. So, of course, I grabbed the paper. Well, not exactly grabbed. I looked up the obituary section online and found that not only had Marge died but also that Nob Fukuda was listed that day in the obituaries.

I don’t know if they knew each other but both are local education heroes. Unsung heroes. Both. They directly improved the lives of more children than many of the politicians who grab the headlines.

Marge Summerville

Marjorie Summerville
Marjorie Summerville

Marge and I met at West Portal playground above the muni station where we both took our young children to play.  And of course, we talked about education and schools and on and on.
We expanded this playground friendship to jogging around Lake Merced, where we talked about education and schools and on and on and on. Little did I know that my new friend was THE local expert on education issues in our corner of San Francisco. (She also was my local expert on who to hire to re-do a 50-year-old kitchen. Thanks again, Marge. I know you can hear me.)

Marge taught at Lawton and John Muir elementary schools, was St Gabriel’s Development Director and was a SFUSD substitute teacher and volunteer aide. St. Gabriel's Parish, St. Ignatius College Preparatory and Mercy High School benefited from her volunteer time as did “Expanding Your Horizons in Math and Science” and Court Appointed Special Advocates.

And all that time Marge kept up the warmth of friendship throughout the whole community.

Nob Fukuda

Nob Fukuda
Nob Fukuda

Nob Fukuda created the Japanese Bilingual Bicultural Program (JBBP) in the San Francisco Unified School District. Many days after a jog with Marge I would go and pick up my children from JBBP. It was there my children thrived. It is there I learned about the extraordinary school program Nob Fukuda created for San Francisco children. Children learn two languages. The daily lessons integrate art, music, drama, and differing historical perspectives. The school shares with each new generation the importance of Japanese culture, the importance of community, and the all too frequently buried history of what it was like to be a Japanese American during World War ll. The lived experiences of Nob Fukuda and the values of the Japanese Community are a living legacy through the Japanese Bilingual Bicultural Program. (The program made such an impact on my children that they studied Japanese through high school and in college as well as took many courses in Asian Studies.)

Throughout San Francisco, there are many unsung heroes, who coach soccer and basketball and serve on PTA boards. They support cultural centers and share their talents with local schools.

We owe a debt of thanks to all who bring us together as community. Today my thoughts and words of thanks are with Marge Summerville and Nob Fukuda.  

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

October 23, 2021

Smart Guy
Smarty Pants
Carol Kocivar
Carol Kocivar

As much as I try to keep up, new words are created as quickly as a New York minute. Dope, Simp, Sus, and even SWAG.  WTH?

Don’t eye roll me if I struggle with the ever-changing language of WOKE

Ok, yes, I am a bit sensitive. I really do try keep up. (Isn’t that what twitter is for?)

In the interest of better intergenerational communication, I offer MY list of acronyms.

How about FAPE or LEA or FERPA? Huh? Huh? You open with YEET and I will raise you with LCAP.

How many of these smarty pants education words can you identify?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                

Education Word

Find out more

The Nation’s Report Card

Ed100 Lesson 1.1

Pedagogy

Ed100 Lesson 6.7

Content standards

Ed100 Lesson 6.1

LCFF

Ed100 Lesson 2.1

SEL

Ed100 Lesson 6.13

Prop. 13 

Ed100 lesson 8.4

Prop. 58

Ed100 Lesson 6.3

Prop. 98

Ed100 Lesson 8.4

504

Ed100 Lesson 2.7

IDEA

Ed100 Lesson 2.7

Last and Final Question: Who is Goat: Cassius Clay or Mohammed Ali?

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

October 2021

Children-Covid
Lowell High School Senior Alvan Cai in a scene from the documentary "Try Harder!" The film is by San Francisco director Debbie Lum. It receives its world premiere at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. (Courtesy Try Harder! Film / Lou Nakasako)
Lowell High School Admissions: Hard Work or a roll of the dice?
Carol Kocivar
Carol Kocivar

The San Francisco School Board proclaimed a false victory this past week as it celebrated the increased diversity at Lowell high school. In its victory lap, it forgot the historic role Lowell has played in San Francisco: to provide a challenging high school experience for high achieving and high potential students.

Solving the longtime controversy over admission to Lowell high school is not just about diversity.  Diversity alone is an easy issue to solve. Just replace the existing merit-based admissions system with a “lottery” specifically designed to favor low income and low performing students of color. BINGO. DONE.

The issue is a lot more complicated.

Lowell is recognized as one of the most successful high schools in the country. This is in large part because it admits students who have demonstrated high levels of success in middle and elementary school. The school district has a responsibility to meet the needs of ALL students, and that includes those who need greater academic challenges.

The real issue is how to support those students AND provide a diverse student body. Taking the simple way out and just changing admissions to a lottery falls far short of meeting the needs of all students.

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Just as high school students work hard to achieve a goal of post-secondary education, middle (and elementary students) in San Francisco had entry to Lowell as one incentive. The lottery is a great way to increase diversity. But hard work and responsibility in middle school? Not so much.”

Let’s look at the lottery for a moment. The “lottery” is not exactly a game of chance. There are predetermined winners. The district uses something called tiebreakers, preferences used to place students in their requested school when the number of requests for that school is greater than the number of spaces available.

Lowell certainly fits that category. But when applied to Lowell, it specifically gives preference to students who live in areas with the lowest average test scores. It does not look at any indication of whether that student is well prepared to thrive in an academically challenging high school. It is designed to give predominantly needy students living in specified parts of the city and those attending Willie Brown Middle School their choice of high schools, before anyone else.

Let me be very clear about this. I am not speaking against diversity. Far from it. Years ago as chair of the Lowell Admissions committee, I helped develop an admissions plan that specifically included room for students, who, for many reasons, fell just short of meeting the grade and test score criteria of Lowell. It used the following criteria.

  • Extenuating circumstances
  • Socioeconomic status (self-disclosed)
  • School leadership/service
  • Demonstrated ability to overcome hardship
  • Extracurricular activities (school based)
  • Community Service
  • Creative abilities in performing and visual arts
  • Athletics
  • Participation in peer support/mentor

This plan was supported by those who favored affirmative action and those who favored a merit-based school.

Available data collected by the state going back to 2009 shows a steady increase in ethnic diversity at Lowell.

(The Ethnic Diversity Index reflects how evenly distributed these students are among the race/ethnicity categories. The more evenly distributed the student body, the higher the number. A school where all of the students are the same ethnicity would have an index of 0.)

The Diversity Index at Lowell is higher than most of the SFUSD middle schools that send students to Lowell.

Diversity Growth Chart

The newly applied lottery assignment system, which replaces the use of merit this year, has a number of flaws—not the least of which is taking away the incentive for hard work and responsibility. Just as high school students work hard to achieve a goal of post-secondary education, middle (and elementary students) in San Francisco had entry to Lowell as one incentive. The lottery is a great way to increase diversity. But hard work and responsibility in middle school? Not so much.

The solution is not to fiddle with the lottery system which totally fails to address the needs of high achieving students. A better solution is to create MORE well-prepared students. Too many African American, Latin(x) and Pacific Islander students are struggling.

The school district has created the African American Leadership Initiative, which is showing success in addressing bias, improving instruction and support, and community collaboration. Unfortunately, that has not yet translated into measured academic success. The California School Dashboard shows San Francisco African American students with low performance, lower than the statewide data for comparable students.

Ed-Data shows that for the last five years, nearly 60 percent of African American students were at the lowest performance level on the state literacy tests. They demonstrated limited understanding of adapted grade level content that focuses on much of the basic knowledge and skills, even with extensive support. Only about 5 percent of those students exceeded standards.

This is not a game of either/or. Much more needs to be done to help African American and other students reach their full potential and much more needs to be done to ensure a Lowell admissions policy that addresses both excellence and equity.

This lottery system thumbs its nose at students of all backgrounds who work hard, are responsible and display strong academic achievement and potential. And it thumbs its nose at the hardworking teachers and staff who have helped make Lowell High School one the most outstanding high schools in the nation.

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

September 2021

Children-Covid
Don’t make children victims in a vaccine war

Should COVID vaccinations be mandatory for everyone?

Carol Kocivar
Carol Kocivar

Parents have never been so worried about their own health and the health of their children. … Except when we had epidemics of smallpox. And measles. And polio. And tuberculosis…

The vaccination wars are nothing new. 

People have struggled for centuries to conquer plagues, and doubts are always part of the story. From the Chinese in the year 1000 creating inoculations for smallpox to major scientific breakthroughs such as antitoxins and vaccines, controversy always accompanies efforts to keep people safe.

Throughout the world, states and cities have passed vaccine laws to protect against disease. Those opposed to vaccinations have resisted, declaring an individual right to refuse.

Surging cases of the delta variant of Covid-19 have brought the philosophical divide over vaccination to center stage. Vaccinated people are increasingly upset with those who refuse to be vaccinated, thereby extending the spread of the virus. Many of those opposed to vaccination also vigorously oppose requirements to wear a mask.

quote marks

The classic question: Can states impose safety restrictions that limit individual rights? The quick answer: Yes.”

New this year to the vaccination debate is an active disinformation campaign that aims to convince people not to get vaccinated. The result: a surge of sick people is now filling hospitals beyond capacity. People are dying. 

Arguments for and against vaccine requirements

Vaccine Supporters

Stop being reckless, boneheaded, and selfish. You don't have the right to go around unvaccinated and expose me and my family. You are literally killing people.

Vaccine Opponents

Don’t tell me what to do. I don’t trust vaccines, and I have a right to refuse medical treatments. It's my prerogative to take a chance of getting sick, even if I put others at risk.

The Supreme Court and the right to public safety

We have heard many of these arguments before. Several US Supreme Court decisions in the early 1900’s clarified the rights of states to protect public safety using quarantines and vaccinations.

The classic question: Can states impose safety restrictions that limit individual rights? The quick answer: Yes.

Quarantines: Louisiana, facing an outbreak of yellow fever more than a century ago, passed a quarantine law that allowed communities to keep people from entering cities and towns. The US Supreme Court upheld it. (1902)

Vaccination law: Around the same time, in the midst of a smallpox epidemic, Cambridge, Massachusetts passed a law to fine people who refused to be vaccinated. If you did not pay the fine, you could be imprisoned. Henning Jacobson refused to be vaccinated on personal medical grounds and sued, calling the law unconstitutional. The US Supreme Court ruled that it is within the police power of a state to enact a compulsory vaccination law (1905). Especially during an epidemic, individual liberty is not absolute. The Washington Post provides a fascinating account of this case concluding that it provides a legal precedent for coronavirus vaccine passports.

Mandatory School Vaccinations: In 1922, Rosalyn Zucht, a student from San Antonio, Texas, was excluded from a public school for failure to present proof of vaccination. The US Supreme Court, citing the Jacobson case, said “a state may, consistently with the federal Constitution, delegate to a municipality authority to determine under what conditions health regulations shall become operative.” It is within the power of a state to provide for compulsory school vaccination.

Can we mandate COVID vaccinations for everyone?

Can we now mandate COVID vaccinations for everyone, with appropriate exemptions for medical issues? So far in this pandemic, states have not been this bold. But the Delta variant is highly contagious, and deadly. As of this writing, the vaccines have been shown to be safe for healthy adults and teens 12 and older. Hopefully, research will find them safe for younger children, too. Will a universal mandate be the next step?

Legal experts believe that carefully drafted mandates can pass constitutional muster. (I know, I know. There will be some experts who argue otherwise. My money is squarely on the public safety argument winning the day.)
Want to learn more?

One thing we know for sure: Vaccines save lives.

Before vaccines, epidemics killed people in large numbers and created serious lifelong health challenges for many more. Remarkably, vaccines have essentially eliminated most of these health risks.

Vaccinations protect children from serious preventable diseases. That's why California, like other states, requires children to be immunized to enroll in school

As schools and communities tighten safety requirements, they need to keep their courage. Anti-vaccine disinformation is its own kind of virus.

What do you think?

  • Should vaccinations be mandatory for everyone in schools, including eligible students?
  • Should COVID vaccinations be added to the mandatory vaccine list to enter school?
  • Should people in school settings be required to wear masks even if they are vaccinated?
  • Should schools be required to operate virtually until faculty and families are vaccinated?
  • Who should pay for Covid tests for those who refuse to be vaccinated?
  • It is legal in most states for health insurers to charge smokers higher rates. Should the same be true for those who refuse vaccines?

NOTE: This article from Carol is from Ed100.org. For more information about how the education system works, please join

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

August 2021

Frederick Douglass
Frederick Douglass / Photo: wikimedia commons
Should Teaching About the 4th of July Be Banned?

Let’s teach real history

Carol Kocivar
Carol Kocivar

My bet is that there was more discussion about fireworks on Independence Day than about why this celebration is important to our democracy. And yes, why the history of the holiday is so important to teach children.

History classes drilled the words of the Declaration of Independence into my mind:

“We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness—-That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed…”

Divided opinion about Critical Race Theory is placing some history teachers in a jam. It can be uncomfortable for educators to teach the full history of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. It’s the history of the United States.

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All children should learn how our country was born and how it has matured, including the legal treatment of racism and sexism. They should know, for example, that the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution expressed ideals of equality at a time when racism and sexism flourished.”

Should teaching about the 4th of July be banned?

Should meaningful thinking about the significance of the 4th of July be banned? Of course not — it’s a great opportunity to place America’s progress in historical context.

Independence Day reminds us to recommit to the work of forming a more perfect union to secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity. It invites us to remember our national ideals and celebrate our progress toward them.

All children should learn how our country was born and how it has matured, including the legal treatment of racism and sexism. They should know, for example, that the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution expressed ideals of equality at a time when racism and sexism flourished. They should know that the original Constitution left many people out. They should also know that the language of the Constitution left room for these inequities to be addressed.

In 1852, a decade before the start of the Civil War, abolitionist Frederick Douglas delivered a powerful perspective on the Fourth of July: What to the Slave is the Fourth of July? His message was not a flag-waving celebration but a condemnation of the perpetuation of slavery. To fully understand the history of our nation, students should feel the intensity of this speech.  Watch a video of it here.

Words matter: The Declaration of Independence

Let's examine the words in the Declaration of Independence and compare them to the reality of the day for white men, women, the poor, and people of color.

“All men are created equal…”  

In practice, “all men” meant white men who were property owners — not women or people of color or the poor or indigenous people or slaves. Some have argued that the Constitution is race neutral, in part because the word “slavery” is never mentioned. But many provisions of the Constitution were negotiated to protect slavery. Slaves had no vote, but the weight of slaveholders’ power in the House of Representatives was increased by three-fifths of a person (that is, three-fifths of a white man) for every slave they held. This boosted the legal power of southern slave states to preserve slavery.

The Constitution does not specifically limit the rights of women, but under common law at the time America was founded, a “married woman was not a person; her legal existence was bound up with that of her husband”.

“...They are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Unalienable rights include such things as the right to own private property, to work and enjoy the fruits of one’s labor, to move freely within the county or to another country. At that time, these rights were not extended to women and people of color.

To secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

In practice, huge sections of the population were denied the right to vote. There was no real measure of the consent of the governed, and there would not be for generations.

Working to create a more perfect union

The Declaration of Independence was a key event in the Revolutionary War. It took a civil war and years of advocacy to change the Constitution in ways that reduce these inequities.

Amendments to the US Constitution

 13th amendment

 Abolition of slavery

 1865

 14th amendment

 Civil rights

 1868

 15th amendment

 Black suffrage

 1870

 19th amendment

 Women's suffrage

 1920

 23rd amendment

 Washington, D.C., suffrage

 1961

 24th amendment

 Abolition of poll taxes

 1964

 26th amendment

 18-year-old suffrage

 1971

The work is unfinished. For example, the Equal Rights Amendment, guaranteeing equal rights for all Americans regardless of sex, has been ratified by 38 states but not yet adopted. It reads:

Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.

Racism and sexism have played a central role in the history of the United States. To teach otherwise is to teach falsehood.

Each generation bears the responsibility of teaching children about our democracy and the need for on-going efforts to create a more perfect union. It is an essential and critical role of our public schools.

NOTE: This article from Carol is from Ed100.org. For more information about how the education system works, please join.

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

July 2021

Tributes to Roosevelt
The vacant brick seat in front of the parking lot is where Roosevelt spent many of his days greeting shoppers on West Portal Ave.
We Miss You Roosevelt
Carol Kocivar
Carol Kocivar

Imiss the smile. That GREAT big smile.  

I miss “hey Beautiful” as if I were the only one he ever said that to.

I miss Motown in the early evening that put a little bounce in our walk.

I miss Roosevelt!

Roosevelt was a fixture on West Portal for years. Neighbors grew to love him.

At the corner of West Portal Avenue and Vicente Street, an impromptu shrine collects memories and flowers and notes, love notes, to a man who no longer is with us.

Everyone has a Roosevelt story. My husband used to carry spare change on trips to West Portal to make sure he could deposit something in the cup that sat next to Roosevelt.

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At the corner of West Portal Avenue and Vicente Street, an impromptu shrine collects memories and flowers and notes, love notes, to a man who no longer is with us.”

Roosevelt was bigger than life. He was so much of West Portal that a painting of him graces the wall of the BullsHead Restaurant near the tunnel. He used to get off the bus at the corner and then chow down on great fish and chips.

Everyone knew Roosevelt. Zak at Mozzarella Di Bufala reports his favorite pizza was pepperoni. One slice.

Guess who would order a Vente Coffee with 19 packets of sugar and cream. Roosevelt, at Starbucks. Sometimes he would splurge for a blueberry muffin.

Roosevelt was always sharing his news—especially his birthday. I remember treating him to a huge double scoop ice cream cone from Shaws. And I don’t know how many times I stood behind him in line at Walgreens.

We always teased him about his smoking. Well, teased isn’t exactly the word. Once I bought him a large size Nicorette gum package to see if it would help. He had his eye out for me—knowing that if I caught him smoking I would give him a lecture with a smile. And then he would quickly hide the cigarette as I walked closer.

Roosevelt Bench

I mentioned his name the other day at the West Portal Produce Market—wondering if he ever shopped there. A woman buying her vegetables paid the tribute so many have shared. He was so nice. A gentleman.

Roosevelt. All of us miss you.

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

June 2021

Tony Thurmond
Superintendent Tony Thurmond
Hey San Francisco School Board:
Lowell wins more awards for excellence
Carol Kocivar
Carol Kocivar

While the San Francisco School Board is bent on dramatically changing the selective admission policies at Lowell High School, State and national recognition continues to applaud this school’s success.  

Lowell is the only high school in San Francisco to be recognized as a California Distinguished School this year! This is a big deal.

“These schools are great examples of California’s commitment to provide outstanding public education for all students, and their data-driven efforts have helped ensure that their students leave with the tools and skills they need to be successful after graduation.
Our thanks go to the entire communities surrounding these schools, including the teachers, administrators, and classified employees as well as the students and their families who, through teamwork, all accomplished this impressive achievement together.”

...Superintendent of Instruction Tony Thurmond

Ahhh….. Some people will complain that Lowell does better because it is full of rich white kids. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The student body is about 72 per cent non-white and 35 per cent socioeconomically disadvantaged.

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Some people will complain that Lowell does better because it is full of rich white kids. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The student body is about 72 per cent non-white and 35 per cent socioeconomically disadvantaged.”

Could it be that the Lowell gets a lot more funding than other schools? Nope. Again.
Many other schools get more funding than Lowell.

Lowell’s success is due in large part to a highly motivated student body that has worked hard to achieve academic success.

The California School Dashboard allows you to compare the progress of students at Lowell to those in the City and the state. Lowell outperforms the city and the state in all measures of accountability: academic performance, academic engagement, conditions and climate.

The Dashboard uses a color code to indicate how well you are doing. The color RED indicates real problems. The color BLUE is the highest.

School scorecard

Let’s compare economically disadvantaged students at Lowell to students in San Francisco and the state. Below are the color coded ratings. Lowell’s economically disadvantaged students outperform both the City and the State by A LOT.

School chart

But that’s not all.

Lowell also again received high rankings from US News and World Report as # 7 in California.

So why point all this out?

This is a school the San Francisco School Board should be celebrating, not denigrating. We should be proud of our student achievement. 

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

May 2021

Shaw's Menu
The Re-opening of Shaws in West Portal and Simple Math
Carol Kocivar
Carol Kocivar

When my son was in elementary school at the Japanese Bilingual program at Clarendon, he brought home math Problems of the Week (POW).  

These were never easy. I was stumped. A lot. But somehow, the 4 graders figured out the answers.

Last week, I was reminded of these brain teasers. A newsletter asked me to figure out how much water would be in two cups after I poured one into the other over and over again, spilling one half of each cup into the other.

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If I went to Shaws and ordered a double scoop cone, how many times would I have to go to get all the possible combinations of the flavors? When I mentioned that to my husband, he quickly reminded me that this was a math problem, not an eating contest.”

Ahh. Math wizard Carol was on the case. My husband wondered later that day about all the water on the counter. “Hydration” That was the answer. ‘Hydration’. You can’t figure out the  most complicated math problems without proper hydration.

So later that week, when I finally broke my COVID 19 diet and bought a double scoop cone — (coffee and pistachio) at Shaw’s  it was –drum roll please—The Return of the Brain Teaser.

If I went to Shaws and ordered a double scoop cone, how many times would I have to go to get all the possible combinations of the flavors? When I mentioned that to my husband, he quickly reminded me that this was a math problem, not an eating contest.

There are certain math formulas you must use to figure this out. Hmm. Let me see. Trigonometric functions? No. Quadratic equations?  No. Estimations? Certainly not. Permutations? YES, permutations! 

Given that clue, please email me with the answer using the 20 delicious flavors at Shaws.
You have my permission to find out this answer also through personal experimentation but with one hard and fast rule. You have to weigh yourself every week.

One more brain teaser. I owe this one to every hard working school student in San Francisco.
If you posted “ All children deserve a great education” on social media, how many “likes” would you need to make sure all the residents of San Francisco heard the message?

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

April 2021

Diverse Hands
Don't Mess With Lowell!
Carol Kocivar
Carol Kocivar

This week the San Francisco School Board was put on notice: Changing the selective admission policy of Lowell High School from merit based admissions into a lottery does not sit well with San Franciscans.  

The school board decision now is threatened by legal action on two fronts. Lawyers say:

  • The board meeting violated the Brown Act which requires proper notice and opportunities to be heard.
  • The proposed lottery is unconstitutional and illegal.

The detail in the letters below from two different attorneys is significant and disturbing. Both letters ask the School Board for a do-over. They are “demand letters.” Take back that resolution or legal action will follow.

quote marks

What happened at Lowell is not an isolated attack. It is happening at selective admission schools throughout the country. And it is happening because of our increased awareness of  inequitable opportunities for many black and brown children. But let’s not jump to a solution without properly analyzing the problem.”

Alleged: Brown Act Violations

A March 9 letter says that the notice for the meeting was misleading and incomplete by failing to tell the public that it included a vote to abandon the Lowell admissions policy.  

It also alleges that the Board failed to follow its own policies on community involvement. It did not give equal time to both sides. The letter asks the school board to rescind its action and start over with meaningful community engagement.  Read the letter.

Alleged: Board Action Unconstitutional 
A March 18 letter  challenges the proposed lottery system and the motives of the board, calling the Board’s real motivation “anti-Asian”.
“Unfortunately, the record overwhelmingly establishes that the new admissions program is not only not an impartial “lottery” that will fail to even remedy “systemic racism,” but constitutes an unconstitutional and illegal program designed to disenfranchise hardworking students in the San Francisco Unified School District and decrease the number of Asian students admitted to Lowell. “
“The Board has the gall to argue Lowell’s merit-based admissions process is systemically racist and oppressive towards minorities, yet, this same admissions process created a student body that is overwhelmingly non-white, with a majority from a community that has historically suffered from, and is presently suffering horrendous abuse, including violent attacks, on a daily basis.”
They intend to seek all available remedies, “including court intervention to immediately enjoin the Board’s discriminatory policies” if the board goes ahead with its policy.  Read the letter.
A Broader Issue:  Quality Education for All
What happened at Lowell is not an isolated attack. It is happening at selective admission schools throughout the country. And it is happening because of our increased awareness of  inequitable opportunities for many black and brown children. But let’s not jump to a solution without properly analyzing the problem. 
Take a few moments to read  Are Selective Schools Evil? This gives you the pros and cons of the arguments and bursts the bubble on a common misconception. Just like Lowell, they are not all white and wealthy.
School Boards:  Ask the Right Questions!
Before jumping to a solution that aligns with a particular political philosophy, ask the right questions.
Will getting rid of selective schools raise the achievement of low income students and students of color?
Will high-achieving students at a non-selective school have as many academic opportunities as those at a selective school?
Should a selective school be eliminated because the school district fails to prepare low income and students of color to qualify for it?
If children come to kindergarten several years behind, do we blame the kindergarten class or do we look to other solutions outside just the education arena?
What Would You Do?
There are lots of steps that school districts throughout the country have examined.

...

Note: Questions and chart from Ed100.org, Are Selective Schools Evil?

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

March 2021

Diverse Hands
Let’s Get a Few Facts Straight about Lowell High School
Carol Kocivar
Carol Kocivar

With charges of elitism and racism, the San Francisco school board  made a major blunder in voting to change Lowell High School’s merit based admission policies to a lottery. It fell into the trap of making a decision too quickly—and not looking at all the facts. It ignored one of the most important roles of a school governance: engage the community in decisions before rushing to judgement. 

Let’s start with the issue of diversity.

Is Lowell less diverse than most other San Francisco high schools? 

The answer is a clear NO.

How can we tell? Ed Data , a statewide partnership with the California Department of Education, keeps track of this. 

Ed Data’s Ethnic Diversity Index reflects how evenly distributed students are among the race/ethnicity categories. The more evenly distributed the student body, the higher the number. A school where all of the students are the same ethnicity would have an index of 0.

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Blaming Lowell High School for the increases in racism spurred by social media, political pandering and economic inequity is not the solution. Every school is dealing with this. If anything, Lowell High School should be congratulated for giving students the skills and self-confidence to speak out on this issue.”

Let’s start with some baseline data.

The Ethnic Diversity number for the State of California is 47. 

The Ethnic Diversity number for the San Francisco School District is 63

San Francisco’s overall higher score is because the City is a lot more diverse than many other parts of the state.

But how do San Francisco high schools stack up by diversity?  Is Lowell last? Not by a long shot. In fact, Lowell’s score is right in the middle of all the high schools.

Diversity Chart

Trend in Diversity

So... maybe Lowell’s diversity is going down? That certainly would be a cause for concern. Nope. It’s diversity index is going up at a faster rate than either the school district or the state. By a lot. In fact, Lowell has a better diversity index than the State of California.

Changes in Diversity

Lowell Admissions Committee

The improved diversity index at Lowell is not by chance. It is in part a function of an admission policy that seeks to award both academic achievement and encourage greater diversity. This policy and its evolution was not created overnight by mandate of the school board. I chaired the Lowell Admissions Committee 25 years ago. We worked for two years and included a wide range of often conflicting points of view.

Racism was part of the discussion. Asian parents felt the merit based admission system discriminated against Asian students. Black and Latino parents felt the system discriminated against their children. Both groups were right. We worked hard to create consensus. Not everyone’s view prevailed but we reached a consensus through broad community engagement.

We all agreed on three points:

  • Preserve Lowell as an academically competitive school
  • Oppose a lottery system of student selection
  • Reduce the differing entrance criteria among ethnic groups.

We all believed that our school district needs to meet the needs of all students, and that includes the unique needs of high achieving students.

San Francisco and the Lowell community are facing many of the same issues today. How can we prepare more students for the academic environment of Lowell? How can we address the real racial divide where more Blacks or African Americans and Hispanics or Latinos live on one side of the City and more Whites and Asians live on the other?

 Schools on each side of the City reflect those demographics. Just like the school district, the percentage of Black or African Americans has dropped at Lowell and the percentage of Hispanic or Latino has increased. More needs to be done.

Blaming Lowell High School for the increases in racism spurred by social media, political pandering and economic inequity is not the solution. Every school is dealing with this. If anything, Lowell High School should be congratulated for giving students the skills and self-confidence to speak out on this issue.

There is a better model for making these kinds of decisions. It involves looking at the facts and engaging the community.

The school board should issue a” mea culpa” and start over again. This is no way to run a school district.

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

January 26, 2020

Switch off Netflix. Watch San Francisco Student Performances
Carol Kocivar
Carol Kocivar

I love to watch student performances!

Really.

As we sit inside for way too many evening,  I started to think about all those student performances I would miss this year. Not only do we miss the performances, but we miss taking part in activities that build communities and friendships.

But there is some good news in this world of shut down and social distancing.  Our local schools have posted performances on line.

So here is my recommendation. Turn off Netflix or whatever your addiction of choice and watch the talents of students in our local schools.

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Even though school is closed, students continue to produce and perform high quality work.”

Even though school is closed, students continue to produce and perform high quality work.

Want  to go to a piano recital? Spend an hour at the Winter Piano Recital from the Ruth Asawa School of the Arts.  Watch Free! It’s Terrific.

A group of people posing for a photo

I have a particular soft spot in my heart for Hallelujah by Leonard Cohn.  I get that chill whenever I hear it. Listen to this rendition by the Asawa School of the Arts students. Fantastic!

Joy - a musical performance

If you like these, you can find lots more performances for musical theatre and dance and other performances.  Check the box office for upcoming performances.

Lowell High School has an outstanding concert to  listen  to online.  Interested in visual arts?  Then this display from Lowell High School

The Lowell

Making Art in Quarantine could be just right for you.  The Student Newspaper, The Lowell, features photo essays

 

Have fun!  I know I did.

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

January 26, 2020

ed100 link
Gifts we Took for Granted in 2020
Carol Kocivar
Carol Kocivar

Who could have guessed in January how our perspective on education would change in a year? It has taken a pandemic to help all of us process just how critical schools are to our children and our communities. There are lots of things we just took for granted.

Schools keep our economy going.

Unless we have someone to watch our children, we don’t have workers to keep the economy going. We now realize how important it is to have a safe, reliable place for children to go. Before and after school programs at school sites are much more than convenient — they are essential.

Schools create community.

Schools are where children and parents make lifelong friends, share ideas and work together for a common good. With schools closed, we all miss those personal connections. Thank you PTAs and parents throughout the state who have stepped up virtually to help keep us connected.

Schools fight hunger and poverty.
Schools are the major provider of meals for children. We all owe a debt of thanks to school districts throughout the state that continue to provide nutrition to families and children even though school is closed.

Teachers have super powers

Keeping children learning, engaged, and attentive is not a piece of cake. Faced with the sudden challenges of distance learning, teachers and staff displayed remarkable ingenuity and perseverance. As Shonda Rhimes famously tweeted: “Been homeschooling a 6-year old and 8-year old for one hour and 11 minutes. Teachers deserve to make a billion dollars a year. Or a week.”

The digital divide is too big to solve through donations.

Covid-19 has made it clear that computing devices and broadband are necessary conditions for learning, and it’s going to stay that way. Don’t point fingers at schools for lacking these things — the world has changed. #2 pencils and textbooks aren’t enough anymore. Federal and state policy needs to catch up with the times.

Health and education are related. Schools could help.

Children need health and social services. Community schools have emerged as a powerful and efficient strategy to address this shortcoming, but most schools lack the personnel and resources to meet this need.

Pandemic reveals shortcomings in education investments

Public education is more important than ever.

I hope you can join in working to improve our public schools. One good way to start is to read Ed100,a web site designed to give you the skills and confidence to speak up for our children and our schools.  This article is from Ed100.org.   You can find many lessons on how education works, including how our schools are funded.

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

December 30, 2020

...
Lessons Learned in 2020
Carol Kocivar
Carol Kocivar

There is a theory of learning through the use of repetition. There is a theory of learning through the use of repetition. There is a theory of learning through the use of repetition

Ok. I got it. I got it.  I got it.

Seriously, there is a lot of research about something called spaced learning. Repeating material after time helps cement that information in your brain.

Person, woman, man, camera, TV.
Person, woman, man, camera, TV.
TV, camera, man, woman, person.
Oops.

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While I was repeating over and over  “wear a mask...wash my hands...wear a mask...wash my hands,” he was creating spaced learning for the alternative universe. (The spaced out universe).  “Don’t wear a mask...don’t wear a mask...don’t wear a mask.” And I am not even going to touch whether he washed his tiny hands.”

This is the year I really got to practice the concept of spaced learning. Starting in March, the mantra “wear a mask, wash my hands, where in the world did I leave my glasses?” was firmly embedded in my daily routine.

I do remember trying this idea with my children when they were teenagers. Every morning I would repeat the same mantra:
            Get up. 
Make your bed. 
Grab your lunch. 
Off to school.

Every single morning.  

And I swear, by the time they were seniors in high school they had this down, except for the “grab your lunch” part and the “make your bed” part.

This year I was not alone in practicing spaced learning. So was our President.  

While I was repeating over and over  “wear a mask...wash my hands...wear a mask...wash my hands.,” he was creating spaced learning for the alternative universe. (The spaced out universe).  “Don’t wear a mask...don’t wear a mask...don’t wear a mask.” And I am not even going to touch whether he washed his tiny hands.

I hate it when people say, “It goes without saying”. Then, they say it anyway.

It goes without saying that not only did he master this in his treatment of how to approach the pandemic but he mastered the art of repetition, turning facts into alternative facts and then into, yes, “lies...lies... lies.”

My daily spaced learning routine this year consisted of:

  • Read twitter—laugh
  • Watch animal videos—laugh
  • Read the newspaper—grimace
  • Look at the COVID reports—gasp, and 
  • Say:  F$#!…Trump
  • Say:  F$#!…Trump
  • Say:  F$#!....Trump

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

December 2020

What Biden Might Mean for California Education: Stronger Support for Public Schools
Jil Biden-Save the Children
Jil Biden at Save the Children conference

Presidents can have a big impact on the direction of public education. How will the Biden administration affect education in California? 

Carol Kocivar
Carol Kocivar

President-elect Biden campaigned on an expansive agenda for public education. His plan checks a lot of the boxes on the wish lists of teachers, researchers and many parents. But moving an ambitious education agenda from a list on paper to actual implementation depends a lot on politics.

The key date to look at is Jan. 5, 2021. If Democrats win the two contested Senate seats in Georgia on that date and thereby gain control of the U.S. Senate, then the Biden agenda will be much easier to pass. (Note: this says “easier”, not “easy.”)

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His approach bears the fingerprints of first-lady-elect Dr. Jill Biden, a lifelong teacher and a member of the National Education Association. In his victory speech, President-elect Biden highlighted his wife's connection to public education: “For America’s educators, this is a great day. You’re going to have one of your own in the White House.””

This would be a dramatic shift. President Trump's education agenda has centered on support for private school choice, generally cutting funding for public education. Biden, by contrast, has proposed significant new investments in teachers and students.

His approach bears the fingerprints of first-lady-elect Dr. Jill Biden, a lifelong teacher and a member of the National Education Association. In his victory speech, President-elect Biden highlighted his wife's connection to public education: “For America’s educators, this is a great day. You’re going to have one of your own in the White House.”

Teacher unions supported the Biden campaign, and many of the ideas on the president-elect's checklist match issues that teacher unions have strongly supported:
  • Triple funding for Title l, a federal program that supports schools with large numbers of children from low-income families.
  • Require districts to use these Title 1 funds to offer competitive salaries to educators in these schools.
  • Support preschool for three- and four-year olds.
  • Double the number of psychologists, guidance counselors, nurses, social workers, and other health professionals in schools.
  • Expand the use of community schools to serve an additional 300,000 students and their families.
  • Improve school buildings, prioritizing health risks, including ventilation systems and technology.
  • Fully fund special education within 10 years.
  • Make two years of community college free.
  • Cancel student loan debt for low- and middle-income borrowers who attended a public college or a private historically black institution.
  • Implement gun control legislation to make schools safer.

COVID-19 and Education Budgets

Despite pleas from educators for federal help, the Trump administration has opposed legislation to provide significant emergency funding for education. The Biden administration faces an early challenge: Get a bill through Congress of a size sufficient to support schools through the COVID-19 crisis.

The President-elect has said that he supports the Heroes Act, a measure passed by the House to provide emergency funding. (The measure has not found the necessary level of support in the Senate.) Additionally, he has expressed support for funding to cover specific costs that schools face while the pandemic persists, such as personal protective equipment; public health and sanitation products; custodial and health services; and alterations to building ventilation systems, classrooms, schedules, class size, and transportation.

Biden also supports more funding to meet technology needs.

The education-related costs of the pandemic are giant. The Learning Policy Institute estimates that the pandemic will cost public schools between $199 billion and $246 billion, depending on how educational services are provided. These estimates include both the increased costs of dealing with COVID-19 and the loss of state revenue.

New Secretary of Education

One of the most important decisions Biden will make is to appoint a new Secretary of Education, replacing Betsy DeVos. Under the Trump Administration, Secretary DeVos de-emphasized federal support for traditional public schools, redirecting attention instead to education choice programs through the use of tax-funded private school tuition vouchers.

She also narrowed the scope of civil rights guidance that protected Black students from disproportionate discipline and used federal power to support discrimination against transgender students.

The president-elect has pledged to appoint an educator as Secretary of Education, and many controversial DeVos policies seem likely to be reversed. Biden has appointed Linda Darling Hammond, president of the California State Board of Education, to head a transition team focused on the federal Department of Education.

Her recommendations are likely to align with those expressed in a document she helped write: Restarting and Reinventing School: Learning in the Time of COVID and Beyond:

"It is clear that returning to business as usual in education is not possible and that we must think of 'school' in deeply different ways."

Poverty and Education

Other Biden policy proposals will have a significant impact on how well children learn. These include proposals to expand racial economic equity, expand child care and pre-school, and expand a child tax credit. Reducing incarceration rates that leave children in poverty is also on the Biden agenda. The Ed100 blog post Funding Education: Are We Looking at the Right Numbers looks more closely at this issue. Poverty has a deep and lasting impact on the future of children.

Want to find out more about California education? Read Ed100.org

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

November 2020

School Names and Political Correctness
Abraham Lincoln High School
Abraham Lincoln High School is one of 44 schools under consideration for renaming
Carol Kocivar
Carol Kocivar

President Trump and those who want to rename San Francisco public schools have a lot in common. Even though on opposite sides of the political spectrum, they want their own view of historical purity to prevail.

President Trump wants to dismantle the teaching of American history and feature only his view of patriotism.

Those who want to change school names are searching for historical perfection in an imperfect world.

I agree that we should not celebrate those who represent the worst in our society. But there is true historical value to recognizing leaders who have made our world better—and recognizing them warts and all.

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I agree that we should not celebrate those who represent the worst in our society. But there is true historical value to recognizing leaders who have made our world better—and recognizing them warts and all.”

Learning history includes learning about the morality of the day. It includes learning from mistakes. It includes recognizing that people can be imperfect and still do good.

We want our children to learn about significant people in history. That’s why we name schools after people who have improved our communities and our country.  Naming schools should not be up to the purity police—regardless of what side of the political spectrum we fall on.

Let’s keep in mind this quote:

Show me a person who has never made a mistake and I will show you someone who has never achieved much.

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

October 20, 2020

Voting for Kids

Deciding how to vote can be very personal. We all use slightly different metrics to decide whether we favor or oppose something on the ballot.

One question I always ask is “Does it help our children and our schools?” This year there are three significant measures I want to bring to your attention

Top Choice Local Ballot measure: Yes on Prop. J More Money for Schools

Carol Kocivar
Carol Kocivar

The pandemic has crushed the state economy and with it funding for our public schools. Even before the pandemic California school funding lagged the nation. This underfunding means teacher shortages, lack of counselor and support staff, not enough technology and on and on. Prop J will generate approximately $48.1 million annually for San Francisco schools.

Prop J replaces the 2018 School Parcel Tax with a new tax that lowers the annual tax rate from $320 per parcel to $288 per parcel. Read that sentence again. Prop J replaces the 2018 School Parcel Tax with a new tax that lowers the annual tax rate from $320 per parcel to $288 per parcel.

Handbook-J.

Investing in our schools and our children is one of the smartest things we can do right now.

Top Choices State Ballot Measures: Yes on Prop. 15: More Money for Our Schools and Communities

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Prop J replaces the 2018 School Parcel Tax with a new tax that lowers the annual tax rate from $320 per parcel to $288 per parcel. Read that sentence again.”

Prop. 15 closes a big loophole that favors large commercial and industrial real property. When you sell property, the tax on that property is changed to reflect the current market price. But commercial and industrial property sales can be structured to avoid new property assessments. Businesses that have been held a long time keep their low tax rates.

Handbook-15.

To fix that, Prop. 15 changes how commercial and industrial property worth more than $3 million is taxed. It would be on the basis of its current fair market value instead of the property’s market value at the time of purchase--even if the purchase was decades ago. The increased property taxes will generate between $6.5 billion to $11.5 billion in new funding to local governments and schools.

This will not change residential property taxes.

It will, however, bring California in line with the way other states tax commercial and industrial property: based on market value. Existing property tax rate limits remain the same.

Yes on Prop. 16: Opportunity for all

Prop 16 will permit the use of race, gender, and ethnic diversity as factors (but not decisive factors) in public education, public employment, and public contracting.

Handbook-16.

Does it allow quotas? NO.

But it does allow us to take into consideration of legacy of unequal treatment of marginalized groups and promote fairness and advance upward mobility, pay and gender equity, and racial wealth gap reduction. California is one of only nine states that bans affirmative action as a tool to fight discrimination.

These inequities are particularly hard on children who do not have the same opportunities as children who live in white middle class families.

Everyone deserves the opportunity to succeed — regardless of their gender, what they look like, or where they were born.

www.yes15.org

• Tony Thurmond, California Superintendent of Public Instruction

• Latino Community Foundation

• California Teachers Association

• League of Women Voters

• California State PTA

• California Democratic Party and Green Party

• Carol Kocivar

www.noonprop15.org

• Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association

• California State Conference of the NAACP

• California Small Business Association

• California Taxpayers Association

• California Chamber of Commerce

• California Restaurants Association

• California Black Chamber of Commerce

You can find the political arguments—and I mean political—by clicking on the web sites of each campaign.

The names of the supporters and Opponents is from Ballotpedia.

Note on Revenue Estimates: For Local Governments :The revenue estimates reflect the total amount of additional revenue from market value reassessment of commercial property (based on the highest end of the range estimated by the LAO) to be allocated to individual local jurisdictions. Amounts reflect the LAO's estimated reductions for additional assessor costs, personal property tax relief, and other offsets. For Schools and Community Colleges : Revenue projections are based on $11.5 billion split 60/40 using 2018-19 funding ratios.)

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

October 2020

A generic square placeholder image with rounded corners in a figure.
Prop. 15: More Money for our Schools and Communities
Carol Kocivar
Carol Kocivar

California schools need about  $20 billion next year to avoid widespread layoffs and cuts to essential programs, according to estimates from the Education Coalition. Across the nation, cities, municipal governments and pension funds face similar budget shortfalls.

At the same time, the stock market has risen to historic highs and federal tax rates on businesses profits have been reduced to historic lows.

What are the options?

  • Do nothing and hope the problems disappear.
  • Identify fair ways to collect taxes to fund our schools and communities.
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Prop. 15 does something relatively straightforward. It raises money for schools and communities by requiring commercial and industrial real property worth more than $3 million to be taxed on the basis of its current fair market value.”

That’s essentially what voters will decide this November when they vote on Proposition 15.

What Does Proposition 15 Do?

Prop. 15 does something relatively straightforward.  It raises money for schools and communities by requiring commercial and industrial real property worth more than $3 million to be taxed on the basis of its current fair market value.

Right now, the tax is based on property's market value at the time of purchase even if the purchase was decades ago.  That means large commercial and industrial property bought years ago is now worth LOTS more than the original purchase price. But our schools and communities don’t benefit from this increase in property value.

Prop. 15 will bring California in line with the way most other states tax commercial and industrial property: based on market value. Existing property tax rate limits remain the same.

It will not change residential property taxes.  Let me repeat that.

  • It will not change residential property taxes. 
  • It will not change residential property taxes.
  • It will not change residential property taxes. 

 That’s it!

Ballot handbook quick summary
From the California Voters Handbook

How much money will schools and communities get?

By taxing properties on the basis of their current value, Prop 15 will generate between $6.5 billion to $11.5 billion in new funding according to the California Legislative Analyst. About 60 percent of these funds will go to cities, counties, and special districts. The other 40 percent will go to K-12 schools and community colleges.

Money for K-12 schools will be distributed based on the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF). All school districts and charter schools will get more money, with additional funds directed toward school districts where needs are greatest. 

How Much Will San Francisco Get?

Lots.

The estimates from the Yes on 15 campaign are:

  • The County of San Francisco could get more than $400 million.
  • The San Francisco School District could get up to $35 million.
  • City College could get nearly $10 million.

Sometimes voters make decisions based on who is FOR  a proposition and who is AGAINST it.  To help you out, here is a short list of the pros and cons.  You will note I added my name to the Yes on 15 list.

Yes on 15 logo

https://www.yes15.org

  • Tony Thurmond, California Superintendent of Public Instruction
  • Latino Community Foundation
  • California Teachers Association
  • League of Women Voters
  • California State PTA
  • California Democratic Party and Green Party
  • Carol Kocivar
No on 15 logo

https://noonprop15.org

  • Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association
  • California State Conference of the NAACP
  • California Small Business Association
  • California Taxpayers Association
  • California Chamber of Commerce
  • California Restaurants Association
  • California Black Chamber of Commerce

You can find the political arguments—and I mean political—by clicking on the web sites of each campaign.

The names of the supporters and Opponents is from Ballotpedia.

Note on Revenue Estimates: For Local Governments :The revenue estimates reflect the total amount of additional revenue from market value reassessment of commercial property (based on the highest end of the range estimated by the LAO) to be allocated to individual local jurisdictions. Amounts reflect the LAO's estimated reductions for additional assessor costs, personal property tax relief, and other offsets. For Schools and Community Colleges : Revenue projections are based on $11.5 billion split 60/40 using 2018-19 funding ratios.)

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

September 2020

I love the Library!!!
Carol Kocivar
Carol Kocivar

My kids grew up going to the West Portal Library every week for story time. That morphed into visits where we brought large bags to carry home all the books the kids wanted to read.

Even with the library physically closed these days, I use its services almost every day.  No kidding.

Probably my most frequent use is movies and books through their online e services.  All you need is a SF Public Library Card to sign up. 

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Any time someone mentions a good book, I literally just go to my phone and reserve it on the App. That says a lot...”

eServices Available at the Public Library

logos of available services.

Any time someone mentions a good book, I literally just go to my phone and reserve it on the App. That says a lot both for my use of technology and my ability to remember the suggestion by the time I get home. 

I also get weekly updates on great moves available on Kanopy and Hoopla.  (Should I remind  you that these are FREE and just as good as those you have to pay a subscription for.  In fact, some of them are the same.)   You can  sign up here .

viva logo

Since this is Latino Hispanic Heritage Month, there are loads of other author events you can access .  I just signed up for a  Presentation: Diego Rivera in San Francisco Saturday, 9/12/2020, 11:00 - 12:00. 

Also now on my calendar is  Food: Chilean Salsa-making en Español for Friday, 9/18/2020, 3:00 - 3:45    They say the best way to learn a language is through your stomach.  ( I just made that up but I swear it's true. Bon Appetite.  buen provecho, buon appetite,  Itadakimasu. )

The San Francisco Public Library—a good and mind nourishing entertainment alternative.

And its FREE.

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

September 2020

puzzle pieces graphic
Standing Up for the Arts
Carol Kocivar
Carol Kocivar
brain graphic.

In tough budget times, it can be hard to stand up for arts education. As the Coronavirus looms over everything, some school districts are already slimming down arts programs for this coming year.

But here’s some advice for parents: Even in this new world of distance learning, schools must provide students with a full curriculum — and a full curriculum includes the arts. California law specifies that the arts should include instruction (in grades 1-6) or courses (in grades 7-12) in four disciplines: dance, drama and theatre, music, and visual arts. 

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The arts touch our emotional core, whether it is song or dance or drama or drawing. The arts can connect the mind and the spirit and help guide children from crisis to confidence.”

Why Push for the Arts Now?

With so many families struggling through these difficult times, the arts are more important than ever. The arts touch our emotional core, whether it is song or dance or drama or drawing. The arts can connect the mind and the spirit and help guide children from crisis to confidence. Multiple studies show how arts education not only decreases feelings of anxiety and depression but also improves all-around academic performance. As schools reopen, the California Department of Education asks all schools to keep the emotional well-being of all at the forefront of their decision making. The arts are essential to meet this challenge.

Are the Arts Part of Your School District Plan?

By September 30, school districts must adopt a Learning Continuity and Attendance Plan that explains how student learning continuity will be addressed during the COVID-19 crisis in the 2020–21 school year. The template to download.

Two components of the plan provide opportunities for parents to advocate for inclusion of the arts: 

  1. Full Curriculum: School districts must explain how students will have access to a full curriculum.  
  2. Mental Health and Social and Emotional Well-Being. The plan must also explain how the district will support mental health and social and emotional well-being. (Did someone just say “teach the arts?”)

Speak up for the Arts

The school district must consult with the school community in developing its Learning Continuity Plan and provide an opportunity to submit written comments. This plan must also be presented at a public hearing for review and comment by members of the public, with options for remote participation. 

This is your chance to find out how the arts are included in distance and classroom learning. In addition to speaking at the public hearing, you can also speak with your principal and the person in your district designated as the Visual and Performing Arts (VAPA) Coordinator.

What do you want to know? Here are some suggestions from Kim Hoj, Co-President of the California Dance Education Association. She has experience as a dance educator, assistant principal and district VAPA / CTE coordinator.

Questions to ask your principal or VAPA director

Are all the arts embedded into the plan for distance learning? 

Will my child have access to music, visual arts, theatre and dance?

What will the school day look like? When and how often will there be arts instruction?

Will my child have standards-based instruction taught by credentialed educators? 

Will there be a teaching artist working with a credentialed educator? 

How are we creating equity in the arts?

How are teachers approaching arts integration?

What are the subjects? How are teachers collaborating

How can parents and our community support the arts?

You can find out more about the importance of the arts at Ed100.org

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

August 24, 2020

Teaching Civics Has Never Mattered More
Creating space graphic.

Whether it’s protests about police violence and racism or defiance of government orders to wear a mask, the most fundamental issues of our democracy are being played out every day in front of millions of people.

Carol Kocivar
Carol Kocivar

This unique time in history, a confluence of pandemic, prejudice and protest, makes teaching civics more important than ever.

A Teachable Moment

Children are not born knowing the basic ideas of democracy. It is up to each generation to teach them. And that is a central role of our public schools.

Can you and your children answer these basic questions about our democracy?

  • What rights do we have to protest racist actions by the government? (1st Amendment)
  • How much force can the police use to keep the peace? (4th and 8th)
  • Can the government restrict our rights in order to protect public health? (14th)
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These classes can help students develop skills to make decisions based on facts and issues rather than personalities and attacks.”

What Does Civics Teach?

Civics is not just a class. It is a topic woven through many classes from elementary through high school grades. The teachers are not "civics" teachers but classroom teachers with their main focus on many subjects. In total, civics instructs students about how our government works, which can help put today’s events in context.

But civics does a lot more. Intentional instruction about civics can help students become engaged, responsible citizens. These classes can help students develop skills to make decisions based on facts and issues rather than personalities and attacks.

It's not just about "teaching civics" — it's about conveying civic values: concern for the rights and welfare of others, fairness, and a sense of public duty.

It matters for our democracy that everyone understands how to participate and make a difference.

Time to Talk About Race

Discussion is critical to developing a civic understanding of controversial issues. And today, racism is at the top of the list. Here are some resources to start the conversation.

How Well is Your School Teaching Civics?

Luckily, California’s updated History-Social Science frameworks emphasize civic learning and have many resources for K-12 classrooms. But there is a big difference between strong state resources and what happens at school.

What Does A Great Civic Education Program Look Like?

The gold standard, which is part of California’s civics frameworks, is described in Guardian of Democracy: The Civic Mission of Schools. It highlights six practices that high quality civics programs use:

  • Classroom instruction in government, history, law, and democracy
  • Discuss current events and controversial issues
  • Service Learning (Provide students the opportunity to apply what they learn in the curriculum through community service.)
  • Extracurricular activities (Opportunities to get involved in school or community)
  • Student participation in school governance
  • Simulations of democratic practices:

How many of those practices does your school provide to all students K-12?

Visit Ed100.org for keep up to date on education issues.

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

August 2020

CONGRATULATIONS GRADUATES!

Celebration right now, come on!

Let’s put the depressing pandemic news aside for a moment and celebrate the graduation of San Francisco students. 

For parents, it is that time to feel proud of what our children have accomplished. Every parent is entitled to feel a little teary-eyed as children grow-up and move on to the next step in life.

For students, this pandemic has changed the traditional last get-together graduation ceremony and zoomed us into another dimension.

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it is that time to feel proud of what our children have accomplished. Every parent is entitled to feel a little teary-eyed as children grow-up and move on to the next step in life”

Take a look at this video celebration created by students at Ruth Asawa School of the Arts in San Francisco.

Graduating seniors Julian Jordan and Kyle Trefny  produced this short film about challenges the Class of 2020 faced due to the COVID-19.

It’s a timely call to action to create a safer, kinder and more sustainable future.

It’s a great message and example of what our public schools teach our children.

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

June 2020

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. 

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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:

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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!”

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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.

Ready?

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.

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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.

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...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.

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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.

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…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?

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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

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