Elizabeth Weise

What can parents and communities do to create socioeconomically integrated schools?

A look into San Francisco’s education market

with 30 comments

Updated March 29–I found one more school that opened this year.

By Beth Weise             

March 27, 2014

A total of 14,154 students recently received offer letters to San Francisco’s public schools for the 2014-2015 school year. As is common, demand far exceeded capacity at the most popular and high-scoring schools. Concurrently, a start-up private school here reported getting $33 million in venture capital funding.

While our public schools have broadened their reach, in terms of the socioeconomic diversity of families enrolled, we face a growing problem in San Francisco: public schools are losing out in the local education market place.

Approximately one-third of the City’s 80,000 school-aged children attend private schools. Between 2009 and 2015 eleven new private schools will have opened in San Francisco. An existing school recently announced plans to double its enrollment. When full, these 11 schools could enroll as many as 5,000 students. That’s almost 10% of San Francisco Unified School District’s current 53,000 students.

The staff and teachers of the San Francisco Unified School District work incredibly hard to make sure all students succeed. Sixty-one percent of SFUSD students are eligible for free lunch. Twenty-seven percent speak English as a second language. Twelve percent have an individualized education plan. These students need and deserve services to help them learn and thrive. Increasing the percentage of students enrolled in SFUSD by enticing families with children currently attending private schools would drive increased resources to SFUSD through per-pupil funding allocations and contribute to a diverse – racially, socioeconomically, and culturally – student population; all things the District wants.

Yet little is done to understand why families choose to privately educate their children and even less to lure them back to public schools. Education is a market. Like auto insurance or health care, it’s a market where consumers are legally obligated to purchase the product, but many families in San Francisco get to choose from whom.

Strong efforts by both the District and Parents for Public Schools have expanded the list of schools that are considered “good” over the past decade and the city is full of schools that have turned around or are still hidden gems. While schools still ‘flip,’ they are not doing so at the rate private schools are opening.

As a city, we are facing an economic turning point. Will famously liberal San Francisco become a place where the poor and working class attend public schools and the upper middle class and wealthy attend privates? San Francisco is an outlier. In Manhattan, only 20% of students attend private school. California-wide, the number is 9%. The national figure is 10%…and falling.

We need to look honestly at what’s happening in the City’s educational market place to understand what is driving nearly one-third of potential customers away from public schools and catalyzing the opening of ten new private schools in six years.

What do these families want, but are not finding, in our public schools? What do private schools offer that leads families to willingly spend as much as $23,000 for a private elementary school and as much as $35,000 for a private high school?

Without acknowledging, understanding, and correcting for this enrollment discrepancy, San Francisco will become even more divided at the K – 12 level. Our schools will become less economically diverse, more racially segregated and there will be less public focus and interest in bettering them.

SFUSD’s own data points

  • One-fourth of the children born to San Francisco residents leave the city before entering kindergarten, one-fourth attend private schools, and one-half attend public schools.[1]
  • Of students who enroll in public kindergarten, 13% exit the public school system by the time they reach the eighth grade.[2]
  • Higher family income is the single most important characteristic of children in private schools, even when controlling for race, place of birth, and area of residence.[3]
  • SFUSD’s demographic analysis from 2010 presumes almost all its enrollment growth over the next 30 years will come from families in public housing.[4]

Are private school families not open to public schools?

Far from being aghast that one in three families reject our public schools, there seems to be a belief in San Francisco that the status quo is set in stone and immutable. It is not clear this is true.

For parochial schools, the presumption is that the families are Catholic and want a Catholic education for their children. However, according to the Archdiocese of San Francisco Department of Catholic Schools, one in five students in San Francisco’s Catholic schools do not come from Catholic families.[5]

Another frequently cited ‘fact’ is that San Francisco’s private schools are full of old money families who have always sent their kids to Town, Hamlin, Burkes and other similarly long-established schools. They will not change because it is their family tradition.

However the number of new schools opening to fulfill market demand clearly shows this is not correct. Anecdotally, a large number of San Francisco families who have children in private schools today attended public schools in the towns and cities they grew up in. They are products of public schools with no ties to the private school world. And yet in San Francisco they choose private.

What’s to be done?  

There are two questions to answer here:

The first is whether the families choosing private are simply misguided and could find just as good an education in the public schools. If the answer is yes, all SFUSD needs to do is trumpet the facts for all to hear. Job done.

The other is whether the privates do indeed offer things the public schools don’t.

Actually, we know that there are dozens of excellent public schools in San Francisco that offer an education just as good as or even superior to that offered by many privates. The question is, can SFUSD leverage its ability to provide excellent education so it reaches a larger number of potential customers?

Meet students where they are

Let’s be honest. San Francisco is getting wealthier and more educated. San Francisco was second in the nation for job growth in 2013.[6] However one might feel about it, the trend is real. These families want schools that will meet their children where they are. Many find themselves assigned to schools they feel will not.

The top ten most requested elementary schools for 2014 were also among the highest scoring in the district. Clarendon, which had a stunning 61 applicants per kindergarten seats, has an API score of 956 out of 1,000. Families are clearly motivated strongly by academics.

However, many parents report perceiving a general attitude from some SFUSD staff (often at the District level) that the public schools exist to serve struggling students first. The message they perceive is that students working at or above grade level do not need nor deserve programs that meet their needs. One mother who toured the school her daughter had been assigned to was told, “Our focus is literacy. Getting students reading is the priority.”

When she said her four-year-old could already read, she was told her daughter could tutor other students still learning to read. While not philosophically opposed to that for part of the school day, she felt the school had little to offer her daughter in the way of learning because there was such a small cohort of students in the kindergarten at her daughter’s level. Her family ended up taking a spot in a private school.

We have a school district with a high proportion of students who are learning English or who are coming into school less academically prepared. But in meeting the needs of these students, we cannot ignore the needs of students who come in more academically prepared.

We have many public schools that do just that. We also have schools that do not. To pretend all the schools are the same is to ignore reality—and lose far too many families to the privates or the suburbs.


What might the District offer to bring these families back?



Public language immersion schools have been hugely popular and many families who chose immersion programs report they would have gone to private schools had the opportunity not existed. The market is paying attention. Two private immersion schools, one Italian and one Chinese, opened in San Francisco in 2011 and 2012 respectively.

After a wonderful ramp up of immersion school opportunities in San Francisco, our public schools have not continued to target what is a clear market. In fact, SFUSD has turned away parents eager to roll up their sleeves and make more.

San Francisco has three French immersion private schools that cannot accommodate all the students who want to enroll. In 2009 a group of parents began meeting to create a French immersion program within SFUSD. When they made their proposal to the District, they were told that the program would appeal only to English-speaking families. Because it did not serve the needs of an English Language Learner community, it would not be considered. Those families went private.

New York City’s public schools have taken an opposite approach. There, eight public schools offer French immersion, with two more scheduled to join in the fall of 2014. At least seven groups of parents are currently lobbying to include their local schools in the immersion program.[7]

We know immersion works to keep families public. The RAND Corporation has a three-year research project[8] underway in the Portland Public Schools. Portland has focused heavily on immersion and currently offers programs in Spanish, French, Japanese, Mandarin, Russian and Vietnamese. One RAND finding is that students in the district’s lottery who win assignment to a language immersion program are much more likely to enroll in kindergarten, as opposed to leaving for the suburbs or private school.

Thirteen percent of students who got their language immersion choice enrolled in kindergarten, compared with 37% of didn’t get their choice and then didn’t enroll in a Portland Public School kindergarten.  RAND also found that students in immersion were 10% more likely to stay in the district in first grade and 18% more likely by sixth grade.


The new Common Core math curriculum will offer more in-depth math at all levels, which is an excellent outcome. However, in middle school the School Board has voted to do away with honors math in the schools that offer it, saying such differentiation is inequitable. The District cited a book[9] by San Francisco State University professor Maika Watanabe to support its decision.

On February 25, Professor Watanabe emailed the Parents for Public Schools’ listserve group to say that while research shows it is possible to challenge already high-achieving math students while simultaneously addressing the needs of students who are struggling, it takes teacher support and small class size.

Dr. Watanabe suggested schools aim for 22 students per class. As the schools that were losing honors math have 35 students per class, many parents questioned whether their math-loving children would continue to be challenged.

The market sensed an opening. In February, The Proof School announced it would open a private math and science-focused school serving 7th through 12th grades in downtown San Francisco. The school plans to offer three hours of math a day. It doesn’t even have non-profit status yet but is already getting donations. Its website says the school “is for young people who live and breathe mathematics, who yearn for a peer group to learn with and a community of mathematicians to learn from. They may survive at other schools; they will thrive at Proof School.”

AltaVista School, founded in 2010, and Brightworks, in 2012, also are math and science focused.

With the large number of engineers, scientists and programmers in San Francisco it’s no wonder there exists a large group of children who come to school hungry for math. The public schools could easily support multiple high-level, rigorous magnet schools devoted to math and science. We have none.

No GATE or Honors

There is effectively little or no GATE in SFUSD elementary schools, due to funding cuts. In the past, our schools had robust Gifted and Talented Education programs that featured pull-out programs for GATE identified students. Those have been eliminated. In 2012, the District’s GATE coordinator advised parents whose children needed a challenge to enroll them in one of the District’s Chinese immersion programs in lieu of GATE.

In 2011, SFUSD began a quiet effort to end existing middle school honors classes in the name of equity. Instead, teachers are to differentiate. However as a vice principal at Hoover (a school that ended honors this year) said on a tour, that’s extremely difficult to do in a class of 35 students.

The marketplace is clearly responding to families seeking schools that meet children at their academic level. On March 18 the San Francisco Chronicle reported AltSchool had received $33[10] million in venture capital money. Its business plan is to offer students a technology-intensive, personalized learning program while automating administrative services to keep other costs low. The school’s first site opened in September in the Dogpatch neighborhood. It plans to open a dozen more such spaces in San Francisco next fall.

There’s also the Stratford School, which opened a San Francisco campus in 2009. It advertises itself as a school with an “accelerated curriculum.”

What should SFUSD do?                                                                                       

Any business that loses one of every three potential customers and sees ten new companies offering the same product launch in a six-year period would go on the offensive. SFUSD needs to find out why it is losing potential customers and figure out how to get them back. Education is not widgets but it is a marketplace. However, too many parents report hearing these responses when they raise this issue:

  • SFUSD families are happy with the education we provide.
  • Parents don’t realize our schools are just as academically strong as the privates. They should come and visit us so they can see what a great job we do.
  • We’re busy taking care of the students we serve now. We don’t have time or energy to worry about students who go elsewhere.
  • Families who send their children to private school are elitist.

This is a call to arms. San Francisco cannot and should not lose one-third of its students to private institutions. But if we do not offer what families want for their children, they will leave. SFUSD and PPS need to dig deep into this. We need:

  • Surveys of families who chose private for kindergarten.
  • Exit interview with families who leave at middle school.
  • Focus groups to ask families what would bring them to public schools.
  • Political will to create programs that appeal to all San Francisco families.

If the problem is misinformation, inform.

If the problem is not meeting students at their ability level, meet them.

If the problem is not offering what families want for their children, offer it.

Do not blame families for leaving—entice them into staying.


SF private schools opened since 2009:


Proof School

7th – 12th

Downtown San Francisco

Math and science focus

No projected enrollment numbers available

No tuition numbers available



Live Oak

Will double enrollment “to meet increasing demand”

Potrero Hill

K – 8, “The private school for public school parents.”

260 students now, rising to 500 by 2022




Golden Bridges School


K – 8, Waldorf




Alt School

Planning for five locations: Dogpatch, Hayes Valley, SMA, Marina

K – 8, “Personalized learning.”




LePort School

Mid-Market, Pre-K, moving to K-8. Montessori.

No tuition listed.



Presidio Knolls

SOMA, K – 8. Mandarin immersion.





Mission, K -12. Science, hands-on focus.




La Scuola

Alamo Square, K – 8, Italian immersion.




San Francisco Schoolhouse

Inner Richmond, K – 8. Parent cooperative




Alta Vista

Portola, K – 8. Math and Science focus.




Marin Prep

Castro, K – 8. Spanish “infusion.”




Stratford School

Oceanview, K – 8. Accelerated curriculum


Beth Weise is a long-time member of Parents for Public Schools. She was a founder and sits on the board of金山中文教育会/Jinshan Mandarin Education Council, the parent-led non-profit that supports SFUSD’s Mandarin immersion program. She is the PTA newsletter chair for Starr King Elementary School. And yet her family will be leaving the public schools at middle school.


[6] Carey School of Business, Arizona State University. Top 10 Cities and States for Job Growth. March 20, 2014.

[8] Jennifer Steele, Robert Slater, Gema Zammarro, Jennifer Li, Jennifer, “The Effect of Dual-Language Immersion on Student Performance in the Portland Public Schools: Evidence from the first year study.” Presented at the Society for Research on Educational Effectiveness fall conference, Washington D.C. September 28, 2013.

[9]“ Heterogenius” Classrooms–Behind the Scenes: Detracking Math and Science–A Look at Groupwork in Action (Teachers College Press, 2012)

Written by Elizabeth Weise

March 21, 2014 at 5:27 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

30 Responses

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  1. Thanks for this. I have a 4 year-old and I really want to go public next year. This essay sums up my feelings perfectly.

    Remy Marathe

    May 12, 2014 at 6:11 pm

  2. My kid is set to start K, and the school has been responsive beyond my wildest dreams about how advanced he is. Perhaps the issue is more at the district level. Other than calling 27% “almost a third”, which in my math brain is much closer to a quarter, you raise interesting points. Why not start something and propose specific changes? Run for school board or endorse a candidate with a plan you agree on? Certainly, we at minimum have a marketing issue. With the potential influx of money from the newest donations, there’s a potential to propose changes.


    May 31, 2014 at 8:23 pm

    • Vicky, I think you’ve got 12 very interesting years ahead of you. Have you read the Core Curriculum pathway that SFUSD has chosen? Do you know that there’s more than one? Have you ever gone to an open board meeting at the BOE? Is your child going to a magnet/charter school? Kindergarten is one thing. Try getting into the UC system, especially the top 4 of them w/o a stunning transcript that has to rival and compete those from elite private institutions and the uber advanced/rich elite from foreign shores.
      Do you know what the choices that the BOE and Carranza are choosing will most probably affect your child’s ability to compete for a seat in college 12 years from now?
      Academic standards, competency and the ability to compete on the global level should be the focus. Marketing is for Macy’s

      Social experimentation is not social justice.

      Parent of a Lowell grad 2015

      May 18, 2015 at 9:36 pm

  3. Well done, Beth– you have touched on many important issues with this article. I hope SFUSD listens.

    meg neville

    July 3, 2014 at 3:41 am

  4. I have two children and put them in private school because I wanted to avoid the “teach to the test” problem and wanted them academically challenged. When I toured one public school and asked about challenging my daughter with math, a teacher informed me superiorly that it was wrong to give any child any opportunity all children didn’t receive and that she would never let any kid do more advanced work than the others. Sigh. My kid already knew how to multiply and understood negative numbers before she started kindergarten. I was afraid she’d lose interest in math if she were bored for years in unchallenging classes.

    My older daughter is actually now moving to public school for high school, taking a spot at Lowell. The application process for Lowell was eerily like applying for disability. My daughter and I were unsettled by the relentless emphasis on hard luck through this process, making a middle class kid feel like the process was slanted against her and that she was not wanted. I wrote about this: http://www.drunkenhousewife.com/2014/03/oddly-same.html

    There is so much demand for Lowell and SoTA. It’s really pretty appalling that there is no magnet school for science and math (which would indeed be our daughter’s choice).

    I can state definitively that if the SF public school system offered meaningful opportunities for academic high-fliers, I would have had my kids in public school all along. But there is no way I’m going to drive my kid across town to a crappy school where she’ll be underchallenged and ignored, not when they were accepted at more rigorous private schools and given financial aid as well.


    August 8, 2014 at 7:37 pm

  5. School starts in two weeks and ALL the middle schools have long waiting lists except for one, which is a 1 hour muni ride away (with 3 transfers) from our home. We’ve been holding out hope for a spot in our neighborhood middle school feeder school and are sitting in excruciating Round 4 limbo. We’d be insane if we didn’t line-up a Plan B. And by this point Plan B has been way more responsive as welcoming to us than SFUSD. It seems from our perspective that SFUSD is just plain too full of students to take just one kid from our family, and sadly we will be moving out of the system. How would SFUSD ever manage the influx you are suggesting, when they currently don’t have enough seats for the families that really want to go?

    Shoshana Zisk

    August 10, 2014 at 6:29 pm

    • There is a dearth of middle school seats right now because Willie Brown is closed. It will re-open as a Math and Science Magnet School next year and we’ll add 600 middle school seats.

      Elizabeth Weise

      August 17, 2014 at 5:37 pm

  6. So Beth, as a mom of two fifth graders who shares your concerns, where should I send my kids to middle school next year? What middle schools are you considering? I can’t believe they won’t get algebra in 8th grade anymore because the SFUSD version of Common Core will contain no “accelerated pathways.” My son is already complaining that math is too easy.

    Annette Hurst

    September 11, 2014 at 3:23 pm

  7. I enjoyed your article and feel your pain. I had heard that SF eliminated the college bound track but didn’t believe it. In fact, I expected to type San Francisco into google and see dozens of links to public outcry over the decision. I found none. I had to dig just to find this one. Is it possible that (most) everyone that cares is already out of the system?

    Robert Hansen

    October 1, 2014 at 11:54 am

  8. I like your comments Beth but if you want to be part of the solution you should keep your kids in public school and work for change. It made me sad to read the end. You may feel that your kids can’t get the same thing, but remember the poor and nonwhite kids have it much, much harder and studies show no advantage to private school after adjusting for income, and white flight and private school cause so much segregation in SF. Brown v. Topeka has never been embraced by whites to this day, always evaded. We haven’t closed the achievement gap because it hasn’t been a priority. Individualism has been, and in SF, when whites go private it really hurts because the general feeling is the important people move or have kids in private school, so we spend less per pupil than districts with four to ten times the tax dollars per pupil ratio such as Manteca, Pleasanton, San Diego, Ripon, Fresno, etc. We pay teachers 48.4% of police pay vs. 73.3 in San Diego and we prioritize teacher job security over performance making it nearly impossible to fire bad teachers. If a teacher switches schools and performs poorly and you ask, all records of past performance and references or lack thereof are private and secret per union rules. Poor children are at the bottom, and when whites with options opt out instead of fight for public schools it gets worse. Please reconsider.

    Floyd Thursby

    April 26, 2015 at 5:27 am

    • I wish that SFUSD didn’t seem to see this issue as either/or–either you work with struggling students or you support academically advanced students. There are kids of all colors in both groups and I can’t believe doing both isn’t possible. Differentiation works when you’ve got a good teacher, but if you don’t, you’re out of luck and there’s no fall back.
      It’s not just our family, it’s 27% of families in San Francisco. SFSUD needs to deal with this. Instead, in the most recent School Board Meeting, Sup. Carranza said that the district has to accept that it’s going to lose a lot of families who don’t go along with its program. That to me seems short sighted and ultimately corrosive to our society as a whole.
      I spent seven years of my life working within the district to try to get programs that works for higher achieving students and frankly I’m tired. I’ll let others take up the mantle now. They won. For my family, I’ve given up.

      Elizabeth Weise

      April 26, 2015 at 3:01 pm

      • Elizabeth, your posts are the most reasoned, clear-eyed, and objective. I have been a member of Parents for Public Schools for over 12 years. My kids have attended Alice Fong Yu, Lowell, Balboa, and George Washington. Fabulous staff and principals there. However, the current SFUSD Board of Education and Carranza have been particularly tone deaf to the NEEDS OF ALL STUDENTS. The last straw for me is the way it chooses to implement the Common Core Math curriculum–forbidding Algebra I in middle school and requiring all ninth graders to take Algebra I in high school. No other school district in the Bay Area (including Oakland Unified School District) is doing this. This is madness and folly! I think that Carranza should be fired and the BOE should be voted out by voters of S.F. Carranza’s daughter graduated from Lowell in the Class of 2014 with my daughter; his daughter now attends USC. Emily Murase (president of the BOE) has a daughter at Lowell also; Murase is a Lowell alum. Although they decry Lowell’s elitism, they have benefitted from the excellent education at Lowell and are now seeking to destroy the schools behind them by trashing the math curriculum and its impact on the whole STEM curriculum in the name of Social Equity. We need parents and journalists like you to fight the School Board!

        Susan Fong

        May 18, 2015 at 7:02 pm

    • Lowell HS has a student body where over 45% + qualify for free lunch.
      Over a third to almost half of graduating seniors get accepted to UC campuses. Many are accepted to top tier universities. The majority of Lowell students are either ‘”poor” and/or non-white. Poor, rich, whatever color of the rainbow they are, they get the job done, graduate and move on to bigger and better pastures. They have had a long history of working hard to make it into the best colleges at Lowell, despite the system. 70% of this year’s class is from public schools. So what’s the real reason for the Achievement Gap? For all the reasons everyone is claiming, Lowell proves all to the contrary. Money has been spent for decades to amend this issue… What is the reason the bottom of the Gap is not only still at the bottom but seems to be achieving less than ever before? Money for improving education is necessary. But when are we going to see real upward trends for the bottom of the Gap? Why is money constantly being poured into this end of The Gap and there’s no improvement? Should EVERY student pay the price academically for those the SFUSD can’t budge from the bottom?
      BTW, Caucasian families are not the only ones opting out of the public system so let’s not hammer that nail to death. Many families work 2-4 jobs to be able to send their kids to parochial or privately run schools regardless of race. It’s not just the top 1% who never cross the threshold or opt to leave public school. Why is no one asking why that is?
      Why can’t one be more sympathetic/empathetic to the Weise’s family decision? It’s was not an easy one to make. Why not start to admit, explore and examine the reasons behind why the SFUSD can’t get it together? The surrounding school districts did not choose the Common Core path that SF did. There are options within the Common Core. Why did the SFUSD pick the one for the high school level math that the State recommended that summer school be offered/implemented in order to achieve optimum success for the students? Does SF have the teachers or a budget for that? If one is going to talk $$ then what is the district going to do when high school students start failing the “compression” option for pre-Cal/Calc (a path most math instructors and student math whiz-kids feel is the wrong way to go for the majority) and there’s no summer school to amend their grades? And would it matter anyway as with the new path SFUSD chose would mean many would be taking that course in senior year: The majority of colleges concentrate their decisions for admissions to work prior to senior year.
      So, how does the SF Sup close the Gap if the bottom won’t budge? How would corporations do it? If state/government incentives to close the Gap are waived around, then what does one do? Well, then common sense or a sense of surrender would choose to target the top tier students, amend the top of the bar by lowering it, omit “honors” classes, entrance math exams, and …Viola!!! Statistics can be “figured” to look like the Achievement Gap has narrowed!! If no one asks, no one will tell. We need to start asking and demand definitive answers.
      Why is the focus on The Gap in the first place? There should be a standard one is to achieve in school to pass/graduate. Period. The rest of the First World countries do this. For those who can’t make the standard, use targeted $$/manpower to help them rise to the level of competency. Why make the educational paths in this city one cookie cutter pattern for all students regardless of ability in the name of social justice/equality? That’s not fair to either ends of the Gap.
      Common Core is not the central problem to education in the public schools in SF.. The SFUSD is.

      A taxpayer

      May 19, 2015 at 6:32 am

      • Dear “A taxpayer”: I agree 1,000% with what you have written! You speak the whole truth and nothing but the truth! Why cannot common sense prevail?

        Can we start a group of us and show up at the BOE meeting and be really noisy, obnoxious, and chanting some nearly obscene phrases so that we get splashed across the news outlets? I know this is probably out of character for most of us, but desperate times require desperate measures!? I am serious about this..

        The sheer hypocrisy of Carranza and Murase is enough to drive me to scream at them…

        Susan Fong Wong

        Susan Fong

        May 19, 2015 at 9:04 pm

  9. “Brown v. Topeka has never been embraced by whites to this day, always evaded.”

    This is not true. Blacks and whites both flee from what is going on now. Things got back to normal for a little while, in the 80’s, but then something bizarre started. Progress was stagnant and it became the norm for students who were clearly not prepared to be advanced into higher classes regardless. I’ve seen plenty of AP classrooms where no student scores higher than a “1”. And there have been plenty of reports documenting the trend of misplacing students with the math skills of 2nd graders into algebra, pre-calculus and calculus. That is what people are fleeing from.

    I do share your sadness though. Our district, where I grew up and went to school, used to be more homogeneous in that most of the schools had authentic higher level classes with authentic higher level students. If you were doing well in math, you had access to genuine higher level classes. Now, because of the trend I described above, there are only a couple choice schools that operate this way and to get into them you must win a lottery. Your chances of getting into an authentic class in the other schools is much less than it was before this started.

    Brown v. Topeka wasn’t the problem. People got over that. The Gap is the problem. And philosophies like Jo Boaler’s is the problem.


    She is clearly not trying to teach math here. She is trying to create a perverted equality by denying the strongest students. It is more than wrong, it is immoral, and it hurts the chances of strong but disadvantaged students.

    Bob Hansen

    Robert Hansen

    June 3, 2015 at 4:46 pm

  10. […] reflect a multi-decade trend in California of increased market share for private schools. About one-third of the city’s 80,000 school-age children are in private schools. At least 15 different private schools have opened up in the last six years, and enrollment in […]

  11. […] reflect a multi-decade trend in California of increased market share for private schools. About one-third of the city’s 80,000 school-age children are in private schools. At least 15 different private schools have opened up in the last six years, and enrollment in […]

  12. […] reflect a multi-decade trend in California of increased market share for private schools. About one-third of the city’s 80,000 school-age children are in private schools. At least 15 different private schools have opened up in the last six years, and enrollment in […]

  13. […] reflect a multi-decade trend in California of increased market share for private schools. About one-third of the city’s 80,000 school-age children are in private schools. At least 15 different private schools have opened up in the last six years, and enrollment in […]

  14. Nice. I just read this for the first time. It’s very accurate. I have actally encountered every SFUSD observation that you’ve written about. Presently, Howard middle school son, has to wait two years for the school to catch up to the math level that he’s already at. I can’t think of anything more ridiculous. Perhaps it’s time for a public vote on middle school math. SF

    Steve Ferrero

    September 7, 2015 at 1:44 am

    • Interedting idea, Steve. Maybe we could legislate at the ballot box that “The SFUSD not enact any policies or practices that hinder the education of math and science for any student, and that each student be challenged in a classroom to the fullest extent, commensurate with their interests and aptitudes.” Examples to cite should include banning the teaching Creationism in lieu of evolution in biology classes; banning the board from eliminating honors classes or GATE programming; or requiring that 8th grade mathematics not be made less rigorous.


      September 7, 2015 at 2:22 pm

      • Good start. I am thinking even simpler. For example “Beginning in the 2016-17 school year all SFUSD middle school students shall be offered accelerated math which completes the current 6th through 9th grade math curriculum by the end of 8th grade. The choice of math class will reside with the family.”

        I would like to enlist Katy Tang, my D5 supervisor London Breed, and perhaps others in enabling this straightforward ballot initiative.

        Steve Ferrero

        September 7, 2015 at 5:35 pm

      • Most critical will be political support from key establishment figures. I would assume that 90% of SF voters could be classified as low-information voters when it comes to SFUSD matters. The incumbent board members have relied on a combination of SFDCC endorsement and identity politics to ensure political victory. Therefore, the cause needs to be championed by current politicians who have the intellect and integrity to see what makes for good policy, versus badly worded or illegal policy that is purely designed to appeal to the populist emotions of poorly-educated voters. Unfortunately, SFDCC has been dominated by the later for decades.

        Reynolds Cameron

        September 7, 2015 at 7:38 pm

      • Irvine, CA provides regarding math placement for middle schoolers. They take a simple, merit-based approach with two “Pathways.” This approach is substantially more intelligent and equitable than the SFUSD one-size-fits-all approach.

        The Irvine, CA School District utilizes an integrated approach based on student’s ability.for Core Curriculum Math. Their policy reads:

        (For Returning Students, math placement is based on grades and a skills exam.) “For parents who did not feel that their child’s placement was appropriate, an Appeal Request Form was allowed. The form included compelling evidence for reconsideration.”

        “Math Placement for New IUSD Students (7th and 8th grades): It is recommended that students who are new to IUSD and will be entering either 7th grade or 8th grade participate in summer math testing to determine the appropriate math course level in the fall.”

        Why Integrated? “Placement within the Math Pathways: IUSD is committed to the appropriate placement of all students and recognizes that the mastery of prerequisite skills is essential to successful acceleration. … the placement process has been revised to allow for a more comprehensive picture of student readiness to accelerate.”

        The full text may be found here:

        SFUSD Board Of Ed should seriously consider a similar policy.

        Steve Ferrero

        September 8, 2015 at 4:16 am

  15. Thanks for this hugely informative and heartfelt article. I am among the parents who will leave the San Francisco public school system and maybe the city because the middle schools have no honors classes. My daughter is in a split 4th/5th class at a good (but not well funded) public elementary school. Her class has 32 students of different learning abilities (with a large number of English language learners ) and one overwhelmed teacher. My daughter is a top student, but there are no curricular or teacher resources for her. This year, she is basically learning the 4th grade Common Core for a second time, and is bored out of her mind. All her teacher can do (and the previous ones have done) is apologize. I imagine middle school will be the same or worse. Thus my options in San Francisco are 1) to sacrifice my kid’s education (or at least her appreciation of education) or 2) scrounge up the money to pay private school tuition and hope she can get it (since getting in seems to be about how much money you have or how diverse you can make a school look). The worst part about all of this is that academically advanced kids without the means to pay are getting left behind in droves. I can introduce Professor Watanabe to a bunch of them. How is that equitable? But, of course, American society (and its educational systems) are increasingly not equitable.

    San San Francisco Parent

    September 29, 2015 at 1:57 am

    • Wait what? 32 students? I thought we voted for a multi-million (billion?) dollar bond measure a few years ago was to force elementary schools to maintain a student:teacher ratio of 25:1 or less. SFUSD has droves of analysts, consultants and deputies, but not enough teachers (under under-paid teachers). This is almost as troubling as the elimination of honors classes.


      September 29, 2015 at 3:35 am

      • Try 35 for middle school classes….good luck differentiating with that many students, it simply won’t happen.

        SF Private Parent

        October 22, 2015 at 8:22 pm

  16. From the perspective of a public-schooled (in Michigan) parent living in SF, I sadly concur with pretty much everything written in the article and those comments sympathetic/empathetic to the issues being discussed.

    I went through the SFUSD application process when my son was first entering school and really lost out on the lottery, being offered nothing beyond two under performing elementary options that simply weren’t acceptable. I scrounged and paid for a private elementary and now 6 years and ~$100,000 later, I am considering trying my luck at applying to public middle schools, but the more I research it, the less likely it becomes.

    My experience during the first round with the SFUSD in trying to appeal or modify that placement was essentially all o the replies/responses above, which amount to “tough shizzle” and wait list for the schools you want and go hang around there on the first day of school and sometimes they can get you in, which I found to be laughable as an option. Asking what happens if I don’t get in produced pretty much a “shrug/too bad” response. I pretty much wrote off the system at that point and the vast majority of what i have seen/read/heard in the intervening years support that decision 100%.

    First off, let me just say that no one in this country should EVER have to consider the term “lottery” as it would apply to their child’s education. Really? I have to roll dice that determine what educational path is available for my kid?

    Going public:
    1. Go through the process, tour schools and apply, then cross my fingers that I win the lottery and get into one of the top middle schools, which is by no means even likely given the feeder system and priority criteria at play..not sure how a student entering SFUSD for the first time in grade 6 is classified in that regard.
    2. On the outside chance I get one of my top 1-3 choices, from what I can tell with the abolition of honors/GATE, my son is going to be time-serving at school and bored stiff. His current school has an accelerated curriculum and is approximately 2 years ahead in most areas (1.5 years in math), so having no options for advanced learning means he is going to be set back and by the time he leaves middle school I will have wasted all the $$ spent on private education. No algebra in 8th grade?
    3. For the sake of argument, let’s assume someone can convince me that he will be challenged and he goes to a public middle school and high school, but due to the Core Curriculum strategy at play he is going to be in Calc his senior year rather than Junior and therefore at a distinct disadvantage in applying to top colleges, possibly not even qualified to apply to some.

    I went to a top university and my goal for my son is to at least have the opportunity to do the same, if it turns out that is a path he wants to follow and it is right for him. It i evident that this path is not a priority at all for SFUSD.

    To those saying “get/stay in the system and fix it”, I’m sorry but given that the ship is already headed in the wrong direction and the length of time it would take to turn things round, I could struggle for the next 7 years and hardly see any benefit, if in fact it was even correctable.

    I’m as liberal and progressive a person as you will ever meet, but I shouldn’t be faced with these kinds of decisions regarding trade-offs/sacrifices in order to attend a public school in SF. There should be a viable path for someone that wants to be able to apply to top colleges/universities that doesn’t involve a roll of the dice about what school you get placed into and the hope that you get one of a very few exceptional teachers that can somehow make a differentiated scheme work with 35 students to a class….which even in that case is still a diminished version of some form of proscribed curriculum for students that are advanced.

    As someone else stated, Lowell does a great job of getting kids prepared to apply to top schools (perhaps too well, but that is another topic) and thrive when they get there and there is no reason other public schools can’t also be geared toward this and yet….?

    SF Private Parent

    October 22, 2015 at 9:08 pm

  17. Well, I’m back. With a new comment and a third child entering public elementary, Spanish immersion.
    Two older sisters attended Spanish immersion, and now in private for upper grades.
    Yet, struggling if made the right decision. Kinder has now become the new first grade in SFUSD. They are expected to be reading in kindergarten. Homework is taking an hour nightly. That’s right, my kindergartener is expected to complete 4 assignments a night. So how does this make sense to any adult in the SFUSD? Push the youngest students hardest and hold back the middle schoolers from taking advanced courses.


    October 23, 2015 at 5:29 am

  18. I’m a parent in NYC and this thread is old but we are facing the same situation in NYC today. This thread reads nearly identical to our situation… just substitute Lowell for NYC specialized high schools like Stuyvesant, Bronx Science, Brooklyn Tech.

    Amy Tse

    July 1, 2019 at 3:33 pm

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