Elizabeth Weise

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

Some notes from Stan Goldberg’s interviews with School Board candidates

School Board elections matter!

Okay, so I sat down and listened to Stan Goldberg’s wonderful interviews with all nine school board candidates today. (Way to go, Stan!)

You can hear each of the candidates answer what they thought about common core and honors on Stan Greenberg’s show Senior Dad. He asks candidates about the new Common Core math standards and the District’s decision to stop allowing students who want to, to take Algebra in 8th grade and the ending of honors classes in Middle school. He really holds their feet to the fire. Worth listening to.

He’s put together all their answers in series of clip which you can view here:



One thing that really struck me is how they reacted when Stan related the experiences of his 7th grade daughter. Her school was a beta test ground for the new Common Core standards, so she began them a year ago, not this year. He tells each candidate that last year was a review year for much of the class, who were repeating math they had learned in 4th and 5th grade. “It was a lost year,” he tells them. “She learned nothing new in math.”

Now, honors in middle schools has been eliminated at all SFUSD middle schools. And, once again, the students in his daughter’s class are learning the same material. There is no chance to go faster. Instead, the students who grasp the math quickly sit around waiting for the rest of the class to catch up. In many cases, he says, a problem is presented on Monday, and his daughter and others quickly solve it and grasp the concept. But they spend the rest of the week going over the same concepts in different ways, while the rest of the class gets it.

While Common Core is meant to teach students to go deeper, so that a student who got the concept quickly could do something interesting and more in depth on it, according to Stan that’s not what’s happening in his daughter’s classroom. She’s just bored.

I tried to do some transcribing of various part of the interviews that pertained to the problem of challenging learners who are advanced and get across some of the general idea of the candidates. I can’t claim this is a perfect transcription but I tried.

The gist of what all but Lee Hsu said is this:

* Common Core makes sure that all students cover the necessary curriculum. It goes deeper, not broader.

* Students who are more advanced are challenged not by going faster but by being given material that takes them deeper into each concept.

* That is done through differentiation in the classroom.

* Honors is inherently inequitable because too often Honors classes are majority Asian and white and GE classes are majority Hispanic and African-American.

* SFUSD has done away with honors to make schools more equitable, but students who need to be challenge will be accommodated by differentiation in the classroom or (according to incumbent Emily Murase) by a 7th period that offers either more support or more challenging work.

(Hsu supports honors, differentiation and Common Core. He fears too many families of academically capable students will leave for private schools if we don’t challenge them.)

Overall the candidates were not really willing to engage with Stan on what’s happening in his daughter’s classroom. They keep telling him that “they’ll look into that” or “that’s not what’s supposed to happen” or “This is going to take a few years for us to work out.”

What was fascinating was how many of the candidates said that they, themselves, were in GATE and Honors classes when they were in school.

Here are the comments I took out. You should listen to the full interviews to draw your own conclusions and certainly not rely on my transcription abilities. But perhaps these notes will encourage you to do so. Again, please do your own research and make up your own mind. A School board that is responsive to parents is crucial to our moving forward as a city. So listen, learn and VOTE.



Stevon Cook (no kids)

His comments on this topic start around 9:14 and go on to the end.

He seems to be saying that it’s more equitable that everyone should take the same math in middle school for it to be equitable, that “the inequity is walking into a high school math course and seeing who’s taking honors courses and who’s not, that’s the racial divide.”

He himself took Algebra in 8th grade at James Lick Middle School in Noe Valley. Within algebra class there was a fast track and a slow track. His teacher, who was the first contributor to his campaign, put him in the fast track.

When Stan pushes him on it, he said we need to see how the new math implementation plays out. “Let’s look at it in a few years, if kids are not going to college because we changed the math standards… then we need to revisit it.”


Mark Murphy (honors discussion starts around 10:00) (no kids, Mark’s husband of 19 years, David Allyn, is a 16 year teacher at Argonne Elementary School)

Stan: “What we’re doing is taking the faster learners…and we’re not letting them go ahead. This year they can do the page and then they have to wait for everyone else to catch up. We’re going to the slowest denominator…Should we allow the kids to go head or should we restrain them to a very strict curriculum to be in line with everybody else in the class, because we have faster learners and slower learners. What should we do? How do you feel about us discontinuing honors classes.”

Mark: “We have to challenge all our children. … honors classes in and of themselves is a way in which we are, and historically, you track children, you separate them, and then you teach to them. My concern is that we all of the sudden start to segregate our classrooms and our children and our communities. Doing away with honors I support as long as we need to be challenging all of our children at all the levels. The district is struggling with this.”

Mark “I believe that the district discontinued the honors classes because they were looking at greater levels of interaction and greater levels of achievement with all of our children in their classrooms. It started with math, because of the new standards that were being implemented.”

Mark “I support equitable learning in all our classrooms…it is a challenge when we have children who are in 7th grade who are not at a 7th grade math level. … we know that reduced student teacher ratios.”

Mark “Honors classes have been dismantled. It’s done. The new standards does allow for differentiated learning so that some of those more advanced children can success on their own and at a greater level.”

Stan: “They’re not letting them.”

Mark: “I do not know that that’s not happening in other classrooms.”


Lee Hsu (they discuss this the whole way through) He has two kids in SFUSD

Hsu: “I worry about that all the time…My older son really likes math and I’m always wondering whether or not he’s being challenges as much as he can be.”

Stan: All honors classes have been eliminated in middle schools. So instead of having a select group, which is called tracking work faster, you have everybody grouped together and you’re waiting for the slow people.”

Hsu: “We should have honors programs in math in my option. I think there’s an issue we don’t address. I believe that there are plenty of gifted minorities in low income areas who many not realize that they have the chance to engage their gifts at an early age…so instead of saying we’re going to eliminate honors in middle school, let’s focus on finding kids of color who will qualify for honors programs in middle school and identity them early. Here’s the problem, if you get rid of honors, you’re just going to lose families in middle school who would otherwise commit to public school.”

Hsu: As far as I can see, there’s a key study that was relied upon in deciding that tracking was bad. … but there’s research going both ways. I have a fifth grader going into middle school. We didn’t really feel like we heard about it going on until the decision was already made.”

Hsu “That’s the way school district’s work, they decide what they want and then they hold meetings to convinced everybody that the way they’ve already predetermines it’s going to happens the good way, have the public input and then do it the way they want. That’s the method that’s used.”

Hsu “There’s no going back for kids who left public schools because they needed to be challenged. … A lot of the studies that show the benefits of de-tracking are based on very small class sizes.”

Hsu says that detracking requires small class sizes so teachers can differentiate. “I’m not saying that you can’t have mixed classrooms and have some tracked classrooms. But to say you’re going to get rid of tracking…we’re going to see the reverberations from that as a lot of families chose private schools.”


Trevor McNeil (no kids, teaches 7th grade Social Studies and English-Language Arts with the San Mateo-Foster City School District.)

McNeil: “Ideally the say Common Core works, there is almost no mastery, ideally what would happen would be the concept of numerical ordering, well how about you do a report on a culture that uses a different math system, a base-12 system? Now you’re incorporating literacy nd your’e getting the kid to access what they’ve learned in very deep way. Going deeper is something that you can almost always do.”

Stan: In Lowell they’re getting rid of the second level of AP calculus and we’re getting rid of trigonometry in high schools.

It seems that there’s less being offered but I trust that there at some level, all the things on the menu are being offered, just in different organization.”

Stan: There is a feeling among a large number of parent that the school district is concentrating on those students who are beyond and not concentrating at all on those who learn rapidly. Is that equitable?

McNeil: I think that’s a fair concern. I think the parent experience…. Parents who are asking … If my kid is bored in class, what are we doing to excite them, what are we doing to get them ready for the next step. I think the feeder system for middle system for middle school is going to be a great opportunity. … I think the feeder offers is instead of having 35 schools with a variety of students coming in, you know your student body come in, you can hire your teachers for them, and then you’ll have stronger teaching.”


Hydra Mendoza: (incumbent) Has kids in SFUSD.

“Our board feels that access and equity is always the lens we look through. Wanting all our student to have access to high quality rigorous curriculum is a priority.”

She said that cuts have meant the number of classroom aides has diminished and it’s been harder to do differentiated learning.

“AP Classes are ways in which we change that. We’ve grown that significantly, we’ve made it more available to more high schools.”

“We have to think about how we implement blended learning in all our classrooms. … I don’t think student who are accelerated should be sitting in the classroom waiting for all the other student to catch up. But we have to have .. differentiated learning and more levels of support. “


Shamann Walton (no kids)

“We shouldn’t hold student back.”

“As a student growing up I was in so-called GATE classes in elementary school and middle school.”

“I think we can use academic decathlons. … We can provide some level of honors classes. … We have to get more teachers and paraprofessionals and more support in the classroom to deal with (the inability to differentiate in the classroom.)”


Emily Murase (incumbent) (has kids at Lowell and Presidio Middle School)

“We need to do more for our high achieving students….. But we have some very talented students. … I would certainly welcome feedback from what (student’s in Stan’s daughter’s class are ) seeing and experiencing. That’s the first time I’ve heard that.”

“I came up through GATE SFUSD and I was GATE identified and came up through honors.”

“This tracking system is inherently inequitable. We find students of a particular race predominating in a particular honors course and in a particular GE class. Presidio had 5 sections of honors and 2 sections of general ed. The student in G E had a lot of negative behaviors. They don’t have a lot of opporutnity to mix with student so different achievement. So there’s been inherent inequity in that.”

“I agree that remedial students need extra support and advanced students need challenge, but I look to a seventh period where student who need support get support and students who need to be challenged get challenged.” (Note that not all middle schools have a 7th period)

For innovation, we need to have people from all different backgrounds. You don’t want to have all the same kids of the same background, same racial demographic, 4.0’s around the room, you want diversity. You want kids who are able to work with a whole variety of kids who are able to work at different levels.”

Stan: Having the kids wating for the kids ho need to catch up wait, it’s slowing the fast kids down to the sleep of the lowest common denominator and that doen’t benefit all the children.”

Murase: “I would maintain that there are different ways to problem solve. But I would support having a challenge period and a remedial period for these students.”

Stan: Why shouldn’t a child learn at the level they’re at at their math class. What happens when on Monday they’re giving a problem and they solve it and what hurts is when they have to sit in class until Friday while everyone else figures that out

Murase: We really want to get to the root causes of why this happens. … we want to have all of our student s equally prepared for our curriculum that we’re asking them to learn.

Stan: We’re disadvantaging our faster learners.

Murase: I think we disagree on this point.


What the Chron said about School Superintendent:

The San Francisco Chronicle said this:

State schools chief

The reason we endorsed challenger Marshall Tuck over a fellow Democrat, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, was our confidence that Tuck would be more willing to challenge the status quo where it intruded on students’ interest.

Our assessment was corroborated in the reaction of the two to a Los Angeles judge’s finding that California’s unduly rigid rules on teacher tenure and seniority violated the right of low-income and minority students to a quality education. Tuck called for action to address the inequities; Torlakson called for an appeal of the landmark ruling.

California needs an independent voice for reform in this office.



Want to know more?

On October 22nd, the Second District PTA hosted a forum featuring eight candidates for three seats on San Francisco’s Board of Education.

The forum was moderated by San Francisco Chronicle Education Reporter Jill Tucker, and was co-hosted by Parents for Public Schools of San Francisco, San Francisco Education Fund, Support For Families Of Children With Disabilities, and the San Francisco Parent Political Action Committee.

KALW recorded the forum in its entirety.  Here are the candidates who participated, in the order they were introduced: Trevor McNeil, Shamann Walton, Dennis Yang, Hydra Mendoza, Mark Murphy, Jamie Rafaela Wolfe, Stevon Cook, and Emily Murase.

Listen to it here: http://kalw.org/post/sf-board-education-candidate-forum



Written by Elizabeth Weise

November 1, 2014 at 7:49 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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