The State of SFUSD School Board
This report was our evaluation of the SFUSD School Board in December 2021
We are at a critical juncture for public schools in San Francisco.
The District is facing a catastrophic budget crisis that features a $125 million structural deficit (and growing!), which has triggered state-level intervention.
Meanwhile, SFUSD is in the bottom 7% for reading levels in the state and is struggling to manage the enormous detrimental academic and social impact of having kept its students in prolonged distance learning, long past its peers around the country and world.
Bungled Pandemic Response and Re-Opening
When the pandemic hit in March 2020, SFUSD sheltered in place and spent four weeks (three instructional weeks plus Spring Break) adjusting to remote learning for its more than 50,000 students. On April 13, 2020, remote learning started in earnest, though it was minimal, with many students, including SFUSD’s youngest learners, only getting one hour of synchronous learning per week.
SFUSD and the Board subsequently squandered precious potential planning time for how to ensure a better solution for its students during the 2020-2021 school year over the spring and summer. (For our overview on the importance of the SFUSD School Board, click here).
The 2020-2021 school year started—100% remote—on August 17, 2020. Although the San Francisco Department of Public Health created a protocol for schools to reopen at the beginning of September 2020, the first SFUSD students did not see the inside of a classroom until about 200 days later, April 12, 2021. And with the exception of students from focal populations (foster youth, special education students, homeless youth, new arrivals, and students living in public housing), Middle and High School students didn’t return to the classroom until nearly four months later when the 2021-2022 school year began.
The Impact of SFUSD’s Pandemic Response on Student Learning and Outcomes
The impact of the pandemic, and more specifically, the impact of SFUSD’s and Board’s failures to center students in its decision-making, have had devastating impacts on children in San Francisco. If equity was the goal of the adults making decisions for students, they have achieved the exact opposite.
- Hundreds of SFUSD students disengaged from school. 45% of African American students and 47% of Pacific Islander students were chronically absent from their remote classes.
- SFUSD was unable to reach approximately 8,800 students with the highest rates of missing children in African American, Asian, Pacific Islander and Filipino communities.
- SFUSD students, particularly African American and Latino students, fell behind in reading and math.
- While in 2019-2020 only 18% of Kindergarteners were put on the Early Learner Watch List due to a lack of foundational literacy skills, in 2020-2021 that number jumped to 23%.
- Across the district, students saw a drop in math proficiency from 74% in 2019-2020 to 67% in 2020-2021.
- For African American students, math proficiency dropped from 46% to 38% during the pandemic.
- Latinx students saw a drop from 54% proficiency to 48%.
- In contrast, White students dropped from 84% to 78% for math proficiency, and Asian students saw a drop from 85% to 77%.
These board members championed some positive equity-focused policy changes in our district in line with our organization’s equity statement, such as the ethnic studies graduation requirement, and in the broader community such as López’s co-founding of the Latino Health Task Force-- which was instrumental in mobilizing resources to the Latinx community during the pandemic. Still, as a result of their broader actions we saw prolonged distance learning, leading to predictable worsening of students’ academic outcomes and mental health concerns, with disproportionate effects on our most vulnerable student populations.
Pediatricians warned no later than June 2020 that the educational, physical, and emotional benefits of in-person learning could outweigh the risks of schoolchildren contracting COVID-19 in the classroom. In November 2020, the CDC reported significant year-over-year increases in emergency department visits for children’s mental health. In February 2021, Dr. Jeanne Noble, UCSF director of COVID-19 response, reported that UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital had seen a doubling over emergency room visits and hospitalizations for mental health issues.
In a city as resource-rich as San Francisco, our students should be receiving the best public school education in the country. However, due to School Board mismanagement and failure to prioritize children, our kids are suffering, their learning has been adversely impacted, and the future looks grim. SFUSD needs to do much better—and that starts with the Board of Education Commissioners.