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Closing the education gap for our African-American students

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Superintendent Vincent Matthews walks with Rico Right through the Sunnydale Housing Development to his first day of seventh grade at Visitation Valley Middle School on Aug. 21, 2017. (Jessica Christian/2017 S.F. Examiner)
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Since 2010, San Francisco and the Bay Area have experienced an impressive economic boom. Despite this economic expansion, San Francisco’s African-American residents continue to face very real education, earning and wealth gaps.

These inequalities begin with educational outcomes. Our African-American students are not receiving the education they need to thrive in The City’s innovation economy. Three-quarters of African-American students did not meet state standards on the 2017 English-language arts test, and only 16 percent obtain a post-secondary degree within five years of graduating from high school.

To help turn those numbers around, the late Mayor Ed Lee and the superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District accepted President Barack Obama’s My Brother and Sister’s Keeper Community Challenge in 2014. They formed a local effort to work on eliminating opportunity gaps for young people in The City, which is currently led by Theo Miller of the Mayor’s Office, Landon Dickey of the SFUSD and Sheryl Davis of the Human Rights Commission.

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Since this effort began, there has been reason for hope on several fronts. At the K-12 level, overall African-American student achievement has ticked up: The graduation rate for African-American students reached 71 percent recently — up from 64 percent three years ago — and math scores for African-American students have risen. More importantly, some schools in the district have dramatically improved the preparedness of African-American students as measured by test scores.

Dr. Vincent Matthews, a product of SFUSD schools and the new superintendent, has stated that improving outcomes for African-American students will be one of his and the district’s top priorities. This includes working with community groups to engage families, providing more time and support for staff to review achievement data and respond to it and ensuring that students who are falling behind receive additional coaching and support to bring them back up to speed.

There are also bright spots in higher education. The SFUSD has hosted a College Fair of historically black colleges and universities for the past five years, where many students are accepted to colleges and offered scholarships on the spot. City College of San Francisco and San Francisco State University have also worked together to facilitate transfers so these students can continue their postsecondary education. There are many initiatives focused on supporting Latino and African-American college students to earn STEM degrees and access jobs in these innovative industries.

However, it is not the sole responsibility of educational institutions to create a strong pipeline for underrepresented youth to obtain high-quality jobs. The business community can and must be an active partner in providing academic and career support for our city’s children to compete for the jobs that businesses need to fill.

Because of this, the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce created UniteSF, our commitment to connecting educational pathways to the career opportunities that the local business community offers.

There are many ways that businesses can contribute to this effort, including hosting summer interns, providing mentors to African-American students and contributing to career and pathway programs at the SFUSD and our city’s universities. The Chamber invites anyone interested in learning more to attend our business briefing on Wednesday, Feb. 21, from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. at LinkedIn. Registration is free; please visit unitesfeducation.com/events for details.

As businesses that call San Francisco home, it is our duty to help all residents of this city achieve their dreams, and that starts with our youth in public schools. We look forward to forging new ties between local businesses and educational institutions to give all of San Francisco’s students access to the new economy that has transformed our city.

Tallia Hart is president and CEO of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce. Matthew Thomas is CEO of the San Francisco African American Chamber of Commerce and president at Visit San Francisco.

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