Diversity may be hurting S.F. students

San Francisco may have a diverse student population, but instructors struggle to understand and teach based on cultural differences, according to a new survey released this week.

Last spring, the San Francisco Unified School District polled parents, teachers, administrators and faculty at every school for a survey dubbed the “Satisfaction Survey 2008,” whose results will be revealed to the Board of Education tonight. The results are used to shape the district’s plan to improve students’ performance and educational experience at every school.

About 36 percent of principals and vice principals said their teachers lacked the cultural knowledge they needed in order to teach a diverse group of students, while 38 percent of students said their peers aren’t respectful of each other’s differences.

“Unless there’s a conscious effort to educate students about different backgrounds, you’re throwing them into a pot where some are oil and some are water, and they don’t mix,” said Pecolia Mangio, director of youth organizing for Coleman Advocates, a San Francisco-based child advocacy organization.

In the 2007-08 school year, the district’s student population was 41.8 percent Asian, 32 percent Latino, 12.4 percent black and 10.3 percent white, according to the state Department of Education.

Board of Education Chair Mark Sanchez said tensions between students arise particularly in middle school where students from many small — and often racially homogenous — elementary schools are thrown together for the first time.

“Middle schools are a hard place for kids to be, and you have to make sure people know school is a safe environment where you can’t be flinging around slurs,” Sanchez said.

When it comes to providing teachers with cultural fluency, the district has historically not had a process, said Matthew Hardy, spokesman for the teachers’ union. When teachers themselves were polled, 87.6 percent felt they knew enough to serve diverse students well.

“Our teachers do the best they can, but the demographics of teachers are not in line with the student demographics,” Hardy said. “It’s always going to be a struggle to meet the needs of everyone.”

A portion of the funds from Measure A, the $198 parcel tax approved by voters this spring, will help pay for intensive teacher training, including expanded cultural training, Sanchez said.

Another sore point for all survey respondents was the use of technology in the classroom. More than one-third of students said teachers don’t use computers and high-tech teaching tools often enough; 46.2 percent of administrators and 26.8 percent of teachers agreed.

bwinegarner@sfexaminer.com

SFUSD survey highlights

The San Francisco Unified School District polled students, parents, faculty and administrators in the spring to check their attitudes on a variety of topics.

Students

“I want to continue my education after high school”: 97.1 Agree/strongly agree, 2.9 disagree/strongly disagree

“I believe students at my school are respectful of people who are different from them”: 62.1 agree/strongly agree, 37.9 disagree/strongly disagree

“My teachers use computers and other technology to help me learn”: 66.0 agree/strongly agree, 34.0 disagree/strongly disagree

Parents

“My child’s school is a safe, secure and well-supervised place to learn”: 88.8 agree/strongly agree, 11.2 disagree/strongly disagree

“The superintendent is leading the district in the right direction”: 85.5 agree/strongly agree, 14.4 disagree/strongly disagree

“The Board of Education is leading the district in the right direction”: 71.6 agree/strongly agree, 28.4 disagree/strongly disagree

Teachers

“At this school, teachers regularly stay after school to plan and work with students”: 85.7 agree/strongly agree, 14.3 disagree/strongly disagree

“Teachers at this school use educational technology to enhance instruction and support student learning”: 73.2 agree/strongly agree, 26.8 disagree/strongly disagree

“The district values me as an employee”: 54.9 agree/strongly agree, 45.1 disagree/strongly disagree

School administrators

“Parent involvement is encouraged at this site”:  97.8 agree/strongly agree, 2.2 disagree/strongly disagree

“Teachers in my school have cultural knowledge to serve our diverse population”: 63.8 agree/strongly agree, 36.2 disagree/strongly disagree

“Teachers have the skills and knowledge to meet the special needs of students at my school”: 68.1 agree/strongly agree, 31.9 disagree/strongly disagree

“Teachers at this school use educational technology to enhance instruction and support student learning”: 53.8 agree/strongly agree, 46.2 disagree/strongly disagree

Source: San Francisco Unified School District

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