Closing the racial gap in education

The year 2015 may forever | be remembered as the year of “Black Lives Matter,” when our country underwent a long overdue, widespread re-awakening to the dehumanization of Black people and the continued devastation caused by anti-Black institutional racism.

In San Francisco, we hope 2015 will also mark our related long-overdue re-awakening to the ways our educational system has under-served, under-supported and marginalized black students. With that we hope will come a renewed and strengthened commitment to truly transform our educational systems into vehicles of opportunity and liberation.

For years, black students in San Francisco have faced structural barriers to their academic opportunity and success, including high rates of poverty, housing instability, displacement and institutional racism. This has been compounded by deep systemic bias in our schools, leading to disproportionate rates of student discipline, low academic expectations, under-resourced schools and racially isolated school environments.

Worse yet, our schools have at times sent the message to black students that we literally do not want them in our classrooms. Black students make up 10 percent of our students, but roughly half of our suspensions, expulsions and school arrests.

As a result, black students have for decades had the lowest graduation rates and levels of school achievement, with the highest dropout rate in San Francisco schools. In 2012 –13, 27.8 percent of black students graduated UC/CSU eligible compared to 56.2 percent of all San Francisco Unified School District 12th grade graduates, a 28-point gap.

Black youths that did not complete high school make up a large portion of those in our county jails and of those victimized by violence on our streets. Failing our black students can set the stage for a life-and-death struggle for far too many, one that can follow them throughout their lives.

With that, the SFUSD Board of Education took action this week by unanimously passing a resolution that sets a bold but essential goal: to close the gap between black students and all other students over the next six years by making black student achievement a core commitment and a guiding criteria in all allocation of physical, financial and human capital in our schools.

This will mean new data-driven approaches to identify academic and socioemotional needs of black students, and proactive, real-time and targeted interventions. We will monitor schools acceleration of outcomes for Black students and seek to replicate them, develop new programs and academic themes at historically underserved schools that serve Black students, and reduce racial isolation.

Educators must be supported with expanded professional development opportunities, including training in cultural competency and implicit bias, and new school based supports.

To ensure greater accountability and transparency and restore trust and partnership, the policy includes the creation of two new oversight bodies, one internal and one external, made up of educators, parents, and community members to inform budget, policy, and priority actions taken by the district and track progress by filing an annual “African American Student Report.”

Our city's Black children have limitless potential and incredible contributions to make — they can and should be the generation of start-up founders, lawyers, engineers, teachers, and city leaders. It is time for our city to stop wasting genius, and start supporting and lifting up our city's Black children

The SF school community has made a long overdue public commitment to finally end our collective failure of Black students. We ask each of you to stand with us, help us, and to make 2015 the year that San Francisco truly demonstrates, in word and in deed, that black lives matter and black students matter.

Shamann Walton serves as a commissioner on the Board of Education for San Francisco Unified School District and the executive director of Young Community Developers. Matt Haney is the vice-president of the Board of Education, and the director of policy for #cut50 and #YesWeCode.

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