Everyone knows that Chicago teachers went out on strike this school year.
Many may forget that last spring, the San Francisco Unified School District pushed teachers to the brink of walking the picket line. In May, more than 97 percent of teachers voted to consider a strike. The issues behind that vote are the same issues that have led teachers in San Francisco to call for Matt Haney, Beverly Popek, Sam Rodriguez and Shamann Walton to replace the current incumbents on the school board.
The dispute at the bargaining table had little to do with money and everything to do with teaching and learning.
District negotiators, at the direction of the school board, were asking for a litany of permanent cuts, including raising K-3 class sizes by up to 25 percent, eliminating vital supports for high school students and stripping 27 days from the pre-K school calendar with no plan to replace the education those children would lose.
It took the threat of a strike from the teachers to persuade the district that such permanent cuts were bad for our students. But the contract negotiations are just the tip of the iceberg.
For the past five years, the current Board of Education has sent out thousands of unnecessary layoff notices to teachers and paraprofessionals. Only a handful of teachers have actually been laid off; scores have decided to leave because of the uncertainty. According to the SFUSD, it costs $28,000 to train and integrate every new teacher. And it is estimated to cost $700 to put them through the layoff process. But it’s not just the waste of money that should concern voters. The constant churn has created insecurity and disruptions at every school in the SFUSD at the expense of our students.
The lack of leadership also has taken a heavy toll on teaching and learning. The relentless push to increase test scores is driving excellent teaching out of the classroom and replacing it with rote instruction that is hyper-focused on the tests.
How bad is it? At one Superintendent’s Zone school, every subject except for math and English has been eliminated from the curriculum in many classrooms: no science, no social studies, no art, no music. Narrowing the curriculum for low-income children of color may increase test scores, but it doesn’t provide children with the comprehensive education and future they deserve.
One award-winning SFUSD teacher recently wrote to our office expressing the concern of hundreds of her peers, lamenting the direction in which our schools are headed. “You have no idea how much time I now spend testing the first-graders these days, then posting the results online along with report cards that follow,” she writes.
“Wasted hours … what is all this data for, really? Treating a growing mind like this is bad for everyone.”
The current Board of Education members have had four years to set a positive direction for our schools. Instead, they’ve pushed teachers to a 97 percent strike vote, abused the layoff process, reduced great teaching to test scores and forced expensive initiatives with little or no support. When they have been warned and chided about their behavior, they have cited their noble intentions. But good intentions aren’t enough. The members of this board have had their chance to do what’s right for our students. They’ve failed.
Now it’s time for new ideas on the board. Now is the time for a new direction.
San Francisco teachers say now is the time for Haney, Popek, Rodriguez and Walton.
Dennis Kelly is the president of the United Educators of San Francisco, the union representing the teachers in the San Francisco Unified School District.