How Much Charters Schools *Really* Cost

Even “good” charters come at a cost to our public education system.

Last week, In the Public Interest, a research and policy center promoting the democratic control of public goods and services, released a report that measures how much charter schools are costing three California school districts. That might sound regional and hyper specific, but it’s a big deal. Here’s why: it’s the first to directly measure the cost for a district when a student transfers to a privately managed charter school. Districts nationwide can now make similar measurements using our model, potentially shifting the discourse about charter schools.

We can’t afford the cost of charters…

Here’s some initial reporting about it in Oakland.

In a first-of-its-kind analysis, In the Public Interest has found that public school students in three California school districts are bearing the cost of the unchecked expansion of privately managed charter schools.

Charter schools cost Oakland Unified $57.3 million per year. That’s $1,500 less in funding for each student that attends a neighborhood school. For San Diego Unified, the annual cost of charter schools is $65.9 million. In East Side Union, the net impact of charter schools amounts to a loss of $19.3 million per year.

Here’s how it works. When a student leaves a neighborhood school for a charter school, all the funding for that student leaves with them but all the costs do not. This leads to cuts in core services like counseling, libraries, and special education, and increased class sizes at neighborhood public schools.


For more information, or to get involved in protecting our public education system, go to the HowMuchChartersCost.Org and follow the #HowMuchChartersCost hashtag on Twitter. You can also download the full report here or this research brief showing charter impacts in various districts across the nation.

We encourage families concerned about this to write their elected leaders and demand local control of charter schools.

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An Open Letter to SF Families and Community Members about Innovate

Who is Innovate?

Over the past few weeks, SF Families Union has been working with parent leaders, educators, and local California NAACP education directors to investigate a Walton (Walmart) Family-funded organization named Innovate Public Schools.

We have learned Innovate has been infiltrating San Francisco schools and parent advocacy groups in an effort to collect parent contacts. They recently came with the press and their own paid photographer to a School Board meeting to demand a new KIPP Charter School.

Innovate “Public” schools has very deep pockets and its founder, Matt Hammer, has connections to Michelle Rhee, charter schools, and Betsy DeVos through his partnership with such organizations as the Philanthropy Roundtable

Smoke and Mirrors

The very next day, one of our members, an SFUSD parent and bilingual educator, posted a blog about her experiences with Innovate in a “parent led” meeting at Everett Middle School under the false pretense of being a “Innovate Parent Research Meeting”. The meeting was co-facilitated with one of our district assistant-superintendents. Both central and site staff involved with the meeting were unaware of Innovate’s mission to drive charter expansion in our district.

This amazing parent/educator has graciously published a write up of her observations of the Everett meeting in both English and Spanish below:

In addition to portraying itself as a SF “parent” organization speaking for Black & Latinx parents, Innovate staff and “Innovate parents” have been meeting with school board members, supervisors, legislators, non-profit partners and even public school staff under the same false pretenses. 

They are inviting San Francisco VIPs to meetings and then using photos of them to portray support for expanding charter schools. This has been very confusing to SF community organizers and parent leaders who are fighting to every day to uplift the voices of Black and Latinx families in our district and in our schools. Unfortunately, Innovate is taking advantage of the good will of our true community advocates to further it’s goal of promoting charter expansion in our district by charter management chains. 

Innovate’s Mission: Covert Corporate Takeover of our Schools

Do not be mistaken, Innovate is out to take over our public education system. If they are successful in their aims, the “new schools” they seek to create will undoubtedly come at the expense of schools serving our most marginalized students. We will follow in the unfortunate footsteps of Los AngelesSan Jose and Oakland who are currently facing a rash of charter takeovers and school closures.


Image courtesy of “19 Journey for Justice Alliance (2014). Death By A Thousand Cuts: Racism, School Closures, and Public School Sabotage. Voices from America’s Affected Communities of Color. Read the full report at:

Fake Grassroots Organizing

Innovate may say it is a “parent empowerment” organization, but based on its founding documents its true focus is on “…education reform that will support the creation of new charter schools…”. Not only are they are heavily pushing news charters, they are also charterizing schools from the inside. In case you wanted to see their lay of the land, it looks something like this.

Innovate Public Schools founding documents.

SF Families members have reached out to CA NAACP Education Chair, Julian Vasquez Heilig, Ph.D., who has been supporting us in our efforts to push back on charter “reformers”. The CA NAACP is so supportive of our efforts, he even wrote a post to share with other SFUSD officials and community members:

“Parents and community members in San Francisco have called recently concerned about an “astroturfing” organization that has received several hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Walton Family Foundation seeking to “organize” and “innovate” in the Bay. It appears that the billionaires boy club has taken to heart calls for community-based reform (at least the appearance) as an alternative to top-down reform.”

[Read more here.]

Innovate and similar charter expansion proponents use “astroturfing” (or fake grassroots activism) to lobby elected officials for charter expansion.

Definition courtesy of Merriam Webster. To see more go to:

Are We At War?

Innovate has in its own words described its strategy as an “air war” and “ground war” to create “actionable demand” for charter expansion. Look at the Innovate website and you will see a board composed of people and organizations whose mission is charter school expansion (see attachment). According to reports, Innovate is currently advocating for more KIPP schools, and specifically supporting KIPP’s petition to bring a new elementary to our district. This petition was unanimously denied a charter by all members of the SFUSD Board of Education.

Additionally, Innovate is notorious for creating “parent-friendly” reports sharing inaccurate and misleading data about SFUSD schools, which intentionally devalue SF families, schools and educators.

We Won’t Let Innovate’s Corporate Tech Bullies Push Us Around! Stand Up for Democratically Controlled PUBLIC Schools!

We are a diverse city, but San Franciscans have one thing in common: We don’t take kindly to outside corporate interests privatizing our right to have a voice in our public institutions—and especially our public schools!

There are several things you can do to push back on Silicon Vally billionaires angling for a land grab of our public schools.

Get educated/Share what you learn:

Check out these resources below to get you started. Make sure to share them in the comments below. Tweet, Post and Share on Twitter, FB, Instagram and all your parent email groups. Use the hashtag #SFNotforSale.

Who is Innovate?

Below is a compilation of research by SF Families parents and educators and our supporters. Click this link to download a Pdf.

Be a Part of the Community Schools Conversation!

SF Families Union agrees with teachers, NAACP leaders, and others working for educational equity. We believe our schools should be accountable to the communities they serve. Thus, we strongly support Community Schools. We will be sharing more about this in the coming months as we reach out to work with other parent leadership organizations and community partners across San Francisco, including Coleman Advocates, Parent for Public Schools, district and local Parent Teacher Organizations and Associations to define what WE mean by “community schools.”

Sign up to be on our email listserv to stay up to date on posts and actions. Click here to go back to our home page and scroll down to sign up NOW!

What resources do you have to share about the harms of charter expansion in our district? What are the benefits of democratically controlled community schools? Please share links and resources below! 

Learn More:

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Walton Funded Organization seeking “organize” and “innovate” in the Bay

Parents and community members in San Francisco have called recently concerned about an “astroturfing” organization that has received several hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Walton Family Foundation seeking to “organize” and “innovate” in the Bay. It appears that the billionaires boy club has taken to heart calls for community-based reform (at least the appearance) as an alternative to top-down reform.

However, standing in the way of the billionaires boys club are civil rights advocates from Journey for Justice, the Movement for Black Lives and the NAACP.  I think it is important to understand that the NAACP has recently stepped up it voice in the conversations about education.

The California NAACP has led the national charge for greater transparency and accountability in privately managed charter schools. In 2016, the national NAACP made an unequivocal national statement concerning charter schools in a convention resolution. The national resolution originally submitted by the California NAACP states,

  • Charters have “increased segregation”
  • Charters’ “appointed boards that do not represent the public”
  • Peer review research shows charters “have disproportionately high use of punitive and exclusionary” discipline and “differential enrollment practices.”
  • Missing charter funds are “nearly half a billion dollars nationwide.”
  • Charters have resulted in forced co-locations.

As a result of these and other ongoing enhanced malfeasance across the charter sector, the national NAACP adopted the California NAACP’s call for a charter moratorium until “legislation and executive actions” are taken to protect the civil rights of children attending charter schools.

In 2016-2017, the NAACP’s Task Force on high quality education undertook a listening tour across the United States. In addition to several recommendations to protect the civil rights of students in charter schools, the NAACP’s High Quality Education Task Force report made several recommendations that provide research and evidenced-based alternatives to privately-managed charters for improving education for African American students.

First, provide more equitable and adequate funding for schools serving students of color. The report states,

Education funding has been inadequate and unequal for students of color for hundreds of years. And the United States has one of the most unequal school funding systems of any country in the industrialized world. To solve the quality education problems that are at the root of many of the issues we heard about, school finance reform is essential to ensure that resources are allocated according to student needs.

Second, invest productively in low-performing schools and schools with significant opportunity and achievement gaps. The report states,

Students learn in safe, supportive, and challenging learning environments under the tutelage of well-prepared and caring adults. To ensure that all students receive a high-quality education, federal, state, and local policies need to sufficiently invest in: (1) incentives that attract and retain fully qualified educators, (2) improvements in instructional quality that include creating challenging and inclusive learning environments; and (3) wraparound services for young people, including early childhood education, health and mental health services, extended learning time, and social supports.

The California NAACP reaffirms the national NAACP Task Force on High Quality Education’s call for proven, democratically-controlled reform models, such as early childhood education and community schools. The report states that these models better meet students’ needs.

High-quality early childhood education can foster meaningful gains in school readiness, as well as long-term benefits, such as lower rates of special education placement, reduced retention, and higher graduation rates. Early childhood education has also been shown to narrow achievement gaps, because children from low-income families and children of color gain the most from the experience. Community schools are “both a place and a set of partnerships between the school and other community resources, [with an] integrated focus on academics, health and social services, youth and community development and community engagement.” This evidence-based strategy qualifies as a school turnaround strategy under ESSA and also qualifies for numerous federal grants, such as the Full Service Community Schools Program and the Promise Neighborhoods grants.

In conclusion, at the 2017 California NAACP state convention in Los Angeles, members affirmed a new resolution in support of properly-design, democratically-controlled, community schools and called for greater investment in this community-based approach as an alternative to more privately-managed (for-profit and non-profit) charter schools in African American communities. Stay tuned, I’ll post the California NAACP’s community schools resolutin here on Cloaking Inequity in the coming days.

p.s. For the parents in San Francisco battling KIPP tonight. Here are the resources I promised:

Vasquez Heilig, J., Williams, A., McNeil, L & Lee, C. (2011). Is choice a panacea? An analysis of black secondary student attrition from KIPP, other private charters and urban districts. Berkeley Review of Education2(2), 153-178.

The data also show that despite the claims that 88-90% of the children attending KIPP charters go on to college, their attrition rate for Black secondary students surpasses that of their peer urban districts. And this is in spite of KIPP spending 30–60% more per pupil than comparable urban districts.

Woodworth, K., David, J., Guha, R., Wang, H., & Lopez-Torkos, A. (2008). San Francisco Bay Area KIPP schools: A study of early implementation and achievement. Final report. Menlo Park, CA: SRI International.

A study conducted by SRI of four KIPP schools in the California Bay Area found that 60% of students that started the 5th grade in four KIPP schools were no longer enrolled at the end of the 8th grade (Woodworth et al., 2008). They also found, “On average, those who leave KIPP before completing eighth grade have lower test scores on entering KIPP” (Woodworth et al., 2008, p. xi). Their finding suggests that lower- achieving students were more likely to leave KIPP. Critics have argued that KIPP “backfills” their grades with high-achieving students as low-achieving students leave— thus producing illusory achievement success noted in Mathematica studies.

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One Step Back, Two Steps Forward–Starting a Black Family Affinity Group at your School

Parent affinity groups can have profound effects on schools. This post about my experiences starting an affinity group at my daughters’ elementary school, originally appeared on Blavity, a an online community of “the most exceptional multi-cultural creators and influencers in the world.” Blavity partners with diverse content creators and influencers to “help them reach a wider audience, amplify their message, and fund their hustles.” I am proud my work is highlighted there. Check out my article there, as well as more great content by Black millennials, artists, culture critics and entrepreneurs.

One Step Back, Two Steps Forward–Starting a Black Family Affinity Group at your School

Needs of underrepresented groups can get overlooked. Parent affinity groups can help.

Needs of underrepresented groups can get overlooked. Parent affinity groups can help.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I last spring I begun hosting a Black Family Breakfast affinity group for Black families at my daughters’ elementary school. This is part of an effort that my principal, I and a few key staff have initiated to “explore race and culture” at our school. Teachers noted last year that parents needed to be involved in the process (not just teachers and kids). As parents, we can undermine efforts of staff in creating a safe and welcoming environment for all families. That said, after several conversations with Black families at our school, we decided to get together to share ideas and resources to help make our school and even more welcoming place.

Apparently my “great idea” of bringing Black families together was not met with open arms by all staff. A few days after sending out invitations for our second meeting I learned some teachers were voicing concerns about Black parents getting together to talk about their experiences at the school (?!) This happened even at a school with an enlightened and supportive principal like mine! At this moment, I realized, there was still a LOT of work to be done in our district and at our school. Nonetheless, I’m glad I’m doing it.

What was all the hubbub about? Some staff expressed their concerns that an affinity group would be too “exclusive” and could potentially be seen as unfair by other racial and cultural groups at the school.

As a Black woman who is constantly having to navigate “white spaces”, I understand the importance of being able to “tell it like it is” and in a room full of folks who “get it.” I also understand how important it is to be able to speak about my experience without having to worry about defensive reactions of others.

With support from the principal (which is KEY) we decided to move ahead and use this incident as a “teachable moment.” The principal agreed to listen to staff concerns while still encouraging them to live with the potential discomfort that their questions stirred up. I explained to the principal that I was happy to answer any specific questions staff had, and we both agreed that if staff felt other affinity groups should be formed

Luckily, a friend of mine shared an article that proved helpful in explaining why our affinity group is so important for our families. This article is focused on setting up student affinity groups, nonetheless, I feel it also applies to parents as well:

Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Good Friday have long been on the calendar at Madeira School in McLean, Virginia; no major tests are given on those days. But it wasn’t until students in the school’s Muslim affinity group were discussing the dilemma of choosing between taking tests or attending Eid services that the lack of inclusion on the calendar became apparent.

“You really shouldn’t be having tests on a major holiday. We can communicate this up to the teachers and the administration,” math teacher and affinity group leader Jeannie Rumsey told the students. “We can find another time for you to make that up, but this is a major holiday for you and you should be able to celebrate it.” After organizing and communicating with their administration, the group succeeded in adding the major Muslim holy days to the following year’s school calendar. The dates were given the same treatment as the Christian and Jewish holidays: no tests.

This example of collective action is one of the purposes of affinity groups in schools: They allow students who share an identity—usually a marginalized identity—to gather, talk in a safe space about issues related to that identity, and transfer that discussion into action that makes for a more equitable experience at school.

(Read more here.)

Even though I experienced some initial pushback, it’s been interesting to see some positive outcomes of moving forward DESPITE the initial resistance.

First, it became very clear that YES… our teachers actually NEEDED to talk about race. Even if it’s just exploring how we feel about talking about it. (A good first step, No?) I am also learning that this work is ESPECIALLY important in schools with language programs. I never had an option to NOT talk about race teaching at other more diverse schools in our district.

In contrast, at my daughters’ former school, where a full HALF of our classrooms are bilingual Chinese, there may be many teachers who are very experienced teacher may never have never been confronted with issues of talking about Black culture or even race in general. So, I realized I had to reset my assumptions about the general comfort level or knowledge folks have about addressing race/culture in the classroom. This may even be more true for Asian-Americans teaching in mostly Asian-American schools because as People of Color they may get “checked” less often by folks of other disenfranchised groups such as Blacks and Latinxs.

Outside of my own learning, starting the affinity group didn’t ask anything of teachers (as it’s all parent initiated and supported.) Nonetheless, the conversation about whether we should or shouldn’t have a Black family affinity group (or other affinity groups for that matter) DID cause there to be more conversation about race among staff. 🙂

More and more, I began seeing folks coming out of the woodwork to form an informal network of folks interested in elevating this important conversation. This has in turn led to a clearer purpose and resolve to push for change around how we spoke about racial equity in our school.

  • A teacher sought me out the next morning to tell me how she’s been “fuming” about some of the ignorant comments and resistance of her teacher peers. The experience of listening to other staff voice questions and concerns, is making her want to speak up more and fight for the voices and needs of our most underrepresented kids. (Also, including LGBT, Spanish-speaking, low-income, etc.)
  • Our Literacy Specialist and the School Social Worker have on their own initiative decided to take on the idea of creating a K-5 Book Talk curriculum for ALL teachers in the school addressing race and culture. (WOHOOO!)
  • Our principal has also committed to funding our teachers and librarian in increasing the number of books with people of color in our school and classroom libraries. #WeNeedDiverseBooks!!! (I posted a resource for doing a Library Audit here if you are interested. I have also posted multiple book lists for diverse books here, here, and here.)


All of this had not directly been DRIVEN by families. Nonetheless, this type of dialogue would never have happened, if Black, Latino, Asian and White families hadn’t STARTED the conversation. Being at our school and serving on various parent leadership groups (School Site Council, Parent Teacher Organization, etc.) I know these questions had come up time and again. But over the six years I’ve been at our school, it had never been on the front burner. The fact that all this new activity happened was a direct result of families having conversations about the importance of naming and celebrating culture and race at our school. It’s one thing to have a principal make demands of teachers (among all the other demands made of teachers each day.) It is quite another for parents to make direct requests from teachers on behalf of their kids.

If you are interested in starting an affinity group for students at your child’s school, this is a great set of guidelines and tips from Teaching Tolerance.

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Racial Justice Resource List for Busy Bay Area Parents

I’m thankful for all the protesters out in the streets today making it known throughout the land—our city will not tolerate hate! While there are some family-friendly protests going on this weekend, protests in general, are often not a safe place for families with kids. That said, I know we’re not the only parents with a need to take action, today and every day.

Fear not, there are many ways to participate in pushing back against hate. In fact, anti-racist parenting is one of the MOST important ways we contribute to creating a tolerant, inclusive world. In fact, parents play an even more important role than schools, in the ways we “racially socialize” our children.

With that in mind, here’s a shortish list of people/organizations you can follow and support to get ongoing racial & social justice resources for your family. Find these groups on Facebook, sign up for their email lists, donate, volunteer, educate and taking action!

Racial Justice Resource List for Busy Bay Area Parents

By Julie Roberts-Phung (and a few additions from yours truly!)

SF Public School Mom

Are you wondering how race plays out in SF schools? In you’re new to this blog, welcome! Here, I write all about my musing on parenting, race and education, as an educator and mixed-race Black mom. Click the links at the top of each page to view posts by EquityParentingAcademics, and Books. Or, follow me on social media (FacebookTwitterInstagram) where I micro-blog on current events and share education and parenting resources and professional articles I come across each day. While you’re there, introduce yourself! I love meeting other equity-focused parents. 🙂

Staceyann Chin

My favorite mother-daughter duo, Staceyann Chin and Zuri of Living Room Protest  do a great job of modeling conversations about race, feminism, gender and adultism. Check it out NOW!


Their Medium blog posts short and nuanced discussions of race for families, centering people of color and other less heard voices (including White folks working for racial justice). Download the Tip Sheet and other resources from their website. Follow them on FacebookInstagram.

Abundant Beginnings

Follow this amazing group of educators on Facebook to find amazing events, workshops, and even a pre-school which educates children using a queer ecofeminist (and intersectional people of color led) lens. Help them increase access to their programs by funding their bus while you’re there.

Our Family Coalition

Our Family Coalition provides support, advocacy & education for LGBTQ families and works for equity. Their newsletter is full of great events, including an upcoming LGBTQ friendly preschool fair. Ask them to come talk to your school.

Showing Up For Racial Justice (SURJ) Families

SURJ organizes White folks to work for racial justice. The local group organizes monthly storytimes and family events with Abundant Beginnings, Our Family Coalition & other groups. Sign up here. Once you join, you can also become a member of their closed Facebook group.

Coleman Advocates

People of color led organization advocating for families in and beyond SF public schools. Donate to them, follow them on Facebook and Twitter, and support them. If you’re on the other side of an issue from Coleman, it’s time to give your position another look.

San Francisco Families Union

The SF Families Union is a multiracial organization of families working for racial equity and meaningful integration in support of our public schools. Go to the website to attend an upcoming workshop or event.

San Francisco Public Library

The SFPL has been putting on amazing programing about race and identity for all ages, keep an eye out! Next time you are there, check out the diverse book lists most libraries have in hard copy. Or, look for diverse books here.

Want one simple next step?

Have a racial justice movie night in your home, at school, or in other community spaces.

It’s a great way to find like minded families & work together collectively to take on the subtle and not so subtle racism that’s everywhere. SURJ Families has an agenda you can use with a Raising Race Conscious Children Webinar.

Or, you can adopt the agenda for other movie nights, for example, with films from World Trust: and/or Welcoming Schools.

This post first appeared on SF Public School Mom. Check out more articles on race, parenting, and education policy HERE!

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A school assignment system for 2016 or the 1960s?

This is a report back from the SFUSD Ad Hoc Student Assignment System Committee meeting November 29, 2016.

At a moment when President-Elect Trump is talking about “making America great again” there’s a surprising way that San Francisco is closer to the 1960s than 2016. Our schools are as segregated now as they were in 1968, before the NAACP won a series of desegregation orders. The order was lifted in 2005, and in ten short years we’re back at civil rights era levels of segregation. Weird and a little shocking, for San Francisco, right?

Last night’s Ad Hoc Committee on Student Assignment meeting could be a part of undoing the systemic racism that leads to segregation in our schools. It started out on a frustrating path, but turned in a hopeful direction. What happens next will determine if San Francisco takes the position you would expect of a progressive city, or whether we maintain our little piece of the 1960s in our schools.

The presentation ran models of what diversity would look like under neighborhood schools.

Spoiler alert – neighborhood schools won’t create integrated schools, though our current “choice” system is even more segregating.

As Commissioner Walton pointed out, “choice is fundamentally inequitably distributed.”

The second half of the presentation focused on other approaches districts take to integrate their schools, including a look at Berkeley’s zone model.

FullSizeRender (6).jpg

A really positive moment came when staff noted that schools and districts which have achieved integration set specific goals and targets.

Will SFUSD do the same?

There was limited parent participation, maybe partly because as one parent testified, the meetings and materials and recordings have not been posted publicaly, despite several requests. However, all the parents who testified called on the district to use the SAS process to integrate schools, which seemed to have a powerful impact!

Commissioners were really responsive to feedback and asked staff to follow up on on getting information up online, getting a promise that materials would be up on the website the next day. Commissioner Norton and others articulated that they are not making a proposal that SFUSD move to a neighborhood school assignment system. Commissioner Haney said current levels of segregation are completely unacceptable and that we have a moral imperative to reduce racial isolation. Commissioner Walton turned this sentiment into action by asking staff what it would take to run models of different strategies with a goal of integration, and asking if we could bring in outside partners to help.

Will we do it?

It will take real leadership and consistent work to change from a system with 1960s levels of segregation to an integrated school district. Any changes made this year, or even next year would take 5+ years to roll out, since enrollment for families currently in schools wouldn’t change, changes would only happen for families applying in the future. The real proof will be in what happens next, and what the follow up is. Some of the Ad Hoc Committee on Student Assignment materials are up on the website which is a good start.

The most important moment of the night was probably Commissioner Walton’s call to shift the question we are getting data on from “What would it look like if we had neighborhood schools” to “What student assignment system would best integrate our schools?”

It would be great to see models of how other systems would work in SUFSD. There’s a district very close to home which successfully integrated their schools & whose approach we should model. In this district, there was only one segregated school, test scores rose for all students, and the achievement gap closed.1 This district was SFUSD in 1997! We shouldn’t forget that we actually had integrated schools at one point, and should model past SFUSD systems side by side with what other districts are doing right now. Enrollment even crept up in the 1980s when we started using a system where every school had to have 4 racial groups represented, and no more than 45% of the students could not be from the same group. For the very nerdy, check out this really important footnote about federal law and guidelines, blah, blah, blah ;).2

Some of the best news in this process is that, it looks like the district shifting to create more equitable dynamics  by working more closely with Black families on enrollment. The EPC (enrollment) came out to an AAPAC meeting to talk with Black families about their enrollment experience. AAPAC will be presenting on March 8th about their experience with segregation and the school assignment system. This is really important progress, compared to the 2014-15 report which spent pages and pages on the question “How can parents get into Clarendon” and just had a few short paragraphs wondering why most Bayview families didn’t attend neighborhood schools with no follow up. Hopefully the district will continue to make sure that this makes families who are most hurt by segregation partners in this process, working closely with groups like Coleman Advocates, AROC, Support for Families With Disabilities, La Voz Latina, Our Family Coalition, Chinese for Affirmative Action, Au Co and other groups organizing and/or serving marginalized families.

At the end of the presentation, staff pointed out that “Diversity in school assignment is not enough.” It’s a starting point, not an end point. They reminded us that meaningful integration must also include an “Integrated school climate, equitable discipline, culturally responsive curriculum and pedagogy, diversity and desegregation among teachers, and within-school integration: detracking.” We have to be careful to ensure that we are integrating our schools, not gentrifying them.

Integrating our schools will take courage, curiosity, participation, elbow grease, data, persistence and leadership from families, staff, and Commissioners. Fortunately, last night we saw all the ingredients come together. The real question will be what happens now, whether the next steps fall into place, and we are able to send our students to schools which will prepare them for the America they will graduate into, not the one we (hopefully) left behind in the 1960s.

1 – From court documents in San Francisco NAACP v. San Francisco Unified School District “Academic achievement data indicate a close relationship between resegregation and the disparity in academic achievement between black and Latino students in comparison with white and Chinese-American students. The overwhelming majority of schools that have been successful in closing the achievement gap, as indicated by the large percentages of students of all ethnic backgrounds who score at the proficient or above level on state standardized tests, have maintained ethnically and racially-diverse student bodies (Biegel Report No. 22 (2004–05) App. 1 at 2). In contrast, the Academic Performance Index (API), a school-ranking system based on standardized test scores, indicates that schools with declining APIs are those that have become resegregated.” (p. 12)
2 –  Federal guidelines for public schools looking to integrate say that districts should look at three different options for integration and chose the one which will meet the goal of integrating schools in the most tailored way. The three ways are “race neutral” (our current “choice”/lottery system – fail), generally race conscious (like Berkeley’s zone system), or individually race conscious (SFUSD in the 80s, when schools had a rule that they had to have 4 racial/ethnic groups represented, and no group could make up more than 45% of the student body). We’re fortunate to have examples of these strategies in our district and/or next door, which should give us really good data to answer the question of what enrollment system will actually integrate our schools. In terms of bringing in the leading experts on school integration to help us, it would be amazing if SFUSD asked the nationally recognized school integration experts at the UCLA Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles to help us figure out the right model for us and to negotiate legal issues.
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Who profits from a “broken public school” narrative?

One of the best ways to sell something is to create a problem that needs to be fixed. This is nothing new, as you can see in this old ad which uses the fear of spinsterhood to sell mouthwash.

Retromercial: Listerine Ad (1950s)

So, what does this have to do with education?

I’ve talked for a while #onhere about the ways false narratives hurt our public schools. Most folks do agree (at least publicly) that all children should have access to a high quality education. Currently, traditional public schools are the only schools mandated to serve all kids. With this in mind, one might wonder why folks who say they value public education perpetuate narratives that undermine our schools?

My dad would say, the answer is simple: For that good ol’ greenback dollar bill!

Truthfully, there are some strong public schools and some that struggle, but to throw our entire public school system under the bus is ludicrous. It does a great disservice to the many dedicated students, families and teachers that pour their time, money and love into our schools. More than anything, this harmful narrative seems to target urban public schools serving low-income, Black and Brown youth. However, hundreds of tiny miracles happen in our urban public schools each day that never get media attention. So it’s time to analyzed why the “failing public schools” narrative is so pervasive. Who benefits when public schools fail?

A Disclaimer

Let’s agree, challenging narratives about how we educate kids is a touchy conversation. So like the tiny print at the bottom of a prescription drug ad, I feel a need to make a disclaimer…

To be fair, I’m not saying all charter teachers are bad, or all private-school parents are racist. I worked in charters for over five years and I didn’t work there with the intention of ruining public education. I have friends who have children enrolled in private schools. I support folks in making choices for themselves and their families. We all have our reasons, and, there are always exceptions. Before reacting defensively, I want to get one thing straight—I’m talking about systems, not individuals.

That said, each day we participate in systems that either reinforce or dismantle the status quo. It’s time for us to start thinking beyond individual anecdotes to analyze the ways our collective choices create our childrens’ schools.

Now, let’s get back to the subject at hand…

Who benefits from trashing public schools?

Charters – Public School “Lite”

Previously, I wrote about the way private schools benefit from a “broken public school narrative”. But, they aren’t the only ones who profit.

The multi-million dollar charter industry relies on the perception that charters are private school “lite” with a public school price. The best way for charters to differentiate themselves from traditional public schools is by selling themselves as the free-market (read: better) alternative to public schools which proponents paint as “bureaucratic” and “inefficient”. Most often, charters sell the idea that they offer specialized curriculum or enhanced instruction that can’t be provided in “failing” schools by veteran teachers. Teachers in charters are painted as spunky, innovative, dedicated in contrast to the old, burnt-out, “impossible to fire” teachers they say are the problem with public schools. (Stay tuned for more on this hot topic. As you can see, I’m just getting started!)

Who Thought Nonprofits Could Be So Profitable?

Private and charter schools aren’t the only ones who thrive on trashing public schools. “Nonprofits” profit as well.  Education think-tanks, curriculum developers, test creators and educational software developers are also ready to jump in and provide a “quick fix” to what they claim is broken.

“What’s wrong with urban public schools?” you might ask.  “We’ll tell you for just three easy payments of $19.95… MILLION!”  “Want to learn how to turn around your achievement gap? Hire our team of curriculum consultants and TFA wunderkind and we’ll save the day!” Talking about failing public schools is a real bummer, but MAN it really moves product!

Hysteria over our “broken system” has gotten so crazy that nonprofits often serve as middlemen for billionaire funders like Bill Gates who favor investing in outsiders over districts for fear they will mismanage implementation. Yet, when dollars flow to nonprofits to supplant the leadership in a district, it undermines rather than supports. The overall message to educators is, “We don’t think you can manage this… so we’ll do it for you.”.

In my experience, if an entity wants to help a district function more effectively, its work with leadership to fix underlying problems. Instead of truly being of assistance, nonprofits often enable failure within the system be creating workarounds or just doing the work for them. In this way, they become complicit in creating and maintaining problems from which they profit.

“Progressive” Parents (aka: “Chardonnay Liberals”)

Last but not least, we can’t forget “progressive” parents seeking to shed the stigma of private school. Urban centers tend to lean left. Yet, despite the fact that affluent urban parents are more likely to be self-proclaimed liberals, you’ll still find them fighting tooth and nail to get their kids in private schools, strategizing ways to “win the lottery.” San Francisco is no exception. In fact, with our Bay Area history of hippies and wine culture, we practically invented the “chardonnay liberal.”

What does it mean to be a chardonnay liberal? Drive a Prius, buy designer hemp jeans, drink fair-trade organic coffee, all the while putting your kids in an independent school. (Independent sounds soooo much better than private, don’t you think?) Never mind the fact that enrollment is selective. Scholarships guarantee there are still a few low-income kids (who meet the “good fit” requirement.) And even though there aren’t many African-American kids, schools can still be diverse—if you consider international families. Some are even from Africa!

Again, I’m not saying every private school parent is a closet racist. Several of my low-income friends are among the scholarship recipients I mentioned. I’m not going to fault them for doing everything they can to get what they’ve been told is the best education for their kids. Nonetheless, I know way too many folks who’ve cried about the trauma of being assigned to perfectly AWESOME public schools, because there were “too many Cantonese-speaking families”. (Is there something wrong with Cantonese-speaking families?)

I’ve got a LOT to say on this topic! For now, let’s just say, if I drank a glass of chardonnay for every Russian hill parent I’ve talked to that said they really believed in public school and “wished” they could have enrolled, but were “forced” to go charter/private, I’d have a serious drinking problem.

Let’s get the record straight.

The crisis in public education is a manufactured crisis. And a “free-market” education system is about as equitable as letting drug companies set prescription prices. Public education isn’t a commodity, it’s a basic human right. It’s time to stop treating families like “consumers” and stop letting snake-oil salesman sell us lies about our schools.

The truth is, our public education system is not any worse off than it was 50 years ago. In fact public schools are doing better than their competition.


Private vs. Public

Let’s start with the obvious. Private schools choose their students. They don’t serve English Learner students, students with expensive disabilities, or homeless students. Public schools are charged not only with working with more needy students, they are “held accountable” to doing so.

But what about affluent kids of college educated families? What about all the stories we hear about “bored” gifted students in mixed-ability classrooms? Surely, they must do better in private schools.

Despite the mantra repeated by yoga-moms throughout the country, that private is better, educational research shows this isn’t the case. In their book, The Public School Advantage, professors Christopher Lubienski, and Sarah Theule Lubienski, at University of Illinois and University of Illinois, respectively, concluded:

Greater school choice for families and greater autonomy for schools leads to greater academic outcomes, right?  Maybe not.  Using two nationally representative datasets, we recently conducted one of the most comprehensive studies ever performed of school type and achievement in mathematics—a subject widely held to be the best measure of in-school learning.  We analyzed instruction and performance for over 300,000 elementary and middle school students in 15,108 public, charter, and private schools.  What we found surprised us.  Students in public schools actually outperform those in private schools.

(Read more about their book here.)

Don’t Believe the Hype: Charters vs. Traditional (Real) Public Schools

The research on charters has been coming out for a while now. Several years ago, a study came out of Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes looking at academic data from charter schools in 26 states and found insignificant results in many cases. Additionally, researchers are going beyond academic data (read: standardized test results) and finding charters perform significantly worse when looking at graduation ratessuspension rates, and who they serve (hint: disabled children aren’t high on their list. Empathy much?)

And despite the surge in charter messaging that they are more “equitable”, the evidence is mounting. Charter proliferation is actually hurting our public education system. So much so that in 2016 Black Lives Matter and the NAACP called for a freeze on charter school expansion and an increase in investment in traditional public schools. Kristina Rizga, outlines reasons we should be concerned with charter schools, including: “skimming” students, unregulated growth, lack of oversight, and inequitable disciplinary practices.

I could go on… and on… and on.. But, I’ll save that post for another day 😉

Why are we buying this narrative?

Getting back to where we began… We all know commercial products are vying for our money. Like it or not, education in our country is big business. Charters, private schools and edu-nonprofits use careful messaging and advertisements to create “brand recognition” and position themselves in the marketplace. Just like Coke, and Nike and Apple, various groups are working to spin a narrative to move more public and private dollars their way.

For these reasons, it is important for us to question what we hear about urban public schools. We all know McDonalds has a bigger advertising budget than the Broccoli Council (or whatever it’s called.) We should be asking ourselves… When did we start believing that mom’s meatloaf was such a bummer? And, is the “happy meal” of charter and private schools really all that?


Schools are the primary way we socialize our children. As such they reflect society’s deeply held values and beliefs. I urge you to ask yourself these questions:

  • Why do we perpetuate the narrative of “good” and “bad” public schools?
  • How can we participate in making our education system work the way it does?
  • How can we support our public education system in being more effective, equitable, and inclusive?
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Advocating for Equity in Separate and Unequal Schools

This coming September 24, 2016 we are organizing an event to bring together family advocates like you from schools across the district. All of our children lose out when we have separate and unequal schools – kids of color more than White and more affluent kids, but we all lose.

At this meeting we will learn from each other about the conditions in our schools, how to be effective advocates for equity and create the schools our children deserve, and we will connect together to be a stronger voice on district wide issues.

Organizations which support families like Coleman Advocates, Our Family Coalition (LGBTQ families) and Legal Services will be there to share information about rights and resources for families. Finally, we’ll be inviting you to join workgroups to get to work creating the meaningfully integrated, equitable schools our kids deserve, where they can play and learn together.

To make the biggest impact, bring a group of families from your school!

Please join us September 24th from 2-4 PM at 251 18th Ave, SF, CA 94117. RSVP here so we have a good count for food, translation and childcare.


Advocating for Equity in Separate and Unequal Schools

SF Families Union Meeting
September 24th 2016

2:00-4:00 PM
251 18th Ave, SF, CA 94117 (in Richmond)
Childcare and snacks provided, please RSVP to reserve your spot.

Click to RSVP


Invite your friends!

Click the image below to download flyers and share with your friends. The more families come, the more power we have to create positive change in SF schools!

Sept 24 SFFU Flyer

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My impressions of Cobb (Dr. William L. Cobb Elementary School)


A volunteer day at Cobb’s garden.

Our guest blogger Laura Lifland (super mom and emerging writer) was taken aback at the responses from friends when she told them her child had been assigned to Cobb in the first round of the SFUSD lottery this year. Dismayed that people were willing to share negative viewpoints on a school they had never visited nor taken the time to learn about, Laura decided to visit the school herself. Her impressions of the school highlight what we miss when we rule out a beautiful school in a great neighborhood with a talented, caring teachers based on test scores alone, or worse, racial and socio-economic demographics and vague, baseless impressions from people who know nothing of the school.

I arrived at Cobb for their scheduled Thursday morning 9am tour, and was fortunate enough to get to spend an hour one-on-one with the principal, Chad Slife (“Mr Slife”, as the students call him fondly). This is his first year at Cobb. Previously, he was Assistant Principal at Gateway Middle School (a charter school), which he helped launch. During his time at Gateway, the school grew from 100 6th graders at inception, to full capacity of 312 6-8th graders last year (with a wait list of 400 for 100 spots!). Before Gateway, he was a teacher at Claire Lillienthal.

Cobb is one of the smallest schools in SFUSD, with 140 students currently enrolled, including preK. This allows for very small class sizes (current K has 14 children). That said, they have capacity for more enrollment and would love to add more students.

Cobb is in a great location (at California and Divis) with a large outdoor playspace and brightly lit, spacious rooms. There was a feeling of warmth and engagement throughout the school. They were having a “publishing party”, with a focus on “persuasion”. We ran into the literacy coach who excitedly told us about a persuasive piece that one of the students had written about one of the current candidates in the US presidential race, as well as another on the case for non-violence. I was also able to witness collaboration between classes (5th graders helping K students with reading/writing projects). Kids said enthusiastic hellos to Mr Slife when we went into a classroom or crossed paths with them in the hallways.

Average tenure of teachers at Cobb is currently 8 years. I met many of the staff during my walk around and was uniformly impressed with their warmth and professionalism. As many of you know, my child defies all traditional gender norms, and my number one qualification for the K he eventually attends is that the staff be aware and supportive on the topic of gender identity. I found Mr Slife, and all of the staff I spoke to, fully fluent on children’s gender development and other matters of diversity and inclusion.

The school has undergone a massive integration of arts into the curriculum. Children have 2-3hours of arts per week, fostered by partnerships with the SF Opera, Ballet and Symphony, as well as with an SFUSD VAPA teacher who comes into the school, and a teacher from the Nagata Dance Company in Japantown.

The school is also slotted to participate in a World Language Pilot (see article in SF Examiner). Every student would get 30 minutes of instruction in Mandarin, 3x week. At the moment, Cobb and one other school have been identified as pilots for this program, which would eventually roll out to other schools.

They are working with Coast 2 Coast Coaching for lunch recess this spring. They hope to have Playworks on site next school year with a full-time coach to support all recesses with safe and fair play.

Speaking of recess, K-2 have morning, lunch and afternoon recess. Grades 3-5 have morning and lunchtime recess. Younger kids are encouraged to take “brain breaks” by moving (Mr Slife used the example of 3rd graders doing a conga line from one activity to the next, or having dance it out moments during the day).

The school provides full-time aftercare through the YMCA at no cost. Regular school hours are from 8:40-2:40pm, and aftercare is from2:40-6pm.

The school does require uniforms (blue pants or skirt, blue or white shirt) for all students, with the exception of PreK. The uniform policy is intended as a socio-economic support in the community. I confirmed that my child would be able to, without hesitation, wear a skirt or pants. Kids looked relaxed and comfortable in their attire, and other than the uniformity of color, their clothes looked of their own choosing in style, cut, layers.

Academically, the school (as with all of SFUSD) adheres to the Common Core.

The school practices RTI (Response To Intervention) for both academics and behavior. This means the first tier, which includes everyone, receives a certain degree of intervention, followed by a second tier – a select group – receiving another level of intervention, followed by the third tier – individuals – receiving personalized intervention.

In terms of discipline, the school (like many SFUSD schools), engages in Restorative Practices. In addition, students are awarded “Golden Tickets” for acts that reflect the school’s commitment to Be Safe, Be Respectful, and Be Responsible. Prizes are given out at the individual, class and school level once a certain # of Golden Tickets are collected. Class prizes include popsicle parties; school prizes include dance parties.

There is an active parent organization at the school and a school site council. Most families come out for events that engage and showcase their kids (performances, Back to School night). There are small-scale fundraisers.

In terms of resources, the school has:
1 full time social worker
1 full time instructional coach
1 full time literacy coach
1 full time elementary advisor (supports attendance)
1 full time RSP (supports Special Ed)
1 half-time family liaison
1 half-time school nurse (who trains all of the other nurses in SFUSD)
1 librarian, 2 days/week
1 Phys Ed specialist, 2 days/week

3 VAPA (Visual and Performing Arts) teachers on campus one-day-a-week each.

Volunteers further support the school, including:
San Francisco Education Fund
Experience Corps (retired adults who want to give back to the community)
Tzuichi, a Buddhist Foundation that provides supports for families in need
High school volunteers from Gateway, Drew, Towne who help with reading, recess, etc

Did you tour a great public school that people need to know about? Tell us all about it in the comments, and/or email

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Congratulations Carver ES Families!

The SF Families Union members met Carver Families during the Feb. 13th SF Families event at Cobb ES where we spoke about the experience of Black families. What came up was surprising… there two schools in our district without proper doors and walls for instruction. Both of these schools are in the Bay View, a San Francisco neighborhood housing predominantly low-income families of color.

Working in support of the amazing family leadership there, SF Families Union amplified the message that parents, grandparents, students and staff had been saying all for a long time… “Students and teachers need proper classrooms to quality teaching and learning!… We need doors and walls at our school!”

Members of the SF Families Union met with Carver family representatives and staff. We met with local officials (Malia Cohen, SF Supervisor, District 10) and on her recommendation, created petitions. Carver families circulated paper petitions and SF Families Union members posted petitions online and via social media. Together, we were able to gather over 300+ petitions which Carver families presented to the SFUSD School Board last Tuesday!

Watch their amazing testimony at the recent Board of Education meeting last Tuesday, March 22, 2016 at this link.


Thank you Carver families for being such an inspiration for other SF Families. Carver ES is a AMAZING school with AMAZING teachers, kids and families. You deserve to have a school that reflects the GREATNESS of your community!

To support Carver families, call Donna Smith, Carver Parent Liaison at 415-330-1540 or contact the SF Families Union at: sanfranciscofamiliesunion AT

Congratulations! You’ve won a commitment that Carver classrooms will get walls and doors, and ventilation to create a healthy and safe learning environment! You’re our s/heros!

At the March 22nd Board of Education meeting, Superintendent Richard Carranza promised the Carver community: “Your voices have been heard… It’s going to be close to $1 million. Work is already starting… We are going to update the community as to a timeline of when the construction will start… We’re not waiting for another bond issue. We’re rearranging bond monies to be able to make this happen immediately.”
You’re winning, and the SF Families Union is thankful for your leadership and inspiration.


  • Thank you for signing petitions (over 300), writing letters, and making beautiful posters.
  • Thank you for coming out to the Board of Education once again, late on a school night. Thank you to the elementary students and families who stayed up past 9:30 pm to speak up for your school!
  • Thank you for sharing your anger and hurt.
  • Thank you for your grace and composure, for waiting patiently while boring adults do hours of boring meeting stuff before asking for classroom doors and walls, “pretty please.”
  • Thank you for sharing your confidence in your students and your expectation that they will thrive.
  • Thank you for sharing your school pride.
  • Thank you for showing how to come together and put children’s safety and learning first.
  • Thank you for showing SFUSD what the “community” in “learning community” really means!

Keep up the great work! The SF Families Union is behind you 100%. We will work with you to keep the pressure on until Carver families open new doors to classrooms with proper walls and ventilation. Thank for inspiring us with your leadership and action!

With joy and admiration,
The SF Families Union


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