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A Reporter Published a Problematic Article about Black Students in SF and Two SFUSD Commissioners had a Strong Rebuttal

Jamal Muhammad November 10, 2017

Stevon Cook and Shamann Walton are not letting media outlets defame Black students in SF.

San Francisco, California — All you will hear when it comes to helping Black students from San Francisco to improve in the classroom: we are in a state of emergency and the Black students living in the city are the “worst” performing group in California.

Though people mean well when they exude these statements, it is still not effective to regurgitate the same problems that the community has been dealing with for years. For example, on Oct. 25, news reporter Jessica Calefati published “Why is San Francisco the state’s worst county for Black students achievement?” via CALmatters.org .

The article was problematic and lacked critical information that could help the Black community. First, Calefati addressed the dilemma with redundant narratives such as:

“Soaring housing costs have been driving lower- and middle- income families out for decades, and it now has lower percentage of children than any other major city in America… Deep poverty and the housing instability and emotional trauma that come with it are some of the key factors impacting their performance.”

Trust and believe, the Black community have a recollection that a disruptive home life affects their children’s learning ability. Yes, it is hard to focus on school when you do not know where your next meal is coming from and whether or not the rent will be paid.

Instead of discussing the declining Black population and low-income families (which is a long separate conversation in itself), Calefati should have relinquished resources for disenfranchising families that are facing evictions, lack of job opportunities, and the lack of extra support in child development. We all know that gentrification is slowly but surely destroying our predominantly Black neighborhoods in San Francisco such as the Fillmore, Bayview, and Potrero Hill.

It is not the child’s fault that tech settlers are raising property value across the city because landlords know they have high salaries.

Furthermore, comparing Black students to their white counterparts creates a vexed narrative and it gives Black students an inferior complex. African-American students then will grow up lacking self-worth and believe that their white peers are the societal standard. 

In the article, Calefati stated that “huge gaps between Black kids’ scores and those of their white peers have existed for decades.” She followed with stating that “poor white students outperformed their disadvantaged Black peers by 30 percentage points” and Calefati did not give a credible source that supports this theory.

Instead of comparing Black students to other ethnic groups, districts, and the country, the dilemma of failing Black students should be treated as an isolated issue. It would have been better to see anecdotes of thriving Black communities who students are performing well and helpful ideas on classroom management.

Lastly, using quotes from prominent Black community leaders to cover up the negative depictions of San Francisco-based African-American students. The quotes were divisive and they were vague statements on how these leaders were going to improve the success rate of Black students in the classroom.

For example:

“We’ve been tilling the field and cultivating the soil, trying to create conditions that will translate into gains on our standardized tests. But those gains haven’t materialized yet,” said Landon Dickey, the District’s Special Assistant for African-American Achievement and Leadership Initiative, according to CALmatters.org

“Our African-American students are talented and capable and extremely intelligent. We’re not seeing that reflected in our scores, so we continue to believe that this is a problem with us as adults that we’re working to fix,” said Dickey.

“He who’s behind must run faster in order to catch up. We have not done enough running fast on achievement challenges for black kids in the state of California. It’s an abysmal situation,” said Rev. Amos C. Brown, NAACP’s San Francisco branch president.

“We have to change the narrative that says you have to come from an established community to have abundant success. We will change that narrative. I can’t accept nothin’ less. That’s why I’m still out here,” said Charleston Brown, Willie L. Brown Middle School principal.

“A vision that strongly communicates to the children and families of San Francisco that the adults of this city care about their futures,” said Demetrius Hobson, the former WBM principal.

Two San Francisco Board of Education Commissioners, Stevon Cook, and Shamann Walton found Calefati’s article and on Nov. 4, they published “We Won’t Accept That Our Children Won’t Succeed” via HuffPost as a rebuttal. Both of the men are on the ground level working with organizations, administrators, as well as city officials to combat this issue with intensive care. While serving as commissioners, both of the men have day jobs. Cook is the chief executive officer of Mission Bit and Walton is the executive director of Young Community Developers, Inc.

via Shamann Walton’s Instagram`

In their article, the commissioners revealed that Calefati’s article puts Black people at a disposition because it can become a leading narrative, which can cause San Francisco Unified School District to not allocate funds and resources for Black children.

Do not get us wrong, African-American administrators and city officials take full responsibility for seeing a decrease in test scores.

“There are systemic issues that have always played a role in student achievement: biases in testing, lack of culturally relevant curriculum, an inequitable distribution of resources in schools and how stress factors from the community create difficult conditions for learning,” stated Cook and Walton.

However, the commissioners did list solutions and strategies that they are executing including smaller teacher-to-student ratio, cultural-related lesson plans, and more incentives and support for educators and students.

  1. Through aggressive recruitment and retention strategies, we have decreased turnover of educators and site leaders in our schools that suffer from the biggest achievement gaps in our district;
  2. We have also been working under the guise of promoting the fact that there are all Black environments where our children can and do excel. That is why we work closely with Urban Ed Academy, that provides Saturday and summer school programs specific for Black and Brown boys (and they are building educator housing). That’s why we are working closely with Black to the Future, which offers our students and their families an array of services from mental health supports to tutorial and one-on-one supports in some of our schools with large Black student populations;
  3. We now have more resources going into our African American Achievement and Leadership Initiative (which by the way, we are one of the very few school districts that have an intentional focus on ensuring resources go directly towards Black student achievement and publicly spell it out);
  4. Together—along with our colleagues—we have made sure that even through the era of high educator turnover, we instituted strategies that have led to ensuring educators in all but four of our classrooms to start this school year vs. over 35 for the 16-17 school year;

In the last paragraph, the executives want to ensure Black families that there are organizations and community leaders working diligently to help make progress in math and literacy, self-worth, and learning more about the world around them.