On Politics: Flunking high school (opinion)
April 10, 2018
With "March Miracle" snowstorms hitting Tahoe I decided to visit coastal California to see blooming flowers and green deciduous trees.
I was not disappointed with the Golden State's early spring. However, I was struck by a front page San Francisco Chronicle story about a school occurrence that I hope never happens in any school district that serves Lake Tahoe. Here are the facts.
Washington High School is located in the northwest corner of San Francisco in a largely residential area called "Outer Richmond." It was built in 1936, has been well maintained and boasts a distinguished group of alumni including actor Danny Glover, pro tennis star Rosemary Casals and Grammy-winning singer Johnny Mathis.
The enrollment is about 2,000 kids, 59 percent of whom qualify for free or reduced price lunch. US News and World Report reported that "minority enrollment" makes up 92 percent of the total student population at Washington. Yet, despite what the Chronicle called a failure "to close the achievement gap for black, Latino and Pacific Islander students," students at Washington substantially outperform, on average, other San Francisco high schools as well as those in the entire state of California.
The school offers 15 advanced placement classes in which 59 percent of its students enroll and 79 percent of enrollees pass, and 93 percent of its students graduate on time, according to US News and World Report. If the high ratio of poverty students and minorities seems inconsistent with solid academic performance let me add one other disclosure: 70 percent of the "of color" students are Asian.
What a surprise then to see a headline on the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle reading: "A study in failure at city's schools" (the headline online is "A child left behind: SF student failed every class in high school"). The story described how Pat Scott, executive director of the Booker T. Washington Community Service Center, urged the city school board to make changes because of a Washington High School senior who had received no grade higher than "F" — "an F in biology, an F in world history, an F in Spanish, an F in P.E., all F's from grade nine to the first semester of grade 12. And no one intervened. He got a notice he wasn't going to graduate last week and nothing happened."
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The student, identified only as a "Latino boy" took the notice and his transcript to Scott's agency and showed it to a social worker who couldn't believe her eyes. The Community Service Center was formed to help students transitioning out of foster care.
Washington High's principal Susan Saunders, citing confidentiality laws, declined to say how the student had been advanced from one grade to the next having failed every class, and what action, if any, the school took to intervene.
She also declined to speak even generally how school officials would handle a student who consistently failed classes, according to the Chronicle report.
John Trotter, Booker T. Washington Center's program director for college and career readiness, said: "74 percent of black students across the (San Francisco Unified School) District did not meet 2016-17 state assessment standards in at least one subject area, district data show. The same was true for 61 percent of Latino students and 65 percent of Pacific Islander students. Only 14 percent of whites and 16 percent of Asian Americans failed to meet standards . . . Nothing has changed in years and years; there's no help. There's no intervention."
The student has been placed in a continuation school by the Booker T. Washington Center where he is now working toward a GED. But he can never get back the years of his life wasted for lack of oversight by school officials.
This time the press got it exactly right. The media are right to shine a bright light on circumstances like this that threaten to ruin a young student's life for lack of caring.
Jim Clark is president of Republican Advocates. He has served on the Washoe County and Nevada GOP Central Committees. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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