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Black Presence in High School Education

“The story of our communities can in many ways be told through the lens of the school districts that serve our children.” 

– Recent report by EdBuild

San Francisco is one of the most vibrant communities in the nation. But that vibrancy isn’t mirrored in our schools.

Our city and school district, like many others, face myriad issues. But most school districts don’t have the resources that San Francisco has.

At SFA, we believe we can minimize the opportunity gap.

Over the last few years, San Francisco Unified School District has made strides in closing those gaps. While the pandemic exacerbated some of the issues, the City is springing back. Yet a rising tide may not lift all boats.

Together, we can help.

Schools can’t solve structural inequality by themselves. And the issues can’t be solved without the schools, or without institutions like SF Achievers. And certainly not without people like you.

SF Achievers knows this story well. We’ve seen how support and resources can change student’s lives for the better. Especially the lives of Black young men in the San Francisco Unified School District.

Closing the opportunity gap is why our organization exists. And changing the lives of these boys and young men is our mission.

But why does this gap exist in the first place?

Social Determinants: Education and Housing

The way we finance education varies from state to state and district to district. Generally, states use a combination of taxes and fees to provide roughly half of the budget.

Of that half, 44% comes from local districts. The remaining balance (about 8%) comes from state education budgets.¹

Education funding is then distributed to school districts on a per-student bases. However, school funding is never as straight forward or as simple as that.

Each state employs a different formula and standard to finance a “basic education.”

This means local funding is hugely important to public education. In San Francisco, we finance education largely through property tax values. And taxes, as you know, are often an interesting matter. In recent years, the Federal Government stepped in with big budget infusions like the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (2009) and the Total Recovery Act (2010). By 2011, however, state legislatures started cutting their education budgets. In some cases, those cuts came to $300 million.

Nationwide, the average state spending per pupil varies widely. That makes it difficult to determine what a “sound, basic education actually costs.”

While researchers may argue about how to estimate the cost of education, they all agree on one thing. Education does take up a big part of state and municipal budgets.

But what does a sound, basic education entail? What makes it harder to reduce the achievement gap among high-poverty populations?

Here’s the key: educational outcomes for high-poverty populations are a byproduct of unequal access to key educational resources.

They’re not a function of race.

The Impact of Under-Resourced Schools

High-poverty students lose nearly twice as many instructional days a year (22 days) compared to low-poverty students (12 days). This difference is due to things like:

  • inadequate access to healthcare
  • unstable housing
  • chronic hunger
  • outdated or malfunctioning equipment
  • teacher and student absences

All the above impacts the amount of teaching time in high-poverty populations. And it leaves these children at a considerable disadvantage.

However, this disadvantage isn’t a new phenomenon.

A Brief History of School Segregation

Educational experiences for minority students have a long history of being separate. And unequal.

Sixty years ago, most African American students’ schools were wholly segregated. They were also funded significantly less than schools serving white students. In addition, African American students were entirely excluded from attending many postsecondary institutions.

The nation made tremendous strides in the 1970s toward desegregation. Between 1970-90, the gap between minority and white students’ test scores narrowed significantly. This was due in part to efforts to balance per-student spending.

Re-sorting Students by Resources

Today, in many urban school districts, high-poverty students have effectively been re-sorted.

On average, they receive far fewer instructional resources and supports than others.

Sorting many high-poverty and minority students within schools’ leaves underserved/high-poverty students with fewer resources, including larger class sizes. Teacher-student ratios are nearly 24% higher than optimal. And teacher-student ratios are 33% higher if we exclude Mission High. (Mission has an optimal student-teacher ratio of 18:1).

High-poverty students also deal with lower-quality books, curriculum materials, laboratories, and computers. In addition, they get less qualified and experienced teachers. Which means a lower-quality curriculum.

SF Achievers: Working to Bridge the Gaps

We employ a Positive Youth Development approach to help Black young men close the opportunity gap, enabling them to make it to and through their postsecondary education.

The Achievers Program works with high school students to help bridge the gap by addressing issues like:

  • Outdated or Malfunctioning equipment
  • Teacher and student absences
  • Higher suspensions and expulsions rates
  • Inadequate access to healthcare
  • Unstable housing
  • Chronic hunger

Each year, SFA makes progress toward our goal. On average, SFA now receives applications from 90% of SFUSD high schools, and 74% of our scholars currently attend or have graduated from college!

The San Francisco Unified School District has recognized the San Francisco Achievers’ program as a significant partner in its efforts to close the opportunity gap. According to a former superintendent, this gap is the single greatest social justice issue facing our nation today.

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¹National Center for Education Statistics, 2010

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