Last winter, the San Francisco Public Press published a detailed, data-rich narrative showing how private funds have saved a few schools from the ravages of years of budget cuts, but ended up exacerbating educational inequality within the San Francisco Unified School District. As a researcher for the project, I assisted the team in scouring through mountains of public documents, including budgets, California Department of Education data reports, hundreds of parent-teacher association nonprofit tax returns and statistics from other state and local agencies.
Choice Is Resegregating Public Schools
Despite their aspirations and efforts, San Francisco schools are increasingly segregated. Last school year, a single racial group formed a majority at six out of 10 schools. Our investigation tries to find out why.
System Intended to Give Parents Educational Options Separates Students by Race, Language, Family Income
The cover story in the winter 2015 print edition
“Separate but equal” education was swept away across the United States with the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Since then, the San Francisco Unified School District has struggled to racially integrate classrooms, and today few educators and parents publicly dispute the idea that diversity is good for kids and for society as a whole.
Yet despite their aspirations and efforts, San Francisco schools are increasingly segregated. Last school year, a single racial group formed a majority at six out of 10 schools. Our investigation tries to find out why.
The answer, we discovered, is not simple — and the solutions will not be simple either.
Many forces are driving this segregation. The district offers parents a choice of schools, but not everyone has the resources to take advantage of the dizzyingly complex system. Cuts to the school bus fleet make it hard for disadvantaged and moderate-income San Franciscans to reach the best-performing schools. Meanwhile, the city is undergoing a dramatic demographic and economic transformation, with the departure of white and black students, leaving Asians and Latinos as the largest groups.
We found that San Francisco public schools are becoming economically distinct from the city as a whole, as many affluent families send their kids to private schools. In short, growing income disparities pit choice and diversity against each other.
New policies could make a difference. But school district leaders will need to find new tools to reverse the resegregation trend.
ABOUT THIS REPORTING PROJECT
The San Francisco Public Press reported a year ago that fundraising for public schools was profoundly unequal — parents at 10 elementaries were reaping as much as the remaining 61. Readers responded with a key question: Doesn’t district policy guarantee diversity among schools? This year we gathered school-by-school statistics from San Francisco Unified School District and state education databases, and found that economic inequality goes hand in hand with racial and ethnic segregation, and that the district’s student assignment policy is in part responsible.
Project editing by Laura Impellizzeri and Michele Anderson. Research assistance by Jeffrey Thorsby, Emily Dugdale, Paul Lorgerie and Sanne Bergh. Thanks to Rosie Cima of Priceonomics.com for advice on school diversity rankings and Michelle Nogales for Spanish translation. Front Cover Photos: KIPP Bayview Academy, Eric Lawson; Grattan Elementary, Anna Vignet; Junipero Serra Elementary, Tearsa Joy Hammock; Washington High School, Anna Vignet.
THIS PROJECT WAS MADE POSSIBLE BY DONATIONS FROM PUBLIC PRESS MEMBERS IN 2014.