California has earned an F on a report card issued by the maverick education-reform group StudentsFirst. And as a sign of how fractious school politics has become, the state's No. 2 education official called the failing grade "a badge of honor."
Founded by former Washington, D.C., schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee, StudentsFirst pushes for education policy reform at local, state and national levels. To further its agenda, the group published a report card Monday rating the 50 states and the District of Columbia.
In three areas rated, California earned a grade-point average of 0.69 and ranked 41st in the nation. Not that most states fared a lot better: the national GPA was a mere 1.22, on a scale up to 4.0, or a D. The highest-scoring states, Florida and Louisiana, earned only a B-minus.
On the individual metrics, California earned two Fs, in empowering parents and in improving the teaching profession, but did rise to a D in the area of spending and governance -- for the ability the state has to intervene in low-performing schools. But the report noted, the state has not strategically used that authority.
The critical report set off reactions including anger, derision and dismissal.
Richard Zeiger, California's chief deputy state superintendent of public instruction, called StudentsFirst "an organization that frankly makes its living by asserting that schools are failing." In a prepared statement, he said, "This group has focused on an extremely narrow, unproven method that they think will improve teaching. We just flat-out disagree with them."
In response to Zeiger, Rhee shot back, "perhaps he considers it a badge of honor that children are going into underperforming classrooms every day in California without a way to choose a better school option? Maybe he's proud that great teachers in California aren't paid adequately and are often laid off based on seniority, not effectiveness." She called that system "a social injustice."
The report focuses not on the traditional criteria for judging schools, such as student achievement, per-pupil spending or staffing, and instead looks at policies that StudentsFirst believes foster better teaching and learning.
Thus it awards points for laws that encourage high-quality charters, allow intervention in failing schools, and link student growth to teachers' evaluation, placement, layoffs and pay. The group believes states should link spending to academic achievement, and create compensation plans that don't penalize teachers for moving from district to district.
The survey dings states, including California, for preserving seniority rules for teachers and limiting charter-school growth.
But it's not clear that all the changes that StudentsFirst advocates improve education. For instance, the group wants to award city mayors the power to take over failing schools, although there's questionable evidence that such takeovers help students learn better.
Teachers unions attacked the report, saying it's timed to coincide with the start of legislative sessions, and that it doesn't measure achievement, class size, graduation rates or other academic indicators.
Dean Vogel, president of the California Teachers Association, said, "this so-called 'report card' is simply political gamesmanship on the backs of our students once again."
Critics also pointed out that states like Massachusetts, which perform at the top of national education tests, are rated poorly. The survey proves, they said, that Rhee stands for privatizing education and destroying unions. As chancellor of schools in the nation's capital, Rhee developed a rigorous evaluation system for teachers and fired those who did not improve student achievement. With StudentsFirst, she has continued to be a lightning rod for controversy. Last year, Rhee drew protesters when she spoke at the Paramount Theatre in Oakland about her agenda for school reform.
Contact Sharon Noguchi at 408-271-3775. Follow her at Twitter.com/NoguchiOnK12. ___
The No Wieners Club
Since the moment sometime in the mid-1960s when San Francisco suddenly became "San Francisco," the city has been synonymous with using the body as a form of personal expression. But when a group of guys started both literally and figuratively hanging out in the Castro's single most visible public space on a near daily basis, many of neighborhood's residents called for a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/20/san-francisco-bans-public-nudity_n_2165847.html">citywide ban on public nudity</a>. The question, both ludicrously inane and deathly serious, ran right to the heart of the city's very identity: where do the rights of the individual nudist end and the public's collective wish not to see old-man testicles begin? Ultimately, the forces of what some labeled "conservatism" won out. Now, if someone wants to go out in public, they better be sure their genitals are covered. (Excepting, of course, situations where it's officially "appropriate" to go sans underwear, like festivals and street fairs. This is still San Francisco, after all.) <em>- Aaron Sankin</em>
Frothing Orange And Black
Oh, San Francisco Giants. Oh, you. While the team's 2012 World Series sweep wasn't <em>quite</em> as exciting as its 2010 first-time-in-56-years win, that didn’t stop this city from descending into screaming, cheering, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/29/san-francisco-riots-giants-world-series_n_2036551.html" target="_hplink">Muni-bus destroying</a>, frothing black-and-orange madness. And in true Giants torture-style, the boys delivered plenty of excitement. First there was the historic NL Division Series, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/11/buster-posey-grand-slam-giants-reds-nlds-game-5_n_1959199.html" target="_hplink">starring a Buster Posey grand slam</a>. Then there was the NL Championship series, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/25/barry-zito-world-series-san-francisco-giants_n_2015529.html" target="_hplink">with an unexpected save by Barry Zito</a>. And finally, adding insult to injury, there was <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/28/giants-world-series-2012-tigers-matt-cain_n_2036443.html" target="_hplink">the World Series</a>: an epic, embarrassing, Motor City soul-crushing sweep. Next came the (seemingly inevitable) street riot that quickly got out of hand, followed by a family-friendly parade, to which Sergio Romo donned a shirt that read "<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/31/sergio-romo-sports-illegal_n_2052086.html" target="_hplink">I just look illegal</a>." As if that wasn't enough, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/15/buster-posey-mvp-2012-nl-giants-san-francisco_n_2140504.html" target="_hplink">Buster Posey won the National League MVP</a> weeks later, cementing a nod from Grantland dubbing San Francisco "<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/20/san-francisco-best-sports-city_n_2339740.html" target="_hplink">the sports city of the year</a>." <em>- Robin Wilkey</em>
Our beloved bridge turned 75 this year, and though crowds didn't rush the Golden Gate as they did on the 50th (nearly causing the span to flatten it in the process), the celebration was no less spectacular. Events included special exhibits, performances by local bands and dance troupes, a vintage boat parade and an 18-minute firework spectacular that humbled every other firework show in the history of fireworks. (<a href="http://goldengatebridge75.org/celebrate/golden-gate-festival.html" target="_hplink">Watch it here!</a>) We can only imagine what 2037 will look like... <em>- Robin Wilkey</em>
Obama's aggressive crackdown on California's medical marijuana industry continued to slaughter jobs and small businesses across the state. The most notable casualty occurred in April, when federal agents raided Oaksterdam University, Oakland's legendary cannabis training school (and ground zero for the city's pro-pot movement). But there might be hope on the horizon -- with voters legalizing recreational use of the plant in Washington and Colorado, California appears poised to follow suit. And politicians are voicing support. Last week, California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/21/gavin-newsom-marijuana_n_2348096.html">told the New York Times</a> that current anti-marijuana laws "just don't make sense anymore." <em>- Carly Schwartz</em>
A Light Shines On Market
For decades, every time San Francisco's economy has started to heat up, the "g-word" has come up: Will gentrification wash over the blighted section of mid-Market Street, reviving the city's grand promenade once and for all? Each and every time, that wave has always rolled back before true revitalization could ever occur. But now, during Dot Com Boom 2.0: Social Media Edition, things have been different, damnit. Commercial real estate in SoMa has become a scarce commodity. City leaders are luring arts organizations and restaurants into the neighborhood and giving tech companies like Twitter, Zendesk and Dolby hearty tax breaks to take over spaces that previously housed strip clubs, head shops, or most often, nothing at all. While some have worried the gentrification of mid-Market could cut off homeless and SRO hotel residents from the area's concentration of services, others are excited about a vibrant commercial corridor finally connecting the Civic Center and the Financial District. BART's construction may have killed much of Market Street's once-lively culture, but smartphone apps that give people something to do while waiting for BART may ironically be the thing that brings it back to life. <em>- Aaron Sankin</em>
The Sheriff And His Wife
It's been almost exactly one year since an argument between newly elected San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi and his wife, former Venezuelan telenovela star Eliana Lopez, ended with a bruise on a her arm, a teary cell phone video and, ultimately, a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/11/ross-mirkarimi-vote_n_1958288.html">three-ring circus</a> from which no one emerged without some degree of egg on their face. While Mirkarimi managed to retain his job over the objections of Mayor Ed Lee, thanks to a handful of San Francisco's most forgiving supervisors, the real question remains: who should play billionaire investor/local political power player Ron Conway, who funded all the attack ads? Our money is on Richard Richard Dreyfuss. Or Ted Danson. Or Nicolas Cage. Yeah, Nicolas Cage. <em>- Aaron Sankin</em>
Need A Lyft?
They may have started as a minor amusement/eyeroll in the background of your commute home, but those pink mustache cars have quickly transformed San Francisco's entire transportation economy. 2012 was the year of the rideshare app, with more and more everyday citizens turning their cars into cabs for a markedly cheaper (or <a href="https://www.uber.com/">more expensive</a>) price than a traditional taxi. While companies like Sidecar and Lyft have <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/09/ride-sharing-apps-come-un_n_1948660.html">come under fire</a> for disrupting an entire industry and dodging state regulations, their unprecedented popularity -- coupled with Mayor Lee's support for the city's "sharing economy" -- makes us believe they're here to stay. <em>- Carly Schwartz</em>
Sail Away, Sail Away, Sail Away
Love it or hate it, the America's Cup is coming to San Francisco next year, and 2012 was the start of the action with a warm-up race in the bay. With significant backing from Larry Ellison, San Francisco's waterfront was transformed into an America's Cup village fully equipped to handle the biggest yachting race in the world. The excitement was not without a few anxious moments, including <a href="http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/America-s-Cup-prospects-fading-in-S-F-3759001.php" target="_hplink">team dropouts</a>, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/17/americas-cup-capsize_n_1972553.html" target="_hplink">a capsized catamaran</a>, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/25/americas-cup-crash-video_n_1830400.html" target="_hplink">an on-camera crash</a> and a loose boat that was wrangled by a local sailor <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/10/todd-tholke_n_1955871.html" target="_hplink">who later demanded a $200,000 reward</a>. And come December, the America's Cup king was even accused of espionage. (<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/06/larry-ellisons-oracle-racing_n_2252315.html" target="_hplink">No, seriously</a>.) But the spectators came and the race went on, helping to make a few days in October San Francisco's <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/08/san-francisco-fleet-week-_n_1948732.html" target="_hplink">best weekend ever</a>. <em>- Robin Wilkey</em>
You Can't Afford To Live Here
In October, San Francisco's median home sale price was $522,600--the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/22/most-expensive-city_n_2002532.html">most expensive of any metropolitan area</a> in the country. The city also has the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/14/san-francisco-rents-the-highest-in-nation_n_1345275.html">most expensive average monthly rent</a> of anywhere in the United States. Earlier this month, one of the most expensive homes in the history of San Francisco <a href="http://sf.curbed.com/archives/2012/12/10/san_franciscos_most_expensive_home_sells_for_28250000.php">sold for $28 million</a>. Across the Bay Area, rental prices are rising faster than <a href="http://www.sfexaminer.com/local/2012/01/bay-area-leads-nation-rental-price-increases">anywhere else in the country</a>. Long story short, San Francisco is crazy expensive. The reasons behind this are myriad: rent control artificially constricts the supply of available apartments, a booming economy increasingly favors high-income knowledge workers, a mind-bogglingly small number of new housing units come onto the market, the new developments that do come onto the market are heavily favored toward the luxury sector, both state and federal funding for public housing programs has decreased. And, most of all, San Francisco is pretty much the most awesome place to live in the history of awesome places to live. <em>- Aaron Sankin</em>
Movin' On Up
San Francisco wasn't going to allow a major sports team to get away without getting a new one in return. When the Niners announced they were moving from Candlestick Park to a shiny new arena down in Santa Clara, the mayor became a born-again basketball fan. City leaders <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/22/golden-state-warriors-san-francisco_n_1536111.html">coaxed the Golden State Warriors to relocate</a> to a state-of-the-art complex across the Bay, encompassing two waterfront piers and offering a decidedly more scenic view than the Oakland outskirts. The $500 million NBA palace is slated to open in time for the 2017 season, officially transforming the area east of China Basin into San Francisco's sporting kingdom (AT&T park is spitting distance). That is, if the city's usual cast of NIMBYs aren't strong enough to stop it. <em>- Carly Schwartz</em>
One evening in August, Richmond residents sheltered in place, taped up their windows and prayed as the nearby Chevron refinery--one of California's largest refineries and a top polluter in the state--<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/08/chevron-fire-richmond_n_1757571.html" target="_hplink">burst into flames after a malfunction</a>. A massive plume of smoke darkened the sky, visible all the way across the bay. Though the fire was extinguished within hours, the damage was done: gas prices skyrocketed, hundreds rushed to emergency rooms reporting breathing problems and the public screamed for environmental impact reports and accountability. "Events like this most recent fire are a trigger for a longstanding mistrust of Chevron," <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/08/chevron-fire-richmond_n_1757571.html" target="_hplink">said Jason Corburn, a University of California, Berkeley public health and urban planning professor</a>, about the oil giant, which is based in the Bay Area. Indeed, the fire stoked not only mistrust in Chevron, but also deep-seeded tensions stemming from the socioeconomic inequalities existing on opposite sides of the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge. ("The wind never blows that smoke to Marin County, now does it?" <a href="http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Big-fire-at-Chevron-refinery-in-Richmond-3767221.php" target="_hplink">said one Richmond resident to the San Francisco Chronicle</a>.) Months later, <a href="http://www.sfgate.com/crime/article/Thousands-join-Chevron-refinery-fire-suit-4071649.php" target="_hplink">thousands joined together in a lawsuit</a> against the company. <em>- Robin Wilkey</em>
The world's most metropolitan movie director <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/07/woody-allen-in-san-francisco_n_1754061.html">finally decided to find inspiration</a> in the City by the Bay, and Find Woody Allen quickly became everyone's favorite summer pastime. The iconic filmmaker was spotted all over town while filming scenes for his newest flick, which is rumored to star Cate Blanchett and tells the tale of a rich New Yorker who moves in with her San Francisco-based sister after losing everything. Channeling his (naturally) hipster heritage, Allen appeared to spend most of his time in the Mission, enjoying a sandwich at Wise Sons deli, tapas at Eserpento and a stroll down 22nd Street. <em>- Carly Schwartz</em>