A Dream Deferred:

How San Francisco schools leave behind the most vulnerable students

Introduction

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San Francisco has two unique visions of itself.

In one vision, San Francisco is a glittering international capital where pioneers come to seek their individual fortunes –– from the gold rush to the technology boom.

The other is a place of progressive ideals that welcomes everyone, especially the vulnerable –– a place that doesn’t just offer a home to many diverse people, but supports them and nurtures their individual gifts.

Both of these visions of San Francisco continue to draw thousands of people each year from around the world.

There have always been tensions between these visions and the realities in San Francisco. But rarely has that tension been deeper than today –– and nowhere is that clearer than in the city’s schools.

San Francisco’s wealth is astonishing, and its fortunes are booming. With fewer than one million residents, the San Francisco metropolitan area’s economy produces more than $400 billion in Gross Domestic Product a year –– eclipsing entire countries like Austria and Norway.1,2 More than two dozen San Franciscans are billionaires.3 In this city’s booming business world, it seems there is no problem that can’t be overcome with ingenuity and hard work.

Life is very different for San Francisco’s poor and working class. The contrast is most visible in the number of people who sleep huddled at the feet of the city’s glittering towers. But just as troubling is that the city is failing to provide a decent education for families of color struggling to keep a foothold in the city.

San Francisco isn’t the only city where life is hard for working-class and poor people, but it stands out. Because for low-income African American and Latino families, San Francisco is among the worst places in California to send a child to school.

The simple fact is this: among similar districts across California, San Francisco ranks near the bottom in learning outcomes for low-income Black and low-income Latino children.

It’s not that San Francisco doesn’t educate some kids to very high levels. It does. But the achievement gap separating San Francisco’s Black and Latino children from all others is wide.

And while San Francisco’s public schools include some high performers, there are very few where low-income African American and Latino students are thriving.

This is not an indictment of the hardworking teachers and school staff who serve children every day with passionate hearts –– the same people who often struggle to afford to live in this city themselves. Instead, the current results should raise deep questions about the will of district and city leaders to recognize the problem and do what’s necessary to fix it. A school system that leaves so many children behind should be held accountable.

For all our money, genius, and famous problem-solving powers, we have yet to solve a problem that should trouble our conscience.

There are clear solutions in sight. Other cities have taken paths that have translated into better schools and better lives for their families and children. We can learn from them and improve the lives of our children. We can give working-class families a path to opportunity in a fast-changing city.

That’s what this report is about. And it’s never mattered more than it does today.

1,2Bureau of Economic Analysis, U.S. Department of Commerce. (2017, September 20). Retrieved October 6, 2017, from https://www.bea.gov/newsreleases/regional/gdp_metro/2017/pdf/gdp_metro0917.pdf

3Salchert, R. (2017, March 21). Where The Wealthiest Live: Cities With The Most Billionaires. Forbes. Retrieved September 15, 2017, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/ryansalchert/2017/03/21/where-the-wealthiest-live-cities-with-the-most-billionaires/#4068472e3677

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