A Map of Equity?

If you watched San Diego Unified’s State of the District address you heard the edu-speak buzzword of the day: EQUITY. District leadership is fond of saying they have “equity at the core of everything they do.” Take a look at this map. This is NOT equity. In fact, we call this “Anti-Equity.”

Reopened Districts are GREEN. The MARKERS are the County’s ESSA Low Performing Schools.

Long before schools closed we knew there were issues within the District, but the pandemic highlights how unbalanced things are. SDUSD’s approach to addressing inequity has been its school meals and laptop distribution programs. As important as they are, the district has been unable to “think beyond the hotspot” to drive learning down to the actual students in need. SDUSD promised to bring 12000 at-risk students back for Phase 1, but the reality was less than 3000.

The needs of English Language Learners, recognized by the State as a population that should be prioritized for on-site learning, are being ignored as the district uses funds sent to help these students, to instead bring on unnecessary staff. Support for students with special needs is equally non-existent because the district oddly made Phase 1 voluntary for teachers and only a handful came back. In fact, the number of students receiving any real learning onsite is so low, that SDUSD doesn’t even pass the County’s litmus test for being “Open,” which is why SDUSD can’t move to its next Phase while other districts can.

San Diego Unified doesn’t even pass the County’s litmus test for being “Open”

Parents are right to expect MORE from the District. SDUSD held a Special Workshop on reopening Schools back in June. After that, parents heard no further announcement from the District until early August, when they announced the school year would “start” online only.

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The lack of communication may have been due to the fact that SDUSD Leadership was tied up with another project – the Freedom Summer Workshop for building anti-racist and restorative school communities, held in July. The outcome from this workshop was 4 big policy changes, WITH DATES ASSIGNED. These are big, interdepartmental policies that touch nearly every aspect of operation at the district. Who in district leadership prioritized Freedom Summer over a Fall On-site? If equity is the goal, the biggest urgency at the moment is getting kids back to the classroom.

As the district doubles spending with vendors tasked with rolling out Freedom Summer, they’ve done very little to address the real THREAT TO EDUCATIONAL EQUITY happening in the district right now: Distance Learning.

Distance Learning is creating such inequity that McKinsey warns in its recent report the hurt could last a lifetime.

All told, we estimate that the average K–12 student in the United States could lose $61,000 to $82,000 in lifetime earnings (in constant 2020 dollars), or the equivalent of a year of full-time work, solely as a result of COVID-19–related learning losses. These costs are significant—and worse for black and Hispanic Americans. 

More so, JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association, published a study which modeled the years of life American children have already lost to school shutdowns. It’s not pretty – 5.53 million years lost.

The results of this decision analytical model suggest that the attempt to save lives by closing schools may not have resulted in a net savings when considering the potential harms associated with this intervention.

Those “harms” are to our children’s future, and they aren’t all being harmed at the same rate. While some children, like those of Governor Newsom, are able to attend private schools open in-person, the public neighborhood schools next door remain closed. Let’s have another look at what the data says about equity:

Here’s the same map. This time the markers are schools with 60%+ white students.

What we are looking at is an unprecedented. One might go so far as to call this the most racist educational policy since Brown v. Board of Education ruled that segregation in public schools is unconstitutional. How is it that within the SAME COUNTY teachers in primarily white schools feel safe enough to return to the classroom, but those working with minorities do not? Is there some implicit bias at work here?

Enough is enough, SDUSD! District Leadership has already wasted an entire semester of school on PR stunts and token gestures. Even in the Purple Tier, the Board and Superintendent Marten have the power to address the learning inequality on these maps with 3 simple steps TODAY.

  1. Ask teachers return to the classroom immediately.
  2. Apply for an elementary school waiver. This way Phase 2 can proceed as planned for K-6 January 4th, 2021.
  3. Use California’s Cohort Guidance for Middle and High Schools. Cohort guidance allows up to 16 people in a classroom. This would bring significantly more students to campus than 3000.

Once we have students back the job won’t end. There will be much to assess and repair. But it starts by ending school shutdowns. We heard every Board Member wax on about tackling inequity in the last board meeting. It’s time to put up or shut up. As Superindent Marten acknowledges, “these opportunities must be available to all our students, because equity is at the core of our work.

Prove it!