Racial justice: A to G spells victory

Pub date May 26, 2009
WriterN'Tanya Lee
SectionNews & OpinionSectionOpinion

OPINION On Tuesday, May 19, poor and working-class families of color packed the San Francisco School Board with a powerful message of hope, opportunity, and justice: we want the right to a secure future in our own city. To get a good job here, we know we need a high quality education that prepares us for college, career, or union trade — not poverty or prison.

After a year of research, organizing, and talking to thousands of families, collecting 3,000 postcards, and mobilizing hundreds of parents and youth, our proposal — that every San Francisco student have access to the so-called A–G classes — was approved, setting the stage for a systemic change in our public schools that could dramatically improve the lives of tens of thousands of students of color over the next few years.

A–G describes the high school coursework that state colleges require for admission. Setting A-G as part of the graduation requirement will finally give low-income black and Latino students access to high expectations and our state college system.

We will have to stay on top of the district and monitoring will be intense and long-term, but we have parent and student leaders ready for the task, because their own lives are at stake.

Our experience is that thousands of parents and students get the issues, but that so many San Franciscans, even progressive ones, just don’t. In San Francisco, 75 percent of children are black, Latino, Asian, or Pacific Islander, and more than 80 percent of those families are low income. A full 90 percent of the students in public schools are students of color. This means kids’ issues in San Francisco are issues of racial and economic justice.

Our issues are often not the ones that make front page news. Education outcomes for black children — right here in San Francisco — are the worst of the state’s urban districts. But this gets lost in the inside baseball reporting about City Hall politics, the flinging about of political self-righteousness, and frankly, issues like JROTC.

We believe that organizing families for racial equity in our public school system is core to a progressive agenda in the 21st century. Consider the following.

•<\!s> Young people’s future in the 21st century San Francisco economy now requires a college education. More than 50,000 blue-collar jobs that paid a living wage without requiring a degree have disappeared from SF over the last generation.

•<\!s> Only one in three students from SF schools graduated from high school prepared for a four-year university in 2008. Without access to college and career-ready A-G classes, most graduating students weren’t even eligible for either the U.C. or California state universities or prepared for a union apprenticeship exam.

•<\!s> Most black, Latino and Pacific Islander students do not have access the A-G college, career, and union trade path in San Francisco. In fact, five out of six Latino students and 9 out of 10 African American students graduated without the A-G classes required to even be eligible for a U.C. or state university.

This new school board policy might be one of the most important steps toward racial equity in a generation. Join our work to make San Francisco public schools a vehicle of economic opportunity, racial justice and democracy. *

N’Tanya Lee is executive director of Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth.