The U.S. Supreme Court ruled public school segregation unconstitutional through the historic Brown v. Board of Education case in 1954, igniting a hard fought and unfinished battle toward national school desegregation. These steps taken toward social and educational equity are not shown in the classrooms of San Francisco, in which 3 in 5 public schools have simple majorities of one racial group.
San Francisco’s ranked-choice system, which gives families flexibility in choosing out-of-district schools, is a leading contributor in this growing pattern of racial segregation in the city’s schools. Wealthy, white families move their children to schools with adequate resources and educational tools, private or charter schools, and students of color are left behind without access to quality education.
The high rate of gentrification doesn’t only leave Black students behind, it pushes them out
of the district. In the 2016-17 school year, the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) consisted of less than 7 percent Black students, down from 16 percent in the 1998-99 school year.
Ultimately, so-called “progressive” San Francisco is failing to serve its low-income students of color.
In the most recent round of math testing in San Francisco, only 12 percent of Black students and 21 percent of Latinx students met or exceeded state standards. Comparatively, 69 percent of white students met or exceeded these standards. These disparities in performance directly reflect the disparities in resource availability and teaching quality between schools servicing predominantly white students and schools servicing predominantly students of color.
Test score gaps between white students and students of color is an alarming trend found across California’s educational system. However, San Francisco is failing its students to a particularly significant degree — 96 percent of California’s school districts serving Black students had better reading scores for low-income Black students than San Francisco did.
This means on top of all the shortcomings of state education funding, San Francisco’s school system and ranked-choice policy are further contributing to the inequity of education in its schools.
These rifts aren’t new, and the call for desegregated schools and adequate resources across the board is decades old. In 1983, San Francisco entered a consent decree to desegregate its schools after the NAACP filed a lawsuit against the city. But this did little to fix racial inequality in the public school system, now exacerbated by policy changes and the ranked-choice system.
This inequity in education, among other factors, follows students long after they graduate from high school (or don’t).
In the SFUSD, 16 percent of Black students and 15 percent of Latinx students don’t graduate from high school. Of the remaining students who do, only 1 in 3 Black students are eligible to attend a CSU or UC.
The gap in public K-12 education causes a gap in higher education, which leads to a gap in employment opportunities and yearly income. When San Francisco neglects its elementary schoolers, it is simultaneously neglecting communities of color and perpetuating racial inequality.
In a city where people of color already face such high rates of displacement due to gentrification, this educational displacement is all the more dire. It’s entirely unjust for San Francisco to let its residents of color be displaced, through housing, education or any other means.
Although many of its residents struggle financially, San Francisco is not a poor city. With the influx of wealth caused by tech companies starting and prospering in the city, San Francisco has the ability and responsibility to find solutions to the problem. It must ensure all students can partake in its new economy, which ranks second in the country for highest-paying jobs, rather than being pushed out of the city and into margins of unemployment.
Right now, the structure of San Francisco’s schools is oppressive to students of color. It categorizes and separates students, depriving underrepresented students of their right to education and opportunities.
San Francisco must reinvest in public education. It must desegregate its schools by revising ranked-choice policies and it must rework budgets to allot for adequate resources. The city must ensure students of color are successful, welcomed and prepared for life after receiving their diploma.
If San Francisco can’t increase educational equity for its youngest residents, then its progressive reputation holds no weight.