thumb_school_bus(1).jpgA group of educators, parents and other community members gathered at an elementary school in San Francisco this morning to call on Congress to adopt new methods to reform underperforming schools.

Members of the San Francisco Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment joined parents and students to laud a plan unveiled by a national coalition for how to turn around the schools.

Communities for Excellent Public Schools, the national coalition, released a plan this week that it wants Congress to consider rather than the proposals developed by President Obama’s Administration. Congress is currently considering the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

There are 2,136 schools eligible for the administration’s School Improvement Grants program, including 10 in San Francisco, according to the coalition.

To be eligible for the federal grant, a school must adopt one of four options: fire the principal and all its teachers, convert to a charter school, “transform” by replacing the principal and most of the staff, or close the school and have the money go to the school’s district.

Ken Tray, political director of United Educators of San Francisco and a social studies teacher at Lowell High School, said the administration’s “top-down” methods of reforming schools have already failed in San Francisco.

Tray said similar actions have been taken twice in the past to remake schools in the district.

“Both led to disorganization, chaos, and it took years for those schools to rebound,” he said.

Carver Elementary School, where today’s event was held, is an example of an attempt at transformation, Tray said. The school recently lost a “beloved” principal and could lose half of its staff next year, he said.

Tray pointed to the coalition’s “Sustainable School Transformation” plan as a good reform alternative. The plan prioritizes community collaboration and outside supports for students, such as counseling or medical care, classes on parenting skills, and after school programs that “enrich kids’ lives,” he said.

Tray also criticized the federal government’s dependence on standardized test scores as the way to evaluate improvement by students and schools.

“You don’t want to be teaching to a test,” Tray said. “If we’re going to evaluate teachers, which we need to, there should be many, many measures of that, and testing hasn’t proved to be a valid way of measuring how good the teacher is.”

The national coalition also this week released a report, Our Communities Left Behind, that found these grant-eligible schools disproportionately serve minority and low-income students.

In schools eligible for the federal grants, 81 percent of students are minorities; 44 percent of them are black and 32 percent are Hispanic.

About 69 percent of students in those schools are also low-income students, compared to 43 percent of students attending other schools nationwide, according to the report.

Other speakers at today’s event included Rachel Norton, a commissioner on the San Francisco Board of Education, as well as concerned parents and other community members.

Tray said the speakers’ main message was, “You don’t improve schools by wholesale reconstituting the staff.”

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