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The Black Student Experience In San Diego Unified Is Better, But Still Needs Improvement

 February 25, 2021 at 10:19 AM PST

Speaker 1: 00:00 This is KPBS midday edition. I'm Maureen Cavenaugh with Jade Heinemann in the past decade, San Diego unified school district has made significant progress toward reducing the long-standing inequities. That's black students have faced, but there's room for growth, KPBS education reporter Joe Hong spoke with students, families, and experts about the black student experience at San Diego unified. And what needs to change when students returned to a post pandemic classroom? Speaker 2: 00:29 Um, I grew up here in Southeast San Diego for majority of my life Speaker 3: 00:34 Fed up doula. He's the daughter of Ethiopian immigrants who came to the United States as refugees during the Somali civil war. I'll do law. He says growing up, her parents had high expectations for her, but she quickly realized that our teachers didn't have the same expectations. Speaker 2: 00:48 So that's when I started to realize, like, I know they won't see me the same, so I needed to start doing better in school and really take it serious. And if I didn't, they'd probably just see me as you know, that other black student who doesn't care about school doesn't want to listen. And, you know, just to reinforce those stereotypes Speaker 3: 01:05 Better, middle school experience was especially discouraging. She and her black peers felt isolated and constantly monitored, but she said she toughened up when she got to Morris. Speaker 2: 01:14 So I tried, I tried my hardest talk to my counselors, you know, put me in those AP classes. I don't care if you won't let me, I'm gonna keep trying. So that's what I really started getting into school. But the experience was definitely not easy Speaker 3: 01:26 Today. She's in her first year at UC San Diego, majoring in political science I'll delay, his path was difficult, but she's part of a positive trend at San Diego unified Pedro Noguera, the Dean of the Rossier school of education at the university of Southern California led a 2019 study of the district that founded that increased both graduation and college readiness rates for blacks. Speaker 2: 01:46 I'd say that's a really powerful, uh, factor because that has bearing on college eligibility rates. So you've seen that the number of black students who are eligible for admission to Cal state and the university of California go up. And that is I think not an insignificant, um, Speaker 3: 02:04 Well graduation and college readiness rates have increased during outgoing superintendent, Cindy Martins, tenure results for school discipline have been mixed. The suspension rates for black students dropped from 10.1% in 2013, 2014 Martin's first year to 8.6% in 2018, 2019, but black students are still more than three times as likely to be suspended than their white peers. According to the most recent data, the one Richmond, a former school board candidate from Southeast San Diego said, it's a sign that black students are still seen as outsiders at schools. Speaker 2: 02:34 When you think of a child as your neighbor, your community member, your family member, they could be your child. Um, the way that you see them is, is different than if you see them as like those kids, Speaker 3: 02:47 Unless the district begins to bring students back to campuses, both Richmond and new Garrison opportunity to rebuild trust between the educators and students from all marginalized backgrounds. No Garris said overemphasizing, academics and making up for what's been referred to as learning loss is not the path to inequitable post pandemic public school system. Speaker 4: 03:05 I would prioritize relationships. I would prioritize bringing some joy to learning the arts music so that kids want to be in school. And then I would really focus on getting kids engaged as learners, before we focus narrowly on assessments, Speaker 3: 03:20 The new unified has already taken steps in that direction. Shortly following this summer's protests for racial justice, the district revised its grading policy to prioritize mastery of material over test scores. The district also revised its discipline policy for middle school and invested in training for its police department. I'll do Lahita UC San Diego students. So she's hoping your younger siblings might get to experience a more inclusive curriculum and school. Speaker 2: 03:43 There's still so much history that needs to be covered. And so much history that blacks high school students deserve to learn about their own people and within AP us history and all they just brush over, you know, the major topics, Jim Crow, slavery, you know, so, um, there's salt, there's so much more work that needs to be done, but it's, it's a step in the right direction for now. Speaker 1: 04:05 Johnny Mayez KPBS education reporter, Joe hung, and Joe, welcome. Thanks for having me tell us more about how the racial justice marches last spring and summer brought changes to San Diego unified policy. Speaker 3: 04:19 Yeah. So following the killing of George Floyd last summer, um, local students were part of the protests and they were calling for using the funding for school please, to invest in more mental health services. And part of their campaign was also hire more diverse staff, um, and teachers, especially Speaker 1: 04:37 Now, did educators realize that perhaps the old policies had racist? Speaker 3: 04:43 Yeah, I think so. I think the, uh, district officials definitely acknowledged that the, the students, uh, had very valid grievances and, um, the district in large part recognize the racial inequities at the schools and the S the school board has expressed the commitment to reforming the police. They won't be abolishing or quote-unquote defunding the department, but they are investing in, uh, in training police officers so that they have sort of less of a, a, a threatening presence on campus, especially for black students and students of color. And, uh, the district has also revised its grading policies. They're focusing more on, uh, on mastery of material, meaning that students will get more opportunities to retake tests, take more time with, uh, assignments and, uh, just more flexibility overall to accommodate for certain students who might be going through things at home, for instance. Speaker 1: 05:40 So according to the USC educator you spoke with going back to school this spring, or next fall should not be all about making up for lost academic time. Speaker 3: 05:51 Yes. So, uh, the expert cautioned against sort of an overemphasis on academics because can ultimately just pressure students, right. And you said the focus should be on, on rebuilding the in-person relationships and making students feel comfortable in the classroom setting again. Speaker 1: 06:09 And aren't there major concerns about the amount of learning that's been lost during the pandemic. Speaker 3: 06:13 Yeah, definitely. Um, and I, and I don't think, uh, Pedro Noguera, the, the expert would, would disagree with that, but I think, uh, his argument is that educators need to build sort of the social and emotional foundation, uh, so that the learning can happen again, right. And students could be coming in with all sorts of behaviors and even traumas that they've sort of picked up during a year of, of the pandemic and distance learning and black students and students of color and other sort of historically marginalized groups will probably be more likely to need these sort of, uh, extra non-academic supports. Speaker 1: 06:47 Is the district getting any pushback for the plan to deemphasize test scores? Isn't that what a lot of colleges look at for admission? Speaker 3: 06:56 Yeah, I think, uh, when the board sort of approved this, uh, new grading policy, I think there were a few vocal opponents who, who made the argument that a lenient grading policy isn't doing any favors for students, but, you know, when we sort of look ahead in the academic pipeline to college admissions, right. I think it's important to note that the university of California, um, Cal state universities, and a lot of highly selective universities like the university of Chicago, or shifting away from requiring standardized testing, Speaker 1: 07:29 The people you spoke with at San Diego unified emphasize the reduction in the number of black students suspensions over the past years. But the co-author of a recent discipline disparity report says there has been virtually no improvement over that time. So why the disagreement? Speaker 3: 07:48 Yeah. So it really depends on what years you're looking at. So a district spokesperson that I spoke with emphasize that during, um, superintendent Cindy Martin's tenure suspension rates for, uh, black students, um, declined in, in her first sort of two years from 9% to 7.8%. But since then, um, the suspension rates for, for black students has gone back up to 8.6% in 2018, 2019. So there has been, uh, early successes for, for reducing the disparity, but, um, a lot of fluctuation in the years following Speaker 1: 08:24 The local NAACP is critical of Cindy Martin. Of course, who's now waiting for confirmation as deputy us secretary of education. The group says that Martin has not kept her equity promises because of the suspension rate, have any other metrics improved for black students under her watch? Speaker 3: 08:43 Yeah, absolutely. So graduation rates for black students has gone up significantly since Martin became superintendent. Um, but on top of that more black students are graduating college ready. And what that means is they're taking the classes and they're passing the classes that make them eligible to enroll at a Cal state or, um, university of California campus. Speaker 1: 09:04 Uh, the NAACP is also calling for more black teachers in San Diego schools. What do we know about the impact that that can have on black students? Speaker 3: 09:13 Yeah, so to throw out some more numbers, um, so at San Diego unified about 8% of students are black while, uh, 4% of teachers are black, right? And, um, it's pretty well known at this point in the education field that if a student has a teacher who looks like them and can relate to their own experiences, whether they be racial or socioeconomic or whatever, um, those students are more likely to succeed and feel supported. And in my story, a former school board candidate, uh, Lawanna Richmond made a key point in the story that a lot of times black students feel, uh, like they're seen as outsiders. And when you have teachers who can relate to students, the less likely the teachers are to, to see those kids as, as other. And they start to see them more as you know, our students and part of our community. And this could be the key to decreasing things like suspension rates. Speaker 1: 10:05 Okay. Then I've been speaking with KPBS education reporter, Joe Hong and Joe. Thank you. Thank you, Marie.

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In the past decade, San Diego Unified School District has made significant progress toward reducing the longstanding inequities its Black students have faced, but there’s room for growth.
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