Category Archives: Student Equity

A grieving college

Last Thursday I watched my colleagues in grief.

It was a professional development day, so classes were cancelled. Instead, there was an excellent schedule of events, including a brilliant keynote speaker, a thoughtful collection of workshops, and division and department meetings. It had the potential to be a day of growth and community.

But somewhere around the middle of the workshop I attended, I realized that I was watching my colleagues express all the stages of grief. I heard denial. I saw anger. I observed bargaining and depression. Occasionally, I even glimpsed a little acceptance.  Different people were at different stages, but all the stages were present. And for the rest of the day, in formal meetings and in conversations in halls and offices, I spotted more and more examples of grief.

Compassion for my college and my colleagues came along with the recognition of the pain I was witnessing.  And then I realized that they were grieving the loss of business as usual.

Under the pressures of the threat of losing accreditation, a new administration, decreased enrollment, new state regulations governing course repeatability, and a somewhat improved job market (which typically reduces demand for classes in community college), City College is experiencing more significant change than it has seen since at least the 1980s. Any change is hard and big changes are harder, so the grief is understandable.

But consider that for decades the college has essentially operated the same, with small tweaks here and there – sometimes improvements, sometimes not. The college’s enrollment management systems and business practices were decades old. The governance system and power dynamics – both formal and informal – have evolved to protect the status quo, to protect under-filled classes, outdated courses, and stale practices.

Of course, many, perhaps most of my colleagues are dedicated, hard-working professionals who put their students first and who innovate and evolve their practices to meet the changing needs of our students. And not all change is good. But the fact remains that my colleagues and I have become comfortable with an institution that is in many ways great, but also has many ways to improve — not least of which is to close achievement gaps at the college that are, if anything, widening.

I have compassion for all people in pain. I also recognize that some pain is constructive. Some pain is part of a necessary process to heal a wounded college. Hopefully, last Thursday’s communal display of grief was a step toward working through pain toward acceptance and a stronger institution in the future.


Debunking student success myths

After several years of discussion about, work on, and sometimes controversy over student equity and the achievement gap at CCSF, these issues have mostly been lost in the accreditation crisis. For those of us that have actively pursued changes at the college to address the success of our African-American, Latino/a, Filipino/a, Pacific Islander, Native American, and other populations for which there are achievement gaps, it’s been frustrating that the accreditation standards don’t directly address this issue. But recent claims purporting to defend City College  based on our students’ success, both at CCSF and after they transfer, bring this conversation back to the fore.

I’ve been hearing two claims:

  1. Transfer students from CCSF do better at 4-year institutions than transfer students from other community colleges;
  2. CCSF students are more successful than the state average on the California Student Success Scorecard.

Let’s fact check claim #1: there is no data. The claim is unsubstantiated hearsay. In fact, I’ve seen no data at all that compares transfer students from different community colleges after they transfer. So, while I’d like to think CCSF students do as well or better than students from other community colleges after they transfer, I have no evidence that they do. If someone out there has the data, please send a link. If there is no data, then people need to stop making this claim.

There is data for claim #2: the statewide overall completion rate for community colleges is 49.2%; the overall completion rate for CCSF is 55.6%. Clearly, these data make it clear that City College students are completing at a substantially higher rate than the state average – but looking more closely at the data, disaggregated by ethnicity, a different picture emerges:

Completion Rate* for Cohort Tracked for Six Years Through 2011-12

State CCSF


49.2% 55.6%


39.0% 37.6%

American Indian/Alaskan Native

38.5% 23.8%


66.7% 71.7%


50.6% 34.6%


39.5% 39.1%

Pacific Islander

40.9% 38.6%


53.5% 50.8%

(*Completion Rate = percentage of degree and/or transfer-seeking students tracked for six years through 2011-12 who completed a degree, certificate or transfer related outcomes.)

The only ethnicity for which City College students surpass the state average completion percentage is Asian. For every other ethnicity, including White, CCSF students complete at lower percentages than the state average. For American Indians/Alaskan Natives and Filipinos the City College numbers are significantly lower.

People making claims about how successful our students are should make it clear exactly to which students they are referring. And any changes we make to retain accreditation should also help to close achievement gaps and make the college better for all our students.

The perils of conflating testing and accountability

Everyone wants a great education. And our city deserves a great community college. To do that, City College has to stop trying to keep everything the same as it’s always been and start finding what really works. We have to embrace our responsibility to our community and accept accountability. That isn’t easy, but it’s a fight worth having.

Teachers all over the nation and at every level decry the wrongs they see perpetrated by the so-called “testing” movement in public education. They explain that teaching and learning are complex activities, eluding simple tests of effectiveness. People do not usually learn in linear, easily monitored ways – the true result of a semester’s work may not be realized for a year or more. In addition, standardized tests have been repeatedly shown to be biased to people from different socio-economic groups, ethnicities, first-languages, and other issues of identity. And many teachers object to being evaluated based on students’ test results, because of the complexities mentioned above.

While I agree with much of the criticism of standardized tests (see also The Coming Revolution in Public Education in the Atlantic), I also see that the move toward greater accountability, which is at the root of the testing movement, is positive. More accountability means more information for students, parents, and the public in general. More accountability means there is less chance of failing systems and schools continuing to function without change. More accountability is good for students.

Conforming to the national trends toward greater accountability in education, the California legislature and our accrediting commission (ACCJC) are asking community colleges to be more transparent in our work, to assess our selves and our students more effectively, and to provide data to the public about our success and failures with students. They are also asking us to be more efficient with public dollars and to concentrate on job training, transfer to four-year institutions, and basic skills. Despite my belief that money spent on education is almost always a good investment, this is a reasonable request. More importantly, we are public servants in a public institution and we have to listen to what our society is telling us.

Unfortunately, some community college faculty don’t want to be more accountable. Some want desperately to protect the status quo at our colleges, even though we fail, both metaphorically and literally, way too many of our students, especially if those students are African-American, Latino/a, Filipino/a, or Pacific Islander (see the Student Success Scorecard for data). Those faculty sometimes conflate the testing movement with the trend toward increased accountability. Whether the conflation is intentional or not, the effect is to scare other faculty into fighting against both testing and accountability – that is, into fighting for the status quo – even though many of them believe change in higher education is needed.

At no community college in California is the conflation and fear of the testing movement and the trend toward more accountability stronger than at City College of San Francisco, where many faculty have been fighting the statewide Student Success Task Force, the subsequent Student Success Act of 2012, and now the ACCJC sanctions. There has been less protest about the standardized testing movement, but it comes up occasionally as an example of what’s wrong with the reforms being asked for by the ACCJC.

But it is false to equate the testing movement with the accountability movement. No one, neither the ACCJC nor the California state legislature, is trying to force community colleges to administer the kinds of standardized testing that K-12 public schools must use or to be penalized for how students do on them. Community college faculty are not in danger of losing our jobs or of having our salaries based on student test performance.

On the other hand, community colleges are in danger of losing some state funding if students don’t want to take our classes or if students don’t stay in our classes through the whole semester. Community colleges are also in danger of losing accreditation if we plan and prioritize poorly and don’t have clear links between our finances and our plans.

Being more accountable, more transparent, and more responsible is a good thing. We are public employees and we are paid through public funds, so we are and should be accountable to the public. Information about how classes are taught, what students learn, and how well students do should be generally available and we as teachers and as institutions should be held responsible for our work. If we’re not responsive to the needs of our students and community, we should be penalized.

When we conflate standardized testing with accountability, fighting both, we fight the good of accountability rather than just the bad of standardized tests.

So rather than fighting to save a failing status quo, CCSF and community colleges broadly should be fighting to save our students by providing really great classes they want to take, with excellent support both in and out of the classroom. Many at CCSF and at other colleges understand that if students come to our colleges and succeed, the state will be happy to fund our work. If students don’t come or don’t succeed, the state has every right to put the money somewhere else.

Highlights from April Board Meeting

Despite rumors of civil disobedience and a pre-meeting teach-in/rally by AFT 2121, once Thursday’s CCSF Board of Trustees meeting got started it was relatively calm and smooth. Among the highlights:

  • The Board appointed a new permanent Vice Chancellor of Student Development — Dr. Fabienne McPhail Naples, who comes to CCSF with a long history of advocacy for students and administrative experience. Welcome Dr. McPhail Naples!
  • Accreditation activities continue at the college as we continue to try to show the ACCJC that we deserve to remain accredited in the time running up to the commission’s meeting in June. The general feeling around campus is now upbeat — we feel like our chances are good of at least raising the level of sanction, though not completely clearing all sanctions.
  • The search for a permanent chancellor — hopefully to start work in October or November — has begun.
  • A short discussion of the CCSF data from the Accountability Report for Community Colleges revealed that City College has significant achievement gaps for African American, Latino/a, Pacific Islander, and Filipino/a students. Trustees and the chancellor spoke to the importance of closing these gaps and AFT President Alisa Messer acknowledged the systemic inequities and the faculty’s responsibility to address them. The first steps toward improving the problem is acknowledging its existence and taking responsibility for it, so this was a good beginning conversation for the college.

SMAC/Coleman Demands for Sustaining City College

Students Making a Change and Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth come out with a clear vision for how to fix City College and for how the college should look as it works to emerge from the current crisis:

City College of San Francisco is facing an uncertain future, and the lives of marginalized students are most at stake.  Students Making A Change (SMAC) and Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth are calling on the administration, Board of Trustees, faculty and classified staff to stand with students and support our demands for increasing accountability, transparency, equity, local control, and student voice/representation, as well as SMAC’s specific policy, fiscal, and structural reform recommendations.

Click here to go to the Coleman e-alert and a link to more details.

Sustaining City College — A Vision for Equity and Justice

The Future of San Francisco

There are over 4,000 current juniors in San Francisco public schools.  They are the next generation of San Franciscans, the predominantly working class young people of color who claim this city as their own.  They are our future teachers, nurses, construction workers, lawyers, engineers, janitors, caterers, and elected officials, and it will be because we invest in their success, that our city will continue to be great.  In two years, these students will leave San Francisco Unified School District; some will go on to four-year colleges and universities, some will join the labor force, and approximately 33% of SFUSD graduates will land at City College of SF, many of whom have already begun the road to matriculation to CCSF through orientation and dual enrollment.

The fact is CCSF has long been the destination for thousands of SFUSD graduates and San Francisco residents to incubate their dreams, to make success a reality.  City College has always been our college, the school of the people.  And, there have also been obstacles that get in the way of our students’ success.  Less than 25% of African American, Latino and Pacific Islander students end up completing their degree or transferring to four-year colleges or universities.  Policies like the placement test and lengthy course sequences lead to four and five year careers at this two-year community college for many students of color.  And the voices of students, when they speak up about the need for transformation, are too often silenced.

It’s clear we have work to do to improve City College.  But it is our college, and we are committed to fighting for it to be more equitable and accessible.  It is our college, and we are committed to making sure the doors stay open for low-income and working class students of color, to move towards accomplishing their goals for higher education and beyond.

What’s At Stake

It is simply not an option to allow City College to lose its accreditation, close its doors, or be taken over by the state or another community college district.  This college is too valuable to tens of thousands of students who depend on their counselors, teachers and resource staff to provide them with a quality education—and without this critical resource, we are shutting the doors of opportunity on thousands of students, largely low-income students of color who are looking to actualize educational and economic justice in their lives.

The truth is that City College is currently in a state of crisis.  This is the moment for our forces—students, teachers, classified staff, community and administration—to unify, and ensure the security of this great institution.  Unfortunately, there is a great deal of disunity among the City College community—and the reality is that this disharmony is jeopardizing the future of the college itself, and the future of the thousands of students depending on its existence.

At a Crossroads

In March of 2012, the Accreditation Commission visited City College of San Francisco for four days and shortly afterwards released their findings, which included fourteen key recommendations, eight of which were previously highlighted as critical for the college to address in its 2006 findings.  In this moment, whether or not these recommendations are followed will determine if City College maintains its accreditation, which gives it the legal ability to issue degrees and certificates.  While the Accreditation Commission and their agenda have been widely critiqued, the truth is that this body holds in its hands the fate of the college and each member of its broad community—and if these recommendations are not implemented, the future of the college is in jeopardy.

We are at a crossroads, which requires horribly difficult decisions that impact many sectors of the City College community.  We do not pretend that the decisions made by the administration or the Board of Trustees are ideal.  But in reality, if City College had made some of these key reforms years ago, we may not be in the precarious position that we are in now.  A recent fiscal review of the college found what many have experienced for years—that many decisions made by former administrations were fiscally irresponsible, doing more to maintain the status quo than to serve the best interest of students and the fiduciary responsibilities of the college.  The college community, and especially the students that depend on the college, are now feeling the repercussions of those decisions.

The Bottom Line: Save City College

This moment requires sacrifices.  And anyone who knows Coleman’s work knows that we fight tooth and nail to make sure that resources stay in our schools and benefit our students first.  Students paying higher fees, classified staff and counselors getting laid off: these are awful impacts to the CCSF community, as a result of the college’s significant fiscal challenges.  But the financial reality the college faces currently includes paying back retirement benefits, rebuilding their reserve, and a declining student population that has led to $3-6 million in budget cuts just this year. If these issues are not fixed, our college will continue to struggle financially and is likely to lose its accreditation, leaving thousands of students in the lurch.

To read the full statement, including key recommendations, please click here

CCSF’s New Mission Opens Path to Equity

Last week CCSF’s Board of Trustees approved a new mission statement that pledges to  “enhance student success and close equity achievement gaps” at the college. Adding words like “equity” and “achievement gaps” might not seem like a big change, but just three years ago there was a huge internal fight over whether achievement gaps existed at the college and what we would do about them.

A little history: in April 2009, the Board unanimously approved the Student Achievement Gap and Social Equity Resolution. That resolution asked the college to produce student success data disaggregated by ethnicity, gender, and other aspects of identity. In response, the CCSF Chancellor’s office produced the Student Equity Report – October 2009, establishing that achievement gaps existed at the college. Specifically:

At City College of San Francisco, students that identify as African American, Native American, Filipino, Latino, Pacific Islander, and South East Asian are 10-20% more likely to say their educational goal is completing a 2- or 4-year degree than their Asian and White counterparts. Yet, these same groups graduate and transfer at rates that are 19-21% lower, even six years after the students begin their career at CCSF.

As a result of these findings, members of the Board of Trustees initiated a series of student equity hearings in spring 2010 – an historic opportunity for students to speak out about their experiences at the college and the challenges they face. Based on that testimony, a series of reforms to curriculum, registration priority, student hiring for on-campus jobs, and more were initiated. The reforms have been very successful (see reports on that work by clicking here) and they are still expanding in scope to reach more students.

In this context, adding “equity” and “achievement gaps” to the college’s mission statement is both historic and part of a trend toward recognizing and addressing the issues. And, while some see the recent changes to the mission statement as shrinking who the college serves, by committing to closing achievement gaps the college will more effectively serve many that we have historically let in the door, but ultimately failed – literally and figuratively.

City College has made a difference in the lives of thousands of San Franciscans and others from the greater Bay Area, but thousands of others haven’t reached their goals. This new mission statement is a step toward ensuring the success of every student who enter its doors.

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