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Poor-performing school districts need a heavy dose of accountability

Poor-performing school districts need a heavy dose of accountability

The results are abysmal. San Francisco Public Schools published a new report showing terrible outcomes for its K-12 students and tragic disparities in educational outcomes among demographic groups. The report should fuel parents’ desire to know what is being taught in the classroom and how schools are spending precious taxpayer dollars.

Among all San Francisco public school students, only 47.2% of those exiting 8th grade were ready for high school; breaking it down by race, 47.4% of White students, 71% of Asian students, 15% of African American students, and 23.7% of Latino students met 8th grade readiness standards. Similarly poor performance and racial disparities were reported in reading, math, career preparedness, and other metrics.

It’s shocking but sadly not surprising, in the way that totally predictable outcomes always are. For the last two years, America has watched as schools across the country prioritized politics over education and shutdowns over students. Some of the most egregious examples have been in California, and notably in San Francisco.

While schools were closed and kids were stuck at home, the San Francisco School District prioritized politics over student performance, pursuing action to supposedly right racial inequality by way of tearing down emblems of the past. The city’s school board voted in January 2021 to remove the names of America’s leaders such as George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Thomas Jefferson from 44 of its schools. This followed an effort in 2019 to cover up a mural of Washington at a high school bearing his name.

The race-based politics didn’t stop at window dressing, though. The board also voted to replace a century-old merit-based admission system at one of the city’s magnet schools with a lottery system to address “pervasive systemic racism.” In their view, that “systemic racism” resulted in disproportionately low numbers of Black and Hispanic students at the school, whereas Asian students were overrepresented, compared to districtwide enrollment, according to a San Francisco Chronicle report.

The Board’s actions deprived high-performing students from gaining admission to the school based on their merit, and therefore cut off a pathway to top universities. “I don’t know what the San Francisco public school board is doing,” Wai Yip Tung, a parent with two children in the district, told the Chronicle. “I’ve lost trust in them. Are children the priority? I just don’t feel it’s a priority to them.”

Ultimately, the San Francisco School Board was held to account for its horrendous policymaking and paid the ultimate price at the ballot box when members were recalled this year. But accountability — and vigilance — don’t have to stop there, in San Francisco, across California, or anywhere in the country where parents have questions about what their children are being taught or how school districts are spending money.

Parents—and all citizens—have a right to know what school boards are doing, how they’re spending money, and what’s being taught in the classroom. They have a powerful tool on their side—public records laws, which empower citizens to ask what their officials are doing and to force them to provide answers. (For those who want to learn more, they can visit

It’s a device that’s being deployed in state after state, where parents who are being stonewalled by school districts are taking legal action to hold them to account. 

School board members can be held accountable at the ballot box, but parents don’t have to wait for Election Day to make change. They have the power to find out what is being taught in schools — and they should do it before it’s too late for their children’s education.

Mike Brownfield is Director of Communications for the Goldwater Institute.

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