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The power of a good idea: How the San Francisco school district is building a prek-3rd grade bridge

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In 2008 the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) confronted a problem that has been growing for decades. It boasted the highest academic performance of any large urban district in California, yet its achievement gap was widening, as too many African American, Latino, and low-income students fell far behind their classmates. The gap was perhaps clearest in the city's Bayview and Mission neighborhoods, where only a quarter of African American and Latino students read at grade level in third grade, compared to three-quarters of white students districtwide. Throughout the school system, 40 percent of African American students and 48 percent of Latino students were at grade level in math by second grade, compared to 88 percent of white students in 2011-12. The achievement gap was the greatest challenge facing the school district, one that revealed systemic disconnects throughout its schools and programs, beginning with its youngest students. This is the story of how the district began narrowing the gap by rethinking its approach to teaching and learning in pre-K, kindergarten, and the early grades of elementary school. District leaders worked to align curricula, professional development, assessments, and even classroom layouts across the PreK-3rd grade continuum, initially focusing on connections between pre-K and kindergarten. To lead this ambitious effort, the district turned to its underfunded and sometimes overlooked Child Development Program, which ran its pre-K classrooms. (author abstract)
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