Closing the Achievement Gap

A key path out of poverty is a quality education. Yet too many students in San Francisco, particularly children of color living in low-income communities, do not have the opportunities to develop the skills and knowledge they need to succeed. The Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund’s Education Equity program is supporting the San Francisco Unified School District in its efforts to help all students reach their dreams.

Why This Work is Important

Navigating a successful path through San Francisco’s public education system can be a major challenge for young people and their families. From preschool through high school and beyond, student progress can be stifled because of poor coordination among institutions and teachers, as well as a lack of clarity and agreement about what students need to learn and how best to support them as they move from one level to the next. As a result, too many students are falling through the cracks, especially African American and Latino children in our most challenged neighborhoods. Even though the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) is one of the highest-performing urban districts in California, a persistent achievement gap means that race and family income have an undue influence in determining a student’s success. 

Where There's Progress

Over the last several years, district leaders in San Francisco have embraced a bold agenda to address the achievement gap and improve education in the critical years between preschool and 3rd grade (PreK-3rd). With support from the Haas, Jr. Fund and other partners, the district has developed and is implementing a plan for strengthening the city’s early education system in ways that already are producing improved outcomes for many students. In addition, the district is working hard to turn around historically low-performing schools in targeted neighborhoods.

What We're Doing

The Haas, Jr. Fund is helping district leaders expand successful PreK-3rd reforms throughout the system to improve the life chances of more students. We also are supporting the district to implement new, system-wide reforms that will help students in all grades. Among the priorities of this reform initiative: transforming a large, decentralized bureaucracy into a more cohesive, adaptable, high-achieving organization; and spurring higher levels of collaboration and communication among district leaders, schools, teachers and other partners from preschool through high school and beyond.

How We'll Get There

It takes time to change large educational systems and produce real improvements in educational outcomes. But recent gains in the performance of elementary school students in San Francisco public schools show that significant progress is possible. In the coming months and years, the Fund will be focused on supporting continued and accelerated progress for all students by:

Building on recent gains in early education

The Fund is committed to supporting the district to continue its efforts to strengthen PreK-3rd education in the following ways:

  • Helping the district take its recent reforms to scale. We are supporting a range of activities inside the district to help its people realize the lasting promise of recent PreK-3rd reforms. Our priorities include: strengthening the leadership of all PreK-elementary school principals and instructional teams so they are better equipped to lead their schools to higher levels of performance; and supporting professional development for teachers, as well as other activities aimed at improving coordination and alignment in early education.
  • Strengthening school-community partnerships. The school district is a key player but not the only player in raising the academic achievement of the city’s young people. Recognizing this, the Fund is supporting efforts to improve coordination among schools, parents, and neighborhood and government institutions to support the success of younger students and their families.
Supporting District-Wide Reforms

The Haas, Jr. Fund also is stepping up its support for district-wide changes aimed at improving the academic performance of all students through the following strategies:

  • Building the skills and capabilities of senior district leaders. The Fund is supporting key educational leaders in the city to strengthen their collective ability to implement needed reforms. Through training, coaching and other activities, we are helping district, school board and union leaders to develop the knowledge, skills and relationships that will unleash lasting change.
  • Creating a district-wide plan for coherent and consistent learning. We also are supporting training and other activities to facilitate the district’s adoption of national “Common Core” standards. The goal is to ensure that everyone understands what students need to know at each level in order to graduate from high school prepared to succeed in college and 21st-century jobs.
Strengthening school-to-college connections

(This part of the Fund’s strategy is currently under review.) The Haas, Jr. Fund also has been a strong supporter of efforts to ensure that all students in San Francisco are ready for college. For example, we have been supporting Bridge to Success, a partnership between the Mayor’s office, the school district, City College of San Francisco and San Francisco State University to double the number of low-income youth who achieve college degrees and credentials. We also have supported new strategies and partnerships to accelerate student completion at City College of San Francisco.

Education Initiatives

In addition to our work described above, the Fund supports three major initiatives to advance equal opportunities for all students:

  • The U.C. Berkeley Initiative for Equity, Inclusion and Diversity is a sweeping effort to expand research and teaching on diversity issues, fund new scholarships for community college transfer students from low-income families, and make equity and inclusion a priority in every corner of the Cal campus.
  • Coaching Corps works to eliminate disparities in access to high-quality after-school sports programs for low-income youth, particularly girls, to increase and improve their physical, emotional and social health.
  • The San Francisco Beacon Initiative partners with schools, families and neighbors to transform public schools into safe and welcoming youth and family centers for active learning and engagement.

Education Equity grants are by invitation only.


Closing the Achievement Gap

By creating opportunities for the most vulnerable students in our communities, we can close the achievement gap and increase the chances for success in life.