Education Justice


Education Justice: Quality Education for All 

The fight for quality education, as a fundamental human right and a strategy of upward mobility for low-income people and people of color, is central to Coleman’s work to keep families in San Francisco. Education level is a primary determining factor in economic security; Individuals who did not complete high school, for example, are almost eight times more likely than college graduates to have incomes below the self-sufficiency standard.

While thousands of children are achieving and even excelling in San Francisco public schools, there are thousands of students who are being failed. Ed Trust West’s most recent report card grading California’s largest school districts on student outcomes ranked SFUSD 147 out of 148 on “performance levels among students of color”, 126 out of 126 for the African American/White student achievement gap, and 142 out of 143 for its Latino/White gap.

The creation of a two-tiered education system has left a significant number of students with very few options for their future, and essentially condemned to another generation of low-wage work or prison. We know there is both a racial ‘achievement gap’ and a racial opportunity gap creating these conditions. Coleman believes that the current widespread racial achievement gap runs counter to community standards for equal education opportunities for all children, and that it is the responsibility of parents, students, and other community members to support districts to make positive changes and hold them accountable for improvements.

These inequities are perpetuated and intensified by a range of aggressive, unregulated and biased disciplinary practices that disproportionately impact low-income African American and Latino children, depriving them of their fundamental right to education and in many cases pushing students permanently out of school and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems.  Research shows that this zero tolerance approach does not work. It doesn’t make schools safer. Instead, this approach lowers educational outcomes, damages relationships within schools, and diverts funding from providing high quality educational experiences. These systems of discipline and prison-like environments are not preparing young people for success; they are conditioning them for a life of incarceration. All students deserve better; they deserve safe, quality schools.

School Discipline/Climate Reform 

 Did you know that…

  • CA schools issue more suspensions than diplomas.
  • African American students are less than 10% of the student body in SF schools but make up more than 50% of the suspension rate.
  • More than 75% of suspensions in SFUSD are African American and Latino students.
  • Under the “willful defiance” suspension category, students can be suspended for things like forgetting their textbook, or leaving their hat on in class. Willful defiance suspensions make up nearly 42% of all suspensions in California and 37% of all SFUSD suspensions.

Our school discipline system is not working – for students or for educators. Multiple studies demonstrate that “zero tolerance” policies are ineffective in correcting misbehavior, increase the risk of students dropping out and becoming involved in the criminal justice system, and are disproportionately applied to students of color, particularly African American students.

Exclusionary school discipline practices also have diverse negative health impacts on students. Click here for detailed information about the negative health impacts of zero tolerance approaches to school discipline, as well as the positive health impacts of Restorative Justice and PBIS approaches.

Every young person has the right to a high quality education and to learn in a safe, respectful school environment. Growing numbers of schools are abandoning harsh school removal practices for proven, research-based alternatives that make schools safer, improve student achievement, increase graduation rates, and create a more positive school climate for teachers and students. In San Francisco, we can and we MUST do better for our students.

Solutions Not Suspensions Campaign

In 2014, Coleman reached two major milestones in our multi-year Solutions Not Suspensions Campaign. The San Francisco Board of Education:

  • Passed the landmark Safe and Supportive Schools Resolution that will transform the district’s approach to school discipline, and

  • Approved a new MOU between the school district and the police department that is designed to reduce student arrests and police presence on school campuses.

The Safe and Supportive Schools Resolution –  authored by Board of Ed Commissioner Haney with amendments by President Fewer – bans willful defiance suspensions and mandates that out-of school-suspensions should only be used as the very last resort. The resolution requires all schools to pursue alternatives such as Restorative Practices and Positive Behavior Intervention Supports (PBIS). At schools that have a history of suspending high numbers of African American students, staff will be trained in the use of alternative discipline strategies and monitored by the Superintendent’s Office.

Coleman partnered with Public Counsel to analyze district data, research best practices, and develop community education materials and a media outreach strategy for our campaign. Coleman staff and members met with Board of Ed Commissioners, testified at hearings, organized community engagement meetings, facilitated dozens of educational workshops in schools and CBOs, recruited hundreds of individual supporters to sign on to the campaign, and secured endorsements from 36 organizations, many of which played active roles in the campaign.

Passage of the resolution put San Francisco on the cutting edge of  a growing national movement of school districts abandoning exclusionary and harsh discipline methods for positive accountability systems that improve students’ behavior, while keeping them in school and on track.

Similarly, the new SFUSD/SFPD MOU now serves as a national model for how schools and police departments can work together and redefine their roles to improve school environments and reduce student arrests. The agreement was the result of years of negotiation and organized community pressure in which Coleman played a central leadership role, together with Public Counsel, the San Francisco Youth Commission, CHALK, and other community groups.   

On the heels of our two major education equity wins, Coleman moved forward hopeful, but grounded in the experience and knowledge that – without comprehensive and timely implementation – a policy (or an MOU) is only words on a piece of paper. Since then we have been actively engaged in multiple strategies to ensure meaningful youth, parent, and community involvement in the implementation processes, as well as the development of strong oversight, evaluation and reporting mechanisms. Over the next several years, our members will need to provide consistent support from within the system – and apply strategic pressure from the outside – to ensure that the district is following through on its commitments and that we are seeing the school climate and student success outcomes the policy was designed to achieve.

Regional, State and National-level School Discipline Reform 

Coleman is a Coordinating Committee member of the national Dignity in Schools Campaign (DSC) and co-founder of the Bay Area Chapter. DSC is a national coalition that builds power amongst parents, youth, organizers, advocates and educators to transform their own communities, support alternatives to a culture of zero-tolerance, punishment, criminalization and the dismantling of public schools, and fight racism and all forms of oppression.  Coleman is a cofounder of the Bay Area Chapter of DSC which brings together organizations do develop a regional (Bay Area-wide), multi-sector, multi-issue approach to ending the school-to-prison pipeline.

Coleman also provides leadership on the Fix School Discipline Statewide Policy Team and Statewide Action Team, collaborating on efforts to pass statewide legislation banning willful defiance suspensions and advocating for the California Department of Ed to increase funds for school districts to train staff and parents in Restorative Practices.

Improving and Expanding Family Engagement in SFUSD

PMAC 2016 Campaign → Saber es Poder:  Knowledge is Power!

PMAC members have set an ambitious agenda for this school year focused on expanding family engagement in SFUSD and improving outcomes for students, in particular our African American and Latino students whose needs are not currently being met by our schools. PMAC is carrying out community education, school-site organizing, and parent-led advocacy efforts to persuade SFUSD to develop a new SFUSD Family Academy to support parents to be able to more effectively support their children academically and act as advocates for their right to high quality education and supportive environments in their schools

Building Parent Power in Determining School Budget Priorities 

For years, with our partners in the Campaign for Quality Education (CQE), Coleman advocated for the need-based allocation of education budget funds. When the Governor responded to statewide advocacy with the development of the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), education equity groups around the state celebrated a meaningful victory.  There is much work to be done to hold schools and districts accountable to the equity promise of LCFF but at Coleman we understand any policy or budget “win” as just the first phase of any genuine systemic change effort.

In addition to the prospect of a more equitable distribution of resources, the passage of LCFF has also presented an opportunity for expanded parent engagement at the local and statewide levels. The law makes parent engagement one of eight state-wide priorities and holds districts to a higher standard and greater level of commitment to parent engagement than ever before. With LCFF, parent engagement is no longer a “check-the-box” formality but rather a priority outcome in and of itself.

A critical component of LCFF is the Local Control and Accountability PLAN (LCAP). All school districts are required to create these plans that essentially describe how they will address the eight state-wide priorities and meet their local educational objectives. Coleman works closely with the district to help it meet its family engagement commitments and ensure that it does so in a substantive, effective, and culturally competent way.  We organize community conversations and support parents and students to provide direct input into the development of the SFUSD LCAP. We also consistently advocate for the timely and comprehensive release of budget data in an accessible format so that stakeholders have a real sense of where dollars are going and where there is flexibility in the budget and can weigh in on district and school-site resource allocation in a concrete and meaningful way.  In response to our first year LCAP recommendations, the district created the LCAP taskforce to ensure a more community-driven, timely, and comprehensive LCAP development process, ongoing. Coleman staff and parents participate on the taskforce.



Coleman has more than two decades of history winning improvements in the San Francisco public school system, and increasing the voice of disenfranchised student and parent stakeholders in school district decision-making.

Victories have included:

  • Providing key leadership to the Great Schools campaign that won passage of Prop H, which invests up to $60 million a year in local city funds to SF public schools, to restore core funds for arts, music, sports and a wide range of learning support services that our schools had been forced to cut after decades of post-Prop 13 state budget cuts. Additionally, Coleman has been a core stakeholder and leader in nearly every successful school funding campaign in the last three decades – from school bonds to parcel tax and progressive revenue measures that increase city investments in our under-funded schools.
  • Winning support and funding for the district’s new 9th Grade Ethnic Studies initiative, with a citywide youth coalition that included a strong Coleman ally, the Filipino Community Center and the PEP Filipino youth program.
  • Winning $1.4 million in a youth-led campaign to create school-based high school health centers. Thousands of students, in every major high school and middle schools, now receive free, confidential  services at these “Wellness Centers”, through a strong partnership with city government.
  • Increasing student and parent voice in school governance, by creating the Parent Advisory Council, winning sustained staffing for the Student Advisory Council, and training thousands of students and parents to become stronger leaders for school change.
  • Winning the landmark “College and Career for All” policy mandating the implementation of the UC “A- G” requirements in all SFUSD high schools.
  • Garnering more than $2M in funding  for credit recovery and additional supports for SFUSD’s most struggling students.