I’m normally loathe to talk about political ads, but this is actually a good idea.
Sf.citi, which is a Ron Conway-backed non-profit intended to represent tech companies at a civic level within San Francisco, is trying to get startups to “adopt” city public schools. They make a one-year minimum commitment to volunteer resources and time to match whatever a principal says the school’s needs are — whether that’s donating books, career tours, mentorships or setting up classrooms.
The tech celeb-packed ad’s storyline is great.
Twitter co-founder Biz Stone gets terribly misquoted by a tech journalist (wink wink nudge nudge), triggering a citywide frenzy about an unannounced product called “MyBook.”
Watch to the end for the kicker. The whole thing is kind of painful to watch because this industry’s priorities sometimes feel that messed up. Sf.citi, which has twenty schools so far, wants to cover every single one in the city by the end of the year. (Stone and his startup Jelly have adopted adopted Presidio Middle School.)
Anyway, why should you be involved in San Francisco’s schools?
Well, there are couple big economic and demographic trends happening in the tech industry, Silicon Valley and the San Francisco Bay Area.
1) The Great Inversion: A generation ago, the predominant media narrative about American urban life centered on entrenched inner-city poverty, poor schools and crime. Around 1980, global cities like San Francisco, New York and London hit a population trough as the middle-class fled for single-family homes in the suburbs, which undermined the tax revenue base for city services. But today, several of the country’s most economically powerful cities are in the throes of hyper-gentrification as young and affluent college graduates and empty nesting baby boomers return to the cities. That is creating pressures for displacement among lower-income communities and minorities.
San Francisco’s schools have not caught up with this shift; and they probably will not catch up unless the city finds a way to retain the middle-class. (Daunting.)
Instead, we have a two-tiered K-12 educational system in the city. San Francisco has the third-highest rate of private school attendance in the entire country, as wealthy families disinvest in the public system, take their kids and put them into $30,000-per year private schools. At the same time, upper-middle-class families who can’t afford to live in San Francisco continue to move into the surrounding suburbs where the public systems test better. The crazy costs of single-family homes in cities like Palo Alto and Cupertino, where Apple is based, reflect the quality of their public schools.
So who is left in San Francisco’s public schools? Virtually all growth in the city school district over the next thirty years is expected to come from public housing. This is making the city’s public schools more racially isolated, which is sad in an ironic way because the tech industry itself is not very racially diverse.
2) The political will of cities from San Francisco down through Mountain View, where Google is headquartered, to support tech is being severely tested. If I can’t convince you to be involved in local civic life because it’s the right thing to do, I can argue it from a self-interested point of view.
All that stuff about your crazy rents, housing costs and the price of commercial office space? Those constraints on growth are largely political.
It will take broad-based political involvement to arrive at a solution to them that benefits most everyone. If you look at the elections this November, there are major growth battles happening from here on down through Menlo Park, where the venture capital firms and Facebook are based.
One way that you can generate good will is to be involved. Our K-12 schools have a lot of needs.
Who knows? A good startup idea might come out of it.