Supreme Court: School districts’ use of race-based placement unlawful

The Supreme Court issued a landmark decision this morning against the voluntary racial integration practices in the Seattle and Jefferson County, Ky. school districts. It could affect the way students across the country, including in Berkeley, are assigned to schools.

In a 5-4 ruling, the court agreed with the plaintiffs — parents who argued that the practice of using race violated their 14th Amendment right to equal protection.

“The school districts have not carried their heavy burden of showing
that the interest they seek to achieve justifies the extreme means
they have chosen — discriminating among individual students based
on race by relying upon racial classifications in making school assignments.”

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Whoa! OUSD enrollment PowerPoint jolts reporter out of seat

In calm, measured tones, a demographer told the Oakland school board that the district’s already dwindled enrollment of 39,700 could shrink to 26,200 in just five years. Five years ago, more than 53,000 kids attended regular district schools.

The drop will more likely be reduced to just 32,000 by 2011-12, the demographers said, but that’s still a pretty steep slide. It matters for financial reasons, since the district — and in Oakland, individual schools — are funded based on their average attendance.

The explosion of publicly funded, independently run charter schools is one major cause cited in the report. Other reasons are people moving out of the area and lower birth rates.

In all fairness to charters, not every family who chooses a charter school would have otherwise signed up for the Oakland school system. But some of them probably would have.

I plan to write a story about this soon. If any of you want to share your thoughts on why you think the school system is shrinking, what that might mean for the students who stay in the system, or what the district should do to draw more students, comment away.

Also, feel free to e-mail me with your contact info so I can interview you — especially if you think this is not a big deal.


BayTech hangs on

A number of Bay Area Technology School families came to tonight’s school board meeting. They planned to urge the district to keep the charter school open, but they didn’t need to.

A decision was announced at the beginning of the meeting, before some of them had even arrived.

Instead of denying BayTech’s five-year charter renewal — as her staff had originally recommended — Oakland’s schools chief Kimberly Statham announced she would extend its existing charter agreement for 45 days. Continue Reading


District rethinking BayTech charter denial

It sounds like Oakland school district staff might let the BayTech charter school stay open after all.

“We’ve been talking to the school today, and we’re trying to reach an agreement with them,” Alex Katz, a district spokesman, said this afternoon.

Ozkur Yildiz, principal of the charter middle school on Telegraph Avenue, said he didn’t want to discuss further details until after tonight’s board meeting. But, he said, the development was “great news for all of our parents.”


Future of BayTech charter school uncertain

District staff wants the state administrator to deny the renewal and expansion of Bay Area Technology School, a charter middle school that opened three years ago. It’s located at 1920 Telegraph Ave, and it serves a predominately African-American student body.

In the denial report, staff says it found the school has “an unsound educational program.” They argued that although its overall API score is higher than that of the average district middle school, its math scores dropped last year. The report also cites previous financial instability, although it notes that the school has since balanced its books.

At tomorrow night’s board meeting, a group of parents plans to challenge the recommendation, said Stephanie Ali, president of the BayTech Parent Club. Ali said she didn’t understand the basis of the denial; she said the academics are rigorous and that students who are lagging behind receive mandatory after-school tutoring.

“Our parents are very fiercely protective of our institution,” Ali said. “I’m expecting for the bleachers to be full.”

They could have to wait for hours. The item comes after the budget hearing, near the tail-end of the agenda.


Wanted: budget experts with time on their hands

A draft of the 2007-08 budget for the Oakland school district has been posted with Wednesday night’s board agenda. It’s 252 pages, mostly of spreadsheets, so not exactly a beach read. I was hoping for an easier-to-understand summary — the Hayward and San Lorenzo school districts have included those — but maybe one will be available by Wednesday.

I’m also hoping Javetta Robinson, the district’s chief financial officer, will be able to squeeze in an appointment with me before then.


If you have a few spare moments, take a look and let me know if anything jumps out. I plan to write a story Wednesday night, if not before, so I’d appreciate some extra sets of eyes.


Is anybody in there? The OUSD central office exodus

In the high-stress world of urban education, it’s not just teachers who leave their jobs en masse. A number of key Oakland school district leaders have — or will soon — bid farewell to the crumbling facility on Second Avenue.

Some of the managers lost their jobs in the central office redesign. Some found more rewarding work elsewhere. Some retired.

This list is evolving, but here are some of the names I have been able to gather:

  • Barak Ben-Gal, budget director (left this spring and took a job at Yahoo!)
  • Roqua Montez, communications director
  • Oswaldo Galarza, information and technology officer, and several other IT personnel
  • Liane Zimny, charter schools coordinator
  • Vince Meyer, director of buildings and grounds
  • Tanya Avila, after-school program coordinator Continue Reading

No fair! Math teacher wins the math challenge

Jack Gerson, a math teacher at Castlemont’s Leadership Prep High School, helpfully took up yesterday afternoon’s challenge about how the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future came up with its $12 million figure. He writes: 

If you’ve downloaded the 16-page policy brief that accompanies their report, look at page 14 (“Appendix: Calculating the National Cost of Teacher Attrition). They’re estimating that 12.5% of teachers leave annually (which for Oakland would be between 325 and 350) and multiply that by $8,750. That come to, ballpark, $3 million. Then they estimate cost per school of $70,000 and multiply that by the number of schools. Oakland now has between 100 and 150 schools, which comes to, again ballpark, $9 million. Add the two estimates together and you get $12 million.

I can’t say whether any of their figures are accurate. I don’t know if it costs Oakland an average of $8,750 / teacher who leaves exclusive of costs to schools, and I don’t know if it costs schools $70,000 per teacher who leaves. But this is how they generated their figures, and it does seem to work out to about $12 million.

Mr. Gerson is right. Continue Reading


Study: Teacher turnover costs Oakland $12 million each year

AFTERNOON UPDATE AND MATHEMATICAL CHALLENGE: After talking to a researcher and doing the simple calculation myself, I just don’t arrive at the $12 million figure. As the researcher suggested, I multiplied the “actual” per-teacher turnover cost for Chicago ($17,872) by the number of classroom teachers who leave the Oakland district each year (300).

If anyone gets anything more than $5.36 million, let me know.


Researchers from the National Commission on Teaching and America’s future estimate that the nation’s schools spend more than $7 billion per year to recruit, hire, process and train a constant stream of new teachers. In a report released today, they figure Oakland schools spend at least $12 million a year to that end. 

The commission argues that money would be well spent on more closely tracking teacher turnover and on improving teaching conditions. We’ll have a story in tomorrow’s paper that includes an interview with a teacher who’s leaving the district to teach in an Oakland charter school.