OUSD officials declare support of small schools

The central office has been pretty quiet in the last year about the direction of the small schools initiative, a silence that has worried some proponents of the reform — especially in light of some of the skeptical statements made by school board members at meetings.

Today, in an advisory about a new small schools report, the administration announced the schools were “headed in a positive direction.” This might come as a relief to those wondering where the district stands on the subject. Here’s the release:

Oakland Unified School District Press Advisory

New Report Sees Small Schools Headed in a Positive Direction

The results of the first phase of external evaluation of OUSD’s new small schools

show some promising results for Oakland students and families

Oakland – September 26, 2007 – The Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) will release the results of the first phase of external evaluation of its strategy to create new small schools throughout the city at tonight’s meeting of the Board of Education.

The Small Schools Movement began in Oakland in the late 1990s as a community response to overcrowding, inequity, and poor performance in Oakland’s public schools. Teachers, parents and community leaders came together to develop safe, positive and personalized small learning environments for students.

Small school creation has been a critical component of OUSD’s work over the past six years to develop a portfolio of schools that provides families with at least two quality school options in each neighborhood.

The study of Oakland’s New Small Schools was conducted by Strategic Measurement and Evaluation, Inc. from February to August 2007. Two external evaluators from Strategic Measurement and Evaluation, Inc. reviewed student and school performance data, conducted 29 in-depth interviews of teachers and principals at three new small schools, surveyed 659 teachers at New Small Schools and comparison schools around the district. The sample comparison schools included all three of the district’s remaining large high schools, as well as three middle schools and four elementary schools selected based on their similarity to the New Small Schools in terms of achievement levels, the composition of the student body, and the communities they served.

The study conducted by Strategic Measurement & Evaluation outlines seven key findings:

1.      The New Small Schools serve students, families, and communities in large, overcrowded, and low performing schools.

2.      New Small Schools accelerate both student CST ELA and Math achievement more frequently than do the comparison schools.

3.      Most New Small Schools are achieving CST and CAHSEE scores that meet or exceed projected average levels. Compared to the traditional schools that students moved from, the graduation rates at the New Small High Schools were higher, ranging from 69 percent to 97 percent compared to 61 percent to 80 percent at existing comparison high schools.

4.      There are examples of increases in the percentage of students being designated proficient or higher on the CST as students move from existing traditional schools to the New Small schools.

5.      The average student, parent, and teacher satisfaction ratings achieved by New Small Schools were higher than the student, parent, and teacher satisfaction ratings achieved by a sample of comparison schools and compared favorably to overall district levels.

6.      The survey data indicate New Small Schools are generally implementing proposed designs that address school culture, instructional program, professional learning community, parent, and community engagement.

7.      New Small Schools can achieve high levels of organizational functioning during the first year of operation.

Kirsten Vital, OUSD’s Chief of Community Accountability, responded to the study:

“Our New Small Schools bring stakeholders together in new ways to create the conditions for student success, which is a major but not singular step in raising student achievement. There are a number of new small schools that have leveraged these conditions to accelerate student achievement.”

Vital outlined next steps saying: “Having established these preconditions in almost all the new small schools, it will now be critical to press forward with academic rigor and quality instruction while holding schools accountable for performance and providing adequate levels of support.”

The district has shifted its small schools strategy over time, based on lessons learned, to focus on providing more structure and support for the incubation process and ongoing monitoring and intervention.

In order to continue to improve the effectiveness of new small schools OUSD plans to do a more in-depth analysis about how years of implementation, type of incubation, district support,  and differences at elementary, middle and high school levels impact student achievement results.

This fall, OUSD will work with an external evaluator on the second phase of the small schools evaluation to address these areas. Results of this study are expected in 2008.

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • John Public

    It amazes me how these small schools are touted at the best answer to school failure and reform in Oakland. These small schools tend to bleed-off the more involved parents of an existing school site via the promise of a new start, and leave the rest of the community behind. Isn’t that like ladling the cream from the top? Why don’t they just admit that the reason that the small school movement will continue is because it gives the district the opportunity to restart the performance clock under NCLB. Close the old school, get a new CDS code and voila…a new 5-7 year clock and the district gets to keep the student population and all of the funds.

    What are the real numbers behind the claims above…especially with regards to academic achievement? Is it truly statistically relevant or 1-2 more than another site? Additionally, the claim in number 7 above is utterly amazing in the sense that the schools can achieve high levels of organizational functioning during the first yar of operation. Quite an accomplishment given the lack of overall organization the district operates on as a whole. Seems as if common sense woud expect that the new school would mirror its system. Is this high level of organization widespread and sustainable, or is it highly dependent upon the site’s leadership?

    The next question just has to be, with all of the additional support and resources given to these new small schools, who supports the existing infrastructure? Or is the expectation that it will eventually fail and become the next candidate for the small school movement?

    Looks as if Oakland should move to a “New Small District” approach and take notes from its “proven” small schools reform.