State-run district gets a split verdict

gavel.jpgThe Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance team today recommended that the state superintendent return two more operational areas  of the Oakland school district — personnel and facilities management — to local authority.

But the report noted that high turnover and steeply declining enrollment have threatened the district’s stability. Read the report here.

OUSD’s ratings went up in all five areas, although the financial department is still rated just a 5.3 out of 10 (Up from a 4 last year).

Some quotes from the executive summary:

“The lack of consistency in district leadership and management has affected the district’s direction and the progress of the district’s recovery.”

“The district’s organization has been in a constant state of redesign, resulting in numerous changes in management… The lack of consistency in district leadership and management has affected the district’s direction and the progress of the district’s recovery.”

“The reforms undertaken by the district have not always considered fiscal recovery as the primary goal. The number and speed of these reform efforts resulted in significant system changes with few written guidelines or operational procedures for management and staff to follow.”

“Stability in district leadership is critical.”

“Progress toward recovery could not be made when plans constantly changed.”

image on bloomsberries’ Web site at flickr.com

Katy Murphy

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

  • hill parent

    The “steeply declining enrollment” will continue if the district does not put in place assurances that neighborhood children will be able to attend their neighborhood schools and that falsification of addresses does not continue as an acceptable practice. This will only force parents to either leave the public school in large numbers or move out of Oakland. Don’t think that property values won’t decline even more when the word gets out that families are leaving once desirable neighborhoods. Maybe single families won’t care, but families with children will be fearful of buying a home in such neighborhoods.

  • Concerned Oakland Parent

    I agree with Hills Parent. I also think that parents who come to view a school prior to enrollment will not notice a difference if led on a tour, but if they come to visit the playground, they will notice a difference in the way some children behave. Many of the children who behave differently do so because it is the norm for them.

    I have noticed that as more children outside the neighborhood are enrolled, the more closely the playground behavior needs to be monitored. For example, the new principal at Montera had to first squash rough-housing behavior in the halls. This made many parents angry as they perceived the suspensions as harsh and unfair. What these parents did not take into account is that several parents from neighboring schools chose private school for their children because that rough-housing behavior was intimidating to students who were used to calm behavior in their public elementary schools.

    If we want to continue with a viable public school system in Oakland, where learning continues, and enthusiasm within the boundaries of acceptable behavior is the norm, we must have respectful behavior. It needs to be constantly monitored as much as school work. Because, ultimately, the parent who can afford to go elsewhere, using a false address or just renting a house or apartment will do so to feel safe.

    In Maslow’s hierarchy of needs safety is two rungs before esteem and status, including education. Our job in the community is to begin to meet our students most basic needs, first is to take care of hunger. The second is to provide safety and protection. Often this will mean protecting them from the behaviors they see demonstrated at home. If we do not, the parents who witness unsafe behaviors will move on, further eroding the Oakland economic base. I’m not sure how to begin, but I believe without solving the first two rungs on Maslow’s hierarchy we will not be able to achieve education, independence for Oakland schools, or productive citizens.

  • Sue

    Local control. We need a district administration that’s responsive to the families in the district. From personal experience, I know that state administrators ignore or dismiss families, and only pay attention to pleasing their bosses in Sacramento. Jack O’Connell’s office ignores and insults families when we try to get our concerns heard there. Before the state take-over district adminstrators were more responsive, and appreciated it when our family brought problems to their attention.

  • Maria Ku

    Address falsification would be hard-to-impossible to stop without turning the system into
    a police state (and providing appropriate-level funding for the police state). Arguably,
    a police-state approach could deter even larger number of families from sending their kids to Oakland schools.

    The practice of using false address is older than OUSD.

    One remarkable example:

    Two years ago, then mayor-candidate Dellums visiting my daughter’s 4th grade class
    and telling, very matter-of-fact-ly, the story of how he did not like McClymonds High as a student and his mother “used” her friend’s address to put him in a “better” public high school in Oakland. This is our mayor talking to our kids!

  • Lynn

    I am a graduate student in the Public Administration Department at a local university. My research question is: What does it mean when a state takes over a school district,
    specifically OUSD. I have read some of the concerns parents are making regarding the
    safety, behavior of some students, and the changing of addresses for a better school.
    What is missing here is ‘why’ did the state take over your school district. Do you think its
    because of the examples some of you parents suggest? I don’t think so. Look a bit
    deeper into who is taking over the schools and where these people come from. I think
    our problem lies in ‘who’ is controlling your schools. Sandre Swanson tried with his AB45
    bill, which was vetoed by the Governor in late October. The fight for control over your
    schools lies in looking for where the problems lie, and who you are up against. Join
    the forces with legal tactics and you can assure a successful managed school district.
    What I read about Swanson is that he feels that the community must get involved in
    protecting their schools. There’s a meeting Monday at 9:30am in the City Council Room.
    Citizens are able to speak for 30 minutes. Bring your questions to the source. Good

  • turner

    To Maria Ku:

    Address falsification is just a symptom of a problem, not a cause. People falisfy their addreses to get their kids into better schools. I don’t see how you can fault parents for doing that. Would you knowingly send your child to a bad school?

    The problem is that there are bad schools in Oakland and parents have to resort to address falsification to get their kids into good ones. We should improve our neighborhood schools so parents are not put into positions where they have to resort to breaking the rules to get their kids good education.


  • turner


    It all comes down to the money. Oakland is an institution with an annual budget of more than $700 million. The parties in conflict all want to make the decisions on how to spend that money.

    It’s a power grab. It’s a real quest for power and prestige.

    It’s not about the schools; it’s not about the community; and it’s definitely not about the education of the good students of Oakland Unified.


  • Oakland Hills Parent

    Falsification is a problem when families who live WITHIN the school boundaries are displaced. This nearly happened at two hills schools this past spring and was a very real problem for a number of families. There are huge impacts for the community at large too, in the form of lower housing prices (good schools = better housing prices).

    I believe displacements will happen for real in the future, which is why OUSD needs to get strict about verification. And strict doesn’t have to mean “police state”. You only have to look around at what other neighboring communities are doing to deter this practice to realise that OUSD has a long way to go!

    Families who make their own sacrifices to live in a neighborhood with a good schools should have the first priority to attend that school (that’s the rules with OUSD, as things stand now).

  • another hill parent

    Lying is lying, no matter how you want to excuse it. Is this an example that we want to set for our children? When is a lie okay? I, for one, do not want my children to believe that they can lie their way through life. AND our school district should be ashamed that they not only approve of it,but also encourage it.

  • Timmy

    The FCMAT finding that “The lack of consistency in district leadership and management has affected the district’s direction” displays the committee’s firm grasp on the obvious. The practice of jumping ship in heavy seas is something even the captain of the Titanic would loathe to do. Rearranging the chairs on deck for a better view of the approaching sea is just as bad. Perhaps under local control a steady course can be set and adhered to. Hopefully the swells of privitization of our schools can be calmed under Board leadership.


  • left oakland

    I find the nature of some of these anti-address falsification sentiments to be deeply troubling and pretty damning of “hill mentality.” Yes, I don’t agree that neighborhood kids should be displaced. But attitudes embodied in comments like “non-neighborhood kids behave differently” borders on outright racism.

  • teacher

    left oakland:

    I hear what you are saying but consider it from a different angle.

    — Few people choose to live in a dangerous neighborhood if they don’t have to.
    — Few people choose to live in war zones if they don’t have to.
    — Few people choose to do dangerous activities or eat dangerous foods or do dangerous drugs unless it is fun/exciting/pleasurable.
    — People try not to walk on streets at night where they will be vulnerable.

    Do we call these decisions racist or classist or immoral? Usually not. But somehow if we apply the same self-preservationist decisionmaking to our children it is baaaad.

    I went to urban public schools all my life. I had kids pull knives on me, kids hit me, kids show me their guns to me, gangs ruling the school bus, etc. My parents were facing none of these kinds of safety issues in their daily lives. They exposed me to such dangers because of a combination of political beliefs about education and ignorance about what my days and schools were like.

    Now I’m a parent. My children go to public school and I volunteer during the day when I can. I see the bullies and guess what: White, black or otherwise, they have the same common denominator, poverty and overmatched single parents. I think the school is handling the situation pretty well, so I keep my kids there. But I also know I only see a little bit that goes on, and I know that the stakes will get higher as my kids get older — middle school is where the real violence and psychological intimidation is.

    My overall point: Why should parents be made to feel guilty for making the same kind of safety-based decisions for their children that they make for their self? If we know a poor neighborhood is more dangerous and decide to move out, why is it different — immoral –to avoid schooling our children with poor and emotionally disturbed children observe are more violent and disruptive of learning?

    I’m sure this makes me sound like a conservative, but I’m not. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be a teacher of poor children. I had a successful career and can return to it. I’ve offered myself to the system to try and be of service and the system seems to find use for me. (Whether i’m actually helping anybody is an unknown!)

    I genuinely care about my students, but that doesn’t mean that I think my classrooms, even on a calm day when troubled children aren’t having meltdowns, would be an acceptable learning environment for my own children — it would be like putting a tenth-grader in a room full of fourth-graders. “Differentiated instruction” has severe limits in a grade-based system.

  • left oakland

    to the teacher – I understand your point also. It’s why we moved out of the flatlands of Oakland. However, that’s not what is being discussed. We’re talking about a few leftover seats at some good schools that might be filled with kids outside the neighborhood. (Before anyone gets on my case, I already said that neighborhood kids should not be displaced.) In most cases, I’m sure these seats are being filled by students of motivated parents who are desperately trying to seek a better environment for their children. When we were investigating transfer possibilities within OUSD out of our PI school, I was really amazed to hear hill parents talking about how the student bodies at their glorious hill schools were being polluted with those outside the neighborhood. It’s really sad. And pathetic.

  • Concerned Oakland Parent

    Dear Left Oakland:
    I am not stating that just because someone does not live in the neighborhood they are doomed to misbehave. We actually own a home in a different neighborhood and rented a home in the hills to get our daughter into a “hills school.” Quite honestly, we were afraid of getting caught and having her transferred by falsifying an address so we just leased for a year. But I do have to say that there is a difference in behavior of kids who are not from the area. Generally it appears to be more physically aggressive. The behavior is most noticeable when frustration sets in because of an event on the playground or in the classroom and the children have not been trained to use words and work out difference with words.

    And to Teacher who talks about differentiated instruction: I know exactly what you mean. My daughter’s teacher (second grade) has children reading under 30 words per minute (60 is required) and others who are working at 4th to 5th grade level. She does her level best to differentiate, but it’s nearly impossible when it is required in Oakland to use Open Court reading and Harcourt Math on the same page as every other 2nd grade teacher in the district on the same day with all students. There is very little time left over for differentiation. My daughter’s teacher gives a pre-test for spelling over half the class earn 100% on the pretest. 25% cannot spell even 3 of the 13 words correctly on the pretest, yet all children have the same homework and all children have to take the post-test. And, there is no blame on the teacher. We, in Oakland have said through our voices, tax dollars, borrowing from the state, elected Board Members, etc. that we do not want to have the kids who are ahead in separate classes, set aside and working on separate reading and math projects, we don’t want pull out programs for gifted and we will not allow them to advance to the grade in which they academically qualify because we need those children to raise the scores.

    We have primarily talented teachers in Oakland. We should give them the freedom to do what they need to do to teach all children and give all children the education they individually deserve.

  • left oakland

    Dear Concerned Parent. Your first paragraph is fascinating. You state that did not live in the neighborhood of the desired school, proceeded to lease for a year and enrolled in a hills school. By that account, you are not a neighborhood family. You then proceed to state that the “behavior of kids who are not from the area… [are] more physically aggressive.” Very fascinating indeed.

    Furthermore, by stating that you leased for “a year,” I presume you ended your lease and are now commuting to the hills school. Perhaps technically this is not breaking the rules but is certainly bending them to a significant degree and perhaps even possibly taking away a spot from a true neighborhood kid. Very fascinating indeed.

  • Oakland Hills Parent

    I had the same thought too – what Concerned Oakland Parent is doing may be getting around the rules. If I was a legitimate, long-term resident and my child was displaced because of the actions of a falsifier or someone who bent/broke the rules, I’d be beyond angry. What I wasn’t certain of was if this was a “fake” rental – renting a garage/room for the purposes of the address – or more of a “real” rental where they really moved out of their old house in the flats and into the hills area.

  • hills parent

    I was a displaced parent last year in one of the hills schools. The amount of falsification of addresses in the school is astounding. Administration, both at the school and district level, are aware of it. They have chosen to look the other way. There are teachers in OUSD who falsify their addresses to get entrance into their schools of choice. You would think that this would be an easy one to spot, since all OUSD needs to do is compare the address given to the school to the address in their own personnel records. However, they have chosen to look the other way. Yes, I was beyond angry when I discovered this. However, OUSD claims that they will be correcting this beginning with the 2008-09 class of new students. Only time will tell….the kindergarten applications will be submitted soon.

  • Concerned Oakland Parent

    I am the parent who did, indeed, move into a rented house for one year. And yes, it is within the rules. Once your child is in the school, they may remain if you live within the boundaries of the school district. Does this make others angry? Yes, it does. Is it frustrating for us to not be able to go to our neighborhood school – we are beyond angry.

    You see, when my child was 3 1/2 I took her to an open house at our neighborhood school. She had been in a play based preschool for a year. My daughter hopped along the carpet with the alphabet, then asked the kindergarten teacher if the class bullfrog was “acquired when it was an egg in the jelly or a tadpole.” At that point the teacher looked at my daughter, answered the question, asked her a few more questions. Asked me when she would be attending school – two years away because of the birthday cutoff and said, “if you want to know the truth, we will not have the education your child needs at this school.”

    This is EXTREMELY frustrating. Is she getting a good education in the hills school? I’m not sure, she called a family meeting a couple of weeks ago to say that this year she had not learned anything this school year yet. I don’t know what the solution is. If a teacher at your local school states that they have nothing to offer your child, what would Hills Parent, Oakland Hills Parent and Left Oakland do in the same situation? It would be very fascinating, indeed, to know.

  • teacher

    School in general and public schools in particular have never been particular good places for learning if you are way above or below the peak of the bell curve in intelligence/knowledge/curiousity/motivation. It just doesn’t make sense to build curriculum and base letter grades on the extremes. Special Ed/Gate, etc. are stabs at bridging this gap.

    Here’s another horror story: A friend was taking her daughter to a school near the lake. Second grade. A couple of months into the school year, the girl stopped bringing home reading books. When asked what had happened, the teacher responded that since my friend’s daughter could now read at grade level, according to the tests, she didn’t need to do any more reading for the year! Needless to say, that was the only year they spent in OUSD — they moved to Alameda for the schools.

  • teacher

    To Concerned Oakland Parent: An anecdote your frog story made me thing of:

    One day I was riding casual carpool and the driver and I got to talking about parenting. My kids were in preschool at the time, a Montissori school I really liked. We had this exchange:

    Driver: “Oh, Montessori is GREAT. The only problem is it overprepares them for public school.”
    Me (laughing): “Really? Is that what you’re finding with your kids in school now?”
    Driver: “No. I didn’t send them to Montessori preschool.”
    Me: “Oh. How come?”
    Driver: “Because I wanted to send them to public school and I didn’t want them to be bored out of their minds!”

  • Concerned Oakland Parent


    Great Stories! You’re right about the curiosity and motivation. While I do believe my daughter is bright, she is certainly not highly gifted. I have seen highly gifted kids – and I KNOW she is not one of them. She is very curious about the world in general and motivated to find the answers she needs about how the world works – She followed the election when she was 3 1/2 and is following the election now. She seems to have a democratic bend to her but is not really happy with the candidates and is working on “the perfect chemistry of a President and Vice President to solve the financial, educational and war-filled mess of the current Administration.”

    I also like Montessori – we went to a local Montessori when my daughter was 2 – they had jobs set up on trays – she was using the materials from one tray “job” for another “job” – they gently explained that the jobs would have to remain separate. She asked them why – they attempted to explain – she responded with “Schmattes work best. I have experience with cleaning up lots of messes and schmattes work best.” We moved on to a play-based preschool with lots and lots of mud – and room for curiosity and loads of questions and answers, as well as questions without answers.

  • hills parent

    As a parent of a kindergarten child in one of the hills schools I can tell you that being in a hills school does not guarantee in any way that a bright child’s academic needs will be addressed. Quite the contrary. There seems to be a “one size fits all” mentally to teaching, particularly with Open Court. I can understand why one would move to Alameda or points east. While my child’s emotional needs are being met at her hills school, her time is being wasted academically. As parents we supplement at home with what she shoud, but is not receiving at school.

  • Concerned Oakland Parent

    Hills Parent:
    I, too, supplement using a Saturday language school, after school enrichment, etc. The problem is that frustration is building in my daughter. I know it was silly to think that a hills school would be better – it was the best of our options at the time. I did not want to put my daughter in a private school that I could not afford long-term, so the rented house seemed to be the best thing. All day kindergarten was great.

    We have met with every teacher several times per year. They all love having my daughter in their class and know she is working ahead. They try to differentiate, but must give the majority of their time to the kids working below grade level – this year it’s about 1/3 of the class. This number of children not working at grade level has gone up from 2 children in kindergarten, to 4 – 5 in first grade and is now at 6 – 7 children in second grade. It’s a frustrating trend because it feels like there will be fewer opportunities for her to have differentiated instruction as she progresses.

    I agree also that a hills school is going to be a one size fits all to insure everyone, or close to everyone does well on the tests to keep up with home values and to keep the status of the hills schools high.

  • left oakland

    Probably a pipe dream, but I’d like to envision a more inclusive environment in Oakland. One in which the better off families recognize they are citizens of the same Oakland as the poor of East and West Oakland. One in which the hill families reach out and help those who want to seek a better environment for their kids. The divisiveness that I’ve seen in Oakland added much to our decision (as a struggling middle class family) to leave. I’m very surprised and saddened to hear so much careless talk about the quality of instruction at OUSD, especially from a teacher. This is precisely the kind of rumors that cause middle class families to leave Oakland, depleting $$ and potentially dedicated middle class families from the very schools that need it so much. OUSD cannot survive without middle class family support. Please do not be so careless about driving people away with your so called “horror stories.”

  • turner

    “Left Oakland”,

    Don’t blame the teacher for telling it like it is. The problem with our district is that we do not listen to the teachers when the speak up. These are not rumors that they are spreading. These are actual stories based on their own experiences. How can you fix something if you do not know that it is broken?


  • teacher

    In response to Left Oakland: “Please do not be so careless about driving people away with your so called “horror stories.”

    Ouch. Now I’m a destroyer of the public schools?

    If people make there decisions for their children’s education based on a comment on a blog, I’m not sure what to say about that…

    BTW, I see similar problems in Berkeley. I’m sure they exist everywhere.

    OK, here’s something positive, since I’m being accused of being negative: There are many wonderful children, parents, administrators and teachers working and studying in the Oakland school system. Many people care a lot (sometimes too much, even). I think most of us want this to work.

    Here’s what I would say to any parent (and remind myself): The key is to be AT your child’s school as often as possible. Get a feel for the adults. Get to know other parents. Sit in on class. And yes, I am also talking about middle school and high school, when it might even be MORE important. The strengths and weaknesses of every school, every class are unique.

    And yes, if your kid is not thriving at a school, look for alternatives. The stakes are very high.

  • left oakland

    That’s entirely correct. I should probably have stated this before. I applaud Teacher for his/her incredibly valiant efforts in reaching out and teaching at underperforming schools. Teacher’s post about the real issues that arise out of enforcing disciplinary actions at such schools was very sobering.

    I’m talking about the idle chit chat (re: the lake and montessori stories, etc.) that feeds fear amongst middle class families that their kids will not be served well by ANY OUSD school. I will reiterate my point – If OSUD schools are to improve, middle class families need to be encouraged to enroll and buy into the schools and district. It would nice to see some more outreach and understanding on the part of the hill community that they are citizens of the same Oakland as the poor. It would be nice to see less of the – “ooh, these kids are underperforming and dragging everyone down. They are probably address falsifiers, let’s kick ’em out” attitude.

  • Concerned Oakland Parent

    Left Oakland: Teacher was relaying a story about one idiotic parent who was driving to San Francisco. There are people who believe as the driver does. That should be open for discussion. Also open for discussion is race, tolerance, lifestyle as it affects student behavior and learning, classroom attendance by students and parents / grandparents / guardians / family members.

    I agree with what teacher has to say, and while I have disagreed with some of the thoughts particularly about “hills privilege” and how it is paid for, the information and insight of teacher is what we need to hear to make changes. Also, what is being put in writing in no different that what many of us have thought from time to time but dared to not speak? If we are to move foreword, we must speak the truth.

    Now – you never answered the question about what you would have done if your neighborhood school had told you that they could not provide an appropriate education and you could not afford a private education. I am interested in what you have to say.

  • left oakland

    If our neighborhood school was severely underperforming and there was not sufficient energy/participation from enrolled and incoming families to facilitate enough positive change, we’d up and move. And that’s what we did.

  • Concerned Oakland Parent

    I know before I hit the send button that this is going to drive people crazy – – – but my daughter is pursuing a language course of study that will allow us to have access to the schools on the other side of the tunnel. That was not the reason for the original pursuit of the language, nor is it a reason for continuing the language, but it does allow for the legal use of the schools in the state who offer the language as a regular course of study. She has been in this language school for 3 years and will continue. Oakland, of course, does not offer many languages, even in high school. But there are legitimate uses of the schools in California that do not necessitate moving and do necessitate an appropriate education.

    I would prefer that my daughter stay in Oakland PUBLIC schools to be educated. But the key is and has always been, being EDUCATED.

    There is an element to Oakland life that we are not willing to leave – not even for the education. We want to live in a neighborhood where the children play outside – run across the streets to each others’ houses, build forts and ride skates down hills. We want to have our daughter have friends of every color, ethnicity, religion and parental/guardian status – to the extent humanly possible.

    Our neighborhood school does not have the educational opportunities available not because we do not having sufficient energy / participation – it actually has over 30% of the parents at each PTA meeting and active community support, even by those neighbors whose children are not in the school because their children have moved on past elementary school or because they do not have children at all (huge percentage of our neighborhood is gay/lesbian with no children). It does have to do with the majority of the students in the neighborhood being at a similar place on the bell / learning curve and not the great disparities above or below that curve. That said, there is not the number of special day classes either at the school for kids who will work through an IEP for the remainder of their education.

  • thinking about moving

    Our hills school has experienced declining test scores for the past three years and the instructional practices reflect a “one size fits all” philosophy. It is apparent that OUSD is not looking at this decline. It is not addressing the needs of those students who have already met grade level standards and need to be challenged.There are those of us who are concerned about this trend and see no changes in store. Does OUSD care that they may lose their brighter students to private schools or to other communities? Apparently not! A rigorous and challenging curriculum must be brought into the elementary schools if OUSD intends to stop the trend in declining enrollment. I won’t even go into the flight from enrolling in OUSD middle schools.

  • Concerned Oakland Parent

    Katy: How do other school districts handle kids who are working ahead of their classmates? In Oakland, we do not have a pull-out program for kids who are ahead, whether identified as gifted or not, saying that the differentiation can be achieved in the classroom. I am not finding that to be true

    One teacher at our school recently brought in report cards of her parent or parent-in-law from the Oakland Unified District and the students used to be promoted to the next grade but if you were moving from 3rd to 4th, it could be lower fourth or upper fourth. Have you come across something similar in your travels?

    Thinking About Moving: I don’t know what grade your kids are in, but if in a hills school and they are in the area for Montera, there are some really great advanced classes at the school. I like you, am hoping I can hang on that long.

  • left oakland

    We’re not even in elementary school yet (shopping this year) so I don’t profess to know what’s really going on in the classrooms, but isn’t this called tracking? Wasn’t that ditched in the late 80’s as it pretty much labeled kids and didn’t show benefits for even the gifted kids that were pulled out for differentiated instruction? Certainly was the case for me in GATE – I’d say it had questionable value and didn’t do anything other than give me an ego boost. As we’re shopping for schools now, occasionally a parent will ask about whether or not classes will be grouped based on academic ability and the principals are pretty much unanimous in their dismissiveness toward this approach. Not saying that differentiated instruction shouldn’t happen though.

  • Concerned Oakland Parent

    We have friends with kids in Archway, St. Paul’s Episcopal, Black Pine Circle, Redwood Day and Beacon. Each of these schools seems to be struggling with the same issues of what to do with the kids who are ahead.

    I was in the Mt. Diablo Unified District VERY long ago. One of the things that Larkey Elementary School did was had the pull out programs for gifted – but they also Art History as a class that was taught during reading – so if you were in 4th, 5th or 6th grade and ahead in reading, you were given Art History during reading time. They also had Spanish and French and grouped them by levels of learning regardless of grade.

    My daughter would love to be evaluated for grade-skipping or compacting and is willing to “work as hard as I need to work even at homework” to avoid being bored. She likes school, loves her teacher, but when I asked how school was last night she said “Great!” When I asked what she learned yesterday, she started crying and said she didn’t learn anything new. It was very sad.

  • teacher

    At high school, de facto tracking exists through: AP classes, honors classes, “college prep” classes (really, the lower middle), sheltered classes (for ELD), and special ed resource classes.

    I had one brief encounter with GATE as a kid, in fifth grade. In hindsight, it was one of the three or four most challenging and stimulating experiences I had in school. All we did was logic problems, but man did I love those logic problems!

    I have kids in my classes rotting with boredom because they can do all the work 5 or 6 times faster than everybody else, while other kids rot because they can only make progress when getting one-on-one attention.

    Why is everything all or nothing? Tracking BAD or tracking GOOD. Are we cavemen?

  • left oakland

    Doesn’t tracking happen within the classroom anyway to a certain extent? Kids grouped 5 at a time for reading and math abilities? I’m not a teacher, not even an ES parent yet so I totally defer to you on this subject, Teacher. Tracking in middle and high school is of course currently implemented via Honors/AP curriculum. I thought for ES, the idea is that there is greater flexibility and possibility for movement up or down in the “groups” such that kids don’t label themselves as stupid or mediocre at an early age. Also, a kid may be in the highest math group but the middle reading group and so on. The possibility to mix the kids up for other subjects like history or art also seems valuable as it might give some ordinarily lower achieving kids a chance to shine.

  • Concerned Oakland Parent

    To Left Oakland and Teacher: I agree that we should not make kids feel stupid and that in Middle School and High School there are ways in which to be able to think and analyze. But we had a presentation at our elementary school by teachers. One teacher, a few good and well respected teacher at our school said that she would have to test on material that has not yet been taught so the students would score low. I asked “What if you had a student who tested mastery of the subject before it was taught in your classroom. What would the student do while you were teaching the subject?” There was no suitable answer. The best they could come up with is help their peers. Every child, in every classroom deserves to learn something new every day in exchange for their ADA and 6 hours.

    So while no one should be made to feel bad for not mastering the material quickly – no one should be made to feel bad for knowing the information before it is presented by the teacher.

  • teacher

    Concerned Parent:

    I think it is rare to find kids who know ALL of what a teacher is going to teach, and they can usually have their understanding deepened and solidified, at least if the materials and teacher are decent.

    At middle and high school, standards-based courses always have stuff that even the smartest kids don’t know.

    The problems I see are that mastery comes so easily to some kids and so painfully slow for others. Administratiors/education gurus are really high on systems to support every child, but ultimately these come down to asking teachers and curriculum creators to do more with the same amount of time. For example, you teach a lesson. You realize many of your kids don’t have skills a, b and c to do the work for the lesson, plus they have gaps d, e and f in their knowledge that make the lesson incomprehensible. Now, a good teacher needs to step back and fill those gaps. Is that easy? Of course not, otherwise it would have happened in earlier years or at home. So if you try to fill those gaps with skill-building work, remedial lessons etc. your pacing is shot to hell … and the tests are always looming on the horizon.

    Where tracking is coming back is in trying to deal with this conundrum. OUSD has a reading remediation program for older kids called READ 180 that is getting a lot of positive buzz. It takes up one-third of these kids’ day, sitting at computers that help them fill in the gaps in reading strategies they missed. They can leave these programs when they have caught up and d a significant number are, reportedly. Many of these kids ALSO have a two-period math remediation program to catch up to their peers. TWO-THIRDS of their day is in remedial classes with other students “far below basic” or “below basic” in these two core areas. That means less time in electives, no p.e., fewer “mainstream” classes, etc. But if these programs work (obviously the key) then is this “tracking” bad?

    Tracking turned into a nightmare when it was just a way to dump kids into holding pens where they only fell further behind. As with many things, it wasn’t as much the concept as the execution — which naturally reflected the society’s larger biases around race, class, “difference,” mental illness, etc.

  • Concerned Oakland Parent

    Teacher: What I hear you say about these computer programs is similar to what a friend’s son is doing in SCORE! They paid about $1,500 per month when he was really behind, and then the fees fell as he caught up. He was spending 4 partial days a week in the summer doing reading and math programs. He did catch up. He was behind after first grade and seemed to be working at a K.6 month level in reading and a 1.2 grade level in math.

    It really worked for him. And I hope it works for the kids who are behind. At my daughter’s computer lab they use Reader Rabbit. A couple of the kids continually guess at the answers until they get them right. Two parent volunteers walk around to make sure the kids are actually reading the information and making their best guess the first time around.

    I believe the problem with my daughter and some of the others in the class are that because of a late birthday she missed the cut off. Instead of starting her in first grade, we started her in kindergarten. She had two years of play based preschool doing science experiments and having “on-demand” reading to her – about 2 hours per of reading to her per day, she is quite ahead. And she has acquired language quickly (first word was diaper, syllables intact, at 7 months) and language is what moves students ahead in public school because it is verbal/auditory based learning rather than experiential learning. She does like working with the kids in her class and when we ask her questions about her helping, her response is something similar to “people can be smart and it doesn’t show up with the way they use their brain, sometimes it shows up in their body or their kindness.”

    I believe the upper 3rd grade and lower 3rd grade would work, but how to balance the class sizes because of federal and state mandates would be issues. I wish teachers had more flexibility than administrators with moving the classes around. Meaning one teacher could teach a small reading group who are struggling while another teacher could work with 35 kids who are at or above standard. Teacher flexibility and student resources are the biggest obstacles it seems to me.

  • John

    Left Oakland: Safety is indeed a primary issue, whether on Maslow’s hierarchy or in an Oakland school. The concerned parent who “noticed that as more children outside the neighborhood are enrolled, the more closely the playground behavior needs to be monitored” has a justifiable concern. A segment of Oakland’s cultural diversity is more prone to using physical aggression as a means of conflict resolution. As a long time teacher in flat land schools and, until recently, a life long resident and graduate of Oakland hill neighborhood schools I’ve seen dramatic changes. In the late 1990’s I attended a Black History Theatrical production at Skyline, my alma mater and my wife’s work site. It was readily apparent, in more ways than one, that a white person was NOT welcome at this Afro American history event. This is by no means an isolated experience or observation from my years of association with the Oakland Unified School District.
    You state your “pipe dream” vision of “a more inclusive environment in Oakland. One in which the better off families recognize they are citizens of the same Oakland as the poor of East and West Oakland.” You also note that, “It would nice to see some more outreach and understanding on the part of the hill community that they are citizens of the same Oakland as the poor.” I don’t know what’s in your “pipe,” but your FASCINATING “dream” is that of one community accepting other communities with seemingly no expectation of reciprocation. If acceptance is not mutual it’s NOT mutually acceptable or workable, right Left?

  • left oakland

    I simply hope that the parent community at any good school would be welcoming toward kids and parents who are not from the neighborhood but are seeking better opportunities. I hope that is not too much to ask for?

  • John

    It’s one thing to “be welcoming.” It’s another thing to stay welcoming when/if those you welcome don’t conform to your school community’s behavioral expectations and don’t recriprocate your welcoming attitude. To expect the continuance of a welcoming
    attitude under such circumstances is certainly a “dream,” and “too much to ask” of neighborhood parents at “good schools” where the quality of their child’s education can be impacted by “parents who are not from the neighborhood but are seeking better opportunities,” for, but not better behavior from, their children.

  • left oakland

    Hmm, talking about hypotheticals is not very helpful or useful. But if you are talking about a specific instance where an out-of-neighborhood child is being disruptive and is a troublemaker, well then I’m more than likely to agree with you. Please feel free to quote me at will. Cheers.

  • Hills Neighborhood Mom

    I would not be particularly welcoming of anyone who falsified their address to get into a school AND displaced a neighborhood resident. There are very real capacity issues at many of the hills schools and I have no tolerance for cheaters who contribute to this problem.

    I would, however, welcome any non-neighborhood resident who legally transfered into the school AND contributed in other ways (by attending PTA meetings, volunteering in the classroom, driving on fieldtrips and so on).

  • John

    Left: I guess ongoing circumstances fits your definition of a “hypothetical.” Real life experiences expressed by diferent hill area parent contributers to this blog are “not very helpful or useful” to your purposes, in that they contradict the professed hopes of your “pipe
    dream.” I would also invite you to quote me at will, if you have the will to do so. However, contemplating what I write may cause you some unwanted pipe free dreams.

  • Concerned Oakland Parent

    An example of a student in my daughter’s class that was a legitimate transfer into the school in first grade: When the teacher said “it’s time for everyone to sit in their seats and read from your chosen book.” The student said “What the F**K you say to me?”

    This is not a made up story, but a comment that I actually heard in the class with my own ears. Was the student removed? No, over the course of several months the behavior got better. Then came Summer, and back to school and back to the horrid behavior. This child also pushes in line and gets in kids’ faces (toe to toe, within 3 or 4 inches of another person’s face) and screams, as well as shouts obscenities.

    It’s very difficult to be kind and gentle with this student week after week of the same behavior. Should a now second grader be expelled? No, but the behavior should not be tolerated either. This child has two parents who do not show up to PTA meetings or other school events, drops the child off late in the morning and is not there and has not arranged after care. So while every child deserves to have a safe, loving, academic environment, there should be a standard of behavior and my daughter should not have to deal with daily aggression by anyone.

  • Hills Neighborhood Mom

    Concerned Oakland Parent: that’s absolutely ridiculous that nothing seems to have been down about this kid. I would be horrified if that child was in my child’s class. Young children should not be exposed to such things. I have no problem with a child being expelled for behavior as long as they have been offered help and given time to improve. If things didn’t get better, I think that the child should be removed for the betterment of the rest of the kids in class. I would like to know what the teacher and the principal has to say about this situation?

  • Concerned Oakland Parent

    Hills Neighborhood Mom:
    The principal talked to the parents with the teacher. The teacher was told to handle it because it was a “cultural and socio-economic difference.” Mostly the teacher in first grade successfully used peer pressure to change behavior.

    I don’t really know how to deal with it without sounding like it is a racial issue – and to be VERY clear, this is not a racial issue, but a behavioral issue. I also feel for the kid because he is one of the lowest, if not the lowest performer in the class – he knows it, the kids know it, the teacher knows it and most importantly – the kid knows that the other kids know he’s behind. He’s not unintelligent by any stretch, he’s just aggressive, doesn’t fit in because of behavior and has trouble keeping quiet and paying attention – as the work gets more difficult, the differences in perceived ability will become more apparent.

    I would love to hear from teacher and others what we as parents and members of the school community could do to help this kid. I want to try to help him – otherwise, if I am not engaged in being part of his solution – in my mind I’ll write him off – and this is not something I do NOT want to pass on to my daughter any more than the daily aggression and cursing.

  • Hills Neighborhood Mom

    Concerned Oakland Parent: Thanks for sharing. I feel for you in this situation. I’d love to hear from others about how similar behavior problems are dealt with. I’m sorry but aggressive behavior and swearing (among first and second graders) is not a “cultural and s-e difference”. It’s a problem! Good luck.

    I am very relieved that in my child’s class this year there are no true “trouble-makers”. I expect 1-2 whose behavior is very disruptive, but this year we ended up with a great class – and, for what it is worth – it’s a very diverse class too!