Oakland’s theft problem: Can it be stopped?

computerlab2.jpgMatthew Green, a former journalism teacher at Fremont Federation’s Media High School, wrote a compelling story for the East Bay Express about the continual theft of computers and other equipment from Oakland’s public schools.

Daniel Hurst, principal of Fremont’s College Prep & Architecture Academy, told Green that the school loses $50,000 a year, easily, because of break-ins. Hurst was quoted as saying that the phenomenon was “the cost of doing school in this environment.”

Last summer, after someone swiped 18 brand new Macintosh computers from a locked case on the McClymonds campus, Tribune reporter Jennifer Scholtes did a clip search and found quite a few theft reports.

At the time, then-OUSD spokesman Alex Katz told Scholtes: “There are very limited resources, and we also have 118 school sites. If someone is really determined to break into a school and steal from children, there isn’t much we can do to stop them.”

Is there?

Should the district spend precious resources to hire security to keep watch over the campuses at nights and on weekends, when most of the thefts happen? What, if anything, can be done so that widespread theft is no longer a cost of doing education in Oakland?

image from Torley’s profile at flickr.com/creativecommons

Katy Murphy

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

  • Nextset

    Sue: I worked retail credit a lifetime ago before credit scores were used. I use actuarial scores somewhat nowadays professionally. There are long arguments with people about why the scores in their case aren’t “fair”. It’s a sore subject. Once a factor is shown to correlate with an outcome – such a cancer mortality charts – you can try all day long to ask for an “exception” for yourself. The charts don’t work that way. They predict outcomes in groups not individuals.

    So a good or great SAT score can be a good predictor of success and vice versa. Further factors include race (high SAT scores overpredict success in certain racial groups) and obvious factors such as health. Individuals can be exceptions to their SAT group liklihoods if you want to bet against house odds. No sane person bets high stakes against the odds once the odds reach a certain point.

  • John

    A Tale of Two Once Upon A Time Oakland Preschoolers: In the mid 1990’s I became acquainted with two Hispanic preschool boys from the same family. They were one year apart in age. One of them was my special education student the other was receiving regular education services. The school was largely Spanish speaking.

    What differentiated these boys from other students was their mother, a single parent who cleaned houses for a living. She was adamant that her boys be placed in classes with English (only) speaking/teaching teachers. She was disliked by bilingual (certificated) staff and many Hispanic parents because she wanted her boys to learn English and be academically challenged in that language. She also learned spoken and written English VERY WELL.

    I was very impressed with this parent and appreciated the respectful attitude of her boys. My family and hers became good friends and they lived with us in our Oakland hills home for several years while the boys attended Joaquin Miller, and one of them Montera for JUST a year. Although their transition from a ‘flatland school’ to a hills school was initially academically challenging, they did adapt.

    When the boys were both eligible for Montera Middle School (6th & 7th grades) we helped them navigate to get into a (then) low priced condo in an area of Walnut Creek with high ranking schools. The oldest boy is graduating from high school this year. They have integrated culturally and academically into a solid middle class living environment. Both boys plan to attend college.

    All the credit for their success goes to their hard working mother who understood her boys were growing up in the United States, NOT south of the border. Consequently she insisted that they receive the kind of education that would enable them to take advantage of the opportunities this country has to offer those who acquire the academic, linguistic, and social integration skills needed to succeed.

    This single parent understands that successful integration is largely a function of integrating ONESELF into the opportunity mainstream. A lot of hard work, a defiant attitude, AND decision to get the hell out of Oakland before her boys were at risk of getting stuck in stupid at one of Oakland’s cool hand slapping knuckle bunting high schools.

  • Sue

    Nextset, I think we agree.

    Testing *can* *be* a predictor. But it isn’t *always* a completely accurate predictor. There are exceptions.

    I keep running into the exceptions in my life, but most people don’t. So, most people are satisfied that predictions based on test results are good enough. I’m not satisfied, because I’ve seen the individual, personal consequences of the exceptions – the bad predictions.

    We don’t have a better predictor available, so we’re using the only thing we have, testing. And because I’m hyper-aware of the inadequacies of what we’re using, I wish there were something better to be used instead.

    But wishing for it doesn’t do anything. It’s a fantasy of a perfect education system, where the students who are the exceptions would get exceptional considerations. But we’re not living in my fantasy world, we’re living in the real world with all its limitations.

    So, let’s quit beating this dead horse to a pulp.

    (Off-topic – I love odds calculations. Another quirky, useless talent of mine is doing arithmetic in my head. My husband and sons call me “the human calculator” because I can give them the right answers faster than they can push the buttons on an electronic one. Of course, this means I never, ever go gambling, because I automatically figure out the odds and the house percentage, and I just don’t see anything fun in giving away my money.)

  • Nextset

    John: My viewpoint of the story of the Mexican immigrant housecleaner and her children has a different take. Once upon a time in California, Black Women owned the market for housekeepers. Some of you may have seen the Movie “Corrina, Corrina” with Whoopi Goldberg (set in the early ’60s) or Wanda Sykes role in Jane Fonda’s Monster-In-Law. In the 1950’s and early 1960’s professional class and upper-middle class white families often had black housekeepers – sometimes for 30 years. In great houses the housekeeper had an apartment of her own with a sitting room and a bathroom and a separate entrance. She would take care of her own family if she had one and would keep regular hours with her employer’s family. She would help raise and discipline the kids, do the grocery shopping, fix the meals and clean the house, plan and conduct formal dinners and manage guests from overnight guests to party guests.

    While she was at it she would draw on her empoyer’s resources to get her family members jobs and school placement, take home discarded clothes, appliances, books and magazines, travel with her employer’s family and generally participate in the employer’s life.

    I knew some of these women. One of the most interesting stories (in Los Angeles) was when one of the housekeepers was sent by Limo in a gown and fur to the Oscar Award Ceremony by a grateful friend of her employer.

    Later in life she ran a busy and exclusive catering/party business on the side. She was a stout and imposing woman who had seen everything and could and would bodily remove guests from the house who needed to leave (She’d probably dump the bodies if needed also). The funniest things about these careers were when society women tried to steal each other’s housekeepers – which was worse than stealing a husband.

    Now just try and find black women in these positions now. The positions are not so common but there are lots of them, especially in wealthy neighborhoods with grand houses. Look who’s working in them.

  • Doowhopper

    Nextset, Black women today have much higher aspirations than to be live in maids and nannies.
    This is 2008, not 1960 when white folks used to brag about their faithful “cleaning woman”.
    I was a kid during those times yet never forgot how embarrassed I felt at the plight of these women who were never looked upon as equals by these wealthy white folk.

  • Nextset

    Doowhopper – Aspirations my behind. I’m all for blacks being judges and physicians. That’s not the aspirations of the proletariat. The brights of any color can take care of themselves and their families. When I write about education issues I am mainly addressing the needs of those who work with their hands, not their brains.

    As far as the “plight” of the black domestics – maybe you were in the wrong houses. These women supported their families and sent their children to school and they weren’t feeling sorry for themselves or anyone else. Honest work is never wrong. The black masses can’t even get taken seriously in the marketplace nowadays, especially because the government has imported 20 million Mexicans to compete with them for everything US society has to offer from Emergency Room attention to school seats to jobs.

    I would have prole black girls trained to be the best hotel maids on the market before I’d see them reduced to slatterns raising unwanted kids from a number of absentee fathers. I could say the same thing about getting them trained to be hospital LVNs, or technicians. Proletariat Black Children must be educated to have an entry into the market where they can work up from. Look what waits for them now. Is their any occupational training at OUSD? What occupations?

    As far as being “looked on as equals” – who are you kidding? The women I knew had other places to be and could change jobs with a phone call. They stayed for the time because it suited them. What have we created for Prole girls in OUSD? Who wants them after OUSD finishes with them? Can they even join the Army, no, they can’t pass the admissions tests.

    Take another look at the Wanda Sykes’ role in the movie “Monster In Law” – she was not a “cleaning woman” although she may have started out as one.

    Aspirations are fantasies without these kids being ready and able to win employment in the market from the day they stop attending OUSD which is not commonly a graduation day. What is the black percentage that goes from 8th to 12th grade at OUSD and finishes all the state requirements (and the test) for a diploma? These kids need to be made ready to work at the best honest job they can qualify for (which means the “black english” must go) and I haven’t heard anything OUSD is doing to get them ready.

  • Nextset

    Oh, and my niece is a Nanny. She has a 4 year degree from State Univ in Early Childhood Education and makes $65k a year. Go figure… I was hoping she’d go for something else also.

    Brave New World.

  • cranky teacher

    “Remember, whites are an endangered species in certain fields. They can’t compete as a group with Asians and Jews in fields that play to their ethnic strenghts (Higher IQ than whites). You see the results in the population of the UC School of Engineering and The Nobel Prizes in Chemistry, Physics, and other lab sciences.”

    Nextset is one of those very stupid, very smart people. Very dangerous when combined with racism. He or she has been posing as somebody looking out for black children and now he comes clean with his gene pool nuttiness.

    Or are you going to prove your claims that Asian and Jewish people are smarter than “whites”?

  • Nextset

    Gee… maybe the IQ stats on the US Army draftees going back to WWI? Or maybe just looking around… Remember, these are group averages (you have to keep repeating that to people who think with their emootions). Each group has a number of brights and dulls but the ratios are very different for each group.

    All people are not created equal except before the law. Deal with it.

  • Sue

    Nextset, I think there may be a problem with using US Army draftee stats going back so far.

    When I enlisted in the AF in the early 80’s, women were required to have a high school diploma, but men didn’t have to be high school graduates if they had a GED or were working towards one. If we compared the stats of men against the stats of women during that time, the women’s results would be higher, not because women were smarter than men during that time, but because the “dumber” women were excluded from the sample, and including only the “smarter” women skewed the results.

    I don’t have the documentation to back it up, but there’s a very long history of the military having different standards for different races, so it seems quite plausible that the “dumber” members of non-white groups would have been excluded from the historical sample, and consequently skewed the results.

  • Doowhopper

    All I can say is that I would love to see the reaction of the black teenage girls at Tech and Castlemont when you come out to Career Day and hype The Wonderful World of Housecleaning Careers to them!

    You still believe in the Myth of the Faithful Negro who was “just like one of the family.” So I will dedicate this little ditty to Mr. Nextset:

    “Oh, I wish I was in the land of cotton
    Old times there are not forgotten
    Look away, look away, Dixieland”

  • Nextset

    Oh, and Dewhopper, I had a black housekeeper last year. She flaked on me and I replaced her with a Mexican Immigrant. I found the new one by mentioning to the gardner (also Mexican immigrant) I needed someone. She has 4 houses going at $100/each a cleaning for pocket money on the weekend. She also takes away old computers, appliances, magazines and whatever else I’m done with that she has a use for (in her new SUV). Her kids are going to go to college and I’ll make whatever phonecalls and letters she needs to help. Does this sound familiar?

    You tell your students, if you have any, about this exchange. You sing your song and tell your jokes about the antebellum south. Then watch what happens in 2012 when 20 million new Hispanic Voters act in congressional district and local elections all over the US.

    Brave New World.

  • cranky teacher

    Army stats? IQ Tests?

    Oh, you nailed me there, sage. Nothing less biased than those…

    When it comes to active intelligence as opposed to potential intelligence, it is all about nurture over nature. Parents and communities with more money and/or more education and/or better mental/emotional health and/or a culture which rewards the development of intelligence give better nurture for active intelligence.

    You’re against self-esteem building. I agree with that in so far as you can’t build self-esteem by telling people they’re good. People have to accomplish things that can give them self-esteem that is solid and self-generated.

    I believe the schools would do well to wholesale adopt Montessori’s methods of self-driven, self-guided learning, achievement and intrinsic (rather than extrinic) motivation.

    The current system infantilizes children as mere receptacles for information. Ask a modern student, whether in a middle-class school or a poor school, who is responsible for their learning and they will say, 90%, “the teacher.”

    Most of us who got an education did so by going far beyond the school curriculum — and from an early age — to find other motivations for learning than getting a good grade. Reading novels, building robots, whatever.

    School is bunk.

  • Doowhopper

    Right, and those 20 million new Hispanic voters you are fawning over will vote overwhelmingly for Democratic Party LIBERALS, a group I am sure you have a lot of antipathy for.

    Kind of ironic, huh?

  • cranky teacher

    Because Nextset likes to be a provacateur, this debate has emphasized differences of opinion. However, as you read the whole string you’ll find that almost everybody agrees that “babying” students or lowering standards is generally ineffective and unhelpful to the struggling students.

    What the progressive teacher colleges are preaching these days is Love + High Expectations + Accountability (but not necessarily through standardized testing). Implementing such a regimen with large roomfuls of mostly damaged young people every day, however, is a herculean task. I don’t doubt Michael Jackson and Mr. G are successful teachers with very different philosophies. Looking around the district, however, it would seem that *average* teachers can do little more than keep the conveyor belt bumping forward.

    We need a system where average teachers and administrators and even less-than-average students can succeed. Where success isn’t dependent on billionaire’s grant or superstar superintendent. That means more money, more discipline, higher expectations for parents and students, significantly more time for planning and cooperation, better training, etc. etc.

    Currently it seems we are just hoping to create an army of perfect cyborgs who will march into a classroom, close the door for the year and, without management or support, be strict, fair, charismatic, egoless, frugal, completely self-sacrificing, empathetic, sturdy, healthy wunderkinds who will lead these broken children to health and wealth. These gems do exist — we all remember one or two from our own education — but they are RARE by definition.

    Good luck with building that army. Every year we are told this army is being developed! And every year the district turns over about a third of its teachers.

    I am a second year teacher in Oakland. I *do* care about my kids. I desperately want them to succeed. I try very hard to hold them accountable, to build curriculum that will both intrigue them AND support career and educational futures. I hope to make this my career and stay here in Oakland.

    However, every night I arrive home, as a parent of two, drained and exhausted. My adrenal glands are spent, my brain is a rag and I am obessing over which students are failing, how to make tomorrow better than today, and so on.

    Of course, as a new teacher, this is my lot. However, when I look around and see veterans suffering nearly as much — frustration, exhaustion, despair, so many students failing to learn, to care — I wonder at how I think I can do better? Am I so special?

    It may be that: To be a truly good teacher in this district, you need to either be an efficient genius or work 60-70 hours a week. You will spend significant amounts of your own paycheck on school supplies. You may be harrassed or mistrusted by administrators who have never watched you teach for more than 30 minutes. You may be threatened by kids or parents. You will hear things from your students that will break your heart. You will go home fried, with little left to give your family.

    Is this too dark? Maybe. Certainly there are veterans who keep coming back and giving it their all. I think they are workaholic caregiver types and, again, a minority of the potential job pool. They are terribly exploited, but have accepted that as the burden of doing good and getting to work with kids — many of whom did thrive and return to give thanks.

  • Nextset

    Re: the news about the homeschooling Court Case: I think the Internet advances in education we now see at the undergraduate college level will shortly move into High Schools – we could see non-state (ie church & for-profit) schools running internet “campuses” taking students out of the state high Schools. Hey, the student’s results couldn’t help but improve.

    That will leave a whole lot of the teachers like those above unemployed. I can hardly wait. Life could improve for all.

    Internet=Creative Distruction.

    Oh, Cranky: If you work under conditions like you mentioned you are part of the problem. No teacher should live like that. If that’s what things are like for teachers at OUSD, you should have changed careers a long time ago.

  • cranky teacher

    How am I part of the problem? I don’t see your logic.

  • Nextset

    You’re not expected to.

  • Sue

    I had the same question as Cranky Teacher – how does his/her description of the job of teaching in OUSD contribute to the problems? And how would quitting teaching contribute to a solution?

    I was hoping to read a real answer and meaningful explanation, not a (seemingly rude) dismissal of the questioner.

  • Nextset


    At some point I want to let go of a thread and wait for another one. And I do provoke. Always have. I need to read more of experiences people have with OUSD and hope that my opinion, the rather low one, is off the mark. One can always hope. I have family in Oakland and family in OUSD. I no longer live in the area.

    I’m hoping there will be more posts about day to day life in OUSD schools. My ire is based on the rather awful published annual stats, my own experience in Oakland and with Oakland Public Schools “graduates”. And my belief that a decision has (long since) been made to write off the blacks OUSD serves as uneducatable and undisciplinable. I say they are not. I think toughlove works.

    I remember training a new hire in downtown Oakland in 1974, a young woman of maybe 20 years old. She was unable to operate a standard multiline telephone. She couldn’t figure out how to tell which line was ringing, answer, and put someone on hold. I have a host of other experiences working in Oakland in the early ’70’s with public school products unable to speak English, read and write, whose intellectual curiosity seems to be dead by 19. I don’t believe things have improved at all. My experiences around Oakland now and the stats I see say things are even worse.

    I’m able to remember the 1960’s and this was not the case then. Adults in their 30s today don’t know what it was like when people (meaning the underclass) were better educated (they could read and write), had driver’s licenses, and had jobs and could get one whenever they wanted to change. Everybody was expected to do better than their parents and they actually did. And the BBQ was really good too.

    I’m not clinging to the past, the go-go years are still here – if you are Vietnamese. But I think OUSD needs to come under increasing fire for the poor prospects of the kids they have “taught” for 12 years.

  • http://my.highschooljournalism.org/ca/oakland/fhs/ Lisa Shafer


    You have been invited multiple times in this thread to visit our school. My students would like to meet you and to explain to you — and actually show you — why they think you are off the mark in many of your assumptions and stereotypes of OUSD and of “ghetto” kids.

    But you don’t give us your real name. And we don’t have your e-mail information. My students would be happy to interview you, but they only use real names in their stories.

    Lisa Shafer
    Media Academy

  • Nextset

    Lisa Shafer: I’m declining the invitation. But the more OUSD staff can publish progress at OUSD the better. Do you have any stats on the fate of your students one and two years after they leave your schools?

    What you dismiss as stereotypes I know as experience.

    The last time I was at a OUSD class was Oakland Tech in the very early 1970’s – summer session run by UC Berkeley. Since then I have only had dealings with products of the schools. I am not impressed by the progress of family there. I find what they bring back (currently) from OUSD school is afro-centric leftist fantasies which will make them perishable in higher ed and industry, and worse.

    As far as my assumptions and stereotypes – sorry Lisa, the math and verbal skills at OUSD are documented every year and published statewide and area wide by the Tribune among other media. Moreover, the dropout rates, and other pathology such as pregnancy, VD and crime stats for Oakland are also widely discussed. I have family and friends in Oakland who work in the courts and hospitals – for generations.

    Your students need to re-think the word stereotype. I grew up in the Oakland Area. My family and friends live your stereotype, the ones who haven’t moved away from Oakland to Contra Costa County and States beyond. I’m satisfied I know the continuing decline in Oakland but your particular classroom, no. I certainly hope your own classroom is an exception to the scores coming out of OUSD. But the averages are what they are. So I don’t think I need to see your class right now. They may be great. I hope they are. But I’m not thinking of an individual class – or I would go look.

    As far as ghetto kids… well I see them every day. I need no classroom visit although I have sub taught a lifetime ago at High School level.

    While your class discusses this thread have them review mortality tables for Blacks and Whites in CA or nationally. If you can, compare those tables from 20 years ago to the current ones. Compare the HIV tables from 1980 to today and watch the progress in the numbers black vs white.

    The reason I bring that up is that in my county the typical new HIV diagnosis is a black female age 24 who has been infected nearly 10 years. That group is probably only a few percent of the county population. I’m in Northern Ca and our urban high school (largely black) on top of it’s other problems is a vector of VD (as well as teen pregnancy). Nothing will be done to stop it. I blame the “education” of the public schools for all this, not the parent(s) and not the families. If the schools did their jobs their products would live better.

    Oakland has the distinction of being one of the few counties where your TB program had to be taken over by the state to combat a pediatric TB outbreak due to the failure of your civil service local Health Dept to do their jobs…Supposedly the TB Control staff just stopped field work until Children’s Hospital called in State Health Dept in response to TB cases coming in at elevated levels. I have no illusions as to the East Bay political establishment detecting, reporting or fighting declining conditions for urban black youth. They’d just as soon pat everyone on the head and tell them they’re special.

    My interests are medical and legal (undergrad emphasis in Econ History). That means nowadays I deal with a lot of black folks in a lot of trouble. Those are disproportionately young people. Over the last 30 years I’ve seen things get worse and believe if the public schools functioned as before, this mess wouldn’t be happening.

    I have no intention of going into politics. Like many of my extended family members I will leave CA in time because I believe CA will become unlivable. Fixing the public schools so that it’s products have better average “survival” rates is key. Well it’s just not happening. Your class may be an exception, make it so, but you can’t escape those annual published statistics for OUSD.

    My exchange with Doohopper was lost I think on him. I wasn’t saying that black girls need to be housekeepers and nannies, I was saying that they are (practically) no longer allowed in those fields – the entry level jobs for proletariat are being closed to public school blacks and they don’t even see what’s happening when they can’t get a job that they didn’t want anyway. Bad scene.

    Good luck to all of you. Thanks for the invite. See you on other threads I hope.

  • student

    During 2007 school year at excel high school there was about 20 brand new apple laptops stole from the campus on the weekend. the principal went on the news and talcked about how horriable it was and how could the students do this. but what she didnt say is how the laptops where in a “LOCKED” school in a “LOCKED “classroom in a “LOCKED” safe. and hear is the weird part, no lockes wher broke. and to get into the school and safe you needed a key, and the only people who had keys to the safe was the principal and the attendance person.

    now im not the smartest peron in the world but i believe it ws a inside job.

  • Louie

    Nextset–whoever and wherever you are–your backwards assumptions and racist comments are inconceivable and really just disgusting. I don’t know what part of Oakland you claim you’re from, but it must be from the privileged neighborhood. If you were in charge of things, I’m sure we’d still have Jim Crow laws and black students would have to use “colored” computer labs. You live in a very, very small bubble. I hope you’re not a teacher because no child can ever hope to thrive under your blind bigotry.

  • Nextset

    Louis – Are you a child? Your post sounds childish. One of the features of these excuses for schools is that they train their products to think childishly and to behave childishly to an extent never before seen.

    You seem to believe that other people need to think a certain way rather than what their education, training and life experiences takes them. When they don’t agree with you – especially if they are black – you throw a temper tantrum. Hilarious. Are you black?

    How’s that working for you? What do you do for a living? What’s your education and training exactly?? Do you have a job – or an advanced degree in anything?

    Look around and see how you are doing against others in this society – stop and wonder why the difference.

    I don’t expect anyone to agree with me – people are individuals and do whatever they damn well please. I see people who’ve destroyed their health, wealth and are on the way to institutionalization on a daily basis. Some of them I liked. But it’s their life and their future. If I feel like it I can go to the funeral or visit them in jail. Gee – don’t bother with that much.

    So back to you. You throw a hissy fit online because you don’t like somebody else’s opinion? Did you do this in your high school or did they let people express & articulate non-PC opinions in your school? Bad schools are like that. I went to good schools. Not much of them left in urban public schools.

    So good luck with your life. You may need it in this Brave New World.