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.

  • Sue

    This is one of the reasons DH stopped building and giving away computers from donated spare parts. It’s really, really painful to give a kid (or a classroom) a computer, and then have it disappear.

  • Richard

    Many of these thefts are inside jobs! Our school was broken into using a key, and then the thieves tried to make it look like they broke in by shattering a window or two. What about the theft of the ENTIRE Mac Lab from the district computer center, probably the most secure place in the District? How do you unlock and walk away with 30 enormous iMacs from a secure building without breaking any windows or doors? It is a HUGE problem, and our school is VERY reluctant to replace the $10,000 worth of stolen computers we’ve lost this year.

  • Katy Murphy

    How much of the money to replace stolen equipment comes out of a school’s budget? Does insurance cover some of it?

    I’d like to hear your opinions on how essential computer labs are to schools. Do teachers and principals ever think about going `old school’ (textbooks and paper) to reduce the security risk and maintenance costs? I feel like a dinosaur just asking that question, but someone needs to ask it…

    Ben Chavis, former principal of the American Indian Public Charter School, told me last year that he decided not to have a computer lab so he could spend money on other things his students needed and the school wouldn’t become a target for theft.

    “What are they going to steal? Books?” he asked.

  • Richard

    The computers were not part of the lab but classroom machines that students use for focused work during class time. Given the Digital Divide that already exists in Oakland and the nation, it is a sad statement that children who attend schools in wealthier neighborhoods have secure access to technology while former Oakland principals like Ben Chavis saw fit to forgo “theft targets” at the expense of his students education . While insurance does cover most of the cost of the stolen items, it still can take several months to process and replace the equipment. It also does nothing for the morale of the teachers and students who discover their classroom vandalized on a recurring basis.

  • Katy Murphy

    I agree that it would be inequitable to have computers in some schools and not in others. It also seems to me that the current situation, with respect to technology, is inequitable as well.

    Given the likelihood of theft, and the terrible feeling children and teachers must experience when their classroom is broken into (not to mention months without the equipment), I am just curious about how, exactly, computers are used in schools, and how essential they are to a child’s education.

    I should note that Ben Chavis doubted the educational value of computers. He explained to one of his new hires — in much more colorful language, of course — that his students were far behind in reading and math, and that they could build those skills without computers. So I don’t think he perceived his decision as detrimental to his students’ education, whether or not it was.

  • cranky teacher

    A lot of expensive stuff which teachers bought with their own money — laptops, projectors, etc. — so they can do their job is also stolen, leading to despair and frustration and contributing to teacher burnout.

    The value of computers in schools can easily be overstated. However, in today’s world, if you can’t manipulate Windows, type papers and do research online, you are not ready for the office or college.

  • Nextset

    War Zone Ghetto Schools should hardly be stocked with expensive goods. The best equipment should be at the schools that are not populated by “troubled” types and that are in safer neighborhoods.

    That goes for the teacher materials also. You don’t take a nice car into a bad neighborhood and park it – same thing with teacher owner property, materials and commuter vehicles.

    Equity is not the issue. Practicality is. You don’t put nice things in the ghetto because it’s a waste of time and money to do so. It’s not like the ghetto doesn’t like being the ghetto.

  • Doowhopper

    During all the years I have subbed in Oakland,I have almost NEVER seen students use computers for authorized academic work.They are always on My Space,checking their e-mail or going to music and merchandise sites.
    The question I have is:Why is there not some sort of filtering system the school can put in to block these sites?Of course I admonish the students to focus on the proper material but five minutes later they are back to the entertainment sites again!

  • elliotness786

    “it is a sad statement that children who attend schools in wealthier neighborhoods have secure access to technology while former Oakland principals like Ben Chavis saw fit to forgo “theft targets” at the expense of his students education .”

    if i remember correctly, Ben Chavis’s school had some of the best test scores, if not the best, in the Oakland…so what’s your point?

    computers are not a panacea. it’s a tool and people if need to be taught to use it as such – only if they are open to being taught. if they aren’t then it becomes nothing more than another thing to entertain and distract kids, which unfortunately just about all it is right now, with a few exceptions.

    the problem here isn’t poverty or lack of materials – it’s the attitude. go to places where people are REALLY poor…like raw-sewage-running-in-the-streets-poor…living-in-a-shack poor, no-running-water poor and they don’t act like folks here.

    there’s a cultural thing to being “poor” in America that you really see other places.

  • cranky teacher

    Doowhopper: At our school, all computers on the network are blocked from certain sites like MySpace and YouTube.

    But to block the entire Internet would be counterproductive.

    “Admonishing” students or blocking them are not the best solutions. Accountability for work produced probably is.

    Personally, I think the use of computers in schools should be limited to well-policed resource centers like the library or a computer lab. More effective are programs to get cheap machines into kids’ homes. At the high school level, not having a computer at home is a big handicap for any class that requires essays or research.

  • cranky teacher

    Remember: The big jobs like a whole lab getting ripped off are probably done by adults, some of them employed by OUSD.

  • John

    In war zones they build cement bunkers, why not re-design Oakland’s ghetto schools accordingly. The computers could be set right into the bunker walls and framed in steel with keyboards set & steel framed into cement blocks. The computer screens could be made of the same clear plastic material used to protect bank tellers at ghetto area bank branches.

    Do it, because “a mind is a terrible thing to waste!”

    Seriously Sue!

  • Sue

    How do you pay for all that construction? Seriously, John.

    Wouldn’t it be cheaper to just shut down OUSD, and send all the students to other districts? And wouldn’t that be more in line with your one basic premise – get out of Oakland.

  • Teacher

    What do students do with computers anyway? My students put out an award-winning newspaper with their inner-city Oakland computers. I am sickened by some of the comments on this blog that suggest my students shouldn’t have the technology because they live in the ghetto.

    I invite those who post such negative comments to come into my classroom lab on deadline day and see how hard ghetto students are working. Actually, they can come in most any day and see students hard at work on their computers, using Photoshop, InDesign, Microsoft Word and, yes, the Internet for their production. I have not seen too many suburban newspapers in the Bay Area that are as professional looking as the one my students put out. One silver lining about the break-ins — my students get great practice in crime reporting. (Now, I suppose some naysayer will say that the ghetto journalists must have stolen the computers to be able to write the story!)

  • Mr. G

    Last year, my first year as a teacher in Oakland, my car was stolen. It was recovered about a week later. Everything inside the car and trunk was stolen, except an algebra textbook.

    It seems hard to justify spending tens of thousands of dollars on computers when not all of the students who want to succeed can read at grade level or pass their other classes. Money is a limited resource. And when resources are scarce, you have to decide what is most important and prioritize. Students who want to succeed in college should learn to use computers, but they MUST be able to read and write.

    There should be more technical and trade school options for students with plans other than college. Students should have updated textbooks and access to individual or small group tutoring if they are below grade level. A sensible and legally acceptable plan to deal with students who do not want to learn should be developed and supported.

    Once all of this is accomplished, and you’re no longer in triage mode, then you can start thinking about all of the things it would be nice to have in the classroom.

    I’d like a big screen TV and a new car, and I could afford to get them, but not if I want to pay my rent and eat. Factor in that these items might get stolen and it becomes even clearer what an awful decision that would be.

    School districts and governments are as fiscally responsible and pragmatic as the typical American. Therein lies the problem.

  • Richard

    The level of implicit racism behind many of these comments is astounding! “Ghetto school”, indeed! Come spend a day at my school in deep East Oakland, and learn how resilient, compassionate, and brilliant these children are. On second thought, stay away. We don’t need your poisonous attitudes.

  • Ben Schmookler


    Please come to the Media Academy anytime unannounced and see how the students use the computers. The Media Academy has passed the Williams inspection every year and every student has up-to-date books. All teachers and students get the supplies they need. I cannot believe someone would say that in the information age we live in that our students do not need computer skills. By the way, Mr. G, the rent is paid, we have big screen TVs, digital projectors, DVD players, digital cameras and computer labs. The students use all of the equipment to create class projects, develop a newspaper, create movies and write research papers. The problem is people want to steal them and that is the shame of it all.

  • Katy Murphy

    I’ll be sure to take you up on that offer, Ben. I should mention that I have seen some of the impressive work that has come out of Media Academy, much of it a product of technology.

    Getting back to my first question, how do you think the theft can be stopped, or at least curbed? Are there any (relatively) simple solutions that haven’t been tried?

  • Nextset

    Oh, by the way, Richard, when I mean that OUSD should establish an academic high school open to all by application. I also mean no student should set foot on that campuses if they aren’t already reading at grade level and better, with deportment histories to match. Students unable to maintain a C average, or attendence or deportment issues would be sent down to their old schools. Maybe the Skyline Campus would do for starters.

    In this way OUSD could restore some integrity as being a “School” District and provide a path out of the ghetto for all students of color who have potential. Just establishing such a school would raise property values in Oakland which is needed to get the financial & political support of the taxpayers.

  • Ben Schmookler

    Hire a Night Watchman. We have offered to pay for it with our site budgets but it has not happened. Until then the robbers have all night to work through the walls. Yes, they have cut holes through inside walls to get to the next classroom.

  • Christina- student from Media Academy

    First of all, how dare anyone say that students shouldn’t have computers in a school that is in the ‘ghetto’, what happened to the equality? What you are basically suggesting is to keep inner-city youth of color at a disadvantage from privileged students that attend schools in outside of the ‘ghettos’ you all speak of.

    It is funny to me that most of you have such a sense of how my neighborhood really is, but I bet none of you have ever really spent time in it. It is not just a ‘ghetto’ but home to many that are deserving of such things like computers. On that note I would also like to extent an open invitation to anyone that would like to see our campus and maybe after your visit your close minded views and perceptions might change.

    Being the editor in chief of my high school newspaper my staff and I put the computers to good use and with out them none of us would have really gotten a sense of what it really takes get a paper out. We have all put in countless hours into something that our school is proud of and that could never be done without the use of computers. so in response to Mr. Doowhopper, that is what we do and not just play around.

    But I think we are all losing sight of the real issues that have nothing to do with computers. It seems to me that what you all are bringing up are the problems of the city in which the school is in and the surrounding neighborhoods because that is where the theft and violence are not just in the school. Seeing as how you all have quickly come up wit band aid solutions I suggest you put your effort into solving the real issues that continue to remain unsolved and affect the community.

  • Sue

    Well said, Christina. I like Ben Schmookler’s idea too, if there’s money for it.

    I don’t think school theft is suddenly a problem in Oakland, either. When I was in high school, way back in the stone age, the fancy state-of-the-art IBM Selectric typewriter that was shared between the school newspaper and yearbook staff was stolen from our resource room. It was replaced (before Prop 13 schools could afford many things they can’t now) and security was improved.

  • Katy Murphy

    If there’s money for a night watchman at Fremont Federation (and possibly other schools), then what is the hold up? Does anyone know?

  • Nextset

    Christina: Glad to see you participating in the blog.

    But it is public discourse. When you use terms like “how dare you” you sound like a petulant child. The tone of your writing suggests that district taxpayers are people who owe you something, and you feel betrayed or cheated. We don’t owe you a crust of bread. You need to get used to it because in this Brave New World the “adults” have made for you to grow up in, you will find that things are tough and about to get tougher. The taxpayers do not have to “fix” you or your neighborhood, or provide you with things you desire (like good equipment).

    Your school district’s verbal scores are some of the worst in the nation. Your cohort will soon turn 18 and have to live in that condition. I hope you do as well as you possibly can in developing your own verbal and math skills and chose well among the possibilities as you turn 18 and have to leave High School. You concern for the rest of the town at this stage of your life is misplaced. I suspect you are being taught to “care” for everyone – take care not to “care” so much you don’t take care of number one.

    Withdrawing the computers or not replacing them when stolen does not “deprive” “youth of color”. You get what the school board provides in their discretion for your educational program and you are not entitled to anything because you want it. There is no obligation for the schools to run identical schools around the city. It is good and sufficient if the schools provide a variety of educational programs suitable to the abilities of the students such as Univ of CA entrance classes on one campus for those that can function or wish to attempt to function in such a program, and VOC ED and HOME ED elsewhere.

    I also want every single student to be qualified to join the Army (the non-qualified ratio for blacks is horrendous), be qualified to find and start a vocational training program (respiratory therapists make 60K a year), pursue higher education if able, or do something for themselves other than have unwanted children and go on welfare or get addicted and go to prison.

    Whether your particular group works on computers or old manual typewriters is not a big deal with me. If I were running OUSD you’d all be running like hamsters on a wheel. Getting through the school years and into life requires work and discipline, something that I don’t see existant in OUSD.

    Understand me, all people are not created equal except before the law. Some people are luckier than others, some have better families, some are smarter, some have better people skills. You will see that you are not going to always be given things, such as replacement equipment just because you are here. The district is simply not required to give every local campus equipment to be stolen or destroyed.

  • Mr. G

    Though he seems to have misplaced his subtlety and tact, nextset is mostly right. Principal Schmookler, you hit your growth target last year, and that is commendable, but with an API score of 550 I don’t care how pretty your websites, school papers, or class projects are, you’ve got a lot of kids who need to spend less time in front of a computer and more time learning to read, write, and do math.

    And I wasn’t saying that our school can’t afford the supplies it needs, I was using an analogy to explain why sometimes you have to prioritize. And if you’ve got all the money in the world, your school’s scarce resource is time. I’ve got a whole class of kids who would love to create media projects, but they also want to go to college and get good scores on the SAT. I only have them for so many hours, and though I know they need computer skills, I also know that it is more important – even in the age of technology – that they be able to read well, write well, and do math well. They can take a basic technology class at college, but an SAT prep class won’t be helpful at that point.

    Students must have the advanced technological skills needed to navigate modern society and compete in a modern economy, but not before they have a solid foundation in all of that boring stuff they tought 50 years ago.

    You sound very proud of all your computers, plasma TVs, and digital cameras. I’m sure they are all very nice and shiny. I prefer a classroom full of kids who can work at grade level, who are willng to spend hours each night on their assignments, who show up every day – even when they are sick, and who never require babysitting (only teaching).

  • Richard

    Katy: One of the things that the District can do is investigate the numerous incidents where it is clear that theft is likely to have been committed by employees or by people with access to employees’ keys. There have been two thefts at our campus where the intruders had keys. The major theft at the District Technology Learning Center was certainly an inside job. Many years ago at Montera, it was rumored that an employee was stealing equipment (the rumor maintains that the accumulated equipment was found in his home). Security guards are a fine idea, but who guards the guards?

  • Lisa Shafer

    Our aim at Media Academy is not to simply put out a “pretty” newspaper using computers and fancy design software (Although the school paper usually earns high praise for its visual appearance.) It is the content and the process of the paper that matters. The students write powerful stories. They interview sources. They fact check. They analyze data. They write and rewrite. They edit work by classmates. And the students at Fremont READ their work and talk about their work.

    Practicing journalism — and using a computer to do so — is not a frill of education. The writing my student journalists do may be the most authentic type of writing practice they can get for the real world. Even though I am also a credentialed English teacher, I feel the writing assistance I give my students in journalism class is much more meaningful than what I was able to offer in a traditional English Language Arts class.

    Students in my class also uphold a journalistic practice of not publishing comments or letters from writers unless they are willing to include their full and true names. It prevents a great deal of purely hateful mail. I wonder if the Tribune should change its policy for this blog.

    Again, any of you are welcome to visit our class to see what we do. You are welcome to see learning that can’t be measured neatly on an API scale of 200 to 1,000.

    Lisa Shafer
    Media Academy teacher

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

    Please feel free to look at the Media Academy online newspaper to judge for yourself if the writing done in my class is valuable.


  • http://none Michael Jackson

    NEXTSET and MR G
    Hopefully, you are not teachers or connected with education in any way because you could do serious damage to the hearts and minds of future Americans.
    Do you really believe that part of town you joyously label “the ghetto” deserves no remediation? Do you really want to deprive anyone who lives there by the accident of geography simple access to the world through computers?
    Nextset and Mr. G, you have NO IDEA what it is like to teach today’s students. They are indeed often woefully underprepared and unmotivated, but they have dreams and feelings and souls that deserve nurture.
    Do you think it is as simple as “read this book”, “write this essay”, and “behave”?
    I dread reading your correlation between test scores and future predictions for employment. (IE do you think that low test scores=prison, minimum wage job, etc?)
    The idea of a school for the grade level kids ONLY is called “private school”. Public schools get every students kicked to the curb by the private schools, as well as students who can’t afford the private school peer group, and kids whose parents actually believe in public education. (Like me.)We public school teachers are obligated to teach them all, be kind to all, even feed them all.
    For all of your “reality” comments, your solutions will only increase the divide, digital and in most other ways. What is it, exactly, that you propose for the future of American youth? I read your comments as heartless and smugly satified with the status quo. Congratulations on being you.
    FYI Any sub like DOOWHOPPER who lets students do anything and everything they want on computers is getting paid a low wage, is disrespected shamefully, and reflects badly on subs who actually care about kids and have a shred of pride left in their work ethic.

  • Nextset

    Michael Jackson: I have taught at Jr College & High School level. My family were school teachers back to the 19th century, at every level of education, from segregated schools to Cal State Univ & HSBCs.

    Please tell us something of yourself so I can try to understand what you are saying and where your viewpoint is coming from.

    You seem to confuse patting students on the head with educating them. My line of teachers were rather notorious for not being “feel good” teachers. Our students became university educated professionals – a rare thing for Blacks in the mid 20th century. The teachers I identify with were the ones who prepared students for everything life could throw at them, not fill them up with false achievement and false self-esteem.

    Students today, especially the black students, are treated like fragile eggs who shouldn’t be shook. That’s the wrong thing to do. The situation is so bad I suspect that the OUSD students wouldn’t know what to do if ever were placed into a real school. Their test scores and mortality tables reflect this.

    That you are even peddling this “hearts and minds” nonsense tells me you are either young or hopelessly naive. Neither you or the students we speak of will know what they were actually capapble of when they are babied all their lives at Oakland Schools. They certainly won’t be ready for any competitive training. They won’t be ready to make tough decisions either.

    That is the way I see it. For many decades I and my family and friends in education have routed students into various professions and careers. So as you can tell, I am extremely comfortable opining on the subject. What OUSD is doing to black students is no education.

    Other’s can explain their own points of view.

  • Nextset

    Sorry about the typos…. in and out here!

  • Mr. G

    Sometimes I feel like I’m beating my head against the wall in these discussions.

    I said nothing about “ghetto” kids or neighborhoods. Please don’t misquote me. I’ll say plenty of things you won’t agree with, no need to attribute other thoughts to me.

    Kids have access to computers. They can go to libraries if they don’t have their own. Schools are not required to provide them. For a typical high school student (and college student, for that matter) shared computer labs are sufficient. They may not be ideal, but they are sufficient. Computers at libraries will do the trick for most students. Students who need “access to the world” can use public computers and read newspapers. What world are they connecting with while at school? Is high school about connecting with the world or learning the basic skills that will allow you to earn a living and succeed in that world?

    MJ, you (and people like you) are the reason that our schools are such a mess. You make excuses for bad behavior, accept low performance, and refuse to set high standards and hold kids (and more important, their teachers) accountable. It is a messed up form of racism that says math and English are too hard for some, so we’re going to have them do something else. That is just great. Perhaps their future employers will modify their job duties so that they can complete the required tasks without adding and subtracting, writing letters, and reviewing reports. Maybe they can create a power point presentation (with lots of misspellings, of course) instead of taking the SATs.

    Kids only do what you hold them accountable for. MJ, you suggest that holding them accountable for the fundamentals is wrong. Have you looked at the released test questions for the state tests? It isn’t rocket science. Teachers make excuses for the kids who fail because they are scared to death that they will be held accountable for their classes’ performances. Well whose fault is it? The standardized test Gods? We should all just stand around pointing fingers at one another. That is productive. The kids fail to learn, the parents blame the schools, the teachers blame the state and their mean principals who won’t let them teach, and the state sends the blame back to the schools. How about, learn what is expected or do it again next year. Behave and work hard or be separated from the people who want an education.

    Maybe you’re right. Perhaps we should wait and see what happens to all these kids who have computer access but can’t work anywhere near grade level. Hey, maybe they’ll be able to transfer some of those skills over to running the register at a local fastfood joint. Those are the hopes and dreams of all the high school students I talk to.

    If demanding hard work, discipline, and pride is a bad thing, then I’m a lousy teacher. Do I expect my esl students to beat my native speakers on the STAR? No. But I’m also not going to let up on them because it is harder. When something is difficult, you have to work harder, not let up.

    This isn’t directed solely at the media academy. I do not doubt that they are doing some amazing things over there. But in general, we are screwing kids up, making excuses for them and letting them do what comes easily instead of making them work hard to improve what is most difficult. It makes me sick and it scares me to death. I’m tired of hearing about the violence, the drugs, and the crime. Kids who have hope, don’t do these things. MJ, say what you will, but the kids in my class don’t do these things. They know better.

  • elliotness786

    Ditto on Mr. G’s comments…

    for more on public schooling, its development, and history read John Taylor Gatto’s “The Underground History of American Schooling” or “Dumbing Us Down”…

    it’s a racket, folks…

  • http://none Michael Jackson

    30 years still teaching in OUSD. I walk the walk every day. Ask anyone who’s ever had me. No slack no excuses, I agree.
    I just think it’s wrong to take away enrichment from underserved kids because they are not yet up to speed.
    As for Mr. G–your taunts are–so you–nameless and indefensible. I’m satisfied to have outed you have as an EL teacher who only sees his own perfection.
    You have more time on your hands than I do, so I won’t try to defend “people like me” either. That phrase is as telling as “crust of bread.”
    Christina is a super kid, by the way, and will go very far at whatever she wants to do in spite of any further rounda of superficial suburban-fantasy judgments others may spew.
    No matter what standardized tests say to you, my city kids are every bit as good as yours.

  • Nextset

    MJ: They are as good as “my kids” because you say so? Despite contrary standardized tests scores? In your dreams.

    Standardized tests are used to indentify hidden talent that should be developed and brought forward. Depending on the scores they also identify students who have no aptitude for advanced study. If you have an 11th grader – and I’ve interviewed them for scholarships – that read at 6th grade level, THEY AREN”T GOING TO DO UNIVERSITY LEVEL WORK. It’s just that simple.

    You are right about one thing, the student’s I’ve worked with were handpicked for acceleration based on their test scores and grades. I suppose it goes without saying that at the high end the deportment issues are not a significant problem. Some still don’t make it but most are smart enough to behave well. It’s been my experience that there is a typically problem with the behavior of dumb students. They just don’t grasp the consequences of the short sighted behavior.

    In any event, I don’t do Special Ed. What is EL anyway?

    As far as Christina – my point to you and her is that she will not accomplish what she could have without a challenging school experience and mores to go with it. OUSD is not known to be in the business of teaching either. I hope she does well, because when the OUSD kids compete with mainstream university level students they are roadkill. By that I’m talking about the Univ of CA drop rate for Black students. What are you and your school doing to prepare students like Christina to meet UC entrance requirements and to thrive in such an environment? Is she after that anyway? I don’t know.

    As far as taking away enrichment from underserved or such nonsense – the topic of this thread is the OUSD getting equipment ripped off. Do you think the school board grows money on trees? My post is that the better equipment and programs should go to academic programs and lower functioning students should be tracked into industrial and vocational training (which costs money also). It’s more important to give lower functioning students driver’s ed and voc ed than to give them computers and academic classes. I have no idea of the performance levels of your class but you are OUSD.

  • Barb

    I have never written to this blog before, but I feel compelled to. Considering the volume of insulting stereotypes imbedded in peoples’ comments, I think Christina’s comments were pretty low key and she had every right to challenge these views. I’m glad that there are young people who are willing to stand up for their communities, even though they risk being “slapped down”. And we wonder why these young people grow up so angry!

  • Katy Murphy

    I must say, I’m sort of at a loss for words.

    The above exchanges reveal how passionate people are about education, particularly in Oakland. They also show how divisive the public school system’s challenges can be.

    I think it’s healthy to air (most) sentiments, and that it’s good to argue and debate points – even unpopular ones. If someone seems to have a gross misconception, in your opinion, they are probably not the only ones with that idea. I say, better to debate the point so that others on the sidelines can make up their own minds about the truth.

    On the other hand, it’s easy to see how some could be offended by the characterization of Oakland’s low-income youth (and their teachers) that surfaced here. I also understand why some might favor a move toward a full-name, registry for blog comments. After all, that’s how the editorial page works.

    Lisa Shafer, a former reporter, herself, posed a tough question to me about anonymity, and I don’t have a good answer for her yet. Some blogs do have stringent registry policies (and the software to execute those rules). We might get there one day, but for now, I’m doing what I can to encourage participation while crossing my fingers that the discussion stays relatively civil.

    (As an aside: How many of you would continue to post comments if you had to give your full name?)

    In the meantime, please try to keep in mind why I started this forum in the first place: to address and debate complicated educational issues in Oakland, but without getting too personal.

  • Doowhopper

    Uh, Mr Jackson, let me comment on your commentary.
    Sir, I am a substitute teacher, not a law enforcement officer. Of COURSE I encourage students to carry out the assigned lesson plan. That is my JOB.
    Lets say I have a CAHSEE Prep class and the assignment is to practice math questions on the computer. I transmit that lesson to the students and ask if there are any questions. I also offer to assist anyone having trouble. Then five minutes after taking roll, I notice that nearly every student is on MYSpace or at a shopping site! I then reiterate the assignment and instruct them to stay on track. I get completely ignored. Should I unplug all the computers? Should I call security in? Should I give referrals to all the miscreants? I don’t think so.
    Frankly, Mr Jackson, such large scale disobedience did not begin upon my entry into that classroom. The regular teacher obviously never made it clear to his classes regarding the importance of respecting the lesson plan left for a sub. I am way too old to play cop. If the students tell me to “buzz off” in so many words, I am not about to physically confront them. I WILL leave a note describing the situation but, sorry, I am not going to play hard guy with young people twice my size and one fourth my age.

  • Doowhopper

    By the way, the incident I described in the previous post did NOT happen at Fremont.

  • Nextset

    Katy: I appreciate you crossing your fingers, and also speaking out when you want the dialog re-directed.

    You have an Education blog on your hands. You seem to have focused it on Oakland Unified School District, not Berkeley, San Francisco or Piedmont.

    People who work in OUSD such as Mr. Jackson may not be aware of the anger the local property owners, employers, taxpayers and families of Oakland feel towards a school district that produces some of the worst stats in California. They need to hear it. If people have the wrong information about the value of OUSD people need to hear that also. That’s what a blog does. The exchange is likely to be heated until various sides understand the other. If you didn’t have this blog those sides would never learn to understand.

    I once worked in downtown Oakland in the early 70’s in (large chain) retail and my employer told me that they would not hire OUSD people, former students. I asked where the black employees came from – he said, Catholic Schools and other school districts. That was 1973.

    I believe the stats for OUSD’s math and verbal scores are worse since then. I have family currently attending OUSD High School, other generations of relatives taught in OUSD.

    I believe just adding an academic High School such as SFUSD’s Lowell High School would directly improve property values at opportunity for the students, but it will not happen under the current political machine. However the demographics are changing and the future may not be the same as the past.

    I will stay Civil, but my “message” is not what Mr. Jackson & Co. want to hear – which is why he should be paying attention. The day is coming when change will be forced without much of a discussion. Whether my critics can see it or not I want a lot more for the OUSD students in thier lives than I believe they are being given by the OUSD status quo.

    So the critics understand where I am coming from,

    I don’t believe poverty or broken homes are relevant to school performance. Students can perform in school with a screwed up family and no money. We have a century worth of examples of this. OUSD is full of excuses for rotten performance.

    I believe discipline comes before all the book learning in primary and secondary schooling. OUSD does not accept this.

    I believe that people are not created equal and that students have different abilities and needs in education. One size doesn’t fill all. OUSD doesn’t accept this.

    I can’t say if bad teachers are involved in OUSD failures or bad administrators prevent anybody from teaching and learning. Or a combination of both. I don’t worry about bad students causing the failures because if you have them from 1st grade the students will pretty much perform as they believe they are expected to. While an IQ of 85 cannot perform college level work they can behave and perform honest work to support themselves. With good training they can accomplish more than expected.

    I don’t expect the schools to require hands-on help from the parents to educate the children, it’s nice but optional. OUSD periodically blames the parent for the child’s failures when the school failed the family.

    I don’t know the posters above, their classes may have fine results – they should tell us how they are doing. I’m only working from the annually published stats and stories.

  • Nextset

    I re-read my earlier posts, the scholarship interviews I mentioned were not done at any OUSD High Schools. Sorry if there was any confusion. I have no personal knowledge of any of the teachers or students referred to at OUSD. I did find that experience deeply troubling in that the students were so close to graduating and so unsophisticated in the college admission process they were going through, and in most cases woefully unprepared. Other impressions with Northern CA urban High Schools on career days and campus visits were that the schools were damaging the students by operating in a shabby manner, similar to the complaining posts I see from subs here.

  • Sue

    “Standardized tests are used to indentify hidden talent that should be developed and brought forward. Depending on the scores they also identify students who have no aptitude for advanced study.”

    Sorry, Nextset, but I feel you’re putting wa-a-a-ay too much faith in standardized testing.

    I was one of those kids who could take any standardized test, anytime, anywhere, with or without any advance notice, and get a score that would *scare* my teachers. But I’m not the genius that those sky-high scores led my parents and teachers to believe I was. I just happen to have an aptitude for test-taking.

    It’s served me well over the years, sometimes. Sometimes it’s gotten me in over my head, because it led to expectations in the real world that I couldn’t meet.

    With my older son who has autism, I see exactly the opposite. He’s bright – absorbs information like a sponge and can make connections and draw good conclusions, if one knows how to get him to respond – but he *tests* in the retarded range.

    It seems to me that standardized testing is over-used, and results are not reliable enough. I don’t know what we should be using as an alternative, but there’s got to be something else that would be better.

    And I can site more examples than the two I gave above of the poor correlation between test results and real-world success. But I tend to get way too long-winded!

  • Nextset

    Sue: Are you saying that standardized tests are unreliable to document a student’s ability to read at grade level, or higher or lower? Or to document writing ability? How about PSAT math scores – do you disbelieve they are a reliable way to rank math skills? I support teachers that testing should not be done weekly or monthly. I agree that statewide standardized testing should be done on Saturday or some other time that does not eat into school time.

    I support adopting UK style national testing to determine secondary school placement, college entrance, scholarships and public funding of students. I don’t believe UK residents and the residents of the other nations that use such a system have any lack of confidence in the fidelity of that system. It cuts through grade inflation and allows all students to be ranked fairly based on merit and performance.

  • Sue

    Basically, yes.

    Sometimes standardized tests give a good indication of a student’s progress and abilities. Sometimes the test results aren’t so good.

    If my test results had been accurate, I should be running the world today – or at least a senior executive (if not the CEO) of the company I work for.

    I’m not. Fifteen years ago, someone decided to promote me to the first level of management. After two years, I got myself back to an “individual contributor” position where I was successful, not struggling to do barely-adequate work and hoping to remain employed.

    If my older son’s test results were accurate, he should *NOT* have known all the letters of the alphabet (just from watching Sesame Street – he had no flashcards or other baby-genius type training) by the time he was 21 months old, and he shouldn’t have been reading (again self-motivated and self-taught – we weren’t yuppy, over-achiever parents) to his preschool class when he was four.

    Finally, my younger son who is a GATE student, had a “far below basic” result in math on the STAR test last year, not because he’s poor at math, but because he was sick and the school failed to call and send him home. They expected him to get a much higher score which would have raised the school’s aggregate. He takes to testing like I do, and the school staff knew that from previous years.

    Tests can give some indications, but they shouldn’t be the final arbiters. What they most accurately show is the individual’s ability to take a test. I’m reminded of the story of Dr. Timothy Leary being given a personality assessment when he was incarcerated. It was the same test he had developed when he was working in the Mass. penal system.

    Something better than testing is needed, but as far as I know that “something better” doesn’t yet exist. So we’re stuck with a less-than-ideal tool, testing, and I think we’re over-relying on it to the detriment of at least some of our students.

  • Nextset

    Sue: It seems the testing you are rererring to are the more abstract tests. I think they are interesting – especially the personality tests. But they are not what I am thinking about in the context of OUSD and their students.

    For the time being I am referring to tests that place the students at a grade level for math and verbal skills. I don’t think students with a gross problem in reading – for example reading at 6th grade level at age 16, should be in an academic program. Students with that kind of performance problem should be detected by 9th grade and placed in Voc Ed programs that will get them working at something they can do well in and support themselves with (and use to qualify for higher training-I hope). To do otherwise leaves us with frustrated, angry, disaffected kids who become a danger to themselves and others.

    By trying to keep everyone together OUSD packs it’s classes with “failures” who would have been successful elsewhere. These problem students learn that the only way to succeed is to work what they usually have, which is physicality.

    In a Voc Ed Campus the students would be issued work permits along with their classes and would be placed in industrial work-study jobs while in High School whenever possible. I think this is done in other industrial nations such as the UK. It would be inportant to me for the working class kids who are not going on to higher ed right away to be qualified and ready to start honest work the minute they stop school. That should be a OUSD priority just as important as college placement. I’d love to see an OUSD webpage showing their non-college track students a year after leaving OUSD holding down full time jobs in industry. I could say the same thing about making sure that those interested get qualified to join the armed forces and get well placed there, with OUSD classes covering the Armed Forces Entrance Exams and enlistment programs so that OUSD people are thouroughly coached on how to do an advantageous deal with recruiters and qualify for the better deals.

    My concerns, and my ire, is that OUSD puts out thousands of kids into nothing every year while only publicly addressing college paths not viable for most of their students.

    Another thing, if they have problem children to work with who are reaching 14 or 15 they need to be put in rooms with travel posters of the CA state prisons and taught the ropes of that “career path” also. From the 3 strike law, drug law (and criminal sentencing calculations), to visiting rules in prison, to HIV disease course, the works. If they are going to act out fine, teach them enough so maybe they might survive long enough to change their minds.

  • Sue

    Well, no.

    My stunning SAT scores got me into UC, because my high school grades sure weren’t good enough. And after two quarters I dropped out because I would have flunked out by the end of the third quarter. My mother was back in the hospital, and my dad was paying more for her insurance deductable in four days than for me to live in the dorms for a month. It was a waste of money for me to be in a school that tough where I couldn’t meet the standards.

    I’ve since read about a number of studies that showed there was little to no correlation between SAT scores and college success. Proving to me at least, that my first failed attempt at college wasn’t a fluke.

    When I enlisted in the Air Force several years later (after waiting tables and factory work to support myself), I took every test they offered, and set several of the highest scores ever recorded in the state of Idaho where I was living at the time.

    I made very good use of the on-base degree program offered by a local college near my permanent base. I completed my degree in three years – because I was allowed to take CLEP tests that the AF education office paid for. I tested out of 30 hours of classes.

    After the AF, my first civilian job required a psychological evaluation before hiring a new person. I spent an hour conversing with the pyschologist, and another 25 minutes on the battery of tests that were supposed to take the 2nd hour. The result was that the psychologist described me as “the most well-adjusted young woman” he’d “ever had the pleasure to meet.”

    Within a couple of months, the company who hired me had figured out *exactly* how much that evaluation was really worth (I’d hope I was average), and they stopped wasting their money on psychological evaluations of new hires.

    Just as I have this funny talent for any and all tests, there are people who are fine in real life, butweak in the skills required for successful test taking.

    When we decide that kid-1 has great potential based on his test results, we might be giving him the same sort of challenges and frustrations I’ve faced when my real abilities didn’t match the levels of my test scores.

    And we could be ruining kid-2’s chances for a successful future if we judge him capable of little more than service-industry work because he can’t take a test successfully.

    Tests have some validity but we rely on them too much. I’ve also seen studies where teachers were told specific students did poorly or well on aptitude tests, and in fact no tests were given. The result was that the teacher’s expectations (based on the falsely-reported test results) were the best predictor of the student’s progress in the teacher’s classroom.

    Too much testing, and too much reliance on test results. Kids deserve and need something better. If only it existed.

  • Nextset

    Sue, you are hilariously wrong. US was and is notorious for admitting black students who were statistically certain to fail for Affirmative Action reasons. The SAT is an excellent predictor of graduation rates especially when the scores are below a certain level. The same is true of the LSAT for Law Schools.

    And as far as a messy personal life excusing the low scores, that’s the whole point. Your comments remind me of people excusing their abysmal credit scores with a litany of excuses about life being tough. That’s reflected in their score – chaotic personal lives. The net results are the same, they are likely to default on their contracts.

    The science of Actuarial prediction of human behavior is stronger now than ever before. Not just for educational and credit purposes but criminal recividism and other decision trees also.

  • Sue

    Why bring up race? Are you assuming that I failed because I’m black? Sorry, bad assumption – my ancestors were from Germany and the British Isles.

    I’ll agree that a poor SAT score is an indicator of likely lack of success – mostly. My sister with ADD and dyslexia didn’t have impressive SAT scores, but she has a bachelors and masters degree in engineering. But my point is that a good (or great) SAT score is not an accurate predictor of college success.

    I missed the “messy personal life excusing low scores” example – where did this come from? Just a strawman argument?

  • Doowhopper

    To Nexset:
    Although I don’t think affirmative action is the greatest thing since sliced bread,if we do NOT have some sort of special admissions programs in American universities,the student population will be overwhelmingly white and Asian and that skewered demographic is not healthy for the society as a whole.It will eventually result in a system where African Americans and Latinos are permanently at the bottom of the well and whites and Asians from the ruling elite.
    A sure recipe for social disaster.

  • Nextset

    Doowhopper: If Blacks or any other group can cut it at UC then they shouldn’t be there in artifically high numbers. It’s as simple as that. We have State Univ and Jr College.

    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.

    Actually I don’t thinks Blacks or Whites will dissapear from UC or the other competitive schools. Their percentage will drop to match their IQ distribution.

    Sorry, this isn’t a “recipe for social disaster”. The sun will still rise in the morning. And those who complete these schools won’t have the presumption of incompetence due to AA. It’s wrong to have a racial spoils system in academia or elsewhere.

    I wouldn’t worry about that permanently on the bottom problem either. Every group has brights, though not in the same percentage distribution. Once the rules are clear people will start to make the changes required if they want the brass ring. With AA they can remain as crazy as they want to be and still be given things they haven’t earned – so they won’t change their ways (this goes for whites, also).