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Will Oakland find its `rock star’ superintendent? (And does it need one?)

By Katy Murphy
Friday, April 4th, 2008 at 11:36 am in leadership changes.

rockstar.jpgI came across an interesting story in the Christian Science Monitor about the growing demand for superintendents, especially in struggling urban districts.

If what they say is true — that some 20 percent of school districts are looking for one right now — I wonder how Oakland will fare in the competition.

As the Oakland school board decides what to do with its soon-to-be-restored authority to choose the district’s first superintendent in five years, should it go for a “rock star?”

Considering that the average superintendent (nationwide) stays in place only a few years, how much emphasis should be placed on a district’s top dog?

image from JasonRogers’s site at flickr.com/creativecommons

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  • Sue

    No, we don’t need a rockstar.

    We need continuity, which we haven’t had in decades. We need someone who is going to stick around long-term, because that’s what it will take to fix the problems in the district – long-term commitment.

    After the first year or two, we’ll start to see what’s working better, and what’s not working. Then we’ll keep using what works, and change what doesn’t. Then repeat the observations and adjustments, and repeat, and repeat.

  • Nextset

    Howard Law School was once threatened with loss of National ABA Accreditation due to among other things having just about the nation’s worst bar passage rate. (retired) Alameda Superior Court Judge Ramsey was selected to go to Washington DC and crack heads at Howard and save the school. Reportedly the school was told if Ramsey was fired or walked out the ABA would pull the accreditation.

    This was awhile ago, apparently things improved because the school is still there. I heard heads were cracked, though.

    OUSD doesn’t need a rock star. They need someone (not previously on the scene) with enough force of will and personality to produce change in a hurry and get the scores up. OUSD probably needs an Alpha Male, probably a disciplinarian, probably an authoritarian. Joe Clark I suppose. I don’t think there are any Nuns still around. Long term retention is not the issue. They can get someone else to finish steering the course after the changes are made.

    My own working theory is that the elected board knows what they are doing and they have no intention whatsoever to run OUSD as a school. Thus I don’t believe for a minute that anything will change.

    OUSD will continue to operate as a political institution with a big payroll that is primarily interested in pacification and palliative care. They are not in business to change the culture of the incoming students, especially the proletariat students.

    And it’s their school so they can do what they want.

  • Nextset

    The more I think about it the more I think pursuading one of the Alameda County Superior Court Judges to take the Super’s job might just do the trick. They are reasonably cheap to hire, making only $170k. They are motivated and know what they don’t want for the students. They are used to use of force. They are familiar with education and testing. And There are lots of them to approach for the job.

  • Caroline

    That Joe Clark BS is all hype, grandstanding and marketing. Those tough guys who walk down the hall with a baseball bat never, ever achieve any real results. If they did, the problems of educating low-income, high-need students would be solved.

    And Nextset, what makes you think that bringing in someone who has no background in and knows nothing whatsoever about education is going to solve the problems? Would you try that in your field — how about bringing in someone who knows nothing about law to be a judge, or someone how knows nothing about medicine to be your doctor?

    Seems like if it’s oh-so-simple, all you have to do is look around at other urban superintendents who have worked miracles and try to hire them or replicate what they did. All those ideas — hire a CEO or military general who knows nothing about schools to run roughshod over those stupid educators — have already been tried.

    I watched Jerry Brown with interest because he really is a force of nature. But his pet charter schools are totally propped up by hype, barely limping along even though they have more money than God.

  • Nextset

    Caroline: Hit a nerve today?

    Remember I didn’t think the transition super needed to be a long term thing, mainly somebody to turn the ship. The last thing needed is another “educator” with a useless “education” degree and no foundation in the real world. But I wouldn’t appoint Joe Clark, OUSD is not THAT desperate yet.

    To answer your question – yes, it’s that simple. After remembering what Judge Ramsey had to do at Howard I though of the similarities and realized that the skillset of the local Judges would dovetail with OUSD’s needs. And it wouldn’t be difficult to get one either.

    You must understand the low opinion industry and commerce people have of OUSD and it’s “educators”. You are no hospital or specialty manufacturer, you are just a primary and secondary school system. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to impose discipline (Job 1), re-sort the students, campuses and classes by tracking (job 2) and bring up the lowest common denominator stats at OUSD. And to fire any staff that gets in the way. The judges are experts in legal manuvering and a great choice to manage firings, expulsions, union contract terms, etc.

    The whole point in a rock star super is that it’s not going to be your same old school system anymore.

    Your schools were taken over by state because your school district had degenerated to a level even the state was embarassed by. I think the same thing happened once to Alameda Co’s TB control program.

    It would be nice for the kids of Oakland if the schools were restored to the level of performance in 1960. Do do that we need to clean house and replace a lot of airhead staff.

  • Sharon

    A common solution proposed – by those who think every urban school district’s educational woes are caused by deadbeat employees – is to simply replace those employees, and then everything will be fine.

    Sorry, but the reality is that there just isn’t a huge set of savvy, interested, and qualified individuals “out there” (who also care enough) who are knocking on the doors of the stressed out urban school districts asking to work under such extremely difficult conditions for the pay that is being offered.

    Folks need to work out a Plan B.

  • Nextset

    Sharon, I don’t think it’s a deadbeat employee problem at all. The employees are survivors. They have learned to do what is expected of them to stay alive and keep their jobs. If OUSD changes the expectations it will not be easy to get so many people to go along with change. In some way the employees are victims of the same process that produces (an unacceptable ratio of) illiterate and undisciplined students.

    If OUSD returns to local control with a mandate for change there will be trouble with staff. That’s just the way change works. Nothing personal.

  • Caroline

    I’m a San Francisco Unified parent, just for the record. I follow Oakland schools (including here) because they’re such an interesting laboratory — a playground for the “education reform is my hobby!” billionaires.

    Our former superintendent, Arlene Ackerman, really did achieve some concrete successes. She just took a job running Philadelphia schools, though, so presumably is not available.

  • John Public

    There will never be one person nor a team of talented individuals that will make up for the lack of parenting and preparation that the MAJORITY of Oakland students come into kindergarten with. I know several people that work in the district that work their tails of for these kids, but they aren’t miracle workers.

    No judge can come in and change what’s going on. I don’t care what the experience. Show me the track record of a judge that has been able to reduce the rate of recidivism from their dockets or how about make people become better parents… then we can talk. BTW it’s only a natural progression that a judge should be able to step into a law school oversight position. They do have a valid background in the field/area.

    Until we can all come to the conclusion that the same people that have “the low opinion of OUSD educators” are the same people that pull out of the area when their enterprises aren’t profitable or making the numbers, we will forever be in disagreement. Those in education don’t have the luxury of puling out.

  • Nextset

    Caroline: What are the differences between SF Unified Schools and Oakland? I’ve always been intrigued by the Lowell High School operation, an academic High School within a public school district. How is it that the most radical leftist city in CA is able to keep an elite/exclusionary citywide high school going? I don’t see why Oakland, LA and the other large cities don’t copy the tactic.

  • Nextset

    John Public: As long as the “educators” feel they can use the proletariat status of parents as an excuse for not educating prole children, public school performance will continue to stay at historically low levels.

    I don’t care how low IQ Mommy and Daddy (or Mommy and Sperm Donor) are. I expect the public schools to educate the kids without much of any help from the parents.

    If the parents were so great the kids wouldn’t be in OUSD. This is a public school not a private college prep academy. You are expected to take all children, including those who’s families don’t speak English, and prepare them for adulthood in the USA. School success is not predicated on parental participation. It’s nice if it’s there, but that’s optional.

    Get over the Heartbreak. You are not working with the cream de la creame. Teach those kids how to speak English properly and read. Get the Verbal Scores up. Then help them find a way to survive in this Brave New World at 18, with or without parents.

    We do have an Army and they are recruiting – but you have to be able to pass the entrance exams to get a job as a cook or auto mechanic in the service. The only hope the prole kids have for such opportunities is that the public school prepared them for it. It’s your job, you can’t say Mommy didn’t help him with his homework, his failure is not the school’s issue.

  • Nextset

    John Public: A judge might work as a super because of his (it should be male, not female) skill with legal red tape. They are also experienced with psychometrics and scoring (used in sentencing and evaluations) and academics and writing. The “educators” ran OUSD into the ground, nobody needs another of them to be the instrument of change. Frankly a military retiree might fit the bill also. For the money the schools pay you could get a general. It will probably take an Alpha Male with a grasp of red tape and turning children into men and women. Thus my suggestions. Most “educators” would be horrified, but that’s the way I see it.

  • John

    I am always intrigued by the proposition that problems in school administration (education) can only be solved by those with training and experience in school administration (education). This proposition is often bolstered by comparing the field of education with law, medicine, and the like.

    Compare the training required to become a school administrator in California with the training required to become a lawyer or a doctor is a silly contest. Having completed a graduate program in School Administration I can tell you that this so called higher education DOES NOT begin to prepare one to run a school district.

    One of the glaring deficiencies of the school administration program is fiscal management. Does anyone remember the lame excuse Dennis Chaconas gave in advance of the state OUSD take-over when it was suddenly “discovered” that the district cookie jar was deficient 80 plus million bucks!? Dennis said his attention was on district academics NOT fiscal matters.

    Compare what it takes to get into and complete medical or law school or complete CPA requirements with what it takes to get admitted into and complete a school administration graduate/credential program. In fact while you’re at it compare what it takes to earn a doctorate in Education, EdD, with EARNING a PhD. Many universities will NOT give credit for a Masters in Education as prerequisite for admission to a (real) PhD program.

    Given the impact of principals and superintendents on the educational system perhaps standards and salaries need to be raised so those in the know won’t laugh when someone says something like this: “What makes you think that bringing in someone who has no background in and knows nothing whatsoever about education is going to solve the problems? Would you bring in someone who knows nothing about law to be a judge, or someone how knows nothing about medicine to be your doctor?”

    Let’s just say I’d rather have a doctor or a lawyer as my school administrator than a school administrator as my doctor or lawyer. Perhaps I’m in the minority?

    Upgrades to the university school administration program should include a course in ‘anti-political correctness’ to help enable school administrators to make objective decisions about what’s in the educational best interest of children and America’s future in an increasingly competitive world economy.

  • Caroline

    Nextset asks:

    … What are the differences between SF Unified Schools and Oakland? I’ve always been intrigued by the Lowell High School operation, an academic High School within a public school district. …

    It’s not particularly unusual to have selective magnet schools within public school districts. I honestly have no idea how many school districts have some kind of setup like Lowell. I heard from someone in Fresno that they have at least one school — it may be a K-8 — with academic selection criteria. My older child attends San Francisco School of the Arts, which admits by audition or judging in a specific artistic discipline. That’s also quite common in public school districts.

    The design of these schools is viewed as elitist in some circles (the Green Party in San Francisco is particularly hostile to SOTA, which is odd given that support for the arts is one of the party’s key principles, and SOTA students have a “Save SOTA from the Green Party” group on Facebook.

    But as I say, they’re common thoughout public school systems and are widely viewed as meeting the needs of different types of students.

  • Nextset

    Caroline: I’ll say it meets the needs of different types of students. Good for San Francisco. When does OUSD create such a program for an Academic High School? I’d love to see a centrally located school such as Oakland Tech used for this. I had typing and biology classes there, I remember the large rooms with all that equipment.

    If OUSD were to make strides in this direction – selective & exclusive schools open districtwide by application – it should mean a lot for Oakland property values. Students attending selective schools would also have an incentive to behave, attend and perform to avoid being sent down to the originating schools. All in all a better environment for the staff and students.

  • Caroline

    Lowell has existed since the dawn of time — I think it’s something like the oldest HS on the West Coast. I’m not sure when its official selection process developed. SOTA started in 1982 as a school within a school.

    I blogged recently about some interesting-sounding LAUSD magnet schools, wondering if SFUSD might consider emulating them:

    http://tinyurl.com/4qzarb

  • cranky teacher

    Once again, Nextset and John set the agenda of the discussion on every post: How the schools can work wonders if they will just be ruthless.

    Completely ignored is that public schools are products of a democratic system and will never become radical institutions that run counter to the larger trends in culture.

    If you want a school that ruthlessly sorts, cracks heads, ignores parents, etc., it must be private. Public schools are paid for with taxpayer money and thus represent the interests not only of parents but of the taxpayers at large.

    If the society is individualist, materialist, permissive, litigous and morally confused, the public schools will be, too. How can they be radically different from the society that manages and pays for them?

    Just one example: On sorting and tracking kids: Many of the behavior problems in class have mental/emotional disorders and are “special ed.” Lawsuits have made mainstreaming these kids the norm. That is the law and state policy — a superintendent can’t change that just because he’s “tough.”

    Nextset wants an “alpha male” Teddy Roosevelt type to crack heads. As if the unions and the parents don’t — and shouldn’t — have any say!

    Public education will never change fundamentally, because our society does not agree on its purpose and its importance. That will not keep people from throwing out all these “simple” solutions from their living room couch.

  • Mr. G

    Caroline,

    I don’t think this will be taking things too much further off of the original topic, but I am extremely curious to hear your explanation of something.

    I don’t want misrepresent your position, so I will allow you to explain it as it pertains to this issue, but would you explain why public schools that have special selection criteria (like your son’s school) are OK, but charter schools are bad? Why is school choice OK within the umbrella of the traditional public school system, but not OK in a modified public school system like the charter school system?

    They seem similar to me. I fully support schools like SOTA and Lowell, by the way. I just don’t understand what the difference is.

    -Mr. G

  • Caroline

    There’s a whole list of reasons why charter schools harm traditional public schools. It’s not that I oppose choice — SFUSD is an all-choice district. Parents can choose any school and enter a lottery for it.

    This web page elaborates on my concerns about charter schools:

    http://tinyurl.com/2z8c5z

  • Nextset

    Cranky: My parents, grandparents and great grandparents were educators going back into the 19th century. Relatives of mine were among the 1st black teachers in the East Bay public schools. I went to public schools.

    Your recent post seems to reflect that the public schools were always like this. I’m here to tell you that they weren’t. East Bay public schools in the 1950′s and 1960′s didn’t have products who couldn’t speak standard english, would curse or talk back to teachers, and exhibit the failure factory touches I complain of here.

    I can see rolling back some of the failure factory standards in a hurry, and in 2 or 5 years producing high school students better able to take care of themselves and find a place in society. I really believe we can do it.

    And I’m not talking about making things great for the college bound, although a rising tide floats all boats. I believe the Public Schools can bring significant improvement to the prospects of the working classes in Oakland. If the Public Schools impose severe change on the way things are run.

    I don’t mean putting the staff in black leather and brown shirts either. I’d start with such nostalgia as assigned seating only, lining up outdoors in the AM and after the pledge those students who meet the dress code march inside to their classrooms single file in silence. And student assignment to a campus based on application and acceptance with the rejects by default going to the most undesirable campuses. Carrot and Stick things.

    I’d hope the staff would appreciate the commanding upper hand they’d be dealt in operating their classrooms. They (teachers) would look good in formal attire, etc. We’d get a little more formal in general. The little things were important…

  • Mr. G

    Caroline,

    Thanks for passing on the information. Not surprisingly, I disagree with a lot of it. Given the context of this discussion, Lowell especially, I think it is a bit dangerous to suggest that charter schools tend to be more segregated than traditional public schools (have you seen Lowell’s demographics?). I think it is also a bit silly to blame one side for being “divisive” without considering the role of the other in that division.

    I see any successful school as a success, especially in Oakland. If they want to work teachers to the bone and can still find good teachers, fine by me. Maybe some of the work ethic will rub off on the kids.

    I can appreciate your concern with regard to accountability, at least in regard to possible cheating. It is within the district’s rights to monitor testing, and they do. And they should do so rigorously.

    With cuts in funding and a looming teachers’ strike, I wouldn’t expect successful charter schools with non-union teachers to go out of business anytime soon. Like it or not, traditional publics and charters may have to learn to play nice together, or at least tolerate one another.

    -Mr. G

  • John

    Crank teacher Says: “Once again, Nextset and John set the agenda of the discussion on every post.” Removing the “y” from the end of your screen name somehow seems appropriate given the Disneylandish nature of your claim that WE “set the agenda of discussion on every post.” My posts here have been few and far between as of late. You must be seeing a “John” under every post and rock Crank Teach!

    I agree with you that “public schools are products of a democratic system and will never become radical institutions that run counter to the larger trends in culture.” I would also say that a school doesn’t run contrary to its neighborhood, unless students in one kind of neighborhood are exported to a different kind of neighborhood, as seems to be the incremental trend in Oakland.

    The voter minority of those who pay (property) school taxes in Oakland are constrained to abide by the wishes of Oakland’s voter majority who don’t pay (property) taxes. Voter minority tax payer parents live in a school district that too often ruthlessly ignores their wishes. It’s the Oakland voter majority, not the Oakland tax payer majority that determines who gets elected to the school board and determines the passage of school bonds that Oakland (property) tax paying voter minority pays for. Oakland property owners pay some of the largest property taxes in the state and have the least influence on how their schools are run.

    You’re right! “If the society is individualist, materialist, permissive, litigious and morally confused, the public schools will be, too. How can they be radically different from the society that manages and pays for them?” Or rather VOTES for them.

    By the way, what are the mental/emotional disorder criteria for admission to “special education” I used to chair special education intake and student placement at the central office. As I recall intake and placements were predicated on learning disabilities not strictly mental/emotional disorders. What is your source for claiming this is “the law and state policy.” A superintendent can’t change something that doesn’t exist, no matter how “tough” he is.

    As for the “unions not having any say” or being able to confiscate money from teacher pay checks without giving much if anything back in return. How refreshing and good for public education that would be!

    As for my “simple” solutions, I throw out mine from a vibrating recliner chair NOT a living room couch! I think it’s important that I set a good example by making sure my head is at a higher elevation than my ass when responding to certain posts. It’s just my way of trying to set a good example and give back to the community.

    Hey Crank Teach! Do you think there’s a part of the above Nextset might not totally agree with thereby proving we are not joined at the hip? Although I will say the surgeons only gave us a 30% chance that both of us would survive the operation without one of us succumbing to the likely complications of such a delicate operation. My early childhood memories and connection to Nextset are so blurred that I have absolutely no recollection of him – until someone suggested that we are one and the same. [Private message to Nextset: Mom says hi. Dad passed away in 1992.]

  • Caroline

    This is not my opinion, Mr. G. It’s a fact borne out by hard data, including from the charter folks. Overall, charter schools ARE significantly more segregated than traditional public schools. It’s a fact, dangerous or not.

    “Given the context of this discussion, Lowell especially, I think it is a bit dangerous to suggest that charter schools tend to be more segregated than traditional public schools (have you seen Lowell’s demographics?).”

    Regarding this comment: “I think it is also a bit silly to blame one side for being “divisive” without considering the role of the other in that division.”

    Many aspects of the charter school setup make them inherently divisive. To do their jobs, school boards MUST fight them in the best interests of their students (at existing traditional public schools).

    In my district right now, and in many others, charter schools are disrupting school communities (inevitably disadvantaged ones) by exercising Prop. 39 demands for facilities. Current court interpretation of Prop. 39 requires school districts to give charter schools space EVEN IF IT DISPLACES EXISTING PROGRAMS. That’s currently happening with three largely-disadvantaged SFUSD schools — partly due to school board members who feel they can’t fight the charters’ demands, I’ll acknowledge. But in trying to avoid conflict with the predatory charters, they harm their existing non-charter schools.

    In addition, school boards are SUPPOSED to be able to close down charters with problems, but when they try, they are almost guaranteed a major controversy, fueled by the power and wealth of the forces behind the charter movement.

    That happened in SFUSD several years ago when it closed down a charter (Urban Pioneer, a high school) for these reasons: Two students had DIED due to clear negligence on a school wilderness outing; the school was in financial shambles and teachers were going unpaid; it had rock-bottom test scores; and it was openly committing academic fraud, graduating students with far fewer credits than required. (Gee, what’s not to like?) Yet the charter movement mounted a huge outcry against our school board when it moved to close the school. It was incredibly explosive and divisive.

    Then there is the fact that a proposed charter school that applies to a school board for a charter and is turned down can immediately go to the county Board of Education and then the state Board of Education for a charter, meaning the charter school is forced into an unwilling district. At an informational event I once asked Caprice Young, spokesperson for the Calif. charter folks, if a school district and a charter school could really work together effective under those circumstances. Her responses was basically: er… um… ahh… well, they’d just have to learn to get along.

    I see it as an untenable situation that’s going to get worse. I’m sorry I can’t be all starry-eyed and nicey-nice about it, but it is what it is.

  • Another cranky teacher

    Nextset – we do not have to experiment with military supervision in OUSD because we have done it all ready. Check out the test data for Oakland Military Institute, tracks very closely with data for the rest of the district, except for one thing, they spend more than twice as much per student as the district average. (Access the data at CDE Data Portal)
    Also, in regard to uniforms, did you look at any of the data on public school uniforms before you made your suggestion about uniforms? There is a large amount of uniform data available on line. Public school uniforms have been tried in many places and the data on their effectiveness is inconclusive.

  • Cranky Teacher

    John, I’m sorry if you feel lumped in with Nextset. And yes, I see that you post less often.

    My point remains: Hardliners who blame all these problems in education on soft-headed and soft-hearted liberals keep turning each thread into the same basic debate. That’s your right, of course, but it does set a very oppositional and ideological tone for this area of discussion.

  • Cranky Teacher

    Nextset: You again harken us back to the iconic ’50s and ’60s when everything was better. You say the problem is just soft-headed lefty “educators.”

    Hmmn. Could it be that some things have happened in the meantime that would change the situation? Oh, like:

    – Prop. 13 slashing the money available to schools and sending the per capita student rate plummeting and making California go from one of the top spending states on education to one of the lowest?

    – The decline of the industrial and union labor workforce in the Bay Area, thus undermining the stability fo the family of the working poor. What are the numbers on average salary for men and women without a college degree in real dollars?

    – The crack cocaine epidemic and the huge surge in the prison population, addicted mothers, missing fathers, etc.

    – The surge in poor, uneducated immigrants from Mexico, Central America, Southeast Asia and elsewhere.

    – Changes in special ed which gave increased resources to that segment of the student population without an increase in the total funds available.

    – Middle-class flight (white, brown and black)from the public schools, which left a big vacuum between the kids of high-minded white liberals and the poorest black and brown children whose parents couldn’t afford parochial and private schools.

    Don’t get me wrong, I agree with some of the things you point out, such as that our disparagement of tracking and expulsion has led to an opposite extreme where a few kids can disrupt the learning of the majority. In general, however, it confuses me how you ignore history and sociology as if they play no part in the problems.

    Our school has disciplinary hearings every week which end in student expulsion. I crack down hard on my students every GODDAMNED day to make sure class doesn’t become a circus. Throughout the school teachers are doing the same. Adminstrators prowl the halls to cut tardies, Saturday school is run for delinquents, parents are called, Fs are given… Does that mean these kids are all going to be ready for your New World Order economy?

    Of course not — the wheels were set in motion for them 15 years ago when they weren’t read stories at night, didn’t know their colors or ABCs by kindergarten, watched 6-8 hours of televsion every day, have never read for enjoyment, spent all summer in front of the liquor store, have never traveled outside the East Bay, are depressed and suicidal and afraid…

    Oops, I got all bleeding heart again. I forgot, all they need is a good stiff kick in the boot.

    Nextset, with every post you make it clear how much your family believed in education, was itself well-educated and set you up for success by their example. Yet you ascribe to your teachers and schools magical powers they do not possess — that THEY were responsible for your success.

    Schools are not islands, and only ocassionally does magic happen there.

  • Nextset

    Cranky, I sure don’t believe everything was better in the ’50s and ’60s. I like our medical care and drugs, safer autos, our freeways, lots of things.

    What I miss is the feeling that despite possibly being nuked by the USSR at any moment, things were getting better every year. I miss the belief in anything being possible. I miss the upward mobility. And I miss the Law and Order. I miss the feeling of safety backed backed up by harsh prisons and swift executions. I miss the democratic & union machine politics which at least had to deliver on the patronage (now they just take the money and don’t patronize you).

    And I miss being able to interview and hire knowing that the worker spoke standard english and knew right from wrong.

    What this country threw away in the early sixties was a sense of morality, discipline and the dignity of work and of the workers. These things were taught and enforced in the public schools. There was no entitlement for welfare. If Oakland had enough of your low down ways, they’d tell you your hand outs were cancled – and maybe you should try Los Angeles.

    My mother was a social worker in Oakland in 1949. Her cousin was a OUSD teacher. Mom would come to work and be assigned waiting migrant families – take them into town on the bus (with a bus pass) find them housing, enroll the kids in school, and find the parents jobs. She had no county car. She tells me she went to every corner of the area alone and never once had a concern for her safety. Now “eligilibity workers” operate from behind glass.

    Those times were tough and everybody worked at something. But they sent their kids to public school – or the Catholic Schools set up in the flats of Oakland – and all the schools taught the students daily right and wrong. (US right, Communists wrong I suppose..) And how to wear clothes, address adults and behave in public.

    I don’t want to relive the past. I do require the schools to deliver a usable product. I want the school kids, the public school kids, to have a shot in life to do better than all of their parents, the way we used to think.

    You mentioned Crack Cocaine – well they had drugs, alcohol, friday night gun and knife club, Vice, prostitution and nightclubs on San Pablo. The kids still learned to speak standard english.

  • Cranky Teacher

    We agree that safer is better. We agree Oakland and other urban cities have suffered great declines since America’s economic apex of the 1950s and 1960s.

    Where we disgree is in what happened and what can be done about it now.

    You say this is all about morality and discipline, and all that can come from the schools with the right leadership. I say it’s about economics, income distribution and the collapse of family and community structures, and only a small part of the solution can be found in schools, no matter who is leading.

    I hate to admit it, but I guess you’re the radical who believes in overnight change.

  • Nextset

    Hardly overnight change. The running down of standards took more than a generation.

    You think it’s radical to use force to impose order. You think it’s radical to completely destroy opposition without a second thought. I don’t think so. Once a decision is made on how something is going to be or to enforce a standard, I don’t use half measures. That’s not the way I was raised – that’s not what I have seen used effectively.

    This is a shocking concept to the generation that came after me – I assume that’s you (which is more used to moral relativity). Or maybe it’s because I don’t have a self esteem problem.

    My parent’s were children in the 1920s. They came to power during WWI and the aftermath. I was brought up in the cold war and trained professionally by the WWII vets.

    And you think I’m a radical – you should have seen my parents’ generation – what they came from, and what they lived through. I’m just a reflection.

    I would say that you are the radical – your cohort took a social system that once integrated immigrants from rural Europe to Wall Street and reduced the USA down to the Mexican Occupation of CA and the Rodney King Riots – a country where nothing holds together anymore. Whose Public Schools now turn out “graduates” that are unassimilated, unwanted, unskilled – and pregnant.

    It wouldn’t take a lot to telegraph that the party’s over and return the public schools to the assimilation factories they once were, places that take children from a variety of cultures and turn out American Nationals with a common foundation to start an adult life with.

    One thing for sure, what I’d propose would include no separate racial graduation ceremonies & no tribal dress allowed at school. The school system now glorifies tribal ties to the exclusion of school identity and civic pride.

    This is not all about economics, income distribution and community structure. It’s about how the school takes these loser kids (the winners don’t need any help) and make them more than they thought they were. It won’t happen by coddling them, giving them control and choices, and by letting them have a pleasant time.

  • Nextset

    Typo – my parents became adults before and during WWII, not WWI which was the grandparent’s heyday. The great-grandparents were active at the end of the 19th Century.

  • Sue

    Nextset Says:
    April 8th, 2008 at 9:21 pm

    “You think it’s radical to use force to impose order. You think it’s radical to completely destroy opposition without a second thought. I don’t think so.”

    Using force to impose order sounds like a good definition of fascism to me. And who was that WWII leader who made the trains run on time?

    Freedom and democracy are disorderly. It’s their nature.

  • FactualFreddy

    The fact is rockstar or not, Oakland’s challenges are much larger than a single leader can solve. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in the necessity of strong leadership, especially in a broken environment. It’s just an EXTREMELY TALL ORDER to change student and parent culture, change employee culture, deal with HORRENDOUS finances, entrenched contractual and political relationships AND do that all with little money and the threat of your job being pulled by political figures with future ambitions who are often elected by less than 2% of the population.

    I would not want the job because I need to feel accomplishment in my work and the odds are so stacked that accomplishment will be a hard thing to come by.

    It’s like hiring a new police chief to stop crime in Oakland when you can’t even get a witness to give a statement.

    Nevertheless, I’m an eternal optimist and hope and pray the academic gains continue.

  • Bruce

    Since FactualFreddy is actually posting on point, I’ll try and continue that spirit….

    As much as anybody might want a “rockstar” superintendent at this time, I doubt that any person who fits that description would want to come to Oakland at this time. If you look at it from their perspective, their reputations rise and fall on how student achievement. How would they accomplish that? They would likely want to begin to implement some academic programs which would require some changes to how the budget is allocated. But wait. Oakland does not yet have local control over those areas (as Katy’s most recent blog entry details.) Would you want to take a job where you would ultimately be evaluated on areas over which you have no control? I just don’t see it happening right now.

    It seems to me that there are plenty of areas across OUSD that still have room for improvement. I would suggest finding someone that has expertise in the areas over which we have local control and work really hard to get those parts of the District working better. This would lay the foundation for being able to attract a “rockstar” superintendent at the appropriate time, should that be the community’s desire.

  • hills parent

    Bruce: I agree with much of what you say. However, the district can work on several areas: low graduation rates of high school students, keeping families in the public schools so that they do not feel that they need to either leave Oakland or go to private schools, district office personnel spending some time in the schools and classrooms so that they know what is/is not happening.

    There are some forms of action that they can take.

  • Caroline

    There are some forms of action that they can take.

    Besides visiting schools, what specific forms of action, Hills Parent?

  • hills parent

    Working in schools myself I have found that when district office personnel, particularly in the area of Curriculum and Instruction, visit schools to observe classes and to ask questions that they very well may make some discoveries about what is and is not happening in schools.

    It did not take me very long to find that my daughter’s school was not complying with some Education Code regulations. Now, why should I, as a parent, have to bring this to the attention of the school. Where were the district office administrators? This type of oversight makes me wary of what other concerns exist that I have not come across.

    Just food for thought

  • Nextset

    Hills Parent: The low graduation rate of OUSD students is worth a blog thread of it’s own.

    Is that problem centered on the state graduation exam? Or is it largely tied to absenteeism? incarceration/pregnancy rates? dropouts to seek employment? Does anybody have any recent data??

    I have read old commentary that the 8th grade reading level cutoff of the state graduation exam was so high it would lead to students dropping out of school out of discouragement of ever getting a diploma. There was some debate over where to set the pass level with some people asking for a 10th grade reading level (ruled out as being an impossible standard) and some wanting a 6th grade minimum for HS graduation. For the time being it’s set at 8th grade to see where the chips fall.

    Does anyone know what is the graduation rate for whites, hispanics and blacks? male/female breakdowns?

  • Michael

    I was at the board meeting where they announced that they would be conducting a “community based nation wide search” for the next superintendent. One of the ongoing expenses for educational communities has been the constant churning of policy and perspective with respect to new educational initiatives. Oakland has suffered from this more that other districts. Change, while in some degree is necessary, change for the sake of change is wasteful. To stem this trend we need more stability in the policy making positions of the district. I would hope that the board would seek to select a local person with strong connections to the community who is willing to make a longer term commitment to Oakland. Someone who will stay and work with the Oakland Community to help build public education over the next 10 – 20 years.