A lesson in organizing (and political pressure)

forum0428.jpgThere was standing room only in the Havenscourt auditorium tonight.

Parents and teachers crowded into the large room to listen to what the Oakland school board hopefuls had to say, while small children scampered up and down the aisles.

Unlike the painstakingly neutral League of Women Voters events, the organizers of this forum — Oakland Community Organizations — made their case for certain school reform policies at the get-go.

“We cannot afford to go back to the way things were before small schools and charters,” Deanita Lewis, a parent at Havenscourt’s Coliseum College Prep, told the people on the stage.

The climate was so favorable for candidates who embraced independently run, public charters and small schools (loud, mid-sentence cheers, vs. polite silence and half-hearted courtesy applause) that few on the stage dared to say much to the contrary.

Even District 7 incumbent Alice Spearman, one of the current board members known for denouncing the proliferation of charter schools in no uncertain terms, managed to summon a new-found tolerance for the institutions.

“One of the things we have to ensure is that all schools … present a sound academic foundation,” Spearman said tonight, when asked about charters. “Other than that, they’re fine, as far as I’m concerned.”

forum2.jpgEight of the nine candidates showed up, all but Tennessee Reed (District 1 – North Oakland). And scores of people turned out — not only to hear the would-be board members speak, but to make it clear where they stood.

I attended another event, a school district forum on enrollment policies, last Wednesday night. It was in the same auditorium, but the seats were nearly empty. The 14 people I counted included me, an interpreter, two presenters, a school board candidate and a school board member.

I guess the striking difference in attendance could be explained by the topics, themselves. Or maybe tonight’s turnout was a classic example of community organizing at work.

Katy Murphy

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

  • Nextset

    It appears that those who attended are interested in change at OUSD to smaller, more formal more structured schools. And lots more choice. Sounds to me like the Charters are more popular than the race-to-the-bottom OUSD model.

    As the US economy swirls at the top of the toilet bowl the working class of Oakland, the large section of OUSD clients, will get more anxious and less able to afford better schools. OUSD may be in for real pressure from the working class to provide safe and productive schools for the first time in the lives of these Commissars. The families don’t want their kids to become unskilled labor, there will be grinding poverty for those workers. If OUSD is to help the students become skilled labor this toxic cloud of “it’s all about the child” must go.

    It’s not about the child, it’s about the training. The kids must understand the dog vs tail equasion and their places in the workforce. Discipline is job one, followed by training to make the students ready for work or higher education.

  • Sharon

    School climate concerns such as a lack of a sense of safety and problems with class management (maybe the biggest obstacle that prevents students from learning) have been THE biggest issues for Oakland parents for years. Before now, only a certain income level could bail out of OUSD. Now charters give concerned lower income families a chance to bail out, too.

    Nextset is right with his focus on the need to bring a sense of discipline back into the schools.

    So, with more and more people exiting for basically just one reason, maybe it’s time for OUSD to take this bull by its horns and hold it to the ground. Fixating on improving school climate big time would be a smart way for the new administration to start its tenure and would definitely help to bring back community confidence, as well as elevate test scores.

    By the way, I wouldn’t be surprised if the severity of these problems is connected to the crack epidemic (1984-1990). Kids who were little, or who were born during that time, are now 18 to 33 years old and have produced kids of their own. If they had a parent who was affected by crack during that time, their upbringing suffered. They undoubtedly have extreme emotional issues and, sorry to say, are just not strong parenting material.

    Together Grandmas stepped in to parent their grandchildren, but they’re getting old. The MIA generation can’t provide the same role for their children, and their children won’t be able to do it either. This is a very widespread problem in Oakland. The behavior of the youngest children will just keep getting worse unless we do something right.

    By the way, here are some interesting excerpts from an Oakland Tribune article of 6/6/01, “Ban Oakland police from schools, noisy public rally urges” by Chauncey Bailey:

    “A proposal to bring Oakland police officers into the public schools to improve security brought dozens of protesters to a rally outside City Hall on Tuesday.

    High school and college students cheered as African-American community leaders criticized the plan being offered by the Board of Education.

    “We are trying to get gangs out of schools,” said Yusef Bey, owner of Your Black Muslim Bakery. “We don’t need a gang of blue in the schools. They need to go to those white suburban schools. That’s where all the shootings are. We have to stand up for justice.”

    School district officials say they are proposing the plan because of a climate of fear and threats of violence against students and teachers. Uniformed police officers will bring better security, supporters say.

    …Oscar Wright, a member of the Task Force for the Education of African American Children, said, “Juvenile hall and the prisons are already filled with too many black youths…we don’t need the police at our schools making our children into criminals and harassing them.”

    So how can discipline in Oakland’s public schools be restored without antagonizing the intense feelings connected to sensitive racial issues, and provoking more lawsuits? The venom that gets spewed is what makes people (of all colors) cave in, or want to run away and hide.

  • TheTruthHurts

    As much as I love the concept of public education, it’s constrained by the fact that it’s free and compulsory. In societies where families and children must earn their education, you will not see such discipline issues persist. The incentives in our structure is backwards. For those who cannot convince their children of the long-term benefits of discipline and focus, we will have to endure some measure of disruption. Creative learning environments may help, but they often still fail to convey the fundamental importance of self-control to success in life and even survival in some parts of Oakland. While we were out trying to let a thousand flowers bloom, we forgot to supply the proper soil, water and sunlight.

  • Caroline

    Chauncey Bailey was the journalist gunned down last year in apparent connection with his reporting on the Black Muslim Bakery organization, speaking of quandaries about violence prevention.

  • Caroline

    “The climate was so favorable for candidates who embraced independently run, public charters and small schools (loud, mid-sentence cheers, vs. polite silence and half-hearted courtesy applause) that few on the stage dared to say much to the contrary.”

    Yes, you can see why it’s such fun to be a charter critic! I got booed and jeered last time I spoke, as a member of the public, against two proposed charters at an SFUSD BOE meeting. The board DID vote down the charters, though.

    A fellow PTA mom got body-slammed by a hulking teen as she left the mike after she was the only public speaker in favor of closing a badly troubled charter in SFUSD after it had two students die due to clear negligence on a school wilderness outing a few years ago. The parents of the deceased students wanted to speak at the same packed meeting, I’m told, but were too intimidated. The BOE did close the charter.

    You have to get into the right frame of mind to do this, obviously. It doesn’t win you popularity contests.

  • Nextset

    Caroline: So the OUSD BOE meetings are run with such poor security that children assault PTA Moms? Why am I not surprised. Well I hope she at least called the police and made a police report – even the info about the incident may do some good, may lead to better security at later meetings.

    Sharon: It was interesting reading your quote from the past wherein the Bakery Gang appeared at a meeting and had the nerve to tell others about how they don’t like Police being around. And we now know why…

    I would flood OUSD campuses and BOE meetings with uniformed and undercover police officers until the atmosphere was safe enough for PTA Moms to walk in and our without fear of assaults. And I’d laugh at critics who don’t approve of police in schools. You see, I don’t care what these critics think. If I’m responsible for the safety of students and staff they are going to be safe and those who want to get violent will be Tasered, Peppersprayed, arrested or shot as needed to maintain public safety. It’s just not a problem for me at all.

    And when that point is clear the troublemakers usually break and run. Thugs always act out to perceived weakness and lack of resolve by authority. OUSD is a tough job and it’s administrators have to be tough enough to do it. Learning comes after security and discipline. More than anything else OUSD facilities need to be free from any violence other than state sponsored violence.

  • Sue

    Nextset, you need to work on your “reading for comprehension” skills, I think. Reread Caroline’s post that you responded to.

    Now, what school district was she saying these incidents happened in? Hint – not OUSD.

    Once again, your agenda is blinding you to information that’s right in front of your face. I certainly hope you don’t let that happen when you’re reading legal documents for your work or your clients.

  • Nextset

    Thanks for the correction, Sue. I didn’t pick up the SFUSD reference. I remember thinking about Sharon’s reference to the Muslim encounter and I remembered my own dealings with the Bakery Gang in the early 1970s. And Oakland was on my mind.

    Same point – urban school districts don’t have security as a priority. But what I will never understand is San Francisco protecting Lowell High School while Oakland has nothing similar (Skyline HS could have been used as a city-wide academic high school).

    You are absolutely right that I dislike what OUSD does to it’s students. And it will show in my posts. The High School years are the last formal education most of these kids will receive, and thanks to OUSD they leave largely illiterate and umprepared to fit in this Brave New World (at least in my reading of the stats). I’d love to see material to the contrary.

  • Caroline

    Re the body-slam incident at an SFUSD BOE meeting — it was a sudden move in a standing-room audience as the speaker walked away from the mike, and obviously security guards aren’t flanking every single individual in the room.

    How about the folks booing me? They were a group trying to start a Russian-focus charter school called Sputnik (that’s Russian for No Black People In Our School). It would have been intriguing if the security guards had hauled them away, but I can’t say I would endorse that.

  • Aaron

    Really??? This is what Oakland has to say. Keep them crack babies under control by law and order?? The level of OUSD vitrol that goes unchecked in these posts is generally outrageous, but please at least take a moment off your soapbox or out of your own perspective to recognize the voices of students and families that have been underserved forever having a strong collective voice about their education and holding the elected officials true to it.

  • Nextset

    Aaron: The level of OUSD vitrol will likely continue unabated unless and until the working families of Oakland have a public school of the quality of Lowell (public) High School in SF to send their children to – so they don’t have to spend them selves broke paying for private schools to keep their kids away from rotten schools and rotten “students”. There should be a good public school available by application that is run like the Catholic High Schools and we hope that the Charter School system will eventually deliver what the standard public school cannot.

    Good families don’t send good students into a school where only 28% of the students read at grade level. They also don’t patronize schools known for pregnant girls because you won’t allow your kid to associate with such people.

  • Caroline

    The charter school system has been around for 15 years, Nextset, and has absolutely not shown any hint that it can deliver what public school cannot.

    Charters were supposed to be pioneering innovations that grateful public schools could innovate. Can any charter boosters here name one single innovation ever pioneered by any charter school, anywhere?

    And charter schools were supposed to be outperforming traditional public schools, but they are not. Just like traditional public schools, some are great, too many are totally messed up, and most are in between. They’ve had 15 years; where’s the great achievement?

    Charters receive oceans of money from billionaire philanthropists whose hobby is toying with education reform, and they often get great press largely due to that. But the one actual advantage they confer is that they don’t get any students assigned by default, so every single student in a charter school had a family who was motivated enough to make a request for a specific school. That screens out kids from the most low-functioning, troubled families.

    I keep speculating on what would happen if a public school system could offer each student a school that every student attended by specific request, as well as a default school. That would provide the same advantage charters do, without the long list of drawbacks of charter schools.

  • Sue

    Yes, Aaron, there’s a small – but very vocal – subset of people who post here, who are IMHO borderline fascists.

    I don’t think most of the people posting on this blog agree with their views. I certainly don’t. But the more moderate and nuanced voices do seem to be drowned out by the vitriol.

  • Sharon

    Caroline’s idea about comparing regular public schools where enrollment is obtained by specific parental request to public schools were enrollment is by default – because the parents aren’t proactive – is an interesting one.

    In a segregated city like Oakland, where bus loads of students who live in the flatlands are delivered to the hills secondary schools everyday, a large number of those students were certainly enrolled by their parents’ specific request, or finesse. So comparing the test scores of those students with students attending flatland schools might reveal a difference, and it does.

    Using 2007 percent proficient test score data, Montera’s 343 African American students obtained these scores: ELA = 32.7 & Math = 23.4. On the other hand, Frick’s 281 African American students obtained these scores: ELA = 13.2, Math = 13.7.

    Skyline’s 182 African American students obtained ELA = 39.0 & Math = 26.7. The three schools in the Castlemont Community of Small Schools didn’t do as well.

    The 28 students in the Business & Information Technology school obtained ELA = 21.4 & Math = 16.7. The 34 students in the East Oakland School of the Arts obtained ELA = 5.9 & Math = 2.6. The 56 students in Leadership Preparatory High School obtained ELA = 19.6 & Math = 17.0.

    There may be other factors that contribute to the differences in these scores, but certainly a major one is the fact that some kids have more proactive parents, with higher levels of engagement with their children’s educations, than others. Undoubtedly, this is part of the charter school phenomenon.

  • Pamela

    You people are weird. Truly weird. And some of you are boardline disrespectful. True, Oakland public schools have problems, but, there is hope. Some kid, who attends a underperforming, near-do-well, lack of security guard, no OPD on campus school,Crack babies. They may have good parents who care about them, a strong community, and a good head on their shoulders. He or she is out there, with every strike against them, and they are doing great things. So what, they don’t make straight A’s. Maybe they make straight C’s or B’s. But they go to school every day and participate in class. Eat lunch, and hang out with their friends. They are the type of kids who will go on to college and be a sucessful. Ya’ll need to get real.

  • Nextset

    Pamela, Interesting comment, especially about “disrespectful”. Do you expect to find “respect” in public discourse? Does that presuppose other people owe something? Is this what you were taught in school?

    Exactly what kinds of kids go to college and become successful? I would pose that it’s not C students from OUSD. I don’t think such students are generally (4 year) college material.

    I believe C students from OUSD need good and maybe expensive vocational education. The type that if we’re lucky is offered by Jr Colleges – or the more expensive private trade schools. I’d love to see OUSD get their “C” students ready and placed into voc ed programs especially the programs leading to $50k a year and up.

    And that means making sure that the “C” students are so disciplined that they speak standard english, have a realistic understanding of American Society, have excellent deportment and ability to fit in to training and the workforce. That’s where I believe OUSD fails the most and where students who might have made it were not prepared to cross over into career life. Teaching delayed gratification, and that the student has no right to impose on other people.

    The untrained & unhousebroken wind up in the courts on petty things that snowball into damaged lives. The females get pregnant and bear unwanted children they can’t properly care for. The males – fathers of some of those children – have anchors around their necks in the form of child support for the unwanted children. They are kept from driver’s licenses and state occupational licenses. Certain behaviors are associated with poverty and premature death. The students should be taught the odds – as well as the need to shun people that will take them there.

    Most OUSD students are not college material as shown by the low testing. OUSD must have a plan to give these students a decent future.

  • Sue

    Ah, Nextset, the current Commander in Chief was a straight-C student.

    Oh, wait, I think he illustrates your point far better than your own words did.

  • Nextset


    You got that right. W is a perfect example of how the dullest child in a family grouping can still do whatever he wants with support and guidance from a strong family and family retainers. IQ is not everything, it helps, but Ruthlessness, Cunning, Treachery, and Perserverence counts for a whole lot. And if you can control the Cocaine you do better in life also.

    This is a good example of why OUSD should be able to produce more results with the population they work with. Being dull DOES NOT mean you have to fail in life. You can still find a four year college if you are willing to do most of what’s required to graduate in something. You can find a nice civil service job, maybe a succession of them.

    But you do need to learn how to speak, read and write english at least as well as W, keep the rap sheet under control – and get everything expunged, and avoid the Baby Mamma albatross. Don’t take a job where only the brights survive, look for opportunities that make the most of what you have – like Obama – politics in any form is always a possibility.

  • http://www.fcmat.org Pat Hudson

    There is no free lunch when it comes to public education. Each charter school that is established in Oakland takes monies away from OUSD thus creating additional pressure on their budget. OUSD still owes the State millions of dollars. Sooner or later, OUSD will dissolve into a bunch of independent school charters and remainder being state run schools. While school board candidates may seek approval of community based orgranizations, the cold hard fiscal reality facing OUSD will force those elected to act differently.

  • Sue

    Interesting. Since we’ve previously agreed that unsuccessful OUSD students frequently lack a strong family, this seems to contradict your stated position that the schools should be responsible for (and able to) overcome the absence of “support and guidance from a strong family and family retainers”.

    Somehow, I can’t imagine GWB getting a BA from anywhere, let alone Yale, without his family connections, or getting into any business school (forget Harvard) without those connections. My mental image of that man – without the Bush family background, fortune and connections – looks a whole lot like a former brother-in-law, career marine now retired, alcoholic, divorced his first wife (they married during h.s. when he got her pregnant, and neither finished h.s.) and abandoned their children (who also failed to complete h.s.), then my sister finally dumped him when she couldn’t tolerate his self-destructive alcohol abuse any more.

    I can’t imagine OUSD kids without good family supports doing much better than that brother-in-law, no matter how good OUSD becomes. With a strong family (or a strong surrogate family, like my husband found in foster care), maybe one day we’ll see a graduate of OUSD schools residing in the White House.

    But that’s just a couple of anecdotes, and doesn’t prove anything (except, maybe that I lack imagination). You’re big on statistics, so are there any studies available on the outcomes of kids with good family supports, verses the outcomes for kids without?

  • Nextset

    Sue: I don’t think you and I have agreed on much of anything yet. We are working on common ground.

    “Good Family” as you use the word has a lot to do with genetic pedigree. You “have” good family like you “have” good teeth. But remember that even siblings get different hands from the game of life. One sibling may have weak teeth, cavities all the time, while the others don’t.

    As I often have said I expect the public schools to take everybody, sort as needed, and do the best they can with the students enrolled regardless of how good or how supportive the parents are.

    That can’t happen currently because the public schools are run without discipline and order. Even children with potential are made undisciplined self centered people due to the bad environment comment in urban public schools. They don’t develop to potential thereafter – they pick up “problems” like a rolling stone (as in “Poppa was a”).

    True with messy, undisciplined, schools only the children with the biological advantage of strong, smart family tend to turn out well.

    If the schools provided a better lower common denominator – like they used to – this country would again have social mobility we used to have. Now it’s just rich getting richer, poor getting poorer with unwanted unsupported kids.

  • Caroline

    But Nextset, are there any schools that are doing better with kids from messed-up, dysfunctional, fragmented families? Private schools and charters don’t get applications from them — and the privates wouldn’t touch ’em if they did.

  • Nextset

    Caroline: I think that public schools can take kids from messed up dysfunctional, fragmented families and turn them into solid citizens. Not at 100% success rate but a good rate. We already do this with the US Army although the Army excludes by law those on the bottom test scores – I forget the percentage they exclude but it’s significant.

    I’m not saying the public schools should all adapt a boot camp atmosphere but the schools need to make it completely clear that the student doesn’t control much of anything, that they are subservient to teachers and staff, that the operation of the place isn’t for their comfort and not everybody is welcome or expected to make it at every campus. Kind of like having a job.

    Coming from a messed up family doesn’t mean the students are worthless or even dull. There is usually a place for everybody and something everybody has a gift at doing. The trick is to sort the students so that they are kept challenged and don’t get too happy or too comfortable. The schools need to establish and keep an esprit de corps – which used to be done with school sports teams and competitions and other rah-rah type activities. Uniforms and controlled access might help.

    Students from messed up families, etc., may find themselves in situations where they get attention from adults, get to use pricey or impressive equipment, go to a clean an orderly campus where violence and threatening behavior is ruthlessly suppressed unless by staff or police, and if required the schools should run a cafeteria like before so that everybody does have enough scheduled meals so that basic nutrition and meals are no hinderence to school performance. The cafeteria is more important to Urban Schools than wealthy schools and funding should be adjusted accordingly.

    I also think that male staffing is crucial to students from messed up families – if they have a female headed household, a big liability in life, we should try to compensate with more male instructors or husband/wife teaching combos in classrooms. I’d also like to see more life skills integrated in reading/english/math/social studies classes. Basic algebra classes could perhaps include components of credit/investing/budgeting/consumer financing/business subjects.

    Unless the kids are mentally ill, retarded or psychotic I expect the public schools to get them ready for age 18, I don’t care if the parents are dead or in prison or just unfit. I would love to see social workers on campus with office hours at any campus that can use them. I’m in favor of social work, School based workers should help find the kids housing, jobs, medical help, other schools, and any assistance needed to make it through age 18.

  • Poor student

    Mr. Lee:

    I researched into several of you false statements about Life Academy. They are one of the lowest performing schools in Oakland. You noted the following, “this is a school that has the highest attendance rate, (false) parent/student/staff satisfaction rate,(false)(CHSEE) passage rate by 12th grade, (false)University of California eligibity rates in ALL OUSD high school(false)! Why did you make-up such false statements about Life Academy?

    This is a low performing school, go to the California Department of Education web site and low at the facts!