The elephant in the race

elephant.jpgBrian Rogers may be running for a nonpartisan office — the District 1 seat on the Oakland school board, against Jody London and Tennessee Reed — but his Republican party affiliation has hardly been a non-issue.

The Oakland public school parents Yahoo! group has lit up in recent weeks with debates on Rogers’ politics, knee-jerk reactions to those politics, his endorsement by Jerry Brown and his large donation to Mitt Romney (who is a proponent of private school vouchers, according to his Web site).

rogersresize.jpg“I wouldn’t necessarily say that our politics are similar,” Rogers told me today, about Romney. “I just felt he was a good candidate for many reasons.”

Rogers, an heir to the Dreyers ice cream fortune and a philanthropist, says he hopes people will look beyond his political party. “I’d rather have people judge me on what I’ve done and what I continue to do for Oakland schools,” he said.

Will they, and should they?

Dick Spees, a Republican who served on the Oakland City Council, managed to get himself elected in the largely Democratic city.

Who else has done so?

Katy Murphy

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

  • Public school fan

    I attended a forum in which all three district 1 candidates spoke. I was pleasantly surprised by what Brian Rogers had to say both in answer to questions and in his own speech about why he’s running for the position and what he feels he can bring to the position. None of the candidates are perfect and none fit exactly what I’d like to see, but I have to say that I don’t think this election should turn on party lines. Oakland schools need someone who can think outside the box and provide some real solutions to so many problems that really range along a wide spectrum.
    I came away from the forum feeling that Brian Rogers might be that person.

  • TheTruthHurts

    I will have to say in general, I don’t like the company that many in Republican leadership keep. I know and love many individual Republicans, but the folks that drive that party scare me. That said, our Dem front-runner is advocating that we drop the name-calling, label-mongering that is so frequent in politics. Local school board elections seem like a great place to start.

  • oakie

    Who cares what his affiliation is. I, too, was him speak and I was also impressed. He was cogent, rational and an effective communicator. Those qualities are sorely lacking on the school board. Note all 3 candidates will be debating Thursday evening in Rockridge (sponsored by the RCPC). Bring your sharpest questions.

  • Steven Weinberg

    Is it possible to see or listen to any of the candidates presentations either on the web or the city or school district cable television stations? Failing that, where is the best place to find their written responses to questions and issues?

  • Public school fan

    If there is such a place to hear the candidates’ platforms and answers to questions, I haven’t found it. That’s why it is so very important to go hear them in person. I doubt that there are very many debates/forums left before the election, so Thursday night’s debate in Rockridge is important. Encourage people to go hear what each candidate has to say!

    I get the feeling that OUSD is at a turning point (either good or bad) and thus the school board representatives will hold critical decision-making power in the upcoming years. I wish more people realized this and got interested in this campaign!

  • Katy Murphy

    I thought KTOP (Channel 10) would be airing the forums periodically, but I didn’t find them listed on the schedules posted online. I’ve e-mailed the station manager to find out about the schedule and whether there’s a way to access video on the Web.

    Also, Tennessee Reed, one of the North Oakland candidates, told me today she had posted video of several forums online. I found the below site, but I can’t get to any of the videos for some reason: http://www.redroom.com/media/tennessee-maria-reed

    If you’re interested in catching a live forum for District 1 but can’t make it out on Thursday, my neighborhood newsletter says there’s one from 7:30-9 p.m. tomorrow (Wednesday) night for the city council and school board seats. The event is organized by the Piedmont Avenue Neighborhood Improvement League, and will be held at 110 41st St., in the 11th floor Sky Room.

    If I find out anything that might actually answer your question directly, I’ll let you know.

  • Katy Murphy

    Anyone kicking themselves for missing the League of Women voters forums could be in luck. I just heard back from the KTOP programmer, who said the forums are tentatively scheduled to play on Channel 10 later this month. They will be simultaneously streamed online, through the city’s Web site.

    Forum 1 included the District 3 (West Oakland) and District 7 (East Oakland – Elmhurst) school board races.

    Forum 4 included the District 1 race (North Oakland).

    From her e-mail:

    Forum 1 May 22, at 3:30 p.m.; May 29, at 7 p.m.; May 30, at 3:30 p.m.

    Forum 4 May 28, at 3:30 p.m.; May 31, at 5:30 p.m.

    Programs are streamed as they are broadcast. The link is on the City’s website: http://oaklandnet.com/government/cmo/ktop.html

    Your readers can always check the City’s website for updates or tune into KTOP-TV for updates throughout the week. They can also order dvd copies by filling out a dub request – either on line; by coming into our office at 250 Frank H. Ogawa Plaza Suite 5354; or calling our main line 510.238-3566. Please allow 5-7 work days for completion of requests.

  • Steven Weinberg

    Katie, thank you for the information about tonight’s debate near Piedmont Avenue. It was very informative. Based on some of the other messages on this blog, I expected to be impressed by Brian Rogers, and I certainly was not. He was not an effective speaker at all tonight. He became completely flustered by a question about his position on teaching about birth control in schools and refused to state any position on the subject. When asked about his contributions to Mitt Romney, he said he had lots of different ideas from Romney, but did not cite a single one. His knowledge of the district and its schools seemed limited to press releases from the district’s Expect Success office, to which he has donated money. His only specific policy seemed to be to make every school a small school.
    Jody London seemed much more knowledgeable about the schools and the district, based on her experiences as a parent and as a leader in two district bond issue election campaigns. She has toured many schools as part of her work on a citizen’s oversight committee for spending some of those funds. She also has worked with the district to institute a “green schools” program to reduce energy waste and save money. Based on her resume and her answers, she seemed the stronger candidate by far.

  • Sue

    I just want to say thank-you to everyone who’s paying attention to this election and the candidates.

    My board representative isn’t up for election this time, so I’m kind of detached. But whoever is elected this time around is going to have a great deal of influence over my kids’ education too, so I appreciate that they’re being considered so carefully.

  • ScottPark

    I, for one, will not vote for a Republican who does not have kids in the public schools and is an advocate for charter schools. Also, I do not believe you are a “philanthropist” if your main job is giving away your parents’ money (I think the parents are the philanthropists). I just don’t see the fit here with Oakland and suspect that he’s probably got his eye on higher things. Sheila Jordan and Jena Quan came from the school board and now Kerry Hammill and Greg Hodge hope to so so, too.

    I guess the one thing you can say is that this guy is in this for something other than money. He already has enough of his own.

  • http://www.smallschoolsfoundation.org Holly at Oakland Small Schools Foundation

    I have known Brian Rogers for several years. I am a liberal Democrat and my values are completely aligned with Brian’s when it comes to education, equity, and opportunities for all kids. Brian has visited every school in the district (not just those in District 1),and has met with families, kids, parents, and principals. He understands how schools work (and when and why they don’t work well), and he understands the inner workings of the district. He has been doing the hard work for years to know schools and to invest himself (not just in terms of philanthropy) in the school district. He believes in bringing resources to all schools for the benefit of all of our 40,000 kids. I believe that someone with this experience and equity-based insight is right for our school board. Full disclosure – -he serves on the Oakland Small Schools Foundation board where our work is based solely in serving and developing resources for the schools and kids from low income families so that all kids have an opportunity to achieve excellence. We wanted Brian on the board because he cared about all kids and he has a proven track record of working successfully with schools, the community, and the district. I am a District 1 resident (for over 20 years), and I realize that there are a lot of parents in our area that are concerned about their own District 1 schools. But, I think we have to be concerned about all the schools, and we all must support the idea of improving the entire school district and ensuring that all the kids have the same opportunities to go to college and have productive work will promote a healthier city overall.

  • http://www.smallschoolsfoundation.org Holly at Oakland Small Schools Foundation

    I should clarify that my comment about wanting Brian on the board (in my previous massage) was in reference to the Oakland Small Schools Foundation (OSSF) board of directors, not the school board. OSSF is a not-for-profit and does not endorse candidates. I am speaking as a private citizen and believe that people are misjudging Brian based on no knowledge. Regarding Steve Weinberg’s comment about Brian’s apparent interest in making all schools small: as context, Oakland has 47 small schools which were the result of a reform movement begun by parents and Oakland Community Organizations (OCO) to counteract the overcrowding and low performance we were seeing in the flatland (impoverished neighborhoods)schools. The schools were converted from large schools to small schools in batches starting in 1999; some are seven years old, some are one year old. Small schools started in New York and have migrated across many urban districts, and have been successful primarily because kids are well known by adults — they don’t fall through the cracks due to anonymity common in large inner-city schools. I don’t believe Brian wants all schools to be small schools or believes that charters are necessarily the exclusive way to go. Many of us who work in educational services think a successful widespread reform may include several options. Right now we have these small schools in the flats that are showing a lot of promise — that is what Brian was referencing last night. Unfortunately, he did not have the time to put it all in context — the district has been energetically making significant and successful changes over the last 10 years (indeed, OUSD is the only large district in CA that has had overall student improvement for three years in a row), and it is hard to list all of them in a half-hour forum. Suffice to say, that if you sat down with Brian he would be able to give you very fine details of everything that is going on in the district and with the schools — I have personally had these conversations with him.

  • Caroline

    I’m just reading from afar because I’m interested in the whole Oakland school reform thing. But I have to ask, Holly, if you’ve seen the Perimeter Primate blog’s findings showing that the achievement gap has widened under Expect Success.


    It’s really startling to believe that NO one has looked at those figures before (the blogger is a parent volunteer). Maybe everyone just forgot to mention them?

    (Again, I’m not an Oaklander. I know BOE seats are nonpartisan. Personally, support for Mitt Romney would be a deal-breaker for me. But that’s just me.)

  • Steven Weinberg

    Holly, I just went to the CDE website to check your assertion that Oakland is the only large district to show student improvement three years in a row. I checked Los Angeles Unified and found that they have had improvement in each of the last three years. Last year LA had larger improvement than Oakland, although Oakland did make greater improvements the two previous years.
    There have been some successes as part of the small school movement, but there have also been some fiascos, most of which have taken place because small school activitists and district administrators seemed more concerned about spreading the small school gospel than in examining closely the pre-conditions for success of a small school and making sure they are in place before proceeding.
    Whatever Mr. Rogers may really believe, last night he said that he wanted all schools to be small schools, and we don’t need a board member who is wedded to one solution for all the district’s problems.

  • Caroline

    Holly says: “OUSD is the only large district in CA that has had overall student improvement for three years in a row)”

    San Francisco Unified School District
    District growth API 2007 763
    2006 755
    2005 745
    2004 724
    2003 712

  • Caroline

    Holly, I’m curious where that claim about Oakland came from. I’m sure it wasn’t a deliberate falsehood, but what gives?

  • Dick Spees

    Dear Katy,

    Since you referenced me, I would like to point out that I was elected six times to the Oakland City Council, first time at-large, by never less than 68% of the vote. I believe it is an example that party has little to do with the election to a non-partisan office. The Oakland electorate is very smart and will vote for the candidate who can get things done rather than those who politize and divide.

    Brian Rogers is a teacher and a business trained leader who will work collaboratively to bring passion,innovation and creativity to Oakland Public Schools. I have enthusiastically endorsed Brian Rogers, not because the other candidates are not worthy, but because I know we have an historic opportunity to elect someone who will bring the resources, experience and personality to build a world class school system.

    It is my fervant hope that voters will disregard the irrelevant and inaccurate chatter and vote for Brian Rogers June 3. He is the candidate who will truly make a difference.

    Dick Spees
    Oakland City Councilmember 1979 to 2003

  • Steven Weinberg

    On the topic of the June election, I just received a very unfair hit piece against Loni Hancock. I’m not sure for whom I’m going to vote in that race; I admired Wilma Chan when she was on the school board, but I still wanted to explain how misleading the anti-Hancock flyer is.
    The flyer accuses Hancock of lower expectations for California students because she favored changing the score required to be considered Proficient on California STAR tests. To evaluate her position one needs to understand how the Proficient level was originally set, and how it is now being used under No Child Left Behind.
    When California began its STAR testing program, in 1999, the state used the word Proficient for the second highest band of test scores, roughly equivalent to the 66% to 90% percentile. If it makes any sense to assign the term “grade level” to any band of test scores, it would have been the middle band, 33% to 66%, which is called Basic. (The highest band is Advanced, and the two lower bands are Below Basic and Far Below Basic.) California set the goal of bringing all schools up to an average score of Proficient, with a yearly goal of raising scores by 5% of the difference between the current score and the goal at each school. The state has supplied extra funds to schools which are required to make the greatest gains, and does impose extra control over schools that do not make yearly progress. The high level set for the Proficient band made some sense because it was a long-term goal, and incremental progress was acceptable.
    When No Child Left Behind passed in 2001 it said that all students needed to score Proficient by 2014 and that states would set their Proficiency levels and timetables to reach that goal. Most states set their Proficiency levels at something that would have fallen within our Basic range. Texas, which was the starting point for No Child, set it at about the bottom of our Basic range. To keep from having to redefine Proficiency, California kept its high standard (unreasonably high for No Child purposes) and set a timeline that required a very low percentage of Proficient students in the earliest years, but then increased its demands sharply from 2008 on. With these new higher requirements, so many schools will be classified as underperforming under No Child that the state will no longer be able to distinguish a school making reasonable progress from one that is truly failing.
    It is not reasonable to expect every student to perform at a level that only one-third of students could perform at a few years ago. Bringing California into line with most other states is a reasonable step to take until the No Child law is reformed. Hancock should be commended for trying to do what is right.

    Does anyone know anything about the group that put out the mailer: Education Leaders for High Standards Independent Expenditure Committee.

  • Caroline

    Still wondering where Holly’s inaccurate claim about Oakland test scores came from. As a media critic as well as an education wonk, I am interested in tracking the spread of misinformation. If Holly’s not following this thread, I’ll give her a call tomorrow.

  • Sharon

    I, for one, am truly grateful for any format (particularly the internet) which allows members of the community to learn more about political candidates and to share their concerns about those candidates with each other.

    Mr. Spees’ unfortunate use of the use of the word “chatter” to indirectly refer to those who are expressing their deep concerns about the qualifications and motives of a candidate, in this case the one he supports, is simply insulting.

    Chatter, by definition, means “idle, trivial talk.”

    Yes, there have been expressions of concern about this candidate who was for years an outsider to the public school system and is now a newcomer in the public school community, who has been working for the past few years (by way of personal connections) in the inner depths of a state-appointed administration which has excluded most public input for the past five years, who is well-connected to that leadership and others because of family wealth and power, and who now has collected endorsements from members of a tier of power players (politicians and businessmen) who most assuredly associate privately with one another to discuss how they want the public schools should be run.

    By what Mr. Spees calls “chattering” about all of this, only means that the smart Oakland electorate is being incredibly responsible in their role as citizens in a democratic nation, and are just doing their job.

  • http://www.smallschoolsfoundation.org Holly at Oakland Small Schools Foundation

    I apologize for my mis-statement about OUSD being the only large urban district to show academic growth three years in a row. Indeed, most of the state’s large urban districts have improved their API scores over the last three years. Of the all districts with greater than 20,000 students, though, OUSD has improved the most over the last three years. (See the chart in the 2007 OUSD annual report – front page of district website — that illustrates this.

  • Sharon

    Steve: As far as I am aware, you are the sharpest person in OUSD about testing and the data. What is your opinion about OUSD’s increased test scores, API’s, etc.? To me they seem to be a result of “standardization” methodologies imposed by the state, and then compliance in the classroom. Has all the “reform” stuff in OUSD made much of a difference at all?

    Test scores have gone up, but more for the higher performing subgroups than the lower ones. As a result, OUSD’s achievement gap has actually INCREASED over the past five years!

    What’s your take on this?

    Subject: English Language Arts AMO’s

    1. The gap between Asian and African American students increased 13.1 percentage points. The gap was 16.5 percentage points in 2002 and 29.6 percentage points in 2007.

    2. The gap between White and African American students increased 2.4 percentage points. The gap was 51.8 percentage points in 2002 and 54.2 percentage points in 2007.

    3. The gap between Asian and Latino students increased 12.9 percentage points. The gap was 21.6 percentage points in 2002 and 34.5 percentage points in 2007.

    4. The gap between White and Latino students increased 2.2 percentage points. The gap was 56.9 in 2002 and 59.1 in 2007.

    Subject: Mathematics AMO’s

    1. The gap between Asian and African American increased 11.0 percentage points. The gap was 30.2 in 2002 and 41.2 in 2007.

    2. The gap between White and African American students increased 4.6 percentage points. The gap was 48.6 in 2002 and 53.2 in 2007.

    3. The gap between Asian and Latino students increased 6.1 percentage points. The gap was 30.6 in 2002 and 36.7 in 2007.

    4. The gap between White and Latino students decreased 0.5 percentage points. The gap was 49.2 in 2002 and 48.7 in 2007.

    So rather than the achievement gap showing any bit of closure, it has increased by the average of 6.5 percentage points over the past five years.

  • Steven Weinberg

    Thank you for the compliment, Sharon. I have been watching these test scores from several different positions over a number of years. One thing I’ve learned is that there is rarely a one-to-one correlation between education program changes and test scores. Just when you think you have a pattern figured out, the next year’s data doesn’t support your hypothesis. Fair measurement is also made more difficult because the tests are not the same every year. Last year for example, seventh grade writing test scores shot up throughout the state. It took me months to discover that the state had changed the weighting it gave to mechanical errors in scoring the tests, so the improvement was not a sign of writing improving, it was a sign of the scoring getting easier.

    The easiest way to improve test scores is to stop doing something that you have been doing that artifically depressed the test scores in previous years–things like telling students that the tests don’t matter or having students test too long each day. I think that state-wide people have become convinced of the importance of these tests, and scores have improved somewhat because of that. Teachers are also more familiar with the format and content of the tests, and that helps them prepare the students better. Textbooks are also better aligned to the tests, which helps some.

    Just using the STAR test results it is impossible to tell whether there are any real improvements in students’ abilities, or if it is just higher scores on this one test. I think that most of the improvement in test scores is artifical, based on changes in how components of the tests are weighted and not real improvements in students’ knowlege, but I think the jury is still out on the question of whether some of it reflects real improvement.

    On your question about the achievement gap, I have two observations. First, looking at the AMO only counts the number of students Proficient and above, so if a group had lots of students just below the Proficient level, that group would be more likely to show improvement than a group where most of the students are Below Basic, so I don’t think it is surprising that better performing groups would show a bigger increase in the percent of students Proficient than lower achieving groups. For that reason, I would rather look at the API, which measures all levels, rather than AMO. API improvements since 2002 base are +90 for the entire district, +63 for African-Americans, +94 for Asians, +122 for Hispanics, and +76 for whites. I think some of the gains for Hispanics and Asians represent a decrease in the percentage of students in those groups who are recent immigrants. But we are still left with the question of why African-American students are showing smaller gains than any other group. One thing I noticed is that the biggest drop in enrollment for any group between 2002 and 2007 was for African-Americans. Based on my observations at my school and conversations with African-Americans who work there, Oakland is being seen as more and more dangerous for African-American young people, and those families who can afford it are (or were until the mortgage meltdown) leaving Oakland for Tracy and points east. If you remove some of the highest performers from any group, that group’s scores will suffer.
    Those are my best guesses as to what is going on, but I’m open to other interpretations. There are too many variables to be certain about any of this.

  • Sharon

    Thank you, Steve. I am going to study your posting and hope that others will, too.