`Right-sizing’ Oakland’s public schools

Another Office Space-like euphemism has woven itself into the OUSD-reform discussion. You will find it on Slide 26 of a presentation which the board hears tonight during a special meeting to discuss the district’s finances.


The fiscal recovery plan is an 86-page document, condensed into a 52-slide PowerPoint presentation, so there’s loads of information to digest about the district’s overall financial condition, massive debt and enrollment trends.

The bottom line? OUSD’s financial office is recommending the closure or merger of 10-17 schools sometime after the 2008-09 school year. Staff also proposed a set of criteria, including enrollment, neighborhood demand (and projected demand), locations of previous closures and test scores.

I think the district aims to clue the rest of us in as well, eventually. “Transparency and community input are critical,” one of the slides tells us. But I should note that I only learned about the special meeting today, when a district employee noticed the item wasn’t on my blog and and gave me a call. (I understand that it was recently posted on the board’s online legislative calendar, which I probably should check daily.)

Note: The board is not voting on anything tonight, and this “right-sizing plan” isn’t slated to be finalized until December. But if you don’t have a previous engagement at 6 p.m. tonight and want to listen in or pipe up, I’ll see you there.

image from Speartoon’s Web site at flickr.com/creativecommons

Katy Murphy

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

  • oakie

    If they’re closing 10-17 schools and using a

    “set of criteria, including enrollment, neighborhood demand (and projected demand), locations of previous closures and test scores.”

    Let’s see……Claremont Middle School…..

    NEIGHBORHOOD Demand? Pretty close to zero (although a few brave souls).

    Test Scores…..Abysmal

    Could we get CMS to the #1 spot? I have no idea of the “competition” but we’re in a good position…..

  • oakie

    Open up that Powerpoint Presentation if you dare.

    Slide 15 is the enrollment page. Woweee. Current enrollment is just under 39,000 and in just 2 years it will be under 37,500. They’ve already lost 15,000 just since 2000, they admit!

    Interestingly, they say “Two attributable factors are: (a) families moving out of Oakland and (b) growth of charter schools.”

    I live in Oakland and don’t have my child in OUSD, but it’s not those 2 reasons. I chose to put her in another public school district, that’s not dysfunctional.

    In combination with the existence of charter schools, and to the extent Oakland residents can and WILL put their kids in other districts, enrollment will decline. And I think it’s a good “market signal” that OUSD does not have a monopoly on tax money to do whatever they want. Shape up or ship out. And all those union contracts will go with it.

    I have to add that at the bottom of the page they have a well done logo (no doubt much time was spent on THIS) that says “expect success.” I love it.

  • hills parent

    I have lived in Oakland for 15 years and as an educator I believe in public schools. However, one year with my child in an Oakland school has convinced me to take her to a public school in another community. These “flight” numbers will only increase. Does the district office administration or school board even care about that? I doubt it!

  • Nextset

    OUSD is no longer a “School” district. It’s a nuthouse district. They run nuthouses, not schools. It’s products are not “students”.

    One fine day that organization will be bankrupted and it will be replaced by a school district that means business. Oakland should have a School District that actually runs “schools” where students feel they belong in and have done well to have been accepted to. Like San Francisco’s Lowell High School, or the very best vocational school.

  • hills parent


    Have you ever considered writing a story about those families that have left Oakland for other school districts?

  • Sharon

    Katy: Speaking about the district, two years ago I learned that ANYONE could respond to the online version of the district’s Use Your Voice Survey, including people who were complete outsiders to the school which they were supposedly reviewing.

    To test it, I completed the survey for a random school that was closing anyway, and my submission seemed to be accepted. For a time I was in communication with the district about this issue.

    Last fall, I asked about it again. One NExO told me this was not still possible to do, but an OUSD administrative staffer later indicated that it was.

    My concern is that the UYV data would be potentially invalid if this scenario is indeed the case. Can you find out the truth about where things stand at this point?

    The results of surveys are great if they are accurate, but misleading if they are not.

  • Katy Murphy

    At the board meeting tonight, district staff said the cost savings from school closures would allow more money to flow into the remaining schools, as well as to employee salaries. (As of now, no raises are included in budget projections.)

    On the other hand, board member Gary Yee noted that recent rounds of school closures had an unintended consequence: a drop in district enrollment, as some of the displaced families enrolled their kids in charter schools.

    Do you think that school closures will allow the district to run better as a whole, or that they will further destabilize the school system, paving the way for more “right-sizing?”

  • Katy Murphy

    Hills Parent: I’ve thought about doing a story about families leaving Oakland public schools, whether to private schools or other districts. Do you (personally) know many other parents who’ve come to the same decision?

  • Nextset

    Katy: Not only have families left OUSD they’ve left Oakland in some cases due to concerns of crime. The Tribune would do well to document some of this. When the mayor dines in DC instead of publicly dining at the Oakland Restaurants after the recent robberies he does nothing to discourage the trend.

  • TheTruthHurts

    In 2004 declining enrollment was primarily blamed on an exodus from Oakland altogether. The numbers suggested that was true. Now, that exodus has stabilized and we’re being told that declining enrollment at OUSD is roughly equal to increasing enrollment at charters.

    This is direct competition folks. Our parents are voting with their feet.

  • Catherine

    OUSD is a school district that does some things well. If your child is average meaning they are working at grade level or 1/4 grade level up or down from their current grade level, most OUSD schools work well for those children.

    However if you have children that are more than 1/4 grade level above or below the grade they are currently placed, you have only a handful of choices, 1. move, 2. move your child to another school district – either legally or not, 3. pay for private tuition or 4. pay for enrichment or tutoring.

    I have a child who falls outside the range. I have addressed this issue not only with my child’s teacher, but the Principal and the “Expect Success Group Leader” for our school. The answer is that they (the teachers, principal and “Expect Success Group Leader”) are doing their best. They admit that they are not following the teacher contract of differentiation (up or down), but that they are “working hard” and “satisfying the needs of the majority of children” and that the teachers are “doing an excellent job” and that “the classrooms are stimulating.”

    OUSD will continue to lose children from about the 3rd grade on for those students whose needs are not being met. I don’t know what “Expect Success” really is other than a slogan. Because from my conversations they don’t expect success from students significantly above or below, they expect test scores, or to have the children skip testing if they have enough good testing students.

  • Public school fan

    Yep. This is exactly right. The more schools OUSD closes, the more kids they will lose. School closure does nothing to combat the image of a failing school system and, in fact, it simply confirms it. I also don’t see the supposed savings going into the remaining schools — it will end up going into administrative costs or going to pay down the debt the district owes to the state. Also, given OUSD and Board of Ed.’s blind eye toward the kids who are smart, care, and test well, more and more of those families will leave the district in one way or another.

    And, yes, Katy, I too personally know several families who have moved out of the district because of the schools (and these were people who lived in “good” school neighborhoods) and I hear more and more talk from others about doing so. As several of us have noted on this blog, there are 2 big exodus points, right after 5th grade (beginning of middle school) and right after 8th grade (beginning of high school). The middle school and high school options in OUSD are generally unpalatable.

  • Catherine

    My daughter goes to a Saturday language school. The language is not taught in the OUSD. This means that under the California Ed Code they would have to release her if she is accepted in a district in which a public school would allow her to continue her course of study.

    This is only one reason why she continues the school. Under the plan she qualifies for Stanley Middle School in Lafayette and Campolindo High School in Moraga.

    We cannot afford private school and while there are a couple of middle schools that are acceptable, my problem is that she will then be behind in high school coming from OUSD.

    We, too, have seen 8 families move from Oakland in the past 2 years to buy homes in either Alameda or on the other side of the tunnel.

  • another hills parent

    It is evident that “public school fan”, Catherine, myself and undoubtedly others know of families (such as myself) who have children in the so-called better hills schools and who are clearly not impressed with the education that our children are receiving. It has been evident that the OUSD elementary schools do work to address the learning needs of those students performing at below grade level standard. However, what about those clearly exceeding the grade level standards? My daughter is such a student. Our choice is either charter school (of which I am not an advocate), private school (as a public school administrator I believe in supporting the public school system), or moving to a community with a accountable school district office. I have chosen the latter. I am one of the fortunate families who bought many years ago and have a great deal of equity in my home, allowing me to sell at a loss and buy elsewhere. Not all families can do this at this time.

    Crime, increased taxes, and a dysfunctional school district —– it is a no-brainer for me to decide that
    it is now time for my family to move. The wonderful diversity that Oakland provides is no longer enough for me to risk my families safety and education

  • Charter Teacher

    I have worked for both district and charter schools in and out of Oakland. The reality is that most charters are not that much better than the district. The reason they are some which better in terms of data are due to a few exceptional ones that are included into the charter grouping when test scores are released.

    Declining enrollment? Has anyone ever heard of the California Student Identification System (CSIS)which has been tracking students in California for the past four years. How is it that California, the most populast state in the Union has low enroll ment up and down the state? Maybe the enrollment has been padded in the past.

    Having said that, I would NEVER trust OUSD with my two children. How can we support a school district that allows kids to leave campus for protests days before and during state exams? Oakland has it’s values all mixed up. You couldn’t have designed a better system to destroy a city. Over and over again, we hear the many issues regarding Oakland schools. How will this change? Parents from the hills send their kids to private schools or send them to other districts. Those few concerned parents who send their kids to the typical school are risking their child’s lives when they hit the middle and high school levels.
    Does it make sense that we continue to pay high property taxes to promote a dysfunctional district? I agree with the comment that many parents are choosing which schools with their feet yet, those families leave their wallets in the district.

    In my opinion, OUSD will be destroyed by standards and this is a good thing. We should all be concentrating on how to prepare our children’s children to take over and create a new wave of thinking. OUSD will destroy itself and it is inevitable. As for me, I recently am closing on a beautiful house on the other side of the tunnel. I am not a gambler and refuse to wait and see if my children will survive in OUSD. Oakland is a nut house run by the inmates which include; the politicians, and school leaders (charter and district). God be with those who choose to play with their child’s future.

  • http://www.mindpowercollective.org Jayeesha

    Despite the depth of dysfunction in OUSD, I am committed first and foremost to our students and youth who ARE in the system, and who DO go to school and the strength and resolve of the teachers, artists and youth development workers who are as committed as myself.

    I left the Expect Success project nearly two years ago after being discouraged from the type of reform I witnessed taking place. I believe there is a real revolutionary reform movement slowly taking place, through arts, creativity and culture within our schools that gets lost… and that’s where I’ve gone to affect the kind of real transformational change I want to see.

    I believe there is a way out of this grave that’s been dug for the public schools in this district, and I believe none but ourselves can find our way out. Blaming, naming and shaming only get your this far. Coming together to support our youth in authentic, engaged ways that express their joy, creativity, and LOVE FOR LIFE is much more difficult in many ways, and more effective, than just griping about our ills.

    Katy, I’d love it if you featured the Oakland Youth Arts Festival on May 31st from 12pm-9pm at the Oakland Museum of California. ART SAVES LIVES. OUSD is sponsoring this event, and 40 schools and arts organizations are banding together to allow our youth to say “WE ARE NOT THE YOUTH YOU TELL US WE ARE, WE ARE THE YOUTH WE KNOW WE ARE: DIVERSE, UNIQUE, CREATIVE & UNSTOPPABLE”.


  • oakie

    Before accepting the bogus argument/excuse by the OUSD that families have moved out of Oakland (no doubt they have, but….) current (2007) census data


    shows that there’s approx. 72,000 residents in Oakland between ages 5 and 18. Less than 39,000 are enrolled in OUSD, and it’s projected to drop to a bit over 37,000 in 2 years.

    So there are a lot of school age kids residing in Oakland that their parents are not willing to send to OUSD. Wonder why?

  • http://www.fcmat.org/ Pat Hudson

    Anyone have an explanation what happened to Special Education expenditures between 04/05 and 05/06? Looks like there must have a huge accounting change in the classification of expenditures since expenditures jumped from $37MM to $59MM (encroachment slide in presentation). It is no wonder no one get their arms around the finances in OUSD if you have $20 million reclassifications happening.

  • Jose


    Are you sure you want to interview families who leave the Oakland public schools?

    If so, check with the principals at the top elementary school in Oakland, because after the 5th grade, I enrolled in an Oakland middle school and many of my classmates enrolled in private schools or Alameda Public Schools.

    Too bad, my mom could not afford to send me to a private school and we had no connections in Alameda.

    Do you have any idea of the number of students attending the charter schools?

  • another hills parent


    Whether you write a story about families moving out of Oakland due to the schools or attend private schools the results will be the same — that Oakland schools are failing our children and if this trend continues can the private schools continue to take in all of these children?

  • Catherine

    Katy should also talk to the parents of students who transferred into St. Theresa’s from public schools – I can think of three such families – when asked they will tell you it was the low quality of education of their bright kids in hills schools.

    These schools do not challenge the kids, they hothouse them for their test scores.

  • hills parent


    That is precisely why my family is leaving our “hills” school. The curriculum does not challenge students.

  • Public school fan

    But, Hills Parent, is it really the curriculum (aside from Open Court) that is at issue? Isn’t it really the lack of support from the top of OUSD on down into the classroom for challenging the more advanced students? The teachers and the individual schools have no incentive to do so, because they are not rewarded for doing so (or trained to do so). The only the thing that is rewarded is an increase in the school’s API. Thus, performance on standardized tests is seen as the end all and be all. And the below proficient kids are therefore going to get the attention and resources. Generally, although not always the case, the advanced students are going to test well. Thus, no need and no resources available and no support to challenge those students.

    Any professional teacher with the proper training and support should be able to challenge the advanced students simply be enhancing the existing curriculum, i.e., having the more advanced students write a more advanced essay — such as a page rather than a paragraph; giving a more nuanced topic to write about, etc. So, I don’t think it is the curriculum per se, I think that the downfall is much worse — it is the philosophy of the district and the schools that is at issue.

    Now, I did not personally hear this, but a friend who has a bright child in one of the “good hills” schools told a group of people (including me) that when she asked the principal about programs within the school to challenge her child, the principal said, “If your child is bright and academically advanced, then your child does not belong in public school; that’s what private school is for.” Yikes.

  • another hills parent

    Public school fan:

    The situation at my child’s “hill” school is that the kindergarten program is very much lock-stepped. All students do the same thing at the same time, regardless of their ability level. This may work for children working to meet state standards. However for the brighter students this means that they are not challenged and forced to repeat what they already learned in preschool.

    Do I blame this on the school? Absolutely

    Do I blame this on the district? Absolutely

    I seriously doubt that the district office staff has any clue as to what is occurring at the school sites. For instance, they had no clue that for many, many years the school was recommending upwards of 25% of the Kindergarten students to repeat K. This is absurb! AND the district office did NOT know that this was common practice at this “hills” school, at least not until this year.

  • Public school fan

    Another Hills Parent:

    Yes, your K experience sounds the same as ours. But this isn’t a curriculum failure. It’s a failure of the school and the district to understand that they have a duty to educate each child to the best of that child’s abilities — whether those be average abilities or advanced ones. The district has some real diamonds in its classes (as well as families who would rather stay in public school in a diverse environment if they are able to do so in good conscience), but doesn’t seem to understand the value of trying to actually educate those kids.

    Again, I realize that the district has much larger issues than this one and a finite amount of resources, but shouldn’t they try to push each child to the highest level that child can achieve? Isn’t that what education is supposed to be about? Frankly, I’m not sure that the district really cares about what is going on at each school site, as long as it doesn’t cause bad headlines.

  • Catherine

    We also need to break up the teachers who are also lock-step. Our school has some really great teachers, but there is a 2nd grade teacher who actually has said not to teach children in advance of the curriculum because it is difficult for a classroom teacher to have such a variety of abilities.

    We have a particular 3rd grade teacher who completely differentiates in her classroom and she is seen as an “outsider with a loud class.” Her students are able to work about a grade below 3rd and up to their abilities above 3rd grade, some as high as 5th grade levels.

    I would love to hear from teachers why it is difficult to modify homework for kids based on their ability. For example, if you give a pre-test on a subject and the children pass with a 90% or better, why can’t they be given homework that is different from those who do not pre-test at 90%? My son’s classroom is already pre-testing to show how much they “learned.”

    Also, the “group leaders” from the “Expect Success” program really seem to focus on “closing the achievement gap.” To do so, they need the advanced kids not to continue to advance so quickly. If you have students advancing 1.5 to 2 grade levels of work and other students, particularly those of color advancing 1 grade level each school year, the achievement gap becomes greater. Perhaps the measurement should be changed evaluate the student’s ability and level at the beginning of the school year and that at the end. If a child has a history of 1.5 to 2 grade levels per year that would be the expectation for that student. And EVERY student should be able to advance 1 grade level per year, minimum.

    Another question, for those who might know. Title 1 schools get more money per student. I have recently visited 3 Oakland Title 1 schools. All of them have security guards at the elementary level – – – sometimes 1 guard, sometimes up to 3. Wouldn’t the student population be better served to have tutors rather than guards? All three schools had a guard that was flipping through a book, newspaper or magazine as the kids were coming in to the school in the morning, none of whom looked up to see the students coming in the door or looking at who was dropping off the students. Aren’t we setting up an expectation to the students in the security guard schools that it is not a safe place to be and security guards are more valuable than tutors?

  • cranky teacher

    Oakie, be careful with drawing big conclusions from those rough numbers. If you compare Berkeley’s census numbers to public school enrollment you get the same results.

    Public schools are deeply flawed everywhere. Despite its bad rap, I suspect Oakland is no worse or better than the average of districts that serve a similar demographic in California.

    Sadly, that average is very low.

  • Pingback: School `right-sizing’ is upon us - The Education Report - Katy Murphy covers what’s going on in the Oakland schools()

  • http://www.gps-schools.org Tam Newby

    Closing Neighborhood Schools is bad for Oakland Unified School District. Check out http://www.gps-schools.org . It’s a website that chronicles all that is wrong with OUSD’s plan. In 2005 Portland Public Schools District (PPS) closed down neighborhood schools and began selling the real estate off in a short sighted plan to raise money and ‘steamline efficiency’. It hasn’t worked. In fact it’s a disaster in terms of achievement not to mention sustainability.
    Now the district needs taxpayers to pay for new schools to be built which will cost infinitely more than what was sold off.
    Instead of small neighborhood schools which are statistically proven to provide the best academic achievement, PPS is proposing to warehouse children in mega schools. Children are spending a lot of time being bussed all over the city as a result of the ‘choice concept.’ Academic achievement is sinking in Portland. Beware Oakland. Go to gps-schools.org for more info.