Does OUSD prepare kids for life after high school?

The event flyer for a Wednesday evening discussion on the subject poses a different question, one that sounds sort of odd considering the school district’s notorious drop-out rate:

“Are Oakland students 100% Graduated, 100% Prepared?”


I’m not sure I could name one school district which could answer that question affirmatively. But district staff will also ask more nuanced questions Wednesday night, such as what the audience thinks about the district’s priorities, its “learning expectations” of the students and “how to ensure that schools prepare all students to achieve their dreams after high school.”

This is an issue that has arisen time and time again on this forum, so I figured you might be interested. The event is from 6-9 p.m. at Oakland High School’s Theater A, 1023 MacArthur Blvd., at Park Boulevard.

image from Lisa Weston’s site at flickr.com/creativecommons

Katy Murphy

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

  • Nextset

    This is an interesting policy question. I don’t know of a school district that openly states it will attempt to prepare a child for life (on their own) at age 18. The schools’ attitude is that that is someone else’s problem, mainly the family – or welfare or social service dept in the case of the foster and group home kids who are to be dumped in the streets at this point.

    When it comes to the proletariat and the underclass they go to the school of hard knocks at age 18. They do what they want and get knocked around until they learn to so what they need to to stay afloat. By then some of them have infected themselves (literally) with a fatal pathogen.

    I’d like to see the schools start a program for the teen who are not college bound to work on preparation for survival in society “on their own” (which means making their own decisions as opposed to joining the service or living under the control of others). If the schools are afraid to deal with the politically incorrect areas this may involve, perhaps community groups can put on workshops and have the schools advertise them. The thing is, they will only attract those certain people that think of the future which eliminates those who really need it most.

    I have participated in regional NAACP programs for high school youth – every time I do I say to my self “never again” – it can be very frustrating – but I usually attend when asked. My experiences are that these tend to be too light, too PC, too mystic (religious), and reminds me of the featherweight school atmosphere that got these kids in the shape they are in in the first place.

    The Labor Unions are best to operate something like this. A good program would have major participation of public health dept and the criminal attorneys also. Consumer Credit agencies and the local eviction (unlawful detainer), Traffic & Drug Court Judges would help.

    Life at 18 starts with jobs, and staying out of trouble. If you have that you can learn the rest of life in time. I’d avoid the references to “dreams” also. Everytime I hear it I think of goofy female bleeding heart social workers – and their male counterparts. These kids should be thinking in terms of “I want to have” and “I’m going to go after what I want” which makes the point that you earn these things by doing what is required to get them, “dreams” involve winning the Lottery.

  • Sue

    I can’t speak to the whole district’s success, or even attempt, to prepare students for life after high school.

    But I was completely blown away a month ago when the inclusion teachers told me what they were doing to prepare my older son, a 10th grader in the ASIP program at Skyline. He loves drama, sings, and does these amazing voices/impersonations. They had him working on recording a demo DC, famous quotes in some of his best voices – for example, a pirate saying FDR’s famous line at the country’s entry to WWII, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”

    One teacher had friends in the entertainment industry and was networking to get the demo to some casting/talent agencies. Everyone who’s ever heard the boy doing his voices – a group of adults at a birthday party in a public park thought that Mr. Sulu of Star Trek had joined the party, but when we turned around it wasn’t the actor, George Takai, it was our son – agrees that he has a remarkable gift, but no one has known how to market his talents. Until now.

    I don’t know what plans are being made for the other students in ASIP, but I know them, and I’m sure that our inclusion teachers are working just as hard for all their program’s kids.

    If only the district as a whole had the resources to do this sort of planning with all students, not just the ones in Spec. Ed. Instead of kids floundering and lost during and after high school, we’d have young adults who aren’t college-bound learning work skills.

    Counsellors supporting hundreds of students (what’s that ratio now?), can’t possibly know their students well enough or have the time to give them this sort of personal support, and that’s a huge loss. 30-plus years ago, my high school counsellor did know me that well.

  • Sue

    Ummm… That should have said, “demo CD” – my fingers stuttered.

  • Steven Weinberg

    I attended the meeting at Oakland High on Wednesday night to take part in the “community conversation.”
    Vince Matthews, the State Administrator, and Brad Stam, the Chief Academic Officer, were there representing the school administration. Several school board members were present, but mostly as observers. The presentation was made by Russlynn Ali, the head of Education Trust–West, a consulting and advocacy group that has been hired by the district for this project. They are apparently to do fact-finding about how Oakland students are prepared for college and the workplace and make a report to the Board and/or State Administrator in the fall. I asked the Education Trust–West co-ordinator of the event who was paying for this contract, and she said she thought it was probably Expect Success.
    Ms. Ali’s presentation stressed the low percentage of African-American and Hispanic students in California and in Oakland who graduate from high school having taken all the A-G requirements for admission to UC and California State Colleges. She argued that meeting these requirements were just as important for students entering the workforce after high school as they were for students going to 4-year colleges. She mentioned several times that a San Jose school district had moved to require the A-G requirements for all their students, and that a group of parents in Los Angeles was working toward that goal.
    Ms. Ali said that there would be a larger meeting held during the summer “with break-out groups,” to get community input, then the floor was opened for questions and comments. Students, parents, and teachers made statements, almost all of which generated statements from Ms. Ali or Mr. Stam, reiterating points made during the presentation. Concerns of students about the lack of counselors at their schools, being placed in inappropriate classes, and having too many standardized tests, were are met with the same answer: require all students to satisfy the A-G requirements. Some students objected that they already knew why so many Oakland students did not graduate, and they just needed someone to listen to them, but the presenters did not ask them to elaborate. For a “conversation” it was pretty one-sided.
    I am always troubled when a group is hired to investigate a problem, and they go on record with the solution before the investigation even begins. While I think that there can be huge improvements in informing parents and students about the importance of the A-G requirements and making sure that everyone understands which courses satisfy those requirements and which do not, I do not think it is necessarily correct to say that the A-G requirements are vital for students not planning to attend 4-year colleges, and I fear that requiring those classes and eliminating many courses that do not meet the A-G requirements might eliminate some excellent school-to-career programs that Oakland should be expanding.
    I hope that the Oakland School Board and citizens will insist on a true investigation into the challenges of increasing the numbers of Oakland students who graduate ready for either college or the workplace, and not just accept the recommendations of this advocacy group as the only way to approach this important subject.

  • Caroline

    The notion that every student should go to college is unrealistic and simplistic in any case. Many students would benefit far more from effective vocational classes than from meeting every one of the UC A-G requirements. Every nation that has an effective education system provides vocational education as well as college track.

    In my opinion, the insistence that A-G requirements are the be-all and end-all is yet another attack tactic promoted by public-school bashers, and embraced by those who have too little contact with schools and kids to see reality. (Or those who are being paid to come up with any solution they can pull out of a hat.)

  • Nextset

    Proletariat students are not required to have any mastery of college prerequisites to have a good life. They do however need to get other skills down by 18. Why are we beating up the Prole kids with “College”?

    And why have we tied High School graduation to College bound standards anyway? We need a new discussion about what secondary education means and establish a more reasonable lowest common denominator.

    In response to the post by S Weinberg: People in the Education Blog go nuts when I refer to “The Bell Curve” which is their problem – Anyone who calls themselves up on educational policy needs to know the stats.. It takes very little tampering with score cutoffs to knock out the black candidates on any qualifications that measure cognitive thinking. Too Bad, So Sad. Other groups are affected also but the distributions are different for each ethnic. Oakland is turning into a Hispanic School District. What’s the plan for those kids? Treat them like the Irish?

    When a public school system – or DMV for that matter – tampers with scoring cutoffs they have no right to be surprised at the results. Originally when state HS graduation tests were developed there discussion of setting the failure cutoff to 10th grade average or median reading level (or some level of performance that most of the 10th graders met). When they ran the projections it was discovered that a huge majority of the urban black high school students (never mind the other ethnics) couldn’t pass that cutoff. So the pass level in CA was reduced to the same measure of 8th graders. As a result we have this “crisis” of black students being blocked by the state exam while white children on 14 can pass. Pious “educators” sniff that this racial gap represents the failure of teachers and schools to properly teach the black students. They have to think that way to stay PC.

    DMV is about to jump into the same fray in implementing their new computer administered “written” driving test, which decrements the score of the applicant if they take too long to answer a question. It’s a time pressure test – exactly the thing that deselects the less cognitively able. Wait till you see what that does to the already serious racial gap in who can’t keep a CA driver’s license.

    Until the state gets real about the “all people are the same” mantra we will see more and more “gaps” emerging between the haves and the have nots in CA and elsewhere.

    A high school program is affected by the population they serve. All people are not the same, and the more Oakland Unified pretends they are a college prep system the more their cognitively challenged constituency gets messed over and the failure rates increase. It’s fine to have a college prep high school, but OUSD only needs one of those. The rest of the students need good schools that prepare them for life without a college degree – and doesn’t tell them they must go to college to be a good person.

    So forget college for more than half of the OUSD students. Hell, forget High school graduation for half of the students – they can’t manage the requirements short of adult education later in life. What is OUSD going to do to offer these kids the best hope for a good life? What I hear is nothing, but telling them they don’t have it because they can’t do college, or they can do the graduation requirements. Life goes on.

    Kids who need alternative and vocational school placement are numerous and should be served head on – with appropriate publicity, so they they and those like them and their families get to work on having a better life and make the most of the skills they do have. Set programs up that overtly state their students are not expected to go to “college” (trade school is not college), and do the best these kids who are the majority of OUSD students.

    I think our failure or dropout rates are way too high and are artifically created by this unreasonable emphasis on college preparation.

    Katy: It would be an interesting thread to have the readership explain what they think the CA State HS graduation requirements should be (re)set at. I would argue that they should be academically more basic but with increased requirements for civics with vocational training acceptable as a substitute for many academic requirements.

  • Caroline

    In a discussion on a right-leaning “school reform” listserve, some of those folks were touting the Netherlands’ educational system, claiming it was all based on private school and vouchers and was wildly successful.

    So I asked some Dutch friends. The stuff about private school and vouchers was completely, 100% untrue. (That’s actually a side point, but that’s why I was asking about their school system.)

    But what my Dutch friends told me was that their school system tracks students into college and vocational tracks. Students on a vocational track often graduate, legitimately, with job skills, after what would be the equivalent of our 10th grade (at 15 or 16). Voila — a reduced dropout rate! A successful school system! But when we have lots of less-academically-inclined kids leaving school after 10th grade, they’re doing it without career skills (as our school system isn’t designed to provide them with career schools by the end of 10th grade), and it’s a dropout crisis, and our public schools are failures.

  • Steven Weinberg

    Here is a different approach to preparing students for life after high school that OUSD should investigate, taken from the NEA news service:
    California program teaches students soft skills.
    California’s Valley Times (6/15, Louie) reported on the “Tri-Valley Educational Collaborative’s ‘Employability Certificate,'” which “is available to students in the Pleasanton, Dublin and Livermore [Calif.] school districts.” Students who complete the program receive “a certificate to show potential employers” that they “know what it takes to get, and keep, a job.” The program started as a “pilot…in the 2005-06 school year, said Julie Duncan, coordinator of career and technical education for the Pleasanton school district.” The skills were taught “informally” at first, said Duncan, “but this year business groups worked to publicize the idea among potential employers.” According to Duncan, the program “requires students to have an introduction letter, résumé and portfolio that could include attendance records.” The certificate is “usually part of a career and technical education course, including classes grouped by criminal justice, business and health and bioscience.” Toby Brink, president of the Tri-Valley Business Council, said, “One of the challenges [employers] face with the youth workforce is a lack of sophistication and soft skills.”

  • angie

    i think that black boys shouldnt be looked down upon and should be given equal oppurtunities && advantages…