Policy director tells school CFOs to hunker down

This morning, the governor signed the state budget, breaking the longest stalemate in California’s history. The education budget is essentially flat compared to last year’s, and schools will receive more money than the governor originally proposed.

But it will mean a loss of purchasing power, an analyst from the non-partisan Legislative Analyst’s Office explained last week. And, according to an article written to school CFOs by the policy director for the California Association of School Business Officials, it’s probably about to get worse:

Governor spares K-12 in budget vetoes

By Dennis Meyers, CASBO Assistant Executive Director, Advocacy and Policy

Governor Schwarzenegger signed the budget and its related bills this morning, blue-penciling $510 million in general fund expenditures. K-12 education was spared any deep cuts. The governor’s signature now puts into place everything that is needed to start getting money out the door to cash-strapped school districts, county offices of education, charter schools and community colleges. Of the $510 million in vetoes, here is the impact on education: Continue Reading


Oakland high schools to close campuses at lunch

image courtesy of the Oakland school district

In the next four years, fewer and fewer Oakland high school students will be permitted to escape school grounds at lunchtime, according to a plan that will be presented at Wednesday night’s school board meeting. (See full agenda here.)

Skyline, Life Academy, International, Youth Empowerment, Dewey, Far West And Bunche already have closed campuses. Next year, under the phase-in plan, ninth-graders at Continue Reading


Oakland school lunches get a C+

The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine gave Oakland’s school lunch program a C+ in its latest report card, down from a B last year, based on self-reported information from the district.

(I’m not exactly sure why the lunch program slipped. It wasn’t in the report, but I’ve asked for the details.)

Each year, the committee reviews the lunch menus and nutrition education programs of 20 school districts in different regions of the country to check for fruit and low-fat veggie side dishes, non-dairy beverages and healthy entrees.

The committee did observe an encouraging trend: Continue Reading


Video games and civics

I wonder if Barack Obama and John McCain have a campaign presence on Second Life. If not, maybe they should.

A new survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, and co-authored by the Mills College Civic Engagement Research Group, estimates that that 97 percent of kids between the ages of 12 and 17 play some kind of video game.

More than half of the young gamers surveyed said they considered moral and ethical issues while playing, while 43 percent made decisions about how a community, a city, or a nation should be run.

It also found that civic engagement in gaming was spread equally across racial, ethnic and socioeconomic lines.


A Mills College white paper delved into more detail about how games like SimCity and World of Warcraft have the potential to involve young people in American democracy. (That this is a real need has been well documented: The Center for Research on Civic Learning and Engagement recently found that 58 percent of youth were “disengaged” from electoral or civic activities, such as voting or volunteering.)

Kids who play SimCity, for example, are cast as mayor and are responsible for setting taxes and investing in infrastructure. Here’s one exchange, which was included in the Mills paper: Continue Reading


“Everybody in the district had me in jail”

Norris Cooper, a custodian at Webster Academy, tells us about the humiliation he experienced last week when he was detained by police at school in a burglary investigation that led to the arrests of three other janitors. Cooper has not been implicated. -Katy

I was taking out the garbage at Webster Academy Sept. 8 when a police officer approached and asked if I were Norris Cooper. He said that there was a problem here, and that I knew about the problem, was a part of the problem, or could help them solve the problem.

I asked what the problem was, and he said it was computer theft. He then told me to step around the corner of the building and asked, “Where are the computers?” When I said that I knew nothing about the computers, he said that my fellow co-workers were “singing on me like birds.” Then he walked away as another officer approached. This second officer asked if I were on probation, if I had any outstanding warrants, and when was the last time I had been arrested. I told him that I was not on probation, had no warrants, and had never been arrested. He then said I was going to spend a long time in Santa Rita. I told him that I would not be spending any time in Santa Rita, and he walked away.

A third officer then approached and asked if I were Norris Cooper. He asked if I had any Oakland Unified property in my house, and I told him that I didn’t. He asked if he could see for himself, and I told him that he could if he had a search warrant. He wanted to know why would he need a search warrant if I had nothing to hide. Eventually, I agreed to sign a consent form to allow them to search my house.

That afternoon, I was placed into a squad car — in front of the school, with teachers, parents, administrators, and students Continue Reading


Report looks at “cherry-picking,” attrition and test scores at KIPP schools

photo courtesy of KIPP Bridge

KIPP, the Knowledge Is Power Program, is a national network of public (mostly charter) schools that operate in low-income urban areas — such as KIPP Bridge, in West Oakland. With longer school days (7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., and every other Saturday), high social and academic expectations, and teachers recruited from top universities, KIPP schools are designed to give kids opportunities they wouldn’t have otherwise.

Its motto is “Work hard. Be nice.”

KIPP schools’ test scores are generally much higher than those of their local school districts, and the model has received glowing media coverage for narrowing the achievement gap. Still, some skeptics suggest that the schools “cherry pick” the brightest students from local elementary schools. Some have called attention to the large number of Bay Area kids who leave KIPP schools before they finish the eighth grade. Others wonder whether such long work days will take a toll on the teaching staff.

Researchers from SRI International addressed some of these questions in a detailed study released today about the Bay Area’s five KIPP middle schools, including West Oakland’s KIPP Bridge (a former district school that converted to a charter last year). You can see the full report here. Continue Reading


Back on track to graduation

Hello everyone! I haven’t had the opportunity to post in a while, so I would love to give you all an update.

I am back in school and it feels great! Last year, I wasn’t as motivated as I should have been, but now I feel as though I am in the final leg of a race. I have already chosen which schools I am going to apply to, and am anxious about where I’ll end up. I have also signed up to take some SAT subject tests, as well as the ACT. I am so excited!

Before school started, I was very anxious to know how this year would begin.  So many questions flooded my head. What will Mr. Sye be like? What will my classes be like? How hectic will this year be in preparing to graduate? Well, Mr. Sye is great and adjusting well to the role of principal, despite the awkward “no hats in the house” rule. Continue Reading


School size: Your chance to meet with the bigwigs

Thursday evening marks the first of six community-wide meetings on a sensitive subject, one with potentially serious ramifications for certain schools: How small is too small?

From the event flyer:

Based on the District’s current fiscal situation and best practices research, OUSD is examining whether a number of its schools may be too small to both meet the needs of our students and remain economically sustainable. Voice your opinion: The community will provide feedback on the small-schools analysis and assist in determining the criteria used to identify schools that may be too small to sustain themselves.

The meetings are scheduled to take place from 6 to 8 p.m. on the following days: Continue Reading


Skyline headed towards change or stuck in a rut?

So I got my wish, I got to see Skyline’s new principal Mr. Sye. Last week there were “class” assemblies at Skyline where Mr. Sye and the new assistant principal Mr. Blye (I’m sot sure if this is how you spell his name) introduced themselves and their plans for Skyline.

One thing I’ll say is that they sure love sports. I fully expect to see a rise in the athletics department this year as both men have committed themselves to boosting involvement in sports. Mr. Sye was formerly a wrestling coach, football too I hear, and Mr. Blye is the new athletics director.

This is great for those students involved in sports but I couldn’t help but feel a little left out since almost 90% of that assembly had to do with sports teams. Honestly, I’m not noticing any big changes in Skyline thus far other than the new rule of “NO HATS IN THE HALLWAYS” that we are reminded of everyday. Continue Reading


What’s more important than rocking the API

Three in 10 Oakland students are learning English, and this group of students made big strides in their test scores this spring. Monica Navarro, a third-grade bilingual teacher at Allendale Elementary School (which made a 63-point jump on the state’s Academic Performance Index and met all of its NCLB goals), describes her reaction to the numbers — and tells us what, in her view, is even more important. -Katy

So I was asked by Katy to write about my experience — as a teacher of English learners — to reflect on our test scores going up, or how I might have seen growth and change in my own students that reflect the rise in scores in my own class, or in the school as a whole. It’s been difficult for me to actually sit down and put into writing the many mini-reflections I’ve had over the past year, or even really pinpoint what it was that I wanted to write about.

Then at a staff meeting today, the principal reminded us of the OUSD press advisory listing Allendale as one of the schools that made huge API gains, particularly with English learners. He commended particular teachers whose students made significant improvements in both English and math — and cited my class, which made a 12 percent increase in math and 7 percent increase in English. It was nice to be appreciated and, of course, thrilling that we might actually get out of Program Improvement next year. I actually started to pretend screaming I was so excited.

I have to admit that since that that press advisory came out I have felt pretty proud of our school, and a sense of relief and hope that all the work that teachers have been doing has finally started to pay off. But I felt this sense of non-reaction to the “12 percent increase in math and 7 percent increase in Language Arts” that was a little strange to me, and I wrote it down.

Why didn’t these percentage scores mean anything to me? Continue Reading