Tilden: another ed experiment cut short?

photo of Tilden classroom by Sean Donnelly/Oakland Tribune

Tilden School is a fascinating study in special education — and, more broadly, in promising and potentially short-lived Oakland school district experiments. You can find today’s Tribune story here.

Tonight, the board is expected to vote to close the 125-student elementary school (a plan that might entail relocating its students to one of six different schools) at the end of the 2009-10 year because of facilities and enrollment concerns. It was originally slated to close this June, but parents quickly organized and pushed for another year to craft a stronger plan with more community input, which two board subcommittees approved.

One of the school’s biggest challenges in recruiting non special ed kids (according to the school design, the special ed enrollment was to be just 40 percent, but it is more than 60 percent) was that it became known as “the special ed school.” Of course, the unplanned addition of extra special education classrooms — apparently, from other schools that didn’t want and/or have room for those programs — probably didn’t help.

What would it take for such an inclusive special education model to work, as designed, and to attract general education students?

Katy Murphy

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

  • Nancy

    How about redirecting all of those kids who didn’t make one of their school options choices as pointed out in the “Hills Schools? Not Much of an Option” article.

  • http://brianblaischmd.com Brian Blaisch

    In my recent blog post, “Time To Act”, I talked about the difficulties we have had with getting our son, Jackson, services. He was just moved to Tilden less than 2 weeks ago and is now in Sandra Godfey’s autism class. There is such a marked improvement that we finally have cause for hope. She is a professional with a demonstrated track record of success. Having talked to other teachers at Tilden, it is clear that if their programs are split up and moved to other schools, that not only will it destroy the sense of community that they have (one of the few positive sources of support they have) but that they will not have some of the specific resources they need, such as an Occupational Therapy specific room, etc. In one school, for example, they hold their OT classes in the cafeteria. The reasons for not having special education only schools are good reasons, hence the law. However, there are other ways to attract general education students. A good example is the Hope Technology School in the South Bay, where general education students participate and assist with the special ed students, giving them a richer experience. This model has been expanded to non-academic environments, such as in their eSoccer and martial arts programs. It’s time for newer models and Tilden represents and ideal school to pilot such models and serve as a model for the Public Education system here in the East Bay and California. It’s also time for us to support the teachers and programs that truly work and give our children the Free and Appropriate Education (FAPE) they need under the Individuals with Educational Disabilities Act (IDEA).

  • K-Teacher at Tilden

    I’d just like to repeat the concluding question asked by Ms. Murphy : “What would it take for such an inclusive special education model to work, as designed, and to attract general education students?”

    I would hold up the class I teach, along with a wonderful co-teacher and a very talented, committed paraprofessional, as an example. Except it doesn’t work “as designed”, exactly. My class, originally meant to serve 10 students with IEPs and ten students without, had to cut off its special needs caseload because 19 general education students enrolled and matriculated in the class–most because their families hand-picked Tilden due to its early childhood focus, emphasis on the arts, and solid reputation for engaging all learners.

    Across the yard from our kindergarten, the 1st grade just got its math district assessment back. Every child, with or without an IEP, met or exceeded benchmark–partially because a full-inclusion class with additional paraprofessional support allows ALL children to receive the small group instruction and hands-on activities that allow kids to really engage with the material. Two doors down, the third graders are still celebrating their 1st place victory in the Regional Semi-Finals of the Oratorical Fest. The second graders are getting ready for another year of success on the CST, thanks to the one-on-one support and coaching everybody can get in this full-inclusion classroom.

    The successes are happening and the demand is there. In the upper grades, we’re still accommodating mid-year transfers (would be kindergarteners: be aware that we’re already up to 25 and counting…) Our model has worked, is working, and will continue to work for as long as the information and support are out there.

    It’s a pity that the otherwise excellent Oakland Tribune article didn’t have any reference to current gen ed students, teachers, or families: had someone visited our programs, they would have had a lot more to say.

  • Katy Murphy

    Points well taken, K-Teacher. I’ll be sure to focus more closely on the general ed perspective in my next story. By the way, the oratorical fest coordinator just told me this morning about the group from Tilden making it to the finals. I’ll try to catch their performance on Friday.

  • K-Teacher at Tilden

    Thanks for that, Katy. I hope the coordinator also told you about our other two wins: one first grader medaled in the individual category, and the first grade as a whole also placed in the top three.

    Re: Nancy’s question about redirecting families dissatisfied with their “Options”–if there is a Tilden next year, I know we’ll be welcoming everyone with open arms and high expectations. As we’ve always done.

  • Pingback: Tilden stays open for another year, at least - The Education Report - Katy Murphy covers what’s going on in the Oakland schools()

  • Steve Asztalos

    After last night’s meeting one thing is certain – Tilden’s parents, teachers and staff will dictate Tilden’s future, not OUSD staff, not the board, nor any other group. The thoughts expressed above, along with all the other aspects of Tilden that make it so unique, need to be codified as a model of what we Tilden’s successor should look like.

  • Mary Helen- First Grade Teacher

    Katy please come and see our integrated classes and the wonderfull children we serve. All children do benefit from this program as I have had many students come to this school because they know they will have a nice small class and extra help to service their needs. This school has the benefit of having paraprofessionals in the classrooms to give ALL children success! Oakland talks about closing the achievement gap, we are living proof. We have classes other schools don’t have. For example, dance, music and art. How many other schools have that? Next time you are on campus please come to the K-3rd integrated classrooms, we would love to have you!

  • Katy Murphy

    Thanks for the invitation, Mary Helen. I’ll have to take you up on it one of these days! It’s too bad that the timing didn’t work out the other week.

  • Nextset

    Mary Helen: Your enthusiasm appears unreasonable to me. The “Gap” you say OUSD thinks it can close becomes more pronounced as the children approach puberty and beyond. Grades 1-3 are meaningless in assessing gap closing. Children that young will show the least amount of cognitive differences – though there are differences.

  • Sped Teacher

    Nextset – Did you know that Arizona determines how many prison beds it will need based on how well children read by the time they are in 4th grade? It sure is hard to say that grades 1-3 are “meaningless” when, in fact, these are some of the most formative years of a child’s life. Effective teaching at this age can prevent that “Gap” from occurring later in life. Thank you Mary Helen, K-teacher, and all the other teachers at Tilden for your passionate dedication to the young children of Oakland.

  • Nextset

    Sped Teacher: Effective teaching in grades one to three is irrelevant to preventing the “Gap” from occurring later in life, and your inability to understand that is why educators can’t be trusted at all in formulating policy.

    There is no longer a debate in science that the gap is nature vs nurture. However, you are settled that it is nurture and want to spend whatever it takes to nurture us out of the Gap.

    Whether you or I like it or not, the best research to date is that the Gap is a product of human biodiversity – that is people are not the same and have different abilities that run in different distributions within different groups. Too bad, so sad.

    The Educators who after all have a financial stake in the Nurture argument, want to spend fortunes away on beating the left side of the bell curve to death trying to make them handle calculus and get nobel prizes (or any other measure of academic prowess). Continuing that harmful policy antagonizes everybody from the taxpayers to the kids who hate and resent being treated like this. This is displayed in the new algebra policy recently dumped on this state. ignoring the algebra stats at, say, Los Angeles Unified, the state claims to be able to physically force algebra on LAUSD students where only a fraction pass it currently. This is the nurture gang at work, “If you teach it they will pass”.

    Better policy is to identify and promote any that have the ability to take higher learning but to teach/train the left side of the curve to make the very best of any abilities they have to succeed in life. Starting with speaking standard english and deportment, how to stay out of trouble, etc. Then training to maximize any skills they have, particularly those skills that are valuable.

  • cranky teacher

    Nextset, as long as you are going to sit on here all day every day, why don’t you provide your evidence for your ‘scientific racism’?

    Show us the studies that control for poverty, child abuse, drug addiction and other society and familiar crises and still establish significant statistical differences in potential for higher-order thinking among different races.

    As an aside, your mocking of the importance of early-childhood development on later educational achievement is perhaps the most inane thing you’ve ever posted here. Or do you have evidence for that, too?

  • Nextset

    Cranky: The Head Start studies were the first thing in mind when I read the claim that extra help and extra work in the early years of schooling would produce a result (improvement over control groups). Those studies attacked the premise that Head Start funding was a good investment.

    If you call that mocking the importance of early childhood education I’m not surprised. You do that.

    Public school education and K-8 education is very important, even vital. There is no studies that I have heard of that show you can change long term outcomes over control groups of similar students by extra work. Obviously keeping the kids safe and healthy and not bored to mental illness like a Russian Day Care center is important. They will wear better is they are stressed in school and not kept fat, dumb and happy (this goes back to the self-esteem argument).

    If you were able to change outcomes by lavishing money and attention the Kansas City Experiments (for example) wouldn’t have been such a failure. That was high school level if I remember it accurately.

    The fact is, throwing money at education doesn’t work, and certainly not in the ratio of the money being thrown. Do you need to be reminded of the studies comparing the performance of wealthy students of one group with the poor students of another?

    I am not saying the perfect answer to school budgeting is at hand. that is a political question that is best answered by whoever is controlling the pursestrings that year.

    I am saying that the ability to take education and run to the higher levels of abstract thinking and performance is not something that can be added to a person. So you can beat on Joe all you want, but Joe’s ability to perform will not change from the beatings. Joe is going to do whatever it is that Joe is good at, granted you can show Joe where the doors are to walk through if he is up for the walking.

    And another thing, “racism” whining is a great sign of a weak mind. Every time you use it you continue to tell me and the world your limits. Keep that up.

    My idea of racial discrimination is continuing to do things that are calculated to diminish and destroy whole ethnic groups of people. Like what we have done to CA schools and the blacks and browns in them who are being made unemployable for no other reason than the educrats want to play destructive games with their lives (which is how I see what is happening – you will disagree).

    It’s really good to hear from you again.

    I think preschools are important to the families involved and love to see them working. I don’t think that a child is made into a Nobel winner or even a high scoring college applicant because of his good pre-school. I believe K-8 schools develop a child and put him on track to his/her potential if run well. I don’t believe in miracle primary schools that create Rhodes Scholars from scratch.

    Our public school kids should have schools that bring them up to do the best they could do. We don’t have that in this state’s urban areas any more. We need to try harder.

  • K-Teacher at Tilden

    I can find points of agreement in some of what you say, but I’m frankly annoyed by the oversimplification of:

    “Effective teaching in grades one to three is irrelevant to preventing the “Gap” from occurring later in life, and your inability to understand that is why educators can’t be trusted at all in formulating policy.

    There is no longer a debate in science that the gap is nature vs nurture. However, you are settled that it is nurture and want to spend whatever it takes to nurture us out of the Gap.”

    To do an equal simplification, I don’t want a doctor whose full “ability to understand” that we all end up dead anyway keeps him from trying to treat my illness NOW. Nor do I want a doctor who thinks they can “nurture me out of” human mortality. I want a doctor who knows the stakes, understands the limitations on her own powers, and still thinks it’s worth it to take her best shot.

    In the first through third grades, that doesn’t mean making everyone a Rhodes Scholar through sheer force of will, and I think it’s But it does mean doing our damndest to get EVERYBODY reading–and that is a strength of Tilden’s integrated programs. That is the enthusiasm you think is “unreasonable”, and I couldn’t disagree more.

  • K-Teacher at Tilden

    Sorry, unfinished thought in the third paragraph was “and I think it’s creating a straw man to imply that anyone believes we’re doing that.”

  • Nextset

    K-Teacher: One of the primary goals of K-3 is to get everybody reading. And I’m glad you are with me there.

    But don’t think that children read just because you were there for them in 3rd grade. Yes we all got a start from somebody, somewhere. But as you know huge numbers of Californians will not read by age 18 – and even if they know the alphabet – the will not read by choice – they are non-readers who dislike reading. Frankly, some (many) people have no use for information they can’t use at the moment.

    I suspect that you believe these a-literate people could have become different, more elightened perhaps, if they’d had different or better 3rd grade schools. I don’t think so.

    I do agree that a properly run school system K-12 can provide powerful incentives to perform academically. I believe we are quite deliberately avoiding use of these incentives. The principal incentive is separation from the pack of performers of those who don’t perform for any reasons, otherwise known as flunking and expulsion. Just being more caring and nice doesn’t do it for underperforming students and their families. I support school nurses, counselors and while we are at it, removal of children from unfit parents. But otherwise you can’t run a real school where non-performers are allowed to mix with those who work and produce. They take down the standards of the whole place.

    This thread is about Special Ed which is very different from mainstream education. I started my line here because I wanted to counter the notion that early childhood extra help can create something in a student that wasn’t otherwise there. K-3 and special ed programs are important especially to the working families that depend on public schools.

    However the failure students we see in OUSD – you know, those who read at the 6th grade level at age 18, are not in that condition because they didn’t get extra help in early childhood. And our University admits at 18 aren’t there because they did.

  • Judy

    I must say, however, that when my daughter was in K in an OUSD school and entered K already reading, that the school discouraged challenging her. They insisted that all students remain at the same page in the curriculum, which was learning the alphabet. Fortunately her love of reading was not discouraged…I moved her out of the school district.

  • Nextset

    Judy: Your post may enlighten readers about the point I continue to hammer home, which is annoying but needed, I think.

    OUSD and urban districts like OUSD have every intention of retarding learning and progress for the cognitively more advanced especially those of color. They will do their level best to prevent students from moving past the approved low levels of learning and performance, so that the lower orders of students they have plenty of are not in any way made to feel they should work harder or perform better.

    That was crude. What I mean to say is that the schools hold back the smarter kids so the duller children’s feeling won’t be hurt and more importantly the dulls aren’t made to realize their limits and maybe shift to other profitable areas where they do have an advantage like sports, technical and vocational skills and NASCAR (areas where physicality and risk of harm exist).

    Perhaps this bad policy has something to do with the femiminization of K-12 education.

    Just a thought. I’m only one person anyway.

    And It also seems to me that the urban school policy of social promotion and refusal to expell and suspend bad students ties into this as well. And the reaction of black professionals (and all other colors) pulling their kids out of these schools in favor of Piedmont, Orinda, Private and Church schools, and if cash is tight, Charters.

  • Nextset

    Typos, sorry!

  • cranky teacher


    Why are the only two choices between “throwing money at education” and properly funding it? Do you think California should be 50th in the Nation in per student funding?

    Racism issue: This is not “whining” — you say racial groups have significant genetic differences determining IQ potential which should guide educational policy. I say that’s racist bullcrap. How is that whining? We get it, you read “The Bell Curve.” Last time I checked, that is not God’s Final Word on the subject.

    Head Start studies? Post a link. I don’t know much about Head Start. Are the teachers qualified? Is there good curriculum? Is it just babysitting? Not sure this really wins the day for your attack on early education.

    As for Kansas City, I only remember seeing the 60 Minutes (?) piece about it. Seemed they’d spent a ton on facilities. Certainly, I agree that money is not a panacea for what ails schools. Plus, high school is pretty late in the day to catch and turn kids who have lost the thread early … which is really the point we’re making here!

    I’ll tell you this: Maria Montessori got her reputation teaching first young retarded children, then Italian “ghetto” kids in public housing, things that nobody thought they were capable of, and her methods still work today. I’ve seen it.

    “Nurture” is one of your pejorative buzzwords. You mean: Telling kids they’re great and smart when they’re not and hoping they will become so. Another definition would be: Consistent stimulation and support for children to grew into healthy adults.

  • Nextset

    C: The Bell Curve is a study of studies – the component studies have been around since WWI. One doesn’t need the Bell Curve to raise these issues. Try current US Army rejection rates. The Book does provide a good reference/discussion point for what we see around us world wide across human history. Too bad you don’t like it. What you and I don’t like is irrelevant to what we are dealing with. People are different, they are not the same. Obviously any child that requires more challenging work should be sent to schools where that challenge is found. I don’t care what color or sex the child is, and I don’t really care if the numbers are racially balanced. Public schools should provide challenging schoolwork for different needs of the various children. Judy should not have had to take her child out of the district, that child should have been send to a more advanced campus if Judy agreed.

    Glad you asked about CA being 50th. CA is undergoing invasion from Mexico and other 3rd world nations. It’s wrong for our state to (try to) pay for the prisons, hospitals and schools to manage that population and their children. So yes. I will cut public school funding and other public service funding rather than bankrupt CA by providing more food for the birds. I rather do a round-up on illegals and remove them, but that’s the National Government’s job it seems. This is probably why LA Unified is down to 6% white last time I looked – and the blacks who can afford it are gone also.

    You asked and I answered. I don’t expect you to share my opinion.

    While 60 minutes did to a piece on the Kansas City disaster there were other studies circulated showing that the court ordered extreme spending on secondary education there didn’t improve black math and verbal scores (it did, however, make the students more happy/comfortable than ever which I see as always being a problem). Happy & comfortable kids equals academic slacking off.

    The rest of your questions are not clear to me.

  • cranky teacher

    Your answer about funding is very telling. “No food for the birds.”

    You claim to be interested in improving the schools, but then you admit you’d rather starve them as they are serving the children of “invaders.”

  • Nextset

    C: Do you understand now?

    This nation has a duty to work for our nationals. We are to run the public school system to prevent our (left side of the curve) people from decending into a permanent underclass. That doesn’t allow us to grace invading 3rd worlders with our limited budgets.

    It’s wrong for LA Unified to force American nationals to go to schools where Mexican culture and Mexican languages are predominant. That’s why the white percentage is down to 6% and the black population there is in such distress (what with the gunfire and all).

    OUSD will face these problems including the TB situation also, but later as the occupation moves North. The recent demographics numbers for CA are pretty dire (ie reproduction rates for illegals in and out of wedlock).

    Don’t agree with me, but understand my position. I want those schools to survive and I want those schools to educate and train our students (Not some other nation’s) to make it in this Brave New World. There is certainly no money to educate the 3rd world beside our own students and also pay our teachers their $70k and up salary/benefits. Plus our people shouldn’t have to manage the Tower Of Babel. Or the gangs that are part of this movement.

    Throwing money at education doesn’t improve math/verbal performance. You need money for facilities and staff but we can get that on a budget. It’s more important that the students and schools are sorted and standards of performance by the students are maintained. Requests for money without this go on my deaf ears.

    I do see that the Charters are matching the students with the schools. Let’s see what happens when we divert half of all public school funding to the charters and use the (urban) publics as holding pens for students who can’t get into/stay in a Charter.

  • cranky teacher

    — I don’t want to wage a time-consuming debate with you here about the economic stats on immigrants, legal and otherwise, but I will ask the general question:

    Immigrants have traditionally provided enormous economic gains for this country; we are a nation built by waves of immigrants, each one believed by some to be a ruinous influence but which proved to be another pillar in building the most powerful nation on earth. Why is this wave the one that will destroy us?

    — 70K is what OUSD teachers make after like 20 years of service. I make less than 40K.

    — “Throwing money” at anything is unlikely to do much good! By using that term, you tell me you don’t want to have a serious discussion about funding. How about: Spending money where appropriate to improve teacher training, decrease staff turnover, decrease class size, etc.?

    You sure do love strawman arguments which have little connection to the real-world. Caricatures of “hugs for thugs” teachers, “throwing money” at education, most students in LAUSD are illegal immigrants, etc.

    And TB? Turberculosis? Really?

    You need to get out more.

    Oh, and here’s an idea I think you might like: Have the military run the schools during peacetime.