Sean Penn raises money for Oakland arts school

Last night, the Oscar-winning Sean Penn was at the Fox Theater, helping to raise $1 million-plus for Oakland School for the Arts. (Meanwhile, I was at a school board meeting, listening to discussions of multi-million dollar deficits and the erosion of adult education programming for the elderly.)

photos by D. Ross Cameron/Tribune staff

Katy Murphy

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

  • Jim Mordecai


    The 226 teaching jobs that have been cut were classes not only for the elderly but the disabled. Yet, the Adult Ed program has currently a surplus of millions. The cuts are based on the Administration looking at three year projection and needing millions for upgrading the adult education facility.

    The question that arose during the discussion of these cuts by the School Board was who was responsible for compliance upgrades including wheel chair access to the Edward Shands facility? It seems adult ed money was used to buy the adult ed facility and turning the facility over to the District was how a deficit in the adult ed budget was resolved a few years back. Since the District now owns the facility it could be argued that the District needs to pay for the facility upgrades. Not having to pay for the upgrades would free up reserve money to bring back many of the teachers and program cuts. There may even be State money that could help pay for the required upgrades that would not be available to adult ed.

    But, there is a question remaining in mind as to whether the administration and the School Board wants to restore the cuts in the disabled and elderly programs as the State no longer is funding adult ed in the same fashion.

    Adult Ed had been funded by ADA and the more that attended the more money available. Money for adult ed was a protected categorical with the money only be allowed for Adult Ed. Now under the Arnold’s budget flexibility the adult ed money is no longer protected categorical money and the District receives a block grant of general funding based on how much adult ed received last year minus a percentage cut that I can’t recall. This change in funding means adult ed does not have much of a future.

    And, it also means with the funding flexibility theDistrict could make money by keeping a small adult ed program and using the former adult ed monies for other K-12 programs. Cutting the adult ed program could provide ongoing pay raise for other teachers at the expense of adult ed.

    Teachers should be clear that they do not want adult ed money to pay any part of a raise. And, I am sure that most teachers would not want to cannibalize adult ed to pay for a pay raise let alone end services to the disabled and the elderly.

    Jim Mordecai

  • ProStudent

    Are public schools (not charter schools) able to raise $1M like that? Why did Sean Penn choose OSA (or how did OSA recruit Sean Penn) and not McClymonds or Oakland Tech or Frick?

  • Katy Murphy

    They might – if they had Jerry Brown’s connections at their disposal. Brown, who started OSA, told me that he just called Penn up and asked him to come.

  • Nextset

    The Charters are fringe schools, able to publicly identify with special interests and appeal to a specific band of the public (The “Arts”, Indians, Flavor of the Month, etc). It may be easier for them to publicly raise money than a public school that only identifies with a neighborhood like Montera, or a regional school such as Oakland Tech or Skyline.

    The Charters are going to eat OUSD schools. I can’t say that is a bad thing, but it is the direction things seem to be moving. If OUSD lets this happen it’s as much their doing as anything the Charters do.

  • http://www.examiner.com/x-356-SF-Education-Examiner Caroline

    I wish Sean Penn could see my blog post about charter schools, which mostly consists of quotes from the progressive organization Rethinking Schools about how the charter movement has largely gone astray. The original post contains some crucial links:


    What’s not to like about charter schools? Some answers to that question

    At a community meeting at my kids’ high school last week, a parent asked the principal about the possibility of becoming a charter school. The principal’s answer was respectful and noncommittal.

    I was sitting next to a friend who’s well aware of my skeptical views about charter schools – not that she necessarily shares them – and whispered semi-jokingly that I’d have to transfer my daughter out if that happened. Another mom commented to me that she’s uninformed about what charter schools are and about why they might be controversial, and in that setting, all I could say was, “It’s a long story.” Well, here’s an outline of that long story.

    As to finding out what charter schools are, that’s pretty easy, since they are being pushed by the nation’s most powerful and bountifully funded forces and get reams of glowing PR (at the expense of non-charter public schools). Much of the mainstream press (or what remains of it) is also big on promoting charter schools – sometimes due to close connections with those same powerful forces and sometimes due to, in my opinion, naivete, insufficient research and excessive susceptibility to that glowing PR.

    The Wikipedia entry on charter schools is undoubtedly groomed regularly by the many people paid by the well-funded charter forces, and there is no corresponding paid force that would edit from the skeptics’ viewpoint — but it’s a place to start.

    From the resisters’ perspective, Clay Burrell recently posted a thoughtful commentary on http://www.change.org.

    As to why charter schools, which sound so fantastic in concept, would provoke any objection or controversy, I’m going to quote another source that offers some eloquent insights. In my view, charter schools are something like Communism – they sound really good in theory, but human nature corrupts the concept and causes the good intentions to go awry.

    The following excerpts are from the introduction to the March 2008 book Keeping the Promise? The debate over charter schools, a collection of essays published by Rethinking Schools in collaboration with the Center for Community Change. These are the points that raise concerns from my own philosophical/political perspective. Someone who believes that the free market and privatization are the solution for our schools would not have the same reaction.

    The introduction was written by education researcher/commentators Leigh Dingerson, Barbara Miner, Bob Peterson and Stephanie Walters.

    “The charter school movement has roots in a progressive agenda that, as educator Joe Nathan wrote in Rethinking Schools in 1996, viewed charters as “an important opportunity for educators to fulfill their dreams, to empower the powerless, and to help encourage a bureaucratic system to be more responsive and effective.

    “…Unfortunately, the charter concept also appealed to conservatives wedded to a free-market, privatization agenda. And it is they who, over the past decade, have taken advantage of the conservative domination of national politics to seize the upper hand in the charter school movement.

    “… Virtually all segments of the charter school movement have targeted urban areas. Some hope to counteract inequity, spur innovation and better meet the needs of marginalized students. Others, taking advantage of the frustration that inevitably follows when districts are allowed to deteriorate, seek fame and fortune. … [T]here are those who view charters as a way to get rid of public schools altogether.

    “The elixir of an individualized bailout from a struggling system has serious side effects, however. It can create a painful wedge in many communities, especially among African-Americans. It can weaken the political will for a collective solution to the problems in public education; and it can promote the deterioration of traditional schools. As highly motivated and engaged families pull their children from traditional public schools, urban districts have fewer resources – both financial and human – to address their many problems. The worse the schools get, the more appealing the escape to charters and private schools, all of which feeds into the conservative dream of replacing public education with a free-market system of everyone for themselves, the common good be damned.”

    [The text addresses the original progressive vision of charter schools.]

    ” … At the same time, one cannot deny that the charter school concept, as a movement, has been hijacked by individuals, groups, and corporations who are guided by free-market principles, often with a hostility to unions, and who do not necessarily embrace core values of equity, access, public purpose, and public ownership.”

    This summary brings up some other issues:

    Charter schools “too often … prefer, in practice if not in rhetoric, to educate “the deserving poor.” There is far less inclination to serve students whose parents are absent or uninvolved, or who have severe physical or emotional educational needs, or who have run afoul of the juvenile justice system, or who don’t speak English as their first language. Perhaps the most glaring example involves students with special education needs. Such students are increasingly overrepresented in traditional public schools.

    “… Overall, studies have shown that charter schools perform either worse or just as well as comparable public schools.

    “… Even if it is shown that certain bureaucratic rules, union requirements, or state and federal mandates stifle innovation and suffocate higher achievement, shouldn’t they be thrown out or modified for all schools, not just charters?”

    [In reference to the fact that some charter schools, famously including the highly praised KIPP chain, require teachers to work crushingly long hours and, unsurprisingly, experience high teacher turnover:]

    “Reforms are bound to fail if they rely on the voluntarism of idealistic, overworked teachers who burn out and leave the school once they decide to have a family or want any semblance of a meaningful personal life.”

    It’s often noted that the late teachers’ union leader Al Shanker was one of the early proponents of charter schools. Education activist/blogger Mike Klonsky, reviewing “Tough Liberal,” Richard Kahlenberg’s biography of Al Shanker, described Shanker’s vision:

    “In a speech to the National Press Club in 1988, he proposed the idea of teacher-led ‘charter schools’ where rules could be bent if the great majority of teachers in a small school approved. He called on districts to ‘create joint school board-union panels that would review preliminary proposals and help find seed money for the teachers to develop final proposals.’ ”

    Klonsky quotes from the book:

    Shanker “watched with alarm as the concept he put forward began to move away from a public-school reform effort to look more like a private-school voucher plan..Shanker came to believe that the charter school movement was largely hijacked by conservatives who made many charter schools vulnerable to the same groups that made voucher schools so dangerous: for-profit corporations, racial separatists, the religious right, and anti-union activists…Shanker watched with dismay as ‘those who had tremendous contempt for public education’ jumped on to the charter school bandwagon.’

  • Nextset

    Catherine: What’s wrong with the Charters limiting their energy to the “deserving” poor? Part of producing results in education is not wasting your efforts. If students aren’t of a mindset to function as students why should any school have them? Shouldn’t they be in a program designed for their needs (ie pallative care)?

  • http://www.examiner.com/x-356-SF-Education-Examiner Caroline

    I agree that that’s not INHERENTLY wrong, but a few issues:

    — That doesn’t solve the primary problems of U.S. public education, because it’s the children from families in what Sharon Higgins calls the Incarcerated Class (or Elijah Anderson calls “street” vs. “decent”) who pose the true challenge. If traditional public schools could serve only the “deserving poor,” things would be lots easier for them too.

    — The charter world does not honestly acknowledge that they are serving only the “deserving poor.” In fact, here’s the typical conversation I have about it (you just demonstrated it in real time):

    Me: Charter schools screen out the most troubled and challenging students.
    Charter advocate: That’s not true.
    Me: (explains why it is true.)
    Charter advocate: “What’s wrong with screening out the most troubled and challenging students?”

    This exact same conversation happens pretty much every time I get in a discussion with charter advocates.

    — Charters are showered with money, support, gushing press and other acclaim (despite the fact that their actual achievement is overall no better than non-charter schools’) based on the widespread belief that charters ARE serving the full spectrum of kids, not just the “deserving poor.” For those who deny that charters are showered with money — ahem; note the subject of this very post.

    The charter world of course promotes the belief (hat they are serving more than just the “deserving poor.” Yet, as you implicitly acknowledge, that’s a misstatement (for short, we can call it a “lie”). Obviously, it harms other schools when charters get all this money, support, acclaim etc. based on a lie.

    So, those are some things that are wrong with charters’ limiting their energy to the “deserving” poor.

  • Nextset

    The Charters are like every other system in this Brave New World CA and the USA is creating. They lie to survive. No one will speak with any candor for public consumption due to enforced political correctness in public life. The Charters know exactly what they are doing. They are the public “private” schools who are in business to peel off the profitable and successful students and teachers leaving the public schools with the dregs.

    And first order of business is survival and growth. If they lie all the time to do it, not a problem. the families who send their kids to the charters know the truth anyway, that’s why they go there.

    The Charters are what the public schools should have done for themselves. Segregated campuses and programs where real learning and progress occurs and where failures and troublemakers are not welcome.

    Schools for damaged goods kids should exist and the publics should create them and fill them. We used to call them Reform Schools and Home for Wayward Girls. That sort of thing. We should have kept them and kept the clear-as-a-bell names for them also. I’d rather have a school named The Oakland USD Reform School than Martin Luther King High. Locking gates, metal detectors and all.

  • http://www.examiner.com/x-356-SF-Education-Examiner Caroline

    Nextset, may I quote you on my blog, given that I have no idea what your real name is so I couldn’t identify you even if I wanted to?


  • http://www.examiner.com/x-356-SF-Education-Examiner Caroline

    I agree fervently with part of your response, Nextset. I just have a different reaction to it.

    But one point is that there’s truly no evidence that charter schools are peeling off the best teachers and leaving the true public schools with the dregs. Teacher turnover is blinding at some of the most-vaunted charters, especially KIPP, because they place such crushing demands on their teachers.

    Also, of course, lots of factions love the fact that charter school teachers have no job security — that’s one of the basic principles behind charter schools. But teachers don’t love that at all; it’s not a desirable workplace environment.

  • Nextset

    Caroline, you are probably right about the job security aspect of the Charters. Nonetheless I believe that the Charters will ultimately become stronger and will include underemployed professionals as their teachers.. As long as they are not forced to require the teaching credentials the Publics do. I’m not sure if they can get around that. In a down economy it is a buyer’s market for staff. Think of the premise behind the “To Sir With Love” story..
    The Charters ability to be more flexible, plus their first draw on the better students gives them a serious future. I still think some urban school districts could out-charter the charters – if they weren’t tied up by union contracts and state laws about who they can hire and what permissiveness they must operate under with the students.

  • http://www.examiner.com/x-356-SF-Education-Examiner Caroline

    I thought Oakland parents might be interested in this mini-flap. We start with three items from former SF Mayor Willie Brown’s Sunday column in the Chronicle:


    Sunday, April 26

    They’re still letting me in to Oakland, even after last week’s comment about the wine. While I was there I spotted Academy Award-winning actor Sean Penn and Tosca’s Jeannette Etheredge, strolling into the Oakland School for the Arts.

    I investigated further and found Penn acting as professor to students who were responding as if they were watching Susan Boyle and Simon Cowell exchanging expressions of appreciation.

    That school is one of Jerry Brown’s finest achievements from his years as mayor. I would love to have that institution in our city.

    [In response to this item, the Chron received many letters pointing out that San Francisco has a successful School of the Arts after which Oakland School for the Arts is modeled — including from me and my co-SFSOTA PTSA president, and from the SFSOTA principal. It printed two of the letters.]

    Sunday, May 3

    Item A: Got a call from one very ticked-off backer of the San Francisco School of the Arts – my wife, Blanche.

    Like all the others who have let me have it the last few days, Blanche was upset that I wrote last week regarding Oakland’s School for the Arts, “I would love to have that institution in our city.”

    “You obviously are slipping,” Blanche said. “We have a School of the Arts.”

    I said, I know that, Blanche.

    Obviously, my writing missed the point. What I meant to say was that no one has pushed – at least to my knowledge – to advertise our school and tell the world that it is as glamorous or attractive as Oakland’s.

    The good word is that they are trying to raise the money to bring the school to the Civic Center area where it belongs.
    Item B:

    The SF Jazz Gala at the Four Seasons the other night was quite the party, with elevated seating, incredible lighting, wonderful sound and a group of teenage players who had McCoy Tyner tapping in time.

    This gala is definitely on its way to becoming an annual San Francisco must. Hooray for Robert Mailer Anderson, the man responsible for bringing it all together.
    Here is my letter to Willie Brown (not intended for publication as a letter to the editor) in response to this week’s column items:

    Dear Mayor Brown — thank you for clarifying your comment about SFSOTA. And also thank you for plugging the teen jazz musicians at the Four Seasons gala — the SFJazz High School All-Stars. The group you heard includes three student musicians from San Francisco School of the Arts, all soloists in the ensemble (Natalie Cressman, trombone; Rachel Woods-Robinson, trombone; and my son Will Rubenstein, trumpet). They follow numerous SFSOTA student jazz musicians who have been admitted by audition to the SFJazz High School All-Stars over the years. There has never been an Oakland School for the Arts student in the SFJazz High School All-Stars, just for the record.

    I’m very familiar with Oakland School for the Arts, whose growth I’ve followed since its founding. While I am a critic of charter schools largely because of their union-busting intent (this is the heart of the charter movement), I agree with a friend who’s a parent there and says, “Oakland really needs a school like this.” But a few points:

    — OSA is still a new, struggling school. It has been badly troubled since its founding in many ways, and many agree that it would never even have survived — let alone achieved its high-profile new location — without the relentless commitment and involvement of Jerry Brown.
    — OSA gets a huge amount of private money, again directly and solely thanks to Jerry Brown. SFSOTA has no comparable income stream from private donors.
    — The “glamour” and “attractiveness” you attribute to OSA are brand-new and due to its new location in the restored Fox. Until a couple of months ago, it was located in portable classrooms and tents in the parking lot of the Fox, surrounded by construction equipment.
    — OSA’s principal is the longtime former principal of SFSOTA, Donn Harris, wooed away directly by Jerry Brown — who has long struggled with rapid turnover of administrators and teachers at OSA. I know that Donn began working to bring an AP (Advanced Placement) class to OSA for the first time. One OSA parent told me it’s not the kind of school where students want AP classes, so she questioned how well that would do. By contrast, SFSOTA has a thriving AP program in multiple subjects. That gives you a picture of the contrast between the two schools.�

    It was a great achievement for OSA when it moved into its new home at the Fox (Phil Tagami also gets major credit, along with J. Brown), and of course the Sean Penn fundraiser was a fantastic PR and income-generating coup. (I’m not sure how Penn would feel if he understood the extent to which the charter-school movement is based on eliminating teachers’ unions, but that’s another story.) But your idea that OSA is a stronger or more “glamorous and attractive” school that SOTA should envy is still not fully based in reality.

    Thank you very much for your attention to this, and please thank Mrs. Brown for her advocacy! We’ll send you a schedule of SFSOTA’s performances for the rest of the school year; we hope you can attend one or more. Please share it with Mrs. Brown. — Caroline Grannan, parent of Will Rubenstein (SOTA class of 2009/trumpet student; Oberlin Conservatory class of 2013) and Anna Rubenstein (SOTA class of 2012/trombone student)

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  • nnoel

    Re: Oakland’s School of the Arts

    I have a problem with the elitist style in which you make children feel as if they are not good enough to receive an education at this public institution. As an actor, mother, and teaching artist I will make my voice heard. As a tax paying citizen and artist I’m calling you and Don Harris out (policy not made by you). If too many incoming 6th graders are applying for the school then decisions should be made by lottery. Yes they have to apply and audition and yes in the real world rejection happens on a daily basis I know this first hand being in the business myself. So tell me how does it feel to play GOD with a huge group of impressionable young children? How does it feel, or maybe you haven’t considered, that you and Harris have the power to decide which children are worthy of studying at OSA and which are not. How do you sleep at night knowing you’re responsible for the educational future of so many kids? It’s just business, right? The talented tenth, right? Well now that I’ve opened up a dialogue I hope you sleep less at night pondering the future of our youth. Oh by the way, do you have any of your own kids? If you do how would you like one or two people to decide if they were worthy of a PUBLIC education.

    Peace Love Theater
    For The Children

    Natasha E Noel