Oakland student director tells it like it is

Cecilia Lopez, an Oakland High School senior who served as a student director on the school board this year, finished her term with a bang tonight during a discussion about stiffer graduation requirements and access to courses required for admission to state universities (known as A-G classes).

Lopez piped up after Jim Mordecai, a retired teacher and school board meeting regular, told the board that such a change would backfire — and that huge numbers of students, unable or unwilling to handle these new district requirements, would defect to independently run charter schools.

“Keep dreaming,” Mordecai said.

Lopez had this to say to the naysayers (“I have heard rumors of teachers not being for this,” she said):

“We are an economically challenged urban community. … If you’re saying that the classes are going to be too hard, that means you don’t believe. That means you’re saying that students are so dumb, they won’t do it. …

We’re not asking for more counselors, we’re asking for a counseling system. It’s not the quantity, it’s the quality. …

I had to take pre-algebra (in high school). That was a waste of my year. I could have been done with pre-calculus my junior year if I didn’t have to take that class. …

If we have A-G, it’s not whether we can do it or not, it’s whether the adults are willing to support us.”

The board adopted the resolution, which moves the district toward an A-G for all requirement for those entering ninth grade in 2011. You can read it here.

RESOURCES: You can see the difference between current high school graduation requirements and the A-G courses required to be eligible for state universities here, and the teen-friendly handout designed for English learners here.

Katy Murphy

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

  • Nextset

    Some students need higher requirements to be challenged and will enroll in academic schools. Others are not a fit for academic schools and only want survey courses pending vocational work. The trick is accomodating the different groups of students within a large school district.

    Imposing “academic” graduation requirements for all students is wrong. The lowest common denominator school work to be fit for adulthood in this society is far less than University entrance requirements. Our public schools must program for the lower classes as well as the stronger students. To do otherwise throws away the large number of people who would have had decent occupations in technical and trades work had they been prepared for it.

  • Del

    I am not familiar with this particular debate, but I am all for students of OUSD holding the adults they report to accountable! And she is right, the problems with OUSD are about having systems in place that actually support students and hold all stakeholders accountable, not about numbers of staff.

  • Jim Mordecai

    What was not reported was that OEA President Betty Olson-Jones followed my comments in opposition to making U.C. admission eligible a requirement for all Oakland students to graduate advocating not stopping at A-G requirements but including H. What this would means that for those students not interested in college they could take substitute industrial arts courses with academic rigor.

    No one on the Board took up amending the resolution to include H requirement.

    I remembered that Uprep attracted a lot of students needing to pick up units to graduate. The Board can raise its requirements for graduation but it does not have the same ability to raise the graduation requirement for charter schools to A-G.

    Ms. Cecilia Lopez, student board member, represents the students of Oakland but I am not sure that all of the students would agree that the graduation requirements should be increased. She is obviously on a college track but no student that had a different outlook on making graduation more difficult was heard at tonight’s meeting. There was only cheering Ms. Lopez on.

    Perhaps I am wrong to be skeptical and the way to close the racial achievement gap is to make graduating dependent on passing A-G classes.

    When I went to high school the popular idea was that a high school should be comprehensive providing college prep track and industrial arts track. But, there has been a shift to all are to be made ready for college.

    Setting up an impossible goal requires, that like the story book Emperor, everyone has to pretend. Oakland has almost 50% of students dropping out and how it wants to pretend everyone take U.C. transferable high school classes and graduate. I think that such a goal is a dream.

    Ms. Lopez wanted to take Algebra sooner. Offering a class sooner to a qualified student that has been evaluated is not the same as saying that all students must have Algebra to graduate. I am skeptical that all students can get enough support to pass Algebra class that will be accepted at U.C. It is not that I think kids are stupid but Algebra is difficult for some and the Oakland does not have enough resource to get everyone to pass. The requirement then becomes a way to sort out students and label them failures. A good intention to close the racial achievement gap becomes another institutionalized source of oppression and a failed attempt at social engineering.

    Jim Mordecai

  • turner

    I wonder what East Palo Alto does that we don’t.



  • Jim Mordecai

    Lots of resources and students have a choice about attending is what East Palo Alto provides according to the article that Oakland doesn’t. And, Oakland Public Schools does not provide boarding for those that may want it. What is not mentioned is whether the school gets to reject students that are not a “good fit”.

    Jim Mordecai

  • aly

    echoing people i don’t normally agree with, ms. lopez’s argument fails to take into account other significant influences about the success or failure of stiffer graduation requirements.

    i’ll start with the most foundational problem i encounter which is that many students do not enter high school prepared for the a-g classes. expecting them to pass those classes to get their diploma is a set-up. until or unless we change the expectations and pre-high school preparation, the requirements won’t result in more college-ready students.

    the other truth that we keep trying to deny is that not all people want or need a college track. it is not that necessarily true that we teachers underestimate our students; it is that we recognize their goals and desires, and students that do not feel their education is relevant to their goals stop attending school, losing out on the education they DO need to succeed. while there are many students who i think need to be pushed into more advanced classes and once there will do quite well, there are still a lot of kids that if pushed in will drop out.

    i want my kids to have a chance to get their diploma on the level that they want and need. i don’t want them to be pushed into classes they aren’t ready for due to their lack of skills prior to reaching high school; i don’t want them dropping out because their parents and families don’t support their educational pursuits and they don’t value education. there are so many obstacles our kids face that we don’t address and if we only raise the stakes without increasing support, this is a dream that is destined to fail.

  • Jim Mordecai

    Does anyone know if there is another public school district in California that requires 15 A-G classes being passed to graduate?

    The big challenge for the normal student I believe will be passing 2 years language, plus algebra and geometry classes that meet UC standard.

    Jim Mordecai

  • Nextset

    I agree with Jim Mordecai. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Imposing high academic standards for any graduation – UC Admission eligibility requirements for example – simply destroys the ability of the public schools to service the bulk of the black and brown community.

    Many assume the people behind this don’t know exactly what they are doing. I don’t. People are presumed to intend the logical result of all their actions.

    Remember what I said earlier about the regard with which these urban schools hold their students. You can see it in the way the teachers are treated, the way the bathrooms are kept, the books that are used (if any), everything about the way the students are handled. OUSD kids don’t appear to be as valued as Piedmont kids are.

    And there was once a time when Oakland Tech students (for example) were placed in jobs, vocational programs and placed with military recruiters – up to service academy placements. Once Oakland students were guided into industry, higher learning and trades by the school staff.

    Now we see the Verbal Scores from the graduates (much less the dropouts) as bad as any in CA and the schools insinuate it’s the parent’s fault Otis can’t read. Raising graduation requirements isn’t the solution. Teaching English in the first place needs to occur. Let the college bound have their AP classes – on their own campus. What is OUSD going to do for the larger number of students for which a High School diploma is the terminal degree? We do not need to pile on graduation requirements until the average math and verbal scores are brought up.

  • Katy Murphy

    You can see the difference between current high school graduation requirements in Oakland and the A-G courses required by state universities here:


  • Katy Murphy

    Greg Cluster, a teacher at Metwest High School in Oakland, sent me an email with some of his thoughts on aligning high school graduation and state university entrance requirements. He said I could post it here:

    “I applaud the effort of the board to address the major problem that so few of Oakland’s HS students graduate UC eligible.

    However, the way it pans out depends on the degree of initiative taken at each school site – particularly the degree of administrator and teacher buy-in, teacher input encouraged, and structural changes that are allowed at each site in order to make the major shifts in sutdent outcome that we hope to see.

    It is very important that groups of teacher leaders at each school discuss the changes necesary at their site in order to implement the plan in such a way that the policy meets its intended goal and does not inadvertantly lead to increased dropout numbers. The shifts required will differ between schools.

    Here are my thoughts on some of the changes that will be needed, based on my experience at MetWest:

    I am pleased to see that the resolution specifically recognizes the increased need for academic counseling services that will be essential to this plan.

    At MetWest, a significant majority of our graduates finish school UC Eligible. 23 of our 26 graduates were UC Eligible. We have done a tremendous amount of structural work to make that possible. We spend significant time in classes, and at family nights educating students and parents about the A-G requirements. More importantly, we hold 45 minute student-family-MetWest Advisor meetings twice a year in which course selections for the subseqent semester are discussed, always keeping the A-G requirements in mind.

    We also have developed a culture in which grade repetition is not stigmatized. Students who arrive at school with poor work habits or low skills may take longer to meet A-G requirements. How will schools create a culture in which a student who takes longer to graduate feels supported and not scorned by peers, staff, and families? We’ve had students graduate this year after taking a 5 year path who are in good shape for college. That has taken a lot of community building work and positive relationships with staff and peers to encourage those students to choose to continue in school and not drop out.

    Schools will need to get ready to allow for that issue. Funding will need to be increased as more students may be spending longer in high school, and structures for that kind of relationship building need to be created in all schools.

    Other practices that I suspect will need to change:

    Counselors will need to stop pushing black and latino students into remedial courses – and out of honors and A-P classes (something I have heard about from transfer students to MetWest from large Oakland schools)

    Also, I wonder about the issue of “D”s – Currently, Cal State and UC schools do not accept Ds as passing grades for A-G courses but OUSD does – so they become a tool to allow schools to graduate students with the proper course titles but who in fact are not eligible to apply to public university in CA. We generally do not give D’s at MetWest but rather demand C level work for passage, otherwise students must re-earn the credit.”

  • Oakland Mom

    San Jose Unified aligned its graduation requirements with the A-G coursework series for the graduating class of 2002. Since then, Latino A-G completion rates have more than doubled. The district has opt-out provisions for graduates of alternative high schools, SPED kids, etc. so the A-G completion rate among all graduates is not 100%. (These figures are available at the CDE website.)

    LAUSD and SFUSD also recently aligned their grad requirements with the A-G coursework series.

  • Jim Mordecai

    Oakland Mom:

    Thanks for the information. Do you know if alignment is the same as requiring the classes for graduation?

    Jim Mordecai

  • Katy Murphy

    Jim: I interviewed the spokeswoman for San Jose Unified yesterday morning. She said that the A-G classes are the default program and grad requirement for incoming ninth-graders — but that an alternative graduation plan can be made for high school juniors who are off track.

    She said 17 percent of their students graduate under these alternative plans. They receive regular diplomas and graduate with their peers.

  • PPS

    I hope that the Board and Superintendent meet their obligation to “develop and implement meaningful counseling services” for students in OUSD. With a total of 4 full time PPS credentialed school counselors among all of the small schools (comprehensive and continuation) in the district — and fewer planned for next year — students do not have access to the counseling services that they deserve.

  • Oak261

    not factored into these numbers are the students who don’t complete high school — a substantial fraction of school age kids. Its hard to believe that A-G requirements are going to help most of them get some job or career skills they can use to become productive and valued members of society.

  • Jim Mordecai


    I look forward to your coverage of A-G implementation in other districts.

    I have some questions about what is taking place in San Jose. The figure 17 percent of San Jose District students graduate with an alternative plan, I assume means that is the number graduated before A-G is implemented as A-G applies to the incoming 9th graders who will not graduate until 2012-2013 school year.

    One can imagine a school district that the majority of students never complete A-G. and on paper the default is A-G but in reality the drop outs and the alternative route is the majority.

    If the vast majority are not attending the U.C system does it make sense to make entrance to the U.C. system a criteria for graduation? Is such a school district serving the interest of its students? I don’t think so.

    Jim Mordecai

  • Jim Mordecai

    “Each year, even before they arrive at their first high school class, ninth-graders across the Oakland Unified School District set out on a path that won’t prepare them for college or into skilled occupations.”

    This was the opening sentence by Katy Murphy in today’s Oakland Tribune article titled “Path to college the new norm”.

    Obviously some entering 9th grade students will know and be taking classes that will make them either state college or U.C. system eligible. One thing being U.C. eligible having taken A-G does not mean one is really eligible as I believe a student must be in the 1/3 of students across the state in grade point average. The true U.C. system eligible student is more than taking the 15 A-G required classes.

    How is requiring two advanced math courses and two years of High School foreign language to graduate prepare 9th graders for skilled occupations? How will entering 9th grade students in remedial math pass the more rigorous math classes? If remedial students shift to a alternate graduation path, how will this change do anything more than label students as less than college eligible?

    Jim Mordecai

  • Nextset


    The problem is that much of your OUSD student base is not only not college material, they are not high school material either (not likely to pass the exit exam).

    By cramming college prep into students who neither desire nor are capable for university level work you harm their prospects for working class work.

    You mask the situation by engendering the large drop out rate – students so frustrated by schools that don’t serve their needs they walk away. Then OUSD claims some kind of credit for the university and college bound students who would have made it anyway at any other school.

    The measure of how good an urban school is should be the level of students fed into military, industry and higher ed as calculated from the total of grads, non-grads and drop-outs. I fear that OUSD is not producing an appropriate rate here. The large number of left side of the bell curve students are not meking it in society under your education. Those students walk into the world at risk for Prison, lifetime poverty and an early grave.

    OUSD isn’t a college prep factory and it doesn’t cut it as a working class school either. OUSD needs to turn out better disciplined more productive students more in tune to making their way in our economy and society. And less into thinking the world revolves around them.

  • http://perimeterprimate.blogspot.com Sharon

    This new policy is very likely to be a direct result of the influence of The Education Trust (EdTrust), in particular EdTrust West (located in Oakland) and it’s former director Russlynn Ali, recently picked by Arne Duncan to join him in DC. I would bet $100 that Ali and her organization have been meeting with OUSD leadership for years and years, and guess that the school board arrived late to the game and just climbed on the bandwagon.

    Ali served as assistant director of Policy & Research for the Broad Foundation in Los Angeles. The press release announcing Ali’s new position in DC (appointed by Arne Duncan) is @ http://www.ed.gov/news/pressreleases/2009/02/02042009.html

    This is well-know career counselor Marty Nemko’s account of what happened when he spoke up against the mission of the EdTrust:

    At the 2009 National Conference of the Education Writers Association, I debated Kati Haycock, president of EdTrust on the question, “Should all students be required to take a college-prep curriculum?” I argued against one-size-fits-all education.

    I was shocked that she opened the debate by deeming me (and anyone who opposes college-prep for all) racist. After the presentation, audience members told me I shouldn’t be surprised–that’s the tactic she and her predecessor at EdTrust, Russlyn Ali, use to quell dissent. I also learned that many experts believe that EdTrust-created data is suspect. For example, respected U.S.C education professor, Stephen Krashen wrote an article, “Don’t Trust Ed Trust.” Gerald Bracey, who for decades in the respected Phi Delta Kappan authored reports on the state of education, wrote an article in the Huffington Post called “The Education Trust’s Disinformation Campaign.” A Democratic member of the California Board of Education, Jim Aschwinden said “Everyone knows Ed Trust is a sham. Go talk to Carol Liu, a Democratic senator who wanted to investigate Ed Trust and was stonewalled but eventually found out that the statistics EdTrust reports about its poster-boy program–San Jose Unified School District–are bogus.

    In addition to Haycock unfairly playing the race card and presenting dubious statistics, she heavily relied on vague feel-good, politician-like slogans such as “Don’t we want to give all kids a chance?”

    Read the rest of what Nemko has to say on @ http://martynemko.blogspot.com/2009/05/case-against-one-size-fits-all.html.

  • Jim Mordecai


    However, OUSD policy is not just college prep but university prep.

    As many OUSD students are speaking English as a second language (plurality of OUSD enrolled students speak Spanish), perhaps there is advantage to making two years of a foreign language language a requirement in Oakland. But, I am not sure that Oakland can hire enough Spanish teachers as well as teachers of the Asian and African languages to exploit that home language advantage.

    In America the policy of seat-time as the basis of graduation kept the light from shining on class differences. A policy of making entrance to the U.C. as one of the minimum requirements for graduation would normally shine the light on class differences. However, this initiative is suppose to be attacking institutional racism and clouds the class and racial differences. To be skeptical about this policy is to be branded a racist.

    Jim Mordecai

  • Katherine

    Kudos to Metwest. That is the benefit of having a small school. I don’t see what the problem is about the A-G requirements since the OUSD requirements are more stringent in everything but language. In the OUSD, 3 years of a lab science and 3 years of social studies are required but for UC it is only two. Also UC doesn’t require PE. Having a second year of a language just means you have an edge in no matter what job you do – be it Micky Ds, a plumber or a teacher. One year is a joke – it’s almost not worth it.

    Even if a kid isn’t going to do much with her/his life, at least knowing something about the world outside the hood might prevent the rest of the world from having to suffer from their ignorance.

  • Jim Mordecai


    A retired OUSD counselor, David Turner, on a teacher list service provided details as to why making A-G is not a practical policy.

    Re: A-G School Board Resolution
    Saturday, June 13, 2009 11:48 PM
    From: “Eugene Debs”

    This whole issue of A-G requirements as grad requirements was much debated and implemented back in the mid-90s and I railed against it as long as there wasn’t any safety net to provide tutoring and extra help to those who couldn’t possibly pass 3rd year math after failing or getting D grades in Algebra and Geometry. There were no provisions then and I’ll bet there won’t be any in this new initiative. It’s all window dressing to make OUSD look good but there is no concern for the students’ ability to pass Intermediate Algebra, Chemistry, 2 years of foreign language (especially when we’re facing a severe shortage of foreign language and math teachers). They never discuss the real world issue that is created by raising the bar without supports to insure student success. All they say is we’re going to offer A-G and make it required for graduation. What that means is more students will drop out feeling unable to successfully complete the 3 years of math, 2 years of foreign language, biological and physical science labs etc etc etc. Because the more needy students will need large doses of intervention, they won’t be able to participate in choir, drama, computer labs etc because they’ll be so bogged down in taking multiple classes in math , science and reading. Many will drop out when realizing that they won’t have “electives” in their program. Their program will be dictated by these administrators who have never taught in a classroom and have never tried to teach 3rd year math to students who haven’t grasped Algebra and Geometry. This is a farce and won’t succeed any more than the initiative in the 90’s did. We need extra resources and that doesn’t mean more of the same, two classes in English don’t improve secondary students English skills, they only serve to further deaden the curriculum and accelerate the drop out rate.

    We need to reform education by bringing the best and brightest teachers into our classrooms and allowing them to “turn students on” to learning. We’ll only do that successfully when we stop all the window dressing and start determining what each student needs to succeed. OUSD administration will always find it difficult to deal with the complexities of the classroom, it’s up to the educators to confront their ignorance with the truth about what works with secondary students.

  • Nextset

    Jim M: We should discuss what it means when the “Educators” set up a program in a ghetto school such as OUSD (I could have used the term “urban school” but I’m in a mood right now..) obviously calculated to force out the left side of the Bell Curve.

    Why is OUSD trying to increase the drop rate? What is their plan here? Are they trying to get “better”, higher performing schools by eliminating any students with an IQ of less than 110? Let there be no mistake, imposing a university eligible course requirement is incompatible with the presence of students with IQ’s below a certain (higher than average) number whatever that number may be. Average IQ students do not do college prep, and most of OUSD student body will be less than national avg.

    And anybody who is University Educated who has studied sociology and related courses knows exactly who is on the hit list here. And who is not.

    Very small changes in testing conditions produce very large differences in who can pass. We can see this when DMV adds time pressure conditions to the DMV written tests.

    Despite my occasional mention that OUSD needs to establish a Lowell High School I never in my wildest rants meant to say that OUSD should turn it’s entire High School Program into a Lowell High School operation.

    To put it bluntly – and I think that is called for – mandating UC entrance requirements for all OUSD High School Students will essentially turn OUSD into a Negro-Free environment. There will be exceptions, there are blacks at Piedmont Unified too. But there will not be so many you’d notice. And the ones that will survive might just be tilted to the Eqyptians.

    OUSD exists to serve the needs of the people of Oakland by getting their children into occupations, military, or higher education. Exactly how does this proposed policy serve the needs of even half of the Oakland residents? Or do they expect us to believe you can tutor the majority of the students into passing college prep courses? If it were that easy UC Berkeley would have better drop rates for the different groups.

    And least the readers think I’m only speaking of the black students, what about the Mexican students (soon to be a majority)? What are their projected fail rates for such a program? We can chart that just as easily. Yes, some will manage – but what ratio?

    This policy looks to me like a simple withdrawal of educational services from the proletariat. And put through by “liberals” I suppose, Obama supporters.

    Brave New World. In the old one, we had social mobility. Not anymore.

  • Catherine

    Stop it Nextset, we don’t talk about IQ in Oakland. All Oakland students have the same IQ give or take 5 points. All Oakland students can learn any material presented to them if we BELIEVE they can learn.

    There are no students with IQs over 105, nor under 95. Just ask the school board.

  • James

    I hope the central office takes into consideration our flourishing Performing Arts programs in the district, before making any system-wide changes. Currently, students only need one year of ‘fine arts’ to graduate. A required extra year of Math would seriously, impede a students ability to focus on the arts.

    Would this change apply to charter schools as well?

    As Katherine stated above: “One year is a joke – it’s almost not worth it.”

  • Nextset

    Somebody tell me that jacking up the district-wide minimum requirements to the levels discussed above is not a declaration of war on the black and brown students? That it is not actually intended to dramatically raise the drop rate in that population and run them out of the district well before 12th grade? And at the same time convince the students involved, their families and the public that if they leave it’s because they “wouldn’t do the work” and their failures are their fault personally.

    That’s the sad part about all this – it is a move to break the spirit and the will of the “failing” students, to convince them they are no good (and that the school is “good”).

    There is and should be a place in our society and our economy for all our citizens, above average, average, and below average academic aptitude. It is the job of the public school system to evaluate, guide and place all our kids on the ladder of society, to get the best possible outcomes for all the kids. Not just those who are ready, able and willing to pursue higher education. OUSD had better remember this, these kids are not going away. They are all our responsibility to take care of. That’s why we have public schools.

  • Joe

    What does Free APPROPRIATE Education mean? Is this a term that applies to those “you know who” students only?

    It seems to me that the intent of the Public School system is the educate the people. Please do not continue creating barriers to impedede the progress of the masses.

  • Jim Mordecai


    The aim of the A-G graduation policy is to jack up the standards so that more students of color are U.C qualified. Righteousness that is felt by Ed Trust West spokespersons is projected whenever they speak in public.

    They believe if standards are held high and proper resources provided all students will be able to master whatever the standard. If it doesn’t happen it is because the adults in the school system do not have their belief that all students can learn and meet whatever standard.

    The logic of Ed Trust West is only those committed to the status quo and maintaining the racial achievement gap would oppose their righteous mission to end that gap.

    As a civil rights organization Ed Trust West has great influence in the new President Obama administration with its former Ed Trust West Director getting a civil rights enforcement position in the Department of Education.

    If you are concerned for the students of Oakland, this same approach is the coming National policy embedded in establishment of National standards followed by a National test. But, this is not a left or right policy but a continuation of Bush’s NCLB policy on stereoids.

    Jim Mordecai

  • Nextset


    I keep remembering that jury instruction that says “You are presumed to intend the logical results of your actions”. They know exactly what they are doing.

    I don’t buy the bona fides of these people for a minute. They intend to destroy the minority students and sweep them from society. And they’re going to do it, too.

  • Jim Mordecai


    The leadership of Ed Trust West is female, African-American, and lawyers. They are attempting to push Dr. Dubois’ talented ten beyond the ten percent and aiming for a larger number. I have seen nothing that indicates this push is not sincere.

    After all playing this role has provided the corporation with contracts from the government to right civil right wrongs. Being able to pursue ones dream of change and get paid is a good combination to blind one to facts on the ground.

    Jim Mordecai