Going to private school: same city, different world

Marcus Garrette, 15, writes about the social and academic challenges he faced when he went from an Oakland public high school to a private school in the 10th grade, and how his outlook shifted during the year. -Katy

When I began school last fall, I thought that it was going to be an amazing year where my friends and I would spend time relaxing while working hard, seeing how we had already completed our first year at Skyline High School and we were now sophomores. I was taking a few advanced classes and the regular required classes, plus I was in the school jazz band and was happy, overall, with my schedule.

As my first week of school progressed, it was feeling similar to last year. I spent a lot of time joking around but getting work done at the same time. I was very content with how things were going. This would change VERY soon and VERY fast.

Towards the end of that first week, a fellow schoolmate from my jazz band walked up to me and told me something that my sister had told her. The schoolmate told me, “Marcus! You’re going to Bentley?!” and I quickly responded with “What? No I’m not,” because at that point, I had no idea what Bentley was. The only other time I had heard that name was in reference to a luxury car.

Upon arriving home I would soon find out from my mom that I would be visiting Bentley the next day to check out this private school. As I processed this information I quickly responded with “No.” It was as simple as that, I was bent on not having anything to do with changing schools, after all I was doing fine just where I was and besides how could I be expected to leave my friends, some of them which I had known for over four years?

As the evening wore on, and with much discussion with my family, I relented and decided to at least visit the school. What could a visit hurt? The next day, my mother, the person who helped create this opportunity for me, and I drove the fifteen miles or so out to the school.

It was a nice, breezy summer day which made the tree-filled campus look all the more inviting. We were shown around the campus and I was offered admission to the school. Overall, it was a nice visit into the realm of private schools and I reluctantly agreed to give it a try, all the while thinking about who and what I would be leaving behind. After all, I had already figured out my entire high school plan the summer prior to my ninth-grade year and I virtually had no time to say goodbye to all the people I had developed relationships with for years.

I quickly transferred to the completely different setting after missing the first few days of school. It first seemed like a sudden jump into another world, and I already felt behind and overwhelmed. I didn’t know anyone, and I had no one to show me the ropes. I drifted throughout the school, receiving introductions from students who would nicely say hello to me. They gave me a lot of attention at first, but that seemed to fade, and I noticed some of my teachers paid little or no attention to me. I felt like the kid that was left to sit off in the corner by himself. I felt isolated, though that was sometimes self-induced.

This is when I realized I would have to learn to be independent and fend for myself in this small community. I realized everything was different in this community’s world. The academic arena was more like college, and the social scene was out of this world to me. I didn’t receive all the classes I wanted, and I didn’t catch up for the entire first part of the school year. This was partially due to the complete difference of learning pace and lesson planning in the classes offered between public and private schools, and partially due to my indifference in this whole experience. This depressed me deeply for a great part of the year as I felt as if I was alone and had been abandoned by my friends from my former school.

After traveling the long haul home on BART every day, my mother would asked me the same question: “How was school today?” My answer rarely varied, it was usually “the same.” She would encourage me and tell me to hang in there, and she did everything she could to make it easier for me. She participated in parent events at the school, trying to fit into this world herself. She drove to the school many nights to pick me up, she met me at the BART station every day, she made my lunch, etc. She always told me things would change. Then as the year progressed, I learned to stop being such a crybaby. I learned that I was going to have to be the one to change my high school experience and that everything I needed to do so was already there.

Towards the end of the year a senior in my jazz band class asked me to participate in a play he was producing. I spent a lot of evenings working with him and some of the other students. I got to know them and they got to know me. I can say this helped to turn things around for me. I also developed a better relationship with some of my teachers during this time. I learned to appreciate the school and all that it has to offer. I figured that I could make it and realized that I wasn’t alone after all, as I ended up making a few more good friends, from both Skyline and Bentley. I guess I’ll always be able to find friends in new places, private school or not.

I feel I ended my year stronger, I did better academically and I am prepared for the next school year. I have made myself some promises that I plan to keep. After all, I’ll be more mature. I’ll be a junior and ready to go without all of the adjustments.

Katy Murphy

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

  • Linda King

    Is this Kim Shipp son ?

  • cameron

    way to go marcus keep up the great work

  • Ms. Tate

    Wow Marcus! You are so blessed to represent our community, our ancestors and our future. Don’t forget your blessings have your name on them and only you can collect them. Luv U. Be grateful!

  • J. Peters


    You should be very proud that you kept an open mind about your new school. It wasn’t easy for your mother to make the adjustment either – a new neighborhood to drive around, new parents to meet. In the long run, you will find that your new school will be the new “normal” and you will be more ready to take on change. After all when you go to college, there will be people from other backgrounds to meet. Travel, jobs, the world. You will discover that the people you thought had it all together can be just as afraid and unsure as you are.

  • Catherine


    Thank you. I would be interested to know if at Bentley the classes are more harder, if you’re asked to think more, if you are required to keep closer tabs on your time and your homework and if you are required to “think deeper.” By think deeper, compare and contrast, think about the assignment in terms of a historical or ethical perspective or use analogy to explain a topic.

    How does it feel to be a person of color at Bentley?

    Do the students who grew up with Bentley all the way through their education have a jump start on education or did public education prepare you well for Bentley?

  • Katy Murphy

    Yes, Marcus is Kim Shipp’s son.

  • Nextset

    Marcus: What’s the racial makeup of the old school and the new school (students and faculty)? Was that an issue in your feelings about starting Bentley?

    How are the students at Bently treated compared to what you experienced at our prior school? What are the relative levels of formality – authority – demands – expectations? Do you still maintain the same contacts at the OUSD school?

    A point I thought of while reading your post. A friend’s son finished Catholic High School in Northern CA and won a football scholarship to Idaho – He’s black, Idaho’s not. Off he went. It’s worked out very well. I don’t know if that was his first choice. Other people I know in their early 20s went through lotteries for Medical Residencies and wound up in places (cities and states) they’d never heard of or been to (they go where they are told). I had lunch recently with a returning War Vet who was talked into signing up for something called “Rangers” by a recruiter at 18. He thought he would be issuing tickets or something. Big surprise. Over 10 years later he’s one of the living and he’s happy enough.

    If you think going to a new high school is a challenge wait till you see what life is about to throw at you. You may enter an occupation where you are expected to pack up and go on short notice – to where the work is. Your mother was right, she took you out of a comfort zone and pushed your boundries, and all this is good preparation for the future. You are living in very interesting times.

  • Marsha


    Do you know kim Shipps position on charter schools in Oakland? Could you find out?

  • Susan


    Why does it matter what Ms. Shipp thinks of charter schools in this city? If she hates them-what does this got to do her with he son?

    The fact that is that she does believe in school choice-obviously- but the charters in this city are terrible. Maybe Ms. Shipp likes charter schools- just not those that are not in Oakland?

  • Kim Shipp


    My position on Charter Schools is the same as it is with all schools. What are the deliverables? What is the school offering to students and parents? A-G requirements, electives, foriegn languages, Advanced placement classes,etc. These are the things parents should consider when choosing a school for their children, whether that public, private, small or charter. It’s parent choice, but parents need to know what they are choosing.

  • michael g

    That’s my boy. You never cease to amaze me with your talents. Very well written and thoughtful..

  • http://same Sis Joy/Cosmo

    Kim & Marcus, Just anyone wouldn’t be accepted into Bentley, Marcus you Make Us Proud and Kim, you and Michael should be quite proud of your children in the academic arena, in their music and just for who they are. Congratulations Marcus

  • Faye Shipp


    What an awesome and mature description of your 1st year at Bentley! I’d like to read more of your material. I could almost hear the peck on the keyboard. Lovey, writing.

    p.s., sure would be nice to have you mentor your nephew Sheldon…..

  • Pastor Larry Ashley

    God has an awesome plan for your life and I can see you fulfilling all He has for you. Continue to walk tall with that big smile and remember that with God on your side it is more than the world against you. My prayers are with you, keep up the good works. Keep sharing your experiences, this was a great article to read and what a joy to read it.

  • Oakland Teacher

    Marcus sounds like he is destined for many opportunities, not a surprise given who his mother is and how much support is evident in the above postings from his extended family.

    When I read “The Education Report”, I tend to think of it as about OUSD, not private schools that can only be accessed by a few students. I hope that this blog is not going to be used to extol all the wonders available to those who can pay the $15,000-25,000 yearly tuition. Unfortunately, that scenario will only further the view that public schools are not the place to send your kids if you have any choice.

  • Alice

    Marcus, I and my family are so proud of you and how you are using the gifts God gave you. You as many have that “Greatness”, be humble, give God the Glory. The world is in you hands. I have watched you grow up into such a handsome young man. I wish you much success, stay the course. Have fun at Bentley! Love you much. You are also blessed with two of the most loving parents, yes they did something well with you, your brother and sister also.

  • sis willie

    What a blessing,Marcus keep up the good works and don’t ever limit yourself.Everyone has something to offer.Now you know that no matter where you are in life you can learn any where and any place.Always keep God in whatever you do and an open mind.

  • Midge Davidson

    Marcus, I am sooooooooooooooooooooo proud of you.
    I know how gifted you are. Remember to always put GOd first and he will give you the desires of your heart.
    You are going to have some great high school memories!

  • Donna

    Oakland Teacher, $15-25K tuition? Bentley’s rack rate is over $27K; Head Royce is $28K, and College Prep is over $28K. Their competitors are even more: Lick-Wilmerding is nearly $32K and Marin Academy is over $32K. Financial aid is not nearly as plentiful as it used to be, so middle income parents faint when they learn private HS $$$ and send their kids to Oakland Tech! The students in Tech’s most challenging classes get into the same colleges as private school grads: Ivies, UCs, etc., and the kids get exposed to a broader social milieu.

  • Nextset

    Donna: I’m not enamoured of that “broader social milieu”. What you are referring to includes tolerance of things that don’t need to be tolerated. And for a black child, in my opinion it is more important to start to acclimate to higher society (which takes more than a notion) rather than to go to school with a population that is not University bound – IF you want that black child in a national university at age 18.

    I know Black families who put several kids each through national universities (and by that I mean the kid stayed there and graduated) and thereafter into professions and/or Corporate America. You don’t do it by sending such kids to OUSD. So Sorry…

    There are a LOT of cultural hurdles, some of them subtle and some of them dangerous. At some point Otis and Latifa have to decide which clan they are going to belong in because you can’t have both – not safely anyway. And for some kids that moment when they have to choose is difficult because it means leaving their comfort zones. Changing schools like this is the parent’s way of moving the comfort zone around the kid to make that decision possible and (relatively) painless. Here they’ve waited about as long as they could.

    Some families do it be keeping their kids out of and away from black churches. Other by moving out of and away from black neighborhoods. And then we have the interracial marriages…You get the picture. In the end the kid loses his ability to identify with and internalize the values of the “hood”.

    If all else fails, send the kid to live with white grandparants in Hawaii – he can become president!

    It starts with nobody around the kid teaching him that he’s a victim or that anybody in the world owes him a thing. After that comes the competition, early and often. Not the strong suit of OUSD.

    Brave New World.

  • Oak261

    I wish Marcus well.

    I apologize if I’m tone deaf, but I’m struggling to recognize the significance many appear to be reading into his transition. Arguably, its harder to do at 10th grade vs 9th grade.

    Many (about one third) of Oakland area entering 9th graders enroll in a private school. That’s about one thousand students. Many, but not all, are high achievers. Some are minority students. Some were in private schools before, some come from OUSD. A few (fewer, to be sure) from private schools decide to go to Skyline and Tech. High achieving Skyline students, where Marcus went to school, go to top universities. These numbers tell a story, and have been discussed a fair bit on this web site.

    So what is the substance, responders? Would it be in the answers to the questions of posts 5 and 7 by Catherine and Nextset?

  • Donna

    Sorry, Nextset; I don’t take kindly to your putting words in my mouth. When I wrote “broader social milieu” I meant exactly what I said; it was NOT code for what I believe you refer to as the [black] “underclass”.

    Let me better explain myself: At independent private schools (i.e. non-parochial schools), the Asian students are for the most part middle/upper middle class American born ethnic Chinese and hapa haole (half white) Japanese. Immigrant kids are from well off families. South Bay independent private schools probably have a measure of Indian kids who were either born here or have professional parents. The Asian kids at Tech are mostly from immigrant families, and in addition to Chinese include Vietnamese and Cambodian, two ethnicities I have never encountered at independent private schools.

    As for Latinos: The private schools have students they count as “Latino” because one or both of their parents is from a Latin American country. But guess what? It is not likely to be Mexico, or Guatemala for that matter. And that parent is probably from one of the upper classes.

    And yes, in public school the African American students will not all have parents with high aspirations for their kids and the time and skills to negotiate the system. But there are some, so please don’t sell those families short.

    At schools like Tech or Skyline, students CAN get a good education with challenging classes — that tend to be much, much larger than at independent private schools. However, if that student is African American or Latino, he or she will have to step out of his or her comfort zone because it is in those classes where the white and Asian students are congregated. The racial/ethnic percentages in those classes do not mirror the school as a whole.

    The tracking begins in middle school. If a student has not completed algebra or algebra + geometry in middle school, that student will not be eligible for the math and science track that parallels the private schools. English/social studies tracking is probably based on grades and self-selection; they try to scare kids away. I imagine it is also coupled with whatever math track the student is on.

    And guess who gets tracks where? Low income African American kids are rarely placed in the highest track. And if they are, they face social pressures from the friends they left behind and a measure of social isolation from the middle class kids whose parents made darn sure they were *correctly* placed.

    I can understand a parent wanting to send her son to a school with a more extensive culture of achievement. I have an overachiever attorney/ex-CPA friend whose son accused him of being an Uncle Tom; he lost him to LA gang life.

    No school is perfect in all respects, not even private schools. They all have their warts, just as each of us do. And no one school or university is perfect for every kid.

  • Nextset

    DOnna: My words were my own. I have heard that broad social milieu term used a lot to indicate higher classes are supposed to learn to tolerate lower class mores as opposed to just liking Thai food.

    My take on this is this: I’m black. My parents and many of their friends grew up in Aparthied America – spent time in the Armed Forces among other things – took professional degrees, then got every one of their 4 kids through professional schools. Similar things occurred on some of my cousins. My generation was the first that went to integrated public schools. At least that’s our experiences. There were some problems and interesting times.

    Over a lifetime I’ve observed black students who made it into the professions or higher ed generally (University level) and those that don’t. And I’m not talking about music and black studies. I’m referring to lab sciences, medicine, enginering and law.

    Those that didn’t make it, or those that started in a professional career and were denied licensing, disbarred or worse had a particular feature in common. These features are typically noticed in those who “keep it real”. And those attitudes and features can be spotted and corrected by middle school age. OUSD isn’t about correcting anything, preferring to “keep it real”. The parents I saw operate were relatively forceful in keeping all of ther kids out of the comfort zone and on track to University eligible. These parents also made sure that there were no friends who were not on the same track. This affected where they would live and what schools they sent their black children to. Then there was the Jack and Jill thing. That started at age 4 or 5 I think in the East Bay. Long, long time ago. Affirmative Action was very useful since the black applicants only competed with other black applicants for “black” seats at Universities.

    So now things are more competitive than ever. I don’t see ambitious black families interested in “broad social milieu” if it includes any lower class black children for their kids to get involved with. We all know professional class black families who had children run off with the trash. Or reproduce with them.

  • Sis. Beatrice Edwards

    Since you were in my Sunday School class at Cosmopolitan, I recognized your academic skills and knew you would succeed in any endeavor you choose to embark upon. Congratulations on your success at Bentley. May God continue to bless you in all that you do. You have a wonderful, supportive family. My prayers are with you always.

  • Debora

    Donna: It is true that students may have very challenging classes at Skyline or Oakland Tech. But there are only a few classes that are truly challenging to the point of the “Bentley” group.

    By the time a Bentley student reaches high school, they know Latin, Spanish and usually French as well. They have had comparative culture / religion / continent classes, art history and mythology. They have had chess, drama, painting, and drawing. They have used microscopes, the internet and laboratories for science. They have a sport in which they excel and have played team and individual sports as part of PE. They have learned about money and finance and know how to complete applications, choose classes that build on the knowledge they have built and can give a complete analysis and evaluation of the teachers and the classes they have had as “middle schoolers.” They can and do facilitate and participate in their parent / guardian – teacher conferences.

    With the exception of possibly one year of Spanish (usually one semester because there aren’t enough Spanish classes offered, how does that even begin to compare to the catching up that needs to be done to be able to take the advanced classes offered at Skyline or Oakland Tech? And, for those students who graduated either Skyline or Oakland Tech with at least 18 units of AP credits as is the case with the average Bentley student, how many had a head start at private or parochial schools in any of the kindergarten through eight grade years?

    For the record, 18 units of AP means that you have nearly completed your freshman year of college before you enter.

  • Marcus Garrette

    First, I would like to thank everyone for the comments and blessings they have sent.

    In response to some of the comments, the classes at Bentley are in fact more challenging. They go through material that public schools never get a chance to touch. They also require you to think more, specifically in the English classes which are completely different from the English classes at public schools.

    Being a minority, I don’t feel TOO different from the others at my school but the backgrounds of the few minorities in the school are apparently different from those who are not.

    The educational level seems balanced throughout the school between all students, in other words you can’t tell academic levels based upon who is on scholarship or who is not. As a matter of fact you really don’t know.

    Thanks again, and maybe I’ll be able to share some other educational experiences some other time.

    Sound off,

  • Debora

    Marcus: Thank you for taking the time to respond. When you have really bright and / or highly motivated kids (whether or not they are identified as gifted) the education that they really need is the required thinking. Math is not just about equations and language arts is not about the number of words per minute, vocabulary and grammar, but the ability to use language to express complex ideas and to break down literature into comparative pieces.

    What I would love to see in Oakland Unified classrooms is what you have in Bentley; it is the requirement to analyze literature rather than just answering content questions. For example, in the book Whittington by Alan Armstrong, fourth graders should be able to compare and contrast the animals in the barn that are pushed out of the house and into the barn for being broken and no longer useful in ways would be compared to a ethnic group pushed out of society or a foster child pushed out of a family.

    This is the sort of deep thinking that is missing from our schools, and that is a given in most private settings. Just looking at the two curriculums (public vs private) as they are on paper makes them appear to be similar because both public and private are reading the book Whittington and then writing about the book. The huge difference is in the BELIEF (Alice Spearman’s word inserted here) that our children are able to read, think, research, comprehend, analyze and write about what they have read.

    This is where Bentley has it all over OUSD. And to my critics, yes, Bentley charges an arm and a leg for this education. But tell me, would it really cost any more to teach to this level and to expect that Oakland students could perform to the same level?

  • Stephanie Diane


    Thank you for letting us spend one year in your reality. Please do share more with us on your personal account of teachers interaction with students, students interacting with you. Also, share, what impact did you have on the students and teachers at Bentley…

    Stephanie Diane

  • advokids

    What is preventing fourth grade teachers in OUSD from requiring their students to analyze literature? Why do you think deep thinking is missing in Oakland’s classrooms? Or is it happening? It appears you feel that teachers do not EXPECT their students to be able to think deeply. Am I understanding you correctly?

  • Debora

    Advokids:In the several schools I have observed, I have not once witnessed the analysis of comparing a situation in literature to real live situations. I have not witnessed any analysis of the comparison of historical events to current events, yet in the three private schools visited I personally witnessed students struggling, then understanding this comparing and contrasting and analysis – usually I saw it beginning in third grade in private school. By fourth grade, the students could take my example above.

    I have watched private schools teach students to write poetry in the style of Langston Hughes for example – first the students have to know a little about Langston Hughes, then they have to read, discuss and analyze his poetry – how he structures it, line length, subjects per poem, how of if he leads back to the central idea. I have not yet seen an OUSD teacher use poetry in that manner in elementary school. At Montera there is three weeks of that sort of poetry each school year for every student.

    When students in OUSD “analyze” the books they have written, the only analysis I have witnessed is answering questions in class or on paper about 1. the central idea of the story; 2. the setting of the story; 3. the main characters of the story; 4. the climax or problem of the story. That is reading for identification. Analysis asks the reader to compare and contrast, look for ethical issues, identify the type of government in the period of the story.

    If you look at the last paragraph, no I do not believe that there are public elementary schools in Oakland that EXPECT the critical thinking listed above. There a many private schools who EXPECT this type of thinking.

    If I am mistaken, and you know of schools that ask for, EXPECT, and produce these critical thinking assignments and discussion, please let me know. I would love to see the process in action. I will use in when I volunteer in after school programs.

    And, to answer your question as to why OUSD uses their methods rather than not, what I find is that if a teacher has been using a particular method for years, or when an online program has a set of questions, it is an easier method and the students produce work. Many Oakland families do not ask their children to read the newspaper daily and discuss it at the dinner table or talk about whether the government in America is only a two party or a three party government. Parents / guardians tell what they think. Teachers teach the content. Principals state they want order. It seems that in public school, we do not ask students what they see and have them compare what they read to what they experience. Maybe we are afraid of the answers. Maybe we have not taught them to think critically and then to use language to express what they know.

    I don’t know why we don’t. I know that the University of Connecticut has offered to come in to Oakland Schools FREE as part of research to teach teachers, offer curriculum and to follow up on the methods a year later, also free. We have chosen not to take advantage of their offers in language arts or math.

  • Debora

    My third paragraph should have stated “when students analyze books they have READ” not written.

  • Sara

    Debora, due to the fact that Oakland elementary teachers are required to follow the proscribed language arts text and prepare their students for the CST, they don’t have the time to do things such as analyze poems in the way you think they should. I am sure they would like to be able to but you cannot fault them for not doing it. The problem is having to teach to the CST test and until that goes away, which won’t happen, teachers have to all teach the same thing according to the same book.
    If we want our children to have a private school education then then we have to pay for it. Public schools were never meant to teach at the same level of private schools or there wouldn’t be any reason for the existence of private schools. Good things in life ain’t free – you have to pay for them.
    If you want to supplement your child’s education at home, go for it. That is what educated parents who want their children to be well educated do. They have dinner table discussions and if they really want their children to get a good education they don’t sent them to high school in the Oakland public schools. Sad but true.

  • Debora

    Sara: Private schools also have their students take the CST. Private schools also have to prepare their students for the tests.

    It takes just about the same amount of time to assign homework of worksheets to answer literature questions and then check those worksheets as it does to assign homework requiring critical thinking. I have taken the California state standards for SECOND grade directly from the California website:

    Narrative Analysis of Grade-Level-Appropriate Text
    3.1 Compare and contrast plots, settings, and characters presented by different authors.
    3.2 Generate alternative endings to plots and identify the reason or reasons for, and the impact of, the alternatives.
    3.3 Compare and contrast different versions of the same stories that reflect different cultures.
    3.4 Identify the use of rhythm, rhyme, and alliteration in poetry.

    What I am suggesting is not a private school education, but an adequate education as defined by the State of California for which I am paying nearly $10,000 per year in property tax, another $8,000+ per year in California state income tax, and $2,000+ last year in sales tax. All I ask for is the agreed upon state standard for every child in the State of California.

    It is unfair to say that Oakland Unified public school students do not deserve and should not allowed the California State standard for their education. To think deeply is the State standard, to compare and contrast is the State standard to identify and write in the style of several types of poetry is the third grade State standard.

    We in OUSD need to expect the State standard in every classroom every day, that is what is meant when “Expect Success, every student, every classroom, every day” is stated.

  • Sara

    Private school kids do not have to take the CST. Mine have gone from Oakland public schools to private high school and never have they taken the CST test. That is purely for public schools. Kids in private high schools take PSATs and SATs.
    I’m not saying public school kids shouldn’t be taught the standards, just that there is not enough time to do it all in the depth that it would require. In practical application, there is are tests that the teachers must administer, especially in elementary school and they must be done on a certain week. There is no leeway for the teachers to do much more. Their hands are tied as long as they have to teach Open Court and have to administer the required tests. I know that many of the teachers would love to do more but they just can’t.

  • Gordon Danning

    IMHO, the problem is not with testing per se, but with the structure of the tests. For example, in social studies, the state has content standards, and thinking standards. But, the thinking standards are not on the CST — only the content standards are. The state and district should pony up for a better tests, such as this http://www.cae.org/content/pdf/CWRA%20_4_.pdf

  • Sara

    I looked at the CAE site. That would be wonderful if we could test our students on critical thinking and analytical skills. Right now, too many teachers have the kids read the chapter and answer the questions at the end of it which just require going back and finding the sentence(s). Most kids just start with the questions, don’t read the text, and flip back through the book to find the answers. The CST just checks to see if they know facts which they will then forget. How do we get the state to see that these tests are a waste of time? I am afraid it is a lost cause unless the schools decide to stop administering the CST, which is probably not going to happen, and use a test which tests the thinking standards.

  • advokids

    For the past several years,standard-based teaching has been front and center as the focus for instuction in Oakland classrooms with the text books as one of several tools. Most elementary schools have identified priority standards as a focus (based on the needs of their students), studied Open Court and/or Math text for how well those standards were addressed, and added instructional opportunities of their own where the text was found lacking.

    You say, “In practical application, there is are tests that the teachers must administer, especially in elementary school and they must be done on a certain week.” If you study successful schools across the country, ALL utilize some form of interim assessments to assist them with measuring progress towards mastery of state standards. This is simply best practice. Isn’t this information we want to have every 6-8 weeks so as to better prepare our children to master grade level standards? I know as a parent, this is certainly information I want, demand, and find very useful and informative. I would have a problem with a school who wasn’t gauging the success of the instruction on an ongoing basis.

    I disagree with your statement that “there is no leeway for the teachers to do much more. Their hands are tied as long as they have to teach Open Court” This is what we used to call a “cop out”. Teachers at most schools have enough leeway to provide their students with what they need. In fact, teachers have been encouraged and challenged to supplement, to differentiate in smaller groups. There are many, many teachers out there who ARE doing more and their students are reaping the benefits. Who’s tieing the hands of these teachers? And what do these teachers want to do that they can’t?

  • Steven Weinberg

    I cannot speak from direct knowledge about the district benchmark tests required in elementary schools, but the OUSD district benchmark tests for middle schools are not very useful in helping teachers know what they need to spend more time covering and have not been very useful in helping us improve CST scores. As for being “simply best practice,” I believe benchmark tests are required by the State of California for Program Improvement Schools and Districts, and they are widely used, but the ones we use in Oakland are far from the “best” of anything.

  • Jackie


    As someone I’ve known for over four years, I feel enlightened reading your blog. I’ve always seen you as more of joker but you sound very sincere and wise in this. Bentley has really offered you tons of opportunities and is undoubtedly an amazing school with tons of things students at public school could never experience. Even though it has taken away two people I care about, I know you and Olivia thrive there, and represent Oakland and this crazy public school system.

    As a student of Skyline, I know that private schools provide way better opportunities for those who are willing to pay and the lucky few who are given aid. But I also believe in an individual’s ability to succeed if they put forth the effort and find opportunities for themselves. Some of the most brilliant people, Frederick Douglas and Albert Einstein, were self-educated. We fight for every ounce of knowledge and info that we do not recieve in public school. And even if we don’t get the most advance calculus lesson or captivating literature, I’m thankful for everything I have had to fight for. I have a feeling of accomplishment for the things that I’ve learned or achieved on my own that privileged students get handed or assigned.

    The public school system is too byzantine and convoluted to understand, especially for the students caught in the mess. Marcus, you’re lucky to have escaped. CST, WASP, freshmen houses, lack of funds, uninterested teachers, and disrespectful students … these things plague my school, and they aren’t problems that can be fixed overnight. But I’ve sat through countless classes, bored out of my mind because the teacher can’t control the rowdy students or another teacher is spread too thin working as both a teacher and AP coordinator due to lack of funds and incompetent administration. But even worst is, these unprecedented problems are expected to be fixed overnight. Rome wasn’t built in a day, (take it from a World History student who suffered a severe AP class) we can’t expect these problems to be solved even in my high school career. Those of us trapped must continue fighting for what we deserve. I believe and cheer for those who are willing to fight this corrupt system. Fight the man!

    Thanks Marcus, for the insight. I hope to read other blogs from you soon.

    PS tell me your history scores, because we know you defy all standards lol, it isn’t AP anymore it’s MG

  • Debora

    Sara and Steven: When we focus on the tests rather than focusing on the Standards we are telling our students that tests matter more than learning. That bubbling in is more important than deep thinking and that the State Standards are for “better” school districts or private schools. That said, I understand the tests are high stakes tests, but the more we concentrate on them the less we are concentrating on the State of California standards and the less the majority of our students are learning.

    One thing that impressed me about a fairly new school principal who refused to allow “horse-play” in the halls -this principal said, “The first year or two, we are going to lose money and students. Losing money and students is difficult, but as parents see that children are at our school to learn, more parents committed to the education of their children will come to our school. We know this because we have borne witness to this fact time and time again in this district and others.”

    What this principal said, changed the school in one year. Yes, they lost students and money the first year because there were still some students who were not at school prepared to learn, but the percentage of unprepared students became less and less of the overall population.

    When we focus on STATE standards, our children will pass those tests, not because of the amount of time spent on test prep, but because the material is so well known to them that they will be able to show that knowledge. This is why many school districts with high “free and reduced lunch” and “English as a second language students” have students performing better than OUSD. Not because their students are brighter, but because they have the courage to trust that students who have ever increasing knowledge will be able to show that knowledge on any and every standardized test.

    I recently had a discussion with a principal of a school that serves primarily lower income, mostly African American children in Oakland. This principal stated that huge numbers of children are reaping the benefits of help provided to move the children from Far Below Basic and Below Basic to Proficient. However, OUSDs original plan included only how to move them up – not how to keep them Proficient and move them beyond Proficient to Advanced. The belief was not there that it WOULD BE accomplished. Now that it has been accomplished for many students, there is a rethinking of what must be done. A new plan is being formulated to keep these students at a Proficient level – or to move them on up to Advanced.

    That is what I am proposing. A rethinking that our OUSD Students can be taught the State Standards, just like the children of Walnut Creek, Castro Valley, and Piedmont, and that they are just as capable of learning those Standards and showing the world that they are capable.

    I believe when teachers teach to the highest level in a class that all students will rise. Some students will achieve higher than others, some students will require extra help and extra time, but all students benefit when State Standards are taught and achieved. All parents, grandparents and guardians want their children to learn and all children are capable of learning. For those who need extra – time, assistance, food, attention, they should receive it as it is needed, but it should not be assumed that every classroom every day must be taught at the level of the lowest performing student, but at the level of the highest performing student and beyond.

  • seenitbefore

    The focus in OUSD classrooms… especially at the secondary level… is on classroom management.

    Because we continue to socially promote students to the next grade level… even though they have NOT mastered the material or in a lot of cases FLUNKED every class….. the teacher’s ability to deliver a lesson is often derailed by having to deal with frustrated students who should NOT be in that classroom.

    Therefore, kids like Marcus…. who are bright and ready to learn… cannot be given their free public education.

    And whose fault is that?

  • Nextset

    Repeat after me: OUSD does not run “Schools”. As soon as we get past this concept all the madness at OUSD falls into place. OUSD is in the business of running failure factories falsely labeled as a “school”. It is only incidental that anyone learns anything. Those that do would have done so no matter where they went to “school”.

    What has happened here with Marcus is his family placed him in a real school. Bently is not requiring anything special of Marcus – it’s just a real school. Marcus is now a real student in school. He’ll get used to it I hope and eventually realize Bently is reality and OUSD was not. Then he’ll be on track to do higher education – he was not being prepared for that previously.

    As far as post #41 para 3 goes – kids “like Marcus” can’t be given free education because the people of CA and the USA have no intention of operating public “schools” anymore. The people are only interested in Pacification – for the left half of the Bell Curve. The Right side are in private (real) schools or public (“Ivies”) real schools. Can you imagine the public uproar if the public school kids went to class one day and were given printed announcements of a new reality where they were to be tested and sorted to different campuses according to ability – made to wear uniform dress – given assigned seats – informed about the new flunk policy, deportment rules, etc? Back to 1963 in all… Now imagine how the Black students would fare, and all the counterculture students. Not going to happen.

    So in the urban areas we get – OUSD. And everybody is happy especially the private school & Piedmont School kids who will never have to sit with anybody from the ghetto. All in all an evolved system that is built on giving people what they think they want.

    Brave New World.

  • Skyline Teacher

    Nextset, there is nothing in Marcus’ post which says he was on a track to failure or dropping out at Skyline. In fact, he focuses extensively on the social and cultural changes he faced rather than the academic ones.

    For good and ill, we do have the tracking you always demand be reintroduced “like the good old days.” At Skyline there is a clear college-bound track of kids like Marcus who are funneled into honors and AP classes — it sounds like he was already on it.

    Do you think by oversimplifying and generalized everthing to the point of meaninglessness helps you make your overall point? Is it just a rhetorical strategy or do you really see the world that way?

  • Debora

    Skyline Teacher: Marcus did say the classes at Bentley required more in-depth thinking. And while I don’t believe for one minute that Marcus could not have succeeded and would have been admitted to a top-notch university, I wonder if he would have been prepared for the depth of analysis required in college.

    On another note, I was recently working with a neighbor who is on the Honor Roll with a 3.3 GPA. She could not add and subtract fractions, had trouble with long division and had trouble figuring out word problems calculating time. I asked her parents if I could see her STAR test results and she is not even proficient. How can someone be on the Honor Roll, and not be meeting the state standard and test below proficient?

  • Skyline Teacher

    Well, I would expect expensive and prestigious Bentley to be more demanding, and I certainly wasn’t trying to put a happy face on our school, lord knows. But I was noting that he didn’t say he was in awe of how advanced his peers were. This seems relevent because many of the commenters on here have attacked Skyline and other OUSD high schools as simply “failure factories” that should be burned down.

    This is the only part I see where he directly deals with the gap:

    “The academic arena was more like college, and the social scene was out of this world to me. I didn’t receive all the classes I wanted, and I didn’t catch up for the entire first part of the school year. This was partially due to the complete difference of learning pace and lesson planning in the classes offered between public and private schools, and partially due to my indifference in this whole experience.”

    The college comment seems to be relating back to his point about how distant the teachers, which is more in the old “stand and deliver” England-style lecture format most profs still use. His reference to “lesson planning” would seem to support this. Plus he says he was indifferent and culture-shocked, so he fell behind.

    Also, if he had stayed at Skyline he would have ended up increasingly pushed to take AP classes. These are quite demanding and fast-paced. (I see a larger problem in that there is little middle-ground between the very rapid AP classes and the “normal” classes held back by the terrible preparation many of the kids have had in K-8.)

    Marcus, care to weigh in?

    As for the girl with the 3.3 GPA, there are various possibilities. First, grade inflation is a problem everywhere, from Harvard to Castlemont. Private school teachers tell me they are under enormous pressure to give A’s because the kids are striving for entrance to the top schools and percieve a single B as poison. And certainly some kids in “ghetto” schools can earn Bs just by sitting quietly and filling in worksheets with stuff out of their textbook that they don’t actually understand. Some well-meaning teachers, frustrated at the poor skills of students, make tests a very small percentage of the grade and streeeeeetch to give grades based on effort or growth.

    But there may be a simpler issue in your example: All of her problems are in math. She may have an undiagnosed learning disability in math (which is just a fancy way of saying her brain, for whatever reason, doesn’t learn or do math well).

    More important than her overall GPA then would be: What level of math is she at and what grades does she get there? Best guess? She’s getting Cs in the lowest level of math because she’s a good girl who can’t pass math tests. Her real problem will be passing the CAHSEE, which does keep some hard-working students with decent GPA from walking the stage.

  • Debora

    Skyline Teacher: She’s in middle school, has had a tutor since second grade for both language arts (reading and writing – including sentence structure and paragraph writing) and math. Her parents are very supportive of her learning, but I get the feeling they are not open to a learning disability diagnosis.

    Her math grade is a B- and I get the feeling the grade issued is partially grade inflation as nothing below a B- can be given to a student who turns in her homework daily, shows up on time and has involved parents.

    The thing that I worry about most is that her parents talk about her getting into UC Berkeley. I am not an admissions officer so I cannot purport to know what would happen if she were to apply, but the grade she is given is not commiserate with the work she is performing either daily in class (I have reviewed her class papers) or as homework (I have assisted with homework). I would say that this 7th grade student is performing at a beginning fourth grade level.

    Her parents beam with pride over the Honor Roll status. The focus is on the grades rather than the learning and I can’t help but feel that she is going have a problem with test scores, grades and learning must be consistent in college.

  • Nextset

    Skyline Teacher: You’re wrong in your post. Nonetheless every defense and explanation of OUSD schools and policy helps understand what is going on. My posts speak for themselves and I think you are protesting too much. Or maybe not. I await more postings with interest. The more you stand up for OUSD the better. Somebody needs to.

    As far as Marcus: I don’t believe I ever said he was on track to failure – although that could be an issue – I sure don’t know him personally. I do know the game at schools such as OUSD and that is to hand out grades that have both the students and the parents think that all is well when actually the student is not being groomed to survive in any selective/competitive college. One can say that is a form of heading to failure but I don’t see where I spoke specifically about Marcus – you did.

    I can repeat this though, OUSD, AP classes or not, do not prepare it’s students ESPECIALLY the black students for a competitive higher education. Not even close.

    The main reason for this is that OUSD wants the students to be “happy” and not “stressed”. As a result the black students with the nice grades wind up in competitive colleges and are then really stressed with an outsized drop rate to match. For example the black drop rate at UC Berkeley. For example the non-selection of tougher majors such as te lab sciences.

    To be honest OUSD makes no claim to a intensive education so the Skyline didn’t exactly promise what Bentley is promising. So maybe we do have truth in Education here. Marcus’ parents sent him elsewhere because they have expectations for him beyond what Skyline or OUSD typically results in.

    I just feel that a public school district as large as OUSD should have it’s own Bentley, like what SF Unified has with Lowell High.

    Your protests are interesting but they haven’t yet moved me. Try again please. Compare Skyline to Lowell. Maybe I’m misinformed, I haven’t much recent news from either school.

  • Skyline Teacher

    Why do you say I am defending OUSD or even Skyline? Far from it. All I was pointing out was that there is a track where kids like Marcus can get a decent free college-prep education within the dstrict. The difference between this and Lowell is that the kids at Skyline who want this have to survive their first one or two years sharing classes with some kids who have little to no education and act out accordingly.

    The vast majority of OUSD students do NOT benefit from this available track, for deep and complex reasons of which the well-known problems of the district are a big part.

    Or were you just saying that an OUSD kid who coasted through high school in remedial classes with a B-average and low SATs and then tried to make it at a top school he somehow landed at might be in over his head? Well, duh.

    “I can repeat this though, OUSD, AP classes or not, do not prepare it’s students ESPECIALLY the black students for a competitive higher education. Not even close.”

    Are you saying that getting high grades in primarily AP classes at Tech or Skyline is not an indicator of future college success? Do you have numbers or studies to back that up or are you just blowing smoke?

    Can you, for example, show me that students with similar GPAs with AP-heavy courseloads have different rates of success beyond high school depending on whether they went to Skyline, Bishop O’Dowd, Berkeley High, Lowell or Bentley?

    You’re actually missing the real horror of the situation, which is that Blacks and Latinos, especially boys, are for the most part NOT even in AP or honors classes, NOR are they pulling down these hot GPAs.

    At Skyline, which is 40% African-American (down 10% in three years), only six African-American male seniors this year qualified to apply for a scholarship that demanded above a modest 3.0 GPA. Many more African American girls would have qualified, but the opportunity was only for boys.

    The fact is, if you sit in on almost any AP class at Skyline (and I suspect Tech and OHigh), you’d think that whites and Asians made up the majority of the school population, instead of a combined 20% of our 2000 students.

    Why? Another big complex debate, with lots of people pointing fingers at each other, but the simplest way to put is to say that most of them are both underprepared and undermotivated to take on what is a HUGE leap in reading level, homework, testing and, yes, “nerdiness,” from what was expected of them in their previous decade of schooling.

    “Your protests are interesting but they haven’t yet moved me.”

    You want to make this some mano-a-mano debate when we both agree that the status quo is clearly NOT WORKING FOR THE VAST MAJORITY OF BLACK AND LATINO STUDENTS.

    I guess your method of argument is to draw a line in the sand in every conversation and then make a “You’re Either with Us or Agin’ Us!” proclamation, after which you manipulate the words of the “opponent” to be on other side of the line.

    Have fun with that.

  • Skyline Teacher

    I should add that there is a group of parents who argue that the reason so few non-white and Asian students are in AP classes is based on a racist selection/funneling process.

  • Nextset

    Skyline Teacher: You sound very frustrated.


    Still you have given us an interesting glimpse into OUSD at Skyline. AP is Negro-free. Hmmm, wonder why? What do you propose to do about it – if you had a free hand?

    As to the failure rates of blacks who do have the AP classes and test scores… That’s documented. Remember, the SAT overpredicts success in black students. Take a look at McWhorters “Losing The Race”. And UC Berkeley is nearby – we all have plenty of first hand experience with what happens there.

    I agree with some of what you have said. The black students of OUSD and similar schools are so coddled, unprepared and unstressed from grades 1-9 that they generally can’t turn everything around in 10-12. If they even wanted to which they typically don’t. Comfort Zone issues, you know.

    What to do? I say start running the public schools more like 1963 or the way the private schools do. Use selection to run smaller academic high schools separate from the Vocational and Technical High Schools. Make it possible for the fewer minority students so inclined to go from 1-12 on an meaningful academic track regardless of how poor their family is or where they live. The Nigerian and West Indies (and mixed) kids will move up quickly. And since the system will be open it would be fair. With the current system everybody is hobbled. You said that those first 2 years of high school involve being mixed into classes with non-competitive students. We can fix that.

    No affirmative action needed.