A new Oakland schools coalition: Will you join?

Local control has returned to Oakland Unified, and the new superintendent is in effect. Now what?

A coalition of Oaklanders called Great Oakland Public Schools, or GO Public Schools, is vying to help chart the school system’s path. The group, which formed last fall, is distributing a 5-page document titled “A Declaration of Community Beliefs and Visions for Oakland’s Public Schools.” Those who endorse it were invited to attend a meeting with Superintendent Tony Smith.

Some of the ideas in the declaration sound a lot like previous or existing initiatives: That principals should have greater say over staffing (i.e. hiring and firing), budgets and curriculum. That families should have the option to send their children to various district or charter schools. That Oakland should offer rewards and incentives for teachers in high-poverty areas, and raise base pay for teachers.

Some seem to regard the group with suspicion. Former OUSD Superintendent Bob Blackburn wrote an email to Hae-Sin (Kim) Thomas — a former OUSD principal and high-level administrator who later helped found GO Public Schools amid the threat of small school closures last year — in response to the declaration. It was posted on the Oakland public school parents’ Yahoo! group (to Thomas’s dismay).

Blackburn wrote:

I’m sure you realize that many people – parents, staff, leaders – throughout Oakland regard GO and Jonathan as cats-paws, as poorly-disguised advocates for more charters, and charters over everything else. As in: the wolf of charter support in the sheep’s clothing of interest in the system as a whole. Despite the PR slickness, people are dismayed at this gamesmanship, and the unadmitted real agenda. …

Thomas and Jonathan Klein, another ex-OUSD employee who is now at the Rogers Family Foundation (the “Jonathan” referenced in Blackburn’s email), each responded at length. To Blackburn’s point about charters, Thomas wrote:

…GO Public Schools was not created to endorse charters or to create charters. That said, we have no problem with quality charter schools and fundamentally believe that parents should have options. The small schools movement was born from families frustrated with their one overcrowded, low-performing option. They demanded choices.

I personally have gone back and forth on charters in Oakland and have spent a lot of time conflicted about them. …

Should OUSD embrace (or continue) the ideas and goals expressed in the declaration? Which ones? What would you change or add?

Katy Murphy

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

  • Cranky Teacher

    second paragraph: “…, whether by choice or by force, A SIGNIFICANT DECREASE.”

  • Let’s Get Real

    Cranky Teacher, I agree that incentives for good behavior, counseling, social skills instruction, parent outreach, etc., are all necessary for a school to sustain a positive school climate. Unfortunately, what has happened in Oakland for many years is that programs like these have been viewed as a solution for all disciplinary issues.

    The fact is that disruptive behavior remains a major problem in OUSD in spite of the many programs that have been put in place. As unpalatable as it may be, we must include an active punitive component to our school climate plans because, in some cases, it is the most effective response.

  • Public School Fan

    I agree with you, Cranky Teacher, that stats on expulsions/suspensions are simply a metric that should be viewed in context. Unfortunately, the way that OUSD runs the ship, just because a school has few suspensions or expulsions on the record doesn’t mean that disruptive and perhaps dangerous behavior isn’t occurring. It could simply mean that a school isn’t using suspensions to enforce the rules or the rules aren’t being enforced at all or it could even mean that it has a great student body that isn’t being distracted or harmed by egregiously bad behavior. Since stats on expulsions/suspensions are reported publicly at least via a school’s site council, that’s why I would think that every school should have a few. To me, it would show that the school is taking discipline seriously and is taking seriously the responsibility to teach its students acceptable behavior. Looking at those stats only tells part of the story, it is true. But since that is the case, how about if OUSD would encourage its schools and staff to actually mete out the punishments that are deserved and not try to whitewash the stats (making them meaningless) by discouraging actual suspensions or expulsions?

    At the school my child attends, the suspensions I know about are “in-school” ones. Suspension-worthy behavior merits a day or more of sitting in the front office. Boring to the kid, certainly. An incentive to behave acceptably in the future, I kind of doubt it.

    Of course, using this method means that the stats for the school won’t show a suspension (thus in accord with OUSD’s desires) and also (yes, Let’s Get Real, I believe that you hit it right on the head) allows OUSD to collect the money from the state for that child attending school for that day despite the fact that the child wasn’t in class but sitting in the office. Even more importantly, seems to me that if the child was suspended at home, then the behavior might be taken more seriously. At a bare minimum, the parent would have to become involved and get child care or take off work (although I suppose this wouldn’t be true for a high schooler). I guess I don’t see much value in the in-school version of suspension. And, at the end of the day, the kid goes right back into the classroom even perhaps with a little more swagger.

  • Cranky Teacher

    Public School Fan, I think you are just speaking with your gut on this one. Do you have stats that show in-school suspensions are less effective than when a kid is sent home to watch TV? (And no, parents aren’t going to stay home with even a middle-schooler.)

    Also, a suspension is a suspension in the records has been my understanding, in-school or not. If you are talking about the informal situation where an administrator counsels or gives a timeout to a student that’s in the gray area.

  • Cranky Teacher

    Let’s Get Real: Can you point me to any of these great programs OUSD has going? I don’t see any of that, nor in Berkeley, where my kids go to school.

    Here’s what I see: Informal counseling by teachers and administrators, calls to parents, hit-or-miss attempts at punitive consequences for minor offenses and, in the case of fights or drugs, automatic suspensions and/or expulsion.

    The vast majority of discipline is left up to the teacher’s use of classroom management skills and personal authority/relationship with the students. Once the kid is sent out of the classroom, it is very unlikely that any intervention at all will happen, much less a systematic or constructive one as you imply.

    There are variety of ad hoc, scattered programs and overwhelmed nonprofit programs (i.e., the health center at Fremont or the Youth Center at Skyline) and paid specialists serving numerous schools simultaneously (i.e., shrinks), but nothing recognizable as a system-wide system of positive reinforcement, behavioral intervention (unless a kid gets categorized as special ed), etc.

  • Let’s Get Real

    There is a district-wide program called “Second Step” that all elementary schools are supposed to use. It covers empathy, impulse control, and problem solving. I think it does help students resolve minor problems. I’ve witnessed various other social skills programs (Tribes, conflict resolution, etc.) come and go during my teaching career. I’m hearing that “Second Step” is being phased out by another program! I don’t think the programs are bad; I think too much is expected of them. Some student behavior cannot just be addressed by teaching social skills or using incentives.

    Most individual elementary schools use various incentive plans to reward good behavior. E.g., at my school, we dole out good behavior tickets to students observed following the rules, and we hold a drawing for prizes at the end of each week. We also have monthly rewards assemblies which cover academic achievement as well as good citizenship. In addition to that, teachers have their own classroom incentive programs. In my class, I reward student behavior on the individual, group, and whole class level.

    We are fortunate enough to have counseling programs at our school, as well.

    In spite of all this, we have students who manage to disrupt their classes regularly, or, in some cases, disrupt an entire wing of our school. These are the cases that call for a swift and serious response–not the coddling by the administration we witness at our school.

    I admit, I have no idea what programs are being used on the secondary level.

  • Skyline Teacher

    Thank you, Let’s Get Real, that was informative.

    At secondary it is more hodge-podge. Some schools use the SST [Student Success Team] model — but those are enormously time-consuming and at many Oakland schools the problem kids are so numerous they overwhelm the limited SST resources.

    I, too, have seen kids who simply can not function in a large-class environment be batted about for a whole year without an progress or serious consequences.

    I wouldn’t call it coddling, because that kind of connotes that it is kind — what I see is problem kids SCREAMING for attention and support and getting ignored by the system until they finally drop out … which can take years.

    For example, if you see the same kids cutting class everyday, every period — sometimes to the relief of their teachers — you know the system as a whole has turned a blind eye becuase it doesn’t know what to do with the kid. Some of these kids need IEPs but either the system can’t/won’t assess them OR their parents are blocking it, which they can do.

    I had one such kid who was out of control every single day in every class. I kept asking for resources and help with him until somebody in special ed spilled the beans: The kid had been diagnosed with severe behavioral disablilites when younger but his mom had forced the district to rescind his special ed status. This cut him off from an array of supportive resources. While I could understand her motivation to mainstream him for social reasons — he can be a charmer and is good with the ladies — it was a disaster educationally: he gets all Fs every semester and will not graduate high school.

    Many teachers are not aware they have the legal right to suspend a kid for two days from their classroom, and can keep doing so until the child’s behavior changes. I have done this. Of course, your principal may or may not appreciate this approach but it does put the ball back in their court because if the student is blocked from the class, the admin has to acknowledge their existence!

    Another thing teachers can and should do is ask other teachers of the problem students if they are having the same problems. If they are, you can provide a united front to the admin; if they aren’t, you can find out what is different in those classes — is it the peeers? The class content? The teaching strategies? Time of day?

  • Public School Fan

    Maybe I am just speaking from my gut, Cranky. But it is also what I’ve I seen by being at school volunteering so much. And it is the same kids getting these suspensions over and over. I also volunteer in the front office to help when needed there as well as in the classroom, so I think I’m seeing a pretty true picture of one school. And I know that in-school suspensions are not treated the same stat-wise as regular send-the-kid-home suspensions. I suppose you are probably right that in-school suspensions are probably just glorified day (or days) long time-outs and thus aren’t required to be reported.

  • Skyline Teacher

    I hear ya. I volunteered at one well-respected OUSD middle school and a girl who was frequently sent to the office admitted to me (an outsider) that she preferred it down there than in class and that it was also the only place she ever got any work done.

    Where we perhaps differ is that I think that girl was unable to control herself and that sending her home for three days would not have solved her larger problems. Expulsion would have meant just foisting her onto a different OUSD school.

    Clearly, though, she wasn’t thriving in class and she was disrupting the learning of her peers pretty extensively. Ah, Catch-22.

  • Public School Fan

    I agree with you Skyline Teacher. Sending a child home versus sitting him or her in the office for a day isn’t going to magically cure the behavior. But it sure would send a message about how serious such behavior is and how it adversely affects the rest of the students and won’t be tolerated at school at all (even by just sitting in the office). It would also send a message to the parents.

    Eliminating the disruptive behavior requires something in addition to the suspension — perhaps counselling, perhaps a different educational method for that child, perhaps parental involvement, all of the things that have been discussed here. Just because a true suspension doesn’t cure the problem, does that mean that they shouldn’t be used? I don’t think so. They should be used as part of the punishment and as part of the cure, but they should be used if for no other reason than as a deterrent to kids who are on the borderline of good/bad behavior and might not act up if they realize that there are serious consequences.

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  • Chauncey

    Jim- have you heard of Blackwater and other Secuirty forces being contracted in Iraq. The monopoly appears done.

    I wouuld like to know where school board members, and OUSd staff send their children. I bet you a huge number are in the hills.

    Tony Smith’s child in in Crocker Highlands right? Who else? I know no one will ansewr this, but rumore abound. i heard that even ms. Marantz daughter attended American Indian? Is that true?

    Charters are a choice and parents could choose to leave. I recall speaking to Mr. Lopez from Oakland Charter Academy who told me that he loses many students to the neighboring schools because they do not have the academic rigor and discipline model as compared to the OCA program.That is their choice and they should feel glad to have it, ( I dont know what they are thinking), but they have a unique power that my folks did not have when I attended terrible district schools.

    I do agree that there are too many charters in the city that are not performing well and should be closed, and simply ask- then what about district school that do not perform well?

    By the Way- Mr. Siegal- what is your daddy up to these days- suing schools still? As Long as he aint on the OUSD union loving board!

  • jim2812


    The Blackwater example points to the problem with ending the public institution as a monopoly whether in education or military.

    When the bottom line becomes maximizing profit, and the chief form of accountability, trouble usually follows because of the contradiction between public and private.

    Blackwater hired guns troubled the world and many Americans because its actions were not under the direct control of a Nation state and seemed to lack the accountability expected when a Nation-state commits questionable actions. Often there is blow-back and pressure on a Nation-state to halt and punish those responsible for injury or death of non-combatants.

    Blackwater is a private contractor doing work that in the modern world is associated with a Nation-state. I say modern world because contractors carrying out the will of a Nation-state are not new from Sir Francis Drake to The East Indies Company to the French Foreign Legion.

    Charter schools, in my view, are always bad public policy because they alienate themselves from the public and cost more in oversight.

    As the number of Oakland charter schools grow the public is left further and further behind in how its public schools are run and how its tax money is spent. The autonomy means less transparency and greater opportunity for monkey business.

    Charter schools are a bankrupt idea because the inverse relationship of accountability vs. autonomy means that accountability and oversight of charter schools will cost more money than in public schools with an elected school district school board representing the public.

    Remember that charter schools don’t have elected school boards but corporate boards with no obligation to hold public election of its governing board.

    Furthermore, It cost more to make sure high-stakes tests data is reliable; it cost more to supervise 32 Oakland charter schools acting with the autonomy of a school district to ensure they follow through and submit required finance reports on time. Every audit of Oakland charter schools under the State take-over have indicated that charter school records taken as a whole have been incomplete. Perhaps even a greater commitment of money to District oversight of charter schools will not change the situation enough to pass a State audit.

    I would argue against spending even more money on charter school oversight because it is a broken concept that should no longer be funded and should be ended the same as the concept of Blackwater and hired guns to replace the American military.

    Jim Mordecai

  • chauncey


    When a nation is at war- you do what you got too- by any means necessary. That even inculdes breaking up a monopoly and hiring consultants. Isistnt that what companies do? Distircts do it too- just like at OUSD.

    We in the ghetto are sick and tired of people like you using your position to pimp our kids for the greater good of your ideals and associations. We are at war with you and the powers that be that send more black and brown kids to prison rather than the universities. My people have been listening to the old vanguard of education like you for years!

    We are a minority-majority state, (48%). yet we drop out at ridiculous rates, and go to prison or die.

    Give no more money to charter schools? First of all, It aint your money-its our money. I would rather give my money to whatever school I wish, then to be forced to give it to pimps like you who would rather segregate the community becuase of your union affiliations rather than to say that charter schools are part of the answer.

    Your metnality is an exhibit of the education crisis, that will in part, ultimately destroy this country.
    Your people crossed an ocean, enslvaed other, stole land, killed by the masses, and killed our minds and way of being-yet we should still listen to you and your ways. Now you want to play nice. Do what you will with your kids, but as for the minorities in Oakland- I believe theyr are leaving your ideals, unions and schools cause it aint working.

    It is not about you and your comrades-its about our kids and neighborhoods.

    Keep pimping-but do it in the hills for a change.

  • Cranky Teacher

    Chauncey, you express your anger at middle-class white “poverty pimps” clearly, and I know this is a complaint that goes back to at least the 1960s, and I can understand why: To see generations of middle-class whites commuting in to try and fail “to fix” problems of poor communities while earning decent incomes doing it has to be maddening.

    But I am unclear on your exact logic or solutions for OUSD and beyond. Because you seem to have a lot of history with the district, I am really interested to understand your perspective — if it has a constructive side.

    Can you explain a bit more? I would appreciate it.


    1. Are you saying unions are bad for schools? If so, why? Money? Protecting bad teachers?

    2. Beyond charters, would you support a voucher system, where parents can take their education benefit to any school private or public?

    3. If the school district isn’t working for minorities, why should they get to decide what schools should be closed? Aren’t you giving back power to the people you wanted to take it away from? Or is you trust the district leaders and the state but just want to do away with the union?

    4. Are your complaints about the teachers’ union rooted in a particular philosophy (i.e., conservative, libertarian, objectivist)? Or based on personal observation/experience?

    5. If whites engaged in OUSD are “pimps,” what about those at the state level, or the private consultants, or Eli Broad and Bill Gates and their foundations? You seem to be particularly angry at Dan Siegel, the union, etc. How about Jack O’Connell? The testing companies? How do you explain conflicts between these different forces?

    6. A lot of your analysis seems to be directly race-based, as exemplified by your bringing in slavery. Are you asking for more minority leadership of the district? Fewer white teachers/administrators? Do you have ideas about how this could be brought about?

    7. Do you believe, like Nextset on here, that enough resources are already going into education, but they are being wasted? (Presumably, because of unions.) Because most of the “poverty pimps” you attack have always claimed they are not given enough resources by a society that doesn’t care.

    8. What’s your beef with Dan Siegel, who have attacked several times on here? I see he was president of the school board before the state takeover. Is he just an example of the white leaders you are angry about, or did he support policies you disagree with? What schools did he sue, and why?

    I know this is a lot of questions, but I am actually interested in your answers if you want to respond.

  • jim2812


    Companies break up monopolies? American way is that companies try to become monopolies like Microsoft windows.

    But, I thought that breaking up monopolies was what government was suppose to do like back in the day when Rockefeller union busted, and used a fraction of his wealth to support Black colleges with the money he gained from exploitation of his workers.

    Although we perceive the world differently, living in America we are both subject to taxation whether in a high rent or low rent district.

    The struggle you and I are in is not just over history but how the public’s taxes are used. Because whether or not I live in the hills or flatlands I don’t see how my taxes should go to pay for charter schools that as ten years has shown do not overall do a better job than the local school that has more accountability to the public and less autonomy.

    Perhaps you are right that when charter schools have made the hills flat and prisons empty I will have to beg your forgiveness for having the wrong thoughts and exposing them to Oakland’s youth.

    I just have yet to see the evidence that charter schools is a public policy that has reduced the prison population.

    Silly of me to think that get tough laws and longer sentencing have swollen our prisons while test scores have increased for all classes of students over the years.

    And, even sillier of me to have thoughts that you don’t approve.

    But, despite your disapproval, I don’t believe taxpayer’s money should be wasted on a charter school system that by its nature will require expensive oversight to ensure the proper use of the public’s money. Of course if the free market unregulated is your religion, the idea of the public is an alien concept. Hint: public is a bigger idea than neighborhood.

    If the charter school experiment is shut down, never fear Chauncy there will not emerge a public school monopoly like Microsoft windows because private schooling still exists.

    Sir, play Milton F. on your own dime and take your hand out of the pocket of the public.

    Jim Mordecai

  • Let’s Get Real


    All venting aside, I think it’s unfair and/or naive of you to blame unions (teachers and staff), white people, and non-ghetto residents for the failure of public schools while assigning no fault to the students and families who are the clientele.

    Once again, I’m an Af-Am teacher who has been teaching in Oakland for twenty years. I have taught in three schools, and have seen a world of difference between conditions where disruptive behavior is tolerated, and where it is not.

    Again, those charter schools (and private schools, for that matter) that are the most successful have strict discipline policies which are enforced consistently. I’m aware that this is not the only difference, but it is a key component to their success.

    So, once again I ask the public, including you, Chauncey, to insist that we push for the same kind of practices in our traditional public schools, and stop making excuses for bad behavior which, combined with poverty and family dysfunction, is the primary cause of the imprisonment of our youth.

  • Chauncey

    Take my hand out of your pocket? As far as I know I pay for your A** to babysit kids in your sub gigs- yet I earn my money in the real world ( or free market) according to you Jim the Sub.

    Problem i got with unions is that they have handcuffed the system.When was the last time anyone has heard the union representation stand up at the OUSD podium and talk about how teachers will spend more time tutoring kids? You wont! As taxpayers- they steal your money by protecting their rolls, and not doing what is right.

    The fact is charter schools may not be the answer, but OUSD is DEFINETLY not the answer/ I would rather guide my dollars to something new-charters, vouchers or what works. Charters have been around for more than a decade- yet schools in Oakland have been screwed for years- so obviously OUSD definitely wont work!
    Alternative schools in Oakland have been stymied for over 30 years (rember the BPP schools?)

    Why hasn’t anybody asked- why do unions and their cronies such Jim hate charters so much? Could it be because they are taking their MONEY?

    The are protecting the status quo,! Hell I drive a truck for a living and simply call it like I see it and I get attacked ? The problem in Oakland is obvious when we let these professionals (I guess pimps is too street for you) set the tone for our children while they watch from a distance.

    Jim silly of You to act as if the large prison numbers for black or brown populants is something new- well i hate to inform you that while you were out protesting Vietnam War or Woodstocking with other hippies- we have been swelling the prison system.

    As for my religion I practice at Acts Full of Gospel Church and have a god Jim- what do you practice? I can sleep at night and know that my honest money, and raising black boys in a city that is corrupt by the people like you is an honest task that is a blessed life in comparison to my neighbors and people. People in the neighborhoods do not go to charters because they are too rigid and demanding. Do you get that? OUSD is the school of choice because its easy and they can get away with anything? So weh you go to your OEA church to practice with other unionists on Sunday- ask your congregation how that appears? Your church’s mission to protect teachers is preparing us to act like fools since we can get away with anything!

    I have problems with all of those OUSD board members, nothing personal vs. Mr. Siegal, but what I cant stand is these trust funders children holding bull horns on the weekend and using Oakland students to further their daddy’s agendas. That bugs me.

  • Katy Murphy

    I should have mentioned this observation earlier, but better late than never:

    It’s one thing to criticize public figures on this blog. It’s another to insult someone who has posted a comment under his or her full name. I prefer when people use their names, for transparency’s sake, and I’m afraid such personal attacks — which, more often than not, are made by anonymous posters — will dissuade people from revealing their identities.

    It’s also not very fair, since we don’t know the family connections, professional affiliations or back stories of the anonymous contributors.

    In other words, let’s keep the discussions civil and free of personal insults.

  • Oak Teacher

    I’m late reading this post, but there is a lot of information in this thread. It’s interesting because one of the new principal’s in Oakland is Greg Klein. He was an assistant principal for only 1 year prior and taught for about 4 years total. He is TFA. He is now at Alliance Academy. This middle school raised their API by 77 points BEFORE his arrival! Now the school is desperately struggling with student culture issues due to the choices of the new administration. It only makes me wonder, if we are related to the right people then we get to lead Oakland schools even if we aren’t ready or qualified? Alliance currently has an API of 704, be sure to see what the results are for this year. I’ve personally heard teachers from this site speak publicly regarding the issues to Tony Smith, but hey who wants to go against the relative of Jonathan Klein? Let’s wait and see what happens…