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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.

  • Filly

    You really have to wonder about people who leave the district and found or join consultancies as Klein and Thomas have. Wasn’t Thomas listed as a possible Superintendent choice in a previous post? I’ve watched Thomas rise up from teacher, administrator and now “consultant” (just like our new superintendent, right?). Is it more money, more power, the need for a job? Why not work from within?

    The small schools’ movement is super, but I was appalled to learn that Greenleaf spent money so that each teacher could get a nice sports jacket because there was extra money. Traditional schools need money, we’ve never gotten cool jackets with logos because we didn’t know what to do with the money. We always spend the money on the kids, supplies, etc.

    Again, I question the integrity of think tanks, consultants, etc coming in and telling parents how to think or change their schools. The OCO, which got the small schools movement going, was truly community based and grass roots. Why not go with them? Not outsiders like this GO Oakland sham.

    Bob Blackburn took Marcus Foster’s place after the assasination. He is thoughtful and knows the history of Oakland. He stayed in Oakland through thick and thin, not just a few years. I trust him.

  • Filly

    If you don’t know about the assassination of Marcus Foster, here’s an article from the SF Chronicle, http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2002/11/14/BA85190.DTL. I stand corrected that Mr. Blackburn did not stay in Oakland for a long time. He did however continue to support Oakland Public Schools just as he does now.

  • oakteach

    Bob summed up my own disappointment nicely. I was excited by GO until their “Declaration” went out. Just another young white TFA outfit aiming to save the world by undermining public schools. Sad.

  • harlemmoon

    Wolves in sheep’s clothing, they are. Two incredibly opportunistic, self-serving bureaucrats who intend to build their careers on the backs of the unsuspecting. Bravo to Mr. Blackburn for calling out two these two shady – though far less talented – characters.
    In their time at OUSD Kim and Klein were ineffectual, to say nothing of the messes they left for others to clean.
    I, for one, am disappointed by their latest power play (Yes, Hae-Sin did apply for the Supe’s post, and Klein had aspirations of higher office, but quickly learned he’d reached the Peter Principle), though I’m not surprised.
    I truly hope the people of Oakland see these two pathetic individuals as just what they are and stop the madness before it gets started.

  • Jonathon

    I would like to say first and foremost that Go Public Schools is an organization started by Oakland citizens, run by Oakland citizens for Oakland students. GO was initially organized to provide the district with much needed community feedback on the District budget proposals – mainly the proposition on closing many small schools regardless of performance. The work of many GO members, not just Jonathan and Hae-Sin, helped ensure that school sites will be limited to 4% decrease in funding for the 2009-2010 school year (this was before the recent state budget . Without this input, I shudder to think of the additional budgetary impact school sites would have been forced to endure.

    On a side note, I would like us to focus our lively debate on policies and action, not personal attacks. We certainly will not always agree, but in our hearts we are all trying to do what is best for the students of Oakland.

  • harlemmoon

    Personal attacks? Heck no; Just calling a spade a spade. Or two spades, as it were.
    Who you are reflects directly on your motivations. And that line about your “heart trying to do what’s best for Oakland,” well, save that for the folks who have yet to know what your “heart” managed to do at OUSD.

  • Michael Siegel

    As someone who falls somewhere within both the “trusted” world of lifetime Oaklanders and the “opportunistic” world of Teach for America, I feel compelled to comment on this development. I grew up in Oakland, attended the public schools, and came back to teach in the schools after college. I also was a member of TFA, which no doubt includes a fair number of missionary, corporate, charter-loving “outsiders” who have little respect for the local ecology of Oakland. I am not sure that we can dismiss GO out of hand, though, even if it has some of the hallmarks of the state takeover/Eli Broad/privatization of education movement.

    The possible good about this coalition: at first glance, it is strong because it is advocating “best practices” for education. It is an attempt to organize the community around teaching and learning issues, as we enter a new era of sorts, post-State Administrator. There are some good ideas in that lengthy white paper. It is also a smart strategy: to build momentum for certain agendas during a moment of relative chaos, before the new Supe and newly-empowered Board can get going.

    The bad: there is almost no discussion of the thousands of workers who make up OUSD. (On Page 3, the 12th bullet or so mentions “competitive” teacher compensation as important for “quality teaching.” Apparently good teachers don’t need good money.) So, it seems like an attack on the Unions, especially at a time when the teachers are being confronted with an awful contract proposal from the district. The members of the GO Facebook group do not strike me as old-school Oakland folks, but more like a network of TFA friends and supporters of the GO founders. As other commenters here have noted, it is hard to trust yet another idea that is being imposed on the Oakland schools from the outside.

    But as for Katy’s question: maybe I will join. Maybe you should, too. At the very least, the people who care about Oakland education should be gathering to strategize on what the next steps are. I know that the OEA is mobilizing around its contract struggle. As another commenter mentioned, OCO is always organizing parents to work on these issues. But we also need broader coalitions, that include parents, district employees, students, residents, “citizens,” etc., because it is the community as a whole that votes for, pays for, and supports Oakland education, through thick and thin. So even if “GO” is not the answer, community engagement is needed. Now.

  • TheTruthHurts

    This is one of my pet peeves about Oakland. If it isn’t created here, it must not be any good. I thought it was bad in Manhattan, but sometimes I think Oakland has it worse. As if nothing good can come from anything or anyone who wasn’t born, raised, struggled and endured here.

    Of course local views should be respected and given weight. Of course any strategy needs to be filtered through the realities on the ground best understood by folks with history. All of that’s true.

    What kills me is that WE REFUSE TO LET IDEAS STAND OR FALL ON THEIR OWN. We refuse to look at facts and instead are content to make ASSUMPTIONS about character and motive and dismiss facts as irrelevant. We do it at the City level, we do it with schools and I don’t think it’s done us a bit of good.

    I try to deal with The Truth (which hurts sometimes ;-) . I, for one, am conflicted about charters as Kim stated. I have yet, however, to hear ONE fact-based reason why I should not send my kid to a charter or private school if that’s the best educational environment for them. Someone please enlighten me and the rest of us.

    If there are facts to suggest that GO’s mission is to undermine equal education for students, then clearly don’t support it. That’s easy. However, to assume Kim, who taught in Oakland, was a principal in Oakland, an administrator in Oakland and I guess now consultants in education in Oakland is somehow out to destroy Oakland and hurt students seems plain ole’ STUPID. Might she have an agenda? – SURE. Should we assume that agenda is to hurt students? – I don’t see why. Show me please if you have facts.

    Now maybe you don’t like her ideas, or her methods or her strategy. That’s fine. There should be a discussion about that. But maybe, just maybe, just this one time, there might be something to be gained by people working TOGETHER to figure out the best way to help students. I agree with Siegal, “the people who care about Oakland education should be gathering to strategize on what the next steps are.” Frankly, I don’t care if it’s GO, DON’T GO or WHATEVER, the point is figuring out what we (the people) want for our students and then ensure we get it. The rest of this mess is as I believe the Superintendent said, “adult issues.”

  • Jessica Stewart

    Well said, TheTruthHurts.

  • TheTruthHurts

    Katy, as an addendum to my last post, I would like to see you or someone summarize the pro/cons regarding existing and any future charter schools in Oakland. It is ridiculous we continue to have these arguments without facts and without even an attempt to reconcile the benefits and challenges.

  • Katy Murphy

    Interesting idea. What kind of facts would be most useful?

  • http://perimeterprimate.blogspot.com Sharon

    One of the other big pushes of this group last year was intense involvement with the selection of the superintendent. Members were encouraged to take action by sending “…an email to your board member reiterating the community’s desire that they hire a superintendent who will continue and deepen the reforms that have made OUSD the most improved large, urban school district in the state.”

    The focus was on continuing and deepening the reforms.

    Now if we’re talking about the “reforms” forcefully implemented by the three O’Connell assigned, Broad-trained state administrators — keeping in mind that Broad and his pro-charter EdVoice friends made significant contributions to O’C’s campaign, and that Broad had just barely started his So. Cal. program and needed situations where his participants could practice what they were taught — this community needs to be aware. The founder of GO is a graduate of the Broad Residency, and I can’t help it but this is a part of what makes me, and others, so wary about the group. What we just experienced for the last six years created a tremendous amount of distrust. If Dr. Smith can help us heal, it would be a fantastic thing.

    I know we are told that Oakland is the “most improved large, urban school district in the state,” but what does that mean when looking at the panoramic view of the last several years? Katy’s Trib article yesterday said, “The “Alameda County civil grand jury, in its 2007-08 report, found that ‘the district was hampered by continuous staff turnover, particularly in the area of finance, numerous reorganizations and a succession of state administrators. …After nearly five years of state management, OUSD’s budget remains unbalanced and the district’s future is unclear.’ Sorry, but those serious issues don’t sound to me like great improvements were made over the past six years.

    And what does our test score improvement mean when from 2002-2008, the API achievement gap between White and African American students increased by 14 points, between Asian and African American students increased by 47 points, and between Latino and African American students (a comparison not typically made) increased by 78 points? Yes, test scores went up, but for every group; this is a NCLB-response phenomenon happening in every U.S. state. The thing is that the national test scores (NAEP) aren’t reflecting the same improvements at all. Not to mention that during this era of wonderful reforms in Oakland, some very, very important gaps actually increased!

    I’m just not convinced the reform we’ve experienced has been on the right track, so why would I want more?

    “National Model or Temporary Opportunity: The Oakland Education Reform Story,” a report about us produced by the Center for Education Reform tells our story from the point of view of the reform planners, especially Randy Ward and the Broad Foundation’s Kevin Hall. The people who were invested in doing their reform agenda while they occupied us wonder if what they did while they were here grew deep enough roots to hold and grow, or not. Did we like what they did? Which parts of their efforts were successful? Some were definitely harmful, so can we now please identify them and then toss them out?

  • oakteach

    All I’m asking from GO is to live up to its own name (going back to when it was still Committee to Sustain and Accelerate Improvements in the Oakland Public Schools).
    1) Advocate for Oakland Public Schools, not the expansion of non-tuition private schools (charters) who cycle through students to maintain statistics without increasing student level growth. Not all charters are bad, not all public schools are bad. But it’s time for Oakland to admit that they are so starved for success that they are turning a blind eye to inequity within MANY schools, public and charter. And that API and AYP are easily fixed through student filtering. Show me the student level growth figures, not the percent at proficient. I want schools to educate, not incubate.

    2) Engage the Oakland community, not just TFA. A brief scan of the facebook group is like a who’s who of the organization. Which may have started with the best of intentions and contains many members who still have the best of intentions, but is still concentrated with arrogance and people with only a short term investment in the city. And this may be the nature of facebook, but I counted about 7 of 75 members that were people of color. Paternalistic much?

    Full disclosure of personal affiliations and belief systems would also be nice. As well as an explanation of why “Inland Empire Charter Schools” (of southern CA) is in the Facebook group.

    I would love if GO moved past this snafu and realigned themselves as true advocates for OUSD. I believe they have tremendous potential to increase professionalism within the district (much more than OEA, which is another story). Meanwhile, I will remain a member. Because the best way to effect change is from within.

  • Chris Vernon

    I’m just curious that GO Oakland seemed to appear out of nowhere. Who are they? There website is very vague about that. I’ve been an involved parent at my children’s schools for many years, follow Katy’s blog and the Oakland Public School Parent’s Yahoo group and I never heard anything about GO Oakland until this week – not one word. Although this is a new organization, I wonder where and how they attempted to do outreach? If they had wanted to, I, as a representative involved parent would not have been hard to find.

    I’ve certainly been aware of Oakland Parents Together, OEA, the school board, multiple parents at many schools active throughout the district, the Rogers Foundation, all the influences brought to bear by Eli Broad, on and on; but from my perspective (and I’d suspect that of many other involved parents) it seems GO Oakland sprung up whole without allowing the opportunity for broader input before they created this five page vision of what they see as being best for OUSD. If they so want the involvement of OUSD parents as their manifesto states, wouldn’t they have asked for that first? Why should I have to endorse their document to be able to attend the meeting with Tony Smith?

    Their process does not seem inclusive or transparent and makes me leary of what exactly their agenda might be – especially given the fact that OUSD has been treated like a laboratory for so many unproven educational theories and practices since the state takeover.

    There are certainly parts of the document that seem reasonable, but many things that give me pause:

    1. Do I have to agree that the goal of an education is necessarily and only college preparation? Would it not be reasonable to assume that high schools could also serve students well by preparation for good jobs not requiring a college education?

    2. Statements like: ‘Family income is not a barrier to learning at high levels’ seem a bit broad. To have any real meaning shouldn’t they insert a word like ‘insurmountable’ before the word ‘barrier’. To deny that family income isn’t a significant indicator of success in learning requiring significant resources to overcome that barrier seems false and self-deceiving.

    3. I would like to see some recognition of the benefits of large comprehensive high schools as one element of ‘choice’ that the document purports to herald. Smaller schools have a harder time giving the range of options possible at a large comprehensive high school, one reason that the three remaining comprehensive high schools are still quite popular with families.

    There must be many other stakeholders that feel similarly. The whole cart before the horse thing makes one suspicious.

  • TheTruthHurts

    Katy, to answer your question, facts related to student demographics, success rates in terms of proficiency, graduation and attendance. Teacher education and training (i.e. the ability to attract and retain). Parent and student satisfaction. That would be a start.
    ___________________________________________

    As for the conspiracy theorists – Do you shop at Walmart. Does that make you a union-hater? Do you know someone who owns an SUV? Does that mean they hate the environment? Do you know someone who took advantage of a Harvard education? Does that make them an elitist?

    TFA is an organization that attracts people who love kids and wants to make a difference. When did that become criminal? I looked it up and the Broad residency attracts people from public policy and business that want to make a difference for education. Is that now criminal too? Do you have an academy to attract top talent to serve in education that they could attend as an alternative? Do you think the brainwashing in this program is so severe that these bright, committed folks come out as zombies regurgitating the party line?

    Some are celebrating extra-ordinary gains in API of Oakland students and want to continue efforts believed to bring that result. Why again is that a problem?

    “Full disclosure of personal affiliations and belief systems would also be nice.” Huh?
    I voted for Ignacio and I’m Lutheran, is that OK? This is ridiculous!

    “true advocates for OUSD.” ???
    My question – for what purpose? I want someone advocating for STUDENTS, not institutions – charter, private or district. I heard the new supe say something I agree with. Let’s DECIDE what we want all students to know and be able to do. Then let’s DECIDE how to get there. For me that’s it. The rest is as I said – “adult issues.”

    What I’m glad about is people willing to debate the strategies – charter or no, or results – Does the reform decrease or increase turnover. That’s the debate that’s worth having IMHO.

  • harlemmoon

    With all the talk about Broad (ies), I thought I’d share this recent story from the Contra Costa Times. Seems that when Superintendent Deborah Sims, a Broad alumnus, resigned from the district in May, the vaunted do-gooders took dramatic action: Broad promptly severed its relationship with the district. How’s that for living up to your education mandate? Read on at:
    http://www.contracostatimes.com/ci_12681159?source=most_emailed

    Yes, Oakteach, Broad and so many of the TFA are definitely paternalistic much.

  • Filly

    It’s important that an organization that claims to be a coalition of community members be open about its membership and founders. The website says nothing, really not a single name. On facebook, they have about 80 “friends”, all from about the same demographic group. Debate over strategies is great; however the amount of money poured down the drain by OUSD for consultants is quite high. Groups that get work by “consulting” with school districts while ensuring their gig by leading “coalitions” are suspect. Trust needs to be earned not blindly given.

  • Jessica Stewart

    I think it’s important to note that the Facebook group is a little limited. Out of the 700+ members of GO Public Schools (which include parents,older teachers, etc.), most are not the type who have Facebook profiles. I’m not saying that the group couldn’t benefit from more diversity, because that’s true. But this is an important point to consider.

  • Filly

    Wow! 700 members! Is there somewhere that lists them or who the leaders are on the website? That’s awesome. I think you can tell from the blog here that no one really knows much about GO Public Schools and is asking for transparency. Is that something that we can expect sometime, it’d probably help your cause.

  • Jessica Stewart

    Well, anyone can join the email list – it’s basically just a way to get information about what’s going on with Oakland schools via an email once or twice a month. I encourage everyone to do so, but that list of people who are receiving information won’t be published anywhere – I think that’d be a bit bizarre.

    However, I imagine the list of individuals and orgs who signed the Beliefs and Visions will be published at some point soon, so be on the lookout for that.

  • Filly

    Oh, so really, GO Public doesn’t have 700 members, just a very large email list. I understand about broadcasting a membership list but if you say community based yet there are no names, that’s actually to me incredibly bizarre. You may want to look at how established groups do it. Church names, leader names, make an anonymous group seems more trustworthy.

  • Jessica Stewart

    Very true. I think that that’s exactly why Oaklanders are getting the chance to sign on to this Beliefs and Visions document to publicly agree on what is possible for Oakland kids.

    I think you’re exactly right about checking out how established groups do it. GO is a new organization, and it’s not proclaiming to be completely set up in terms of a great website or strong infrastructure (like other groups who might have all of these things set already). I think we need to give it a chance to get all those things set up.

    But it’s not quite true that there are no names attached to it yet – many of the members are posting as such on this blog and joining publicly on Facebook (though this is limited to those who use the site), and posting on the Oakland Public School Parents email list. It’s not meant to be a secret.

  • Let’s Get Real

    What bothers me most about people’s willingness to jump on a bandwagon that embraces charter schools is that those people seem to either purposely or unwittingly skip over the possibility of making significant changes in the regular public schools. I’m not speaking here of changes in curriculum, although that needs to be addressed as well. The more pressing changes need to occur in school climate. The disruptive environment at some Oakland public schools is one of biggest reasons that families transfer to charters.

    Probably the main reason this is not addressed is that it has become politically incorrect to speak about it.
    But we cannot keep sweeping this issue under the rug.
    The charter schools in Oakland that claim the greatest success have very stringent discipline policies. This is no coincidence. While I view some of the practices at American Indian and Kipp as extreme, it cannot be denied that students learn more and learn better when their classes are free of disruption.

    There is great cost financially and socially in the kind of opening and closing of schools we have witnessed in Oakland during the last few years. On the social level, it has left students without a sense of stability and consistency. I personally know a student whose new school closed after two years, and he had to spend his senior year at a different high school.

    This madness must stop! Our students are not guinea pigs. I would like to see a major shift in focus. Let’s insist on, and be willing to work on effective change in our regular public schools!

  • Gail

    I’d like to pose this question to GO Public Schools: does “continue the reforms” mean the small schools movement that OCO largely shepherded for many years and Dennis Chaconas put into place? or do you mean the “reforms” of Randy Ward et al? The approximately similar timing of those two threads can make for confusion and enable people to think they’re on the same page when they’re not at all. So what, exactly, does GO Public Schools perceive to be the source of the “recent progress” on which it proposes to build?

    Second, what’s the source of funding for GO Public Schools? I think I read or heard that the Rogers Family Foundation funds it but I could be misinformed. However, it’s clearly funded from somewhere and has staff, an all-too-rare luxury.

    References to “charter public schools,” as in the Declaration of Beliefs—now that really does make me suspicious. Regardless of whether you think the idea of charter schools is great or awful (personally I think having a few of them is a necessary evil but in Oakland we’ve gone way too far), one thing they are NOT is public schools. For anyone who believes they are, I have a bridge in Brooklyn I’d like to sell you. Charter schools are not public schools as long as the public school district has to serve all children and charters don’t, as long as public schools have to clean up the messes left by charter schools that implode, as long as public schools have to re-absorb the students whom charters manage to force out or avoid in the first place—i.e., as long as public schools are the default option and charters can pretty much design their own path. When people who are clearly too smart to buy my bridge in Brooklyn still talk about “charter public schools”—well, I have to wonder where they’re really coming from.

    I’d say the jury is still out.

  • Yastrzemski

    I think it is sad that so many of these comments paint Charters as “bad” (necessary evil?) with such broad strokes. I agree there are too many of them, actually too many bad ones. However, coming from an outstanding OUSD elementary school (Crocker Highlands), the public middle school is not an option for some of the students. Charters like American Indian have to be given the praise they deserve for producing the kind of scores and graduates that they do, regardless of whether you agree with their methods.

    Gail, I have to disagree with your comment “force out or avoid in the first place” because Oakland Military Institute does not “cherry pick” for discipline issues. So when you say that these schools ALL avoid these kids, please take a look at ALL of the schools.
    I’m sure that some of the schools do….no argument there, but OMI actually works miracles with some of these kids that would have never made it in an OUSD public school. (Check out their web site,their 4-year college acceptances and graduation rates.)

    There needs to be an option IN Oakland for families that have a child going into middle school, but still have a child in an OUSD public elementary school. If not, they are going to pack up and leave….I would if OMI was not here. It would be a shame to continue on a constant “anti-charter” rant, when families would flee through the tunnel (taking their tax $$s with them)rather than placing their child into a “regular” public school.

    Please give the successful charters the credit they deserve, and not lump them all together.

  • Small Town Kid

    Gail – One, but not the only reason charter schools are popular is that many of them have strong discipline policies and will not tolerate classroom disruption. Public schools need to develop better ways of dealing with disruptive students.

    I like Chris Vernon’s take on this as above.

  • Debora

    I did sign onto the Facebook page.

    I want OUSD schools to work for all students. I happen to have a high ability student in my house. By high ability I mean she is reasonably functioning two to three grades above the grade she is placed. There are students in her class in elementary school, that appear to be working two grades below the grade they are placed. That is a five grade gap.

    I was distressed to hear Tony Smith talk about our unrealistic expectations of OUSD classrooms in wanting teachers to differentiate learning. Having said that it would be difficult to teach with a five grade gap. When you add the discipline problems of three children (roughly 10% of the class) and a 31 student classroom with mixed grades (3/4) you create a no-win situation even with the most skilled and competent of teachers.

    I have been told that “tracking is BAD” and I do believe when we do not allow room for student to change paths and grow it is bad for everyone. But when will OUSD acknowledge that students learn at different rates.

    We have a lot of “gifted” kids in the hills. Students are identified as gifted either by scoring highly on the Raven’s Progressive Matrices test or by having two years of “Advanced” CST scores. The GATE summer school program at Sequoia shows that GATE kids come from every school, in every color. My white-looking daughter is only one of two white-looking kids in her class,

    So I have a proposition, but the GATE school in East Oakland. Anywhere in East Oakland. Teach to the highest level at which these students are prepared to learn – a fourth grader doing Algebra and reading Shakespeare and Walt Whitman – so be it. Providing an adequate education, but placing it out of the hills will shake out those parents who want an appropriate education for their children from those who want “white privilege.” When we educate all students to the highest level in which they are capable, we will cease to need charter schools, GO or vouchers.

    But make no mistake about it if OUSD continues to choose the path they are on, they will lose students, money and control over their district, not to the State of California, but to the Charter movement, consultants, private schools and to the districts who will be happy to take our brightest students and educate them with their own students.

  • Let’s Get Real

    Yastrzemski, I’m still left wondering why you (as others do) ignore the option of improving the public schools that exist and imply that good charter schools are the only way to keep students from leaving OUSD. OMI, which you praise, is another charter with a strict discipline policy. If the community begins to demand one at every school site, you will witness a wave of improvement across the district.

  • terikaren

    I don’t understand why people think Teach for America is the best thing since sliced bread. At my son’s middle school, 4 of the 6 English teachers were TFAs and they all left after their 2 or 3 years leaving the school with 4 new English teachers come Fall. And my son’s 6th grade English teacher was either very lazy or simply incompetent and not interested in becoming better. I’m a middle school English teacher and I was deeply disturbed by the lack of learning taking place in his classroom. C’mon–they read one short story and one novel the whole year–in an English class. He rarely had homework, and I’m not really sure what they did for writing since we never saw any end results.

    I don’t want to rag on all TFA teachers. Afterall, there are some out there who do decide to become real teachers and get their credential. But the very idea of TFA: that recent college grads commit to 2 years to teach in an urban or rural school to help eliminate inequity in schools is laughable. Two years? Teaching is a craft, and the longer one teaches, the better one understands that. We have a shortage of teachers, this is true. But there are better ways than Teach for America to encourage people to make a longterm and serious commitment to the craft of teaching. (But then again, that’s not TFA’s point.) We also have a shortage of primary care physicians. But I don’t see any organization called Doctor for America with recent college grades making a 2-year commitment to family medicine.

    This is part of the problem with education today. We have temporary teachers running around our schools some of whom go on to get PhDs in Education and think 2 years is enough experience for them to really understand what is wrong with the system. It does not give education the respect it deserves and certainly does not give committed classroom teachers the respect we deserve. And when we have Arne Duncan and others like him talking about education reform, they aren’t really talking about education reform. They are talking about rewarding and punishing teachers–merit pay, softening the rules of tenure, etc. This isn’t EDUCATION reform. Education reform has to do with looking at our school system, what we teach, how we teach it, how kids learn, what is developmentally appropriate, whether we need to rethink schools, rethink education, etc. There are many intelligent people out there doing just this kind of research both from a schoolwide perspective as well as a content area perspective but their ideas aren’t currency for people in power.

  • Debora

    next to the last paragraph should say PUT not BUT

  • Joe Public

    That is a great question posed by Gail considering that H-S Thomas can ride either side. She was the founder of one of the first small schools in Oakland. During a time that they were to be the models. (Chaconas’ plan/vision had to work) Whichever teachers they wanted, new facilities, tons of support/monies to ensure success. The earlier schools had many advantages that the most recent just haven’t had.

    During Ward’s tenure she was the NExo that worked towards supporting the new small schools that were opening or being incubated. How are those schools doing nowadays?

    It’s my understanding that most recently she serves on at least one Charter Management Organization board and rubs shoulders with New Schools Venture Fund, a huge pro charter school school/system reform group that can be viewed through a similar lens as the various “philanthropists” investing their money into public education to get their say/model are.

    In the end it sometimes seems as if not many of the mover and shaker people are into education for the “giving back” component. I have seen that it is often- times been ego driven and if the results are good then great, but if not then move out of town or with either you can always start your own consultancy group.

    However no matter the answer to the question…the entire deal is a little “suspect” given that it doesn’t seem to be as transparent about who the group’s leaders are nor its funding.

    Plus I’m a little biased on a few fronts…First of all…I’ve known Bob for years and he certainly has some incredible insights on the happenings within Oakland (plus, I don’t see him building in a profit or political machine component). Secondly, what has Broad involvement or other “philanthropist” monies/overtures that have wanted “entire system reform” done for Oakland this past decade?

    Just my two cents…

  • Yastrzemski

    Let’s Get Real….I totally agree that we should try and improve the existing public schools…but realistically, it can take years. I work at an OUSD school and I’m finishing my work for my official teaching credential. I currently sub all over OUSD and some of these schools have either a ridiculous one or no discipline policy at all. Imagine walking into a classroom as a substutite teacher, expecting to get a lesson plan for the day, but instead getting a note to “just let them do what they want as long as you keep them quiet…Good Luck!”

    I experience OUSD’s “flimsy” not firm hand of discipline daily. Hopefully, this will change with restored control and Tony Smith…I hope so, but it is not happening this year.

    My point was that a charter school like OMI…with very few “hill school graduates” serves a population that is often written off before they get a chance to prove what they can do.

    I was not implying…I was staing a fact from my 10 years at Crocker…the families leave, and take their younger kids with them. Until the community starts demanding these changes, don’t you agree that having an option of “good charter schools” is better than losing 50% of a 5th grade class to another district?

  • walton barnaby

    Posts 1, 2, 3 and 4 are defensive and off topic.

    The posters are champions of mediocrity and the system NOT changing, lest they get left behind. I love the hyperbole, too: “undermining public schools” and “hurting the community.” The status quo is a stubborn bugger and it’ll try to change the subject to personal attacks when the real topic is that hundreds of Oakland kids are dropping out every year and we must do something about this. We should professionally analyze the small school movement and look at a bunch of other aspects. Go GO!

    Who cares if it’s public or charter, who cares about sports jackets that one school got and another didn’t? Let’s stop the bickering and focus on the real issue: how do we improve teaching and learning in OUSD schools?

    All this bickering, in the end, is just the same old work avoidance. On a separate note, OEA should become a professional association rather than a labor union.

  • Let’s Get Real

    Yes, Yaz (Is there a connection to Carl?). I can agree that having this option is better for now, since these schools already exist and seem to be successful. But I think we should look at the strategies that work at these schools, and start implementing some of them in the traditional schools, rather than continuing to create new charters. In fact, I think that was the original intention of allowing charter schools, and somehow the objective shifted.

    I have been teaching in Oakland for twenty years and have experienced the difference between schools where expectations for good behavior are high, and where they are not. As you know, the differences are huge. In each of the three schools where I have taught, I have actively engaged in trying to improve–or sustain–the school climate. I am on a district committee now that is finally trying to address this issue district-wide, so I’m hoping that the process is beginning.

    Another concern about charter schools is that, from what I understand, there is a high teacher turnover rate–even at the successful schools–due to the unrealistically high demands of long hours, etc. We have a high turnover rate in the traditional schools, as well, due in part to the discipline issues we spoke of. But this revolving door of teachers is not acceptable in either instance, because so many of our students desperately need us to provide the structure, stability, and consistency they do not receive at home.

  • Teri

    Walton Barnaby, what do you mean when you say that OEA should become a professional association and not a labor union? What would the difference be? What advantage would there be for teachers for OEA to become simply a professional association and not a labor union? Please clarify what you mean. I think OEA and it’s state and national organizations, National Education Association (NEA)and California Teachers’ Association (CTA) are both professional associations and labor unions and I don’t think they are mutually exclusive. Full disclosure: although I am not a member of OEA, since I teach elsewhere, I am a member of my own district’s affiliate to CTA. I also belong to a professional association: the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) which offers me lots of great information on teaching, on lesson planning, on books to read, etc., and also advocates on a national level for a more reasoned approach to teaching English/Language Arts. (But CTA and NEA also do those things, but for all grade levels and content areas.) But neither NCTE, nor its state affiliate represent my colleagues and me in a labor dispute, in bargaining for better health care benefits or wages, or in protecting me from discrimination because I am a lesbian teaching kids. Teachers are professional and can be in a labor union. My brother is lawyer for Bronx, NY Legal Services and is in a labor union. Most of the state and county workers, many of whom have advanced degrees are affiliated with labor unions. So I don’t really see what your point is. Please explain.

  • Teri

    Yastrzemski, if someone subs in a classroom with a just note from the teacher saying to “just let them do what they want as long as you keep them quiet…Good Luck!”, then that sub should report it to the principal. It is a teacher’s responsibility to leave a well-structured lesson plan. And as a teacher, I have the expectation that any substitute will follow my lesson plan. Of course, that doesn’t always happen. Subs come from many different backgrounds, and I always appreciate and ask for the ones who follow my directions as best as possible. But I have also had subs who have sat and read the newspaper and played on the computer while letting my kids run amok. I report them and request that they never step foot in my classroom again. So it should work both ways. As a sub, you have the right to expect a lesson plan that will keep the kids working and busy, and hopefully, learning something, and you have the right to show a note with no lesson plan to the principal. That should be part of a teacher’s observation and evaluation. (By the same token, if a teacher leaves great lesson plans, you should let the principal know that, too, and let the teacher know as well. It’s so much nicer for a teacher to be able to rely on a responsible sub and so much easier for a sub to go to a responsible teacher’s classroom.)

    As for discipline, I have been teaching for 20 years in the same middle school but with 3 different principals and a series of assistant principals. I believe very strongly that the administration sets the tone for discipline in a school setting. In the past two years, with our newest principal and assistant principals, we have seen a huge breakdown in discipline on campus, and we experienced very little support within our classrooms. A conflict-averse administration will not be able to address the conflicts that come up on campus nor meet the needs of the students and teachers. When students aren’t afraid to be sent to the office, there is a problem. When teachers don’t receive the necessary back-up from the admin when dealing with students and with parents who don’t like a consequence for cursing at a teacher or for running around with white board cleaner spraying other students, then there is a huge breakdown in discipline. It is hard to create an academic environment when schoolwide behavior problems aren’t being addressed and dealt with.

    Having said this, it is also the adminstration’s responsibility to observe and evaluate teachers. If a teacher is deficient in classroom management skills, then that teacher needs help from the admin. and coaching from more experienced teachers. But if administrators are not in classrooms making observations, how can they help teachers? How can they direct them to the right resources so that they can become better teachers?

    Finally, all staff should be part of creating a schoolwide discipline plan for the school and then be expected to follow it. And it should be evaluated periodically and tweaked so it works better. Monthly data, such as how many referrals to the office, how many suspensions, how many expulsions, etc., should be evaluated to see what the trend is. And then at staff meetings, staff should discuss this. With our previous principal, we did this regularly and our rate of suspensions and expulsions as well as referrals to the office decreased significantly (thereby freeing up the admin for observations, among other things). Why? Because as a staff, we were invested in making our school as safe, as enjoyable, and as academic as possible. But our new principal, despite our request to continue this, has not done any of this.

  • Cranky Teacher

    Wow! 36 comments of substance! This blog is finally getting the readership and engagement to make it a REAL conversation. Awesome, and thanks again Katy. Build it and they will come.

    My two cents and questions:

    1. Why is GO so special they get an audience with the superintendent right away? Smells like an Astroturf org to me, with consultants as spokesfolks.

    2. For the person wondering what is wrong with sending your kid to charter school, I think the obvious answer is: “Nothing, but what’s your point?” The issue of charter schools is about who is PAYING for them. It’s a small leap from charters to vouchers, and a lot of people are against both.

    3. TFA bashing is similarly misplaced. It is what it is. Fill OUSD with teachers who will stay and you won’t have any room for TFA. A third of them do stay in the profession past five years. TFA is a symptom of the problem, rather than a cause.

    4. I am highly suspect of Broad products not just because of the obvious agenda, but because they are almost always placed way over their heads, experience-wise. Look at the pre-Broad track record of the folks who have been running OUSD and you see a pattern: Folks with very liitle admin experience and cred spend a single year at the institute and then are placed WAY up at the top of the food chain.

    5. Finally, and most importantly, I think: Saying OUSD is improving because test scores are going up is not a logical argument. Why? Because if you emphasize testing and test-taking, test scores will go up — through cramming, cheating, emphasis on prepping for the standards most emphasized on the test. But is this translating into increased graduation rates? SAT scores? GPA? College admission? Decrease in juvenile crime and discipline problems? Career success? Those are the things that matter, and while testing MAY ultimately raise those numbers, it may not.

  • Cranky Teacher

    Katy: It may be just me, but that link to the GO Declaration is crashing Explorer everytime.

  • http://www.examiner.com/examiner/x-356-SF-Education-Examiner~y2009m4d22-Care-about-public-schools-Come-to-PPS-annual-event-this-Saturday Caroline

    TheTruthHurts requested a summary of the pros and cons of charter schools. I posted a blog commentary a few weeks ago, quoting the words of some respected education commentators, titled “What’s not to like about charter schools?” I’m just reposting it here.

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

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

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

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

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charter_school

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

    http://education.change.org/blog/view/backs_to_the_wall_reflections_on_the_charter_dilemma

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    This summary brings up some other issues:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Klonsky quotes from the book:

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

  • Yastrzemski

    Teri,
    Thank you for post #36. I agree completely, and have seen really great administrators (Jamie Marantz from Edna Brewer comes to mind)turn around a school in a major way with community support and a staff that gets behind what the principal is trying to do.

    I’m sorry that your new principal has chosen to not continue with the work that you and your fellow educators started.

    I don’t really think that OMI has a stricter discipline policy than an OUSD middle or high school. What they do is hold the students ACCOUNTABLE for their behavior. That is really it, they tell them what the consequence will be and then they follow through with the punishment. There isn’t any argument with an upset parent because everyone knows what will happen when the rules are broken (parents and students sign these agreements at registration…you don’t sign, your kid doesn’t start school). That, IMHO, is what we lack in OUSD, holding the students accountable for their decisions.

    Let’s Get Real #34, one thing that OMI does to provide the stability and structure that some kids lack at home is a TAC team. These are 3 adult mentors that a student will have for their entire career at OMI. They do not change from 6th -12th grade. It is more than they get at a public school. I think you are totally correct about the high turnover, but I guess my boys have been lucky. They have had teachers that teach History in 6th & 7th, and now Science in 7th & 8th, so there has been a continuation with a teacher. I beleive that Edna Brewer does this also, in their 7th and 8th grades (I could be wrong here).

    I’ve been reading this blog for a long time and have never commented, but I wanted to bring another prospective to the charter debate from a parent that has chosen one.

  • Steven Weinberg

    Let’s Get Real, here is some information from the state report on discipline actions that might be useful as part of your work on the district discipline committee: OUSD expells students at only about 1/3 of the rate for the state of California as a whole (OUSD expells 1/thousand students, CA 3/thousand). I think that the district unwillingness to expell when it is deserved has a negative impact on many of our schools.
    I’m not sure what the answer is, but when one district varies this much from the state-wide norm, that district is conducting a major experiment, and it needs to examine the results very closely to see if the experiment is successful.
    Here is the link to the state website:
    http://dq.cde.ca.gov/dataquest/Expulsion/ExpReports/DistrictExp.aspx?cYear=2007-08&cChoice=DstExp1a&cCounty=01&cNumber=0161259&cName=Oakland+Unified

  • TheTruthHurts

    Caroline, Thank you. Although most of that “article” is name-calling and assertions, there are some significant potential pitfalls that should be addressed. I’d rather we spend our time dealing with those pitfalls than dismissing the entire concept and the quality schools that kids now attend. Clearly not all charters or district schools are great schools. It should also be obvious that there is no reason why public education is the only place where there should be a public mandated monopoly. We ought to be bright and creative enough to address challenges in a thoughtful, factual way.

  • Let’s Get Real

    Thank you, Steven W., for that information. I also appreciate, and would like to share (anonymously) some of the other very constructive comments on discipline folks have been making, i.e., those of Teri, and the most recent comment by Yaz. Please let me know if either of you object to this.

  • Yastrzemski

    No objection!

  • Public School Fan

    I seem to remember that last year, OUSD instituted a policy whereby it was extremely difficult to expel or suspend students. Wasn’t there some kind of letter to the principals that was leaked and then discussed on this blog?

    Also, suspensions should be an indication that a school’s administrative staff and teachers are doing their jobs in making sure that the school environment is conducive to learning, is not dangerous, and that students are not running roughshod over their teachers and fellow students. Unfortunately, from what I’ve seen OUSD seems to view suspensions as a bad thing and as a blot on a principal’s record as well as the environment of the school. OUSD would rather have a principal deal with malefactors in-house and then put them right back in the classroom from whence they caused their trouble. Makes no sense.

  • Jim Mordecai

    TheTruthHurts:

    “It should also be obvious that there is no reason why public education is the only place where there should be a public mandated monopoly.”

    Are not the armed forces a place that has a public mandated monopoly? Are there not many other areas the public has mandated a monopoly?

    But so what if public education was a monopoly before charter schools?

    The issue is whether the idea of charter schools is good public policy and Caroline addressed that issue from her point of view, a point of view I support.

    I would add to her comments that charter schools are poor public policy because they cost the public more money than the public schools monopoly.

    The black box input public money, private management, and high stakes test scores determining the continuation of a charter school does not work because the lack of oversight and transparency does not allow for reliance on the test score that is administered by the charter school. The public pays for unreliable data.

    Reform of the charter schools model to make it reliable would require a third party to administer the high stakes test but that would then be an added cost. And, if charter schools were truly in competition with public schools the only fair thing to do would be have a third party test public schools. All of this would increase cost of testing and divert public money from existing education programs.

    Setting aside the narrowing of curriculum to define education as test prep, testing competition would not be the only thing driving a parents choice of a school. The charter school advocates claim the idea of charter schools give parents a choice. To win over parents would require both public and charter schools to advertise their schools and the diversion of public money away from educating children would increase.

    Some have advocated the portfolio concept of a mix of charter schools and public schools so that parents could pick like the school they like best. The role of the District as portfolio would be to eliminate the bottom performers and forever opening new schools. The idea is a concept but in fact it is very disruptive to open and close schools. And, it would be very expensive to be constantly evaluating school for closure why the charter friendly state laws make it almost impossible to stop new charter schools from being created. Thus, the theory doesn’t work because school boards do not have the capacity to close down schools as each closure is a democratic decision and difficult for school boards to resist the supporters of the school that also vote and have bonded with the school.

    For the public to have public schools that are democratically governed by and for the public they have to be a monopoly. To divert public money to have private corporations make decisions that had been made by a democratic school board means charter schools leave democracy behind. The lesson of over a decade of charter schools in this Nation is that democracy is left behind and the store owner, the used car salesman, are all alienated by the charter school process. Making public schools a mix of hybrid public funded and privately managed schools called charter schools just makes following the public’s money harder.

    Having said all that against the charter school concept, I am currently studying how most of the State of Wisconsin set up their charter schools. Wisconsin has a form of charter schools that they call instrument. They also have independent charter schools that are similar non-profit corporations that often operate in California. The instrument charter schools are the vast majority of charter schools in the state. The teachers from Wisconsin I have spoken are unionized and the charter schools they teach in are an instrument of the local school district. Most of the Wisconsin charter schools I learned about tend to be a school in a school concept.

    I oppose the California version of charter schools for all the reasons I have listed but need to learn more about what they do in Wisconsin before I can feel as strongly about every form of charter school.

    Of course, I guess TheTruthHurts wouldn’t support the Wisconsin charter school model as it would not fit the monopoly busting concept with Wisconsin’s lack of inter-public/charter school competition.

    Jim Mordecai

  • TheTruthHurts

    Mr. Mordecai, thank you. You have clearly thought about this issue and offer reasonable arguments. While I agree and disagree, it was my point that we should be spending our time with the discussion of these arguments instead of declaring our “religion” and then “persecuting” non-believers. Seems that road isn’t much help – enter quote from Rodney King.

    I don’t buy for a moment that all proponents of the inclusion of charters – including the parents that send their children there – are part of some vast, right wing, privatization conspiracy. That said, any vehicle, policy or strategy can be co-opted and corrupted. Some would say that about our existing public school system, but that’s another post.

    My point is that the debate shouldn’t be avoided by ASSUMPTIONS about people’s beliefs or motives (including the assumptions you’ve made about mine). Instead we should take a careful look at their platform and strategies. If, after such a look, you’re (or anyone) isn’t interested, that fine. I resist the negative labeling that attempts to halt thoughtful discussion among reasonable people who can disagree.

    As far as what I would support. I support good schools where kids learn. Show me a model that does that equitably and I’ll support it. It certainly has nothing to do with “monopoly busting” for as you point out, there are areas where monopolies are appropriate. I start with the goal in mind and don’t get overly caught up in the method, nor do I spend much of my time ASSUMING what others think.

    I ask them.

    If charters served only to allow taxpayers to ignore the needs of district schools, I’d probably be against them as a strategy. The majority of kids still go to district schools – so that would undermine my goal. But, if that’s not the case, I’d be hard pressed to tell a parent not to send their child to a high performing school, regardless of public, private or charter.

    We could spend hours arguing that private schools undermine education by allowing those with means to self-select out and ignore the needs of the many. I could listen to that argument, but I wouldn’t let you tell me not to send my kid to Montesorri either.

  • Let’s Get Real

    Public School Fan, I don’t recall all the details, but I know that, a while back, there was a complaint filed re: the disproportionate number of suspensions of African-American students in OUSD. The response was a crackdown on suspensions and pressure on principals to handle disruptive behavior less punitively. In the current fiscal environment, I sense an additional concern from district officials regarding the ADA (per-pupil funding) that is lost when students are suspended.

    The current sentiment supports developing in-house suspension arrangements, where disruptive students would be removed from class, but not sent home. I can support this strategy as long as the suspension does not take place in another teacher’s classroom, and as long as the conditions are severe enough that the student does not view his/her removal from class as a reward. The challenge will be funding such arrangements.

    As an African-American teacher, parent, grandparent, and concerned citizen, I am pleading for an end to the politically correct tolerance of disruptive behavior on the part of any group of students. It is a serious deterrent to learning and helps foster attitudes that impinge on the future success of the students. Are we ready to tackle this elephant in the room?

    Let me come out and say something that might help:
    African-American students are suspended more because they exhibit disruptive behavior more often. There are many underlying reasons for this that need to be addressed, but we cannot continue to avoid confronting this reality. If we do, we remain silent partners observing the dysfunction in our schools and in the community in general.

  • Debora

    Let’s Get Real: I know Montera, while still putting up with some nonsense has reduced it substantially. And a neighbor boy at Brewer said that in-school suspensions at his school mean that a vice principal must deal with the trouble makers.

    “A” is a small boy, with some issues because of his birth and is often taunted by bigger boys. That behavior is not stopped and he often takes a very long route to his locker and his classrooms, in the morning adding another 1/2 block to his walk. In-school suspensions happen when the behavior is in the classroom witnessed by a teacher. He has not seen suspensions coming from student on student behavior on the yard, at the gate or on the sidewalks near the school.

    I agree with post #48 and believe that when we end the misbavior, we will be able to better educate our students. I also believe in-school suspensions should be attended by parent/guardian and student together. Once a parent realizes their time and effort are required in guiding their child, they’ll begin to take responsibility and assist in the effort.

  • Cranky Teacher

    Public School Fan:

    Suspensions/expulsion are just a metric, and the fact that too much is made of such metrics is part of the problem, I think.

    If a school that is out of control institutes a stiff discipline program without parent and student buy-in, you’d see a surge in the numbers, followed by, if they held to it (and had the manpower to do so) and the parents and students came around, whether by choice or by force.

    However, a school that is functioning REALLY well would have very low suspension rates, and that’s why the district wants to use that metric.

    So can suspensions tell us if a school has good culture/discipline? No, but it can be a factor if you are looking at other info as well, such as surveys of parents, students and teachers to see how they feel about school safety, climate and distractions in the classroom.

    Like any stat, then, it is only as useful when used with care and in context.

    Furthermore, there is a lot of data that punitive discipline when not paired with other supportive actions — such as school climate programs, parent outreach, counseling, etc. — will not work to solve schoolwide problems. (And will break down over time in an overmatched public school environment.)

    One veteran disciplinarian puts it this way: If you imagine an average school where 20% of the kids are goody-goodies and 20% are troublemakers, you have to win over the 60% in the middle or you don’t stand a chance. Stand very firm with the 20% and show the other 80% that you care about their education and you can pull it off.