Peralta board wants an investigation

Last night, the Peralta Community College District board called for an investigation into a no-bid contract given to one of Chancellor Elihu Harris’s business partners (whose relationship to the chancellor was not disclosed beforehand). The board might also ban the use of credit cards for personal expenses.

The Alameda County community college district, however, has so far kept secret the details of the $4,000-plus in personal expenses charged to Trustee Marcie Hodge’s district credit card.

These issues, and others, were uncovered by reporters Matt Krupnick and Thomas Peele. In case you missed the stories, you can find them here.


Leaked: Draft of national standards for schools

Education wonk alert! A draft document of common core state standards, the latest effort to create more consistency in curriculum between the 50 states, is circulating in cyberspace.

The Core Knowledge camp — those who promote the teaching of shared, specific content and “a sequential building of knowledge” — were quick to weigh in on the document today, in a blog devoted to the issue. They’re not fans, as you might gather from the headline: “Voluntary National Standards Dead on Arrival.” They say the guidlines include little content and that they would be fairly useless to teachers and parents.

Here’s a quote from E.D. Hirsch, Jr., the Core Knowlege founder, which is posted on the blog: Continue Reading


California teacher unions split again over budget

Associated Press photo of lawmakers announcing tentative agreement

The president of the California Teachers Association — the state’s biggest teacher union — told me yesterday that he just wants lawmakers to “vote for the damn budget.”

Sure, the tentative budget deal made by the “Big Five” on Monday includes billions of dollars in new cuts to schools, community colleges and state universities, David Sanchez said, but it’s “time to move on and get the state back to fiscal solvency.”

The California Federation of Teachers — the union that represents community college faculty and adult school teachers, among others — has taken the opposite position (as it did in the May special election). A newsletter, “Inside CFT,” urged members to convince legislators to vote “no”: Continue Reading


Private counselors, pricey advice

While guidance counselors in California’s public schools might be few and far between (In some high schools, there are as many as 500 kids for each counselor, or no counselor at all, and the average ratio is 1,000: 1, according to EdSource), some families with means are shelling out hundreds or thousands of dollars to private college admissions consultants — even now, during the recession.

The fact that some families can — and do — pay for these services is nothing new. But according to a New York Times story about the field, the number of these “independent education consultants” has grown in the last three years, to about 5,000, and they’re located mostly on the East and West Coasts. Continue Reading


Obama’s message to black parents

Bay Area News Group file photo

Our president said this today at an NAACP anniversary event, as quoted in a New York Times story:

They might think they’ve got a pretty jump shot or a pretty good flow, but our kids can’t all aspire to be LeBron or Lil Wayne. I want them aspiring to be scientists and engineers, doctors and teachers, not just ballers and rappers. I want them aspiring to be a Supreme Court Justice. I want them aspiring to be President of the United States of America.

What kind of effect do you expect Obama’s speech will have on black families? On all families?


Can Oakland’s new supe find common ground?

New schools superintendent Tony Smith says he aims to get people to put politics and ideology aside — yes, he’s talking about doing this in Oakland! — and focus on what works for kids. 

As evidence that this was possible, Smith said the goals expressed by teachers union president Betty Olson-Jones at a recent one-on-one meeting overlapped with some of the core principles that emerged during an event organized by the new, reform-minded coalition Great Oakland Public Schools (to which Olson-Jones said she was not invited).

What common ground do you see in OUSD? I wrote a story about Smith’s first couple of weeks on the job, which is in today’s Trib. You can find it here.


Algebra, all summer long


I spent one morning last week brushing up on my order of operations and other elemental algebraic concepts at Oakland Technical High School. Riveting stuff, and they do it for hours each day. The teachers break it up with various activities and challenges, though, and I never knew a math classroom could look so inviting.

Here’s one small aha! moment I overheard between a teacher named Mr. McCann and a boy who was momentarily stumped about adding positive and negative numbers:

McCann: “Think about it as a football game. You lost seven yards on the first play and then you gained four on the second play.”

Student: (pause) “Negative three?”

There are 11 8 of these summer algebra academies serving children from 11 Oakland high schools and middle schools. The kids at Oakland Tech had already taken Algebra I in eighth grade, but they will retake it next year. Other academies are designed to prep incoming eighth graders who will take it for the first time in the fall.

This is all part of a big push in Oakland Unified to help kids pass Algebra I earlier — and to do away with “tracking” by having almost all kids take Algebra I (as opposed to a slowed down version) by the eighth grade, a move our governor would definitely support. Continue Reading


Fifth-grade realities

file photo by Karen T. Borchers/San Jose Mercury News

Once again, health professionals and researchers asked Oakland’s fifth-graders whether they felt safe at school, if they drank alcohol or used drugs, and whether they had caring relationships and other important things going for them at school and at home.

The findings of the 2008-09 California Healthy Kids Survey included the responses of 77 percent of the school district’s fifth-grade class. While the results haven’t changed much since 2006-07 — or maybe because they haven’t —  they are definitely worth noting.

Here’s what never ceases to alarm me, even though I’ve seen these stats before: About 5 percent of the children surveyed — mind you, they are 10 and 11, for the most part — said they had brought a gun or a knife to their elementary school in the past year. And that about 33 percent of the students, one in three kids, said they had seen a gun or knife at school in the past year.

Not surprisingly, just 46 percent said they felt safe at their school all of the time.

But it’s not just Oakland. Continue Reading


Deep cuts, lavish spending

Taxpayers spent $3,740 for Peralta Community College District Chancellor (and former Oakland mayor) Elihu Harris and his wife to attend Barack Obama’s inauguration. They also covered over $4,000 in personal expenses that Trustee Marcie Hodge racked up on a district credit card before she was asked to repay the money.

Through public records requests, my colleagues Matt Krupnick and Thomas Peele uncovered these spending practices at the local, four-college district — a destination for many Oakland public high school grads. Those findings and others were reported in Sunday’s Tribune and Contra Costa Times. Continue Reading