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Spinning school improvement

Much was made of the progress in Chicago’s public schools when Arne Duncan, the former CEO of Chicago Public Schools, was tapped to become the U.S. Secretary of Education.

But maybe the gains made during Duncan’s seven-year tenure in the Windy City weren’t that boast-worthy, after all.

USA Today reporter Greg Toppo points out the contrast between some of the statements made by President Barack Obama about Chicago schools in December and the findings of a new report by the Civic Committee of The Commercial Club of Chicago, a group that backed Duncan’s and Mayor Daley’s calls for more mayoral control of the educational system. Continue Reading

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Fighting the suspension of Prop. 98

In case you haven’t seen it, the California Teachers Association has launched this television ad on the governor’s proposal to suspend Proposition 98 – California’s mandatory minimum school spending guarantee – to close the state’s $26 billion budget deficit.

Unlike other districts, Oakland still has summer school programs. But that’s largely because of money left over from previous grants. That could change next year.

As of this morning, state lawmakers still haven’t agreed on how to solve the budget crisis, after working through the weekend.

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State: The ($4 billion) check is in the mail

State Controller John Chiang announced today that a huge — and already delayed — payment owed to California schools for the 2008-09 year has been pushed back further: Now, it won’t arrive until July 30.

Never fear, said the Oakland school district’s chief financial officer, Vernon Hal.

Well, that was a very loose paraphrase of what Hal did say, through spokesman Troy Flint. Which was: “We anticipated this might happen and it’s built into the existing budget projections. We’ll be monitoring and managing our disbursements extraordinarily closely, but if the delayed payment is received by the end of the month, as indicated, it shouldn’t present any problems.”

In a news blast he sent out this morning, State Superintendent Jack O’Connell urged the state not to make this a habit: Continue Reading

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A High Score

Eugene W. Lau, a senior at Skyline High School, will share his views from time to time on the blog. -Katy

What do you say to the bored masses that mash away on their cellphones in order to match colors on Bejewel or try to get a higher score on Tetris? Does one approach the puzzle gamer nonchalantly and ask “Why?” or does one just ignore the scene?

This is not an attack on people who have found a way to kill time. But the idea of a video game, where the motivation is to keep playing for a high score, may remind one of school. Does the student who plays Tetris do so in order to get a good score? Does a student read and research in order to get a good grade rather than to learn? Continue Reading

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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. Continue Reading

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Skyline’s never-ending principal search

Skyline High School’s principal selection committee can’t rest just yet.

I’ve just learned that Lauren Klaffky, the former Oakland High assistant principal picked for the job (see the OUSD personnel report here), has had second thoughts about leading Oakland’s largest high school.

I spotted the job listing on EdJoin this afternoon, posted June 30. OUSD spokesman Troy Flint confirmed that Klaffky will not take the Skyline post after all. He said she Continue Reading

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New police chief of Oakland schools

Peter Sarna II, a former Oakland police lieutenant with close ties to Jerry Brown, has replaced Art Michel as the head of Oakland school district’s force.

Sarna served as deputy director of the California Department of Justice’s law enforcement division for several months under Brown in 2007. He stepped down after he was cited for drunken driving following a crash in Walnut Creek in August of that year. Continue Reading

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The other big salary in Oakland Unified

There was much debate the other week over the $265,000 salary (plus roughly $23,000 in benefits) that Oakland’s new superintendent, Tony Smith, negotiated for himself in the midst of a horrifying state budget crisis.

But Oakland’s state trustee, Vince Matthews – who will have veto power over the fiscal decisions of the newly re-empowered board — isn’t too far behind. Matthews’ former role as state administrator might have been scaled back this week, after the transition to local control, but his pay hasn’t changed: Continue Reading