Oakland’s school parcel tax measure, a year in the making (and counting)

Tribune file photo

I can’t imagine spending a year of my life trying to come up with a school parcel tax measure that is palatable to Oakland’s edu-political extremes, but some brave souls have done just that. And, believe it or not, the democratic process behind simply crafting the ballot measure has yet to run its course.

Maybe you can help the parcel tax coalition and the Oakland school board (that, or further muddy the waters!), by opining on the following points that are still up for debate. That is, if you think the school district should float another parcel tax to boost the compensation of its employees in the first place.

Should the measure…

a) go on the June 2010 ballot (more expensive, fewer voters, but it would take effect more quickly if it passed) or on the November 2010 ballot?

b) be a flat tax ($195 per parcel, which would generate an estimated $20 million per year), or should property owners be taxed based on the size of their property (10 cents per square foot, which would generate an estimated $26 million annually)?

c) give publicly funded, independently run charter schools a fixed percentage of the tax revenue, or a proportional share of the dollars that might flex over time (In other words, if charters educate 17 percent of the city’s public school children, they’d receive 17 percent of the money; if enrollment rises or falls over the years, they’d receive more or less, accordingly)?

d) allow charter schools to spend the money however they see fit — not just on employee compensation?

The board finance committee has directed district staff to create two proposals: One with a flat rate, and one with a square footage rate (which the teacher’s union apparently would prefer, although the union dropped out of the parcel tax coalition this fall, saying it wouldn’t support a tax that benefitted charter schools).

I watched the video of the committee’s discussion online, and it seems likely that the tax will benefit all employees in OUSD, not just teachers.

Here’s what David Kakishiba, the board member who also co-chaired the parcel tax coalition, had to say at the meeting:

“As we go to the voters, what’s very clear is that there’s no way we can win unless everybody is united in supporting a given measure, whatever it may be…. While it’s not perfect for everybody, I hope we move forward because this will be a major infusion of resources while the state is hacking us to a comatose state.”

By the time my voter information guide lands on my doorstep, I’m sure this measure will read like poetry.

Katy Murphy

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

  • Alain

    What a conflicting issue.

    Parcel taxes are generally unpopular not just because they are taxes but because they fall far more heavily on the owners of modestly valued homes. (Well, except where Prop. 13 has allowed longtime owners of high value homes to escape paying their fair share.) So there’s this whole fairness issue.

    Then, you’ve got a whole crowd of people who will ask, “why throw good money after bad?” When a system like OUSD has been so dysfunctional for so long, these people start sounding less like fringe naysayers and more like reasonable adults. I’m a transplant to Oakland. In my hometown, I went through a large urban school system. I was raised by a public school teacher. When I began looking at OUSD, I have to admit: I was appalled. A system where 75% of the elementary schools are failing. I don’t know whether to say that is disgusting or whether to say it is just sad. What I’m saying is, if OUSD isn’t going to be replaced entirely by charter schools, probably a lot of people will want them to shape up with the money they’ve got before asking for more.

    Throw both of these issues together, plus the economy, and you’ve got an almost impossible sell – even to people like me who are naturally inclined to support increased funding.

  • http://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/living-in-dialogue/2009/02/one_urban_district_with_a_bad_1.html Anthony Cody

    A big part of Oakland’s problem is that we have a very high rate of teacher turnover — about 20% a year, and even higher at the poorer schools. This means we are constantly bringing in novice interns, who have had a few weeks of summer training, and much of our professional development is devoted to basic curriculum and management practices.

    For our schools to dramatically improve, we need to stabilize our schools and build functioning collaborative teams at each school, connected to the parents and community of the school.

    Currently the average Oakland teacher is paid $54,158, which is more than $11,000 lower than the state average. Adjusted for inflation, teacher pay in Oakland has dropped by 10% since 2004 — according to this site from the Sacramento Bee: http://www.sacbee.com/1098/story/995141.html

    The state is preparing to cut in the realm of 20% of the funding for our schools in the next two years. If we expect our schools to improve — even to survive as functional institutions, we need to get past the idea that we can starve them into good health.

  • TheTruthHurts

    I agree with Anthony and Alain.

    *It’s sad and we’re broke.
    *It’s sad that the “state of the state” is so absymal.
    *It’s sad that Oakland is so dysfunctional that paying more money for failure seems absurd.
    *It’s sad that the overall economy has hurt folks so bad that even schools and teachers will be a hard sell.
    *It’s sad that $54K can’t buy you a shack in the backyard anywhere without daily gunfire.
    *It’s sad that most Oaklanders that could afford another tax wouldn’t send their kids to OUSD in the first place.
    *It’s sad that there’s a rift between two groups of underpaid, overworked teachers just because of the label in front of their public school (charter vs. District).

    The whole thing is just sad. I’m sure Oaklanders will see that their long-term interest is in having well-compensated staff, but it’s going to be a tough pill to swallow just after Measure G and during an economy that has rocked Oakland with 17%+ unemployment.

    To Katy’s questions:
    a)June – fewer people, easier to pass
    b)$195 – easier to understand, although proportional would be better
    c) Everybody – why divide the electorate further?
    d) Compensation – we don’t trust what any of you do with the money. If we let you spend it on anything, you’ll be back asking for more in a year. We already know if we let you spend it on compensation, you’ll divert some compensation money to something else anyway.

  • Debora

    It’s very hard to support a tax increase when there are so many people out of work. We are looking at having to supplement public school with private classes just to make sure our daughter is getting taught one grade level for each school year she attends OUSD schools. It’s really hard to pay increased rates for public school and having to supplement it with private education just to get the state standards met.

    So far we have resisted pulling our child out of the public school system, but we really have her attend mostly so that our local school will get the ADA money. It’s sad to use your child to fund the school and to have a teacher say that she will not teach your child beyond her standard curriculum. I know that the additional money will be beneficial for the district, but how will the money be used EXACTLY? Will our leaders try to pull what has been done with the library tax money, the police fund, the firefighters money and the museum money?

    There are multiple needs for tax dollars in Oakland and we selected a leader who has not sought foundation money to build an infrastructure for the children who need glasses, medication, behaviorial therapy, psychological counseling and truancy guidance. There seems to be a lack of creativity in fundraising and every foundation who takes an interest we get angry with because they ask that we change our status quo – perhaps it’s time to look at the way we have run our educational system and start looking at urban areas which have provided networks that support learning.

  • Sue

    This is a serious question – I really have to ask this.

    Are there two completely different and separate public school systems in OUSD?

    What other folks are describing as their experiences – those simply aren’t my family’s experiences.

    My older son is a senior at Skyline this year. He has autism, and has been in the ASIP program since 5th grade at Carl B. Munck, continuing with the program through Montera Middle and all four years at Skyline. His last grading period he brought home straight A’s. His first marking period he had five A’s and one C+, but the teacher of the C+ class recommended moving him from her last-period class to her 2nd period class, and that move brought up the C. He’s passed the math portion of CAHSEE with an impressive score, and is expected to pass the English portion in the next month. He’s recently received a letter from a local private college *inviting* him to apply, and pretty much guarenteeing his acceptance. The school district has been serving him incredibly well.

    My younger son is a neurotypical (normal) 7th grader at Montera. Last year he was really struggling, and barely passed some of his classes, but with regular teacher calls and conferences, we all got through the year – it mostly seemed to be maturity issues for him. This year, his grades have been better, and when things have started to slip a little bit, my husband and I have gotten calls from his teachers. He’s a quiet, not disruptive kid, and it impressed me to no end to have a teacher calling me when my kid *wasn’t* causing problems in the classroom. Just to notice one kid (out of the 150 that teacher sees every day) who seems to be a little out-of-it and disconnected, and take actions before there’s a problem – not what I expected at all, and a clear indication that we’re talking about a good, dedicated and caring teacher.

    So, if the majority posting here are experiencing what they describe – and I don’t doubt the truth of their experiences – how come?
    Why is my family experiencing something so *very* different?
    Why doesn’t every family have more positive stories about their child’s education?
    Are we just lucky?
    If there are two systems in the district, did we just accidentally pick the *right* schools, and our kids got assigned to the *right* teachers, somehow?

    Or is my family’s experience the norm, and the only folks who come here and post are the exceptions to that norm?

    Or is there something else that explains it?

  • Brad


    What you’re describing is yet another manifestation of the fact that there are two very different Oaklands!

    Both Montera and Skyline are in the hills. At both, around 65-75% of parents have at least some college education. Compare this to the schools in North Oakland or Fruitvale, like Santa Fe or Peralta Creek. At both, around 20-30% of parents have at least some college.

    Compare them on class size too. At Montera, the average middle school class size is 13. At Santa Fe, the average class middle school class size is 25.

    Then compare both sets of schools to schools in West Oakland or Deep East Oakland. I bet the difference in the statistics are even worse.

    I’m not cherry-picking schools to find these numbers. With a few exceptions, all the good schools are in the hills. Chabot, Hillcrest, Crocker Highlands, Grass Valley, Glenview, Joaquin Miller, Montclair, Redwood Heights, the list goes on. Very few good schools are in the flats.

    The reason for the gross disparity is, I guess, what you’d expect. More parent participation at the hills schools, more educated parents helping their kids at home, wealthier parents with more stable home environments. These students are then less likely to disrupt class, meaning more time is spent on actual teaching.

    But I’m sure the district exacerbates a lot of these problems. Like someone else said, turnover at flats schools is incredibly high, probably because all the novice teachers get dumped there while the senior teachers stay at their easier hills school jobs. Someone with more knowledge of OUSD could explain this better. (The class size disparity seems like a huge district caused problem. Anyone know why this is?)

    And I’m sure a big culprit is the union, which probably protects older teachers at the expense of younger teachers. Again, I’ll leave that for someone more knowledgeable.

    But I think there’s an underlying problem which is that hills Oaklanders just aren’t engaged with the rest of the city. You are a case in point: you had no idea what the rest of us were describing.

    If a huge segment of the citizenry doesn’t even know, let alone care, about what goes on in the flats, then it’s no wonder that the city leadership and the district leadership ignore the flats.

  • cranky teacher

    Deborah, this is really not my business but I really think you should reconsider keeping your child in a dysfunctional school with a bad teacher simply so it can receive an ADA. I am sure there is a better situation in Oakland public schools and it is, IMHO, unfair to use your child as a tool of your own political/social beliefs.

    I say this as a child who was put through some very dysfunctional schools in the ’70s for mostly political reasons (which I then and now still believe in; I just think adults should carry the water, not their kids).

    I don’t judge my parents for it, some of which was based on ignorance of the reality of the content of my school days, but I’m not sure it was really the right approach if the goal was for me to enjoy learning and succeed in life. Being bored (and/or bullied) every day for 7 hours for many years can leave some scar tissue.

    Besides, there is no guarantee a few extra bucks are really going to help a dysfunctional school. Money is a factor in creating a quality education, but hardly the only one — I’d say it’s far below site leadership, for example, and a supported faculty.

    Again, sorry to be in your business, but your comment really struck me.

  • On The Fence


    I’ve heard a great number of parents praising their child’s OUSD experience on this blog site. Like you, I have two children who are challenged and thriving in our local Oakland public elementary and middle school. I know many, many folks who are really happy with their public experience. Some of these are folks who have taken the time to compare to privates and charters, and still find their local public to be their best option.

    You ask about those who post on this blog. This blog attracts a diverse group, but I would guess that only a small portion of the bloggers are parents with children currently attending an OUSD school. Also, parents often respond when the topic is less policy oriented and more specific to their own experience. A parcel tax will, of course, attract everyone’s input.

    Adding my own two cents to the discussion about a parcel tax. My gut reaction is that they could craft this measure any which way they like and I would vote it down sight unseen, and this from a parent with kids attending OUSD schools! My motto: not another cent to Oakland, not to the city, not to the schools, not to the meters, not the street lights… Taxation has bled us dry and yet we remain the worst managed city and school system EVER! I’ll continue to give my money directly to our local school because I trust that they will spend it far better than OUSD would!

  • Nextset

    Cranky: Can you tell us more about your school years? What was the disfunction and what were the political beliefs involved??

  • Sue

    Excuse me, Brad, but I think we need a bit of a reality check.

    First item – I’ve been hearing these same complaints for years. I’ve made some of the same complaints. When our younger son started kindergarten in our neighborhood, flatlands, elementary school, Allendale, we got some really unexpected *shocks*! The teacher in his classroom was a good, experienced teacher, and we really regretted having to move him four weeks into the school year. But, the point was that we didn’t like what was going on at the school *outside* the classroom (it was dangerous!), and we found a better place for him. Since that time (he’s a 7th grader now), the neighborhood school has improved. If I still had a child of elementary school age, I’d give our neighborhood school another try. And I say so to my neighbors with younger children.

    Second – can you please site a source for you average classroom sizes? Because I don’t think your number for Montera is accurate. My 7th grade Montera student doesn’t have a single class with less than 30 students, and it was the same last year when he was a 6th grader at Montera.

    It was also the case with my older son’s mainstream classes when he was at Montera 4-6 years ago. Special Day classes do have smaller sizes though, so if the Spec. Ed. kids’ classes are being included in the averages – and Montera has a lot of Spec. Ed. – then that could affect the numbers. Having been involved with Spec. Ed. for the last 13 years (beginning with pre-K Communication Handicap classes for older son when he was 4-y-o), I know that the schools that are doing well for their students are the ones that get the overwhelming majority of programs for students with disabilities. And somehow, those successful schools seem to keep doing a good job even after they have a disproportionate burden of students with special needs.

    Third – easier job teaching in hills schools. I’d love to introduce you to some of the teachers my kids have had over the years. Completely anecdotal, but when a teacher has 30 kids in a classroom, and 3 or 4 have various disabilities and IEPs that must be followed, and another handful of kids that don’t have a diagnosis, but clearly do have behavioral issues that disrupt the class every day, and another handful of GATE students with the requirement to differentiate instruction for their needs too – well, I don’t believe for a second that’s easier than a classroom where all the kids are pretty much at the same level.

    Finally, based on naming my children’s schools, you’ve made some incorrect assumptions about my family – where we live, parents’ levels of education…

    Our neighborhood middle school is Bret Harte, and as I already said, our neighborhood elementary school is Allendale. We’re just barely inside the neighborhood boundary for Skyline, but older son would be there regardless because that’s where his program is. We’ve sent our kids to the hills schools, but the families living in those neighborhoods aren’t sending their children there. Nearly all the kids who are in my kids’ schools are from outside the neighborhood boundaries, just like my boys. The families that can afford those big, fancy homes in the hills are sending their children to private schools, not public.

    My husband holds a GED – he was a 4th grade drop-out. I do hold a college degree, which I earned while serving in the Air Force. Husband and I met while we were both enlisted, and I enlisted specifically because it was the only way I could pay for college.

    I think your analysis was too shallow and based on bad assumptions. I think the reality is a lot more complicated… Yes, there are two OUSD’s. But why, and how to fix the broken pieces – that’s the $64k question. And neither of us has come anywhere close to answering it.

  • Brad


    Alright, you’re correct to call me out on my assumptions about your family’s geographic location and your income and education level. I apologize.

    However, I stand by my post, almost in its entirety. First, the statistics are those reported to the state by the schools themselves. They can be found at http://school-ratings.com/counties/Alameda.html. The information comes from California’s 2008 API Base data.

    Second, by and large, educated, wealthy, and stable families are at an advantage. Yes, a family can be educated but not wealthy and stable. Or stable, but not educated and wealthy. But a lot of the time, these factors go together. And of course, there’s a whole lot more to the picture, as in the case of even when a family is stable if the neighborhood is chaotic it can still cause a student problems. I believe that’s what you wanted to avoid when you decided not to send your child to Allendale, right?

    I really do believe that wealth and education are huge factors here. Like, even if a non-wealthy parent wants to put huge amounts of effort into making sure their child gets a good education, they might be prevented because they have to work long hours at a low wage job, or because they don’t have a car to get to school meetings or to go to administration building. Whatever the case may be. You can’t tell me honestly that you believe poorer people don’t face barriers like this.

    Now to education. Look, educated parents take their kids to museums and bookstores. When an child asks their educated parent why the sky is blue, the parents says, “gee, I don’t know, but I get we can look it up in an encyclopedia.” When a child asks a non-educated parent why the sky is blue, it’s “that’s the way it is.” Or you’ve got parents that say, “why are you asking that, do you think you’re smarter than your old man?” YES, these are stereotypes, but stereotypes have grains of truth behind them.

    So you’ve got families that, for one reason or another, are putting a lot more time into their child’s schooling. Either because it’s easier for them to do so, or they value education, or whatever. They, like you, send their kids to the best school they can, even if it’s not in their neighborhood. Other parents, who don’t know or don’t care or are too busy or too overloaded, send their parents wherever the district assigns them. Many of these people are less wealthy and so they live in the flats.

    Is my analysis shallow? Yes. It’s a 200 word blog post. Is my analysis wrong? No, I don’t think so.

  • On The Fence


    I agree with you that wealth, family stability, and the level of education that a parent has achieved are factors that play a role in how well children will perform in school. However, I don’t quite agree with your other assumptions.

    First, we have established that your assumptions about Sue were simply wrong. But I also question your assumptions about “hills” folks in general, which I am reading to mean higher SES. You state: “I think there’s an underlying problem which is that hills Oaklanders just aren’t engaged with the rest of the city.” You go on to assert “If a huge segment of the citizenry doesn’t even know, let alone care, about what goes on in the flats..” Really? Is it true that once you live in a certain neighborhood you stop seeing, knowing, and caring about others? Hmmm. I may be reading this wrong, but it sounds like you are angry and blaming people living in the hills for the problems of flats. How so?

  • Brad

    On The Fence,

    Let me think about how to say this. I think Oakland is an extremely fractured city.

    I think this is regrettable.

    I think an example of this is how you give money to the school you know rather than the system as a whole. I’m not trying to guess where you live or what your “SES” is. I’m not even saying you’re wrong to do this. I’m just using this to illustrate what I see as a widespread breakdown of trust in local governance in Oakland.

    I think many different communities in Oakland are guilty of this “me and mine” attitude.

    But I am particularly irked by this attitude when exhibited by relatively wealthy Oaklanders who reside in the city’s hill neighborhoods. Oakland is a magnificent city, with spectacular location, weather, views, restaurants, shops, parks, etc. These residents take full advantage of that magnificence.

    I don’t *believe* that these residents, by and large, give back to the city as much as that maybe should.

    “Give back”? Means many things. Taxes are one example – this was a thread about a parcel tax until I sidetracked it. Parcel taxes are a major source of revenue for Oakland. They are also unfair because wealthy people feel only a pinch but poorer people feel a wallop.

    But there are other examples. Like, I don’t see a lot of visible civic groups in the hills neighborhoods. Maybe I’m wrong about this, but I don’t see it. What I *believe* is the case is that people who live in the hills ignore the rest of the city like a drunk uncle at a Christmas gathering. They never come here, they don’t care about the crime, they don’t care about the bad schools, these things don’t affect them.

    Where does this belief of mine come from? A lot of places, following Oakland’s politics, reading the newspaper, reading blog posts – especially ones where Oaklanders tell others that Oakland isn’t all that bad at least if you’re out of the flats.

    It’s a belief. Maybe I’m wrong. I’d like to be.

    Anyway, because I have too much time on my hands, I’ve looked at the geographic location of Oakland schools and correlated with their API ranking. My boundary lines are a little on the fly, but mostly drawn from the CA Museum of Oakland’s map page (http://collections.museumca.org/search_map.jsp) and my common sense. Now, a school needs an API score of 800 to be considered to be at a decent level. Schools in California with lower scores are required to meet improvement goals. So I set this as a level for a “good” school. I also set a rather arbitrary number of 600 as a “totally failing” school. Here’s the breakdown by district:

    Upper Hills:
    Above 800 – 7 schools
    800-600 – 2 schools
    Below 600 – 0 schools

    Lower Hills:
    Above 800 – 4 schools
    800-600 – 4 schools
    Below 600 – 0 schools

    Lake Merritt/Downtown/Chinatown:
    Above 800 – 4 schools
    800-600 – 3 schools
    Below 600 – 0 schools

    North Oakland:
    Above 800 – 2 schools
    800-600 – 6 schools
    Below 600 – 0 schools

    Fruitvale/Central East:
    Above 800 – 0 schools
    800-600 – 9 schools
    Below 600 – 2 schools

    West Oakland:
    Above 800 – 0 schools
    800-600 – 4 schools
    Below 600 – 3 schools

    East/Deep East:
    Above 800 – 0 schools
    800-600 – 14 schools
    Below 600 – 12 schools

    You can look at a map here: http://drop.io/hkfss2e. An “N/A” by the school name means no API score was reported in 2008. A circle means above 800, an underline means 800-600, nothing by the school name means below 600. The API scores are also written in.

  • del

    There are indeed 2 OUSDs: the one that exists and the one that is perceived. The one that exists is (again) the most improved urban district in the state. It is full of great teachers (young and old) and wonderful kids. The perceived one is much worse, you can read comments on this blog by people who are not familiar with the reality of what is going on in classrooms, or you can just make up your own ideas or listen to gossip to define the perceived OUSD. Added to this is the charter schools, who feed into OUSD’s negative perceptions while enjoying public money and a lack of accountability to state law. (This by the way is why I’d vote no on the tax, I’d also vote no on a parcel tax for the army if Blackwater got a piece, I’d also vote no on a parcel tax for new roads if part were earmarked for the driveways of officials).
    On the subject of young teachers, I am happy to be in a position to work with my school’s hiring (and training) processes. It’s true we have many new teachers, and an extremely young staff. This is in part a choice: as my first principal said when she hired me “I’d rather make my own problems than deal with somebody else’s!” Indeed, many veteran teachers also subscribe to the “perceived OUSD” and think that a hills school will mean there are no “behavior problems” or “students who don’t want to learn” up there… and my principal is happy to sign the transfer paper! Teaching is not about age or experience (although experience can help), it is about commitment and improving practices!
    PS: brad: not to pile on, but there is no way that montera is anywhere near 13 kids per class. NO school could afford to run like that! Secondly, Santa Fe is an elementary school (hence the 25 kids/class avg) and the kids who go there (according to the district maps) will be split: most go to claremont (hills school) some head to Westlake (not sure how that school would be defined!).

  • Brad


    No problem about piling on. I’m not an expert, nor am I claiming to be, about the OUSD. I just live here. Nor do I have school age children yet. But I am looking at schools with an eye toward the future. And right now, there is no way I would send a child to my local elementary school (Jefferson campus).

    I don’t know what to tell you about my incorrect statistics, it’s what they publish! It really says that Montera has 13 kids per class and it really says that Santa Fe has a “Grades 4-6 Class Size: 25.” Now that I know this is all false information it makes me even more apprehensive about OUSD.

  • Katy Murphy

    According to Ed-Data’s school profiles for 2008-09, Montera’s average class size was 26.3. Santa Fe’s average was 19.3.


  • Donna

    Brad; I think it is a mistake to assume that all or most OUSD students attend their neighborhood school. Chabot and Montclair Elementary have quite a few out of districts. Particularly in years past, parents would use a friend’s address. A friend told me how she did it. Also, a legal loophole or two exists/existed, at least in terms of being admitted to one non-neighborhood elementary school. Rumors existed for years that at one *hills* elementary school, at least one-third of the students were (illegally) from out of that school’s district. I don’t know how this all plays out these days in the whole options process, however.

    Motivated parents with cars will scope out schools they perceive to be *good* and will find a way to avoid what they perceive as the *bad* ones. These parents are not *wealthy*, but I would hazard to guess that for the most part their kids do not qualify for free or reduced lunch. They are the ones keeping the hills schools at capacity and filling the charter schools.

  • del

    Oh wow, I checked the site you referenced and…. well, I’d recommend finding a new site! (the ed-data one is what most of us use). For my school, the other site had incorrect API, class size, teacher credentials, and ethnic stats. Oooof. The address, however, was correct, and the little graph from “zillow” was encouraging.
    Joking aside, we all should decide what we mean my “failing school.” First of all, anything test score-based is specious at best—the ONLY thing tests scores are correlated to statistically is parent income level and (to a lesser extent) parent education level. THAT’S ALL! That strongly indicates that the map you made is exactly what it’s SUPPOSED to be! And what does the test really test? A few years ago, I kid you not, one of the questions on the second grade test was about that old children’s story set in Holland where the boy saves the day by putting his finger in the dike. How many kids in Oakland have the schema for understanding that one?? (How many of us as adults do? Not many, judging by our response to hurricane katrina.) In my class, one girl starts to cry because “that’s what they call my mom and she cries,” and predictable chaos ensues. How did that affect our test scores? Any why should a child’s familiarity with an old dutch folk tale determine the quality of a school? Regardless, there must be some measure for schools, but let’s be real careful when we judge schools by the tests.
    Additionally, lets be careful about what these numbers mean: 800 is supposed to mean that a school is meeting their targets (or, for some schools, that there are no targets to meet because the school is so homogenous). But a few years ago, schools were very happy to hit 600! At our school we’re also having a hard time reaching 800 because our English learners are not reaching “advanced” on their English tests, and many schools are struggling with the same (or even more ridiculous) things. I’d suggest a school visit & observing the kids & the teachers BEFORE you look at test scores.

  • Union Supporter-But

    To those who praise the high heavens over the high test scores in the hills. Please know that these are students who may or may not have teachers who are teaching well, but they would test well at whatever school they attend.

    I want to say that I am intimately familiar with one flatlands school and one hills school. The flatlands fourth and fifth grades classroom teacher teaches the State standards in Math, Social Studies, Language Arts, Science, PE, visual arts, theater, music and dance. I have to say that has not been my experience with hills school teachers.

    When you have test scores from students in the flat lands you are getting students who often do not have medical insurance (if they have ADHD for example they do not have medication or therapy – they often have infections that require emergency care before dental issues are taken care of); they have parents who may or may not have completed high school and by third or fourth grade can no longer help with math, writing a persuasive essay or analyzing the three branches of government; nearly one third of the students do not live full time with at least one parent and nearly three-quarters do not live with two parents; sleep is disrupted by gunfire and loud neighbors.

    Under these same conditions a hills student would also have a difficult time focusing and being able to perform well on tests.

    If you look at the standards of what English Language Learners must know, speak and write up to fourth grade, the standards are much higher than those in English only households (after fourth grade it begins to shift).

    My personal belief is that if we recorded the amount of time and the quality of the direct instruction in the flatlands and the hills we would find it quite comparable what is different is the students and the backgrounds they come to the school with.

    By the way, the flatland kids I spoke of just finished performing a Shakespearean play and are using the experience to write and perform their own original production. They have also developed a powerpoint presentation in class on the solar system debating the merits of Pluto as a planet with half of the class researching and arguing for and the other half of the class researching and arguing against. Now give me a comparable hills school activities in the first one-third of the year.

  • http://www.cpa.com len raphael

    too many of the people in this thread seem to prefer refighting the oakland school wars instead of figuring out a way to finance education. Keep fighting over the diminishing crumbs or declare a truce and try to persuade the voters why they should approve a parcel tax of say 200/year that will be passed thru to renters one way or another.

    a school parcel tax will mostly likely show up on the same june ballot as the “public security” parcel tax that some council members and the mayor is proposing.

    Because of the implementation of IRV instant runnoff voting, there won’t be any other local issues or races this june. maybe no state items either.

    That “public security” parcel tax could range anywhere from 100 to 200/year. Very likely that in a year or so, another parcel tax of another $200 will be needed to cover Oakland muni employee retirement medical and pre Calpers cop retirement.

    Even now, the ad valorem tax rate (as cf to the fixed parcel taxes) in Oakland is higher than Piedmont, Berkeley, and Orinda and going up, because previously approved bond issues have mandatory funding based on property taxes. As property assessments have dropped, revenue has dropped. That triggers mandatory increases in the ad valorem rate. eg. for a house/condo valued at 750k an Oakland resident would pay hundreds of dollars more in property taxes than an Orinda resident, even allowing for higher parcel taxes in Orinda.

    ie. you will be going to the well along with a crowd of other hungry government authorities. home owners will be made aware of what i described above and start asking themselves why are they paying higher taxes to live in Oakland.

    Many of the well-to-do hills residents are beginning to understand that the health of the public schools affects their very physical safety and their property values. They couldn’t imagine how anyone could live on 60k/year.

    The resistance to additional parcel taxes will come from young people without kids who bought condos downtown and in West O, and from working people with kids in the flats who are economically stretched to the breaking point.

    These groups are much more likely to vote in June than poor renters with kids.

    Your best hope of convincing them to increase parcel taxes is to persuade the council members to figure out ways to balance the city’s general fund budget without additional tax increases. Then dedicate the new education parcel tax to reducing class size, keeping sports and music programs alive. There is no sympathy in the flatlands for raising teacher’s wages when most flatland people have no retirement, many have no medical insurance, and are very worried about losing their jobs. They do have a great interest in providing a better education for kids in very direct ways.

    -len raphael

  • TheTruthHurts

    Good discussion (if off-topic).

    Bringing it back to the parcel tax, I wanted to reiterate what Sue said that I agree with: “We’ve sent our kids to the hills schools, but the families living in those neighborhoods aren’t sending their children there. Nearly all the kids who are in my kids’ schools are from outside the neighborhood boundaries, just like my boys. The families that can afford those big, fancy homes in the hills are sending their children to private schools, not public.”

    Those are the families who actually “own” property in Oakland and could afford a tax. Most others don’t own or if they do, another tax would be an additional burden during a very rough time.

    I personally think the tax is worth it if it would improve the situation, but how long do we ask people who don’t even use the system to pay for it? Isn’t that adding insult that you have to fork over money for a separate system you percieve is a decent and pay even more of the load for the broken system you don’t use? That’s why I said a proportional tax would be an even harder sell (at least to the people paying it).

  • Sue

    Okay, back on topic for me too. The last time our property taxes went up, it hurt! I’m the one providing our family’s income and husband has been the full-time stay-at-home parent for nearly 18 years. (Good decision for us, too, because husband had worked in a group home for severely disturbed adolescents before we had kids, and his training has been a Godsend for helping out autistic older son.) To cover the increased costs of property taxes, I’ve completely stopped paying anything into my 401(k). I’m 50, and now I’m looking at working until I’m 70 before I can retire.

    I’d *consider* voting for another parcel tax (I’ve voted in favor in the past), but only if it were proportional. Our little 1000-sq-ft house (which is why we can still afford our mortgage, and haven’t been foreclosed) simply shouldn’t be taxed at the same rate as a 10 times bigger house in the hills. That isn’t fair.

    If people who aren’t using OUSD and are sending their children to private schools want to complain about the unfairness of having to pay to educate my kids, I wonder how their children will be feeling in 20 years. Will they be concerned about the completely uneducated masses living in the lowlands? Won’t those uneducated, and consequently unemployed, masses be coming up into the hills to commit personal and property crimes, because that’s where the money is? Where will the educated hills folks be finding people they can hire for private security? (Forget about police security. Where would OPD find any qualified applicants for jobs?)

    In short, if the folks who can afford to pay for educating the children of Oakland choose not to pay for public education, they are being incredibly short-sighted. The city of Oakland would be dead and gone in a generation. The wealthy private school educated children would have to leave Oakland when they are adults simply for their own safety.

  • cranky teacher

    It may have been pointed out already, but Brad’s class-size numbers are wildly off. In fact, at the more desired schools classes are much bigger, especially when we look at actual attendance. Articles looking at the underattended West Oakland schools have pointed out that classes often have 15-20 kids on the roll sheet and that as little as half of those kids show up each day. This is why some of these schools have been targeted for closure, although this is clearly hard on those neighborhood kids who DO show up to school.

  • cranky teacher

    Sue writes:

    “In short, if the folks who can afford to pay for educating the children of Oakland choose not to pay for public education, they are being incredibly short-sighted.”

    While I completely agree with you, this is not a new phenomenon by any means. Most Americans with means long ago decided to protect themselves by moving into protected and even gated communities, rather than to try to transform the economy and society as a whole. (Last concerted effort at that was probably the 60s and 70s). The rich have always done this, with the big gate and guard at the front of the mansion, but as the middle class grew, they did the same, moving to suburbs, many of them with gates and guards.

    Do you really think the police force will allow gangs to start hanging out in Montclair? Come on. And people believe, rightly or wrongly, that giving their extra cash to Bay Alarm is going to keep them safer than funding local education.

    “Ghetto schools” is hardly a new phenomenon in a country with such a rich history of class and race discrimination. In fact, desegregation and open enrollment have at least somewhat lessened the rigid structures of separation in the public schools, but some (not me) see this as a negative for two main reasons: 1) White and middle-class flight from the public schools took away both revenue and a pool of “high-performing” students. 2) Some minorities have argued in recent years that their community’s children were better off before desegregation because they were taught by people from their own community.

  • http://www.cpa.com len raphael

    really, the well to do hills residents are not the main opponents of an additional school parcel tax if you showed them it went to measurable stuff like keeping class sizes steady, sports and music.

    you and some of your past and current board members are your worst enemy. Kids First and the anti violence portion of Measure Y (with the subsequent violation by the City of policing portion of Y) have poisoned the parcel tax well.

    The Kids First ballot propositions alone have caused a substantial portion of a 10 to 12 million piece of the city’s (not OUSD) general fund deficit. It’s not the full 10 to 12Mill because some portion of Kids First goes to OUSD programs.

    In turn that Kids First diversion is a large piece of the current city deficit which is forcing the city general fund to compete with schools for parcel tax expansion.

    You would have a very high chance of success at the ballot if you only went for modifying Kids First so that all of it went to OUSD and 0 to independent non-profits because it would be “revenue neutral” as the Kids First people so cleverly showed us.

    (i’ll leave it to you to fight out the charter school part. but I think you’ll need the charter school people on your side)

    The hills people, flat lands home owners, young condo owners, landlords would support a ballot proposal that helps schools and doesn’t raise taxes.

    But your own school board president has a real conflict of interest on this, and possibly some of your other school board members as well. To that add in Sharon C of Alameda Labor Council, who was a big supporter of Kids First, even though even three years ago it was clear that the city’s revenues were falling and the result of Kids First would be mass layoffs and cutbacks of city union employees.

    Kids First people were very good at their long range planning and budgeting. You’re not but you rely on some of them to do your financial planning.

    -len raphael

  • http://perimeterprimate.blogspot.com/ Sharon Higgins

    More about local school funding.

    From the Educational Foundation of Orinda Web site: “Today EFO, together with Parents’ Clubs, our local parcel tax, and other local revenue sources, now underwrites 34% of the Orinda Union School District (OUSD) budget. We are also the largest voluntary funding source for Miramonte High School, giving over half a million dollars annually. This collaboration is essential to the success of our schools.”

    Enrollment: Orinda Union = 2,422 + Miramonte HS (in Acalanes School District) = 1,350

    From the Piedmont Educational Foundation Web site: “The Piedmont Unified School District (PUSD) must rely on approximately $1.4 million in private fundraising in order to meet its goals. Only 69% of the District’s annual budget comes from State funding with the School Parcel Tax contributing an additional $6.9 million or 26% to the District. PEF, along with other school support groups, seeks to help make up that shortfall.”

    Piedmont City Unified enrollment = 2,531

    Our current parcel tax, Measure G, brings in about $20 million. OUSD enrollment = 46,516.

  • http://www.cpa.com len raphael

    Yes those districts have higher parcel taxes than Oakland, but lower ad valorem tax rates. Result is Oakland residents who bought middle class overpriced residences in the past 5 years, pay higher total property taxes than the same assessed property would cost them in Piedmont or Orinda.

  • Nextset

    Cranky: In previous years lower class children were (forcibly) brought into line with societal norms at the public schools. Sometime in the 1960s it was decided to end the practice of socializing the underclass and to see what would happen if we allowed them to be what they wanted to be. You see it was decided that the lower class were suddenly fit to make these decisions and to have things their way. Plus they voted Democratic Party.

    The results are all around us. Detroit is a great example, as is Baltimore, So Central Los Angeles, Cleveland, Kansas City and most of the (formerly) Great Cities of the USA. Hordes of students who never learned to read, write, or to behave.

    But the chillun are happy. At least no one is telling them they have to change. And if their reading scores are in the basement that is somehow the fault of the teachers not the students.

    Meanwhile the upper, professional and (shrinking) middle class voted with their feet and physically recoiled from any contact with the lower class. They will continue to do so. This was not so much so in the 1940s when anyone going to a public school knew that standards were maintained and non-performers were not carried.

    All this can end. For one thing we can make it clear that failing students will be removed from further academic track programs and placed in more suitable (laborer, etc) programs. As is done in Europe and as used to be done here. When it’s sink or swim time people take lessons. We need to impose standards for continued presence in our academic schools (at every grade level) and cull those who don’t measure up. We would again have schools anyone would be willing to send their normal (IQ of 100) kids to.

    I for one will not vote to waste any more educational budget money by funding the current methodology. No more money for this failed educational model. Too much is being spent as it is.

  • Sue

    Cranky Teacher you said:
    “Do you really think the police force will allow gangs to start hanging out in Montclair? Come on.”

    Do you really think there will still be a functioning police force in 20 years if public education stops being funded? Come on.

  • http://www.cpa.com len raphael

    surprising to me that anyone (other than the teachers) would consider a parcel tax to give teachers a raise when a combo of falling enrollment and long term state budget problems make layoffs highly likely in multiple districts, heck multiple states. it’s not as if there are jobs in private industry to switch to.

    on the cost cutting side, can someone point to me links where the ratios of ousd central office staff by category, to number of students served, is compared to various other school districts of similar size and composition?

    also is there a comparison of monetary costs of say busing kids vs keeping low enrollment schools open?

    -len raphael

  • Union Supporter-But

    Sharon Higgins:

    Yes, Orinda and Piedmont have the money you say, but what they give their students is far beyond what Oakland has ever stated they are willing to give their students. I personally would knock on every door in Oakland to ask for a tax increase as well as to ask for foundation money if we as a district would spend our money as Piedmont and Orinda do – outline below. What Orinda and Piedmont know, and we will not acknowledge in Oakland is that we can no longer ignore subjects such as foreign language, computer arts, drama, differentiated instruction in every classroom by every teacher in the the district. I often feel that Oakland teachers as a group are treated the way they are because they often behave as clerks when compared to what is required of the teachers in districts such as Orinda and Piedmont – also examples below.

    When we offer top notch educational opportunities, parents and the community will pay for top-notch education – as is often said, Piedmont, Orinda and Lafayette have never met a school tax they didn’t love. Well, they don’t love them, but they know they will get what they pay for – the money is transparent – the books are open and the financial reports for the foundation money is emailed to every family in the district. With the exception of PTA money, can any school in Oakland say that they pro-actively email the financials to all parents/families in the district? I don’t even think any PTA does that.

    So here is what you get for your money in Orinda and Piedmont:
    Beginning in elementary school the State Standards are posted on the district and school websites. All standards: Language Arts, Math, Science, Social Studies, PE, Health, Visual and Performing Arts, Theater, Music and Dance are taught. Parents are given the standards at the beginning of the year and they grade the teacher, principal, school and district on whether the standards were met in ALL subjects. Teachers tutor their students before and after school if necessary to make sure that all students are achieving the minimum State standards.

    Foreign language is taught beginning in elementary school and there are enough foreign language teachers to make sure that every student who wants to take a foreign language is able to take as many years as desired. Piedmont offers Spanish, French and Mandarin. Orinda offers Spanish and French. Lafayette offers Spanish, French and German. Oakland offers about one semester of Spanish in middle school if they can fit students in. Very few high schools are equipped to offer more than one year of foreign language. In the Orinda, Piedmont and Lafayette districts Latin for science is the norm.

    Beginning in middle school band, orchestra, wood shop, competitive debate, chorus, computer graphics, creative expression drama, TV and radio broadcast, leadership, public speaking, video production, writing clinic, writing symposium, yearbook, abstract art, film study and animation are offered during school hours.

    Gifted and Talented Education is defined and grouped in the following ways: Students are identified as GATE beginning in 4th grade. GATE students are served within the classroom through differentiated instruction. Students receive reading and writing instruction through Columbia’s Teachers College workshop strategies that individualize instruction for every child. In grades 6-8, GATE students are cluster grouped in language arts. Math classes allow for ability grouping. GATE students may take both language arts and math classes at the high school when they are in middle school and college when in high school as a matter of course without parents having to fight, petition and threaten legal action or transfer out of the district. The districts also work with the following universities and pay for online courses to meet the needs of the students: California Department of Education GATE, Johns Hopkins University Center for Talented Youth, University of California at Berkeley, Stanford University, Duke University’s Talent Identification Program, UC Davis COSMOS Program, UC Irvine Academic Talent Search.

    The Writer’s Workshop – The Orinda Union School District is in its sixth year of implementation of Writers Workshop. This is offered to every student in the district throughout the various grade levels.

    CalShakes – Shakespearian theater is offered to every student every year from fourth grade through high school in both Orinda and Piedmont.

    All teachers in the district are required to be proficient in internet use and to send emails at least monthly to families and respond by email to emails from family members. We have the vast majority of elementary and middle school teachers in Oakland who REFUSE to communicate through email and do not allow their students to use the computers in the classroom except as word processors because they do not understand the internet or computer processes themselves.

    Curriculum plan is a three year plan as is the school calendar – not the school district or the teachers’ union holding parents and the community hostage to a year-to-year calendar.

    To receive money – to have the command of money, every teacher, every principal, every administrator, every school and the entire district would be responsible for accounting for every dollar of foundation money. We simply do not have that type of fiscal or curricular responsibility built into our Oakland Unified district. Maybe one day we will, but you cannot get any money without a plan. We do not have a plan.

    Develop a plan that will build in the same accountability and the same curricular development and achievement plan for every student and the money will come. No plan, no money, it’s really, really that simple.

  • Cranky Teacher

    Nextset, your logic is just silly. I’ll grant you some problems are no doubt caused by white liberal guilt, but jeez…

    Detroit is a wreck because of misguided liberal tolerance?!? It has nothing to do with the steady and epic decline of the U.S. auto industry which accelerated in the 70s and continues today?!?

    The loss of the tens of thousands of high-paying skilled and decently paid unskilled jobs in auto manufacturing? Jobs replaced by a scattering of maid and nanny and lawn mowing jobs in Grosse Pointe and other rich suburbs? Skyrocketing unemployment? A generation degraded by life on welfare and unemployment? The arrival of the heroin epidemic in the 70s and the crack epidemic in the 80s, followed by the AIDS and hepatitis epidemics of the 90s? A receding tax base as corporations pay less and less every year between the 50s and today?

    Sure, because kids in foster care or group homes with one parent dead and the other in prison have just as good a chance of academic success as the child of a father making solid union wages at GM while mom is home helping with homework and picking up some hours at the 5&dime. Give him both a knock upside the head and they’re basically the same kid, right?

    Or maybe I misunderstood. Were you saying Democrats killed Detroit by buying foreign cars? That would have at least made some sense.

  • Skyline Teacher

    Union-Support but … thanks for copying and pasting the contents of the Orinda and Piedmont school districts. Too bad you’re completely full of it when you talk about Oakland — and that’s coming from a frequent critic of our district.

    You should reference the long debate on here between Skyline, OHigh and Tech supporters about which one was better, just to see how silly your claims are.

    I know Skyline, so, off the top of my head let me note there that we currently have:

    — 3 foreign languages available: French, Spanish and Mandarin, with multiple levels of each.
    — a plethora of respected AP courses in every department.
    — a fabulous performing arts department, which does full theater productions every semester, a great jazz band (check em out at Yoshi’s each year), marching band, dance production performances and classes, choral singing classes and performances, and more.
    — full-size yearbook, 16-page monthly newspaper, digital film class and annual screening, digital photography class and show, ceramics and visual arts classes and shows at Oakland museum.
    — league champion debate team, mock trial squad, champion JROTC drill squad, Youth Speaks! spoken word club competing and winning in local poetry slams.
    — academies in performing arts, education, digital arts, architecure/graphic design and, coming next year, environmental science.
    — a beautiful campus in the woods, and a gardening program where kids learn plant biology.
    — an enormous number of competitive and championship sports teams for both genders, running from the Big Three all the way through golf, bowling, vollyball, badminton, tennis and lacrosse.

    I’m sure Sharon Higgins can think of a few more…

    Look, we all know having rich donors and a strong tax base will make everything more slick — hell, I played sports against Piedmont in the 80s and we resented the hell out of their manicured fields and slick “pro-style” uniforms — but don’t talk so much smack about those of us providing a lot of opportunities on the cheap unless you’re willing to come take a tour.

    And you’re right, some OUSD teachers don’t know how to use email, and a lot more don’t have working computers in their room. But hey, the telephone usually still works!

    Oh, and color me unimpressed that the Orinda and Piedmont schools post the standards on their websites — that was a reach. The standards for the state of California are already online for everybody to see, and OUSD’s website links to it:


  • Union Supporter-But

    Skyline Teacher:

    Of course many of the things you mentioned are available in high school, but as you can see by the school stats posted by Sharon earlier – about half or more of OUSD students are missing in action before they reach high school – so you can offer to fewer students.

    My point about the standards is not that they’re available. Anyone can access the State standards, but does Skyline invite parents and students to grade teachers, principals, administrators and the district in TEACHING and meeting the the state standards across the board EACH and EVERY year? My guess is no, they do not.

    The elementary schools in Oakland only offer foreign languages when you are wealthy enough to afford them. The “best” middle schools in Oakland have only enough Spanish teachers for one semester per student of Spanish.

    GATE education at Skyline (based on the AP tests / class information provided by the district to me for a project) includes no more than a handful of students. If students have advanced beyond the Skyline math, they must petition the district to allow their students to leave early to take math at a community college in which the expense is borne by the families – if they can afford it and can make their way through the district paperwork.

    And, nearly all of the great things you have served up about Skyline – make no mistake about it, Skyline does offer students some really great opportunities – are held as enrichment courses after school, not during the school day.

    The thing that makes Piedmont and Orinda great places to educate many students is that the students have these educational opportunities during their school day so that they still have time for sports, volunteering and in-depth learning in areas of expertise.

    There are many, many dedicated teachers who work in after school clubs by the time a student in Oakland reaches high school – we have not figured out a way to get the vast majority of OUSD students to high school working at the high school level.

  • http://www.cpa.com len raphael

    Does Claremont MS offer any foreign language? If yes, to what extent?

  • Oakland Teacher

    Thanks Skyline Teacher for such a thorough summary of how much Skyline has to offer its students.

    All of my kids took two full years of foreign language (Spanish) at Montera (plus 3 more years at Skyline), so that disproves the statement about only one semester being available in middle school. Can Oakland do better by its students? Absolutely, but we are not as bad in comparison as stated above. Also, most of the great options at Skyline are during the school day, not A or B periods. Yes, sports and debate are extracurricular, but they probably are at CC schools as well. I have no problem with those courses being held after school.

    I do know that Oakland teachers would love to have more transparency when it comes to the budget process. It is our hope that during the fact finding phase of contract negotiations, just that will happen!

  • Katy Murphy

    Len, I don’t have a definitive answer, but my neighbor had an eighth-grader at Claremont last year and was disappointed by the lack of foreign language opportunities at the school.

  • oak261

    To Union Supporter But:

    Your conflated statements mislead: “…about half or more of OUSD students are missing in action before they reach high school – so you can offer to fewer students… The thing that makes Piedmont and Orinda great places to educate many students is that the students have these educational opportunities during their school day so that they still have time for sports, volunteering and in-depth learning in areas of expertise.”

    The greatness you attribute to Piedmont and Orinda is in no small part due to the fact that students you call “missing in action” simply are a much smaller percentage of the populace to begin with in those communities.

    Don’t knock the impressive rigor and enrichment offered at Skyline because the MIAs are missing due to whatever went wrong in their earlier years. And the AP test scores show that Skyline had over 267 test scores 3 or higher for the latest year available (07-08) from CDE Dataquest. That isn’t “a handful”, as you stated earlier.

  • Gordon Danning

    I find it odd that posters are equating “educational opportunity” with “AP classes.” What about students who are immigrants? It doesn’t serve the needs of most of them to offer a plethora of AP classes; rather, it serves their needs to offer a plethora of sheltered (ie, English Language Learners only) science, history, math, etc, classes. That is what large Oakland high schools offer (small schools generally can not do so), and that is what a parcel tax in Oakland will pay for. That seems like a worthwhile use of tax funds to me.

  • Brad

    I’ve been reading about this education reform that the Governor just signed. I looks like it says that students at the 1,000 worst schools in the state (ranked by API) will be able to transfer, not just to another school, but to another school district.

    About 28 of OUSD schools have an API below 600. (http://publicportal.ousd.k12.ca.us/19941081118174370/lib/19941081118174370/ousd_options_broch_ELEMENTARY10-11.pdf). An API below 600 is pretty bad. That’s about like a quarter of all OUSD schools?

    Probably a lot of those schools will be on the 1,000 worst schools list, although I think that no district can have more than 10% of its schools on the list. Even with just that number, will 10% of Oakland students apply for transfer to Piedmont, Orinda, Lafayette, or other nearby school districts? That would be a huge revenue loss for OUSD.

    Or will only a handful of students transfer, because even though they would be better served by a different district, the families just dont have the interest or the savvy or whatever to ask for a transfer? (I’m sure that OUSD, with its focus on revenue will want to discourage as many students as possible from transferring away from the failing schools.)

  • Skyline Teacher

    Unionsupporter but —

    You’re just wrong and you should stop talking about something you don’t know about.

    In fact, most of the things I mentioned are part of the school day as electives, including debate, ceramics, all the performing arts, graphic/visuals arts, all the foreign language, all the AP, the digial stuff, JROTC, the academies — pretty much everything but the sports, but of course we have PE. No high school I know of has teams practice during the day.

    In fact, because it is so geographically remote from where they live, it is very difficult to keep many students on campus after school — they all want to get on the vast armada of busses which takes off at 3:10, since after that it becomes very tricky to get home on public transportation.

    If I seem vehemanent, it is because it just seems silly to criticize OUSD for things that are not true when there are so many limitations that are real, like faculty and administration turnover, dropout rates, theft, etc.

    BTW, another correction: the majority of students actually drop out between ninth and eleventh grades as they are unprepared for the rigors of high school and are disengaging from the control of adults.

  • Skyline Teacher

    I think if you had just said: Parents choose to put their kids in Orinda and Piedmont schools because they think they will learn more and be safer, I wouldn’t have had any beef — because it is probably true. But instead you created a list of what OUSD doesn’t provide which was nonsense.

  • Skyline Teacher

    Brad, does Piedmont have to allow them in? Let them stay if they make problems?

    Because districts like that are already inundated with transfer requests. I remember Albany one year took a huge number in from Richmond and El Cerrito to balance its books, then restricted entry once they were back in the black. Plus, they could kick any troublemakers right back out with a zero tolerance policy for transfer kids.

    It would be kind of bizarre for a small district to have to take on thousands of new kids all of a sudden!

  • Brad

    It looks like Piedmont, Orinda, etc. only can prevent outside students from attending if the schools there don’t have any capacity to take on more students. They absolutely can’t prevent an outside student from attending based on that students previous academic history, ELL status, etc.

    You can read the bill here: http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/pub/09-10/bill/sen/sb_0001-0050/sbx5_4_bill_20100106_enrolled.pdf. Maybe I’m reading it wrong, but that’s what it looks like to me. They have to keep accepting new students until they’ve reached their maximum capacity.

  • Union Supporter-But

    Skyline Teacher:

    As I said previously Skyline has a great deal to offer students. The difference between other school districts and Oakland is that students are expected to wait until high school for the huge advantages Skyline offers its students.

    For example, you have a huge selections of foreign language classes and while Oakland Teacher talks about the foreign languages that WERE available at Montera and other middle schools that is not the case now. I specifically met with the principal of Montera and there is no way that ANY student at Montera can take more than one year of Spanish and that is if a parent ACTIVELY pushes for the second semester. The turnover of Spanish teachers 3 in two years and the woodshop teachers 4 in three years is overwhelming.

    We should not have our students in Oakland have almost no choices up to high school and then expect them to stick with the district until they get to high school to be offered a variety of classes. Our science education (a minimum state standard) is horrid and our test scores show it with about 33% of students proficient or better. There are more students in the tiny district of Piedmont testing advanced in physics than in all of Oakland.

    Writing, Orinda and Piedmont offer writing to all students. Look at the fourth and seventh grade writing in OUSD. Art, if it were not for the City of Oakland and the Junior Center of Art and Science, there would be virtually no art instruction before high school. Foreign language in elementary school? Please tell me where.

    GATE – in a recent academic paper it was stated that students enter college who do not have seven years of advanced mathematics will not have an opportunity for careers in mathematics, yet our GATE students in elementary school and middle school do not have any opportunities for advanced mathematics during the school day with the exception of one or two periods of Geometry offered at Montera. Edna Brewer offers Geometry only as an after school course.

    For those teachers in our district teaching scientific Latin, please respond because except for a few classes at the high schools, there is nothing in elementary or middle schools.

    What about advanced writing and language arts before high school? How many students have the option to meet or exceed the state standards in OUSD in these subjects before high school?

    What about the legal responsibility of clustering and differentiating instruction in elementary and middle school – any students, parents or teachers who can give us examples where students who are working beyond the expectations of their classroom teachers are given ADVANCED work, not more of the same, but advanced work?

    You say that teachers can still pick up the phone to call parents, but as in Orinda and Piedmont, are teachers in elementary and middle schools emailing parents weekly as to what is happening in their classrooms? Is using technology to communication with students and their families written into the job descriptions of teachers as it is in Orinda, Piedmont, Lafayette, San Ramon Valley – basically the highest performing districts in the area?

    We can set up great high schools that are competitive and offer great educations, but if we have lost students to private schools, outside public schools or apathy that creates 9th and 10th grade drop outs have we served our responsibility?

    There is a specific plan and accountability for the money collected and the money spent in other districts. When Sharon Higgins talks about the money collected by other districts I never hear her mention what strings are tied to that money – she continues to talk about how much money per student every other district gets – what I would like to hear from Oakland is that we will raise the parcel tax which will give us $285 per student more than we have now. With that money, $60 will be spent on writing workshops for twice per week 15 weeks per school year; $85 will provide foreign language instruction twice per week for every student; $65 will provide teachers aids for science instruction and $75 will be used to increase the salary of the new teachers in Oakland and provide teacher training. Then send an email to every Oakland family quarterly to let us know we are on track for the first three years. Then annually after that. The problem is that we do not trust our elected officials to spend the money and there appears to be NO PLAN for the money.

    The examples I gave for spending the money are just that, examples. But I will give OUSD NO MORE MONEY until we have a specific plan for the money spent and a way to distribute the information to the families / households who give the money.

    Piedmont, Orinda, Lafayette and San Ramon Valley would be horrified to give money to their Arts and Science Foundations and not be given full disclosure and an accounting of the activities and the money, yet in Oakland we do this all of the time.

    In addition, communication from the principals of the schools are sent by email weekly and there is also information or alerts sent when there may be a danger. See below. I cannot imagine anyone in Oakland doing the same thing before someone is actually harmed – we are too worried about liability, etc., etc., etc.

    So Skyline Teacher – please know that I understand that there are good things happening in at least two of our high schools – I just worry about how much our family must supplement until high school – if we can stick out OUSD until then.

    Oh, and about safety – I always thought that my daughter would be able to learn more if she could move about a middle school or high school campus freely – to sit with friends, study early in the morning or late in the afternoon, work in a science lab, and spend time discussing the meaning of life and scientific theory and what she wants to do after college. When I visit the school districts in Piedmont and the other side of the hill, I see that is possible and when I look in Oakland I don’t know that I would feel it is safe enough for her to be by herself at 6:30 or 7:00 am at our OUSD high schools or for that matter 5:30 or 6:00 pm.

    I will say this – I do not want my daughter to have to worry about bleaching her teeth, worrying about breast implants, anorexia, access to cocaine and alcohol at high income homes, tanning salons, not being pretty enough, thin enough, being a “technical virgin” and many other of the issues that our friends daughters speak of and we have witnessed at school events.

    So here is a recent email from Stanley Middle School in Moraga / Lafayette:

    Hello Stanley Families-

    We have recently learned about an individual whom we are concerned about on the Facebook social networking website. Please ask your student if they have a Facebook account, and if they have been invited recently to be a friend by someone they don’t know.

    Our concerns regarding this individual are several:
    · Students have no idea who this individual is, and large numbers of current and former Stanley students have “friend”ed this stranger
    · This individual continues to make friend requests of our current and former students
    · Rumors are that one of the Stanley administrators is the secret identity of this individual (not true)
    · Suggestions are also being made that the individual may be a predator
    · By “friending” this individual, students have made their own Facebook profiles open to a stranger.

    We are in touch with Facebook administrators and the Lafayette Police Department to explore all the options available to us regarding this page. If your child has a Facebook account, we strongly recommend that you use this opportunity to discuss cyber safety issues with regards to online strangers and predators. We also recommend sitting with your child reviewing your child’s Facebook “friends”. We think it advisable that they remove any “friends” they don’t personally know. Remember, a Facebook “friend” has access to virtually all the postings and profile information your child has on his or her site. Thanks again for helping us to make all our students safe and responsible.

    Please call or email me with any concerns or questions. If you have any information about this person, please don’t hesitate to contact us here in the office at 927-3530.

    David Schrag
    Principal, Stanley Middle School
    3455 School Street
    Lafayette, CA. 94549
    925-283-1797 Fax

  • http://www.ousd.k12.ca.us Troy Flint

    I rarely venture into these waters, but I was struck by the debate over income disparity and the extent to which it impacts academic achievement in the Oakland Unified School District. One poster alluded to Oakland as a tale of two cities and proceeded to argue, essentially, that demography is destiny.

    The poster was right to note that enormous inequality exists in Oakland and that this inequality is often reflected in OUSD. He’s also right to say that we have not done enough to break the negative cycles and destroy the pathologies that exist in our city. Too often, the school system reproduces social patters instead of facilitating socioeconomic mobility.

    Yet, in the poster’s zeal to support his argument, he gave short shrift to the many accomplished students from modest circumstances and the “wrong” side of the hills who are not only persevering, but thriving, academically. On the whole, students in hill schools outperform their counterparts from lower elevations by substantial margins, but it’s students from the flatlands, or what Director Spearman prefers to call the heartland, who are driving some of the most impressive scholastic growth in the state of California.

    While we have far to go to produce acceptable results for all children, improvement in student performance is evident in every subgroup in OUSD and in every part of the city. Given this, it seems cavalier, even within the context of Internet rhetoric, to belittle the efforts of students from humble backgrounds who have authored remarkable achievements. To dismiss them outright is an injustice. So, then, in the interest of balance, a few thoughts:

    • Last year student achievement in the Oakland Public Schools grew 27 percent faster than the state average and OUSD’s performance on the main academic performance index (API) rose 19 points, the largest increase of all comparable districts.

    • In total, 44 OUSD schools lifted their API by 25 points or more, nearly doubling the state average of 14 points

    • Academic Percentage Index (API) is the state’s primary metric/shorthand for measuring student achievement. In 1999, OUSD operated 42 schools with API scores under 500. Today, just six remain below that mark

    • Ten years ago, five OUSD schools topped 800 on API. As we approach a new decade, 21 schools have bested that number.

    • Since 2004, Oakland Unified has raised its Academic API by a total of 92 points. The performance extended OUSD’s streak as California’s most rapidly improving urban school district. Over the past five years, no large, urban district in California has done more than OUSD to boost student achievement

    • Some specific examples:

    o At Futures Elementary, 70 percent of the students qualify for free and reduced lunch. This East Oakland elementary school boosted its API by a staggering 118 points, the highest in the District and one of the largest growth rates in the state.

    o Acorn Woodland Elementary is a school where more than 90 percent of students are eligible for free and reduced lunch. In 2000, Acorn’s API score of 384 was one of the lowest in the District. Over the past nine years, the school has more than doubled its API to 782, highlighting the type of progress Oakland has made as a whole.

    o Lincoln Elementary has been nominated for this year’s prestigious National Blue Ribbon Schools award. The school, located in Oakland’s Chinatown section, is the only school in Alameda County, and one of just 35 in the state of California, to earn this honor. Lincoln, a school where 77 percent of students are eligible for free and reduced lunch and 58 percent are English Language Learners, boosted an already robust API by 27 points last year. Its score now stands at a remarkable 933. In each of the past five years, Lincoln has earned the Title I Academic Achievement Award. The Title I Academic Achievement Awards salute schools that exhibit sterling academic performance while serving a socio-economically disadvantaged population.

    o Think College was also honored with a Title I Achievement Award and named a California Distinguished school for outstanding academic growth and success in narrowing the achievement gap. Ninety-five percent of Think College Now Students are eligible for free and reduced lunch and two-thirds are English Language Learners, yet TCN’s rapidly climbing API stands at 848 – higher than most schools with vastly more affluent student bodies. More than 80 percent of TCN students are testing at or above grade level (proficient or advanced) in Math.

    o At the middle school level, West Oakland Middle School saw its API skyrocket by 111 points while Claremont enjoyed a 90-point surge. At Urban Promise Academy, 46 percent of the student population is classified as English Language Learner and more than 90 percent is eligible for free and reduced lunch. Last year, UPA’s eighth-grade geometry class recorded the highest score – out of 17 OUSD middle schools – in OUSD’s spring assessment. Every student in the class passed the assessment and 83 percent received a mark of “exceeding”. The closest competitor saw just 50 percent of its students attain this level. No surprise, then, that UPA increased its API by 49 points and has emerged as a school of choice for many in East Oakland and other parts of the city.

    o Among high schools, Media College Prep boosted it score 79 points, while East Oakland School of the Arts produced a similar 73 point gain. Sojourner Truth (Independent Study) and Dewey Academy (Continuation) saw their scores rise by even greater margins, 102 points and 87 points respectively.

    o This does not even begin to address the various academies in place at the high school level. For an overview, please visit this link http://tinyurl.com/ycfwbyu (which you may have to copy into your browser). It describes some rare and valuable programs you cannot find at the typical high school – urban, suburban or private.

    Again, we have a long road to travel, but the progress is undeniable and so is the belief that demography need not equal destiny. More credit should be given to the students who live this truth every day.

  • Gordon Danning

    Union Supporter, but:

    I can’t speak to most of your post, but your information that students cannot have a career in mathematics without taking Geometry in middle school seems misplaced; I just looked at the transcripts of those of my seniors who are currently in AP Calculus, and almost all took Geometry in 9th grade. And, of course, Calculus is normally a college freshman course. I also have many, many former students who are at Cal, majoring in one of the sciences, so it seems that the OUSD mathematics sequence is not much of an impediment.

  • Union Supporter-But


    I am not talking about taking AP classes, I am talking about the tracking of careers in mathematics. The study was conducted by a group of researchers of gifted students and the researchers where from MIT, UCONN, UC Berkeley and Yale. They looked at mathematicians working in the field and found that the way these students thought about and worked on mathematics and thought about mathematics (not computation, which is what is taught in OUSD elementary schools) in a manner similar to professional mathematicians rather than mathematics students.

    I did not say that students are doomed if they don’t have geometry, only that the field of mathematics is filled with people who began serious study of mathematics long before high school and that only one middle school in Oakland offers geometry in middle school during the day.

    I think my comments are being construed as students cannot do well in Oakland public schools. Can students succeed, of course they can. However, are there any Nobel Prize Winning mathematicians, scientists, journalists, peacemakers, and policy makers coming from Oakland, no. There are actors, dancers, musicians, ministers, but not academics.

    My original discussion on this particular topic was in response to Sharon Higgins comments about the amount of money brought in by other districts. I was responding to what those districts report, are accountable for, offer and show for the money they receive.

    If you look at the STAR test results in science that are given four times in the school careers of public school students in only one grade do we even come close to 36% of our students working at a proficient level or better. For the other districts the lowest number of proficient or better in science is 85% – that’s the lowest number. Less than 8% of students score below basic or far below basic in science in any given testing period – yet 33% or more of our students are in the bottom two categories. In math, where there should be no “racial bias” the numbers are very similar in all of the districts – as they are in science.

    It’s very disheartening – particular if your own child is very, very strong in these areas and is not given the opportunity to learn even the basic minimum standards in these areas. My child’s elementary teacher did not even know the standards in math or science and in recent benchmark tests was SURPRISED at the content on the test. The teacher did not know that the 5th grade science test is made up primarily of 4th grade material. The teacher did not realize that the material taught in fourth and fifth grade is used to build on in 6th – 8th grades. The teacher was also unfamiliar with how to access the released test questions and the state standards from the internet.

    We can’t teach what we don’t know and are unwilling to learn. It’s that simple. Because in Oakland we have worked so long and hard to teach reading, writing and arithmetic (rather than mathematics), that many of our teachers have not stepped up to learn grammar, complex sentences in early elementary writing, life sciences, physics and geology. I wonder if the teachers in our classrooms had to take the CSET math, history, geography, and science tests if they could even pass them.

    When we teach at the lower levels and parents must spend $3,000 – $5,000 per year (or apply again and again for grants, scholarships, waivers or work-study) to supplement foreign language, math, science, writing, and drama in elementary and middle school, they are often reluctant to spend even more money on taxes.

    By the time a family has had to do this work for two children, it is often easier to rent an apartment or condo in Orinda, Lafayette or Danville and pay the $750 – $1,000 “required” contribution to get the educational needs met.

  • Gordon Danning

    Union Supporter:

    I haven’t seen the study to which you refer, but from your description of it, it seems to have little relevance to any assessment of OUSD. I am sure that gifted students think about math in a matter more similar to professional mathematicians than to their less gifted peers, because professional mathematicians were once gifted students themselves. But,neither of us has any clue as to how OUSD’s gifted students think about mathematics, nor whether taking geometry in 8th grade rather than 9th grade has any bearing thereon. I do know that OUSD’s math offerings have not seemed to be much of an impediment to our graduates’ pursuit of higher education in the sciences. So, who cares? Dont we have other things to worry about?

    And, your comment that there are no “Nobel Prize Winning mathematicians, scientists, journalists, peacemakers, and policy makers coming from Oakland” is silly. Do you have any data whatsoever showing that OUSD alumni is underrepresented in those field, after controlling for race, income, immigrant status, etc? Of course you don’t.

    Finally, you are correct that, as I understand it, many schools are reducing time spent teaching science, history, etc, in favor of the basic skills that are tested on state tests. But, instead of bellyaching, why don’t parents get organized and pressure the State to create tests that assess the things you want your children to learn? If it is on the state tests, it will be taught. If it isnt, then you need to cross your fingers and hope that your child gets a teacher like me, who doesn’t care whether the school scores well on the state tests.

  • http://perimeterprimate.blogspot.com/ Sharon Higgins

    Several years ago at a School Site Council meeting I attended at my daughters’ middle school (Bret Harte), it was explained to us that low-achieving-in-ELA students were now being required to forgo one of their elective classes to take reading. Low-achieving-in-math students were required to forgo an elective class and take a supplementary math course, in addition to their regular math course. Students who had to do both things would have to miss out on a science class. Because fewer students were taking the elective classes anymore, some subjects and sections were eliminated, along with those teaching positions. This is what narrowing of curriculum is all about.

    If low performing students happened to be talented in art or music, and got some enjoyment out of those classes during the school day, it was just tough luck for them.

    Sufficiently achieving students were able to take World Language and/or another elective, such as music or art. An A-period (early am before the regular school day) provided the opportunity for motivated students to take two enriching electives.

    When I mentioned at the meeting that this approach just seemed like a form of tracking, two visiting district administrator-types bristled and huffily replied, “No it’s not! Students re-enter the regular classes after their remediation is over and then they are caught up with everyone else!” But that isn’t really the case, because while some students were experiencing remediation, other students were advancing along and learning a whole range of other things.

    Our pathetically-funded and highly stressed schools will NEVER be able to close vast social class differences by themselves. Remember how NCLB was supposed to accomplish that by 2014? Hah! But no matter, since schools have been given that impossible task (that mantra of ed reform these days is a red herring so people don’t fuss about the real socioeconomic problems like a chronic inadequacy of decent paying jobs in urban areas), we will continue on the path towards even-more-extreme segregation in OUSD’s schools. The flatlands will have mostly for- and non-profit charter schools, staffed by TFA-types (young, disposable, compliant) and will offer a limited range of instruction based primarily on purchased materials (= scripted curriculum). The range of electives will be narrow. The schools will be managed by the charter management’s organization board of directors, most of whom are non-Oaklanders and have not been elected. Students will be nicely sorted according to the types of students they are, and the types of parents they have.

    It will be interesting to see how many hills and transitional zone schools will evolve. With no charter cap it is likely that we will be looking at new schools like Upper Broadway Charter High (formerly Oakland Tech), Hills Estates Charter High (formerly Skyline), Park Blvd. Charter High (formerly Oakland High). The schools now occupying the former Fremont, Castlemont, and McClymonds campuses will most likely belong to Aspire, Green Dot, Leadership, or other upcoming major CMOs.

    By the way, it’s interesting to note that Piedmont Unified has a very high special ed population (13% to OUSD’s 10%). According to the Piedmont teacher I spoke with who clued me in about this fact, theirs is a highly litigious parent body which likes to make sure their children have plenty of special accommodations when it comes to test time.