Tony Smith on federal school reform

“In a lot of ways, we are leading the race.” — Oakland Superintendent Tony Smith to Phil Matier in reference to the competitive Race to the Top grants.

Yes, OUSD applied for the federal funds (which it only stands to receive if California gets any money in the first place), though teachers union President Betty Olson-Jones says she will not endorse any program that uses a single test score to evaluate teachers or that lifts the state’s cap on independently run, publicly funded charter schools. “It’s one more quick fix that isn’t a fix,” she said about Race to the Top.

Katy Murphy

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

  • Proud Oakland Resident

    It is very interesting that the leader of the Oakland teachers has sacrificed the livelihoods of the very people she claims to be representing by placing her personal ideological views before the possible good of the group. She led a charge that didn’t support a local parcel tax that would have increased teacher salaries and now is saying no to free federal funding that would add money to a system facing over $23 million in cuts. It would be good to know if the majority of the OUSD teachers, possibly through a simple survey, agree with her views and support a lower paychecks and less resources for their profession, but we may never know because their leader seems to not beleive in data.

  • Jim Mordecai

    Proud Oakland Resident:

    Seems like you are saying a union head should support a policy of not looking before leaping as long as money is involved.

    The Anaheim school district–unlike me–supports many aspects of the so called education reforms that a district must commit to implement to apply to be part of the lottery for Race to the Top money.

    However, the majority of the Anaheim School Board didn’t want a pig in poke and refuses to sign on to the State’s Race to the Top memorandum that lacked details. Part of the Board’s decision to reject was lack of financing as an underfunded incentive that might not be forthcoming would be at best 1% of the Board’s budget. And, the Board noted it would be one time money with accompanying State mandates devoid of full funding. And, finally the Anaheim School Board refused to sign off on a State plan that has yet to be written.

    But, in Oakland the School Board has yet to take a position on the State’s Race to the Top memorandum of commitment to educational reforms tied to test scores, reconsitution of staff, and growing charter schools.

    However, without Board authorization, the Oakland Superintendent Smith signed on to the State’s memorandum supporting the State’s memorandum.

    I don’t see how a serious labor leader could sell out its members working conditions by agreeing to merit pay, reconstitution of school staffs and further growing charter schools.

    $1.8 million a year was what had to be paid some charter schools determined to be successful if Measure N had passed. Measure N money was to go to public school teachers but there was no requirement that the high scoring charter schools would spend their Measure N $1.8 million on its teachers. In fact Measure N was written so that many hard working charter school teachers would receive not one nickel of the $1.8 million.

    Charter schools are met to replace public schools. That $1.8 million would have attracted even more charter schools to Oakland, resulting in cutting the budget and teachers.

    And, it seems logical, not just ideological, considerations that would be the basis for a public school union leader to want to preserve public schools and oppose property taxes going to pay for charter schools.

    The charter schools don’t need to have public schools front for them in going to the taxpayers for a parcel tax, as they could ask the taxpayers for support on their own.

    Arizona just had a judge rule that charter schools are not public schools for all purposes. The issue was whether a teacher working in a charter school retained his Constitutional right of freedom of speech. Working for a private management corporation he lost his suit because, although charter schools are publicly funded, in the State of Arizona, they are privately managed leaving that teacher without his first amendment right.

    Oakland taxpayers should be able directly vote up or down if they want their tax dollars going to finance corporate charter schools that will take the taxpayers’ money but manage it privately.

    Our local Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner voted for the money, voting for SB 4 Romero and SB 1 Steinberg that were intended to put in the laws that make California Race to the Top acceptable. You couldn’t tell by the Assemblywoman’s two votes that at one time she was proud that she had labor’s support.

    Jim Mordecai

  • Oakland Teacher

    To Proud Oak Resident:

    There is no way I could possible give all the context that Jim’s posting does, but suffice it to say that the OEA President does speak for me. As an Oakland parent and homeowner (not even in my role as teacher), I did not approve of Measure N or Obama’s “Race to Nowhere”.

    As a teacher, I am outraged by both of them and wish our school board was willing to take the harder route to properly funding educational programs, including just saying no to spending more than is allowed outside of the classroom (on top heavy administration and consultants).

    I know this will stir things up, and regret that, but I would rather do without the money than compromise myself to having a single test be my instructional guide. And last year, my students did really well on the CST and could have earned me “merit pay”. I would consider it tainted money.

  • Gordon Danning

    I don’t know why any professional would object to being evaluated based on student achievement, IF the evaluation is based on 1) pretests and posttests; and 2) a high quality assessment that tests valuable skills, rather than a cheap and easy-to-grade multiple choice test. Unfortunately, California’s testing regime satisfies neither of those criteria.

  • Nextset

    Gordon Danning: Yes, you do know why. The reason is that all students are not created equal.

    The other reason is that Calif is a bankrupt and failing state and we all know there is no money to do any of the testing you would promise.

    You cannot gull the teachers and their labor unions into your scheme to cheat them of their pay. And you cannot fool the black and brown interests into creating a scheme where there is a (further) negative premium for getting involved with their students.

    So you can forget about your little scheme. It’s never going to happen. You will just take whatever political points you think you can generate in talking – because fundamentally what you are doing is advancing the “everybody is equal, nobody is below average” nonsense that educrats do to try to shake down more money into education money pits. There is no money. And you won’t get any at the expense of the teachers who want raises not pay cuts.

  • Katy Murphy

    FYI, Gordon Danning is an Oakland teacher.

  • Bruce

    The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) is now moving towards accepting an evaluation system that could include student test scores. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/12/opinion/12herbert.html Oakland teachers are affiliated with the National Education Association (NEA), not AFT, so this would have no direct bearing on Oakland, but this is a development worth watching.

    I completely understand how teachers would not want test scores used in their evaluation if all that was being done was seeing how high their students scored. However, I do feel that what we should be able to reasonably expect from every teacher is to advance every student in their classroom a year down the education continuum for spending a year in the classroon. I believe this is what Gordon Danning is suggesting with “pretests and posttests.” The question becomes do we have the tools in place to do this effectively? Teachers who have stable student populations in their classrooms are fairly easily evaluated in this way. How do we handle the transient nature of too many of our students in Oakland. If a child is moving from school to school and classroom to classroom, how could this factor into the evaluation? What about students who are chronically absent or tardy?

    There are many finer elements of a teacher evaluation system that includes test scores that would have to be teased out and addressed. In the end, though, if we are able to do that what we could end up with is making the lower performing schools more attractive financially to teachers who are confident in their abililties and willing to take the risk. After all, the potential for raising a student who is well below grade level more than one grade level in one year is greater than for a student who comes into the school year above grade level. Doesn’t it make sense to have incentives built in to put the most effective teachers with the students who need them the most?


  • Harold

    how do you pay Art Teachers, merit pay, if there are no state tests – that measure artistic abilities?

  • Gordon Danning


    There must be tests that at least purport to measure the standards that art teachers are asked to teach. Or, perhaps some teachers would simply be ineligible for merit pay. (By the way, I do not personally advocate merit pay).