School gardens: one controversy I never thought would see the light of day

school garden at Claremont
Photo by D. Ross Cameron/Oakland Tribune

Some light reading for the rainy weekend:

Writer Caitlin Flanagan thinks school gardens are a rotten idea, especially for children of migrant workers. She blasts the Berkeley schools’ initiative in an essay titled “Cultivating Failure” in the January/February issue of the Atlantic.

Andrew Leonard, a Berkeley parent who helped build the garden at Malcolm X School, responded to Flanagan’s essay in a piece for Salon.com. Continue Reading


Teachers union gets a jump-start on strike vote

teacher contractOn Wednesday evening at Oakland Technical High School, Oakland teachers will vote on whether to authorize its leadership to call a one-day strike — not now, but in a month or two. 

When I first saw a flier advertising the membership meeting (which, ahem, includes an unattributed Tribune photo apparently lifted from the Web), I was confused by what I read. Why a vote at this stage, weeks before a strike is legal? Continue Reading


Smith: OUSD faces an even deeper budget hole

Gov. Schwarzenegger promised to protect education funding last week. I guess that all depends on how you define “protect.”

At the board meeting just now, Oakland Superintendent Tony Smith said the district’s budget hole for 2010-11 — once projected at about $28 million — will deepen to nearly $36 million if the governor’s proposal holds.

That’s about $201 per student.


Families alerted about attempted sexual assault of 12-year-old — a week later

It was about 4:05 p.m. when a man jumped out of the bushes on 14th Street, east of Adeline, and grabbed a 12-year-old West Oakland Middle School student who was walking home from school with a friend; the man — whom neither of the girls knew — tried to pull down her pants, but a passerby screamed and chased him away, the girl’s mother said.

That was Jan. 4 — nine days ago. The following day at school, just down the street from where the attack took place, the girl reported the incident to the police. But school officials have waited more than a week to tell families on the old Lowell campus about the potential safety threat in the neighborhood. (A bulletin might have gone out today.) Continue Reading


No voice for teachers

Steven Weinberg, a retired Oakland middle school teacher, critiques the lack of teacher participation and other problems in the crafting of “standards,” the content that is taught and tested in schools.

steve weinbergThere are a number of problems with the standards that are now being used to guide K-12 education throughout the United States. As I wrote in November, the standards are too long and detailed, and they make it difficult for teachers to cover material in enough depth to give students the best possible education.

This problem is a natural result of the process used to develop these standards. State (and now federal) standards are designed by large committees drawn from a sizable geographic area. Teachers, whose jobs do not allow them to travel frequently to attend such meetings, are poorly represented on these committees. Continue Reading


A union leader calls for better teacher evaluations and less “glacial” due process

randi weingartenI finally had the chance to read Bob Herbert’s Op-Ed in the New York Times about American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten: specifically, about her proposal to create more rigorous teacher evaluations and ways to help teachers improve, as well as a more efficient disciplinary process for teachers accused of misconduct.

In a speech today (which you can watch for yourself in the video below), the AFT president said that while it was important to protect teachers from false allegations, “too often due process can become glacial process.”  Continue Reading


Students to perform modern version of Shakespeare tragedy, set in Oakland in 1989

Hamlet: Blood in the BrainHamlet, a well-known work of Shakespeare performed at high schools and colleges across the country (and even in a high-security prison, one of my favorite “This American Life” stories), comes to the Oakland Tech stage this week.

Sort of. Naomi Iizuka’s “Hamlet: Blood in the Brain” is a modern, local re-telling of the popular tragedy. It’s set in Oakland in the late 1980s.

You can see the show at 7 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday and at 2 p.m. Saturday in Tech’s auditorium (Broadway and 42nd Street). It’s intended for an audience of high school age and older. Continue Reading


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.


After hit-and-run tragedy, a traffic light for Frick

Intersection of Foothill and 64th Avenue, East Oakland
photo by Giovanna Borgna/Tribune

The Oakland City Council has secured funding for a traffic light at that dangerous four-way stop on Foothill and 64th where 11-year-old Frick Middle School student Alana Williams lost her life in October.

In the meantime, a crossing guard is helping to keep the kids safe as they go to and from school.

Police, however, have yet to find the driver Continue Reading


Stability vs. happiness

Eugene W. LauToday in government class, we discussed the current spending trends of classmates and worked it back to how the recession impacted the United States. It showed how a lot of people are spending less, and spending more time with loved ones, and it reminded myself of a question I always ask myself:

For future employment, would I do it for money or happiness?

I’m scared. I’m so scared of taking a job where I’m doing it to support a mortgage and utilities and not to enhance my life. I would love it to do something where I have some talent, and then do it for the sake of my own happiness, but I’m sure that’s incredibly selfish. I argue with my mom at times about my conundrum, and my family’s point is clear. Work for the money, happiness comes with stability. Continue Reading