Federal dollars, struggling schools and Oakland Unified’s dilemma

Oakland has the chance to infuse five of its schools with an unspecified amount of federal money.

The thing is, the grant in question has some serious strings attached. It would require these five schools (well, four of them, since Explore Middle School is closing anyway) to make major changes — and to make them in a hurry, before the start of the upcoming school year.

At 8 a.m. tomorrow, Superintendent Tony Smith will make an announcement about the district’s plan and take questions at a town hall meeting in the Elmhurst auditorium (1800 98th Avenue). I’m sure it’s no coincidence that the public meeting will be held on a campus with two schools on the list — Elmhurst Community Prep and Alliance Academy, both middle schools that opened in 2006.

I don’t know exactly how much Alliance, Elmhurst Community Prep, United for Success and ROOTS International would stand to lose if they didn’t apply for federal money this spring, but something tells me the school district won’t pass up the chance for much-needed funds.

Should it? If Oakland does apply for the grant, which of the four federal intervention options should each school take?

Katy Murphy

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

  • Cranky Teacher

    The first three models are just outright blowing the places up and would be a big embarrassment for OUSD considering these schools are not only recent re-creations themselves but one of them was even touted in an article by Ms. Murphy as an example of “small learning community” success.

    The transformational model is the one they would likely apply for, and is a much more constructive — if also easier to fudge — approach.

    Here is what we are talking about, form the Title 1 list:

    * Turnaround model, which would include, among other actions, replacing the principal and at least 50 percent of the school’s staff, adopting a new governance structure, and implementing a new or revised instructional program.
    * Restart model, in which an LEA would close the school and reopen it under the management of a charter school operator, a charter management organization (CMO), or an educational management organization (EMO) that has been selected through a rigorous review process.
    * School closure, in which an LEA would close the school and enroll the students who attended the school in other, high-achieving schools in the LEA.
    * Transformation model, which would address four specific areas critical to transforming the lowest achieving schools:
    o Developing teacher and school leader effectiveness;
    o Implementing comprehensive instructional reform strategies;
    o Extending learning time and creating community-oriented schools; and
    o Providing operating flexibility and sustained support.

  • Steven Weinberg

    Katy, I remember reading somewhere that the transformation model could only be applied to half or less of the schools deemed persistently underperforming, and that at least half of the schools needed to follow one of the other options. What I don’t remember are the details. It may have been that a state had to pledge that to win Race to the Top funds, or it may be included in the new proposal for Title One. Have you heard anything about this? Thanks

  • Cranky Teacher

    Wait, “unspecified amount of federal money” — do you find out before you make the decision, or after???

  • Katy Murphy

    I think it might be after, but I could just be out of the loop.

    The state ed department officials said the size of the award depends on each application and the intervention option chosen. They were pretty vague during the news conference, and OUSD Spokesman Troy Flint told me yesterday he hadn’t seen any solid estimates either.

  • Cranky Teacher

    Would you gut your own home for the promise of an “unspecified amount of federal money” for its re-construction?

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

    Never forget the fact that pretty much everyone, from the federal level on down, is grasping at straws and/or making busywork for themselves. I just got my copy of “So Much Reform, So Little Change: The Persistence of Failure in Urban Schools” by Charles M. Payne, and I can’t wait to read it.

    From Harvard Education Press: “This frank and courageous book explores the persistence of failure in today’s urban schools. At its heart is the argument that most education policy discussions are disconnected from the daily realities of urban schools, especially those in poor and beleaguered neighborhoods. Charles M. Payne argues that we have failed to account fully for the weakness of the social infrastructure and the often dysfunctional organizational environments of urban schools and school systems. The result is that liberals and conservatives alike have spent a great deal of time pursuing questions of limited practical value in the effort to improve city schools.”

    Pedro Noguera, New York University: “Charles Payne shows why almost thirty years of school reform has brought so little change to urban public schools. Rooted in the reality of the Chicago Public Schools [Arne Duncan’s launching pad], Payne’s book contains lessons that are relevant to schools everywhere.”

    Richard J. Murnane, Harvard Graduate School of Education: “Charles Payne’s book is likely to anger teachers and administrators, conservatives and liberals, school reformers and the foundations that fund them. All will see themselves depicted as naïve about what it takes to improve urban schools. Many will see themselves depicted as part of the problem rather than part of the solution.”

  • J.R.

    That’s it exactly, leather chair shining busy-work.

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

    And speaking of useless reform attempts, in the Education Week news for today: “NAEP Reading Results Deemed Disappointing” [NAEP is an expensive national test which is considered the Gold Standard for measuring student progress]. Here are two excerpts:

    Reading scores stayed flat for 4th graders and rose only slightly for 8th graders on the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress, results that some find disappointing after many years of intensive attention to improving the reading skills of American students.


    “What NAEP shows us over almost two decades is that in reading there have been only slight gains and no sustained trend of improvement,” Steven Paine, West Virginia’s commissioner of education and a member of the National Assessment Governing Board, which sets policy for NAEP, said in a statement. He called the news “disappointing” given the “considerable amount of effort” devoted to improving reading.


    I’d say, when looking at the budget, we should hack off any unproven, commercial, and usually quite expensive programs that make grandiose claims to provide the “fix.” This district has a lot of smart, experienced teachers and should develop ways to tap into their body of knowledge instead.

  • Former Oakland Teacher


    If a district has nine or more Tier I and Tier II schools, it may implement the transformation model in no more than 50 percent of those schools. Since Oakland only has 5 schools, it has no such restrictions. This is addressed in Question H-21 of the federal guidance, http://www2.ed.gov/programs/sif/faq.html

  • Cranky Teacher

    Sharon, as usual, you provide a lot of thoughtful links and analysis to this site. Thank you.

  • livegreen

    Because our teachers in our schools are doing so well as it is…

    If they’re already in our schools, using their experience, yet they already have all the solutions, how come our schools have so many problems?

  • Katy Murphy

    I concur with Former Oakland Teacher. Here is the response I got from the California Department of Education to Steve Weinberg’s question about the transformation model — and to Cranky Teacher’s question about the fact that schools don’t really know how much money they stand to gain or lose by making these interventions:

    The transformation model is limited only in the following way for districts that wish to apply for School Improvement Grant funding and are among the lowest 5 percent of persistently lowest-achieving schools. For those districts that have nine or more schools, no more than half may use the transformation model.

    There are no formulas for how much an individual school might receive within the $50,000 to $2,000,000 range of funding. The amount will be determined by each application and board approval.

  • TheTruthHurts

    @Sharon, I agree in part. OUSD should use talent from within, but “proven” talent. I don’t care about experience or even smart. Who has been successful at the goal and can show others how to do it? Find those teachers, praise them, elevate them, showcase their work and hopefully it can be duplicated. There are great teachers out there who would love to have their successes duplicated.

  • Steven Weinberg

    Thank you Former Oakland Teacher and Katy for looking into the limits on the transformation model. And thank you Sharon for the book recommendation and the information on the NEAP results.

  • http://accomplishedcaliforniateachers.wordpress.com David B. Cohen

    It’s ironic that the turnaround model can identify these four factors that contribute to school success, and yet the whole approach involves undermining schools that might be trying to do just that. When your whole measurement of a school is test scores, and you don’t provide the necessary support or stability for school’s to make real progress, then it is such an insult to punish them for their failures and then require their replacements to do the exact things you failed to help the prior staff to do.

  • Steven Weinberg

    It is interesting that with all the talk from Arne Duncan about rigorous standards, one of the two states selected for Race to the Top, Tennessee, has the easiest tests in the nation according to the a comparison of state and NAEP scores by the U.S. Dept. of Ed. For example, in 8th grade English the lowest NAEP proficient score is 281. Only one state, South Carolina, has a proficiency score equal to that. California is 6th highest, with 261. Delaware, the other RTTT state, is 34th with 240 (lower than the NAEP Basic score of 243), but Tennessee shows up in last place with a score of 211, 70 points below the NAEP proficient level and 50 points below California. In other words, a student that Tennessee considers Proficient might test 32 points below what the NAEP considers Basic. Tennessee does just as poorly in 4th grade English and in 4th and 8th grade math.
    Some Race.
    Some Top.

  • J.R.

    That was one of my points, California’s standards are among the most rigorous in the country, even though we have by far the most English language learners.We also have the highest percentage per capita of title 1 children. We have teachers and students that do very well all things considered.