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It’s almost March 4. What are your plans?

March 4 posterI hear that quite a few kids and teachers plan to skip school tomorrow and join a huge noon to 4 p.m. rally in front of Oakland City Hall to protest the level of education funding in California.

But those who show up to class will take part in the March 4 Day of Action to Defend Public Education, too. At 9:15 a.m., public schools across Oakland will hold a short fire drill to symbolize the severity of the funding crisis. Later in the day, you or your child might be writing an essay on which spending cuts in OUSD would do “less harm” to students,  or reading about women who created social change through non-violent protest —  two of the lesson plans posted on the OUSD Web site.

[The district's plans for March 4 are listed here. A letter urging the public to contact the governor is posted here.]

Craig Gordon, a Paul Robeson teacher and union leader, has created a supplemental lesson plan that focuses more on issues between the union and the school district than between California schools and state government. OUSD’s curriculum director has declined to post it along with the other lesson plans. Maybe it was the prompt:

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State writing tests and the jet-setter’s edge

Steven Weinberg, a retired Oakland public schoolteacher, says California’s writing tests — which are likely being taken right this moment — do a poor job of measuring the abilities of disadvantaged students.

Steven WeinbergThis week, fourth and seventh grade students throughout California will be taking the state writing examinations. We can hope that the writing assignments the students are given will allow each student a fair opportunity to show his or her writing skills, but past assignments show that this has not always been the case. Some writing tasks have given large advantages to students from prosperous backgrounds and have made it very difficult for students from disadvantaged families to earn good scores.

The clearest example is the 2007 assignment. The prompt, which has been released by the state department of education, along with examples of student answers, read: “If you were given the opportunity to travel anywhere in the world for one week, where would you go? Think about a place you would love to visit and write a narrative describing the events that happen on your trip.”

This topic obviously favored students who had traveled somewhere exciting, and the examples the state released of high scoring papers confirms that. Continue Reading

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Oakland teachers union sets date for strike

OEA unveils its demands, way back in January 2008

If things continue in the next three weeks as they have for the last two years, Oakland teachers will hold a one-day strike on Wednesday, March 24.

The union can’t legally strike yet; it has to wait until a fact-finding panel (which heard evidence from both sides last week) releases a report with recommendations – probably sometime next week, or the week after that.

In January, the union’s membership authorized its leaders to call a one-day strike, so this is another big step in that direction. You can find the Tribune story about it here.

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Former teachers union prez to run for Oakland school board

Ben Visnick/Tribune file photo from 2006Ben Visnick led the Oakland teachers union for six years before Betty Olson-Jones succeeded him in 2006, after the near-strike of that year. I began covering the schools beat in the Olson-Jones era, so I haven’t interacted much with Visnick, who is reputed to have a more confrontational style.

But now he’s back — and ready to take a seat at the other side of the table. He spoke several times at Wednesday’s school board meeting, which happened to be located in his district (4), at Laurel Elementary. He is challenging two-term incumbent Gary Yee.

He has some bold ideas, too, from taxing individual Oakland residents who make more than $106,800 to consolidating the Emery and Piedmont school districts into Oakland Unified.

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