It’s not on the school reform menu, but the Oakland school district might order it anyway: the status quo.
This is a new development in OUSD, a shift in thinking that followed a conference call with state education officials late last week, said Oakland school district’s spokesman, Troy Flint.
Oakland school administrators had assumed the district would be eventually required to make one of four drastic interventions at schools on the state’s “persistently lowest-achieving” list, including closure, charter school conversion or the replacement of the school principal or staff. That, despite the fact that all of the Oakland schools on the list are new, products of similar reforms. At a town hall meeting on March 24, Superintendent Tony Smith called the process “unfair” and “unacceptable” — and then suggested that there was no good way around it.
That changed, Flint said, when the state department of education official in charge of the grant program confirmed that “there’s no mechanism for enforcement.” In other words, if schools don’t apply for the federal School Improvement Grant money — the carrot — there is no stick.
Flint said this information has opened the door for an alternative improvement plan, such as directing school staff to continue and/or refocus their efforts without starting over again from scratch. “That definitely changed the perspective of the people at the central office,” he said.
This is why more people should read newspapers! Two weeks before the conference call in question, my colleague Theresa Harrington wrote a story in which state education officials acknowledged they had no plans to punish schools that didn’t follow one of the four federally prescribed reforms.
The governor and other state officials have insisted schools that made the list because of poor performance on standardized tests are “required” to implement one of the models beginning next school year “to dramatically improve student achievement.”
But the requirements have no teeth, state education officials concede. The federal School Improvement Grant program — under which the identified schools can apply for grant money to fix their problems — is voluntary, and state laws requiring the changes do not specify a deadline, said Hilary McLean, spokeswoman for the state Department of Education. This means schools could blow off the legislation indefinitely and keep doing what they want, as long as they don’t mind giving up $50,000 to $2 million a year in funding.
“At this point in time,” McLean said, “there is not an enforcement mechanism other than public opinion.”
Then, I referenced this point again in my story about Smith’s town hall. Oh well, I guess they need to hear this sort of thing straight from the source.
In the meantime, parents and staff at Alliance Academy, Elmhurst Community Prep, ROOTS International and United for Success Academy are charged with choosing what they believe to be the best option for their respective schools by April 14. (A fifth school, Explore, was slated for closure before the state list came out.) Smith makes a recommendation to the board for each one. The board makes a final decision in early June.
For those of you who have been involved in the process, which way are the schools leaning? Which schools should go for the fifth option?