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Considering Oakland High

By Katy Murphy
Friday, July 23rd, 2010 at 8:30 am in families, high schools, parents, students.

Nia Lozano, a middle school parent, tells us about a new group that’s building support for Oakland High School.

An interesting new group has formed in the Crocker and Glenview neighborhoods of Oakland. It was formed by some parents from Edna Brewer who would like other neighborhood parents to consider Oakland High.

This is truly the first time I have ever heard families musing about Oakland High, even among the die-hard, Edna Brewer, go public, local school advocates. The communities of Crocker and Glenview have been relatively silent about Oakland High, which is interesting given that the last time I checked their scores were only marginally lower than Oakland Tech and Skyline (and may have been better in some areas of math, I can’t recall right now.)

What I gather is that the new principal is well regarded and that may have sparked the interest, besides the fact that if parents could raise the community profile of Edna Brewer, they should be able to do the same with O High.

I am not an organizer of this, but on Tuesday, I went to a house meeting and heard a presentation by the principal and a huge showing of her staff. They all sounded sharp and really seemed to understand their audience (Glenview/Crocker middle to upper middle class families who care about education).

This really felt like an important beginning of something, but I don’t think I’ll be sending my eighth grader there next year. I have a fifth grader at Crocker, however, and would love to see the hills folks trickle down and make this a neighborhood public school, so I’m hoping to stay involved.

It was an amazing feeling to get the email inviting me to the first Consider Oakland High meeting and I thought “Duh, what took us all so long? I’d rather not drive to Tech.” Also, this would be the perfect trifecta for our neighborhoods: Crocker, Brewer, OHigh or Glenview, Brewer, OHigh!

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  • Teri Gruenwald

    Would it be possible for the Oakland High website to have a Course Catalog in pdf with a description of the courses that parents could download? The high school in my district, James Logan High School, offers that on their website. In addition to describing the classes, the catalog also identifies which classes meet the entrance requirements for CSU and UC.

  • Oakland Teacher

    The math sequence described in #150 is correct for all schools: after Geometry, you need to take Alg 2/Trig, then Math Analysis (aka pre-calc) and then you can choose to break Calculus into a 2 year sequence (AB, then BC) or just take BC. There is also the Stat option (AP) as well. So the person who says that Oak High does not offer 4 years of adv math needs to do their homework on what the math sequence is. One of my kids took the above sequence (starting with Alg 2) in high school, got “5″ on both the Calc AP tests (4 years of hs math) and got into UCLA, Cal and many Ivy’s with full rides to all. If they had wanted to skip Calc AB and just take BC junior year, then AP statistics would have been another option for the 4th year of hs. The AP track students in OUSD tend to actually be a year ahead of the “preferred” districts, who only rarely take Alg 1 in 7th grade. Anyone who says OUSD schools cannot meet their advanced child’s needs is just coming up with excuses. Tiresome!

  • Teri Gruenwald

    In response to #152, when I looked at the website, it was hard to figure out what the course sequences are for the different content areas, and there wasn’t a description of the classes. This is why it would be helpful to have a course catalog available either online or as a pdf file that also would outline what the various course options are for students (both AP and non-AP) to meet UC and CSU requirements for all content areas, PE and electives. I couldn’t find that on the website. If we want Oakland parents to choose Oakland schools, especially high schools, than OUSD and the individual schools need to make their websites easier to use so we can get the information we need to make informed decisions for our children.

  • Jenna

    Tiresome Oakland Teacher:

    Many advanced students are capable of taking algebra in 6th grade, it’s just that parents of these students must FIGHT the schools in OUSD. As I said before, if a student takes algebra in 6th, geometry in 7th, clearly that student is quite capable of compacting mathematics as is available in many schools with diversity. Statistics is not necessarily a “sequence” math course. It is sequenced because a school chooses to present it as a sequenced math course. A high level student would be able to take Statistics with Algebra 2/Trigonometry.

    This is particularly true as technically an 8th grader who took Algebra in 6th grade, and geometry in 7th grade could easily take Algebra 2/Trigonometry in 8th grade, IF it was offered as a option. Not one single middle school in Oakland, NOT ONE gives students that option, several other districts give that option to 8th grade students. Tiresome, but true.

  • Elaine

    I am a middle school math teacher in OUSD and also private math tutor in Alamo. One of my private tutor students (who really does not need a tutor) was in advance math in 6th grade. This means he took Pre-Algebra. He will now take Algebra in the 7th grade. My niece who has scored Advance on all CSTs and gets straight As is in Accelerated Algebra (in 8th grade) and now will take Geometry in the 9th grade. Another young lady that I tutored (who did need tutoring) took regular Algebra in the 8th grade and because she did not get a B on her final will now take it again in the 9th grade. Because unlike OUSD where we are pushing our students into classes they can not handle, San Ramon Unified has decided all students must have a strong B on all benchmarks in order to take Geometry. Lastly, this summer I also tutored several students in the Math ACT section and that test is very heavy in Algebra. So, if you really do not understand it (Algebra), it will haunt you forever.

  • Nia

    The choice between public school vs. private vs. charter vs. out of district vs. homeschooling is a difficult one for many parents. It is also a very personal individual choice based on multiple factors and underlying beliefs.

    For example, some people (of many ethnic/racial and class backgrounds) have the unshakable belief that privates are better, perhaps because they are successful products of a private education, or because they’ve been told ‘you get what you pay for’, or because of any other personal experience. One O High teacher above was very clear that, “A lot of parents commenting on here seem to think they can get the same thing for free. Not true in my experience.” Others have beliefs that charters, publics, out of district publics, home schools, etc. are the best option for their family. Some parents choose to have one child in private and one in public. We have read on this blog nearly every permutation of people loving or hating each of their options for any number of reasons.

    In my experience, people make their decisions based on very complex individual reasoning. I do not think that it is helpful or correct to imply that a person’s choice to attend a certain school boils down to them being ‘racist’ or ‘classist’ or to dismiss their concerns as ‘excuses’. I am also not inclined to state that there is a ‘right’ choice that all people ‘should’ make.

  • Jim Mordecai

    Nia:

    I agree that it is difficult for one citizen to pass judgment on what is the right choice for another in regard to schooling their child at a private, semi-private corporate charter school or a public school.

    But, as a private citizen I have made the judgment that I want my tax dollars going to public schools and not to pay my tax dollars to privative schools and/or corporate charter schools.

    I distinguish between corporate charter schools and private schools because private schools may or may not have taken out papers to make them legally corporations but all California charter schools that I am aware of make themselves corporations no matter how small of an operation. Not all but most charter schools across the nation are also legal corporations.

    Charter schools that are not corporations are public schools funded and managed by the chartering organization. And, that is a legal relationship that I can support.

    The corporate charter school issue for me is legal accountability and corporations are not legally accountable to the public. That is why there is has not been a single Oakland charter school governing board election put on the ballot. In the case of Oakland KIPP its charter school corporate governing Board is located across the Bay making its accountability to local control problematic.

    Jim Mordecai

  • livegreen

    I think Jenna’s point has been well stated & well focussed, which is that in the exceptional situation where students go beyond the most advanced levels of High School eduction, her research shows it is difficult or impossible to get OUSD’s ok to get more advanced Math education.

    In her post #149 she gives specific examples of other HS districts that are permitted to attend University level Math classes.

    Now that might not be the case for many students, but it is a specific, valid & constructive criticism of OUSD. One that it seems would have made her more comfortable considering an Oakland High School.

    It would be nice if OUSD good look into addressing the points Jenna has brought up.

  • livegreen

    I want to 2nd Terri’s point about Course Catalogs. This sounds the same as or similar to Curriculum. (Is it?) This is basic for any private school, and I’m amazed at how many OUSD schools don’t have them.

    I will be pushing for our OUSD Elementary School to implement this.

    Terri, does Edna Brewer have Curriculum or Course Catalogs?

  • Teri Gruenwald

    Livegreen,

    I’m not sure I understand your question. All schools have curriculum for each content/subject area. The state of California has very high standards at each grade level for all content areas, and curriculum is built around those standards. The standards for each content area build on what they previously learned or have very specific areas that they focus on. For example, 6th grade history is early humans, ancient river civilizations, and other great eras to study all the way up to the rise of the Roman Empire. 7th grade history has the fall of the Roman empire and goes into all these really interesting periods from early Africa to the Maya, Incas, and Aztecs, to Feudal Japan, the Middle Ages, etc. But in 8th grade history, it is all about American history from Native Americans to Reconstruction and beyond. It is easy to access content standards at the following website: http://www.cde.ca.gov/ci/

    Course catalogs, on the other hand, describe the different courses that a school offers. At an elementary school it is completely unnecessary to have a course catalog. And at a middle school, it’s probably not necessary either except, perhaps, in electives, if students have a choice in deciding what they want for an elective. (For example, in my middle school where I teach, 6th graders take an elective wheel so they don’t get a choice unless they want choir, band, or Spanish–which are year long classes. But in 7th and 8th grade, since they do get to choose either 2 semester electives or a 1 year elective, students do get a handout describing the elective and what they will be learning. (In 6th grade at Edna Brewer, students get a semester elective and either a full year or another 2 semesters of electives because they only have PE for a semester. My son did get a description of what they could choose from. He chose Band for the year elective and a semester elective that had to do with Science Exploration, but I can’t remember what it was exactly. In 7th grade he just took Band which is for the year, and he will continue with that in 8th grade. I don’t know what other electives Brewer offers.)

    However, at the high school level, students have many more choices of classes to take to fulfill the requirements for graduation and for CSU and UC schools. In this case, a course catalog is essential so that students can read a detailed description of what will be studied and whether pre-requisites are necessary. It helps them make informed choices. (It looks much like a college course catalog.)

    As for curriculum, many teachers at the beginning of the year send home a classroom plan with a general idea of what students will be studying during the course of the year, what projects they might be doing, what kind of writing they will be doing, what books they might be reading, etc., and what the expectations around homework are along with a description of the teacher’s classroom management, routines, supplies needed, etc. In my school, we are required to send one home with each student for each class and the parents/guardians sign off that they read it and provide basic contact information for the teacher and any other information the teacher requests (such as primary language spoken at home or concerns a parent/guardian has about their student, etc.). I find this a very useful way to introduce my class to both my students and their parents/guardians, and on Back-to-School Night, I can do a more indepth presentation with the understanding that they have already read this, so they know the basics. However, at other schools, this information is presented at Back-to-School Night.

    I hope this answers your question.

  • livegreen

    Yes, you did, but it only brings up more. Namely: -We got no such curriculum at our Elementary School for K (something we got at private pre-K); -If I go to Piedmont High or Piedmont Middle online & look under “Academics” I see complete class descriptions & options. I see nothing similar at Edna Brewer.

    Oakland High does have Academics but it is not nearly as clearly listed as Piedmont.

    I expect at least the basics, so the school can have the structure to launch from. If a minimum of organization can’t be established, it leads to questions, lack of focus, lack of confidence, & a certain amount of chaos.

    Now I realize that presentation is not everything. But this is basic. Curriculum is organization, expectations & goals. I don’t see that on the OUSD websites.

  • Gordon Danning

    Livegreen:

    1. Why do you say that OUSD makes it hard for kids to take college classes? I have students who take classes at local community colleges all the time, albeit mostly during the summmer. And the number of kids who are ready for math beyond the AP Calculus BC is so small that it is pretty silly to use availability of such a course as a criterion for selecting a school. Any student who is that advanced is probably in the top 1/10 of one percent, and yes, perhaps a large comprehensive HS is not the best place for him or her (just as it is not the best place for those in the bottom 1/10 of one percent)

    2. I agree that the OHS website is not a model of clarity, but I dont get what that says about the school, other than that we are not good at PR – is that a bad thing? BTW, the website is done by someone on a volunteer basis, so it is tough to criticize it harshly.

  • Steven Weinberg

    Mr. Danning, I agree with your general point, but don’t be quite so quick to decide that a public school is not the best place for the top 1/10 of one percent of students. The young man widely identified as one of the seven most brilliant math students of the last quarter century was an Oakland public school graduate. See this website: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gabriel_D._Carroll

  • Oakland Teacher

    I should change my wording at the end of #152 to include: or uninformed.

    I am sorry if a well-intentioned parent felt attacked, but it is tiresome (even more so as a parent than a teacher) to continually hear all the reasons why people do not send their children to Oakland public schools.

    As others have stated above, any student can take classes at community college which they are qualified to take (for math it is a placement test). Many OUSD students opt to take additional classes at Merritt or Laney. Advanced/superior students are able to learn and succeed in OUSD schools. Actually, my concern would be that at some of the smaller hs, less courses are available.

    Do some of the private schools have more enrichment classes – absolutely!

    The one person who was completely blunt/honest about her choice to send her kids to a private hs (to me), said “I am paying all this money for them to have a social life at school with their friends.” I still think that for the vast majority of kids who leave for hs, this type of thinking (fear of their child being a “minority”) is the underlying reason.

  • livegreen

    Maybe Jenna’s situation is an exceptional one, but she pointed out other Districts enable her to do this & it was a deterrent for her. I realize we’re not speaking to most students or most of where HS efforts/resources should be spent. But since the University would be doing the teaching online, & other school districts are flexible (she sites in her example), why not work with her?

    Re. online catalog, Terri brought up the point about Oakland High. As mentioned it’s spelled out better at O-High’s website than at Edna Brewer’s. My comment was expanding to Edna Brewer & all OUSD curriculum. In addition to explaining why Catalogs apply to HS but not Middle, Terri points out that standards are very defined by the State, and curriculum built around that.

    Well, the teachers and administration might know that, but the parents don’t.
    So if you don’t show the parents a curriculum, how are they supposed to know it exists? How are they supposed to know what their kids are going to be learning?
    (Yes, we can ask on an individual basis, but it seems a lot more complicated for the teacher. & A lot less organized).

    When considering OUSD (vs. other public schools or private) that’s one of the first things Private Schools offer. So beyond just knowing what is going to be taught, it influences prospective parent’s decisions to attend. We love our first year at Elementary school, but this seems pretty basic to me.

    BTW, I meant my comments generally. This is not on topic so, back to Terri’s comments about the Catalog online, and Gordon’s comments about the website being done on a volunteer basis: I don’t know how Piedmont handles it, but maybe OUSD (or a nonprofit they know) might consider helping fund & manage this?

    It’s pretty good for a volunteer website, but spelling out the School Catalog & programs is more than PR. It’s valuable research when deciding whether to go to the school, and having the info available for ongoing decisions.

    BTW, I don’t think I was criticizing it harshly. & I do see some of the classes spelled out under Academics. Maybe some small additions could just be made to spell out what “Math” coursework is being taught in 9th grade? (For example)

    Gordon, you and others have done that very well here. It just helps putting some of the same level of detail on the Website, so parents can use it as an evaluation tool.

  • livegreen

    Katy, Maybe you can take down my duplicate post. Sorry about that. & regarding OaklandTeachers comments, that is valuable information about being able to take extra, college level classes. Thank you for that addition.

  • Teri Gruenwald

    Livegreen,

    I don’t want to belabor this, but I do think that it’s pretty easy to find out what the curriculum is in elementary and middle school. The California Dept. of Education website is easy to access for the standards. At Back-to-School night at our elementary school, the teachers hand out the standards for their grade levels. They also have the books that they are using for teaching and discuss in detail what they will be doing in class. Having said that, I think it is also important for parents/guardians to be involved in their child’s educational experience to the best of their ability, so if you can’t volunteer at the school during the school day because of work or childcare commitments, you can certainly try to attend a PTA meeting (where childcare is offered) if your school has one, or attend a school event, or even just contact the teacher. My children rarely tell me what is going on in school–it’s always, “I forgot” or “nothing”. So it’s up to me to check their binders, their folders or whatever to see what they are doing.

    At our middle school, Brewer, more so than at our elementary school, Glenview, teachers use email and google docs to make information available and to respond to teachers. Also, Brewer uses Teacherease, an online grading system so I can keep track of my kid’s grades, email teachers, and discuss with my son what he’s doing in class or why he has a bad grade or even a 0 on something.

    I’m not saying that schools shouldn’t make better use of their websites. However, I can honestly say that it is difficult for a school to keep a website up-to-date. We have all experienced huge cuts in personnel. Many teachers don’t have the expertise to keep the website up-to-date, and those that do (my own middle school, like O High, relies on a teacher to do our website, are also teaching full time so they can’t always get around to it. I did a quick perusal of a few middle school websites. Piedmont’s and my own school’s (Cesar Chavez Middle School in Union City) offered the most information. And I will admit that I was surprised by my own school’s website. All that information is new this summer, so someone was very busy! I’m pretty certain that Brewer now has a parent who has volunteered to work on the website this school year.

    Having said that, though, I do wish that O High would publish its catalog online as a resource for students and parents/guardians.

  • Debora

    Teri:

    We are considering Edna Brewer for the 2011-2012 school year and I attended the planning session after sitting in on some 6th grade classes. I have to say that I walked into those classes with the 6th grade standards in my hand to compare the standards to the coursework and while some classes were working on the state standards, other classes were significantly off from the state standards.

    Also, I think it is an important planning tool to post on the website what students are expected to learn in a class so that parents can also see if the class, teacher and student are all on track for meeting the objectives.

    The weekly progress reports help a parent know if the student is meeting the teacher’s expectations, but it does not discuss at all the state standards in the classroom.

    I suggested that the state standards be discussed at a back to school night and be posted on the bulletin board for the wing of the sixth grade classrooms. My suggestion was dismissed.

    While I agree that parents should be aware of the state standards, really good schools, those that make sure that all or nearly all students are achieving the state standards, try to be transparent in what the state standards are, how the school is using time, materials (books and supplementary materials), teacher resources, after school help and counselors to support all students.

  • livegreen

    Giving out the Standards is great. But it doesn’t tell you what courses your children will be taking, and how the district, school & teacher will be meeting those standards.

    I’ll go back & look again at the standards we were given, & see how detailed they get. My recollection is not very. If I have further comments I’ll post separately from this thread which is (as I have pointed out) focussed on Oakland High.

    Thank you Teri, Karen & other parents for this discussion and your efforts. & Thank you to the teachers, parents & students of O-High for sharing so much valuable information & doing the hard work that is so important for our kids, families, & city.

  • Nia

    I understand that for most public schools, the school based websites (not the OUSD official site) are designed and run by volunteers to whom we owe gratitude. Edna Brewer has enjoyed the work of some dedicated and talented parent volunteers to help with their website. I do not wish to undermine their contribution and do not possess the skills to contribute to their efforts.

    That said, I think I understand Livegreen’s point about how information is presented and how accessible it is to parents. These websites may be a first impression regarding a school, and an ongoing resource to the parents/students. A few days ago when the topic on this thread turned to the sequence of math, I became interested in figuring out what math curriculum Edna Brewer, my child’s school, offered and if this differed from other schools. I tried to look this info up on our school website for EB and could not find it. It may be there, but I could not figure out where. I then went to Piedmont Middle School and easily found a graphic that showed how students progress through middle school. I think it showed how math sequenced for kids on average track, remedial and advanced. It was really helpful.

    Does the lack of a link to the math curriculum on Edna Brewer’s website really reflect a disorganization or underlying chaos in this school’s ability to teach math? I don’t think so. If I’m not mistaken EB has the same curriculum as any other middle school, in or out of the district.

    Does the public face (via website) make any difference to parents? It does for me. Last year I worked with Brewer’s elementary feeder schools so that they could post information about Brewer for incoming middle school students and was amazed at how beautiful, readable, and easy to navigate some of the websites or weekly schoolwide emails were (Peralta Elementary’s is pretty fabulous). Some feeder schools did not have a website or even an email list from what the office staff told me. More recently, I looked at Oakland Tech’s site and could see the courses for each department and the pictures of their staff (although I tried to do this again today and just got a fatal error message). For me, these public web sites really do make a significant difference and I think Livegreen’s message is important if we are interested in getting parents to consider any of their local public schools.

  • Teri Gruenwald

    Debora, I know that at Edna Brewer, teachers post a learning target each day and a Do Now and that both are supposed to reflect some aspect of the standards. (I think other schools do this as well.)

    As a teacher, I might choose to explore something I think is vitally important for my students but isn’t necessarily in the standards (for example, poetry writing is not a standard in California in middle or high school, although poetry analysis is.)

    In terms of teaching to the standards, some standards are much easier to teach in an isolated lesson or a short series of lessons than others. For example, the history standards for 8th grade are either vague, paint a broad brushstroke, or are almost ridiculously specific. In my own classroom, I don’t teach to the standards every day, and sometimes, identifying them might actually impede the far greater lesson that involves more critical thinking. For example, in 8th grade history, standard 8.4.1:Students analyze the aspirations and ideals of the people of the new nation: Describe the country’s physical landscapes, political divisions, and territorial expan­sion during the terms of the first four presidents–I spend weeks on this. Standard 2 addresses Andrew Jackson’s bank policy (which quite frankly I barely mention and instead choose to focus on Indian Removal and the Trail of Tears because those are far more important events, in my opinion, in the history of our nation. For Language Arts, I weave back and forth through the standards the whole year. There isn’t necessarily a linear approach to the standards in Language Arts, as far as I’m concerned.

    I can’t speak for Math and Science–which I suspect have more specifically-stated standards.

    I hope you do continue to consider Edna Brewer for your child. I think there are many good, dedicated teachers there, especially, but not limited to their Band teacher. Plus, I know there is a commitment on the part of the teachers and the administration to bring greater rigor and creativity to their teaching. Last year, the teachers and admin. presented a document to the parents/guardians at a very well-attended meeting seeking our input on their collaborative effort to create a vision and a plan. This was well-received by the parents.

  • Gordon Danning

    Steve Weinberg:

    Your point is well taken. Perhaps an even broader point is that parents should take a deep breath and relax a bit. It makes little sense to worry that a student will be hopelessly crippled if he or she does not take class X in high school.

    And one additional point re: an advantage that Oakland High has over Tech and Skyline and most private schools: Oakland High is majority Asian-American. In a world where China will be an increasinly important global player over the next 50 years, I imagine that a student who has spent 4 years in that cultural mileu will acquire certain advantages not available elsewhere.

  • Rita Krouch

    I’m a sophmore at Oakland High and I know Oak High is an amazing school. We may lack a music class due to funds but instead of sulking about the cut we started an after school class/club where you can practice your instrument. Everytime a student at Oakland high has a problem someone is there to help, if it’s a teacher or another student, nobody is alone. Most teachers at that school help us emotionally while keeping us in track of our standereds.
    As you know a week ago Raymond Justice was shot and killed last week. The school was sad and, at the students surprise, so were the teachers. They were crying along side us and allowing us to take in the fact that someone we knew and loved was gone. They didn’t rush us to do our work or yell at us for being so emotional, I found that captivating.
    The diversity at Oakland High is also one of the best qualities. We don’t measure a person by their beauty, skin color, or wealth, everyone understands that outer beauty is just that, outer beauty, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have inner beauty. If you walk through Oakland High you’ll see everybody talking, laughing, and playing around with different races, sizes, intelligence. We accept that being different is a good thing.
    Oakland High may have issues but we’re on our way to solving them. Students care because people haven’t given up on us, have you?