U.S. education secretary comes to Oakland, says he’s “a big fan” of superintendent

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan visited Oakland’s Merritt College and Berkeley’s Longfellow Middle School today. The news media were not invited to a roundtable discussion at the community college this morning (boo!), so all I have for you is a snippet from a press conference afterward.

I asked Duncan what he thought about Tony Smith’s vision for Oakland’s public schools. Here’s what he said, after praising U.S. Representative Barbara Lee:

The second reason why I’m here is that I’m a big fan of what Tony Smith is doing. I think Oakland — I’ve said repeatedly this morning — Oakland as a district, all of us know, has struggled for a long time, and I think Oakland with his leadership, the board’s leadership, the union’s leadership, with the community’s leadership, with the business community’s leadership, Oakland coming together, I think, has a chance to make fundamental and dramatic progress and can help demonstrate to the country how urban school districts can revitalize themselves. And so I’m extraordinarily encouraged by his leadership, by his courage.

This is hard work. It is not easy. The status quo here simply isn’t good enough. I said it in the earlier meeting, if you look at Oakland’s ninth graders and you look at Oakland’s 12th graders amongst African American and Latino ninth (and) 12th graders, we lose half. We lose 50 percent. That is unsustainable. That is morally unacceptable. And so we have to be willing to be challenge the status quo.

Tony’s leadership is going to be huge, but he can’t do it by himself. It’s got to be the entire community rallying behind these efforts. And I think Oakland — three, four, five years from now — could be one of the highest performing districts in the country. I absolutely believe that, and I will do whatever I can to be a good partner and to see this progress happen as rapidly as it can. I feel a huge since of urgency. We can’t keep losing half of our children to the streets. We can’t do it.

Katy Murphy

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

  • http://www.thefrustratedteacher.com/ TFT

    The status quo is poverty. I agree we need to change the status quo.

  • Nextset

    What a line of baloney.

    I’d have more respect for the OUSD high schools if they imposed an entrance exam and kept out anyone who read below 8th grade level. With the remaining students they could maybe get some real education done.

    The rest should go to schools of their own. For people who can’t read above 8th grade level.

  • oakland teach

    wow– the idea that we are going to be one of the highest preforming schools in the country is pathetically sad considering what is going on right now in flatland schools. I have 26 students in my class and have the materials for 20. How am I supposed to give individualized instruction to 26 five year olds when I don’t even have the materials?
    I am not getting paid extra to have 25% more students in my class. I do not get any support to have 25% more students. I don’t even have the space to have 25% more students.
    The budget cuts may not hinder hill schools from preforming in the green/blue, however; it makes a HUGE difference to me and my students. I love the population I work with, and spend 50+ hours a week to ensure their success yet I have felt like a failure since the beginning of this school year. I don’t know how to give my students what they deserve/need.

  • http://www.thefrustratedteacher.com/ TFT

    I don’t know how to give my students what they deserve/need.

    I think that may be the plan; make teachers jobs impossible, then blame them for failure, take over the schools, and make some money.

    America! F*ck Yeah!

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

    Well, I wasn’t there to hear Arne speak, but from your extended quote of him, what I’m left wondering is, “What?!” Did he actually say anything? Or was he just reiterating the word ‘leadership’ over and over? Did you get the sense that he even knew what Tony Smith’s plans for the district are? And on the subject of Arne and company’s plans for education ‘reform,’ read this:


  • Katy Murphy

    His responses were pretty general. But then again, it was a press conference — and about 10 minutes long, at that. Those who took part in the roundtable discussion must have a better idea about what he knows and where he stands (Anyone?).

    Tony Smith told me afterward that Duncan had actually read OUSD’s strategic plan or vision (or whatever the document’s called), so he probably does have a sense of what Smith’s trying to do.

  • Turanga_teach

    The Strategic Plan for double-digit data growth on test scores at the exact same time that intervention’s being cut due to economic issues and class sizes are rocketing up as high as 32 in a kindergarten I know of? Yeah, I read it too.

  • cranky teacher

    Arne Duncan is a wonderful example of how to get ahead in America:

    1. Be a white male who is good at sports and socializing(he was a star bballer at Harvard).
    2. Have wealthy, connected friends (a Wall Street friend made so much money he need to launder a bunch, so he set up Duncan with an education nonprofit in Chicago, so he could have something to do.)
    3. Jump straight to the top without paying your dues or learning the ropes (Duncan became second in command of the gargantuan Chicago school system straight from his job heading the nonprofit).
    4. Have powerful, connected friends (Duncan played basketball at lunch with a certain Barack Obama)
    5. Jump even higher, based on falsified data (his friend Obama made him Education Secretary and defended it on the basis of the alleged and debunked “Chicago miracle”)

    One of the odd things about being a teacher is that our society routinely provides evidence that goes against the “work hard, keep your nose clean, everybody can succeed” model of advancement we are supposed to be pushing.

  • Oakland Teacher

    Thanks Oakland Teach, Sharon, Cranky and TFT for saying all the things I was too exhausted to write. My job is so much harder this year: I have so many more students and so much less support, I have been too wiped out (after staying at school until nearly 6 each day and then bringing work home at night) to even think about responding in any coherent manner.

    One (rhetorical) questions: How am I supposed to bring my students up to proficient, when they have no transportation to get them to school? The new system at AC Transit has caused so much more absence and tardiness. When I call my families, they say they have no way to bring their child to school – no bus passes or money for fares. I feel like we are all being set up for failure.

  • http://www.thefrustratedteacher.com/ TFT

    Oaktown Teacher, you are being set up for failure.

    Just grin and bear it. Teach those who show up, and make them happy. Teach them what they want to know, along with what they “have” to know.

    What grade do you teach? (just curious)

  • Gordon Danning

    Cranky Teacher:

    Didn’t Arne Duncan graduate magna cum laude from Harvard? You make him sound like a dumb jock.

  • Public School Teacher

    Obama’s pick for this position should have been Dr. Linda Darling-Hammond from Stanford. Even Diane Ravitch would have been a better choice. Arne Duncan lacks the academic and research experience that these women have. He does come with some experience, growing up with a mother who taught inner city youth and of course, his work in Chicago. However, he lacks the empirical knowledge that ED researchers possess. This lack of experience will result in a flawed education plan.

  • Public School Teacher

    Challenging the status quo means extending school hours, universal preschool for all children and remediation in the early years to prevent students from passing with sub par reading and math skills. Simply closing schools because they are under-performing or not meeting their AYP targets is too easy and a recipe for disaster for public education in America. Under the current system, kids with parents who can afford it and value education either switch to private or move to neighborhoods where the public school has high test scores. Kids in under-performing schools who show academic promise and with savvy parents will opt for high performing charter schools. It is this self-selection that will gut local public schools of the kids they need to balance the achievement levels of every classroom. Kids rise to the occasion when their peer group excels. It’s called socialization. When the peer group is lackluster, the end result is what we see now at many schools.

    Since this is the reality of education in America, the only antidote to the situation is to invest in high quality schools that serve students academically and emotionally. Extending school hours, providing nutritious meals and snacks and offering summer remediation will do the job. Also, I might add, a parent contract where they have to agree to read to their kids and ensure they complete their homework. If this is impossible for parents, as it may be due to work schedules, poverty or language, the school needs to step in and provide those services.

    Finally, finance a proper Art, Music and Physical Education program for all students from K-12.

  • Changetheperception

    As an Oakland resident interested in education I would like to say that it is absolutely fantastic that Arne Duncan would come to visit Oakland and OUSD. Instead of bemoaning his visit or debating whether or not he is a dumb jock, can’t we as a city just listen to his message, look at the progress that OUSD has made in the last 5 years (most improved school urban district in CA for 5 straight years)and begin to believe that our school district could be a national model in 3-5 years? Of course there are lots of problems still to be tackled in OUSD and many things have to change in many classrooms across the district, but we cannot continue to berate the district when in actuality the improvement and growth that it has created should be commended. I am glad that at least Secretary Duncan has noticed, and is willing to promote, hope for OUSD.

  • cranky teacher

    I never said he was dumb. As an ex-jock, I have no such bias. I know people who knew him in high school, and they never said he wasn’t smart.

    My point was his insanely rapid rise was almost entirely about having friendships with the incredibly rich and powerful, not based on results, experience or knowledge.

    And: He has NEVER worked in a school in any capacity — not as a teacher, counselor, psychologist, security guard, custodian or administrator. I believe it is very hard to understand education if you’ve never worked at the ground level.

    Whatever, education is still a state-based game, so it doesn’t matter that much who the DofE chief is. And Duncan can represent Obama’s corporate/triangulation DLC education policy as any other flak. My point was bigger.

  • Jenna

    I believe Oakland is bringing more students who have not tested well up to standards in Math, Reading and Writing. It started long before Tony Smith.

    Unfortunately, our district has chosen to move students from the bottom (far below basic, below basic and basic) to proficient; we have even moved students who are proficient to advanced. We did so at the expense of completely ignoring the advanced, highly motivated and gifted students in elementary school, given those same students very, very little if they stay in Oakland public schools for middle school and given them the same few crumbs for high school – with the exception of Oakland Tech. If you have very strong parents, who are willing to be at the school weekly or more advocating on behalf of their children they can have advanced classes if they are willing to have 40 students in the class.

    Tony Smith is an advocate of the students of color and the poor. He is helping with medical and mental health care, English language classes and safety issues. The education is improving for those students. And, they are able to show what the have learned on standardized tests – something many people in Oakland and across the US thought was not possible.

    In Oakland, we do not give the same care and quality to the education of students who enter school reading, who learn math concepts the first time they are introduced (without repetition) and who come with a great deal of science practice who are able to design experiments and document results in kindergarten and first grade. We nearly ignore the needs of these students in elementary school which is why many of the students in this category move on for middle school and rarely return for high school, even when there is a reasonable high quality alternative.

  • Nextset

    Public School Teacher – While I agree with some of what you would propose to help the education disaster we have in this country I must point out that to the extent you believe we should do things across the board you are terribly wrong.

    All people are not created equal. Only some people need either remediation or any of the measure you would propose be generally adopted. The first job of education is to assess the incoming students – and do it periodically – to determine who needs what and where the upper limits of reach are for the various students. Literacy is the essential job of the primary grades.

    Many/most prospective students are not college material and never will be, and from early on they need to be given programs that are reasonably expected to train them to take care of themselves and be employable. To a large degree this can be self sorting – as in Europe and most other places in the world. It is wrong to force square pegs into round holes.

    Lower level (prole) education should have an emphasis on discipline and conforming to authority. The upper class will have that also but not in the same way. You cannot keep the students off welfare and out of prison and the graveyards if they are conditioned to say and do whatever they want whenever they please. Discipline learned in adolescence is what they use to plot time and place for risk taking.

    So while we need objective standards for acceptance and retention in the various programs – similar to the UK – no, we do not need universal preschool and any other one size fits all education. We do need abolition of affirmative action and every other program designed to force gender and race parity. People are not created equal and the sooner that is made clear to the students and their “teachers” the faster they can get on with working the advantages they do have – and coming up to minimum standards they should have.

    I have said this before. The top 20% of our students will teach themselves if they have to. They will do well regardless of the rotten public schools. For one thing, they don’t go there to a large degree. Public Schools are largely about the proletariat especially in the urban areas. We used to do better by them (1900s through 1960s). We can restore the role of the public schools as engines of social mobility by doing what works and ending the failed social experiments of the last 50 years. The brighter minority students in the urban schools are being crushed by miseducation that doesn’t allow them to survive competition with Ken, Barbie & Irving. That can be fixed or else the Charter Schools will have to be the ones who fix it.

    Brave New World.

  • Gordon Danning

    Cranky Teacher:

    Ok, I see your point. It certainly would be better to have leaders with in-school experience (though I certainly have known administrators who have forgotten everything they experienced as teachers).

    But it seems to me more important to focus on what Duncan is doing, as opposed to how he got his job. For example, he/the Obama Admin is pushing states to use new tests “that will measure higher-order skills ignored by the multiple-choice exams used in nearly every state, including students’ ability to read complex texts, synthesize information and do research projects.” http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/03/education/03testing.html?_r=1&ref=arne_duncan

    If that happens, then IMHO he will go down in history as the best Secy of Ed in history, and the Obama Admin will be successful regardless of what else it accomplishes (or doesn’t) in domestic policy.

  • cranky teacher

    I lost a lot of faith in him when he rushed to support the controversial reconstitution of an entire impoverished school district in the Northeast. Reconstitution is a scam that would never be allowed to happen in middle-class schools. I studied the results when San Francisco tried it in the 90s and it was ugly.

    Maybe it was the right thing to do, but his jumping into the fray from afar, as if reconstitution was a ‘pure good’ seemed opportunist and wrongheaded in the extreme.

  • Me

    re: Cranky Teacher’s comment

    Tony Smith has a similar trajectory by the way…

  • Chauncey

    Blah, blah. blah…………

    proof is in the data. Meritt College!Nice campus, terrible school!

  • TheTruthHurts

    @Jenna Post 17. I can live with that no problem for about 5 years until most students are proficient. Can’t focus on everything and if I had to choose, that would be my choice. I agree, this didn’t start with Smith.

  • OaklandEdSupporter

    Nextset–I have lurked on this blog for many months, and often see this sentiment in your comments: “The first job of education is to assess the incoming students – and do it periodically – to determine who needs what and where the upper limits of reach are for the various students. ”

    “Many/most prospective students are not college material and never will be”

    I think your premise of “upper limits” is faulty. Are your ideas based on historical/anecdotal evidence or scientific study?

    Scientific studies indicate intelligence is malleable, not fixed by birth. Certainly, socioeconomic factors have their effect, which is precisely why schools are so important.

    If your beliefs are rooted in historical/anecdotal evidence, then they are flawed. In the past, students who were “not college material” were low-income or had learning challenges. I hope we have come far enough as a society to realize that those factors should not be undeniable determinants of future success.

    If a student chooses to not pursue a college track, as you assert is the norm for sorting students in Europe and elsewhere (although, I would be curious to know if it truly is choice or limits placed upon them based on early testing or demography), I support those choices.

    However, the unfortunate norm has too often been that students don’t have that choice. My only experience with tracking (as a former public school teacher) is that it serves to reinforce long-held stereotypes and stagnate students’ learning. If education is serving its purpose, students should have opportunity for mobility, and that is too often not the case.

  • Jenna

    #23 Truth Hurts – I also agree with you. However, what this means is that if OUSD were fair to those students, they would release them to attend districts who would meet their needs.

    Parents must fight and threaten legal battles to get students released from Oakland even when other school districts will take them and be willing to meet their educational needs.

    Oakland cannot be all things to all students which is why they must be fair and release them to school districts willing to take the students and allow them to advance to the highest levels they are capable of attaining. Fair is fair.

  • Jill

    It’s nice that Arne Duncan came, but more importantly, how do all the mayoral candidates and city council members feel about the new “plan” for OUSD? This “solution” calls for multi-agency support and real change beyond what a school district can do alone. If the city leadership (and Sacramento leadership) doesn’t really support it beyond lip service and won’t provide the resources, that’s a big problem. Katy, have any of these politicians taken a position or commented on this vision for OUSD?

  • ChangethePerception

    Jill –
    I read on the GO Public Schools website (www.gopublicschools.org) that they will be recording interviews of all of the mayoral, city council and school board candidates and posting the candidate’s answers on their website. I would imagine that most of the questions would be education focused.

  • Katy Murphy

    That’s a good question. I’ll pay attention and let you know what I hear. I believe we’re taping interviews with the mayoral candidates too, and I’ll post a link once they’re up.

  • Cranky Teacher


    Are you serious? No district can restrain a kid from transferring. Where are you getting this info? The issue for Oakland students is not getting OUT of OUSD it is getting another district to accept them, either legitimately or through fake addresses.

    Please provide evidence for such an outlandish claim.

  • Cranky Teacher


    If “most of the questions” are indeed “education focused,” that is just silly — since the mayor and city council have no authority or funding for the school district, which is state funded.

    As for school board, I would think ALL of the questions would be education focused.

  • former hills parent

    Cranky teacher: Your statement is not accurate. A student must first get an Interdistrict Transfer form signed off from their home district, which then can be taken to the receiving district, who can chose to allow or disallow a transfer. However, the home district can deny the transfer. Parents, ultimately, can appeal to the Alameda County Board of Education. This group frequently sides on with the parents.

  • Jenna

    Cranky Teacher:

    As an OUSD teacher who wants the best for each and every student in the district, I am surprised that you do not know the procedures in your district for transfers out of OUSD. They are on the website, and as a district employee, you have access to download forms that we parents do not have access to.

    The only reason that OUSD approves the transfers is for parents employment – and only to age 12.

    Try emailing a district representative to answer questions and help with the transfers. No emails are returned.

    Then, in frustration try visiting the district office on second street – you will be told, as I was, to visit several offices, none of which will help you, then they will look on their own website and ask if you work somewhere else, no? No transfers will be granted. Maybe, if you threaten a Williams Complaint for inadequate education to meet the needs of your child. But the process is long and laborious.

    Before you make outrageous comments about the bloggers not knowing what they are talking about, and asking them to PROVE to YOU – please do a simple check on your own employers website. And do not ask us to lie about our address to have our children’s needs met. I hope you are not asking children to lie in your class – quite frankly that would be wrong.

    All I am suggesting is that if Oakland cannot meet the needs of a particular group of students, they release them to a school district who is at least willing to try to meet the needs of the students.



    If an Oakland resident wishes for their child to attend a public school outside of Oakland, the parent/guardian must submit an Inter-District Transfer Request with supporting documents. Valid reasons for requests include, but are not limited to:

    1. Parent Employment (SB170) – You must provide proof of full-time employment

    2. Continuing Status – If your child is already attending the requested school outside of Oakland, you must provide the most recent report card.

    Directly from the OUSD website

  • Hot R

    Agree with Jenna. Each child represents $ to any district. OUSD intends to hang on to their students without any reference to educational “needs” despite overwhelming evidence of failure at many levels. Of course, this flies directly in the face of the best interests of the child (but maybe that goes without saying).

  • Cranky Teacher

    Ouch, looks like I really screwed up on that one. Apologies all around.

    That’s clearly an extremely unjust rule and process. Is that a state-wide pattern to keep “respectable” districts from being flooded with applications?

    And yes, if it was my child, I would lie to get around that kind of b.s. — and I think you’d find me to be one of the most assiduously honest folks around. Some things are unjust enough to warrant subterfuge.

    If you think Piedmont or Alameda schools are to going to save your child’s life, do what you gotta do.

    When I was a kid, a friend used my house as his address — even kept his old boy scout uniform and some clothes in a drawer in the extremely unlikely case of a home visit. His mom simply did not want to send him to a school where he would have been a minority of one. I have no problem with her decision.

  • Jenna

    My sons happen to be minority and provide excellent test scores. There are schools in Walnut Creek that want the minority status with great test scores. This is an assumption on my part because our name does not betray the minority and initially we were not offered slots. Upon presenting our Native American Nation Identification however, the boys were offered spots. Both times we presented three years of CST results, GATE identification and a portfolio of work.

    We are still fighting OUSD.

    Kids are willing to take BART and a bus.

    And still we fight.

  • On the Fence

    I must be misreading post #36.

  • Alice Spearman

    Regarding Post#36, John, stating that you make students leave if they are not smart, proves that you are defying the law. The Charter law states that you are to take “all”students no matter their “intelligence”
    Being a good frien of Ben Chavis, your predicessor, I think he will have “words” for you.

  • Cranky Teacher

    Folks, remember, this is the Internet — John Glover may not really be John Glover.

  • Katy Murphy

    I checked with the real John Glover, who said he did not write comment #36.

  • Katy Murphy

    P.S. I removed the post in question.

  • John Glover

    Thanks, Katy. They say imitation is the highest form of flattery, but I’m not sure that applies to libel, too.

    We take all comers at American Indian, and we set high expectations for everyone. Did you know that over 90% of Oakland’s passing AP Calculus AB scores for black and Latino students came from AIPHS? To accomplish this, we must be serving a diverse student body (and serving them well).

    Alice (and anyone else curious about our schools), you’re more than welcome to come see what we’re up too over here – stop by anytime. You will see kids working at a wide range of levels. You’ll also come to understand that I consider it a personal failure whenever a student leaves our school by any means other than graduation. Never have we expelled a student at American Indian.

  • Alice Spearman

    The Real John Glover,
    SORRY! At one point I really thought I did not know the person who wrote the post, I am so glad it was not you. I knew that AICS worked with all children, but as I have found out on this board folks will tell you one thing and do the opposite. We all know that we do have charters which do exactly that, push out low performing students. Being Chair of the Saftey Committee, we are seeing many, many students being pushed out/expelled from charters who do not deserve the punishment, however they are low performing students. Also around testing time, one should see the students requesting admission to the public schools after the charter recieve their ADA. Makes one guess.

  • Cranky Teacher

    Alice, if the testing mania continues to deepen its hold on evaluations, funding, etc., you will see such bad habits in all public schools, not just charters.

    If benefits accrue to those schools with the best test-takers, we can expect to see all the same kind of enrollment and recruitment shenanigans we see undertaken to secure high school quarterbacks and point guards, except on a mass scale.

    If the entire society is going to look at my school through the lens of API, why the hell shouldn’t we DHP the hell out of lousy and truant students?

    Oh, yeah, because we have morals, and we care about the struggling individuals. But why should the system be antagonistic to good morals?

    As for John Glover, screw you: I have talked to former students of your school who are EXCELLENT students yet because they didn’t fit in to your scheme were HIT and MOCKED relentlessly by ADULTS, put in detention and isolated for WEEKS on end. And no, I’m not talking about “thugs,” these are SpEd kids. You don’t have to expel them, you just make their life a living hell until they beg their parents to leave.

  • harold

    re: American Indian … i heard from two students who wanted to transfer this year that the school was “playing games” … by not releasing their transcripts in a timely fashion. Both students have very high GPA’s.

  • Gordon Danning

    Also re: American Indian:

    I have 4-5 students who transferred from American Indian. They are all very good students, and when I asked why they transferred, they said things like: “It used to be all about academics, but now it is all about discipline.” They also told me that in 9th and 10th grade, they had the same teacher for multiple subjects, so I wonder how 1 teacher can be credentialed in all of those things. Finally, they said that they were told that they were enrolled in AP classes, but their trancripts say otherwise. I checked the College Board website, and indeed it lists only 3 approved AP classes at American Indian.

    Perhaps this is all something for an investigative journalist to look into.

  • Sue


    I thought the same thing in regards to the credential issue when I spoke to a neighbor who transferred out a few years back. They absoultely hated the school.

    I have oft wondered How a school located in the Laurel, my neighborhood, have such a high percentage of Asian students? I believe they are over 80% of the campus population.

    This school is sneaky in my opinion. My neighbor said that they attempted to go to a board meeting yet the parents never knew when and where they were held. They later found out the only hold one meeting a year.

    Is this legal? The school has lost a lot of love over the past years from my view. I used to be a supporter , but am disgusted by what I have read and heard.

    Of course blogs are a space where anyone can be anyone and anything can be said, yet first hand stories are abound of this school. Too bad. Test scores will only carry you so far John Glover.

  • Alicew Spearman

    Cranky Teacher,
    Hold on to your hat, soon all staff including teachers will be evlauated on their product, how much has students learned (ie) retained. Public schools are no exception, there will be evaluations that look very different from what happens now.
    The point is no matter where our students come from, no matter what their living circumstancese are, they deserve a decent education. This learning process must be measured. Public Schools will look different, and no we will not push oput students because of low performance, education will again be something that peaks the interest of all students.
    This is just my opinion I believe it is in the Expectations of the Adults, who give students “passes” because of life’s circumstances. Our students can and will learn if they are expected too, no matter what life throws at them.