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College prep for all: Chicago’s hard lessons

Next fall, Oakland’s ninth-graders will automatically enroll in a course sequence that closely matches state university entrance requirements. The Oakland school board passed this policy, known as “A to G For All,” in 2009, a change that student leaders and local advocacy groups such as Ed Trust-West pushed for — and one embraced by other California school districts.

As the district ramps up for the shift, it might draw a lesson or two from Chicago Public Schools, which which in 1997 eliminated remedial courses and required its students to take college-prep coursework. New findings by the Consortium on Chicago School Research at the University of Chicago and reported by Catalyst Chicago found that the policy did reduce “tracking,” or the segregation of students by skill level, since all students were taking similar course sequences.

Here’s the catch: Researchers found “no evidence” that the policy change otherwise helped the students achieve academically. Their test scores didn’t go up. Grades of weaker students went down, as did graduation rates. College enrollment and retention didn’t improve. And higher-skilled students started skipping school more often.

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Test scores in motion

I expected tonight’s OUSD test score wrap-up to be another dry Power Point of weeks-old news. I did not anticipate the “motion chart.”

Don’t know what that is? I didn’t either, but you can see for yourself.

If you want to see six or seven years worth of Oakland Unified test score trends by school or by grade-level, and subject, and if you want to see how Oakland kids have measured up to their peers statewide on the tests, click one of the above links, check the boxes of interest and hit play.

Yes, play.

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Make some noise! A back-to-school assembly

I hope to watch the year unfold at United For Success Academy, a middle school that opened in 2006 on the Calvin Simmons campus in East Oakland. It won a $4 million grant from the federal government to improve student achievement and has added three hours to the school day for all sixth-graders.

Elia Bustamante, the school principal, says her staff plan to set a more encouraging and less punitive tone this year. They started with today’s all-school assembly, in which they recognized students who raised their state test scores:

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Do boys learn differently than girls?

Jason Baeten thinks so. He taught for 10 years at the Julia Morgan School for Girls, and this week he opened an all-boys middle school in Berkeley, the East Bay School for Boys. Their first assignment was to build their own desks, which was fun (and at times, sort of funny) to watch:

We’ll have a story about this new school in Sunday’s paper. In the meantime, I’m curious about the idea of designing instruction around girls or boys, which is becoming more common in public schools. Gender-specific classrooms have been considered in Oakland Unified, though lately that’s been overshadowed by lots of other changes, school board member Jumoke Hinton Hodge told me this week.

Should the district create gender-specific schools or, at some places, classrooms within a school? What advantages and disadvantages do you see with that approach?

Some have proposed schools with an even more specific group in mind: African-American boys. Chris Chatmon, of 100 Black Men of the Bay Area, wants to open charter schools in Richmond, Oakland and San Francisco modeled after the Eagle Academy for Young Men in the Bronx, NY.

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Oakland to get $7 million in “Edujobs” money

Today, the California Department of Education released the amount of money each school district is likely to receive from the federal education jobs bill. It should come through soon after the governor signs a related state bill — state budget or no state budget, Tina Jung from the CDE told me.

Oakland will get $7.12 million, based on the preliminary figures from the CDE, much less than district staff had expected (At a recent board meeting, the superintendent predicted $15 million, I believe).

Below is a list of East Bay school districts and how much they might expect to get from the feds. They’re supposed to use the money to rehire laid off employees and/or to add days back to the school year. How should they spend it?

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