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He’s not waiting for Superman. He’s waiting to exhale.

Jamal Cooks, a San Francisco State University professor of education and former Oakland teacher, has mixed feelings about “Waiting for Superman.” He says people know what makes a great school; he wants to see less talk and more action.

Jamal CooksOn Monday, I went to a matinee to watch “Waiting for Superman.” Though I had heard that the movie bashed public schools and promoted charter schools as the answer to the problem, I went into the show with an open mind. When I walked out, I had mixed emotions about the film.

As a former teacher, director of after school programs, coordinator of mentoring programs, and a professor of teacher education, I watched the movie intently and hung on every word. I am a public school educator, a public school product, and a public school advocate. I have spent 20 years working for and with students who have challenging home lives, come from rough neighborhoods, and lack some resources, but who want the same education as the next person.

In fact, my daughter will be starting kindergarten soon, and with the local public school’s API scores under 800, I want public schools to work. However, there are some real facts that must be acknowledged before moving forward for equitable education for all students.

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Kaplan wins Oakland’s Youth Vote

It wasn’t a close contest. Kaplan won 70 percent of the vote in last night’s mock election. It might have helped her cause that Don Perata wasn’t there, but who knows? (The reason given for the absence of one of the leading mayoral candidates — laryngitis — was announced by the teenage emcees at the beginning of the forum. “Don Perata, he’s sick…”)

School board incumbent Gary Yee edged out Ben Visnick by five votes. Here’s a short video I made of the event:

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Bullying in the news

anti-bullying signThe recent suicides of two teenagers has brought school bullying into the national spotlight again, and I knew it was only a matter of time before I was asked to write a story on this troubling subject. The thing is, I don’t want it to be the predictable sort we’ve all read (and I’ve probably written), filled with quotes from experts and advocates and maybe an anecdote or two.

Which is why I’m coming to you. If you’ve been following the school bullying coverage, what has the news media gotten right, and what aspects of the issue have we missed?

How does bullying manifest itself at your school, or outside of school? What do school staff — or other kids — do to stop it, or to keep it from happening in the first place? What doesn’t your school do that it could be doing?

Have you seen the restorative justice approach applied to bullying? How has it worked out?

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Differentiated instruction: solution or fad?

Steven Weinberg, a retired Oakland teacher and Education Report blogger, questions the effectiveness of a popular approach to teaching.

Steven WeinbergLast month Mike Schmoker, a prominent writer and speaker on educational improvement, wrote an article for Education Week (September 29, 2010, p. 22) denouncing differentiated instruction as a “pedagogic fad” supported by “no solid research or school evidence.” The article is available here.

This caught my eye because differentiated instruction is frequently suggested to Oakland teachers as the way to cope with the increasingly wide spread of student abilities within a single classroom, which has developed as ability-grouped classes have been discontinued and more special education students have been integrated into regular classes.

My experience in the Oakland school district seems to confirm Schmoker’s statement that it has quickly become “one of the most widely adopted instructional orthodoxies of our time.”

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Who will be picked to join OUSD’s new task forces, and how?

There’s been plenty of interest in Tony Smith’s strategic plan for the Oakland school district, its multitude of task forces, and his calls for broad civic involvement. When someone asked Smith after the Waiting for Superman screening how people could support the local schools, he suggested they read the plan and consider joining a task force.

Fine, but how do you get on board?

Jonathan Klein and Ratna Amin of Great Oakland Public Schools advocacy group wrote a letter to Smith and the school board this month, outlining their concerns and questions about the district’s outreach. How will the members of the task forces be selected, and who determines the process? Will parents and teachers be represented on every committee? What’s the status of the portal for community members to provide feedback directly to the superintendent?

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L.A.’s teacher-rating firestorm blows east

As soon as tomorrow, 12 news agencies could have the names and effectiveness ratings of 12,000 teachers from New York City’s public schools, the Washington Post reports.

The United Federation Of Teachers plans to file a lawsuit in state court to block the release of the data. The ratings in question are based on the average progress a teacher’s students made on standardized tests during the course of a school year. In edu-speak, they’re called  “value-added” assessments.

It’s not clear from the Post story how many years of data were included in the New York City school district’s analysis. As researchers and statisticians note, these effectiveness ratings tend to vary wildly from year to year because the sample size — especially for elementary school teachers — is so small (20 to 30-some students). Continue Reading

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Government as venture capitalist?

Charles Lindberg. Image from Stinkie Pinkie's site on flickr.com/creativecommons

On the Marketplace radio program this evening, “Freakonomics” co-author Steve Dubner compared the Obama administration’s Race to the Top grant competition to innovations and competitive prizes in the private sector.

After talking about the X Prize (slogan: Revolution Through Competition) and Google’s practice of giving engineers a day each week to try out their own ideas — even though most of them flop — Dubner played a tape of the following statement and asked the host, Kai Ryssdal, to guess who the speaker was:

Well we’re fundamentally trying to change the business we’re in and we’re trying to drive innovation rather than being in this compliance-driven bureaucracy. And the idea of crowdsourcing that you’re seeing in other industries, we think is absolutely applicable here. The only way you challenge the status quo is to give people rewards for success.

For Ryssdal, it was a no-brainer: Arne Duncan, the Secretary of Education. You can listen — or read — the full Marketplace segment here. Below is an excerpt of the conversation that followed: Continue Reading

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Fact check: Jerry Brown and charter schools

The below television ad promises “more money in the classroom, more charter schools, a chance for change” if Meg Whitman is elected governor of California.

The ad suggests that Whitman’s Democratic opponent, Jerry Brown, wouldn’t support the expansion of independently run charter schools — or school reform, in general — because his campaign has been backed by the California Teachers Association.

What it doesn’t mention is that Brown opened two charter schools while he was Oakland’s mayor — the Oakland Military Institute and the Oakland School for the Arts — a fact he has often touted in his campaign.

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