Would you put your child in this school?

Long Beach, CA. Bay Area News Group file photo, from MCT.

That’s the mantra in the Long Beach school district, according to a new McKinsey report that named the school district — and the Oakland-based charter management organization, Aspire Public Schools — among the 20 most-improved school systems in the world.

Long Beach is an ethnically diverse, high-poverty school district in a California port city, just like Oakland. Unlike Oakland, it’s had stable leadership for years, under a superintendent — in his ninth year — who once attended school in the district and later returned to be a teacher, principal and administrator.

If you have a chance to read McKinsey’s two-page case study on the Long Beach school district’s teacher preparation, training and coaching strategies, I’d love to hear how they compare to your experience in Oakland. It’s on pages 48-50 (link here).

Two things that caught my attention: Continue Reading


Kaiser gives Oakland schools $7.5 million

Smith at Kaiser news conference. Photo courtesy of the Oakland school district.

When Superintendent Tony Smith was appointed to his post in 2009, his supporters said they expected he would restore interest, support and outside funding to the Oakland school district.

This fall — until today — the district endured some heartbreak on the funding front. Oakland lost its bid for the U.S. Department of Education’s Promise Neighborhoods planning grant in September (despite accolades from the secretary of education just weeks before). And the district’s November parcel tax election was defeated by about 700 votes, less than one percentage point.

But this morning, the district announced it had received a $7.5 million gift from Kaiser Permanente. It is the largest corporate donation yet to support Smith’s vision for Oakland’s schools, district spokesman Troy Flint said.

The money won’t solve the district’s structural deficit or guard against deep mid-year budget cuts. But $7.5 million is still $7.5 million.

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Oakland’s Eastside high redesign (#2)

East Oakland School of the Arts, a small Castlemont school. Tribune file photo by D. Ross Cameron.

Five years ago, the three high schools on East Oakland’s Castlemont campus had almost 1,300 students. That number has dwindled to 700 — a 45 percent drop.

The Fremont campus, also in East Oakland, has seen a similar slide. A decade ago, more than 2,000 students went to school there. Now, there are just 940.

Both campuses were divided into small, themed schools — each, with its own principals and administrative staffs — as part of an improvement strategy that received millions of dollars from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

But since then, there’s been an exodus from Fremont and Castlemont. Many families from the East Oakland flatlands have used the district’s school choice policy to send their children to schools with better reputations across the city. Others have opted for one of the charter schools that have opened in their neighborhoods.

As a result of the dwindling numbers, the great high school  “redesign” of 2003 and 2004 is — yes — being redesigned.

Troy Flint, a district spokesman, has confirmed that a team of administrators and other staff is drafting a proposal for the future of both high school campuses. Youth Empowerment School, in the East Oakland hills, will be part of the Fremont Castlemont plan, he said.

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A staged scene in`Superman’

Francisco and his mom in "Waiting for Superman." (Courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

For those of you who’ve seen the “Waiting for Superman” documentary: Remember when Maria is touring Harlem Success Academy, ostensibly hoping her son, Francisco, will one day be in one of those classrooms she’s observing? When she says she’ll wake up at 5 a.m., if necessary, to get him there?

(Spoiler alert) That scene was actually shot after the dramatic lottery drawing shown at the end of the film, the New York Times reported. Davis Guggenheim, the film’s director, said he asked Maria to tour the school, with the cameras, after she learned her son wouldn’t be going there.

Guggenheim defends the decision to Times blogger Sharon Otterman, saying it captured the mother’s genuine emotions.

You might have heard about this already — the Times report did come out a couple of weeks ago — but I just came across it. When the reporter asked if other scenes were out of chronological order, Guggenheim said, “None that I can think of.”

Does it alter your view of the film in any way?

From the Times blog: Continue Reading


Baltimore teachers pass groundbreaking contract

The Baltimore teachers union approved a contract today that does away with seniority-based “step” raises, and instead creates four “career pathways” — one of which is for highly effective teachers. The contract also allows for teachers and principals of individual schools to lengthen the school day or make other changes. (This September Baltimore Sun editorial provides more detail on the contract, itself.)

The union rejected the same contract earlier this fall. According to the Baltimore Sun and AFT President Randi Weingarten, who issued a statement tonight, teachers felt they needed more time to study these changes.

Here’s part of Weingarten’s statement:
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An overhaul of teacher prep, student-teaching

Teacher preparation programs should be “turned upside down,” with more emphasis on supervised classroom teaching experience than educational theory, a National Council for Accreditation of Education panel recommended this week.

One thing that strikes me about the report is the language that evokes medical training — “clinical” preparation, “residencies,” and “rounds.” Maybe it’s nothing new, but it’s interesting to me, especially since accountability and performance pay discussions so often lead to comparisons of the teaching and medical professions.

Ed Week’s Stephen Sawchuck wrote a detailed piece about the recommendations and what they might mean. Here is an excerpt of his story: Continue Reading


It’s a strike vote. So why aren’t teachers voting?

The vast majority of those who participated in tonight’s union election authorized a strike. But most Oakland teachers didn’t vote at all.

The turnout was less than half of what it was in May, the first time this year OEA members authorized a strike. (This vote was to affirm the last one.) Only 341 union members cast ballots tonight, compared to 755 in May.

That’s well under 15 percent of the union’s membership.

Even among those who did come to the membership meeting, said union President Betty Olson-Jones, “The sentiment for a strike at this time is very, very weak.”

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East Oakland moms ask police for help

Oakland schools have a reputation for being dangerous. But for some families, they’re an oasis of security in an otherwise frightening and unpredictable world.

Walking to school in Oakland. Tribune file photo by Laura A. Oda.A group of East Oakland mothers told Oakland Police Capt. Ersie Joyner this morning that they live in perpetual fear — that they rarely feel safe, even in their own homes. That walking their children to and from school, past groups of young men flying gang colors, can be terrifying.

“I am tired of feeling like a hostage in my own house, in my own neighborhood, in my own city,” said Maria Soto, whose two children attend Greenleaf Elementary, a new school on the Whittier campus.

An incident this fall stoked parents’ worst fears: 6-year-old Leslie Ramirez, a Greenleaf first-grader, was wounded in the middle of the night by a stray bullet fired from outside of her house.

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Four big goals for black males in Oakland

Chris Chatmon at Frick Middle School. By Kristopher Skinner/Bay Area News Group

I blogged in September about the appointment of Chris Chatmon as director of the Oakland school district’s African American male achievement office, which is privately funded.

A story about the initiative ran in today’s Tribune. You can read it here.

What do you think (and/or hope) it will accomplish?

If you’d like to volunteer your time, talents or ideas, you can reach Chatmon directly at christopher.chatmon@ousd.k12.ca.us.


The belated scoop on OUSD task forces — and meetings you might want to attend

I didn’t blog about the Great Oakland Public Schools workshop the other week on the new task forces that could play a major role in shaping district policy. Sorry about that. But it’s not to late to get involved, so better late than never, right?

The workshop was organized to give people — namely, those who hadn’t been tapped to be on a task force — a better idea of how they could participate. There was no lack of interest; the room at the Jack London Aquatic Center was packed. Halfway through the meeting, people split into groups, arranging themselves around various tables to learn more about committees that piqued their interest.

It was interesting to note `the popular tables’ — e.g. teacher effectiveness — and the empty or missing chairs at others, most conspicuously the one for eliminating the district’s structural deficit.

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