Kim Shipp, an OUSD parent, responds to a blog discussion on Oakland’s dropout rate and access to Oakland Tech’s Paideia program.
In response to Oakland’s dropout rate and the increasing popularity of the Paideia program at Oakland Tech, topics recently posted on this blog, I decided to give my thoughts about both issues from a parent’s perspective. In my fifteen years of experience in Oakland schools with three children, I’ve spent two of those years in a private school setting and two of those years in Paideia with my oldest son.
It is no secret that Oakland has one of the highest dropout rates in California. The constant change of leadership over the past 13 years has had a negative impact on the school system. In Oakland’s case this includes nine leaders in the form of superintendents or state administrators; no organization can sustain itself in meeting its goals without stability in leadership. This permeates down to the school level.
Take Skyline High School for example. The graduating class of 2011 will have experienced a new principal in each of their four years of high school. My son spent his first year of high school at Skyline, the next two years at a private school and is now back at Skyline for his final year. This year, when he returned to Skyline, I immediately noticed some stark differences between private and public schools. In a nutshell, private schools care about what they are doing and public schools appear not to. These differences have little to do with money, but rather willingness on the part of adults and how one entity values education over the other.
For example, at Back to School Night, I questioned some teachers in Advanced Placement classes regarding their pass rates on AP exams. To my amazement, most of the teachers did not seem to care whether students passed or failed these tests. One teacher’s response was, “we have about a twenty-five percent pass rate.” When I asked about preparing the students for the tests, another teacher responded, “ we do not do a lot of preparation because most of the students have other things to do in their lives, like work.”
Private schools pride themselves in their pass rates and there is a lot of preparation that goes on in those private schools. In private school, every effort is made to ensure student success. This is done by providing advisory meetings with students to address their issues, the dean working with the teachers, detailed e-mail progress reports of notification to parents, putting parents on weekly progress notification if necessary and even informing the parent when this is no longer necessary.
In public school, progress checks are left up to the parent. There seems to be no conversation taking place between school leadership and teachers regarding individual student progress. In private school, there is a tremendous focus on building relationships between students and staff on the premise that each student is an individual with individual needs. In public school, it’s based more upon performance and everyone is viewed in the same light. In public school teachers are protected. In private school they are not.
Now don’t get me wrong, there were other types of challenges we faced in private school, and as with anything else, it is not a perfect entity, but at least it knows its purpose. The dropout rate will continue until people regain their sense of purpose, build relationships, and take responsibility for student failure. One has to get to the point to believe if the majority of students are failing under their care, than they are failing students.
Paideia is a humanities program created by a group of teachers at Oakland Technical High School. Much like several other programs and teachers in some schools, these programs are more about the individual teachers and their philosophy than the school itself. These teachers are also the protectors of these programs, and the principal and school district officials can do little to intervene, change, expand or open them up to others. Paideia can be viewed as a “free” private school within a public school.
In 2001, my son was the only African-American senior in the program at the time. It came to my attention that a young African-American girl, whose family attended the same church as me, was denied access to the program even though she had the grades coming out of middle school; she had attended Westlake. Many of her friends who had attended Montera were allowed to enroll in Paideia. We brought this issue before the school board and this resulted in several people, including district staff, the principal at the time, the school board representative, myself and other parents, to get more sessions for Paideia on the master schedule so more students could participate. The other parents were at the table because they were debating private school or Tech. This attempt was not without objection from the original creators of the program. I even had one of the teachers call me at home to express her concerns about making it available to more students. The program was expanded to include a few more sessions, but I am not sure if it has expanded more since then. Over the years, other students of color have attempted participation but there are rigorous requirements of course work and here the advanced placement pass rate is cared about. In fact, one could argue that the program is selective because they want to maintain their successful pass rate, which at the time was about 85 percent.
In terms of some of the equity issues addressed in the blog, my definition of equity is “equity is only afforded to those who demand it and know that they need to.” In other words we live in an unjust, unequal society, and as many of the bloggers suggest, “it is in fact what it is.” As a parent, I cannot wait for a system that probably never will correct itself to provide equal opportunity and access. I have to do the best I can for my family and community with what I know.
Education, employment, opportunities, etc., has always been difficult for most groups to obtain and it remains true today. In fact, people forget that this was the basis on which the country was built, keeping the masses enslaved while allowing only the select few prosper. Remember the old adage, “ a people that forgets its history, is destined to repeat it.” We are almost there.