GO Public Schools’ wish list for 2011

Great Oakland Public Schools, a local advocacy group that started with funding from the Rogers Family Foundation, wants to see some new blood on the Oakland teachers union’s executive board and representative council next year. It wants district leaders to emphasize high quality instruction as well as service hubs, and a “new and better response” to an unnamed principal who has complained about the required retention of mediocre teachers.

Below is a letter from GO’s director (and former OUSD administrator) Jonathan Klein, followed by the 10-item wish list. Which of the points do you agree or disagree with?

Dear neighbors and advocates for Oakland students,

If you spend time in Oakland public schools, you know there is much to celebrate, both in the achievements of our students and in the work of the adults who serve them.

In 2010, Oakland Unified was again the most improved school district in the State of California. And in tough economic times, 66 percent of Oakland voters supported Measure L — a parcel tax to benefit Oakland public schools.

Still, our public schools face tough challenges:

The system continues to be underresourced and more cuts are coming in January. The Oakland Education Association’s leadership is threatening another strike over compensation — despite withholding their support for Measure L. Oakland continues to be challenged by violence. And many families leave Oakland public schools because of perceptions regarding safety and academic quality.

Yet, I remain hopeful. There is abundant evidence that our community, our new mayor, our superintendent, our police chief, and the thousands of men and women who work in our schools are deeply committed to giving our children and youth a healthy, bright future.

I have strong memories of election night 2008 — standing in a friend’s crowded living room — many of us with tears in our eyes — watching as West Coast polls closed and news organizations announced that Barack Obama would be our next President.

We were hopeful that night, despite understanding the enormity of our challenges.

We are still the ones that we have been waiting for.

2011 brings renewed opportunity for us to get things done for Oakland students.

Oakland Education Policy 2011 Top 10 Wish List

1. Participation from Oakland’s best teachers in the Oakland Education Association’s Representative Council and March 2011 Executive Board Election.

2. A Deputy Mayor for Education in Mayor Quan’s office who knows the issues, speaks for all students, and is empowered to convene and align agencies and partners.

3. Wisdom within Oakland’s education leadership to ensure that Thriving Students (OUSD’s new strategic direction) puts Oakland public schools on a path to be both hubs of services and centers of learning and high-quality teaching.

4. An outcomes orientation for these final 6 months of OUSD strategic planning that sees the forest through the trees and doesn’t spend all its time and energy on process.

5. A new and better answer to an Oakland principal who in a recent meeting said that the biggest pain point within OUSD is having to retain mediocre teachers.

6. Audacity and resilience among West Oakland leaders to come together to do something different and bold on behalf of West Oakland public schools and students.

7. Specificity within Thriving Students about the positive role charter public schools play in providing quality educational opportunities to Oakland children and youth.

8. Constructive dialogue to address long-standing critiques of Oakland’s charter movement (e.g. access to special education programs, “creaming,” expulsion, etc.)

9. Increased vision and emphasis on the roles of education technology and virtual learning environments in our public schools as we endeavor to do more for our students with fewer resources.

10. Generosity of spirit across neighborhoods, communities and organizations with renewed mindfulness of the proverb that rain does not fall on one roof alone.

Katy Murphy

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

  • Catherine

    Livegreen: In Oakland there is a school board memo that indicates students are not to be retained. Administration in our middle school supports that view. In general I agree that students should not be retained as the outcome of retention in middle school often leads to middle or high school drop out rather than increased academic performance.

    I must meet with parents once a year for a parent-teacher-student conference for students working at the proficient or advanced levels or have a parent decline the conference. Conference dates must be recorded on the report card or reason for no conference documented on the report card.

    I must meet with parents at least twice per year if the student is working at Basic levels or below in my class.

    I must have parental attendance and signatures for any SART meeting for tardiness and/or absentee problem. This meeting includes an administrator at the school. We have support staff at the school who attempts to contact parents by phone as well. Most parents who do not meet with us see our phone number prefix through caller ID and simply do not pick up the call.

    I am required by my administration to have an SST (Student Study Team now referred to as a Student Success Team) meeting that includes the parents or guardians, support staff, the student, me as the referring teacher, other teachers working with the student and any other support personnel needed to bring the student up to proficiency level. I am required to set up and lead these meetings. I must do so if I am going to give a grade of a D or lower to any student or if the student is working at 69% or below. Our benchmark tests for “approaching” benchmark is 60%. Which means I am trying to contact the parents of any student who is scoring below 60% for an immediate meeting.

    To head off any issues with parents and the schools, I try to schedule meetings with parents whose students are scoring in the 60% to 69% as well.

    All meetings for improvement require a parent or guardian attendance. I am required to provide proof of “positive effort made to contact and engage the parents and guardians” of my students. If they will not meet with me there is personnel at our school to work on contacting parents – however, I must meet several times with this staff person to demonstrate my efforts and to coordinate our efforts to contact parents, guardians and family members.

    There was a parent guide put out by the school district that explains my responsibilities and sets up guidelines for the district and parents and guardians as well.

  • Gordon Danning


    1. I don’t know how you have inferred anything about my political leanings from my insistence that people on here base their statements on evidence, logic, and correct math. If you think that the Cato Institute’s work is inconsistent with those principles, you shouldn’t cite it. For the record, I am sympathetic to some libertarian arguments, and believe that the free market does many, many things very well. I don’t genuflect to it, however. (Why? Google “externalities”)

    2. I guess I’m a moron, because I don’t see how a site that argues that districts understate how much money they spend demonstrates that there is “waste, fraud and abuse.”

    3. As for the specifics of the two sites,

    a. the first one does not seem to apply to California, because the Ed Data site shows ALL expenditures and ALL revenues, including bonds.

    b. The second one seems a bit outdated (I don’t think we have 46,000+ students any more), but the per pupil numbers are probably close. HOWEVER please note that “per ADA” is NOT the same as “per pupil.” If I have 30 kids enrolled in my period 1, but many are often absent, the ADA for the class will be less than 30. So the $15,000 number that the site uses is a bit apples and oranges. It DOES imply, however, that your original math was wrong. You multiplied “per pupil spending” by 32, and said, “Hey, that’s $200,000 per class! Where is all the money going?” Yet, the school is actually funded based on ADA. So, to use your methodology to figure out how much “each classroom” gets (a meaningless number derived from a flawed methodology, as I pointed out, but since it is your methodology of choice I will use it for the sake of argument), you need to multiply the total by .80 (i.e., ADA/Enrollment, using the site you cited).

    3. Finally, you might recall that I initially stated that your per pupil funding numbers were correct (Post 39), so why are you beating a dead horse?

  • J.R.

    I get that about ADA vs per pupil, but my point was that the numbers are all over the place, and in reality we are indeed spending far more than previously thought(or admitted to).The big picture is that we are spending more money than we have, on more people than we really need(and overpaying them to boot). As for the political, there are indications here and there as to which way people lean politically, and very few people who post are moderates like me, most people here are leaners left or right with a few ultras.

  • livegreen

    Catherine, Thanks for the detail.

    1. I see some of this depends on grades. For K-1 there are no grades, so (outside of attendance) I wonder if K-1 teachers are required to have SST meetings?

    It seems the earlier the better, both for challenged parents & students.

    2. I understand there is a line of responsibility between teacher & staff. However I’m disappointed to see it takes meeting “several times with this staff person to demonstrate my efforts and to coordinate our efforts to contact parents, guardians and family members.”

    It looks to me like they’re trying to push as much as they can onto the teacher, possibly because the school administration itself is so short-staffed. Your thoughts?

    3. After you jump through these hoops, what does staff do?

    4. What could be done to improve the participation of “challenging” parents? For example, you mentioned the threat of summer school seems to get calls back.
    R there other things that you or staff does that seems to work? Or actions that “might” work? (“might” is important, not looking for guarantees).

    Thank you.

  • Cranky Teacher

    “Livegreen Says:
    January 3rd, 2011 at 12:10 pm
    Right Cranky. They should have to prove their loyalty and show us their list of supporters, before teachers engage in a dialog with them.”

    Teachers can dialog with whoever they want, but you have to admit that the media does not cover all groups’ press releases equally. It would appear from some of the evidence I’ve seen here and elsewhere that GO is a classic “astroturf” group, which replaces cash and connections for grassroots organizing and activism.

    What I can say for sure is that the actual memo itself is as horrific and convoluted example of doublespeak as you can find this side of the Politburo…

  • http://www.gopublicschools.org Jonathan Klein

    GO Public Schools would like to offer an appreciation for the lively discussion that Katy Murphy’s posting of our 2011 Oakland Education Policy Wish List has prompted. The more of us that are willing to talk openly and honestly about our experiences and perspectives – the stronger the dialogue, the better the decisions, and the greater will be the outcomes for our kids.

    GO Public Schools is a pro-student, pro-teacher, and pro-labor organization. Five of seven GO board members are former teachers. Two of three GO staff members have experience teaching in low-income communities and communities of color.

    We remain steadfast in our belief that every student – regardless of their demographics or income level – deserves an effective, competent and passionate teacher every day of every year. But the stark reality is that we’re not there yet. The evidence is in the data: the graduation rates, the drop out rates, the hated test scores, the college enrollment numbers – and we need to work together to get there.

    We also believe that more teachers need to participate in the democratic processes of the Oakland Education Association which have extraordinary impacts on students, teachers, and other employee groups.

    In November 2010, less than 15% of OEA members (341 out of about 2,800) participated in a vote to reaffirm OEA’s strike position. Last year, only 55 votes were cast in the decision about Measure L by OEA Site Representatives out of a possible 99 traditional public schools and 22 child development centers.

    We are grateful for the dedication, participation, and service of those individuals who currently participate in OEA.

    Our conversation needs to be about what is best for our children – and we need to be open-minded, listening, and learning from each other about how best to serve them.

    Quality is everyone’s responsibility and every child’s right.

    We would be very interested in partnering with the Oakland Education Association to help make Oakland’s voice more prominently heard in Sacramento regarding adequately funding our public schools.

    We’ve posted some additional thoughts to our website at http://www.gopublicschools.org.

    Allison Akhnoukh, James Harris, Jonathan Klein, Sheilagh Polk, and Hae-Sin Thomas, Board of Directors, Great Oakland Public Schools

  • moshi


    Talk about disconnect. Go is Pro anything which to me is a political stance- a compromise if you will.

    Just cause you taught in a ghetto don’t mean you were relevant to it. Im sick of organizations and individuals who wear the fact that they work with blacks and brown students for a time as if it were a badge of honor. Patronism is what I call it.

    I saw your website and your faces- what have you all done (besides spending a few years in the ghetto) to merit respect ? Your funded by a disnonnected son of a millionaire- what relevance is that to poor students?

    I would have respect for the individuals who are anti- teacher unions or anti charters- at least you know where they stand. These guys are looking for a political platform or something cause they sure as hell sound like politicians!

    You have said that you want to here what students need – try dicipline, accountability of lazy teachers, sorry leaders, ghetto parents, and school closures. Are you open minded enough for that- I bet not.

  • A Few Questions

    It looks like GO’s Board of Directors posted a longer response here:

    This part stood out to me as truly inspiring:

    “We ask a lot of our teachers, but we have to ask it. There are many wonderfully talented, dedicated, and effective teachers all over Oakland who do this work everyday. But many is not good enough for our students – all is what is required. If we don’t demand it, our public education system becomes part of the larger system that perpetuates poverty and disadvantage in the same neighborhoods and in the same communities generation after generation. That is unacceptable.”

    In my opinion, we need to make sure of three things 1) Oakland puts in place an honest, comprehensive definition of effective teaching, 2) Figure out how to evaluate teachers against that definition to determine if they are good enough to give kids the opportunity they deserve, and 3) Make it possible for principals to give teachers the support they need, and to transition out teachers who don’t improve. It’s what our kids deserve.

  • Let’s Get Real

    My reaction will be a strong one against any person or group who publishes a wish list for getting “things done for Oakland students” that does not include any of the things that would generate significant improvement.

    No one, OEA member or otherwise, is trying to claim that all teachers are perfect, and that no teachers should be dismissed. Most people agree, however, that many (I daresay most) teachers are doing a good job–the best they can do under the circumstances. Even “GO” concedes that: “There are many wonderfully talented, dedicated, and effective teachers all over Oakland who do this work everyday.”

    “GO” also seems to agree with me that teachers are not operating in a vacuum, and need support to teach effectively: “GO understands that to ask this of teachers, we need to pay them more, we need to more adequately support them, we need to engage them as leaders, and provide opportunities for growth…”

    This is why I react so strongly when the responsibility of student achievement is dropped in the lap of teachers alone. Even if there were such a thing as a perfect teacher, that teacher would face a major challenge teaching in a class containing students who have emotional issues, behavioral issues, English language issues, chronic absences, no academic support at home, and so on. In other words, it is unfair to blame low achievement on teachers when, in so many cases, the supports are not in place to provide students with the other services they need to achieve.

    “GO” and others who seem so focused on nailing teachers against the wall need to direct some of that energy toward pushing OUSD officials to establish the conditions in EVERY school that will facilitate effective teaching. Schools that are populated with a lot of students like those I described above tend to generate lower test scores. Is there any wonder why?
    Why would anyone believe changing the teaching staff would have any affect if the conditions remain the same for the students?

    When you hear reports of amazing transformations occurring, e.g., Geoffrey Canada’s Harlem Children’s Zone, you must not ignore the fact that these programs have been infused with funding that is being used to address the issues I described, such as, in Canada’s case, providing family counseling and one-on-one tutoring. Also, a thread that seems to be common in these schools, charter or public, is a positive school climate supported by a strict discipline policy.

    Let’s start looking a what schools are REALLY doing that improves achievement, and stop making teachers the scapegoats for an overwhelmingly complex problem.

  • Nextset

    I agree with the above. Teachers are not responsible for bad students and the bad families they tend to come from. If the school district will not remove the bad students from normal classes they school districts have no right to to be concerned with the teaching staff when these bad students fail. they are failures, after all. It is not the problem of the teachers, the fate of the bad students.

    The teachers had better grow a pair and start standing up for themselves and call bad students what they are and demand their removal into schools and programs on seghregated campuses that are more appropriate for these bad students – of any color and any religion. If the districts won’t do that the entire teaching effort can go to hell – and it’s the administrations’ fault, not the teachers and not the teachers’ unions.

  • On The Fence

    Yep! I’ll agree with Let’s Get Real, too. However, sadly, I’m not sure that we have enough money to support family counseling, personal counseling, and one on one tutoring. These are often long term, expensive interventions that go beyond the abilities of most school districts. They also are most effective with very invested, insightful, motivated participants. In the past, posters have commented that discipline is cheap, however, so maybe we can start there.

  • livegreen

    I agree too. As I’ve said before OUSD policies holding students & their families accountable need to b given more support and resources. Catherine described earlier some of the policies she has at her disposal but, frankly, it sounds like she does not get enough support from her school, & they in turn from the district.

    We need to find an intervention & discipline policy that works, including for the parents.
    And a support mechanism for working or single parents, eg. mandatory after school until 5 or 6pm.

  • len raphael

    I haven’t checken in on the Oakland education wars in a while, but it appears that other than for union activists there have been some very modest growth in consensus on problem teachers, parents, and students.

    Question am i projecting, or is it becoming more acceptable to discuss bringing back vocational training to the high schools? Last Mayoral election had a young AM male candidate who made that part of his platform. No one accused him of encouraging tracking.

    -len raphael, temescal

  • livegreen

    Len, I ran into some ex-school board members who r trying to re-establish a vocational-technical program. I think it’s about time!

    Katy, please consider a post on this subject.