Quality schools task force, explained (sort of)

I need to make it to one of these meetings. I’ve heard they’re well run, and I need to get a better handle on how the Quality Community Schools Development task force is approaching a topic as broad and multi-faceted as school quality. This OUSD-produced video explainer didn’t help me all that much (Eduspeak, to me, sometimes sounds like the adults in the Charlie Brown cartoons), but maybe you’ll glean something useful from it.

Who here has participated in the quality schools meetings (or other task forces) thus far? How is it working? What questions are you wrestling with? What have you learned?

Katy Murphy

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

  • cranky teacher

    You didn’t get much from it because there wasn’t much there. It took him three minutes to say this: We want to make our schools better and we want the community’s input.

    That said, I’ve always heard great things about De Oca and he is definitely not a slick Broad import.

  • Hot r

    Maybe this is just a bad video, because I agree with you Cranky! My first reaction was to wonder if anyone would notice if his position was eliminated? Would any child’s education be bereft in any way? Answer: NO. Quick- tell him that many of these
    community schools are bad, the residents are unhappy, and the test scores are very low. They should also inform him that parents are so worried about discipline they leave in droves after middle school. there is only one model to follow- The American Indian School.

  • J.R.

    He knows every buzzword in the book(I’ll give him that), but this is just more noise and motion to give the illusion that something worthwhile is being done. This will go nowhere, just like trying to relight a used charcoal briquette. Real working sustained change is not wanted by those who want to keep their revenue stream intact.

  • winnipeg nancy

    maybe once good schools and good teaching is DEFINED, as it exists in Oakland, they’ll get OEA to become involved and eliminate tenure.


  • livegreen

    Look on the OUSD website for meeting locations. Note most, if not all, r located in flatland schools. OUSD is interested mostly in “equity”, & this means listening almost exclusively to the least have schools.

    If you’re wealthy, they’ll listen if u contribute well to the school board (which is how a school like Chabot got an all new campus with school bond money, while needier schools r still in 30+ year old portables). Richer families can just switch to private schools (if they can’t pay their School Board Member enough to get results).

    But middle class families can’t afford to, so they have to move (unless they have the will for a political fight, which OUSD knows most don’t).

    If OUSD were truly interested in input from Middle Class schools, why don’t they have a meaningful # of meetings at such schools?

  • Starshaped

    Winnipeg Nancy,

    OEA is involved in these meetings. Tenure has nothing to do with a school’s quality. Tenure does not mean “job for life”. It merely means that an employee has legal protection from unlawful termination. There is a process to get rid of teachers. Whether the process is followed is another matter, an administrative matter. It is obvious that you believe the LIE that tenure is the problem with Oakland schools. The problem with Oakland schools is bloated outside contracts to Si Swun and various other vendors and bloated administration. What will fix Oakland schools? 1. More academic freedom (ie allowing time for art, science, PE, and social studies)that students can actually get into. 2. Less focus on multiple guess testing to show knowledge. 3. More support for new teachers so they can focus their passion and don’t get burned out by the system.

  • J.R.

    The net effect of tenure and its policies are in fact permanent employment(with exceptions of murder,drug use, sexual impropriety)The number of teachers fired for incompetence is virtually zero. More doctors and lawyers separately lose their licenses than teachers who are stripped of their teaching credential for incompetence. Taxpayers are beginning to find out these truths for themselves, and they don’t like what they are seeing.





  • Sue

    Talk about jargon! I hate to say it, but can someone translate?

    There is a time and place for eduspeak in certain circles but when you are addressing the public- that is not the time. This sounds typical of a person who is a theorist and not a practitioner. Intellectuals come a dime a dozen in education, but those that are most effective definite do not sound like Mr. de Oca.

  • livegreen

    If there is “a process to get rid of teachers” as Starshaped says, could any teachers or OUSD officials tell us what it is & how it works? Is it used or virtually 0 as JR says?

    What is Si Swun and what do they do?

  • Nextset

    As I have written before, I believe OUSD is doomed and will probably cease to exist in it’s present form in the not distant future.

    There’s an interesting article by Gary North on LewRockwell.Com about education, here’s a quote:

    “When you can buy from anywhere, local monopolies die. That happened to medieval urban guilds. It is happening to education. The local tax-funded school cannot deliver the goods. Today, it offers babysitting. It offers sports. It offers a central market where drugs are available. It offers opportunities for teenagers to hook up, which does not mean what it did in my day. It offers economies of scale in those features of education that are either peripheral or objectionable.”

    You might want to take a look at the article. While that passage we rather funny and true, applying economic history to OUSD makes me think that when the change actually hits them it will be very wrenching.


    The point of all this is that as change is coming down the railroad tracks, urban/ghetto districts (ie management and union members alike) such as OUSD and still lounging in recliners on the tracks sipping drinks with sunglasses on so the train headlight won’t bother them.

    Change is coming. And it’s not just the Charters, it’s the Internet.

    Brave New World.

  • Nextset

    para 4 typo: “we” should be “is”.

    Our policy debates here are interesting, but maybe what is happening to education will transcend them. As individuals and families get more choice and self service we could find ourselves with less to fight about.

    Although I still believe that when people vote with their feet you are going to see a lot of blissful ethnic segregation, and related caste occupational segregation.

  • Cranky Teacher

    The reason the meetings are in the flats is that the community schools program is primarily for building “full-service” schools with health, parent and family development programs which can take on the myriad issues that get in the way of academic success for POOR children.

    It is not a program targeted at middle-class kids and their issues, so therefore…

  • Hills Parent

    Starshaped, tenure is effectively job security for life because it is dam hard to get rid of a teacher. We have an incompetent teacher at our school who has been chased out of other OUSD schools. Over the years groups of parents have complained to the teacher, the administration, the district. Problems have been documented, meetings have been held, solutions suggested. Guess what, this teacher is still here and year after year children are falling behind in her class. Why is she still employed? Ridiculous!

    There needs to be a system that does away with the bottom 5-10% of teachers. Clear out the truly poor performers and the incompetent educators. That’s the way forward. How can a district really improve with a bunch of deadweights who have protected job status? As for the rest of the average to good to great teachers, you should support this because it is good for the profession and good for the children. Why do you want to protect someone who is doing a fraction of the work/effort that good teachers put forth? Why protect someone who is damaging to children?

  • livegreen

    Cranky, EVERYTHING OUSD DOES is about the poor schools. Which is why so many middle class families leave the district. The SECOND a school falls below 50% FRL, they get 0 support from administration. To get support at that point they have to compete with Chabot throwing money at their Boardmembers. Middle Class schools are screwed in the middle.

    Surrounding cities (& most of America) WANT a middle class. Oakland& OUSD pushes it’s middle class out. Then they wonder why they lost Proficient & Advanced students?

    & the $ with it that, ironically, would help support the poor.

  • http://www.ousd.k12.ca.us Troy Flint

    It’s been my policy to posts about ideas, not people, but I’m making an exception in this instance. The disparity between the David Montes de Oca described in (most of) the posts above and the man I’ve worked with these past few years is astoundingly large and should be addressed – not for David’s sake (I’m sure he can defend himself) – but for the sake of the important work he’s doing. I’d hate to see this process discredited because of one poorly received video.

    An earlier poster dismissed David as an ivory tower intellectual. It’s true that his intellect is impressive. It’s also true that he is anything but removed from the realities Oakland students face.

    He taught at Calvin Simmons for many years, to what I understand were favorable reviews, before becoming the founding principal of Urban Promise Academy (UPA). UPA is generally regarded as one of the top OUSD middle schools and was profiled in this Katy Murphy piece: http://www.ibabuzz.com/education/…/dont-call-them-nerds-geometry-prowess-at-oaklands-urban-promise-academy/ (not sure if the link is still active) when its geometry class recorded the highest score found at any school in the entire District.

    From there, David went on to head OUSD’s Charter School Office. Whatever your feelings on charter schools, even those who are ideologically opposed to charters give him credit for cleaning up the mess he inherited and bringing rigor to the review process. All this is to say that David Montes de Oca is NOT a dilettante in any way, shape or form and any attempt to paint him as such is scurrilous, in my view.

    I can assure you that no one at OUSD is more invested in improving our system so we can produce better results for children. I know I’m the PR guy, so feel free to dismiss, but I would not be saying this or taking the time to write this post if David were a garden variety 73rd-percentile employee.

    David’s team is now conducting a vigorous community engagement process to better define the approach of the Quality Community Schools Development Group (QCSD). This work is centered on four major questions:

    • How do you know if a school is effective?
    • What makes a school a quality school?
    • What are the indicators of school quality?
    • How do we know if a school is fulfilling the District mission and vision?

    We all have opinions on these questions, but QCSD will distill them into a picture of what a community school should look like. Highlights of the process include:

    • A listening campaign from November 2010 through February 2011
    • An analysis of national and local models of School Quality Standards
    • A synthesis of listening campaign results with locally and national models
    • Development of an initial set of School Quality Standards for feedback
    • Development of Version 2 of School Quality Standards for review by BOE

    If David’s interview lacked specificity, it’s probably because he didn’t want to unduly influence an ongoing process that is supposed to be open and not prescriptive in nature. In any event, he’s responsive to criticism and we’re re-shooting the video next week to address some of the concerns voiced here.

    In the meantime, this Board presentation should provide more clarity: http://tinyurl.com/24944og

    You can also find much more detailed information on this work at the Quality Community Schools Development website: http://www.qualitycommunityschools.net

  • J.R.

    “Why do you want to protect someone who is doing a fraction of the work/effort that good teachers put forth? Why protect someone who is damaging to children”?

    The unions biggest fear is to lose step and column which would be in jeopardy if districts start differentiating teachers from one another(apparently although children are all of different abilities, teachers are the same ability and effort in any given step and column). If people start looking at differences there could be some firings and no one in the union wants that. They figure kids will survive, no big deal(pay,perks,pensions, and power outweigh the needs of pupils).

  • Steven Weinberg

    Livegreen, which schools do you see as middle class in Oakland today?

  • livegreen

    I would classify middle class schools as any that have a significant # of middle class students, but not exclusively, since there are very few of those. That is, because of options, they also have significant free & reduced lunch (FRL) or poorer students. They might also have a few wealthy students, but nothing in the #’s of a Hillcrest, Montclair, Chabot, etc.

    So there will be a wide variety in the proportion of middle class & FRL students, some over 50% of one, others over 50% of the other. The elementary schools I see as middle class are: Cleveland, Kaiser, Piedmont Ave.(?), Peralta, Sequoia, Glenview, Redwood Heights, Carl Munck, Grass Valley, Garfield (?).

    Note Redwood Heights has much less FRL, but given the neighborhood I believe it’s more middle class than Chabot, Hillcrest, etc. On the other end are schools like Grass Valley, Garfield, etc. which have about 60% FRL, meaning roughly 40% middle class.

    The other characteristic of these schools is that most of them are extremely diverse. How well they’re doing, what they’re doing right, the challenges they face, etc. are all reflective of Oakland.

    Finally, if OUSD can help these schools continue to improve, it will help increase recent middle class buy-in, it will help the finances of these schools, it will help the poorer kids at these schools, and it will increase the resources available to the district & poorer schools.

    To date, however, OUSD has essentially ignored them. They instead need to be part of OUSD’s focus. It’s in it’s own self-interest.

  • Alice Spearman

    You are a so mis-informed. Schools in my district are being built, renovated with Bond funding also. Grass Valley has had renovations, Reach on the Cox Campus re-opened in a new building in August, ground breaking is happening on the Highland Campus, for another new building, five years ago, a new building was constructed and there are no portables on the campus. Acorn-Woodland and EnCompass schools are also in brand new constructed buildings with no portable on the campus.
    Oh an by the way, I have not recieved any money in my political pockets for it. You really need to ask somebody!

  • livegreen

    Alice, Thanks. Thanks also for saying I’m mis-informed about something I didn’t even say. I didn’t say all schools contributed to get bond money. I said richer schools with lower needs (like Chabot) did. Again, OUSD focuses on the higher needs schools (like the ones you mention) and the lower needs, wealthier schools who can make large contributions to their Boardmember.

    As a result, its’ the middle income schools that OUSD doesn’t pay attention to (especially below the 50% FRL #), but that still need resources.

    Separately from the Chabot issue, how do schools with many portables get on the list to get bond money?

  • On The Fence

    My perception is very similar to Livegreen’s, In my opinion, OUSD has long suffered from tunnel vision that allows the district to see, address, and direct attention to the students and schools in the flats. I agree that they essentially ignore the middle class families, students and schools. My only exception to Livegreen’s belief is that I feel that upper middle class families and students from schools like Montclair, Joaquin Miller, Crocker and Chabot are equally ignored, even if they seem to enjoy a greater ability to improve their schools via PTA finances and/or leave the district. The fact is, OUSD has failed to address the needs of both of these groups and they have voted with their feet by leaving the district. All I can speak to is my perception, but I hope that Troy Flint and others are willing to hear what some of the posters here are sharing with them. Our perceptions drive our behaviors and it is clear that we are leaving OUSD in droves. You are not meeting our needs and seemingly do not want to!

    Sadly, I do not believe that OUSD will do anything other than what they have already planned with regards to these ‘full service schools’ and ‘quality community schools’. Indeed, this is where they are directing the district’s resources, and indeed, they are paying lip-service to this whole information gathering phase. But I believe that the whole deal has already been made despite how many people show up to the flatland schools to opine on the issue. Lip-service, my friends, it is all lip-service.

    I was involved in a grassroots community movement several years ago in my former flatland neighborhood. OUSD held community meetings to determine what to do with our neighborhood school. We had a very strong neighborhood group, well regarded principal, and a unified parent group that spoke clearly and cohesively about how our school should be redesigned (I can’t recall the educational jargon that they were spouting at that time). We all attended the ‘community meeting’ at the school site, en masse, and in marched the OUSD administrators to state that they would do the exact opposite. This was supposedly an open ‘community meeting’, but OUSD had already made all the decisions.

    Perhaps I sound cynical and inflexible in my assertions, but remember this, I am a parent with two OUSD students, a tax payer, home owner and a member of the community, and like many others on this blog, I want OUSD to succeed. What would it look like for OUSD to focus on all children and truly take into account the opinions of its constituents?

  • Alice Spearman

    The schools which recieve bond measure funding were designated on our Facilities Master Plan a few years ago. What you are seeing now is something that was put in place when I first got elected. The Chabot boardmember was not elected then. If there are schools in much need, send me a list of them if there are more than those you have already named to my e-mail address alice.spearman@ousd.k12.ca.us, since I am a member of the facilities committee, I will check them out, they may be on the list and construction has not started yet. For example, look at the school being replaced in the dowtown complex, that funding was set aside 20 years ago, this board made the district keep it’s promise. Now Highland, Reach, Rise, Acorn-Woodland, and Encompass were all below the 50% FRL.
    Now let’s be real, a politician will fundraise in order to fund little things for their constituents, believe me Chabot is not getting any extra frills because their boardmember fundraises.

  • sue

    I don’t doubt the guy is smart, in fact I have heard great things about him. But it just reminds me of those college professors who have not worked in a school for years, yet espouse educrat jargon that mystifies those who listen.

    It’s like they do not want you to understand so they perhaps appear very smart, or so that others are too busy deciphering long tangents to even question the rhetoric?

    Thats all Im saying. This city has urban problems that need a bit of fire- this aint it! Too much of this already exists in Oakland. Quality schools should mean different approaches, cause what has been done in the past has obviously not worked.

    Im glad it is being re-taped though. I look forward to part 2. My advice……keep it simple!

  • AC Mom


    My children attend one of the schools you described as being “middle class” and while I agree that these schools experience funding constraints that neither the wealthier schools nor the poorer schools face your emphasis on the Chabot project seems misplaced. I have visited over half of the elementary schools in the district and the site conditions at Chabot were such that a new building was justified. The portables at Chabot dated from the WWII era and had clearly were in need of a permanent replacement. Add to this the demand for placement at Chabot and in my opinion it was logical to commit funds to the project. I have no stake (other than being a concerned taxpayer) in the project as I do not live within that neighborhood, nor do I have children at that school. The question that I have, perhaps Ms. Spearman can answer this, is how does the district prioritize school site improvements (i.e. new buildings and/or portables) and major maintenance? Does projected enrollment or demand get factored into the decision, because in my travels in recent school years I have seen a few cases of schools that were recently modernized but had several vacant classrooms or were at 75% or less of their capacity. This in turn leads to the question of school closures and what the district had once referred to as “right-sizing”, but perhaps that is better addressed on another thread. So, while I agree with your question of who got (or gets) what and why I think that the emphasis on Chabot was unnecessary.

    To Ms. Spearman and Mr. Flint:

    For the record, as a parent this is what I expect (and hope for) from OUSD, of course the devil is in the details…
    1.A rigorous learning environment for all students
    2.A school environment that emphasizes discipline and personal responsibility for staff, parents and students
    3.A clean, well maintained school site
    4.Teaching staff that communicates with parents to alert them of minor behavioral/health/academic issues
    5.Secondary school only: vocational education and work experience opportunities.
    6.Magnet schools where students can receive training in a field or preparation for further study (i.e. carpentry, digital media, culinary, foreign languages, science, automotive technology, etc.). These schools would be available starting in middle school, and would be open to Oakland students meeting the program’s prerequisites. If more students apply than can be accomodated, perhaps a ranking or lottery system could be devised for placement. Among the types of magnet schools I would include is a “Lowell-type” high school and perhaps a middle school for those kids that want an education that would prepare them for placement and success at a highly-selective college or university.

  • Katy Murphy

    If you want to learn more about the district’s strategic plan/vision/direction or want to get involved, there’s a meeting from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Thursday on the Tilden campus (near Mills College). Jean Quan might be there, too.

    Here’s a blurb from the OUSD events calendar:

    The Oakland Unified School District invites you to learn about the specific work being done on the Tilden Campus to support the District’s Strategic Direction, so you can get involved on the spot!

    Be sure to arrive promptly to hear Superintendent Smith’s welcome. Special invited guests include Mayor Jean Quan and District 4 Councilwoman Libby Shaaf.

    Please join us at Tilden School, 4551 Steele St, Oakland, CA 94619.

    For more information, please contact Denise Saddler at denise.saddler@ousd.k12.ca.us, or (510) 336-7574.

  • livegreen

    I’ll look into the Facilities Master Plan (I don’t understand why a copy is not on OUSD’s website), and I stand corrected about Chabot’s priority having anything to do with their OUSD Board Member receiving contributions. Ms. London is to be commended for her part in securing Measure B funds both for Chabot and OUSD. As a Chabot parent and co-chair of the Measure B campaign she appears to be deserved of her seat and support from her school body.

    Rather than campaign contributions, I’m sure her role and success on the M-B campaign played a role in Chabot being prioritized (without precluding that the Facilities Master Plan also played a role, whether this was a political process or not). I do understand this success is to be commended. What I’m still wondering is why some schools with multiple portables have not been included?

    Is there a reason 60 y.o. portables are more suitable for some campuses than others? -or- Why are some schools more deserved of Portable Replacement contracts than others?

    Thanks for any explanations that can be given.

    PS. Separate from the issue of Ms. London & Ms. Spearman doing their jobs (by replacing portables at the schools they represent) I wonder what our Representative has been doing and why he was not equal to the task.