Oakland school honored for closing the achievement gap

Manzanita SEED Elementary School. Photo by Laura A. Oda/Bay Area News Group

Only two schools in California and 250 in the United States won the 2010 National Title I Distinguished School Award for closing the achievement gap, and one of them is right here in Oakland: Manzanita SEED.

I wrote about the Spanish-English immersion elementary school in September. Its API has risen by 190 points in the last two years, and now it’s 842 out of a possible 1,000.

About 85 percent of the students at the diverse school come from low-income homes, and about half enter kindergarten as English learners; their reading and math proficiency scores are at or above the school’s average.

At Manzanita SEED, which opened in 2005 and shares a campus with Manzanita Community School, half of the school day is taught in English, and half is taught in Spanish. Unlike a traditional bilingual program, in which English learners are sometimes in class with other English learners, the classrooms are integrated. And children with special needs learn side by side with general education students.

So at the celebration today, it was only fitting that the sing-alongs included “Somewhere over the rainbow,” “Paz y Libertad,” the African-American spiritual “This little light of mine,” and “Rio” — and that a fifth-grader and a teacher stood on the stage, signing all of the lyrics.

Superintendent Tony Smith said this school is what he hoped the future of Oakland Unified would look like. “This is a school that honors children by expecting them to be great academically and socially,” he said. “This is an incredible place.”

Ironically, just as the school is being recognized nationally, its principal is grappling with the prospect of deep budget cuts. Nothing is certain, but district administrators have asked the principals to prepare budgets reflecting cuts of up to 15 percent (though that was last year, before the governor’s budget proposal). For Manzanita SEED, that would barely leave funds to cover the classroom teachers, let alone art, counseling, collaboration time for teachers and extra help for struggling students.

“We were already doing it with very little,” Principal Katherine Carter said. She added, “It’s forcing us to go after private funding.”

You can find the full story here.

Katy Murphy

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

  • Cranky Teacher

    This is terrific, and some good support for the beleaguered notion of bilingual education.

  • Nextset

    This is an elementary school.

    “The Gap” becomes clear and distinct later – High School years specifically. And there are reasons for that.

    You can play with the stats easiest in the early years which is why you usually see pious comments about “the gap being closed” always put forth in the context of an elementary school. This is done to fool the readers (that are susceptible) into thinking that something has changed.

    Nothing has changed.

    It’s nice to see any school doing well no matter how we frame it, but let’s not make this into something more than what it is. This is (nice) work done to improve elementary school scores. This does not translate into any kind of long term change in stats that tend to be fixed and constant.

  • Concerned Parent

    “This is a school that honors children by expecting them to be great academically and socially,”

    Since when is an expectation a way of honoring children. When I was in school, we received reward: Cute xeroxed certificates that we could take home to our parents; bumper stickers and ribbons; pizza parties and luncheons…

    From my perspective, there has been nothing to honor the children that actually did the work to make this Title 1 recognition a reality for this school.

    It would be nice if someone would think of the children, and actually reward their hard work.

  • congrats SEED

    Oh, I get it. So when the school does well, we’re supposed to reward the kids. When a school does poorly, we’re supposed to fire their teachers.

    Congrats SEED. Your students are being rewarded with a good education.

  • Cranky Teacher

    Nextset, you are wrong, wrong, wrong.

    At third grade the gaps start to progressively widen unless dramatic interventions or top-notch education is given.

    At high school, you see graphic manifestations of this gap: drop-outs, crime, runaways, etc. The key to success in high school, however, is having the reading, writing, math and study skills necessary to succeed.

    While we can help some marginal students at high school, most studies show it is 0-9 where the most important inputs are for student success.

  • Hot r

    It is actually 4th grade where the reading gap becomes apparent, and is very hard to reverse. As Nextset suggests it is much much easier to close the “gap” in elementary school than high school, and the statistics are misleading if the District points to this as a “trend.”. At the same time, congratulations are in order to the staff and kids.

  • Elizabeth

    Congratulations to all the Administrators, Teachers, Students, and Parents that made this possible. Success like this is a community effort, something you will hear echoed by the voices at SEED. Shame on those of you belittling their success. I wish I had a school like this in my community. Way to go.

  • SEED Parent

    With regard to Concerned Parent’s comments, I think having high expectations of these kids IS a reward for them that perhaps no one has ever had of them before. If a child is expected to live up to high standards – often they will and in living up to those standards it gives them a sense of accomplishment and pride in their work and in themselves. The kids do get small rewards throughout the school year for doing well. Of course there is more that can be done but the SEED teachers are amazing and doing the best with the very limited resources they have. This is an amazing school and we could not be more pleased to be a part of it – and so are our kids.
    Congrats to everyone at SEED!

  • Ms. J.

    SEED is really an exciting place, and the staff there are all not only dedicated and inspired but extremely resourceful and smart. I am so glad that the school is finding success in reducing the achievement gap, and I recommend that people watch Katherine Carter’s presentation to the school board in which she outlines how her school has been able to make such great gains. It’s available on Youtube but since I’m at school (on my prep period, so don’t get your panties in a twist) I can’t send the link. Very good stuff, and not beyond the realm of possibility for other public schools.

  • Katy Murphy

    I think this is the video Ms. J was talking about: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0iGiWmhgyug

  • Cranky Researcher

    The small schools movement gets no credit here but Manzanita SEED is a ‘new’ small school (opened in 2005), and its principal Katherine Carter is a very active small school movement leader. Ascend and Manzanita Community are the other two schools that arose from the older Manzanita Elementary and both are also high performing schools, whereas the original school was chronically low performing.

    There is a common myth out there that early academic gains fade out in later years, known as the Fadeout Effect among researchers – there were a few older studies that indicated this for head Start, but there has been better research more recently that shows that HS and other early childhood program impacts continue to give benefits into adulthood (graduates are less likely to commit crimes than siblings who were not in the program, etc), and the connection between low 4th grade reading levels and high school dropout is rather strong.

    The problem is not that 4th grade reading levels don’t matter, the problem is that they aren’t getting better overall nationally (flatlining at one third of 4th graders reading proficiently on the NAEP nationally). So schools that do improve it like SEED should be applauded and imitated.

  • Katy Murphy

    Cranky Researcher: The full story mentions the small schools movement.


  • Catherine

    Katy: Another question – I believe that Manzanita Elementary School was under program improvement. After 5 years the school was broken into Manzanita Seed and Manzanita Community. Did the teachers re-apply for their jobs at that point? Manzanita Seed is thriving – but not so at Manzanita – what is the difference?

    Teachers at the school must work collectively and use a focused approach at looking at students benchmark tests and focusing on learning for what the students missed. It would be interesting to me to see how the teachers at each school were selected. At my school right now, several parents are ready to file Williams complaints against several teachers because of real or perceived deficits in the planning and execution of the teaching in some middle school classrooms. I think if we worked and planned more closely and agreed to teach at a certain level for all students many schools in Oakland could succeed as Manzanita Seed has – however, we would all have to step out of our comfort zones – teachers, administrators, students and parents / guardians.

  • Katy Murphy

    Hey Catherine – Do you mean the old Manzanita Elementary wasn’t thriving, or that Manzanita Community isn’t? Do you teach there?

    Manzanita SEED opened a year earlier than Manzanita Community, but I’m pretty sure both schools were allowed to hire whomever they wanted in that first year.

  • Time to close some schools

    Catherine raises a critical point – Manzanita SEED is thriving, Manzanita Community is not. What’s the difference? The principal. Why is there no discussion of closing Manzanita Community and making the school one large SEED under Ms Carter’s direction? It’s my understanding the Manzanita Community’s numbers have been dropping in recent years, Superintendent Tony Smith has talked about closing schools – a larger SEED would draw parents back to OUSD. Someone needs to take a more serious look at the schools that haven’t been able to make it and consider closing them down. Enough waste of money and wasting our students’ lives.

  • Catherine

    Katy: I teach middle school but have colleagues at both Manzanita schools. Manzanita Seed and Community have roughly the same ethnic and socioeconomic students at the school.

    Both schools use Si Swun math. This is an example of how the Swun math method works in Oakland schools where students come without a strong background knowledge and home experience in using math daily (100% of 5th grade students at Seed are proficient or advanced in math).

    Seed also has experienced teachers collaborating with and assisting new teachers. I believe that when the school was reconstituted many teachers left the school rather than reapplying for “their positions.” In doing so room was made for teachers who willing to try innovative methods of teaching and believing that all students could achieve grade level mastery.

    I know that when I first started teaching, I did not believe that every student could achieve mastery of grade level material. I KNOW it is true. I have seen struggling students have the light switched on after years of far below and below basic test scores. For students who do not learn the way we are teaching, we need to figure out new ways to do it.

    For all of those who decry Swun math – I was with you. But I see my students understand – when you write in red, pencils down, I listen. When you write in blue, I listen, then I do. When you write in green I need to be working with you and on my own. For the first time in decades in Oakland we have held students feet to the flame and said that math facts must be memorized – first addition and subtraction families, then multiplication and division families. Without math facts we get stuck in computation and plain arithmetic instead of mathematics. To compare it is the same as mastering phonics, phonemic awareness and basic sentence structure to read rather than just decode.

    What Seed does so well is set the basic foundation in the primary grades and even in grade four so that by grade five students don’t just succeed, they excel. This is the work of great teachers, great students and supportive families working together to have students in class, ready to learn and excel every day.

    Congratulations Manzanita Seed!

  • Katy Murphy

    Teachers, students and parents and staff at Manzanita Community would know better than I about the extent to which it is thriving (or not). But since you bring up numbers…

    Its API dropped slightly (11 points) in 2009, but it rose by 61 points in 2010 to 733 (http://bit.ly/euzGC6). It also met all of its AYP/NCLB goals last year (http://bit.ly/fgSIb9).

  • Nextset

    Another thing about this API thing. When the API numbers are changing or moving in any school you cannot assume the reasons are the “quality” of the education – or the addition or subtraction of “good” or “bad” teachers.

    You need to first look at the shifting demographics of the students.

    Remember the Scott Phelps incident at Pasadena Schools, where the teachers were told they should take a new pay scheme where their pay would be adjusted up or down by the academic performance of the students? Phelps (a teacher) circulated a memo to the teachers/union members using the school’s interoffice mail citing the racial census on the feeder elementary schools showing that the high school was turning blacker which created a statistical certainty that the academic numbers would decline (and so would their pay under the proposed scheme).

    Of course the school district had a hissy fit and suspended Phelps for spreading “Hate Truths” and being a “Racist”. I believe they were forced to reinstate him with full pay.

    I for one am not about to take pious statements about hard work and improving API scores very easily. Oakland Unified like most California Urban/Ghetto districts is turning Mexican for various well known reasons. As it does, the baseline academic scores will change. Hispanics generally score higher than Blacks in certain areas. The patterns are so stark we could tell the race of a high school scholarship candidate just from the transcript math/verbal scores which I was doing scholarship interviews previously at an urban public school (asian, white, hispanic, black typically had different fixed ratios in the scores and sub scores). There could be an atypical candidate but that was extremely rare.

    Maybe some scoring at a school boasting about improved numbers was affected by “hard work” but the racial numbers usually/always move together with the patterns and differences remaining constant relative to each other.

    So I’m not buying that “closing the gap” line just because somebody claims it. I’ve been through that too many times. The “Gap” when measured with large numbers is simply too constant.

    I do approve of a rising tide floating all boats. But if you think you are going to fundamentally change people and make them into what you want them to be just because you feel like it, it’s not going to happen. That kind of change takes time and comes from within. Then you get into that “acting white” problem (acting jewish??)

    You are not going to turn Black kids into Asians, or get most any ethnic to become something they don’t want to. If you want to change a group, you’d need to find a way to make them want to be/profile different than what they are. And be careful, if you succeed they may be rejected by their peer group. Even their families.

    Does this apply to 3rd graders? How about 8th graders? Now what about 11th graders?

    Maybe we should talk about this.