Report: OUSD spent big $$ on consultants

No, this report was not written by the Oakland Education Association. Pepperdine University’s Davenport Institute of Public Policy released it. Researchers found that as California school districts received more money between 2003-04 and 2008-09, they spent a smaller portion of it on teachers, aides and supplies.

If this sounds familiar, it’s an expansion of a report that came out last summer. My colleague Theresa Harrington wrote about it; you can find her story here.

Pop Quiz: Guess the amount that Oakland Unified spent on consultants in 2008-09, per student? A whopping $2,384 out of $12,946, according to the report, compared to $274 per student in Lafayette (the lowest in the East Bay). That’s 18 percent.

For years, the Oakland teachers union has said that the district spends too much on consultants and too little on teachers. In fact, OUSD has violated the legal requirement that unified school districts in California spend at least 55 percent of their budgets on the salaries and benefits of teachers and aides.

I blogged about this last May. In September, the district reported it had fallen short again in 2009-10, spending just 53.26 percent on classroom expenditures — $5.9 million shy of the state requirement. The number of schools in the district (more than 100 for 38,000 students) contributes to the imbalance, as each school must pay for administrative overhead, no matter how small it is.

Another aspect of budgeting that’s particular to Oakland is that school leaders get to choose how to spend their money (See Results-Based Budgeting). If they’d rather hire an outside group to provide services to students or teachers than a full- or part-time staff member, they’re essentially free to do so. And they often do. In other words, some of the consultant expenditures are decided centrally, but not all of them.

Critics of the report, who were quoted in Theresa’s story, note that district budgets have shrunk since the 2008-09 school year, or that districts have cut centrally since then.

I didn’t get a response from OUSD. Troy Flint, the district spokesman, says the financial department is analyzing the report and will have something in a couple of weeks.

You can download the full report here.

UPDATE: If you want to compare Oakland’s numbers to other districts in Alameda County as well as to San Francisco, West Contra Costa, Long Beach, Los Angeles and San Jose, check out this two-tab spreadsheet. The first page is sorted alphabetically; the second by the percentage of the budget spent on the classroom, as defined by the Pepperdine researchers.

You’ll see that Los Angeles and Emery school districts spent even more on consultants than OUSD, and that San Francisco spent less of its budget on classroom expenses than Oakland. But the only local district that spent less of its budget on teacher salaries and benefits than Oakland was Berkeley (though Emery and Castro Valley came close).

Katy Murphy

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

  • Oakland Teacher

    Williams is not meant to deal with poor teachers. When looking at staffing, their oversight is that the teacher has the proper credential needed to teach that subject or grade. An intern credential means you are considered highly qualified. A full credential in that subject area or grade means the same. Williams (aka ACLU) will not take on the subject of poor teachers.

  • Really?

    I think the readership needs to be depressed.

    If 40% of 9th graders are at a 6th grade reading level, we are in serious trouble in this city.

    CST Scores correlate to life expectancy in Alameda county.

    Bigger picture, the United States has less than 5% of the world’s population and 23.4% of the world’s prison population.

    This is a disaster of epic proportions and if we want to not get depressed, we should change this system. If we continue to value adult job rights over the education of our youth, we’ll elect more puppets like W and Momma Grizzly.

    We are in trouble.

  • Debora

    Oakland Teacher: While this teacher is credentialed, she did so when she did not have to take a CBEST or a CSET and indeed when she attended her now accredited university it was not accredited. She stated to the students on numerous occasions that she did not know the grammar she was to teach, nor did she “know fractions and decimals” and she did not know the science concepts and would not help students locate the information.

    It is my limited understanding that Williams states that the teacher needs to be highly qualified. If the teacher does not demonstrate she knows the material and she is not willing to teach the material a Williams complaint on file at least requires the district and the principal to respond to the complaint in a stated, mediatory time frame.

    Livegreen: I will contact Gary Yee this week.

  • Gordon Danning


    “The legislation implementing the Williams settlement requires that every school district provide a uniform complaint process for complaints regarding insufficient instructional materials, unsafe or unhealthy facility conditions, and teacher vacancies and misassignments.” http://www.decentschools.org/settlement_action.php

    The “highly qualified teacher” requirement is from “No Child Left Behind,” and “highly qualified” is a bit of a misnomer; it requires only this: “To be deemed highly qualified, teachers must have: 1) a bachelor’s degree, 2) full state certification or licensure, and 3) prove that they know each subject they teach.” http://www2.ed.gov/nclb/methods/teachers/hqtflexibility.html What level of knowledge satisfies the last criterion, I don’t know (though it sure sounds like the teacher in question might fall short).

  • Oakland Teacher

    #3 “…Know each subject area” means that you have passed the CSET in that area (or equivalent test earlier). It is about technically meeting the criteria as highly qualified. We all know that it does not mean that you are an effective teacher.

    “Highly qualified” is a doublespeak invented by NCLB, and does not mean what it sounds like. It just means having the proper credential. It means you can’t teach high school with a multiple subject credential, you can’t teach Math without a math authorization, etc… An intern credential is legally always considered “Highly Qualified.” It does not mean you know anything about teaching, or the subject area, except as demonstrated by passing one of the CSET exams (although I don’t think you could pass the single subject ones unless you knew the subject well). The multiple subject exam is not that difficult to pass, as it is more of a general knowledge test. But ultimately, the worth of a teacher is not their ability to answer test questions, but their ability to reach students.

    I am not saying parents shouldn’t complain when a teacher is doing a poor job. Just that Williams is not there to weed out bad teachers, only ones who do not have the proper credential. The really positive result of Williams in terms of teachers, is that a district is no longer able to assign subs working under an emergency credential for the long term (more than 30 days) to a class. OUSD used to have far more of that, and it was especially prevalent in schools with a high percentage of students of color. The down side of that is that you can end up with a revolving door of subs, 30 days each if they are not appropriately credentialed. All in all, it has gotten much better. As a parent in OUSD, my kids have had some zinger teachers (along with many extraordinary ones), and I have learned to speak up, uncomfortable though it may be.

    I do want to say (although I hate to feed into the anti-teacher chanters) that I have seen teachers fired after they already had tenure. It takes a principal who is willing to work endlessly going through the steps. Most principals are not willing to bother. Many principals don’t bother really doing the hard work to weed out or retrain new teachers either, and end up just passing them along, just like we are forced to do with students. I can’t blame them, as they already have an impossible job, but I have really admired every principal I have seen who was willing to do the hard, dirty, and thankless task of weeding out really sub-standard teachers. All the people who say once you have tenure, you are set for life – you are wrong. It is not true.

  • http://Q1 Debora

    `Gordon: I think my question is this – sometimes as a parent I feel helpless when it comes to making my daughter’s school a place for learning.

    In our family, over the course of the last 6 years (k-5), my daughter has had one or both parents volunteer a minimum of 15 hours per month. We thought we were doing what we needed to do to support her education – we get her to school on time, have her participate in the annual oratorical, science fair, spelling bee and volunteer days. She works on the safety patrol. With the exception of one day in six years she has her homework done. We make her dental appointments at 7:30 am so she is at school at time – doctors visits are always scheduled after 3:30 or on the weekend. We pay for summer classes to make up for what has not been taught during the school year in writing, science or math. We make sure that our daughter provides the district with high test scores because it matters to our school and to OUSD.

    When we document our needs for having a teacher teach what is in the textbooks and will be tested, when we spend hours and hours doing so, our need to have our daughter educated falls short. The response is quite simply not adequate. As a parent I want a way, short of leaving the district, to have a time-frame I can count on, a process by which we can work with a teacher to provide an adequate education for my daughter. And I feel that the teacher, the principal, the school and the district let us down.

    I know the teacher has a process for which she pays monthly to give her due process. I, too, wish as a parent I could pay a monthly fee to give us the same due process when it comes to our daughter’s public education.

  • Gordon Danning


    I absolutely agree that there needs to be a better system for identifying “lower echelon” teachers and getting them to do better or, if that doesn’t happen in a timely manner, easing them into another profession.

    But one alarm bell does go off when I see you make a reference to “having a teacher teach what is in the textbooks and will be tested,” because that which is tested is not necessarily what should be taught. What should be taught is what is in the state standards, but in some disciplines (eg: social studies) the state tests only the CONTENT standards, not the THINKING standards. And the state does not seem to test writing at all in a meaningful way (no one does, not even AP tests, since AP test grades are so heavily influenced by mutltiple choice. IB seems to test writing, though).

    So before we start judging teachers, we need either better tests OR a system of evaluating teachers based on rigor, etc. Otherwise, we will not be making any progress — we will at best only be changing the very bottom of the system (ie,. the very worst teachers).

    So, I would love to see parents push the district/the state etc to implement better testing. There are better testing regimens out there, but they are a bit pricy (tho perhaps not beyond the price of committed parent fundraisers)

  • Debora

    Gordon: I originally was going to refer to the state standards in my post. I should have. In the past when I have referred to the California state standards in a post I have been told by teachers on the blog that the standards are convoluted, and that the information will be looped – that is fifth grade human anatomy will be readdressed in seventh grade adding more depth to the knowledge or teaching the gaps in knowledge.

    So, to be very clear our family expected the state standards to be taught in fourth grade. Below are the state standards my daughter was particularly looking forward to learning in fourth grade. First, because she has wanted to learn Latin since she was in first grade, we looked up the state standards and found that she would be learning Greek and Latin root words and word roots as well as prefixes and suffixes. She was thrilled; it was to be the first small step in her Latin journey.

    She was going to learn to write an essay, not just creative writing, but she was finally going to write expository essays, the kind that she could use to clearly explain her scientific ideas.

    Science, oh the fourth grade science, there was the rock cycle and my daughter thought about how some of the mythical creatures were invented to explain volcanoes and unexplored ocean depths, and she would be able to observe the differences between plants that grew in fresh water were different from those in salt water. She wanted to learn about magnets and she wondered if magnetic strength differed in the air, in salt water and in fresh water.

    Next, was math, just as she viewed the learning of phonics as the “baby steps” in learning to read, computation was the “baby steps” in mathematics to her. She finally, according to the state standards, would move beyond simple computation to be able to use mathematics, and the metric system, to be able to graph and mathematically demonstrate her ideas about science.

    We promise her she could learn Latin in middle school because after her school librarian introduced the students to Greek and Roman mythology, gods and goddess, and after Annie, the scientist mother of a classmate, reinforced that there is a “language of science” my daughter was hooked. Really hooked, on math and science – the marriage of all other subjects – vocabulary, writing, reading comprehension (reading was necessary in understanding how to set up science investigations, after all) – and the math, oh, the math.

    None of it happened. Everything I described here – not one piece of it was taught by the classroom teacher. None. You don’t need a newly designed state test; you don’t need more oversight to know as a classroom teacher in California you are required to teach the California state standards. We had parents volunteering in the class every day. We reviewed each paper my daughter brought home. We reviewed her notebooks. We were at the school weekly looking at what was in the classroom – word walls as there were in other classrooms – were nonexistent.

    Every piece of writing, every report, everything was marked in red ink “Read for content only.” Not one piece of writing in two years was peer edited or teacher edited.

    When my daughter took the entrance exam for private middle school, the ISEE, she walked out crying. She said, “Mom, the questions were about vocabulary using prefixes and suffixes. There were words I didn’t know and the teacher told us to pick out what they main word was to help identify the meaning. I didn’t know mom; I just didn’t know.” I assured her that because she scored so highly on the CST in ELA and math she would be fine. But in the end, in the reading comprehension and vocabulary sections she was not fine. She knew what she had not been taught, and what she had not learned.

    I am ashamed of myself as a parent for not being a better advocate. I am ashamed of the principal for not standing up to the teacher and the union and requiring weekly lesson plans addressing the state standards. Most of all I am ashamed of her teacher for wasting an opportunity to teach students who are eager and willing to learn, who come to school every day rested, fed and with homework in hand. I am ashamed that I did not do everything in my power, to give my daughter the education the state of California says she is entitled to have with the funding they provide.

    The state standards are the BARE MINIMUM to which children in this state are entitled to be taught. The state standards are not the top, but the bare minimum. For children who go to school ready to learn the teacher should have to teach the state standards, children should be taught the information.

    If a teacher has time, as this one did, to show Disney and Star Wars movies when some students begged her to sit at a back table and read or write, when she has time to pass out candy every week, when she has time to use her professional development time to stay home, she has time to teach the standards. And I, as a parent, should have found a way to hold her to teaching the minimum state standards. That is where I was remiss as a parent.

  • J.R.

    It’s not your fault, it’s a problem with the education system. There are very fine caring and loving teachers, but there are some who picked the wrong profession. There is too many layers of admin and staff(the dept. of education is darn near useless). The system has been turned from education to nothing more than a job corp. Too many people who just aren’t “kids first” type of people. The horrible parenting from people who shouldn’t even be parents is a big problem as well. They won’t even give their own kids the time of day. Too many self centered,self absorbed people just make things even worse.

  • Catherine

    Debora: We had a similar situation at our other wise good elementary school. Three principals in five years did not help the situation. We are finding the situation better in middle school. I suggest you use your experience in elementary school to advocate for your daughter in middle school. That is what we have chosen to do. Good luck to you.

  • Nextset

    Debora: I read your post #108. I suppose you got what you paid for. It seems to me that OUSD and such districts clearly work to the lowest common denominator. If one placed a bright child in such a district, this is what is going to happen.

    Most probably no amount of our blogging about all this can turn it around. One of my close friends who was an office holder said to me a few years ago (when the economy broke) that people need to understand, THESE are the good years. Those in elected positions (and economic historians?) generally understand things are going to get (steadily, quickly) much worse.

    Most likely there is just no reason to believe OUSD and Los Angeles USD are going to be improving. Quite the opposite. And if the state had done anything to prevent this state of affairs it would not be California. Permissiveness means permission to fail.

    Vote with your feet. And don’t let school get in the way of your daughter’s education.

    Brave New World.

  • Steven Weinberg


    In evaluating ISEE scores it is vital to remember that students are being compared only to students taking this exam, usually the top students at their grade levels. It is very common for students who generally score at the 90th percentile on nationally normed tests to score below the 70th percentile on the ISEE. This test is designed to rank the very best students, so it must contain some extremely difficult questions, and your daughter should understand that and not feel bad about being unable to answer some of them. If you have not yet heard from the school that you are applying to, you may be pleasantly surprised when you do. What strikes you as a low score may be quite satisfactory to them.

    I went to the ISEE website to research this response, and I noted there that the reading comprehension test is the one test that is not arranged with the easiest questions first, so a group of incorrect answers in that test do not reflect a problem with instruction at a given grade level. The order of the questions in that section are determined by the order of the reading selections, each of which have some easy and some harder questions. A group of wrong answers in a row probably result from a selection about a topic your daughter was unfamiliar with, which happens to most students.

    Here are two websites with more information about ISEE scores:

    I wish the best for you and your daughter.

  • Debora

    Steven: Thank you for your kind wishes.

    Just to be clear when I say she did not score well in two areas in scored in the bottom 10%. This is a child who has the capability of scoring much, much higher when the material is taught. Of course we will make sure that she is taught these skills outside her public school. If we cannot afford the services we will barter for them.

    My point is that there are many students for whom outside tutoring or help outside the public classroom is not an option. When we allow classroom teachers to simply refuse to teach the state content standards we are doing a disservice to those students, the future teachers of the students and to our society who count on skills being taught.

  • Debora

    Steven: I should have been more clear CST – top 2%. ISEE bottom 10%.

  • Debora

    I am struggling to convey what is I am frustrated, sad and disappointed with. I will try here one last time. It is not the lack of teaching of one teacher, or the lack of change in one principal.

    I know that many students go through Oakland Unified School District and go on to top named colleges and universities. I know that overall students can receive a good education in Oakland if parents or guardians pay attention, make sure their students have good teachers at the school. I know there are the top 10% and the bottom 10% of anything: schools, teachers, businesses, restaurants, anything. This whole outline of mine has nothing to do with the college or university into which she is accepted.

    I am talking about a life worth living, about the DESIRE to learn, and the promises made and kept or not kept to students who LIVE to learn, not those who learn to live. I am not talking about merely getting enough good education to get in to a grand university. I am talking about those children who so desire to learn that when something new is introduced in their classrooms, communities, Saturday language school, churches, mosques, temples, or home that they simply MUST learn more.

    I have this type of child. I love this type of child. I nurture this type of child. But, I cannot do it alone. I rely on the educational community to do what they say they will do, not for the sake of a test score and not for the university education but to help create an educated life worth celebrating.

    When I am wished luck in getting into a private school, a school in another district, a middle school in Oakland, I accept those well wishes as though it is the university education and the path to that education that I seek. While it is a lovely sentiment and an appreciated one, it is the enthusiasm for foreign language, abstract thinking, questions with out pat answers, joy from an educational community commensurate with the joy and effort she places in that community that I and my daughter are seeking.

    As a community we seem to expect students to wait until latter middle school and high school to have this experience. What I see is the light and hope dim as the year’s pass and teachers will not engage a student respectfully in this deep way.

    What has happened, is that over time a lack of respect for the adult teachers who do not accept their responsibly to guide and nurture each student to the fullest potential of the student’s desire to know, ability to think deeply and thoughtfully and to teach knowledge and thoughtful academic behavior for its own sake, builds in children by the time they reach middle school. And in doing so, children are less likely to put their whole emotional, intellectual and psychological effort out to several teachers when they have not seen the whole emotional, intellectual and psychological effort given to them by the teachers in the past.

    Perhaps this fire inside the child is unique to only a few. If so, I am truly fortunate to have many of them in my daughter’s and my life. Intellectual curiosity is what my daughter possesses now; it is what I am working to nurture and grow for a lifetime.

  • Nextset

    Debora: While it’s clear your child is terribly important to you, she is only one child in the school she attends and in the classes she sits. The amount of time and energy a teacher can give your child is dependent on the rest of the children in that class and that school. Are they scoring similar to your child? Are they as well behaved as your child? Do they have family similar to your child?

    If the schools are one-size-fits-all with children sitting next to other children years apart in accomplishment and cognitive skill, the brighter children are not likely to get attention.

    Which is why segregated schools – by age, sex, scores, interest in lab science or theatre – make sense to a lot of people.

    Does the child you speak of fit comfortably within the average for her classes? Or is she an outlier? Is she a good fit for the students she shares classes with?

    It seems to me that you either want more from the faculty, or feel they are not doing what they should be doing. Do you feel they are serving the class as a whole badly – or does that enter into this equasion?

    I am afraid funding is about to be really cut back. Class sizes will grow. It will probably be required that more students self-study and delivery the improvement in scores and performance from their own efforts at learning. Who knows, maybe the high schools will be forced to adopt the college type lecture halls with 300 kids getting lectures, being expected to do their own reading assignments, and come in for testing in large testing halls.

    That’s what we do when there’s no money for the hand holding.

    Brave New World.

  • Debora

    Nextset: She is within the top third of her class of 32 students. At least 10 – 12 other students show up every day with the same or similar skill set and the same or similar motivation. She is not unique in her peer group. If she was an outlier I would understand, but she is not. When you can ability group 1/3 of your class, it is not unreasonable to give the students a substantial assignment while the teacher works with the lowest ability group.


    get. rid. of. deadweight.

    if you disagree with the above statement, you are invested in keeping your job or the job of your friend, who cannot find another job because they are incompetent.

    lose the deadweight everywhere: defense spending, wall street, union bloat, and other corporate lobbying interests. it’s all crap and it’s all ruining our country.

  • Turanga_teach

    Hi Debora (#97)

    I apologize for not responding sooner–it’s been a crazy week in my school and my district’s public education experience for reasons surprisingly UNRELATED to tenure…

    I genuinely sympathize with your difficult situation, and it truly sounds like you’ve done and are doing all you can do. What a blessing for your child–that intrinsic love of learning, that desire to learn more. I know of schools and teachers (yes, in Oakland!) who encourage that, classrooms where learning is appropriately differentiated to allow an access point for the gifted as well as those with more challenges. I still believe that there are places in our district where your daughter can be well-served by dynamic, committed educators: there are folks in the profession who want for kids like your daughter exactly what you do (heck, look at the teachers at Oakland School for the Arts who are teaching AP English on their own time before school.)

    I can’t give you specific advice on what more to do in your situation: it is an issue, it needs to be addressed, and there are unfortunately a lot of obstacles (beyond OMG TENURE!) that make it hard to address with a 100% success rate every time. As another poster said, a Williams complaint is probably not the road to go on here: the issue isn’t whether that teacher had an appropriate credential, it’s whether or not evaluation, training, and disciplinary procedures have been followed if she is truly not appropriately placed. The secondary issue, to me, is whether a combo or looped class was an appropriate choice for the students and the teacher in your daughter’s situation (sounds like the teacher had reduced knowledge of one of the two grades she taught): unfortunately, budget cuts are making those more prominent, but there are huge difficulties to overcome in making them work.

    Honestly, I’ve never experienced or spent time in a class where the standards aren’t being addressed. I know many, many educators (myself included) who have issues with the mile-wide-inch-deep nature of the current standards, and who are excited by the possibility of the Common Core State Standards initiative gaining power and acceptance. But that’s a different issue, unrelated to the initial post Katy made on consultant spending.

    My best to you and your daughter. I didn’t mean, at all, that your situation and the situations of others with kids in ‘poor-fit’ classrooms, wasn’t something to be concerned about: my point is just that education, and the problems and opportunities thereof, is a lot bigger than the reductionist “tenure” squabble makes it seem.

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