Oakland teachers propose new platform for union

They call themselves Oakland Teachers for Innovative and Equitable Schooling, or Oakland TIES. Their platform (which I posted in full, below) calls for better teacher retention, a more representative union, greater teacher control over working conditions, needs-based funding allocations, and union involvement in revamping teacher evaluations.

The small group — it has five core members — has encouraged like-minded candidates to run for a seat on the Oakland Education Association’s executive board in May.

Emily Sacks, a special education teacher at Redwood Heights Elementary and Manzanita Community School, said TIES is not a splinter group, despite fears to the contrary, and that it’s not affiliated with any outside organizations. (Great Oakland Public Schools has also taken an interest in executive board elections, but Sacks said there wasn’t a connection.)

“Really, it was about how we strengthen the union by getting more voices into the mix,” she said.

The OEA’s executive board has pushed for smaller class sizes, particularly in flatlands schools, and for other policies that affect the daily lives of classroom teachers and their students. But the volunteer board also gets involved in causes that relate less directly to the working conditions of its members — taking a stand against the Fruitvale gang injunction, for one, or protesting the federal bailouts of banks.

And the union’s leadership did not support school parcel tax campaigns in 2008 and 2010, though the extra revenue would have raised millions of dollars a year for its members’ paychecks.

“I just don’t feel like I know what the union does for me,” Sacks said.

Sacks said she feels strongly that it’s the responsibility of members to make sure their union is representative. So she began meeting with other teachers, including Greg Cluster from Metwest and Karen Pezzetti from LIFE Academy, to see if they could figure out how to boost participation in the OEA. They began with this question: “If there were different issues at the forefront of the union conversation, would more people get involved, and more enthusiastically involved?”

Sacks said she has shared some of her ideas with Betty Olson-Jones, the OEA president, who has been “nothing but encouraging” to her.

TIES sent out a survey (which elicited responses from about 150 teachers) to see what teachers thought of their platform. You can find the results, as well as the anonymous comments, here.

If you want to learn about the group’s ideas or want to get involved, you can send an email to oaklandties@gmail.com.

Do you agree that such an effort is needed to activate rank-and-file OEA members? Do you think the union’s agenda needs to be revamped, refocused, or more clearly communicated? How? What do you think of TIES’ platform, below?

Strategic Collaboration Support OUSD schools

o Think big picture: support/advocate for getting more funding from state/federal levels
o Partner schools, more push for shared practice among schools

Retain Teachers Through Real Teacher Support

o BTSA representation on EBOARD
o 1-4 teachers paired with master teachers, new teachers released from class 2-3 hours a week to observe, 1-2 hours of feedback from master teacher

New Structures to Build a Stronger, More Representative OEA

o Reach out to new teachers
o More electronic polling of OEA membership body
o New structure for rep council so they are more efficient and productive

Revamp Evaluations for Collaborative Reflection

o More eval input from more sources (Admin ,teachers, parents, students)
o Develop to plans to support or eventually dismiss teacher who repeatedly have poor evals
o Differentiated evals for new/veteran teachers or a teacher continuum

Teachers are professionals: Real Power over Working Conditions

o Each site determines area of focus for the semester Teachers take lead on all PD
o Teacher hiring/staffing committees at all sites. Teacher input into hiring
o Teachers also evaluate admin for growth and collaboration
o Teachers elect principals from within or select from outside

We keep issues of equity at the core of the union’s positions.

o We support need-based allocation of funds
o What is fair is not always equal

Katy Murphy

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

  • OakTeach

    This sounds great! There are so many of us who feel not represented by OEA but want to be. Count me in.

  • Harold

    Lots of god ideas here. But, I do not trust electronic voting. I hope people don’t think sitting at home and voting on the internet is somehow: democracy at work. Unions can evolve, streamline, etc., but I honestly believe the face-to-face debate and public voting is the essence of unionism.

    re: students participation in evaluations … NO WAY!

  • Harold

    oops … Lots of “good ideas”

  • wdcrachel

    I love that teachers are looking to unions as a venue for change rather than dismissing the union as “those people”.

  • EO Teacher

    I would rather have student evaluations than some of the principals I have had…or test scores. Student responses to questions such as “I am treated fairly in this class,” “The teacher clearly explains topics,” and “I feel that I can ask my teacher for help” have been enlightening. It has been my experience that student feedback is a valuable tool, and not something to be feared. You just have to ask the right questions. And while I’m typically skeptical of anything coming out of the Gates foundation, they recently released a study that saw high correlation between student perception of effective teaching and test scores gains.

    If you’re not going to ask the students if they’re learning, who are you going to ask?

  • Nextset

    Unions are important and the workers need to get involved.

    Having said that – much of the Oakland Teacher Union activity is fiddling while Rome burns.

    Workers need to get ahead of change to survive it. I don’t see any movement to do so in the teacher unions. The bulk of their demands is to be given slices of pie that is already eaten.

    Maybe the OUSD teachers unions need to start planning for new jobs and new occupations for it’s membership. And do so openly. Start a job placement office – to get the membership new jobs outside of OUSD. Make it clear to the membership and to the public that OUSD has poor prospects for the future – and the unions will work to ease the membership’s dependence on this badly run district as a place of employment.

  • Bones

    We want equity! But more equity for some than others!

  • sue

    Good luck to you! I commend you for what you are proposing. My response however is; have you seen their warchest? The parent group CTA is rich and this is not the first splinter group to try.

    My suggestion- go charter and get all that you want. OUSD is burning and will be ashes at the rate this state and they are going.

  • On the Fence

    I’m curious about what is meant by the last point about equity.

  • Marcia

    Equal is not the same as equitable. Treating people “equally”–i.e. the same–when they are not similarly situated is not “fair” and does not result in equity. Hence, “what is fair is not always equal.”

  • Concerned parent

    All points are good except the second to the last.
    Principals are professionals also, if I am not mistaken they have their own union and negotiate on contracts and evaluations like teachers.

    Parents and students can not fully understand the job of a teacher and from what I see from being in my children’s school, teachers do not fully understand the role of the principal.
    If a teacher wants the supervisors role they should get hired in a supervisors position.

  • Oakland Teacher

    “Teachers also evaluate admin for growth and collaboration”

    Re #11 Teachers are uniquely qualified to evaluate site administration on this point. It is one of the most important qualities of a principal; they do not serve strictly as a technical advisory and budget director. Principals must be able to work effectively with staff for a school to really work well. Teachers daring to suggest that they be able to evaluate this characteristic do not “want the supervisors role” as you stated. While principals do have a complex and demanding job, some of us do understand what their job is (not that it means we want to or could do it).

    While I have some reservations about some of these suggestions, it would not be about this one single point. The site admin needs to be a member of the “team” not just in charge of it. Just as teachers can grow and improve from a principal’s evaluation, the reverse is also true. I would hope that principals would actually embrace this point.

  • maestra

    The bank actions aren’t the problem. The problem is the lack of communication and organiztion. It’s also that certain eboard members are so out of touch with reality that they propose strike votes in the middle of uncertainty over layoffs. This means that we waste rep council time debating ridiculous proposals that will never pass instead of working to improve schools and working conditions for teachers. They don’t seem to think strategically about how to develop a strong union and negotiate effectively with the district. Meanwhile, the district seems to be in the mode of using honeyed words about working together while pushing for merit pay (which is why I’m GLAD the union didn’t back the ballot initiative), laying off teachers and imposing a contract. I’d like to see the union invest in workshops to develop leadership and organizing skills in its members. I’d also like to see them communicate more effectively with members and reach out to sites that don’t send anyone to rep council. There wasn’t much competition in the nominations for eboard this year, so I guess it won’t happen any time soon.

  • Starshaped


    I can tell you that the OEA DOES offer organizing skills and leadership workshops. NO ONE SHOWS UP!! I’ve been to several and, if you’re lucky, there are 10 people at these workshops. They are free and informative. The schedule was handed out at rep council at the start of the year. Several had to be cancelled because distinct lack of interest expressed by the body.

    As for eboard, there is competition for every position open except for Secretary and Seat 2. If you want to get rid of the more strident elements of the eboard, I suggest you vote for those people who running against those you disagree with.

  • On the Fence

    Marcia: Thanks for the explanation, but I guess my real question is how this group would like to see their desires for equity implemented. I’m interested in hearing about their aspirations and plans.

    I thought that school funding already allotted more money to schools that serve less affluent students, for example. I recall seeing stats that showed vast differences in funding between schools in Oakland already. If I remember correctly, schools like Edna Brewer Middle School actually were getting much less funding than many of the other schools (Katy published a funding list, I think, about a 1.5 yrs. ago).

    I am curious about what concrete ideas that this group has to make things more equitable or “fair” as I am not sure that some of the already less well funded schools would be able to withstand further allocations aways from their sites.

  • TeacherMan

    There needs to be more of an incentive for the Union to engage with all teachers and I really like the way TIES is going. It doesn’t hurt to have some of the best teachers in the district on board i.e. Oakland Co-Teacher of the year in 08-09 Ms. Pezzetti. Unfortunately the union gets your dues whether you participate or not. While it is certainly a two way street, and new teachers should try to engage with the union more, what is the incentive? The Union can’t protect new teachers from at will layoffs in the first two years, and the union won’t protect newer teachers from tenure based layoffs… It kind of reminds me of Washington DC, taxation without representation.

  • TeacherMan


    Can you please explain to me how Measure G had anything to do with merit pay???? At least assure us you don’t teach government or civics.

    What is so bad about Merritt Pay, what if it was based entirely on how your colleagues evaluated you (I realize this is unrealistic but so is following and repeating rhetoric that you don’t understand and that you clearly haven’t thought through. Please stop polarizing every issue, just because it works for Rush Limbaugh doesn’t mean it is the best way to shape discussion.

  • AH

    Re evaluations, leave it alone.

    Teachers should not evaluate their colleagues. I can’t imagine that any contract would permit that. It certainly would be the death of any solidarity, collaboration, etc. Ditto for parents and students.

    IMO, the current focus on evaluations is a back dooor way to dismiss veteran teachers for the purpose of retaining inexpensive new teachers.

    Once again, veteran teachers did not create this crisis.

  • Harold

    Merit Pay? How? Testing? Do they test all subjects? No they don’t. I like science and math, but there is more to education than the “three R’s”.