Oakland makes national news – in a good way

When friends and relatives from other parts of the country see Oakland in the news, it’s almost always because something tragic or bizarre has happened here. I’m sure many of you can relate.

Now I hate to speak too soon — I wasn’t near a TV at 3:20 this afternoon — but I believe BET aired a piece about Amir Ealy and 22 other African-American boys in Oakland who earned perfect scores on their 2010 math or reading tests. The network used some of our footage (with permission) in this one-minute news brief, which is now posted on its website.

Here it is:

Katy Murphy

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

  • Nextset

    Good for Amir. I worry that he’s going to deal with problems the white kids don’t have if/when he continues this path of conspicuous intellect. And it’s not that someone will bash him in the head – although that can happen – it’s the more subtle things. There is a problem with bright black kids getting messages that they are not right. Sometimes you get tired of the “you’re special” BS. If Amir and the others are not segregated from low achievers as they move through puberty I believe the problems get acute. Does OUSD offer this kind of tracking?

    As Amir gets older (and increasingly is segregated to college bound) he will find it’s no longer as easy to stay on top of the pile. Right now, he has no apparent competition.

    Amir’s career is not going to be all fun and awards. He’s going to need some support through grad school graduation. The crab pot problem can be terrible, especially if it comes from family and friends.

    Anyway – what similar good news can we find with black 10th graders at OUSD! Somebody please find and post some.

  • Nextset

    PS: Some may think my point above are being too negative. My concern is I have seen bright minorities – and girls have additional problems – have wrenching issues as the move from 2nd grade to professional schools and into practice. It’s probably easier if the whole family are a certain profession and you are just doing what they’ve done. If you have a black child who is the first from his/her society to do something (a particular profession?) – that the others know little about and don’t really want to deal with anyway – you’ve got problems.

    I wasn’t the first but even I had problems that were avoidable in hindsight. What I notice now is that my older relatives who went to law moved away for school, isolated themselves and for the most part never moved back (none of their natal family were lawyers). In looking over the generations it seems that pattern holds. Those who went into the various professions did a LOT of moving out of state from their natal family (Generally who had no physicians or lawyers). I’m now noticing nearly 4 generations of disconnections from the natal families. This extends into the cousins also. WWI and WWII helped but it seems there was something more.

    Some black children and parents don’t want to go far. Some people don’t want to put career first. My relatives all wanted to escape parental domination I suppose. We all ran away to professional schools so it seems. If you knew these adults we grew up with you’d move out too. Whatever works, I suppose.

    Good for Amir – we have a lot do to to support bright black kids in the teen years. A good school can make a big difference. Kids from good schools are ready for what needs to be done. Kids from bad school miss the plane/train/bus.

  • John Garrett

    Congratulations, Katy, on the national exposure.

  • Rick

    We need more students like Amir in the secondary schools. As they move up each grade levels there are less and less of them.I pray that God continues to bless you.

    I believe in our elementary schools. The secondary schools are failing our black children. It’s not much better for the other groups either.

    A few months ago we talked about black students and AP courses. What happened with that?


    It would be great to follow these “Bright stars” over the next few years to report their academic progress in math. I think it would be great for the children, parents and those of us who love such a great story. What do you and some of the other readers think.

  • Katy Murphy

    OUSD has sent me the info I requested on AP scores. I plan to post something next week.

  • Gordon Danning


    Can you get national figures from the College Board for comparison purposes?

  • Katy Murphy

    Good idea, Gordon.

  • Steve Moyer

    Where’s the obligatory Jim Mordecai quote that these young men had to have cheated on the test?

  • Jim Mordecai

    Steve Moyer:

    Thank you for mentioning the possibility of cheating. And, the downside of celebrating high test scores on standardized tests is it transforms testing into high stakes test. This situation is referred to as Campbell’s defined on Wikipedia as follows:

    Campbell’s law is an adage developed by Donald T. Campbell:

    “The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.”

    The social science principle of Campbell’s law is sometimes used to point out the negative consequences of high-stakes testing in U.S. classrooms.

    What Campbell also states in this principle is that “achievement tests may well be valuable indicators of general school achievement under conditions of normal teaching aimed at general competence. But when test scores become the goal of the teaching process, they both lose their value as indicators of educational status and distort the educational process in undesirable ways. (Similar biases of course surround the use of objective tests in courses or as entrance examinations.)”[1]

    Campbell’s law was published in 1976 by Donald T. Campbell, an experimental social science researcher and the author of many works on research methodology. Closely related ideas are known under different names, e.g. Goodhart’s law, and the Lucas critique.

    Technically schooled people often use the term “Heisenberg” as a shorthand to represent concepts such as Campbell’s law. This is taken from the concept of Heisenberg uncertainty in quantum physics where the act of measuring something changes what is being measured.

    My point has been charter schools have a greater pressure to treat standardized testing as high stakes testing but the pressure to show higher test scores means both systems are subject to campbell’s law.

    My solution for public schools and charter schools is to have third party testing like the SATs. But, that is the wrong solution because Campbell’s law does apply to the SAT testing. Ending NCLB high stakes testing and charter schools tied to testing outcomes would be my solution. That was the system before NCLB.

    Jim Mordecai

  • Nextset

    There’s another point to follow Mordecai’s.

    The more a school district screws over the black high school students the more they will publicize high functioning black 3rd graders to gull clueless people into thinking that the problems are being resolved and we can all relax now.

    I’ve been thinking about this thread and I can’t help but comment on the dearth of publicity about high functioning black 11th graders – especially non “Egyptian” blacks.

    And I’m not relaxing. There are bright black students of all ages. The problem is how to manage them so they remain competitive. It seems to me that various cultural/political forces involved in public high school life as well as family life serve to turn off their competitiveness.

    In the past I’ve described these forces as those that keep the students “comfortable”. I attribute the successes my generation & family had (as well as our previous generations) to the fact that we were all kept uncomfortable and had to do well in order to get what we wanted (or get out of discomfort).

    Going as far back as the 19th century, when my elderly female relatives talked about their childhoods they explained that marriage/school was used to escape overbearing natal homelife – they’d find the most promising/ambitious husband, marry up, and get out of dodge(there was a lot of cross state moving going on). If all else failed they’d sign up with school/military alone and get out of dodge – finding Mr. Right upon arrival elsewhere. Contrast that to the behavior of black girls 18 years old nowadays.

    There’s a lot of things involved in success and independence. Education, vocational training, willingness to go somewhere you’ve never been to do things you are not so familiar with. Research and risk-taking is important. And then you have the deportment issue. What are we (OUSD) doing with the black/brown high schoolers to get a good result in the Brave New World?

    No I don’t think it’s just the families’ responsibility. A good school makes the difference in student life outcomes. We had travel posters up on the wall at my schools.

  • maestra

    I’m glad that Oakland is spotlighting the success of these young people. I’d like to see us also celebrate the success of our African American girls and our Latino students of both genders. One of my Latina students scored 100% on her math CST last year. She also did very well on her ELA exam. She worked hard all year, and overcame many obstacles to achieve this. Neither of her parents speak English, and her family was dealing with difficult economic hardship at the time.

    I agree that we need to examine the huge emphasis that testing receives in education today, but I also think that we can celebrate high performing students without throwing around accusations of cheating.

    While I believe that high-stakes testing is not the answer, we need to start being real about the number of children who are being passed through California’s schools without basic literacy and rudimentary math skills. There is also something very wrong with the fact that so few children are passing their ELA CSTs in middle school. How is it acceptable that at some of these schools the passage rate is less than 20%? We can blame the assessment, but I tend to find that low test scores are closely tied to low fluency, weak comprehension skills, and a zone of proximal development that is a couple of years below grade level. I know how difficult it is to overcome the defecits that some of our students enter our schools with, but where is the discussion amongst those who oppose testing about how to help these children thrive? If we can’t rally as teachers and decide that WE must change something in order to help our students succeed, I don’t know how we can ever make the public understand that the over-emphasis on these tests hurts instruction.

    Let’s do four things: celebrate all children who are doing well in the current system, work to overhaul the system so that we don’t see standardized tests as the only measure of success, take responsibility for the fact that too many of our students are not reading, writing or achieving in math at grade level, and work together to help change that dynamic.

  • Nextset

    Maestra: I know OUSD must have some high school children that have done well and done better than one might have expected. I’d love to see them publicly acknowledged. Perhaps in studying the successful high schoolers we may get a better feel for what works over the long run.

    Not just what works for 3rd grade.

    I hope Katy can find a number of impressive 11th graders to showcase here – all kinds of kids…

    And as far as the “accusations of cheating” – well, if the emperor has no clothes some people are going to say so every time. Emperor had better get used to that.

  • Can’t believe it

    getting national scores is easy. go to AP Central


    There will be no class in Oakland that will meet the national pass rates for any AP class, with the possible exception of Spanish.

  • Gordon Danning

    Some data re: AP scores of underserved students are here: http://apreport.collegeboard.org/opportunities-for-underserved-students. But there is no test-by-test breakdown

  • Teaches at Oakland School

    Can’t Believe it, that site won’t tell us what the AP scores were for individual schools. If you go on the Skyline website under Prospective Parents and Students, there is a breakdown for the 2008-2009 year. If my figures are correct, only 21% of the exams were passed at OHS, 56% at Tech, and only 43% of the exams taken at Skyline were passed. Not only that, but from the figures it seems that if you take an AP course, you aren’t required to take the test since many more took the AP courses than took the test. Skyline used to have an honors track-that might be better for kids who want to get out of the classes that cater to the far-below and below basic kids but aren’t at the AP level. AP classes should be for kids who have shown they can do the work in previous courses. The teacher’s time is being wasted teaching kids who obviously can’t pass the tests and don’t care to.

  • Ms. McLaughlin

    Nextset: Enough already. When an article appears about student successes in our district, might you consider withholding your predictably gloomy comments and just let the kids have their moment in the sun?

    I’ve asked this before, so I’m really not expecting anyone who’s so pitifully unable to recognize what a self-centered fool he’s making of himself to suddenly develop a sense of decorum, consideration, or dignity. But there ARE numerous other topics on the blog to which you can reply, complain, recycle the same blather for the leventy-hundredth time, boohoo about your own childhood, exhibit your need for long overdue personal therapy, or otherwise rehash your delusions that the entire world revolves around you and that your unseemly belly-button gazing remotely interests anyone else.

    Check your inner Eeyore, please (with apologies to Eeyore, who was at least interesting), and quit peeing on these children’s parades. You cannot possibly be cognizant of how bad you look when you pull this stuff, so trust me, just knock it off.

  • Nextset


    You have your opinion, I have mine.

    I don’t believe it takes away great news for one child for me to complain that this school district is manufacturing misery for countless other children. And as you should know by now, I insist the district is deliberately pushing the good news of the young children to turn us away from the failure OUSD produces for the older minority children

    So get used to this.

    As far as my commentary of my experiences – learn from it. Let’s hear of yours. Are you a white liberal? Knowing what you are helps the reader understand where your point of view comes from. Are you 35 or 55? It would help to know this to decide how much creedence to give your opinion.

    I see black folks as well as white middle class folks having increasingly more desperate problems and I’m angry about it. I see that the quality of the secondary schooling these people had affects their quality of life tremendously. It’s just that simple.

    Brave New World.

  • Ms. McLaughlin

    “Creedence” from you means nothing. What does matter is the possibility that Amir, or one of the other children mentioned, or any of their family members, might arrive in much deserved pride to read this article, and then see your very public attempts to downplay their accomplishments, wish bad fortune upon them, and one-up a lot of children. It’s clear that you fancy yourself the resident intellectual, but in the true scheme of this website, you are the unkempt clown with the tear rolling down.

    Ms. Murphy, might you look into enhancing your blog with an Ignore button? I respect and share your reverence for free speech, but in the real world, we also have freedom of association. If the discussion here weren’t all about schools, it would be easy enough to ignore the inevitable oafs and troubled souls of the Internet. But when a grown man purposely and repeatedly sets out to assail children, the rules change.

    It would undoubtedly increase the traffic here, and bless the city of Oakland, if visitors to your site had at least the option of disappearing this person’s remarks. Many thanks for your consideration.

  • Nextset

    I think I get it. You believe this policy blog is here for individuals to use as some klind of society page.

    That’s the same outrage when dead students friends and families object to anyone asking why or discussing how their deaths occurred. You believe this policy blog is for your private Facebook-like use.

    Well you’re really going to be unhappy. Policy blogs are about policy not individuals. You whining that discouraging words be silenced, while typical of liberals, doesn’t seem to control things. You don’t control things. That must be very difficult for you.

    You also think that my comments “assail children”. As opposed to assailing you perhaps? Nonsense. Amir is doing well. I would love for him to continue to do well – in OUSD. He’s probably be better off in a better school district but that’s just one person’s opinion. I’ll spell this out again so that you can get it.

    Amir is a bright black child. There are others. I am concerned about what happens to the bright black children in the black failure factory is see OUSD being. It’s very tough competing against the Jewish kids, the White kids (they are not the same), the Asian kids, Indian kids, and all the other competitors with Tiger Moms. Where are the 17 year old “Amirs” and what is happening to them – especially the black boys who were once 3rd grade “Amirs”? Are my concerns unnecessary and the bright black boys of OUSD are really being well handled? I wish.

    What I have reason to believe and do believe is that they are dulled by OUSD to the point that they are not moving up socially, economically and professionally. Maybe they are being groomed to be “activists” or social workers, not Judges, physicians and business executives, or scientists. My beef is that it’s easy to divert talent away from the higher levels. A little too much tolerance, compassion, black english and ethnic studies rather than science, history (real not PC) and math.

    How many black males are (seriously) directed to the Service Academies out of OUSD? Any eagle scouts, etc..

    So here we are you and I. Look for that “Ignore” button – must be one around somewhere. I think it’s there on AOL!

    Quit dealing with individuals and debate policy please. This isn’t Facebook.

  • http://xinergylearning.wordpress.com/ Ell Parker

    I would DEFINITELY love to see a follow up story on these students in the next two or three years. Particularly those that will be moving into middle school during that time.

    I believe something does happen during that transition from elementary to middle and high school. That is why I think it is so important to catch them while they are young, and continue to support them as they move through these transitions.

    Best wishes for continued success to the Superstar Students. 80)

  • Steve Moyer

    The Mordecai Principle: Minority kids do well on tests; they’re probably cheating. And this guy was a teacher.

    Great job, big fella.

  • Steven Weinberg

    The effect that Mr. Mordecai is pointing out does not say that minority kids who do well on tests are cheating. It says that whenever high stakes are attached to a test it tends to become invalid because people focus on changing the results of the test. When surgeons began to be evaluated based on death rates it became harder to find doctors willing to operate on high risk patients, even if surgery was the best option for the patient. Harvard professor Daniel Koretz discusses this in his excellent book, Measuring Up.

  • Nextset

    Steve Moyer: When things are too good to be true they are usually not true.

    In my business, experience and training I understand the predictive power of actuarial tables (statistics). You can have an (individual) exception from stats – that happens. What does not happen is wholesale deviation from established norms without a powerful change/explanation. Only a fool thinks otherwise.

    And yes, people do cheat – especially if they have no problem with lying, cheating and stealing in the first place.