Today was the Tribune forum on education, held in the Oakland Public Library’s beautiful new branch on 81st Avenue. I’ll admit, I was unsure about how the day would shape up, or how the discussion on charter schools would go. (I’m way more comfortable in front of a computer screen, even under the tightest deadline pressure, than behind a podium.)
But now that it’s all over, I’m looking forward to the next one — in the late afternoon/evening, when teachers and students can come.
I moderated a discussion about charter schools, with panelists Betty Olson-Jones, Oakland teachers union president; James Willcox, Aspire Public Schools CEO; Gary Yee, OUSD school board president; Gail Greely, OUSD’s new charter schools coordinator; and Stephen Sexton, co-founder of Lighthouse Community Charter School.
Though the conversation did tread on some well-worn turf, it didn’t stop there. I learned, for instance, that OUSD is likely to use a similar evaluation system for its non-charter schools (or elements of it) that the charter schools office uses to review charters. Evaluators look at all kinds of information, not just test scores, to determine if a school is well managed and serving the needs of students and families.
I asked the panelists for examples of charter schools and traditional public schools working together or sharing innovative practices. Sexton mentioned an advisory program at Edna Brewer Middle School in which Lighthouse was involved, and Willcox said Aspire shared literacy practices with some district elementary schools (not sure which). Willcox said some districts — he didn’t mention Oakland — are helping his organization’s charter schools with cash management as they cope with the state’s delayed payments (e.g. 2010-11 funding paid in 2011-12).
But for the most part, it seems, schools operate in their own bubbles. (Why is this? Does a sense of competition come into play?)
The higher education panelists delved into remediation and teacher preparation, and Oakland school board member David Kakishiba made some candid remarks about private funding on the philanthropy panel. “A lot of this stuff boils down to money and power — how much money and who decides how to spend it,” he said.
Kakishiba’s advice to parents and teachers? To ask who’s making the decisions about privately-funded programs, what the outcome is supposed to be, and how progress to that goal will be measured. “We do a lot of what I call, `okie dokie,'” he said.
The things-that-are-working panel included lively presentations about the Harlem Children’s Zone and the Oakland-based Young Scholars Program. Eyana Spencer, of Manzanita Community School, gave a history of how her Fruitvale-area school came about, and how it has evolved.
George Khaldun, the chief operating officer of the Harlem Children’s Zone, gave us a run-down of his program’s offerings. To name a few: the charter schools’ longer school days and school years, the after-school programs and daily tutoring for 3,000 kids enrolled in regular public schools, the twice-monthly check-ins and report card reviews of college students from the neighborhood (640 of them), and the social workers for families.
Throughout the day, panelists bemoaned the fiscal realities facing California schools and colleges, so I wondered if Khaldun would acknowledge the resources that make such a comprehensive support system possible. He didn’t. “It’s not the money,” he said. “It’s the passion.”
I’m sure there’s some truth to that statement. Lots of money, alone, won’t transform schools or change the trajectories of children from poor backgrounds. But the work of the Harlem Children’s Zone, undeniably, costs money. Lots of it. Why not talk about that, too? In fairness, Khaldun is coming from New York, where schools get significantly more public funding.
Here is a story from Tribune reporter Scott Johnson about the event. George Kelly, our social networking expert, took some video. I’ll post a link when it’s ready.