Oakland school board rejects Aspire charter

Aspire Public Schools

Aspire Public Schools did not get the go-ahead tonight to open a seventh charter school in Oakland; it fell one vote short.

(Jumoke Hinton-Hodge, who is probably the biggest charter school supporter on the board, was out of town at a Great City Schools conference. David Kakishiba and Jody London voted against the Aspire petition, and Alice Spearman — who was out of the room during the vote — said she was against it, too. Gary Yee, Chris Dobbins and Noel Gallo voted `yes,’ but Yee was on the fence; he told me he tended to support staff recommendations, but that he might have voted `no’ if Hinton-Hodge were there.)

Gail Greely, who heads the charter office, recommended the board approve the East Oakland elementary school. She said Aspire’s application met the legal standard — “even though an additional k-5 school is not needed to serve students and families in Oakland.” She also said the office determined it wouldn’t provide a “unique” or “innovative” program, but that those concerns weren’t grounds for denial under current charter school law.

I wrote about Aspire several months ago in a story about the growing influence and prevalence of charter school chains, as opposed to standalone charters. (I found this copy online, though our link expired.) Aspire, which is headquartered in Oakland, has received national attention and millions of dollars in federal and philanthropic support for its expansion. Oprah awarded the network $1 million last fall during a promotion for the “Waiting for Superman” documentary.

The network received no such appreciation tonight at the board hearing. Some board members seemed to take the application as an affront to the district.

Jody London: “I’m really unhappy about this application. I’m really tired about being asked to approve more charter schools in Oakland … I think it’s time for you to find other districts to open your schools in.”

Alice Spearman: “Aspire is in competition with Oakland. They actually want to take over Oakland. … You’re not giving us nothing we don’t have … You can’t sue me for it … I’m going to say no.”

Noel Gallo had a different take: “We can be critical, but we’re in an environment where we’re going to have to compete. It’s not like the old days where kids came to you whether you were good, bad, or in between.”

Yee pressed Aspire’s Bay Area superintendent, Tatiana Epanchin, to say whether the organization might try to add more schools in Oakland. Epanchin said there were no plans to do so, but she didn’t say it was out of the question.

Tina Hernandez, who would be the principal of the new school, said afterward that she was stunned by the vote. “But that’s the political climate we’re in,” she said.

Oakland has about 30 charter schools, a number that has remained relatively flat in the last few years because of denials and closures. Rapid charter growth in the mid-2000s contributed to a sharp decline in district enrollment, which had a destabilizing effect on the district’s finances.

Epanchin said Aspire will appeal to the Alameda County Board of Education. I’d be surprised if the county board didn’t approve it.

In other charter school news, Rocketship Education, a charter chain with off-the-charts test scores that offers a “hybrid” online/classroom model, submitted its first Oakland charter petition at tonight’s meeting. Its co-founder, Preston Smith, says Rocketship is hoping to open a West Oakland elementary school in the fall of 2013.

Someone also a submitted a petition for a Montessori charter school.

Katy Murphy

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

  • Oakland Kids Deserve Better

    Alice Spearman,

    You said, Aspire “is not giving the students of Oakland anything different than what is operating in the area where they want to operate, and knowing the law, they did not need to waste the resources of my district to do so.” I see it otherwise. When I look at the test scores of the neighboring schools to the Aspire schools, it seems, in fact, that Aspire is somehow offering something different, and much more successful in many cases, than what the nearby OUSD schools are offering. Look at the state test score data, it’s available online. It’s part of your responsibility as a board member.

    It’s a bit much to make the argument that your district’s resources are being wasted, don’t you think? I’m a parent and feel, if anything, that the Board does absolutely nothing to represent my interests in having my kids get a quality education in Oakland. If you’re not representing the needs of the kids of Oakland, whose needs are you representing?

  • J.R.

    No differences Alice? I’ll point out just a few for you:

    1. There is true accountability(all parties sign a pact) from students, parents,Teachers and admin with one goal in mind Student success.

    2. Motivated parents who chose to be proactive and are held to being involved. Students are motivated by parents who are held responsible. Teachers who are motivated by love of what they do, and or possibility of unemployment.

    3 Students who are expected to contribute to an atmosphere conducive to learning. disruptive children are dealt with if they interfere with instructional time(parents and children know expulsion is a possibility among other things).

    We know that some Oakland public school teachers have posted right here on this blog that disruptive students, and uninvolved parents are a big widespread problem, so yes there differences between charter and public. The academic gains will follow. Just read this for yourself and watch this youtube video , it is an eye opener:



  • Jenna

    I tend to believe Alice that Aspire does not offer a significantly different academic education. But Alice, the HUGE difference is safety. Although not published and probably not even reported to the district is the sexual harassment of girls at Edna Brewer Middle School. They are being called who**s and sl**s and being pinned against the walls in the stairwell while they are being felt up by boys.

    Also, Brewer administration is under the mistaken belief that they are not responsible for students after they leave campus. I believe the school is responsible for students form the time they leave school to the time they get home. Particularly when photos, names and witnesses have finally come forward to report students being beaten up after school on the same block the school is located.

    I know of two students who are transferring out of Brewer and into charters because of safety.

    Two boys from Fruitvale did not attend Bret Harte when they were bullied on their shadow day. One boy went to American Indian Charter School with the help of his elementary teacher after he came to school with bruises after shadowing – the other went to an Aspire school.

    Parents look at test scores, but they evaluate schools are safety. You want to keep kids in Oakland public schools rather than charter schools, Alice, find a way to provide safety. Make administrators accountable. Have adults outside the school with walkie talkies in the morning and afternoon. Parents want their children to be safe. In both of the middle schools mentioned many, many students are not safe and they are even less safe if they continue to report incidences because it becomes apparent who was at the specific events.

    You need to get rid of the hate language at schools as well. The names that girls are called is horrid. If African American students were called the N word or Mexican American students were called Wet Backs we would all be outraged. However if gay/lesbian students (or perceived to be so) are called slurs or girls are called slurs the administration in both schools says the language is beyond their control. That is why neither of my sons would accept placement at either school. One went to another OUSD middle school (transferred out after a full year of abuse) and the other went to a charter.

    The incidences at Edna Brewer were witnessed by me in the past 3 months. The Bret Harte incidences happened last April/May.

  • Turanga_teach

    Hi Jenna,
    My Oakland public school, to which several of my colleagues send their own children, uses Daily 5 in many of the classrooms. Open Court is used by several teachers as a foundation, on which teachers have the freedom to build according to student needs. Project-based learning is a huge part of how instruction is delivered. And students, including students with significant disabilities who honestly would not be served in a charter environment, are thriving.

    While your point is well taken about the need to change the deficits-based dialogue about Oakland’s children, it’s just not true that you HAVE to go charter to get a rich and rigorous instructional environment. Oakland gets it right sometimes: we need to value that.

  • Oakland Kids Deserve Better

    I’m not complaining about all Oakland Public schools, as many are serving kids and families. Alas, I also watched friends put down 6 schools for kindergarten, and got nothing but their neighborhood school in Program Improvement. So I’m wondering, why can’t the Board approve viable options for kids who have few to none? It’s not like Aspire is setting up camp in the Hills or Rockridge, for goodness sake. They’re putting schools in areas where there’s need and demand. Why reject that? Oakland is a city of choice, but why limit the choices so parents are making choiceless choices for their children?

  • Jenna


    I must reread my post. I was not suggesting that Charters are the only way to go – on the contrary, children who do not have active parents who will complete forms, sign contracts and participate will not even be offered a place in most charter schools.

    The Daily 5 your school is using helps students build their reading, writing and stamina. My guess is that your school is raising its test scores and the number of students who are proficient or becoming proficient.

    My point is that students need to feel safe. Students need to feel as if they are learning something every day. Students need to feel as though they can set and reach their own goals. It’s human nature to strive to reach our own goals. When the goal is to control a class or “teach” everyone the same thing at the same time then the natural tendency to achieve is taken away for the mass. This is why communism has such a difficult time – people – yes, young students are people – want to achieve their own dreams and goals.

    Congratulations on the Daily 5. It is a great way to achieve goals and to build community in a classroom while increasing students’ stamina.

  • BobS

    Nobody is talking about Rocketship. Since the budget crisis is so big, it would seem that online schools would have to be part of any portfolio. I’ve heard of “k12″ schools also being good.
    The old debate about charters being good vs bad is hard to listen to anymore.

  • OEAD


    I dont get your post. Waste your staff’s time? It keeps them busy! You have a bunch of paper pushers and shufflers in your office, charter petitions givem more to look busy with!

    You have 30 charters in the city, not all approved by you. The number of charter schools has regressed, not grown, but yet your office of charter schools has grown three fold??????

    They do offer something you guys dont- better bang for the taxpayer buck. I doubt Aspire will take over the district alone…….other schools will help.

  • J.R.

    Is that really true that the office of charter schools has grown three-fold? Maybe the board members have family members that needed a well paid position without much strain. As I’ve heard before even the lazy and shiftless(and the not so bright) need to survive. We just have to keep that tax money rolling in and not worry about trivial matters such as how it is spent,don’t we?

  • J.R.

    Something tells me that there are a lot more people like Deb Edgerly working in local, and state government than we could ever imagine.

  • Aspire Dirty Secrets

    Wow! Really, here’s my comment. Unless you have taught or held an Admin position with Aspire you will NEVER know how this “School District” runs. So while we sit here and quote “DATA”, if I can’t see the data being drafted up in Aspire’s Home Office I WOULD NOT believe anything I read from the Internet or Blogs on Aspire.

    With that being said, I wish Oprah would have done a pop up visit of a Aspire school. I guarantee she wouldn’t have given up 1 million. I wouldn’t believe Aspire if their tongue came notarized. By the way I’m happy to talk “Shop” about Aspire. I don’t work for them anymore. By Choice. Worked for Aspire 2005-2010

  • Ms. J.

    Wow! What does that mean? Can you fill us in?

  • The real issue

    Hm… no name, vague accusations.

  • Nextset

    There’s an article in Business Week about K12 – the big online primary/secondary school charter.


    I know a (lower middle class-prole) family who is using this – they are quite happy. I personally feel they were running from the public schools because they had no intention of conforming to social norms and this let’s them get away with behavior that would result in (annoying) CPS referrals and social disaproval from other students – but, I’m old fashioned so I tend to think this way. They simply said the students and schools didn’t get along with them and were judgmental and vulgar about it (and they have no intention of conforming to their norms).

    In any event the students are doing well academically, testing well on the statewide testing, and reasonably happy. So who needs the public schools?

    All of you OUSD teachers can be replaced and fast with K12. Isn’t Milken Smart (other than letting himself get sent to prison)?

    I have to say it again, I don’t think the buggy whip factory employees hear this. You can all be fired and replaced, fast, very fast. In a fiscal crisis and a state or federal takeover of the district, your entire program can be converted to online (even more easily so in the near future as K12 and other schools continue develop the software to better manage the enterprise).

    And remember, the schools don’t have to fix everybody or save everybody. All they have to do is show decent stats compared to the failure OUSD and LAUSD now show. So the fact that some fall through the cracks is just not a problem. Maybe those students will go away and enroll in some other charter and get their needs met.

    Brave New World.

  • J.R.

    Hey Nextset,
    Here is an interesting fact about education in California:

    “Just 100 of California’s nearly 2,500 high schools account for nearly half of the state’s dropouts”.

    The full article is here:


    I am really curious to find out which districts these high schools are in, but I already have my suspicions.

  • Nextset

    Great article. Love that comment about CA “is rich in data on social and economic conditions”.

    The real fun is when you confront the liberals with the data and the direction the data is going. I still remember when negroes (we were negroes then) were getting better not worse every year. Maybe the ward bosses were tougher then. We need tougher ward bosses now.

    Blacks, Minorities and their children are growing poor in the face of liberalism. We were all better off when conservatives, maybe even arch conservatives – ruled the state. For one thing, they were better at patronage (Although Dianne Fienstein is a champ to me despite my disagreement with her politics, that woman knows how to run a constituient service machine better than any other CA politician I’ve run into.)

    I can argue George Wallace and his legislature would do a better job for the people than the rats we have running the state and it’s educational system today. And we could throw in Lester Maddox for good measure also. He spent some private time one night showing my parents around his statehouse for some reason I never could understand at the time. These people knew how to fire people and they knew how to get results and get re-elected.

    Save us from White Liberals.

    Brave New World.

    PS: Some of the people in the East Bay who trained me were Cannery Workers from the 1930s and WWII POWs of the Japanese – they were white and they took over from the Nuns when I turned 18 and started working and going to college. The Nuns you’ve heard about. My instructors and employers started out lower middle class who first went to college on the GI Bill. Back then they were just as tough on the black kids they hired – maybe more so – than anybody else. I haven’t mentioned the black family and friends from the 1950s and 1960s – I think they were all armed – at least they had weapons and instruments handy at all times. We didn’t talk back and we kept our shirts tucked in or else. And nobody gave anyone permission to drop out either. And they didn’t get you into East Bay white schools so you could throw a segregated graduation ceremony complete with Africian Tribal Dress either.

    Times have changes and I don’t think they’re for the better or that the better people are into all the changes.

    I’m Old School.

  • http://sites.google.com/site/abernethymath/home Rori Abernethy

    I am so GLAD they turned down the charter.
    I worked there when I first started teaching. For three years.
    Young teachers, high turnover, 80 hour work weeks, two weeks off in summer. Not to mention that I was asked point blank by my principal to help another teacher cheat on the State Test by copying questions down so he could teach the kids.
    The same principal whose wife wrote a book “Life after the Down Low” (see amazon.com) about how he was sleeping with the male students. The P.E. teacher got one of the students pregnant. The drama goes on and on … But Aspire must have friends in high places because it’s all swept under the rug year after year and they just continue to grow. If I disappear after this entry, you’ll know why …

  • http://sites.google.com/site/abernethymath/home Rori Abernethy

    I point blank refuse to help the teacher cheat.

  • Lawrence Moye

    Does anyone really know what the atmosphere Aspire sets forth and allows. It sadens my heart that as a people we have not advanced further to accept a higher bar. I should say push the bar higher for our children. My son is enrolled in an Aspire school but I am not happy with the outcome they are giving me. Parents need to not accept just anything they give you. If you don’t know what I am saying then you much investigate your charter even deeper. One thing is they don’t follow their own policy. Another is that it is full of children that are Black and Latino yet tell students that they cannot talk about their religion nor history. Things go on and on and deeper. It is an institution about education yet they promote subpar education to its children and think the parents are about dumb as rocks. I will stop there.

  • Jim Mordecai

    The postings by Lawrence Moye and Rori Abernethy raise two problematic aspects of charter schools in general; and their experiences support the chief reasons I am an opponent of charter schools.

    Why isn’t there an investigation into the charge that management of the Aspire charter school was promoting cheating on standardized test? Suggestion is made in the above posting that the scandals and cheating are not addressed because of the power and influence of the management and backers of the Aspire non-profit corporation.

    I know of no Assembly and/or Senate investigation into cheating on standardize testing by either charter schools or public schools. With the shifting to high stakes testing associated with charter schools and public schools under NCLB there is certainly a need for such an investigation. Perhaps the charter school lobby is just too powerful to allow such an investigation.

    While issues of what should or should not be included in the curriculum of a public school are open to the public, a curriculum that systematically excludes Black and Latino history is not a transgression as long as the state’s standards are covered.

    Actually, I am not sure that there is any legal obligation for charter schools to follow the state standards unless state standards were made part of their founding charter school petition. If the Aspire school petition contains a promise to have a curriculum that provides the cultural and religious history of its students, and it doesn’t deliver, that situation should be reported to the District that has oversight in seeing a charter school keeps the promises it makes in its start up petition. The survival of a charter school requires getting high scores on their standardized tests but that primary objective does not justify not keeping its promises made in its start-up petition.

    Charter schools are a public policy America cannot afford because it is a public policy that suppresses democracy, and leaves the public in public schools behind.

    Network charter schools such as California statewide of over 30 Aspire charter schools, and the over 100 nationwide Imam Gullen’s followers charter schools (Bay Tech Oakland being one) raises the question have the charter schools become a Frankenstein no longer under control and serving the interest of the public its creator?

    Jim Mordecai

  • J.R.

    If(and it’s a big if)parents are a driving force, children will be better off than if they just leave it to someone else. Irregardless of where you child attends school, YOU must advocate for them. Have high expectations and(here’s the tough part)push for those high expectations relentlessly. If a persons job is on the line they are more apt to be responsive and responsible. Your children go through life just once, and there most likely will be no second chances.

  • Crystal

    The issue isn’t parents, charter, public or private. It is society. The imbalance between “haves”and “have nots” Employment and full wages so parents can care for their children financially and physically. Quality early childcare so children enter the classroom prepared!!!! Healthcare and proper nutrition (the cost of food is outrageous for a country so well off) Charter schools ARE PUBLIC SCHOOLS, and a waste of money. Only 17% do better than their counterpart. They do not offer alternative academic instruction i.e. Montessori, Arts/Science/Athletic focus. They aren’t more individualized (small schools with big classes). The “public” schools like OUSD are left spending their limited resources to catch these students up when they return from their failed charter. Public education doesn’t need to be turned over to private companies, it needs to be in the hands of the community and the community owes more to its citizens and itself.

  • Yastrzemski

    Crystal… there are successful charters. And, they do serve a community that needs and supports them. They are not all bad, just like OUSD has some awful schools that should be closed…talk about a waste of money! Close ALL of the failure factories, create a magnet high school and a vocational program and maybe the middle and upper class exodus from OUSD will stop. Taking away the choice of charters in Oakland will have the rest of the families fleeing thru the Caldecott tunnel instead of investing in their school’s community.

    You cannot make blanket statement about a group, you have no idea what the classes are like at every Charter school, so it is preposterous to say that there are “big classes” and there is no “alternative”.

    It is your opinion, and you are entitled to it, but it is NOT factual.