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.

  • http://charterschoolscandals.blogspot.com/ Sharon

    Aspire’s market share of OUSD
    2000-01: 364 of 54,863 = 0.7%
    2009-10: 2066 of 46,099 = 4.5%

    Aspire does not need local approval to open a school in our city. I expect their next stop will be to seek it from the Alameda Office of Education.

    If that doesn’t work, they can use their “get-home free” card, the Statewide Benefit Charter approval they were given by Schwarzenegger’s pro-charter BoE. Aspire received permission to open up ten schools in California anywhere they want, at a rate of two/year. They only have to give whatever local district a four-month notice.

    These powerhouse, big-box charter operators are extremely well-funded by the billionaires and other programs (New Schools Venture Funds). That, along with the connections they’ve made, allows them to employ whatever legal and other strategic means are necessary to ensure they get whatever they want.

    Rocketship is just another in this group.

    Last fall, these two charter school companies were funded for “rapid growth.”

  • Katy Murphy

    Yes, Aspire does plan to appeal to the county board.

  • J.R.

    There was a case in Fremont where the charter principal(I think)was found to have mis handled public money, and the school board promptly denied this charter school an extension. They appealed to the county school board which gave them a 5 year extension.

  • Bones

    In 2010, OUSD spent over $13,000 per student
    In 2010, Aspire spent less than $9,000 per student

    The argument that Aspire is a “powerhouse, big-box charter operators” better funded than OUSD is false.

  • J.R.


    That info isn’t supposed to be widely known. In order for the monetary shakedown to continue and lack of education to prevail the public schools must be portrayed and perceived as the poor unfortunate underdogs(to the financial juggernaut charters). You are ruining the perception with factual information, and this cannot and will not be tolerated by those with financial interest in the education system.

  • Oakland Kids Deserve Better

    Enough is enough. The rhetoric around charters being “competition” and “powerhouses” and the like is so tiring and misinformed. Look at the results (which are public, and which hold charters accountable to the same standards that their OUSD counterparts are held to). Ask the Aspire charter kids who are accepted to college (100% at last count). Ask the families who sit in excruciating lotteries to get their kids into the schools. Charters in Oakland are serving Oakland kids now…not when OUSD finally, after 20+ failing years finally tries to figure out how to get it together with weak principal leadership and horrific union advice to entrenched members. Why do Aspire schools consistently open with huge waiting lists? Because the current neighborhood OUSD options are failing kids. Is it really better for Oakland kids to have OUSD to kill charter applications and continue to produce failing results for kids and families? Really? What does OUSD “win” in this competition?

    We can only hope that Oakland families realize how the Board is merely self-serving, and do not have the best interests of getting Oakland kids well-educated (K through 12th grade) in mind. I suspect the ones who have realized this are long gone….through the tunnel, into the parochial schools, elsewhere. The Board should be ashamed of itself.

  • Jesse James

    @ Bones & JR: Please break the numbers down a bit further. What do you mean by student spending? What does that cover exactly? Does that include all funds? Is one fund divided by all OUSD students? Does ASPIRE serve special needs students? Provide transportation and technology for special needs students? Could there be programs that are not provided by ASPIRE that OUSD provides? Where did you get this information? Is it a truly fair and verifiable comparison?

  • Teacher

    Bones: Can you tell us the average age of the Aspire teachers and how many of them have children of their own at home? My guess is that Aspire hires mainly young teachers low on the pay scale, low on obligations at home and high on energy (for the short term, anyway, as it will be hard for them to sustain 70-hour weeks when they need to tend to their own children at home.) If you find that Aspire has a staff with an extensive range of age and a wide range of experience as educators, then I apologize. At a small school, a few teachers making $80K+ and most making $60K, compared to a staff where almost all make $40-$50K can sure have an impact on per pupil spending.

  • Cadnerd


    This is not about you, it is about the kids.


  • iteachurban

    I would bet that Aspire doesn’t have to spend it’s money on useless Task Force Initiatives (that will soon be forgotten when leadership changes) or expensive research and consultants who are paid to tell us what the teachers already know.

    I would bet that Aspire doesn’t have to spend it’s money on custodians that don’t clean or a facilities unit that can spend months attempting to repair a heater that only comes on during the summer time. There seems to be a lot of walking/driving around and taking notes on clipboards but months go by before a light bulb is changed.

  • J.R.

    After decades of generally being oblivious, and having a track record of general failure(with exceptions), I question the professionalism of many and congratulate the true professionalism of others.

  • J.R.

    “expensive research and consultants who are paid to tell us what the teachers already know”.

    If you already know where have the results been for the last 2-3 decades?

    “Aspire doesn’t have to spend it’s money on custodians that don’t clean or a facilities unit that can spend months attempting to repair a heater that only comes on during the summer time”.

    Those pesky unions won’t let us rid ourselves of overpaid custodians(or any worker) who can’t or won’t do their job. Oh unions, what would we do without them?

  • Nextset

    I disagree that the foolish unions are really the cause of the failure of OUSD.

    The root cause is and will always be the contempt the OUSD board has for the children trapped in OUSD. If the board actually cared about the largely minority children OUSD now serves exclusively, we would not have these problems.

    As far as the union contracts go, it’s the board that agreed to each and every term in the contract. Granted the union loves to go to far and the contrracts perhaps doom OUSD’d good functioning.

    Now that the gravy train is being cut off I predict ferocious labor negotiations and probably widespread strikes along the lines of what Europe has seen historically. The municipalities will probably unilaterally impose new pay and working terms. The unions will probably call widespread strikes. It remains to see who will observe the strikes.

    What Reagan did to the air traffic controllers will be the kind of results that will occur again and again – especially in areas like teaching where the workers can be easily replaced once credentialing is relaxed.

  • Jesse James

    Aren’t debates usually backed by hard data? You haven’t provided hard data, broken down data, to support your statements. Therefore they are just opinions on either side. It may work at the dinner table but hardly does here.

  • J.R.

    Think about it, no one on either side of the negotiating table has any money on the line, it all comes from taxpayers(no skin in the game, and that’s why we are in this financial position). The politicians and public sector are paid from tax money, it’s not like a corporation that pays compensation from profit, and therefore the need to watch their money(as opposed to taking tax money, which was thought to be endless in it’s supply). Reality is the hardest data of all.

  • Oakland Kids Deserve Better

    Blame blame blame. Why aren’t these conversations ever focused on how to improve the learning situation for kids? It’s so tiring to listen to adults bicker about how to fix the unions and the district office and the politicians and the parents. When is the focus of decision making at the district and school level going to be focused on what’s best for students? I’m finding it terribly hard to understand how all this debate about charters and the unions have much to do with how any of the adults involved are going to make hard choices that are best for kids. It isn’t even in a fraction of the rhetoric I read on this blog.

  • J.R.
  • Teacher

    Canerd — Not trying to make it about “me.” Trying to understand Bones’ numbers. The numbers do not speak for themselves. We need to know more about them. If you think that all of America can be schooled by those under 30 who are okay working 70 hours a week at $40K or $50K, then great. I don’t see it happening, and it is not selfish to want to spend time with yourown children or to make a salary that can support those children. If it is about the children only, then please take a minute to consider the children whose parents work as teachers. They deserve to have mom/dad home with them for a portion of the day!

  • J.R.

    Until you get adults to put kids first(and not themselves), this is all smoke and mirrors. Just ask yourself the question “who really benefits”? Once you answer that question you will know what needs to be done and also why these discussions about changes are necessary. You have to be aware of what is broken so that it can be fixed. It’s as simple as that.

  • jesse james

    I think a reasoned debate needs to include all the factors, including pay, charter funds and public school funds. Teaching is a job. Kids deserve the best and that includes the best teachers who should be paid for what they do. That makes budgeting about what’s best for kids. The state has cut and cut education so that kids get just a little. I think it is valid to talk money when talking about what’s best for kids. It has a direct effect on them!

    I do agree that the focus of Tony Smith’s district is not on what’s best for kids. Even though he has many paid task force leaders, his task forces’ participants are volunteers. These may not be the best minds, just the loudest voices. The teachers I know who are the loudest are often not the best and/or effective teachers. I’d love it if Tony Smith’s task forces were more quality based and less quantity (pages and pages of rhetoric) and volunteer based.

    If the instructional task forces at school sites had principals facilitating discussions, the reforms would more likely become school/district wide. I really think this would be more effective, both in cost and benefit.

  • Oakland Kids Deserve Better

    All I’m saying is that Aspire has somehow figured out (using less money per pupil, if you consider that they have to get funding to pay for the facilities OUSD gives their schools for free) how to keep the focus on kids, and has the results (test and college acceptance) to show for it. Aspire is putting kids first. Clearly, they know what’s broken and rather than blaming everyone for it, they’re doing something about it.

  • J.R.

    Consider the majority of families(both parents working if they are lucky)working the shift they are told, when they are told, the way they are told. These parents don’t get every holiday that their children do, and summers as well. These parents don’t have grievance, step and column raises for longevity(just having a job these days is a blessing)job security irregardless of performance, seniority based layoffs. Bumping to get placed at better schools, easier classes. You should feel privileged and blessed that you are never subjected to the job pressures that most people feel. Which is why I feel(and have witnessed)career change teachers tend to be among the best there is.Bar none!

  • J.R.

    I agree with that, a lot of charters do take a diligent no holds barred approach. Witness how it is done:


  • Turanga_teach

    “Teacher”‘s point IS about the kids. A system which encourages inexpensive and under-prepared young teachers to work unsustainable hours for short lengths of time denies students the opportunity to learn from veteran educators who have had past years to hone their crafts and intend to stay in the game for many more. It’s the issue, frankly, with well-meaning organizations like Teach for America, and it plays out disproportionately in both charter and “flatland” schools: you can care like hell for two years, but then when you leave, the cycle repeats again, as someone else invests hundreds of hours in re-learning what you knew when you left. Institutional memory is broken: good ideas bounce around like pinballs, but nothing settles long enough to make a sustained difference for the kids.

    There’s a reason that residents are only one part of a medical staff–they’re young, they’re brilliant, they work way too hard, and the ongoing documented risk is that they make calls that play out poorly because they a) haven’t slept in 25 hours before making that decision b) haven’t been in practice long enough to see another call to make and c) haven’t yet been in positions to see their calls play out in the system over time.

    It baffles and angers me when we put up as a model for education something that we’d never accept in other fields.

  • J.R.

    The crippled system we have(as a whole,but with exceptions), and have had for decades is based on longevity and not results(bad precedent). The bar has been lowered to such an extent that we have multi-generational functional illiteracy and there is no excuse for it in this country(strangely though this happens not just in places with poverty, and often far exceeds the poverty rate)so poverty is no excuse. The state of medical practice and the teaching profession bear almost no similarities as far as risks. The education system has been dropping the ball for decades and yet the tax money has been poured in regardless of outcome. It’s so shameful that good teachers have to be dragged trough the mud along with the incompetent, but the union never gives anyone a choice. The union always says they have the right to free association, and yet conversely teachers have no right to keep all their money if they refuse to be part of the union. It’s a sweet deal to be a monopoly if you can get it.

  • Sue

    So if the Aspire school goes to the county and recives approval, does that mean that Alameda County will oversee the charter that is in Oakland? Is that the same logic for state approved charters?

    If that is the case, and hopefully it is considering the ineptitude of OUSD board, then someone needs to inform those brilliant OUSD Board member minds that there vote is symbolic at best.

    Moreover, they will be losing money correct? The money set aside by charter law for oversight and also they will lose a chance to lease space at their empty campuses to this group who by all appearances, have lots of dough!

    Spearmen said that Aspire wants to take over the district, no I would say that the OUSD leadership has given it away!

    Oh yes- the brilliance in our local politicians in this city is blinding!

  • Fact Checker

    Sue, you are on the right track here.

    If Aspire chooses to appeal OUSD’s decision to the county, and are approved at the county level, the county will then oversee the charter school.

    In terms of funding, there is no real financial incentive to the authorizing function.

    On facilities, the Prop 39 law still requires the District to provide equitable facilities to a charter school regardless of whether or not the charter school is authorized at the district, county or state levels so long as the school serves a minimum number of students from that District.

    Of course, it should be noted that OUSD can also enter into facilities lease arrangements with charter schools that circumvent Prop 39.

  • Bones

    #7 (Jesse James): The spend numbers represent every cent spent by the Aspire organization, and every cent spent by OUSD in the 2009-10 school year, divided by total enrollment. Numbers can be found by going to the organizations’ respective websites and looking for 2 minutes (or using google). I think you are right to be skeptical of numbers posted in the comments section of a blog, but if these issues are something you are truly interested in learning the facts about in order to have an intellectual conversation, I strongly suggest you take the time to look up these very basic numbers and educate yourself.

    Aspire does serve special needs students, but not as many as OUSD does (as a proportion of total students). When you look at the student demographic served by Aspire, it is more URM-biased and less wealthy as a whole than the demographic served by OUSD (because Aspire chooses to open schools in typically underserved areas and OUSD has schools in OUSD) – so your argument could theoretically go both ways.

    #8 (Teacher): See Catnerd’s post below for my initial reaction to your post.

    #10 (Iteachurban): I agree that a lot of the wasteful spending at OUSD is central. However, pointing to “consultant spend” without looking at the reasons WHY it is so high I think doesn’t do the issue full justice. Principals make many of the school hiring decisions – every year, they are faced with hiring personnel they don’t want to because of union seniority rules, and so they are forced to use contractors (like OSF) to hire who they actually want to hire (and very likely, it is for less than they would have had to pay the person they didn’t want to hire through the union/district).

    Most Charter teachers get paid more than district teachers, and that is because they don’t require seniority protection. I think it is very sad that teachers spend so much time and energy fighting so hard against unfair metrics like standardized exams (which really have no effect on their compensation, hiring, or firing), and spend so little time fighting the real metric that is used to judge whether they are hired, fired, and receive raises – the number of days they have taught at Oakland Unified School District. Surely, there is a better evaluation metric out there?

    #13 (Nextset): Personally, I don’t believe that anyone in the ed space is truly as evil as you make the board members out to be. I’ve been to a number of the meetings and I think a lot of their comments, while obviously phrased in a political context (after all, they are politicians), typically get to the heart of the matter.

    #14 (Jesse James): You haven’t provided hard data either, just questions. In fact, you didn’t even do a quick google check to see that my numbers were right before you questioned them (see response to #7)

    #18 (Teacher): 2 points: A) On average, Aspire teachers get paid more, controlling for tenure, than OUSD teachers do. B) OUSD spends less than 50% of its budget on classroom teacher salaries (not including TSAs, etc who dont have classrooms). If you are a teacher at OUSD, you should be outraged at this, and I would suggest you direct your outrage toward Vernon Hal, the CFO of OUSD. He hasn’t been doing his job cutting the excess fat from the central district. Seniority arguments aside, everyone agrees that teachers are the most important factor in a child’s education, and OUSD needs to be raising teacher salaries to attract top-tier talent, not paying at the bottom of the pay-scale.

    #24 (Turanga_teach): Actually, I’d argue that most of the work in the private sector is done by young professionals (<40). They're the ones working until 11p at night while their bosses spend all day in meetings and then go to the country club. Anyway, your argument seems to hinge on your belief that younger teachers are inferior to senior teachers, but that doesn't seem to be the case to me given the results of many schools that employ almost all younger, cheaper teachers and have a track record of strong results (some even in OUSD – see Katy Murphy's blog posts on schools disproportionally affected by pink slips!). Now just imagine how much amazing these teachers would be if you paid them a decent wage!

  • Teacher


    I happen to be a career changer and worked in a career that is considered one of the most pressure-filled there is. Still, I find that I work harder as a teacher.

    You are right — lots of people work when they are told and do what they are told. I think that we would agree that teachers have gone to college so that they can make decisions about their classroom without being told how to do everything, every step of the way. You are comparing apples and oranges. If you want to have schools treat teachers like assembly-line workers, then you have a point. We could save a lot of money because teachers would only have to do what they are told, not think for themselves.

    On the other hand, how many factory workers take hours of work home every night and every holiday and every weekend? (It is a four-day “holiday,” and I have already put in six hours of work. Not really the cushy job you describe.)

    But you seem set to think teachers are all self-centered … so I’ll call this debate a rest and get back to my Romeo and Juliet essays. Those kids might actually value my feedback.

  • J.R.

    I never said it was cushy, I said something along the lines of once tenure is reached teachers can really cut down on workload(if you want me to make a list of how, I can do that)unless they want to be among the best(and in many districts tenured teachers are just evaluated every few years or even less). The teachers without tenure (up to five years or so) are evaluated multiple times per year and know that they dare not deviate from standards or workload(they have their feet to the fire).Lots of different occupations require you to not only work 8 hour days, but also to finish at home. Look at the bright side, teachers have almost airtight job security, every child’s holiday off, and summers too. No deadline’s, no quality assurance standards to meet in order to keep your job, good to great benefits assured by taxpayers, and you have the makings of a really good career. Hug a taxpayer!

  • Turanga_teach

    I do not, at all, believe that young teachers are “inferior” to veteran teachers. I’ve worked beside and mentored a number of brilliant young teachers. I’ve been a young teacher myself.

    And I remember, as a young teacher, the work that one does in the first two years just to figure out things like where to get the cumulative file, how you plan for a field trip, and what, more or less, the STAR test is gonna look like.

    I honestly burnt myself out of a job as a young teacher–giving my all to an unsustainable position. I’ve watched a succession of young teachers take that exact job over time. I’ve watched most of them burn out and move on.

    We need to do better at keeping our younger, newer teachers, and the system, on so many levels, is not set up to do that.

  • J.R.

    There is a very plausible different reason why we tend to lose young teachers besides the reasons already covered. Year after year for decades I have witnessed in different schools(in many districts)where senior teachers all vie for certain grades and classes and avoid others because they know from previous years who the hellions are. Do you want to guess who gets the worst behaved grades and the worst behaved classes that nobody else wants? That’s right, not the vaunted experienced master teachers, but the rookies and or junior teachers. It happens in part because principals don’t want grievance, and or friction of any kind and are apathetic(in general about new teachers)anyway. The system is bass ackwards, and that is the truth.

  • Teacher

    Bones, I like a lot of your points, you might be surprised to read. I especially think you are right that we are better off fighting FOR a fair way of being evaluated and paid, rather than AGAINST standardized tests per se. And, you are right, seniority alone is definitely NOT fair. There should be a matrix in which seniority does trump, if and only if, quality of teaching between two teachers is relatively equal and one of them has to be let go. That would protect veteran teachers from being dumped simply to save money. We are so very far away from fair evaluations, though. Why isn’t everyone spending time on developing that — no matter what your stance is on seniority, unions, merit pay? Teachers at my school received evaluations when they never even knew they had been observed formally. Dates were made up on the form and the teachers were asked to sign. That is not okay. Evaluations had no specific suggestions of how to improve. If I am going to be judged as “meeting the standards,” I want to hear what my principal wants me to do to rise above those standards to be considered an excellent teacher. I want specifics.

    J.R. Yes, it is also true that veteran teachers TEND to push for — and get — the easiest classes. Not always, but frequently. That is not right and not good for the student or for the teaching professsion. You are right. We need to work on this!

    And back to Bones … It does make me livid to see some teachers at my school remain in their jobs just because of seniority when some amazing younger teachers are being let go. Again, back to what I said about a matrix.

    I guess what is so upsetting is to see generalizations made in these blog posts. Just because I have tenure, I never once thought I should just relax on the job. I am constantly looking for ways to improve my practice. The bad apples do much harm to the teaching profession as a whole. The bad apples are what J.R. clings to in his examples.

    Reading your blog comments makes me realize that I really do want to push for evaluation reform. I want to be judged for the good job I do, I do not want to be lumped into an inferior category by the public because I am tenured and am starting to be seen as “veteran.” I agree that I should not automatically be lumped into a higher pay category just because of my seniority, but seniority should matter if I am getting positive evaluations and if my principals are actually spelling out what I can do to improve and helping me get there.

    I like this thread. I am learning. Thanks.

  • J.R.

    Like I have said before those teachers that are good and great are aware that I am not critical of them at all(you know in your heart who you are), on the contrary we as a community are thankful to them and for them. Good teachers are underpaid unfortunately there are many that are way overpaid because they are not suited for the job. Chances are that if you worry about improving, you are indeed a good caring teacher. There is no doubt however that there are some who just don’t care anymore.

  • J.R.

    Jesse here is a little more reality for you:


    I don’t quite agree that they are in large measure responsible for the economic disaster(the banks are primarily responsible), but the public sector is part of the problem.

  • Jenna

    When I think about my observations in Charter Schools and my observations in OUSD public schools (elementary and middle) I notice:

    Charter Schools tend to have parents (or other adults) who are actively involved in their child’s education. Depending on the OUSD public school there is an involvement rate of between 15% – 90%. The schools with the higher percentage of adult involvement have better test scores and students who participate more fully in the school.

    Charter schools keep their students with credentialed teachers for more hours a school day for less money. Title I Public Schools (schools with a significant percentage of students that qualify for free or reduced price lunch) tend to keep students at school the same number of hours a day with “mentors” whose job is not to teach reading, math, art, science and social studies, but to spend time with students on “values” type education.

    Charter schools begin with the assumption that all of their graduates (some will leave on their own, others are forced out) will go on to four year universities. These students leave for university with clear goals on what they want to achieve with their education. OUSD school teachers, principals and school staff know that some students will go on to university, some will graduate high school, some girls will become pregnant in elementary, middle or high school and some students will move on to jail or prison. The teachers in public schools spend 80% of the non-group instructional time on the lowest 20% in the class and the remaining 20% on the middle 70%.

    Charter schools have students who arrive on time, dressed appropriately, fed (most of the time) and rested (the vast majority of the time. Depending on the OUSD public school, 15% – 25% are tardy every school day and it is rare that all students are present for the entire day.

    Charter schools have students seated and ready and working from bell to bell. This means that they do not line up and are brought in at the start of the school day, they are in their seats, books open and ready to work as the day begins. OUSD public schools often spend as much as five – six minutes in the morning bringing students in and anther five – six minutes allowing students to get their backpacks ready at the end of the day. Assuming both schools teach the same number of hours per week, there is one lost hour of instruction per week in elementary school. In middle school even three minutes at the beginning and end of each period is nearly two hours of lost instruction per week.

    OUSD spends a great deal of money on support services with staff supplied by the district that the principals have very little to no control over in hiring, firing, disciplining or setting agendas for working with students – it is set by the district. Whereas Charter schools have control over their schools – not just the teachers, but those employees who come in and work with students.

    Charter schools deliver instruction to whole groups and conference with individual students at least weekly on reading, math and “executive functioning” portions of writing down assignments and completing homework, how students spend free time, what students do over the summer and what students should do if they find themselves at home and don’t remember how to do the work. OUSD public schools deliver full class instruction and remediate in small groups. Rarely if ever do classroom teachers conference weekly with individual students and help them set their own learning goals in various subject areas. Teachers will tell you it is impossible – other districts and Charters know that increasing each child’s stamina, independent work time and individual goal setting is the key to each student taking responsibility for their own learning. Children who have not seen this type of activity at home need to be taught the skills at school. Children who were taught the skills at home need to have them reinforced at school.

    Based on what I have seen and have witnessed with what works for the vast majority of students, as a society we need to find a way to keep parents or another responsible adult involved in a child’s life. It is that person who should be given any aid money to help support the child’s academic success. The parent or other responsible adult should help students complete forms beginning as early as third grade which cover behavior contracts, goal setting and academic expectations.

    After school programs should incorporate credentialed teachers to help students get started with homework and to set goals with regard to academic success. Credentialed teachers should be available by the district up until 9:00 to answer academic questions. (This does not have to be the classroom teacher.)

    Teachers must individually conference with students at least weekly. Students must set goals for their own learning and these goals must have to do with mathematics, writing, reading, increasing vocabulary, science knowledge (including scientific vocabulary and method), geography, history and general social studies.

    Teachers must teach bell to bell. In doing so, it teaches students to be more organized and to have less “stuff” to dig through in their backpacks or to carry around.

    All students must be taught to use a calendar, goal log and homework log beginning in first grade. If they cannot yet write they need to use pictures. If they cannot write in English, they need to use their home language.

    OUSD students must learn to take responsibility for their educations. The amount of money spend on education (adjusted for inflation) has skyrocketed – yes, even in the face of Proposition 13. We know that in the adult world a person would be fired for not meeting goals (production, sales, financial). We know that a person must set and meet goals. We know of almost no classrooms, jobs, or extracurricular activities in which any participant should be allowed to simply drift in and out without putting forth effort in being on time, increasing skill, practicing the craft and moving their effort ahead. The charter schools know this and the readers of this blog know of this. Yet in the vast majority of OUSD schools we pretend these are not facts.

    We bring in more and more programs, plans and “mentors” that work in and with groups. It is time to make INDIVIDUAL teachers, principals, staff and students accountable. It is time to get rid of those who simply deliver instruction rather than educate individuals. It is time for OUSD teachers and schools to show the charters that the ways they have done things in the past may not be the most successful and the most successful ways of teaching are based on one-to-one contacts.

    Think back to the teacher that taught you the most about a particular subject and about life – were the interactions you remember most delivered to a group of 30 or was it the one-on-one time that attention was paid to you? My guess it is the latter rather than the former.

  • Alice Spearman

    For all’s information,
    Aspire has a State Charter Approval. The company does not have to apply to Oakland for approval. They did so, if being approved they do not have to use one of the numbers given by they state therfore allowing them to open a charter wherre they want without any local juridiction. All they have to do is to notify the state that they are opening a charter in Oakland and the place.
    As I said, this charter 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.
    This is just my opinion, I did not register a vote. I do vote in the affrimative of a charter if in fact the charter applicant shows they are offering s different way of educating our children if it is a viable program.

  • Bones

    Teacher – I have to say your last post was inspirational for me. Teacher evaluation reform has to start with teachers, and in my opinion, it has to start with the GOOD teachers, who will do exactly what you just said:

    Stand up and say, “I work my butt off every day for my students, and I know I am doing a good job to make a difference, and I don’t want to be clumped with the few bad apples that are destroying their students’ futures. We need a system that will differentiate us”

    For anyone else to come in and tell teachers how they should be judged will never work – teachers need to figure out themselves what truly separates a good teacher from a bad apple, and then they need to join their union and lobby for this change. It’s not a fair demand to ask of teachers, I know, given all the other responsibilities you have. But it is the most likely way change will happen.

  • J.R.

    Teachers evaluating teachers would not work, and /or solve anything, it would be a show with no substance(even if the good ones had the time to do it). The union has no will to differentiate teachers for financial reasons(step and column), and they also will claim it will hurt collaboration. It would essentially be a popularity contest, and nothing more. These are kind of the same actions that teachers ascribe to principals. Result: Status quo, and we don’t need that!

  • Ms. J.

    I read your post with interest and I agree with a lot of your conclusions, though I have not personally observed the charter schools as you have. However I feel as if you make a leap at the end when you call on individual teachers to be accountable for one-on-one education, which you oppose to ‘simply delivering instruction.’ I am inferring that you think some other programs could be cut in order for teachers to have the time to focus on individual kids, but it’s not clear how this can practically be achieved in the current financial climate. This year I have 23 kids (24 at certain times of day) and I struggle to make time every day for small group and individual work. Next year our class sizes will probably expand. I currently have one aid who works in my room for 40 minutes a day. Next year her hours will probably be stretched over more teachers, leaving my students with less one-on-one time with her. I work in a school which follows the scripted curricula; because we are doing fairly well by the only measure anyone seems to pay attention to, the state tests, we’re not being hounded to adhere to the letter of OCR or Si Swun, but we’re not expected to go out and create our own kid-centered lesson plans either. Are you saying that OUSD needs to rearrange all of this and find some other funding source? Are you saying that we have the means already to provide daily individual instruction to each student but just don’t have the will?

    Don’t speak for the union. I am a union member and I refuse to allow you to speak for me. The OEA does not claim that teacher involvement in evaluation would hurt collaboration. In fact I believe there is already a form of this in the little-known PAR program. EVERY teacher (and union member) I know is eager for the opportunity to observe and be observed by colleagues and to debrief these observations. Such opportunities are inspiring and helpful, and invigorate everyone’s practice. To create a substantive, formal version of this and incorporate it into the larger evaluation process is something the Effective Teacher Task Force (co-chaired by OEA leader Olson-Jones) is striving to do.

  • AH

    Re you response to Teacher”

    “Consider the majority of families(both parents working if they are lucky)working the shift they are told, when they are told, the way they are told. These parents don’t get every holiday that their children do, and summers as well. These parents don’t have grievance, step and column raises for longevity(just having a job these days is a blessing)job security irregardless of performance, seniority based layoffs. Bumping to get placed at better schools, easier classes. You should feel privileged and blessed that you are never subjected to the job pressures that most people feel. Which is why I feel(and have witnessed)career change teachers tend to be among the best there is.Bar none!”

    Exactly why private sector workers need to unionize!

  • AH

    Teachers should not evaluate other teachers. If you want observations, etc., then arrange it with administrators.

    EVERYONE thinks that they are a good teacher. Of course teacher quality is important, but the current “teacher effectiveness” issue leads directly to the Gates Foundation (see Susan Ohanian’s blog & NY Times articles), and is just another way to target/attack veteran teachers.

    Young teachers w/o tenure seem to be leading the charge. Apparently, they have all the answers.

  • J.R.

    Before you talk about unions and rights, just think about where that union money comes from. I don’t appreciate it when my hard earned money is confiscated, and then diverted from intended to be frittered away needlessly to make well placed people wealthy. I have no obligation to subsidize what in some measure has devolved into a jobs program. Never forget whose money it is, and who you work for(represented by the district).

  • AH

    “Stand up and say, ‘I work my butt off every day for my students, and I know I am doing a good job to make a difference, and I don’t want to be clumped with the few bad apples that are destroying their students’ futures. We need a system that will differentiate us.'”

    Teachers are not destroying students’ futures, poverty is. Teachers cannot do it all.

    As for differentiation, I would certainly differentiate myself from the likes of you.

  • AH


    I, too, pay taxes, and I’m glad that my hard-earned money supports the union and other public sector workers.

    Private sector workers should be unionized. I don’t mind the extra cost – I see it as a long-term benefit to society.

  • J.R.

    To put it simply we taxpayers have been paying excessively(top five in spending, top twenty five in actual results) for decades and the results have been average(with exceptions). Even our best students come up short against kids in other nations. When kids are being remediated in high school and college there is definitely a problem. Poverty is often used as an excuse but why do the number of students who are not proficient,dropout rates, number of functionally illiterate students far exceed the poverty rates?



  • J.R.

    “Private sector workers should be unionized. I don’t mind the extra cost – I see it as a long-term benefit to society”.

    We have been sliding academically for thirty + years(long before anyone knew what a reformer was), what long term benefits? Things need to change because there are far too many kids falling in the cracks.

  • Jenna

    Ms. J:

    Have you heard of CAFE – it was started by two sisters who are classroom teachers – they honed the method and I have seen it work in classes with 23 – 27 students – the vast majority were English language learners. I saw 3rd – 5th grade students working independently for 50 – 55 minute blocks on reading comprehension, writing and word word. First and second grade students worked independently for as much as 30 – 35 minutes and middle school it was the entire period after an initial 5 minute introduction. These same teachers also have something that is incorporated in CAFE called the Daily 5.

    The Daily 5 – read to self, read to someone, writing, word work and listening to reading.

    CAFE is Comprehension, Accuracy, Fluency and Expanded Vocabulary.

    What I see in Oakland is that the teachers are so bound to having the Open Court selection read three times – whole class once or twice, independent reading usually once and the CD played during class time to all students in the class whether they are reading at grade level or not that no student sets her or his own goals. Setting your own goals seems to be the key in private, charter and public schools in which students grow more than one grade level in learning per school year. When mass delivery of instruction is the key way of teaching more than 30% of the school day, more students seem to rely on “scaffolding” – that seems to look like sentence frames in which students only need enter a word or phrase and all other information is given to them.

    In these classrooms teachers went over to students to conference with them rather than interrupting students who were working by calling students to where the teacher sits.

    There are many, many things that I witnessed in OUSD classrooms that seem to impede independent work. The major thing is that teachers want students to come to them, teachers appear to believe that students cannot be trained to work independently for 30 – 70 minutes at a time in elementary school and that Open Court rather than literature must be used for students to learn to read. Charter schools in Oakland simply do not operate that way. Other school districts simply do not operate that way.

    I wish OUSD teachers would take their days off and visit schools that have similar populations of students, but use very, very different ways of teaching. I think they would be amazed. Also, there are many, many teachers in other districts who would gladly partner with OUSD teachers to email back and forth about things that work in their classrooms.

    I think one of the biggest things I see in OUSD classrooms is the assumption that we have a more needy population of students that have such unique problems that no district can be compared to Oakland. It is simply not true.

  • Bones

    “Private sector workers should be unionized. I don’t mind the extra cost – I see it as a long-term benefit to society”

    ..Because American car makers had such great long-term success after their workers unionized and held their companies hostage. Airline pilots as well.

    When American workers unionize and demand compensation above market norms, foreign companies get the advantage. You might not mind the extra cost, but there’s no long-term benefit except to that company’s competitors.

  • Gordon Danning

    It’s amazing how there are so many experts on this blog – experts on crime, child development, education, and now labor economics! And, they’re all the same people!

    Perhaps we need to recognize that some of the things we are arguing about eventually come down to value judgments: Higher rates of unionization probably lead to higher costs and higher unemployment in the short run (I like to think I’m not stupid enough to make statements about the long term effects, without doing some serious research. Others are free to do so, however!). But, perhaps as a society we are willing to pay that price, in order to maintain more less inequality, or at least a larger middle class. Or, perhaps not. Again, that is a value judgment.

    PS to all the Chicken Littles: It is REALLY hard to criticize US economic policy over the last 20-60 years, given the overall results. The only long term negative is a mild increase in inequality, and even that is probably largely a function of increased immigration (aka, opportunity for poor folks in other countries)