California’s 2011 test scores are out

It’s every k-12 education reporter’s favorite time of year: test score day! (I meant to post this earlier, but after sorting my 27th spreadsheet, my mind was rendered temporarily useless.)

Do you want to see how your school did last school year? You can find a spreadsheet with multiple tabs (East Bay, Oakland, and Oakland sorted by API score and growth) here. If you want to see it in print, we’re running a big chart listing the API scores and No Child Left Behind status of all the schools in our area in tomorrow’s (Thursday’s) paper. Here is a link to the California Department of Education’s website.

For my story on No Child Left Behind, I talked to two Oakland principals — Marco Franco, of Sobrante Park, and Charles Wilson, of Fred T. Korematsu Discovery Academy — about their experiences with Program Improvement, a status that is shared by more schools each year as the student proficiency standards get tougher. (By 2014, all students are supposed to reach proficiency in reading and math, as the federal law is currently written.)

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First day back

I love the first day of school, but the parents at Oakland’s Grass Valley Elementary put my enthusiasm to shame this morning. You can see the PTA moms (and Dad’s Club dads) in action in a video I took of my visit, which will soon be posted to this Tribune story.

Some Oakland schoolchildren didn’t have such a stellar first day, through no fault of their their own or anyone at their schools. A manhunt in East Oakland led to an afternoon emergency lockdown at Castlemont and East Oakland PRIDE. For students at those schools, it meant noisy helicopters hovering overhead, hours stuck in the cafeteria, or hours without lunch. Hopefully they will have a much better day tomorrow.

How was your first day back? Tell us about it — even if it’s the second day of school by the time you read this.


How to teach about Sept. 11

My colleagues and I are working on a story about how Bay Area teachers plan to cover the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks. So tell us: What aspects of the event and its ongoing aftermath will — or should — social studies teachers address in their classrooms?

Given the religious and ethnic diversity of California’s classrooms, I wonder how teachers will approach such sensitive topics as the role of religion and international terrorism, if at all, and generally what they will consider as they put together their lesson plans.

How do you make an event — one that’s still so fresh in the minds of many adults — relevant to children who were toddlers or small children when the World Trade Centers collapsed? How much emphasis and time, if any, to you plan to devote to this topic?

The Education Writers Association posted this link to a blog post with curriculum for teachers. Are there other resources you’d recommend?

I’m looking for teachers, parents and students to interview and, possibly, for lessons to observe. If you’re interested — Don’t be shy! — or know someone who might be, send me an email with your contact information so we can talk at greater length about how you and your colleagues plan to approach this important moment in our world’s history.

I encourage you to post your thoughts and ideas here. Want to write a piece for The Education Report about the subject? Please submit it to kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com. Just remember to include your basic information (name, school, grade, subject, etc.) and, if possible, a photo of yourself. I look forward to hearing from you.


School closures on the horizon in Oakland

Oakland school district officials have said for years that the district runs too many schools — 101 for 38,000 students.

Superintendent Tony Smith has been judicious with his use of the `C’ word, though he’s blamed some of the district’s financial challenges — and its relatively low teacher pay — on the number of schools in the district.

Now, his staff have come up with a complex ranking system (link below) for choosing which schools to close or merge. The school board votes on the criteria tomorrow, during its 5 p.m. meeting. The closure list would be announced at the end of October, according to GO Public schools. It’s unclear from the presentation how many there would be, but I’ll let you know when I find out.

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Career derailed amid allegations of racism

I returned to civilization last night from a five-day, blissfully unplugged vacation to hear what you may well know by now: Pete Sarna, the chief of the Oakland school district’s police force, has retired at 41 following accusations that he made shocking racist statements to an African-American sergeant in his force while under the influence of alcohol.

The two police officers were riding home — with a designated driver and another sergeant, who filed the complaint — after drinking at a charity golf event.

Sarna’s attorney said her client had an alcohol problem. It’s not the first time it’s blown up publicly, damaging his career. In 2007, he stepped down from his post with the Department of Justice after a car crash and DUI citation in Walnut Creek.

Less than two weeks before the incident, I met with Sarna to go over some statistics he had gathered about homicides in Oakland. He gave me a tour of the school district’s police headquarters at the old Cole Middle School, with its new fitness room and command center, complete with a wall of flat screen monitors, showing security camera shots from around the city. Continue Reading


New dropout formula, same problem

California’s new dropout and graduate estimates are out for the Class of 2010. They are supposed to be more accurate than ever before, as this is the fourth year the state education department has used unique student IDs to track students’ progress through the system.

With four years of data, it didn’t have to make all kinds of crazy projections and extrapolations to guess how many kids were quitting school. It’s basic division — a calculation simple enough for a fifth-grader (or a journalist with a firm grasp on order of operations) to understand!

Oakland’s graduation and dropout rates were among the lowest in the state. There might well be districts out there with worse rates, but I didn’t come across any. Based on these estimates, Latino students in Oakland fare worse than their peers elsewhere in the state, with a four-year graduation rate of 47 percent, compared to 68 percent statewide.

How confident are you that OUSD’s strategic plan will turn this around?


Debate camp in Oakland

Diego Garcia (rising junior at Fremont High School’s Media Academy), Rashid Campbell (Skyline High School Class of 2010, soon-to-be sophomore at University of Oklahoma) and Annessa Lopez (rising junior at Skyline) tell us all about last week’s Bay Area Urban Debate League summer camp, a free institute that was held last week at Oakland’s Westlake Middle School. – Katy

Diego Garcia
DIEGO GARCIA: Two years ago I went to my first BAUDL summer institute, dragged along by my sister Jazmin to the foreign world of debate. I remember being nervous: I had never engaged in an activity like that before, and was worried about having to speak in front of a crowd. But in the end I loved it, and started spending a lot of time on it, enough that my partner and I came out of last year’s season as League Champions.

When the 2011 BAUDL institute began my biggest concern was the camp tournament – I had a reputation to defend. The last day of the institute there is a tournament were debaters would test their knowledge based on their own personal experiences and what they learned during the week. Being the competitive debater that I am it’s always exciting being at a tournament just to really challenge opponents and make it a learning experience for both teams.

This year we will be debating about space – like my lab leader at the summer institute told us, space is literally infinite, so there was a lot to talk about. There was a case on space colonization – should we send a group out into the stars just in case we blow ourselves up here on planet earth? – a case on global weather monitoring systems, and a few others. Up for debate were whether developing space could lead to nuclear proliferation, and whether the government or private companies should take the lead.

The best part of debate camp was the whole learning experience not only with my coaches, but with my peers as well. To be able to share knowledge and different perspective in debate camp is just fun because we can compare ideas and see how they tend to play out. Every year it is great just to see new debaters rising up so to speak, because I know that the league will become better as a unit as these new recruits join our community. I like to see debaters with years of experience share the knowledge they have gathered with the young and less experienced minds. I know that the new recruits eventually will do the same for the next generation.

This year I am really looking forward to all the tournaments and debate rounds my partner and I will engage in since it is a great deal of fun – clashing with arguments, advocating for policy options, and researching our own cases. This year, my biggest goal is to win league championships all over again, but for that I see a lot of new, tough competition that are quickly learning, that they too have the same goal – but hey, that’s debate.

Rashid CampbellRASHID CAMPBELL: Being from Oakland has taught me a lot about how to deal with and handle certain situations. As stressful as the competition of debate gets some times, I know I have been through more, and every hard experience I have had actually helps me win in debate. I am one of those debaters that brings poetry and stories about what has happened to me and my people into the arguments I use in competition, and I am motivated to help the youth use the same strategies to find the power in their own voices.

To be quick with it, I was excited to be working with Bay Area Urban Debate League youth as a staff member for this summer institute. This year we had some great students. Some of them were really not enthusiastic about debate at first, but over time they grew to love it just as much as the staff. My lab in particular was the “underdog” group of the varsity labs. We took the students who had less experience in debate and helped them develop tools and tactics so they could compete on even ground with the top teams in the league.

Over the week, we helped them understand that winning a debate round takes more than just an abundance of information from politicians and academics.   Continue Reading


Paper galore at Lakeview Elementary School

Lake Merritt Breakfast Club supply donation

Lakeview Elementary School should not run out of copy paper this year. Today, the charitable arm of the 78-year-old Lake Merritt Breakfast Club dropped off $2,000 worth of school supplies at Lakeview. According to the breakfast club, the savings will help Lakeview pay for someone to look after the kids at lunchtime — the kind of position that many schools have been forced to cut (or fundraise to keep).

Know of other school supply donations and drives? Tell us about them.


Not the welcome she expected

Lindsey Smallwood (courtesy photo)

On Saturday, special education teacher Lindsey Smallwood headed to her new West Oakland school, Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary, to take pictures of her classroom. The trip didn’t turn out at all like she planned.

The following passage is taken from her blog, Smallwood at Large.

Dispatch: 911 – What’s your emergency?

Me: We were just robbed at gun point. We – my husband and I.

Dispatch: Are you hurt, do I need to send an ambulance?

Me: No, we’re not hurt. They took our money, took Chris’s money.

Dispatch: Where are you now?

Me: We’re at the liquor store across the street.

The liquor store across the street from the school. The new school. Where I just took the new job. The place where I am going to go every work day for at least the next year. That school. That’s where it happened.

Teachers: Do you feel safe on your way to and from school? What precautions do you take? Has anything like this happened to you?