How many schools are in OUSD, anyway?

The number 101 (as in “101 schools for 38,000 kids”) has a catchy ring to it, but how accurate is OUSD’s school closure talking point?

Board member Noel Gallo raised the issue last night, saying he’s seen totals in the mid-90s. A parent just asked about it too, wanting to get the number right for an editorial. It’s not a figure you can round very easily.

A school enrollment spreadsheet I requested from the district lists a total of 99 schools, and that includes Youth Empowerment, a small high school on the King Estates campus that closed in June. (Technically, it’s classified as a proposed merger, but I doubt many students who attended YES would define it that way.)

Maybe the disputed figure actually supports the argument that OUSD has more schools than it can manage — no one seems to be quite sure exactly how many that is!


Montessori charter school to open in Oakland

Although its petition was rejected by the Oakland school board, a charter school named Urban Montessori will open in Oakland next year, after all.

The Alameda County Board of Education approved the group’s appeal this week, according to the group’s blog.

Urban Montessori will begin its first year with grades k-2 and grow into a k-8. It doesn’t have a location yet, but its founders are looking for a place in downtown Oakland, close to public transit, said Hae-Sin Kim Thomas, a member of the founding team — and a former OUSD teacher, principal and administrator.

Some Oakland school board members, including Jody London, had hoped to convince Urban Montessori to open as a district school, rather than as an independently-run charter.

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The end of NCLB?

Wonk alert! Here is a look at the (major) changes a bipartisan group of lawmakers have proposed for the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, otherwise known as No Child Left Behind.

The law was up for renewal in 2007, but the process has moved so slowly that President Barack Obama announced last month his administration would circumvent Congress’s halting progress by letting states apply for waivers in exchange for agreeing to certain education reforms.

Education Week blogger Alyson Klein has a nice summary of the proposal, which is a dramatic departure from the current federal law in that it leaves much up to the states’ discretion. It was introduced by by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), who chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee.

Here’s what our nation’s education secretary, Arne Duncan, had to say:

“A bipartisan bill will not have everything that everyone wants, but it must build on our common interests: high standards; flexibility for states, school districts and schools; and a more focused federal role that promotes equity, accountability and reform. This bill is a very positive step toward a reauthorization that will provide our students and teachers with the support they need, and I salute Senators Harkin and Enzi for their good work and their bipartisan approach.”



Lazear parents: Close our school, and we’ll open a charter

Staff PhotojournalistThe families at East Oakland’s Lazear Elementary School have come to a decision, says parent leader Olga Galaviz Gonzalez: If the Oakland school board votes to close it next year, as Superintendent Tony Smith has recommended, they will try to reopen it as a public, independently-run charter school.

“We’ve been working on it,” Gonzalez said about the charter school petition.

Lazear’s school board representative, Noel Gallo, says he opposes the closure and that he is no longer interested in selling the property. He says that if the board votes to close the school on Oct. 26, he would support the charter petition.

I wrote about Lazear in the spring of 2010, when the parents went out on strike, unhappy with the principal and one teacher in particular. I revisited the school a year later — in April –and found a much happier, academically-focused place.

Now, Lazear is on a list of five elementary schools slated for closure, along with Lakeview, Marshall, Maxwell Park and Santa Fe. Its state test scores, though lower than neighboring schools, rose 27 points to 714.

“That school has turned around, and now we want to close it,” Gallo said.

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No plans Saturday night?

Staff Photojournalist

Saturday is the second annual Uptown Oakland Block Party and school fundraiser. It’s from 5 to 8 p.m.

Organizers aim to raise $60,000 for five Oakland schools (including two that are slated for closure): Manzanita SEED, Cleveland, Piedmont Avenue, Lakeview and Thurgood Marshall. Last year, they raised $13,000 for another group of schools.

Thirty-dollar tickets are available online through the end of the day. It will get you a cocktail along with your donation. (If you don’t have time to get your ticket in advance, you can buy one for $40 at Luka’s Taproom & Lounge on Broadway and Grand.)

See the Facebook post here.

Participating venues (subject to change): Ozumo, Pican, Era Art Bar, Luka’s Taproom & Lounge, Farley’s, Vo’s, 3000 Broadway, Shashamane, Inkwell, Somar, Dogwood, and Make Westing.


More on student discipline in Oakland — and a list of suspension-free schools

According to statistics provided by the Oakland school district (and crunched by your devoted education reporter):

TOTAL SUSPENSIONS in 2010-11: 6,137


DEFIANCE (“disruption/defy authority”) was the basis for 43 percent of all suspensions.

BLACK MALES made up less than 20 percent of all students in OUSD, but received about half of the suspensions.

At least two of the schools had more suspensions than students:  Continue Reading


Should Oakland track student suspensions by teacher?

A new report calls for school districts to publish student disciplinary statistics by school, race and gender, to help teachers learn how to keep order in their classrooms without kicking kids out, and to create a disciplinary system that doesn’t result in out-of-school suspensions of large numbers of students — particularly black students.

The policy brief, by the University of Colorado’s National Education Policy Center and UCLA’s Civil Rights Project, reminded me to check in with what’s happening in Oakland Unified on the discipline-and-race front.

A plan proposed by the Oakland school district’s African American Male Achievement Task Force would do some of the things suggested in the report — and even go beyond.

One of the task force’s recommendations, listed on page 14, is to identify teachers who refer a certain number of black students for suspension based on “defiance” — the vast majority of cases, according to spokesman Troy Flint — as well as principals at schools high expulsion rates for black males: Continue Reading


An Oakland classroom, on national TV

Think College Now teacher Kristen Casaretto
photo of Kristen Casaretto by Hasain Rasheed Photography

Did anyone watch Education Nation on NBC last week? It highlighted the work of three teachers, including Teach for America alum Kristen Casaretto, who teaches fourth grade at Think College Now in East Oakland.

Talk about courage — the segment includes a live video feed from Casaretto’s classroom during a math lesson. (The above link takes you right to the Oakland part; to see the whole “Classrooms in Action” segment, go here.)

At one point, `Today’ show host Ann Curry says to Wendy Kopp, founder and CEO of Teach For America: “In this particular school, the numbers — I’ve gotta be honest with you — are not great … but these numbers are going up dramatically every single year.”

Kopp responds by saying she saw “a whole different set of data,” particularly for math — numbers that put the school on par with schools in Palo Alto, a district often used to illustrate the top half of the achievement gap. She went on to praise the teaching staff at Think College Now and its turnaround.

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