Sobering statistics on child poverty

The number of school-age children living in poverty soared by 30 percent(!) in California between 2007 and 2010, according to new estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau.

In the United States, nearly 2 million more children between the ages of 5 and 17 fell into poverty during that time.

I wrote about that depressing trend today, in this story. My colleague Danny Willis created a database that lets you search the numbers by school district boundary and county. You’ll find it at the end of the piece.

Continue Reading


OUSD’s rosy enrollment projections

The Oakland school district is closing five elementary schools next year. Two of its other schools might be converted into independently run charters, taking 800 children with them. And at least one — quite possibly, two — brand new charter schools open next fall, with plans to admit more than 600 students, combined.

But OUSD’s leaders aren’t bracing for a big enrollment drop. They predict the school system’s enrollment will hold firm in September — and even grow slightly (by 125 students, to 38,166).

Will the numbers bear out? They didn’t this fall. Enrollment in the city’s district-run schools, though flat, came in 300 students shy of projections, creating a $1.6 million budget gap that needed to be closed immediately.

2012 projections, explained: Continue Reading


OUSD’s budget priorities

6:20 p.m. update: The meeting got started late. Only four of the seven board members — Jody London, David Kakishiba, Gary Yee and Alice Spearman — are here. You should be able to catch the live video of the meeting now.


The Oakland school board is talking finances tonight, and I’m heading to a 6 p.m. special meeting to see what I can find out.

You should be able to catch live video of the meeting here, once it starts. Meeting details here.

The board is considering these questions, among others:

1. How will District schools and programs be affected by the impending State revenue reductions for FY 2011-2012 (mid-year) and FY 2012-2013?
2. What planning assumptions is District using to establish FY 2012-2013 enrollment and attendance projections?
3. How is District spending FY 2011-2012 General Fund (unrestricted and restricted) revenues?
4. What is the status of the District’s Strategic Plan Year One Landmarks?


Thank you, Mr. B!

by thanker212, via flickr.com/creativecommons

This morning on NPR, there was a show (I tuned in late, but I think it was this segment on “Talk of the Nation”) dedicated to thanking a teacher who had made a difference in your life.

I thought of my sixth-grade English teacher, Mr. Belloumini, a quirky man who rarely stayed on topic and loved to tell long, circuitous stories. But Mr. B was the one who made me see writing as something other than a formula or a set of rules, who guided me through my first real short story and my first poem. I might have pursued another (more sensible!) career, had I not fallen for writing in his class 20 years ago. And yet, I’ve never told him that.

On this Thanksgiving weekend, what teacher would you like to thank? Tell us about them. And teachers: How often do your students or families express gratitude for your work, and how do they do it? What does it mean to you when they do?


Not your typical high school science lab

Lara Trale, who teaches the sophomore English classes at Oakland High School’s Environmental Science Academy, wrote this piece about an ongoing class project — with help from some of her students.

CH2M Hill 11-15-11 027
photo courtesy of Katie Noonan, co-director of Oakland High School’s Environmental Science Academy

Stop by Lake Merritt most Tuesdays, and you’ll see dozens of high school students pulling up samples of the lake’s algae-rich water, squinting into refractometers, and peering down as a lowered Secchi disk disappears into the murk.

This is routine for the 70 sophomores of Oakland High School’s Environmental Science Academy, who have been recording water quality data since September 20 as part of their ongoing monitoring of Lake Merritt. They analyze the lake’s turbidity, salinity, density, dissolved oxygen levels, and acidity. They record water and air temperatures. Microscope analysis of a plankton tow reveals some of the smallest marine organisms living in Lake Merritt.

Continue Reading


Drawing new attendance boundaries

This afternoon, the Oakland school district posted maps showing how it might redraw its boundaries for 2012-13, after five elementary schools close.

OUSD Spokesman Troy Flint is double-checking on this, but it appears that the remaining schools’ boundaries would only expand — not shift — under this plan. In other words, that the only residents who’d be redistricted would be those who live in the attendance areas of Lakeview, Lazear, Marshall, Maxwell Park and Santa Fe. I think. If it appears otherwise to you, let us know!

Lakeview and Lazear each have two scenarios for consideration. Marshall and Maxwell Park have three (including one for Maxwell Park that splits the current zone into seven pieces). Santa Fe has just one three. You’ll find more detail below.

WHAT’S NEXT: The district is holding five community meetings, beginning Nov. 29, in each of the areas (see above link for dates and locations). It holds a public hearing Dec. 14, and is scheduled to make a decision on Jan. 11.

Here are the scenarios, with a list of all of the schools that would incorporate part of each existing attendance area: Continue Reading


Oakland teachers push for changes beyond charter school conversion

Staff Photojournalist
photo by Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group

Teachers from two East Oakland elementary schools are on a mission to shake up the status quo in the Oakland school district.

This fall, they voted to turn their schools — ASCEND and Learning Without Limits — into independently run charters so that they could have more control over staffing, curriculum, budgeting and other things, such as the school calendar. Hearings on those charter conversion petitions and others begin at 6 p.m. Monday evening in the district office at 1025 Second Avenue.

But the teachers at these two schools have goals beyond charter conversion. They want to organize like-minded educators around some of their ideas, such as changing the way teachers are evaluated. They also want to do away with a layoff system driven almost entirely by credential and years of service in a district (though they’re not against including seniority as a factor). They, like the union’s current leaders, think teachers should have more say in what materials they use to teach children.

At the Oakland Education Association’s membership meeting last week the teachers circulated a flier that said: Continue Reading


Midyear “trigger cuts” likely for California schools

OAKLAND UPDATE: OUSD spokesman Troy Flint said the district could be forced to absorb midyear cuts of up to $5.5 million, or $190 per student, as a result of the trigger cuts. He said the 2011-12 budget accounts for this possibility. So for this year anyway, he said, “Any impact would be slight and we definitely would not make cuts to schools.”

Alameda Unified schools appear to be similarly situated, according to this letter to parents from Superintendent Kirsten Vital.


The news today out of the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office was not good for public education in California: The LAO has forecasted that state tax revenues will fall $3.7 billion short of the level on which the June budget deal was based.

About $1.4 billion in automatic, mid-year cuts to k-12 schools and community colleges will be triggered if the shortfall is $2 billion or greater. Steve Harmon, our Capitol reporter, lays it out here.

The final word on the trigger cuts comes on December 15, when the Department of Finance issues its predictions. The rosier of the two projections prevails.

The below graphic, reproduced with permission from School Services of California, Inc., helps to break it down. A provision of the trigger law prohibits teacher layoffs, and some districts — though not OUSD –have considered shaving more days off the school year if the cuts come to pass.

Trigger law, explained


How do you teach history, as it’s happening?

Occupy Oakland 10-25-11 1
photo from Brian Sims’ site on flickr.com/creativecommons

Before the Nov. 2 general strike, some Oakland teachers said they wished they had more time to prepare lessons about the Occupy movement. Now that two weeks have passed, I’m curious to hear how teachers have approached the subject in class.

It must be challenging to teach current events like this, as the situation can shift in a matter of hours. On the other hand, given Oakland’s role in the movement, I imagine it’s easier for students to connect what’s happening nationally to their own lives. It might also be an effective way to bring to life topics relating to the economy, banking and government, such as tax rates and the power of campaign contributions and mass protests such as this.

So, tell us: How are you teaching it? Have your class discussions reflected multiple points of view? I found this lesson plan on the New York Times website. The author also invites students to add their comments here.

I welcome students (and parents) to add their comments, too — about the movement and what they’d like to learn about it.


In Oakland: A charter school for black boys, charter conversions and other proposals

The Oakland school board holds a special meeting Nov. 21 to hear eight pending charter petitions — three district schools that would secede from OUSD and run independently; one new school and four existing charters that are up for renewal (KIPP Bridge, Civicorps, ARISE High School and Aspire’s Lionel Wilson College Prep).

NOTE: This is a public hearing only — no decisions are scheduled.

You can find the schedule here, and I’ve pasted it below. All of the petitions are posted online, if you want to take a look.

Staff Photojournalist

As I reported last month, teachers at East Oakland’s ASCEND and Learning Without Limits elementary schools voted to break away from the district and apply for a conversion charter. The leaders and staff of the new small schools say they’ve watched the erosion of the conditions their schools were promised when they opened — namely, control over curriculum, staffing and budget.

Their concerns came to a head last spring, when many of their teachers, low on the OUSD seniority chain, received a layoff warning or termination notice. The district issued hundreds of those notices, and ended up rescinding most of them.

Parents from nearby Lazear Elementary, which is slated for closure in 2012, have — as promised — submitted a charter petition as well. Continue Reading