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.
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. The Math, Science & Technology Bilingual Charter Academy would go from preschool through eighth grade. Its goal is for all children to graduate bilingual and biliterate. Unlike other models I’ve seen in Oakland for English- and Spanish-speakers, it proposes to teach children in separate classrooms, according to their dominant language.
Compared to many of the other charter school petitions — especially in recent years — details of its instructional program are sparse. ASCEND’s document, for example, devotes a full 45 pages to the school’s instructional practices. (I saw the principal turn in the 535-page document; it looked very heavy.)
The instructional plan for Math, Science & Technology Bilingual Charter Academy, by contrast, is covered in about four pages. Use of technology, as advertised in the school’s name, is addressed in a single paragraph:
Technology is a tool that enhances learning that goes on both in and out of the classroom. Technology is integrated in the curriculum across grade levels in a developmentally appropriate way. In K- 2 students begin by learning basic computer skills such as word processing and keyboarding, as well as various programs such as Imagine Learning. Another program, Google Earth, can enhance the study of neighborhoods in second grade. By third grade, students are learning to use digital devices for research, writing, organizing ideas, and working on collaborative, long-term projects.
Another charter proposal, for a new, k-12 school that’s open to all, but designed for African-American boys, was submitted by the organization 100 Black Men of the Bay Area. As they make the case for the new school, the petitioners note the poor performance of African-American males nationally, as well as in the city’s public school system:
While the Oakland Unified School District is working hard to meet the academic and developmental needs of its students, the underperformance of African-American and Latino students remains stark.
Chatmon, who would serve on the charter school’s board of directors, is the executive director of the Oakland school district’s privately funded Office of African American Male Achievement. He is also the chairman of the education committee of 100 Black Men’s Bay Area chapter.
The petition acknowledges the work of Chatmon’s department, and it says the school would “serve as an integral partner with the (Office of African American Male Achievement) in an effort to drastically change the trajectory of African American male students in Oakland.”
Still, as the school district would be overseeing the charter school — and determining whether to approve it to begin with — I wonder if Chatmon’s employment in OUSD poses a conflict of interest. I’ve asked the district’s charter school office and general counsel if they’ve looked into it and/or determined otherwise. I called Chatmon yesterday and told him I was blogging about the petition, but I haven’t heard back from him.
But more importantly, what do you think about the bigger picture — a public school essentially created for African-American boys? Is this an answer to the city’s enormous achievement gap?