Common state standards in math and English — a step forward?

By now, all but five states (Alaska, Texas, Minnesota, Nebraska and Virginia) have adopted what’s known as Common Core State Standards for math and English, a common agreement of what students in the United States should know and be able to do in those subjects.

A Learning Matters blog post features differing views of what this major development might mean for the U.S. educational system — and whether the current system (each state having its own separate set of standards) really does lack focus. I thought you might find it interesting, and I’m curious to know what you’ve heard about this initiative and what questions you have about how it will work, in practice.

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A Promise Neighborhood in Hayward

Today, in its first round of five-year Promise Neighborhoods grants, the U.S. Department of Education handed out just five awards.

One of the recipients was a project focused on the Jackson Triangle neighborhood in Hayward, down the hill from Cal State East Bay.

Last year, I wrote about Hayward’s $500,000 Promise Neighborhoods planning grant. Out of 330 applicants, it was one of 21 winners. The Cal State East Bay-led project beat the odds again this year, winning the full implementation grant — up to $25 million in the next five years.

You’ll find my story about it here.

Several applications were filed this year for different Oakland neighborhoods, but none won. But OUSD seems to be pushing forward with the Promise neighborhoods strategy anyway — the cornerstone of the strategic plan is “full-service community schools,” after all — seeking funding from other sources.

And my colleague Sharon Noguchi tells me that John Porter, superintendent of the Franklin-McKinley School District in San Jose, launched a similar initiative — named, at least originally, the Franklin-McKinley Children’s Zone, after the original children’s zone in Harlem.

In addition to the infusion of resources into these neighborhoods and schools (the Hayward project will focus on six schools), this approach relies on the cooperation of dozens of agencies and organizations. Arguably, that type of collaboration doesn’t take all that much extra funding and could lead to improved services for children and families.

Have you heard of other places trying the same thing? Do you think it will lead to significantly different outcomes for children living in those neighborhoods?

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Charter school accountability debate

Yesterday, the California Charter Schools Association caused a stir. The pro-charter group came out with a list of 10 independently-run schools it deemed underperforming — and encouraged their respective school districts to close them when their 5-year contracts expire!

That list included West County Community High in Richmond, as my colleague Hannah Dreier reported in today’s paper. Leadership High in San Francisco was also on it.

The complete list included 31 schools, but the association only published the names of those that are nearing the end of their 5-year terms and seeking a charter renewal.

Here’s the reasoning behind the mov, from the news release:

“We cannot have an honest discussion about education reform and increasing accountability without closing the charters that have demonstrated an inability to meet the challenge of excellence–granted to us by law–and chronically underperform. Our accountability framework has been pressure tested, analyzed and deliberated thoroughly. The time to act on persistently low-performing schools is now, because our children’s education cannot be put on the back-burner,” said Myrna Castrejón, senior vice president, Achievement and Performance Management, CCSA.

The “call for non-renewal” was criticized by another state charter group, the Charter Schools Development Center. The center put out a statement today, noting flaws in California’s testing system and arguing that renewal decisions should not be purely based on test scores.

What do you make of all this?

To meet the association’s minimum standard, a school needs to have one of these three things (copied directly from the news release):

  • Academic Performance Index (API) score of at least 700 in most recent year
  • 3-year cumulative API growth of at least 50 points (2010-11 growth + 2009-10 growth + 2008-09 growth)
  • Within range of or exceeding predicted performance based on similar student populations statewide, for at least two out of the last three years, based on CCSA’s metric, the Similar Students Measure.

Group aims to recall five OUSD board members

In Oakland, recall is in the air.

As some citizens collect signatures to recall Mayor Jean Quan, another group named Concerned Parents and Community Coalition is trying to oust five of the seven Oakland school board directors. It’s targeting those who voted `yes’ on the proposal this fall to close elementary schools: Jody London, David Kakishiba, Jumoke Hinton Hodge, Gary Yee, and Chris Dobbins.

The school board meets tonight, and members of the coalition planned to march to the district office from nearby Laney College at 4 p.m. and present the directors with intent to gather signatures for a recall. Our photographer went out there around 4:30 p.m. and found about six people, not counting reporters.

(7:15 p.m. UPDATE: More supporters have packed the board room. Board President Jody London turned off the mic after Joel Velasquez, of Concerned Parents, went over the time limit. London later called a recess as he continued to speak, with the help of supporters, in Occupy “mic-check” fashion. People then began chanting “Stop closing schools!” and “Recall!”)

The closures of Lakeview, Lazear, Marshall, Maxwell Park and Santa Fe elementary schools were the impetus behind this effort. Joel Velasquez, a Lakeview dad, was listed as the contact on a news release that was sent out this morning from Yasmin Anwar. Anwar, a Kaiser Elementary School mom, was one of many parents who fought to keep Kaiser open after it appeared on a list of schools under “possible closure consideration.” She brings some communications know-how to the coalition, as she works in UC Berkeley’s media relations department.

Velasquez told me that the people he had spoken to about the issue feel that the elected officials “are disconnected from the community.”

I’m still learning about the recall process, but here’s what I gather so far: Continue Reading


K-12 schools spared worst-case `trigger cuts’ scenario

California school districts will take a $79 million midyear hit — plus a $248 million cut in home-to-school transportation — as a result of automatic “trigger cuts” set to take effect early next year, according to early news reports, including this story from our Sacramento reporter, Steve Harmon.

That’s far below the $1.5 billion many had feared, based on an earlier fiscal analysis by the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office that projected an even greater budget shortfall.

The Sacramento Bee has reported that the $79 million works out to a cut of $11 per student. For Oakland Unified, I believe that would amount to roughly $400,000. As we’ve reported, the district administration says it anticipated a larger cut and kept enough funding in its reserves to absorb it without cutting expenses, mid year.

Subsidized child care, university and community college systems would be more deeply affected, however.

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Oakland teacher speaks at the White House

Laura Kretschmar, a newly National Board-certified teacher who teaches math and science at Lighthouse Community Charter School in East Oakland, spoke at a White House forum about the teaching profession this week with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Also there is Dan Brown, whose book (“The Great Expectations School”) I just finished reading.

Check out the video here. Laura’s the second person in from the left. She starts speaking around 39 minutes.

Here’s a note she wrote to her colleagues about the experience and forwarded to me to post: Continue Reading


Is it time for OUSD’s unusual budgeting system to become policy?

To those who don’t work at schools or compulsively follow education policy, the finer points of school budgeting and resource allocation might sound like painfully dry reading material. But the issue evokes passionate debate in Oakland Unified, which does things differently than most districts.

In other districts, it’s common practice for top administrators to determine the number of teachers and kinds of electives and programs for each school. In Oakland, those decisions are (at least, in theory) made at the school-level through OUSD’s unconventional budgeting system (Results-Based Budgeting, or RBB).

RBB has been in place since 2004, but its principles — including the autonomy mentioned above — are not established in school board policy, said David Kakishiba, who chairs the board’s Finance and Human Resources Committee.

“A couple of changes in school board members, and all that can get crushed in an instant,” he said, noting that the system is also subject to the philosophy of each district administration. (Former interim Superintendent Roberta Mayor was not a fan.)

Kakishiba has proposed the creation of an ad-hoc school board committee to come up with a policy recommendation for school budgeting by March. The committee would not prescribe a certain allocation funding allocation formula or determine whether schools should pay the actual salaries and benefits of their teachers, as they do now.

Rather, he said, it would determine whether to etch into stone “a set of autonomies, including the budget process.”

This is a big sticking point for ASCEND and Learning Without Limits. Continue Reading


Health centers and “full-service community schools”

Skyline High School's new health center
photos by Roy Manzanares, courtesy of Oakland Unified

Oakland Superintendent Tony Smith’s vision of full-service community schools is taking shape on some campuses, thanks to a school-based health center initiative that has picked up steam (and millions of dollars in funding) since 2008.

Oakland Unified’s 12th health center opened this week, at the 1,900-student Skyline High School. The Native American Health Center (NAHC) will operate services at the clinic. The renovated portable building includes two medical exam rooms, a laboratory and three confidential consultation rooms.

new Skyline High School health center

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Race to Nowhere showing at Oakland’s Grand Lake

Race to Nowhere documentary

I have yet to watch the “Race to Nowhere” education documentary, but I hope to catch it this week, when it plays at the Grand Lake Theater, 3200 Grand Ave.

You can see it today through Sunday at 4 p.m., 6 p.m., 8 p.m. or 10 p.m. From Monday through Thursday it screens at 6 p.m., 8 p.m., and 10 p.m.

The filmmaker’s description:

Featuring the heartbreaking stories of young people across the country who have been pushed to the brink, educators who are burned out and worried that students aren’t developing the skills they need, and parents who are trying to do what’s best for their kids, Race to Nowhere points to the silent epidemic in our schools: cheating has become commonplace, students have become disengaged, stress-related illness, depression and burnout are rampant, and young people arrive at college and the workplace unprepared and uninspired.

Race to Nowhere is a call to mobilize families, educators, and policy makers to challenge current assumptions on how to best prepare the youth of America to become healthy, bright, contributing and leading citizens.

I wonder how widespread this phenomenon is in Oakland. A 2011 YouthTruth survey by the Center for Effective Philanthropy found that students at the typical Oakland high school (13 schools participated; Oakland Tech did not) perceived their academic work to be less rigorous, on average, than did students surveyed at the other 150 high schools nationwide.

If you’ve seen “Race to Nowhere,” I’d love to hear your take on it (no spoilers, please!). Do you think kids are assigned way too much homework and live in an overly competitive achievement culture?