Michelle Rhee comes to Oakland, is greeted by protesters

Michelle RheeThe well-known former chancellor of Washington, D.C.’s public schools spoke tonight at a private event organized by the Oakland Speaker Series at the Paramount Theatre.

Michelle Rhee, who founded the Sacramento-based advocacy group StudentsFirst in 2010, after leaving her chancellor’s post, has challenged many of the labor practices that are commonplace in the nation’s public schools, including seniority-based layoffs and placements.

With her new advocacy organization, Rhee now is trying to continue with some of the reforms that she promoted during her three years in D.C. (which were featured in the education documentary “Waiting for Superman”).

I’ll post a photo soon, but a large group of demonstrators picketed outside the downtown Oakland theater before the 8 p.m. event. Some of the protesters — those with tickets — were allowed inside.

Staff Photojournalist
Photo by Aric Crabb/Bay Area News Group

I wasn’t at the event — no room for reporters who tried to invite themselves on the morning of! — but Rhee said she planned to discuss the ills of the nation’s public school system and her ideas for improving it. Betty Olson-Jones, president of the Oakland teachers’ union (and no fan of Rhee’s), was live-tweeting the talk. You can read her take on it here.

In a phone interview beforehand, Rhee said such demonstrations showed how passionate people were about the issues. “I would much rather, any day, deal with anger than apathy because it means people care,” she said.

What do you think about the ideas in the StudentsFirst policy agenda?

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • drew

    I don’t know a ton about the subject, but are the reforms that the labor unions are against the best for the students? There can’t be this much contention if everyone is looking out for the students.

  • http://www.parentsacrossamerica.org CarolineSF

    @Drew, Michelle Rhee is promoting fads backed by billionaires that actual educators and parents know are destructive to schools and harmful to students. These fads are invariable conceived and pushed by people with zero experience in or even contact with public schools and classrooms, who absolutely refuse to consult with or listen to actual educators. That’s the short version.

    Katy, I was outside protesting. This is a small point in the scheme of things, but: Protesters could go in if they had tickets, of course. I moved up into the theater entryway while I was flyering the attendees as they arrived and was taken firmly by the elbow by a woman working for the promoter and moved off onto the sidewalk. She said the Paramount entryway was private property. Wrong; it belongs to the city of Oakland. (This was also mildly amusing as I’m 58 years old and she was considerably younger, and treating me like a defiant, potentially dangerous troublemaker. Which I suppose I am, but still.)

    By the way, I was one of a couple of protesters who were answering questions about charter schools that were belligerently posed by an aggressively pro-charter (but very uninformed) woman who said she was from the Piedmont Post. She was joined by a man, apparently with her, who started questioning in the same vein, before they went into the speech. They both had very, very little and very poor information, and probably are even more badly confused now that they’ve listened to Rhee’s pack of lies, I mean speech. I gave the woman my card but neglected to get her contact info, and I’d love to be able to give her more information. Does anyone know who that might be, so I could get in touch with her through more direct channels than just the Piedmont Post’s general contact info? I am actually perfectly civil and not dangerous, and would do this by e-mail anyway.

  • Nextset

    The “agenda” is just corrupt.

    It’s more liberal BS with a cutting edge.

    It claims to hold teachers “accountable” when children they are stuck with don’t perform. This agenda is founded on the nonsense that all children are alike and have the same capacity to learn – so when they don’t the teachers must be punished. This is exactly the kind of corruption that leads to organized score falsification/cheating rings in administration of the black school districts. This is the “agenda” that leads to colleges lying about their scores to cover their affirmation action failures.

    So what we have is a NCLB mindset combined with a willingness to fire (no bones about this) teachers who don’t cook the books on their kiddies performance – or dumb down the classwork until their charges can appear to learn something.

    Sorry – I’m black and I like to keep standards rigorous. The students can sort themselves out so when we do have an A student or an “honor” student we can trust them even if they are black. The alternative is to never take seriously any black candidate for anything.

    I’m sure Michelle is a nice, polite person – but I can see how administrators like her set the stage for cheating scandals and then profess to be “shocked, shocked” when her administrators and teachers are caught cooking the books. It’s survival baby!

    Let’s try it the old school way. Schools publish their standards and have different ones for different schools. Any students who doesn’t measure up to the standard of the school they attend get Fs – or Ds. If the GPA falls below requirement failing students are expelled (if they don’t transfer to a lesser school first). Teachers may or may not be retained based on availability of someone who can do better with similar students. All is well.

    I understand Michelle is quite willing to fire black teachers. I am also. But other than that, I believe the “agendas” are quite different. And it seems to me that her (very PC) agenda is not going to improve the fates of black students in the Brave New World. It will make some people happy, infuriate the teacher’s union, and stir things up. She might even get rid of some incompetent teachers of all races at the same time.

    But this is not going to improve black performance in public schools. It will improve the organized cheating in a hurry.

  • Nextset

    By “improve the organized cheating” I mean it will increase it.

    Under the agenda of this organization can you imaging the glee a teacher will have when they arrange to get a white/jewish/asian classroom of students? It’s bonus time!!!

  • Katy Murphy

    Thanks for clarifying the admission of (only some of) the protesters, Caroline. I wasn’t sure about that.

  • J.R.

    Start with the facts that we do know, Oakland Unified is at or near the bottom in performance relative to all California school districts, and has been in that range for decades(before reformers). Just think how much worse it would be if a handful of schools didn’t do so well. We often hear the familiar refrain that California is at or near the bottom in per child funding(alleged underfunding issue approx 8K per child) in this Oakland Unified district the expenditure per child is 11.5K per child, which is well above average in the US(and does not include taxpayers capital outlay). Next issue, alleged poverty and it’s effect on school performance.I say the real issue is bad parenting, and or decades ago creating a perverse system whereby irresponsible people get subsidized or free housing,money,food and actually get more benefits if they have more children. There are really only two issues on which the majority of poor academic performance lay, bad and or ineffective parenting(and or homelife which is not necessarily a money issue)and systemic incompetence of the educational system itself which rewards longevity(in and of itself) and has no true mechanism for accountability,effectiveness or encouraging improvement. The truth will be found in the numbers, and frankly the people in this country have no idea what true poverty is.


    2011 HHS Poverty Guidelines

    Household Members
    1. $10,890

    2. $14,710

    3. $18,530

    4. $22,350

    5. $26,170

    6. $29,990

    7. $33,810

    8. $37,630

  • Nextset

    We need to cap education budgets. If a student can’t learn within the budget we should stop spending more money on that student.

    It’s absurd to throw away money in an endless pursuit of educating bad students. That goes double for the “special ed” bunch. Set a budget – and special ed may get more allowances, but when the limit is reached cut them off.

    And no, we don’t need remedial ed in state colleges. End it. Expand internet offerings (especially for remediation), get rid of brick and mortar classes for remediation and related programs, and put the money on good students not the bad ones.

  • JAG2113

    There is no question that the public school system is broken. Michelle Rhee may propose some controversial ideas but severe changes need to be made. I am not sure how familiar people are with StudentsFirst but they do have some good ideas. Feel free to check them out at http://www.studentsfirst.org/policy-agenda. Some of the labor policies regarding teachers that StudentsFirst advocate for change include: “‘Seniority Transfers'” which allow senior teachers to claim positions from other teachers regardless of their fitness for the position”; ‘Excessing rules,’ which dictate that the least senior teacher will be displaced whenever a school reduces the number of teaching positions; and ‘Last In, First Out (LIFO) layoff rules,’ which require districts to terminate the most recent hires when layoffs are required. The emphasis on seniority should not have the significance it does in regards to selecting teachers to remain in schools. I saw this first hand with my father who was a teacher at San Quentin prison. He was laid off due to budget cuts; education for prisoners one of the first things to go even though it is direly needed. The decision to keep teachers was not related to performance but seniority.

  • OUSD Parent

    @ JR, Where do you get the $11.5K per student number? I have been trying to get some clarity on this issue for years. I sat through a presentation a couple of years ago at my kids school (a hills school) and was told that the school only received approximately $3,000 per child. (I don’t remember the exact number but it was less than half of the 11.5 quoted by JR.) Therefore fundraising had to be stepped up and letters needed to be written to Sacto, etc. to do something about the lack of funding. This is why I am confused when I read that OUSD gets $11.5 k per child. That’s a lot of money.

    Sorry. This has nothing to do with this thread re: Michelle Rhee. But I have heard so many numbers that I’m curious to know the truth.

  • http://perimeterprimate.blogspot.com/2012/02/three-handy-pages-with-facts-about.html Sharon

    The thing that strikes me about Michelle Rhee’s rapid trajectory to national prominence is that it’s based on pretty much nothing other than bluster and the fact that she’s been VERY heavily marketed, by no accident of course. I believe the corporate education reformers saw in Rhee the potential for her to become one of their primary mouthpieces — and not because of any qualifications other than physical attractiveness, an aggressive nature, and a good level of natural charisma. At the protest, an older gentleman confronted me to tell me I was “wrong” about the issues then one of the nest things out of his mouth when we started talking was that Rhee was an “attractive woman.” I said “who cares.” Kaya Henderson, Rhee’s successor in D.C., once said, “She is bold. I think really there are a lot of people who are measured and not willing to go out as far as she is…I’ve seen her shake her booty and get some cash over and over again.”

    Rhee’s qualifications as an authority for education policy are extremely thin, but this hasn’t stopped her from being made into a huge celebrity by the media (who-knows-who is pulling those strings?). We are in a time when a lot of very powerful people are investing hundreds of millions of dollars and tons of energy into privatizing public education and demonizing teachers in order to bust the teachers union. For some, breaking the teachers union means that an organizing force for the Democrats has been destroyed. It is a fact that, over the past year, Rhee via StudentsFirst has totally aligned herself with longtime proponents of school vouchers and Tea Party politicians.

    As far as Rhee’s claims about raising test scores in DC during her tenure of 3 years and 4 months, those claims are totally questionable, esp. considering the unknown impact of what’s being called “ErasureGate” (the discovery in March 2011 of high erasure rates at 103 of 168 D.C. schools during Rhee’s tenure; it’s still being investigated).

    Under a program Rhee started in D.C., not only are the careers of principals and teachers threatened if they produce LOW test scores, they also *earn* huge bonuses if they can produce HIGH test scores. I can’t think of a better motivational program for tempting the average person to cheat to some degree.

    I wish more people would resist the propaganda a bit more and stay very skeptical about all the reformers’ easily-unraveled claims.

    [Sorry if this comment gets duplicated. The first one didn’t seem to go through.]

  • Ms. J.

    Drew started off the commentary by suggesting that there should be little controversy if we all want what is best for students. I am glad some people have already addressed some of the issues which lead to the many controversies surrounding education reform and have a couple more points to raise.

    Firstly, I find it striking that the only three points which poster #8 mentioned as strengths of Students First are means of attacking teachers. I am not averse to examining seniority and tenure rules but I think that poster #8 has, like so many before him/her, fallen into the education reformers’ trap. What Rhee’s organization should really be called is Teachers Last because one of its main goals is to undermine teachers.

    Secondly, it is increasingly evident that education ‘reformers’ like Rhee, Broad, Bloomberg, and Michael Milken (!) are not interested in reforming public education. They want to privatize it. They seek to destroy the current system in order to benefit with their own for-profit branches of education, which will be paid for by taxpayers.

    They do not have to care about what this will do to public schools and the students whose interests they pretend to defend, because their own children do not attend public schools. The idealistic people who join Broad, Rhee, etc through a misguided belief that what ails education is lazy or ineffectual teachers and an arrogant idea that they can be teacher saviors are not going to save students. They are contributing to the end of public education.

  • another interested parent

    All I see in the media and often on this blog is what the teachers and the union DON’T want. Perhaps it is all media-driven, but the perception is that the union is just anti- . Other than more money (i.e., a better funded educational system) because that is not going to be forthcoming, what reforms would the teachers and the union like to see that would make an actual and real difference here in Oakland for the students’ education? The current system isn’t working, at least here in Oakland. What reforms do the teachers and the union espouse? What is being suggested?

  • Katy Murphy

    Thanks for asking those questions. I’d also like to hear what kinds of changes you, as a parent, would like to see. (If you — or another OUSD parent — would be interested in talking with me tomorrow over the phone on this subject, send me an email at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com and we can try to set up a time.)

  • Cranky Teacher

    One of the things that drives me nuts about us Americans is how we seem to be so hesitant to look at MOTIVE. We want to pretend that ideas or facts or policies or leaders are flat, straightforward things that can be handled easily with “common sense”.

    What I mean by this is that: Most people in other countries I’ve lived in seem to have a much deeper understanding that their are forces at work deep beneath the surface of things, that we only see the surface and have to be able to see what is pushing things.

    I’m not talking about fantastical conspiracies here, but the distorting force of money and power.

    As Sharon so ably explained (she is always the smartest, best-informed commentator on here, imo), Michelle Rhee can only be understood as a front for powerful corporate and political forces.

    The bind that teachers are in is that, except for parents and the children themselves, we are really the ONLY people in society that really care about the education of the nation’s youth. Yet, we ALSO care about ourselves, because we are human — and yes, this includes pay, working conditions and the dreaded job security.

    Now, I do agree generally with Betty O-J and the OEA that “our working conditions are your child’s learning conditions” — but this doesn’t mean that sometimes union protections don’t, in the short-turn, sometimes hurt students. Examples: Higher salaries can lead to higher class sizes, and we all know some teachers are retained at schools who should not be.

    But how can a teacher honestly negotiate or even communicate about these complex issues in an environment where ideas and policies are all fronts for a larger, completely cynical agenda systematically pushed by INCREDIBLY powerful political and financial forces?

    Michelle Rhee would have us believe an idea like vouchers is just a good or bad idea on its merits and we should pretend it is not a bomb in a much larger war.

  • On the Fence


    Sorry for the off topic request, but can you supply us with a breakdown of how much funding is granted per child per school, as well? Perhaps you could post a short piece about how the funding differs and why. I recall that you gave us some figures a few years ago that included Hillcrest, Edna Brewer….and a number of other schools both hills and flatlands, elementary, middle and high schools. This topic comes up in a great many discussions on the blog, and could be quite informative! I remember being shocked at the differences between schools when I saw the numbers.

  • Harold

    Public education works everywhere I see good families. Oakland has a lot of single-family, broken homes. Spend $100,000 per pupil and it won’t change the bad habits (learned at home).

    Switch the Teachers in Orinda with the ones in Oakland and my bet is that Orinda kids will continue to thrive and the Oakland students who are not invested in their education, will continue to waste their opportunity.

    Michelle Rhee’s motives are clear as day. Union busting!

  • http://www.parentsacrossamerica.org CarolineSF

    It’s a constant drumbeat of corporate-reform advocates (those in Rhee’s camp) that their critics have no ideas of our own. That’s not true, of course — it’s a canned attack line. It IS true that we don’t have simplistic “it’s a miracle!” insta-solutions and a slick PR machine to sell them.

    The reason we don’t have magical miracle solutions is that unlike so many of the “reformers,” we’re parents and teachers who spend real time in schools, in classrooms, working with real kids. When you are in touch with reality, it’s not to easy to pronounce that this or that slick idea is the silver bullet.

    From Parents Across America, here’s some of the vision shared by many of the protesters outside Rhee’s speech last night:


    Interestingly, Alexander Russo, a pro-“reform” national education commentator, just posted an article declaring that the “reform” bubble has burst. And even though he doesn’t agree with us, he gave a nice capsule of the “reform” critics’ views:

    “It’s also possible that educators and parents will gain enough momentum and power to start proposing and winning support for their ideas rather than merely blocking those of the reformers. These initiatives would likely focus on providing better social supports for at-risk students and improving the quality of training and support for classroom teachers.” (Russo is incorrect in indicating that we having been proposing our ideas; we haven’t been heard, due to being outshouted by the “reformers,” with their mighty PR/outreach hired firepower.)


  • J.R.

    OUSD Parent,

    The chart per ADA is here, and to correct the number(opened an earlier year file) OUSD receives currently 11K per ADA, but it was 11.5 in prior years.


    Someone is mis-informed(big time) or even lying when they are telling you 3K per child.

    In the list below you will see the district budgets compared, Oakland unified has a much larger budget than comparable districts.



    Get all the info and make up your own mind.

  • J.R.

    It’s kind of strange how you bring up the issue of the distorting force of money and power, you are absolutely correct, and no single entity is politically as forceful or powerful as the CTA & NEA.





  • Oaklander


    “It’s absurd to throw away money in an endless pursuit of educating bad students.”

    Wow. I’m deeply disturbed by your comments. How can you suggest that we give up trying to educate “bad” students? You bring up a valid point that lower-performing students generally require more resources to teach and support, however, your egregious claim that students who are struggling to learn be written off is a total shame.

    All of the studies show that if we only “put the money on good students not the bad ones” then we will be paying a MASSIVE amount of public money for them later on when they are the struggling members of our society (potentially incarcerated, homeless, on welfare) because you wanted to deny them an education – simply because they had challenges with learning or behavior.

  • J.R.

    I don’t agree with Nextset, but you must admit that a good portion of these low performing kids actually write themselves off(much as their parents probably did). Not to worry though, we have a safety net to catch most of them(the very same one their parents and grandparents have been resting in).

  • Parent in OUSD

    Who says that Oakland public schools are failing and are still the worst in the state? Has anyone really looked into this claim in the last few years? I have not done research to prove or disprove that claim, but I began thoroughly examining OUSD schools, private and charter schools in 2007 preparing for kindergarten in 2009. I still research thoroughly as my child’s school is constantly threatened with closure despite it’s high scores and success in many areas. The closures had me digging deeper, gathering facts and information and even driving out to many schools and just looking. Without the goal in mind of proving oakland public schools, overall, as worthy of saving thats exactly what I see. There is a reason OUSD keeps getting the “Most Improved Urban School District.” acknowledgement” for two (or is it three, Katy?) years now. My experience is somewhat limited given I am exposed to mostly grammar schools.

    Test scores have gone steadily up over the years, everyone’s “most important” barometer. Even schools that have dropped one year have generally not dropped as far as they rose 5 years ago by any means. And they usually rise again. Of course, not every school has improved —but most have.

    Another thing I noticed: Oakland is a city of innovators, working with scratch and claw and so are the schools. I don’t feel like our teachers “teach to the test” (well, many, many Charters seem to only do that). I feel like they bring their own individual style and method to a broader scheme and are making it work in spite of a system that is more and more stacked against them as we go. A lot of fantastic innovation and energy, imagination and thought—individual and cooperative— is going on in the classroom. They teach the subjects and they teach concentration and the test scores bettering are one result. We don’t know what other positives are taking place….yet. I wonder when the last time many of the regular mud slingers at Oakland schools (and Oakland in general) have set foot in one of our classrooms?

    I see test scores up.

    I see teachers really collaborating and focused, almost with steel resolve, on educating thstudents. The teachers in Oakland are in constant talks with one another on startegies—-teaching strategies. Often in light of budget cuts. You’d think they all they concentrated on was CYA with what you often read in the comments here.

    I see a lot of on-site administrators focused on teamwork, providing tools, strategies, battling for their schools and, again, innovating. I see administrators putting their schools first (and the district often does not like it).

    Sometimes I wonder if all the “schools are failing” is, in part, rhetoric to promote the privatization of public schools? Maybe we have not seen the results of the reforms that have taken place, but only for a few years.

    As to the argument “its bad parenting. It’s irresponsible people, not poverty.” and what not. How convenient to ignore the facts: there are less than 15% of the blue collar jobs there once was 30 years ago in this country. Those jobs might have required a high school diploma or not. The menial labor wages have also not risen in 20—TWENTY— years. The part-time job I had as a receptionist in a hospital when I started out in my 20s paid $14 an hour, no bennies. That job was posted a couple years back and is still $14 an hour and I am 44. Yes, if people want to succeed in life these days, they need more than a college degree. And how are those with no means supposed to do that? And how can anyone finger point when they are unsuccessful? Its convenient to cry, “They’re just lazy!” because that makes it not your problem. This is a common theme on the right, is it not? If people would just pick themselves up by their bootstraps like I did when I came up (in a world with A LOT more opportunity for low income people and everyone, frankly).

    Remember the other union that is as powerful as the Teacher’s Union in California? It’s the prison guard union. Yet no one ever bashes prisons or prison guards like they do teachers. The folks over-seeing the hundreds of thousands of young people and lobbying hard to make sure sentences are longer, more prisons are built, more people are incarcerated and more jobs with higher pay for doing this are enacted are treated like saints while we step all over people who have chosen to educate our kids knowing they would never be well off and would be bashed repeatedly by their own government throughout their careers.

  • Nextset

    Oaklander – You will learn that the “safety net” is worthless in a superinflation. Moreover lavishing money on failing students does nothing to keep those students out of prison or an early grave. We must run prisons and public coroner crematoriums cheaper. What I’m saying is that CA is spending more on social welfare – wildly more – and that is going to end. No I’m not worried that my policy will ruin us because the kiddies will cost more if we don’t double down on thie worthless “education” – I don’t buy any of that as fact. I believe our Kansas City Experiment spending creates more screwed up kids. It’s not the money. Education does not need any more money. It can do with a lot less and a lot of policy change.

    I believe schools such as OUSD as currently run actually increase the number of failing students. Reverting to “old school” tactics would (in my experience & opinion) reduce the rate of prole students in prison or prematurely dead. When it’s sink or swim time, people are more apt to take lessons. When schools are run for the happiness of the students they don’t worry about their lessons.

    When public safety and infrastructure are collapsing no one – no taxpayers – will throw away money trying to recreate the Kansas City experiment. School Districts will be forced to live within a budget and that budget will be slashed. If the districts persist in turning out unemployable products their budgets will be slashed again.

    You see, it doesn’t matter if we cut education budgets for schools no one is willing to hire the products of. If the schools want continued funding they must produce with the funding they are given. If we are going to have a bunch of students who read at the 3rd grade level we should never have spent “education” dollars on those students in the first place.

    Stop coddling failing students. Stop permitting them to sit with good students. Stop validating their lifestyle. You will soon see improvements.

  • OUSD Parent

    I agree with Parent in OUSD that there are many great things happening at the elementary school level in Oakland. I have also done a significant amount of research as well and find that many OUSD elementary schools do an excellent job of educating and developing their children. The weak link, as I see it, is at the middle school level. Not to say that there aren’t any strong public middle school options in Oakland. Montera and Edna Brewer are two that come to mind as schools that are making solid gains. And Claremont Middle School is improving as well. But the drop out rate at many of the Oakland high schools is still abysmally high.

    I don’t think that teachers get the support they need to plug the holes that exist in Oakland schools. Teachers are expected to be parent, counselor, nurse, psychologist and police officer in addition to teach the curriculum to increasingly larger classes. This is not going to work in the long run. So I think this is why there is concern among OUSD parents. Sure, great strides have been made but when children are ready to take the next step from elementary to middle school, and from middle to high school, confidence drops.

    I could care less about Michelle Rhee. But she sure creates a stir when she comes to town! But If schools were strong — she wouldn’t be an issue.

  • http://www.parentsacrossamerica.org CarolineSF

    Well, @OUSD Parent, the issue is that Rhee’s policy aims at blaming, punishing and deprofessionalizing teachers and privatizing schools.

    “If schools were strong” — well, the chief factors keeping schools from being strong are our nation’s very high child poverty rate — the highest in the developed world — and our schools’ low funding given the crushingly high demands on them.

    So the “if schools were strong, this wouldn’t be an issue” comment doesn’t really address a situation in which Rhee is pointing the blame in the wrong direction, with billionaires pouring immense amounts of funding into her dishonest and malevolent campaign to do so.

  • OUSD Parent

    @CarolineSF. I get it. I am perfectly aware of what you’re saying. I’m on your side. Not the Rhee/privitiization side. That doesn’t change the fact that our schools (especially the urban schools) are in crisis. I still believe that if there was more support and that if our schools were stronger (the middle and high school levels especially) the proliferation of charters, the flight to suburban schools and private schools, the thrusting of figure heads like Rhee into the limelight wouldn’t be happening at such an alarming rate. I’ve stuck with the public schools and support the teachers and schools in every way I can. Things have worked out fairly well for me and my family. However, I have many friends whose children have suffered in OUSD schools and have made other choices. So what I’m trying to say is that until things get better people like Rhee and alternative choices with schools (privates and charters) will look attractive to families.

  • Parent in OUSD

    When Nextset and others talk of bringing ” old school back” coupled with OUSD parent pointing out that the drop out rate in high school is high, I would remind that Old School involved more support staff for teachers that is simply gone. There needs to be truancy officers in every school. There needs to be counselors at every schhol. There needs to Physical Education at every school. Teachers need assistant teachers. Parents need strong resources for their adult sized kids after school, before they get home from work.

    This is not revolutionary. Nextset constantly remarls about the lack of discipline. Its not just that schools have dropped discipline because they’re too PC (although aren’t we happy teachers are no longer paddling as they did when I was a kid?). Its that the discipline enforcers have been cut and are replaced by outside contract paper pushers that show up at schools sites with crates and crates of ideas and startegies that staff are expected to implement with little to no support and that changes every time the wind blows.

  • Cranky Teacher

    J.R., of course unions are a source of money and power. And of course their own institutional agendas will shape (and, yes, distort) their positions and communications.

    However, I think unions are more honest: They are representing their members. Folks like Rhee, Broad and Arne Duncan claim to be representing “the kids” only, refusing to acknowledge the monied interests they are repping.

  • J.R.

    Parent In OUSD,
    Where is the money for all of this going to come from? The taxpayers are beat to the socks supporting those who are down on their luck. Over time the truth has always been that no matter how much money gets pumped into this black hole of an education system, the results don’t change much. It all starts and ends with parental responsibility and modeling(not just people who breed kids and don’t care for them, those are not parents), and of course capable,dedicated,caring teachers are a necessity as well. I agree with you that there are too many paper pushers, but I guess some incompetent people need jobs too(and that’s a good place to hide them).

  • J.R.

    Unions are more honest? When they forcibly extract(by law)billions of dollars from taxpayers funneled from teacher pay, even if the teacher does not join the union? The mafia could not have set up a better deal than that(and you say this is honest)? An endless stream of money mandated by law all legal(but not moral). I am no fan of Corporations, but they do make their own money, which is not taken from someone else. They sell goods and services in the open market where people are free to choose who they buy from. Corps can fail,go out of business and lose everything if they don’t perform and provide what people want and need. These are market forces at work, which make sense and are proven over time. Just a reminder, over half the jobs in this country are created by small business not corporations(just so people will realize that our collective destiny is not controlled by the nefarious CORPORATION(SATAN in disguise).

  • Parent in OUSD

    JR—exactly! Nextset’s point is that we should “go back” to old school style. I went to California public schools in a city. In middle school we had PE everyday, an elective everyday (mine was orchestra) an after school center, a truant officer, a detention center and all of it was free. My school was full of single mothers on welfare including my own (who worked full time most of her life) and most people came out pretty good. Of course, the ones thy only graduated high school and dint go on to college could find jobs. Of course the ones that couldn’t afford private universities had the option of conti hung an affordable public higher education.

    But fortyis generation, perhaps it is only that they are just lazy.

  • http://www.parentsacrossamerica.org CarolineSF

    Thanks for clarifying, @OUSD Parent.

    Just one other point — I understand that parents are often attracted to charters and I understand why (and privates too when that’s an option). But I don’t think Rhee herself has support from families. Her StudentsFirst operation claims some vast number of supporters, but it has won many of those with deceptive petitions on change.org and Care2 — petitions with titles about supporting good teachers that unwary people sign (I’ve been duped into this myself, and am thus listed as a supposed supporter of StudentsFirst), which are actually about blaming and punishing teachers. How many of her supposed supporters were deliberately tricked into supposedly signing on as “supporters”?

    A hallmark of Rhee’s tenure as chief of D.C. schools, beyond the massive test-cheating scandal, was her mass firings of teachers and principals. In my view, that’s not a strategy that most parents would support. Responses to that strategy include the comments “You can’t win a war by firing on your own troops” and “you can’t fire your way to success.” (I think these are both from Diane Ravitch.)

  • Oakland Parent

    I second On The Fence’s request. I would love to see that OUSD per school, per student budget report again. It would answer so many questions. Please try and dig it up for us. Thanks

  • J.R.
  • J.R.


    “You can’t win a war by firing on your own troops” and “you can’t fire your way to success.”

    In the military they kick out people(discharge) who are ill suited for military life and responsibility. In the Marines, the expectations are high and they do not lower them just to have enough warm bodies. The only way to succeed is to have high standards, and having a large percentage of students who are below proficient and thus require remediation in high school and college is not high standards, its not even average.


    You can’t really blame poverty because the below proficiency rate is approx triple the poverty rate. That is truth in numbers.

  • http://www.parentsacrossamerica.org CarolineSF

    Actually, that’s inaccurate, J.R.

    The percentage below proficient in OUSD in 2010-11 was 55% in English Language Arts and 54% in Math (and of course that’s dismaying). But the poverty rate, based on the number qualifying for free/reduced-price lunch, is 70.3%. And, by the way, the income required to qualify is really, really low — far below the actual self-sufficiency/subsistence level.

    Low achievement is absolutely, directly connected to poverty. Move those same teachers to Orinda and watch them suddenly become highly effective (except possibly the newbie TFA temps with a 5-week crash course who Michelle Rhee believes are the ideal teachers for low-income students).

    Again, no, you don’t help schools succeed by attacking, blaming and punishing teachers for the intractable problems caused by poverty. Aside from being a test-cheater (and an outrageous resume-faker too — she is one brazen liar), Rhee is just plain wrong.

  • Catherine

    I have been giving a lot of thought to “equity” and “fairness” and how much we spend on students and the types of “machines” that we have instituted in schools that are very difficult to get rid of and do not advance student academic achievement.

    Testing costs a lot of money. It is the test booklets, the testing companies and computerized scantron forms. Testing in a multiple choice fashion does and does NOT give an idea of student learning. Students can become good test takers on a multiple choice test without necessarily knowing the material and there is no penalty for guessing at the answer with a minimum 25% probability the answer will be correct on any given question. Then there are the district “benchmark tests” that are given about every two or three weeks in one or more areas of instruction.

    Textbook companies charge huge amounts of money for the textbooks, but also for the teacher guides, training and the answer guides for student workbooks. Then there is the “professional development” in which we pay $1,000 – $2,000 per school day for someone to come in and “train” teachers to use the curriculum.

    After school programs that provide “mentors” are huge business and there is a period of a half hour to an hour in which a “homework club” type atmosphere exists at a school. The “mentors” are usually, but not always high school graduates, sometimes speak academic or proper English and sometimes are going to community college or even a four year college. While the “mentors” themselves are paid little, the companies make a lot of money for these after school programs. Sometimes the mentors know how to do the homework and sometimes they do not. They are not equipped to teach, yet they are providing “those activities that middle class students have access to such as science workshops, art, music and sports.” Yet, the mentors do not have science, art, music or sports education background. (This is where Title 1 money is used – accounting for about $3,000 or more per student.)

    My solutions:

    Teachers must design assessments that have students filling in answers to open ended questions, writing essays for tests, matching terms, creating diagrams and giving answers to math problems. Teachers must be willing and able to grade these tests. Eliminating testing in the district – AND – having teachers take over the responsibility of assessments of students would save about $500 per student. Give the teachers another $6,000 per year, but make sure that each child is assessed appropriately and those assessments are discussed with the principal each month in a teacher-principal meeting to address student learning.

    Eliminate text books for students. Teachers must devise curriculum based on the state standards. They must create meaningful activities that give students practice and must make sure the students learn the material to bring them up to STANDARD by year-end. They may re-teach, use hands on materials, but they must do what they have learned how and are being paid to do – read the standards, interpret them and create meaningful learning activities which allow all students to achieve grade level standards. Hold teachers accountable for learning, allow them to teach, do not force them to sit with trainers. The money saved from textbooks and trainers should be allocated for the teachers as they see fit in buying classroom materials for learning objects that have been arranged and demonstrated to the principal. Principals are also accountable for student learning.

    We know from the research that “mentors” cannot teach as a classroom teacher does. Hire teachers to teach art, music, provide help for after school homework help and tutoring. The principal of a school should be responsible for coordinating the activities. This is part of the job of managing the learning at a school. Coaches should be hired for sports and those coaches should teach skills of the game, body conditioning and nutrition. Coaches should be certified PE teachers.

    We have stopped allowing teachers to teach. The union has stopped holding teachers accountable for knowing and performing their craft – often siting in hearings that the “teacher was not trained . . . ” in differentiation, using the new textbooks, the culture of the schools, etc. Teachers on not animals, they do not need to be trained. As professionals they must acquire and maintain top level knowledge and rigorous practices of teaching, then stay abreast of changes in the technologies and pedagogy. This is what professionals do – this is what every other professional career is responsible for doing.

    Finally, hold principals accountable for meeting with the teachers at least weekly – in larger schools it would be with a vice principal and the principal monthly. Principals who have students at a school who are not learning should be gone. Just as teachers who do not teach students should be gone.

    Give professionals the money they need, the freedom to buy resources. Allow parents to select teachers for their children as we allow parents to request schools for their children. Teachers who teach well will have students who want to attend. These requests should be first come, first served.

    So, in my reading, I have found that in schools in which these policies exist, students have a higher outcome in all subject areas. Students are prepared in elementary school for the rigor of middle school and high school. Parents are more satisfied and teachers are more satisfied over their career. Teachers are treated as professionals. Principals are treated as professionals. Students learn to think and to write and to learn.

  • J.R.

    I have already posted the numbers differential between actual poverty numbers and the bogus free reduced lunch numbers. The free/reduced lunch is in no way shape or form poverty numbers(my own kids just miss qualifying for free reduced lunches) and we aren’t even close to poor. The actual poverty numbers are here:


  • http://www.parentsacrossamerica.org CarolineSF

    No, you’re misinformed, J.R. I’ve been a parent volunteer school food advocate here in SF for nearly a decade. The cutoff for the free/reduced lunch is very, very low — far below the official self-sufficiency level (the level at which a family can actually survive without some kind of help, government or charity). You’re misreading the information.

    I have to say that trying to claim that very poor people aren’t poor is exceptionally callous.

  • http://www.parentsacrossamerica.org CarolineSF

    Here’s information on the cutoff for receiving free/reduced-price lunches compared to the self-sufficiency standard. This is from 2010, in San Francisco.

    Sample family: Income cutoff for free/reduced lunch eligibility: $40,793/year.

    Self-sufficiency standard: $52,500/year.


    ► A family of 4 with two adults each working 40 hours per week at jobs paying SF’s minimum wage, barely qualify for reduced price meals for their children.

    ► The cutoff for eligibility for this family in 2009-10 is $40,793, but their 40 hour work weeks at SF’s minimum wage of $9.79 an hour earn them $40,726; one extra day of work per year would disqualify the children from receiving school meals.

    ► According to The Insight Center for Community Economic Development, the self sufficiency standard (amount of income necessary to live without government assistance) for this family of four in SF is about $52,500.

  • http://www.parentsacrossamerica.org CarolineSF

    And the poverty figures you give are for the general population, but the relevant percentage is the figure I gave — the percentage of children in OUSD who are living in poverty, as defined by the cutoff for free/reduced-price lunch. If you define poverty as falling short of the self-sufficiency standard, as any non-cruel person would do, the percentage is higher.

  • Nextset

    Parent in OUSD: In my school we never saw a truant officer. There was a Dean of Boys and a Dean of Girls. Perhaps at some point that was combined into a single position. The “Dean of” handled all the student discipline. Presumably the Principal handled teacher and staff discipline.

    If your GPA fell too low you were expelled. If you were insubordinate (beyond what they expected – considered rational) you were expelled. If you got in one too many fights your were expelled. If you stopped coming to school you were expelled. They were expelling graduating seniors 2 weeks before the graduation ceremony. It happened to a close friend. They did warn you and your parents… He didn’t believe the warning and persisted in truancy or cutting class.

    Not many people were expelled by there was always somebody dumb enough or self destructive enough to get it every semester – let’s say at least 2 people a year. Others would transfer out ahead of expulsion – that was more common. This was not a large school. It was a Bay Area public High School.

    So no, you don’t need a large support staff to handle discipline. You can even get by without the paddling. You only need a group of teachers complaining about doofus and a Dean Of Students who can count the demerits, days out, GPA or whatever it is to arrive at the last nerve.

    It is very simple really.

    Every one of us knew of someone kicked out of school. When it happened you never saw them again. There was no question it could happen to anyone who crossed the well defined line. We didn’t want to get kicked out of school and have to go to the continuation school. We had nothing but contempt for the people who went to that school. We stayed on our side of the line.

    Oh, and I think a pregnancy was an express trip to Continuation School. Sluts were not tolerated. Students were sexually active, that’s not the point. Anyone who brought their sexuality onto the campus and spread it around (and I mean even verbally) were expelled. That kind of behavior was Continuation School behavior. Vulgarity, etc, was grounds for expulsion. By that I mean conduct indicating the child was hypersexual or in any way sexually pre-occupied. The school was not a rehab or remedial place – Continuation School was for that. Ditto suicidal ideation or actions. Just try that, and you’re gone.

    It was a good school. A lot of work got done. The teachers and staff were happy. The students were proud to go there. We were accepted to very good colleges.

  • J.R.

    Here are the actual numbers, as much as you wish it were not so. I realize that you wish everyone could be taken care of cradle to grave, but it’s just not possible. There is nothing more cruel than having children that you cannot care for. I am currently trying to find numbers for the various homeless coalitions in the bay area, and their budgets, so you can see that throwing money at problems never works. San Francisco spends 300-500 million per year on the homeless, and it doesn’t do them much good but it’s great for the poverty pimps out there who make a living at it.

    2011 HHS Poverty Guidelines

    Household Members
    1. $10,890

    2. $14,710

    3. $18,530

    4. $22,350

    5. $26,170

    6. $29,990

    7. $33,810

    8. $37,630

    Free reduced lunch guidelines

    Household Members
    Yearly Monthly
    1. $20,147 $1,679

    2. $27,214 $2,268

    3. $34,281 $2,857

    4. $41,348 $3,446

    5. $48,415 $4,035

    6. $55,482 $4,624

    7. $62,549 $5,213

    8. $69,616 $5,802

  • Catherine


    I think you were talking to Caroline. These numbers have nothing to do with my posts.

  • http://www.parentsacrossamerica.org CarolineSF

    Yes, that jibes with my figures, @J.R., which were for a family of 4.

    Whether or not I wish everyone could be taken care of from cradle to grave is beside the point.

    My point is that the majority of OUSD students live in poverty, and that that correlates directly with low academic achievement.

  • Parent in OUSD



  • J.R.

    Yep, sorry!

  • Nextset

    Parent in OUSD: I wonder if my description of High School sounds harsh to current ears. We certainly didn’t think so at the time. The reason so few people – one or two a semester – got kicked out is that people transferred out if they weren’t able to function within the rules because of the certainty of expulsion.

    If you failed to perform the Ds and Fs started flying. That alone resulted in non-functional students leaving voluntarily for less rigorous schools.

    I’ve been thinking about this again. OUSD is the Continuation School – it’s the school where there are no standards, where the students don’t have to perform, and where the school will try to kiss you and make you happy. OUSD will try to feed you if you fail to bring your own lunch (or breakfast?). I don’t believe my school had a cafeteria or food service anytime in the 20th Century. If you fail and neglect to bring lunch you don’t eat – that’s your problem not theirs. My school was not there to parent or to feed students or to particularly mollify, cater to, or comfort the students. They never pretended otherwise. OUSD does.

    OUSD is not a school. That’s not their thing. They are very much into deception – they deceive the students into thinking they are in a school, that they are “educated”.

    Granted there are OUSD students who can educate themselves if they have a place to read. And in between refereeing fights and drama some of the teachers can provide educational coaching while the good students educate themselves. But it’s not their primary assignment.

    Or maybe it depends on which school within OUSD you go to. What do I know anyway. All I see is the published stats indicating the black students (as a group) are unable to read and write. And the white students (as a group) don’t attend OUSD for high school.

    Continuation School.

    Brave New World.

  • J.R.

    Once again, the numbers for free/reduced lunch are not poverty numbers, or even close to it.

  • J.R.

    Time to post evidence for you position, here is mine, with more to come:


    The only thing it really means as far as Oakland is concerned is that 30% of the parents(taxpayers) are subsidizing 70% of the parents.

    from the post about school lunches:

    “FUNDING NOTE: Most school lunch programs operate without the support of a school district’s general fund. They must survive on food sales, combined with federal reimbursement funding from the National School Lunch Program and grants.

    FOOD STATS: More than 70 percent of OUSD schoolchildren qualify for a federally subsidized meal, according to the feasibility study. OUSD serves about 6.6 million meals a year, including breakfast and snacks”.