Education fixes, straight from the students

image from alyssalaurel’s site at flickr.com/creativecommons

Earlier this week, as many of you have been discussing, Michelle Rhee presented her ideas for improving public education in the United States.

Tonight, two high school debaters had their chance.

In a fancy office building in downtown Oakland, Bay Area Urban Debate League members Kwodwo Moore, 19, and William Hampton, 16, offered their fixes to a small group of elected officials (or representatives), lawyers, and others involved in educational programs.

Moore, a senior at Emery Secondary School, thinks some classrooms should have two fully trained teachers. He says students would take more of an interest in their schoolwork if their schools created more cross-curricular courses. Hampton, who attends Aspire’s California College Prep in Berkeley, proposed removing the A to G high school graduation requirement (in place for his school and this year’s OUSD freshmen) to allow kids to pursue their own career paths, beginning in 11th grade. He also made the case for student evaluations of teachers.

Both teenagers made persuasive arguments, and — as instructed — the other guests asked tough questions, sometimes poking holes in their proposals.

After it was over, I asked Hampton what he thought about education reform. (This year, the experienced debaters have spent most of their time researching space policy.) I half-expected him to say how impossibly complicated it all was, but he didn’t.

“I feel people make it more complex than it actually is,” he said.

Do you agree? (It’s funny; usually I hear people say the opposite of education proposals — that they’re too simplistic.) I plan to write a story about this group next week.


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?


Oakland gets serious about school food

Staff Photojournalist
photo by D. Ross Cameron/Staff

For the first time in 15 years, the federal government has rewritten the rules for what must — and can’t — be served in its public school lunchrooms. Meanwhile, some OUSD staff, parents and local organizations are formulating some plans of their own, which they presented at the last school board meeting.

It was well into the evening, and some of us joked about having to sit through the presentation on an empty stomach. It later dawned on me how remarkable that was: the thought of cafeteria food inducing an appetite, rather than ruining it!

Although the presentation coincided with the new federal standards, it wasn’t focused on compliance. (Speaking of compliance, you’ll find more information about the new USDA rules here.) Instead, we heard about ideas to radically change the system so that children who rely on subsidized meals — and those who buy their lunches — will be healthier and more focused in class.

The recommendations included cooking classes for food service workers; new recipes inspired by global culinary traditions; organic produce from local farmers; kitchen and equipment upgrades that would allow 60 percent of all food to be made from scratch and the rest to be minimally processed; a new model for delivering semi-prepared food to schools without kitchens, and spaces that could be leased in the evenings to local vendors or others in the community.

And, of course, no central kitchen would be complete without an organic farm. Continue Reading