California PTA moms try to reach voters in a new way: gangsta rap comedy

In case the sweet faces of underserved public schoolchildren aren’t enough to convince some California voters to approve Prop. 30 and/or 38 on Nov. 6, maybe this will get their attention.

In a 5-minute video promoted by the new parent group Educate Our State, PTA moms frustrated by conventional fundraising schemes turn to intimidation — via pseudo gangster costumes, Taliban references, fake guns and fog (and above all, noisy kids who spill stuff) — to get their schools what they need.

Unlike the pro-Prop. 38, anti-Prop. 30 “contrast ads,” which Molly Munger recently pulled, this “Shake You Down” video urges voters to say “yes” on both fundraising ballot measures. Los Angeles parents Elise Robertson and Mouncey Ferguson made the video; they cast parents from their school, Aldama Elementary, and their own kids.

Can you relate?


API and NCLB, all over again

Today was Test Score Day, which meant staring at numbers for hours — and, in my case, unwittingly informing a school principal that her award-winning school had fallen into Program Improvement.  (Not the worst news I’ve ever delivered, but still.)

Want to see the latest API scores? My colleague Danny Willis created an interactive database, and you can find my story on NCLB here. You might be surprised by some of the school districts that ended up in Program Improvement this time around.

Nearly a dozen more OUSD schools landed in Program Improvement, including Think College Now, Manzanita SEED, Montera Middle School and others that have won awards for closing the achievement gap.

No OUSD schools made it out this year, but we reported on a school in Hayward that did. Burbank Elementary School received a three-year, multi-million-dollar School Improvement Grant, beginning in 2010-11, and has been able to offer its students more ever since.

Below is the list of Oakland schools newly identified for Program Improvement, and you’ll find a link to the PI status of all schools in Alameda County here.



Tonight, Oakland parents to protest the teacher shuffle

AFTERNOON UPDATE: OUSD just sent me the information I requested about its teacher consolidations. There are 14 teachers from 13 schools being reassigned this year: from Bella Vista, Cleveland, Hoover, Kaiser, Claremont, Melrose Leadership Academy, Bret Harte, Roosevelt, Frick (2 teachers), Piedmont Avenue, Allendale, La Escuelita, and Rise.


The week before last, Rachel Kargas, a parent at Oakland’s Cleveland Elementary School, wrote about the effects of consolidation: losing a teaching position and moving students into different (and often, grade-level combination) classrooms, mid-year, because fewer students enrolled than expected in certain grades. Parents from Cleveland Elementary spoke out at the last board meeting, urging the district to reconsider.

Tonight, the uber-organized parents and teachers at Kaiser Elementary School, who fended off the threat of closure last fall, plan to make their case. Parents say that because some families held onto their children’s seats until the last minute and enrolled them elsewhere, the school (which normally has a waiting list) had three vacancies — and is losing a teacher as a result.

I’ve requested information from OUSD on enrollment projections, the 20-day enrollment count (which, I’m told, should be coming soon — given that the 20th day of school was two weeks ago), and teacher consolidations — when a teacher is moved from one school to another to maximize class size loads.

The big question is how many fewer students than expected showed up to OUSD schools this fall, as that is likely driving some of these decisions.

The Kaiser parents (didn’t I tell you they were organized?) issued a news release this morning: Continue Reading


In Oakland, tumult in special education leads teachers to organize

A series of decisions about the costs, staffing and structure of Oakland Unified’s special education department caused parents to mobilize in June against last-minute reductions to the program.

Months later, the 11th-hour reassignment of dozens of special education teachers appears to have had a similar effect on teachers. (District staff have since reported that many, but not all, of those changes have been rescinded.)

Within the teacher’s union, a new group has emerged: The OEA Special Education Caucus website features a blog, a statement of purpose, and possible solutions for improved communication and logistics, including something as simple as a roster with department staff names and contact information.

Emily Sacks, one of the organizers, said the upheaval brought teachers together. The thinking?  “We can get really specific about things that are not rocket science, but that could impact the situation dramatically.”

At Wednesday night’s board meeting, as new special education director Karen Mates gives a presentation about plans for the department (and community involvement in the making of those plans), there could be a large special education contingent.

What issues do you hope the OEA Special Education Caucus takes on, and what resolution do you want to see?


Small beginnings, big difference

Stacey Smith is an Oakland school district parent and volunteer who has served on the District GATE Advisory Committee, the school board’s Special Committee on School Based Management, and the Community Advisory Committee for Special Education. What she writes about does not reflect the view of any group.

Burbank Preschool fanWhen I walked into the room I was struck by the sunlight pouring in across a classroom of tiny tables and chairs.

The woman next to me was immediately struck by a small body hurdling itself at her knees for a hug.

Christie Anderson, director of the Burbank Preschool Center, paused mid-sentence to disentangle and chat with the child (and a few others) before we continued our tour.

Moving from classroom to classroom I felt like this could be any preschool in Oakland. Parents were dropping off little ones. Teachers and aides were giving multi-lingual direction to students (Burbank families speak over 15 languages). The reading nook, the imagination corner, and the riot of colors and activities tempted me to just get right onto the floor and start playing. The children were totally engaged.

I did notice in one room a child was using an electronic board with pictures that the child would touch to communicate instead of using words. In another room a wheelchair was pushed up to the snack table with the other chairs. And in one classroom there was a nurse, always, because the students have such severe health impairments that there must be medical support available at all times.

This is what special education preschool looks like. Continue Reading


Oakland, Alameda teachers named Alameda County Teacher of the Year

I’Asha Warfield (center) with Alameda County Superintendent Sheila Jordan and Board of Education Vice President Joaquin Rivera. Photos by David J. Erikson, courtesy of the Alameda County Office of Education.

Congratulations to the two Alameda County teachers of the year: I’Asha Warfield, from Oakland’s Frick Middle School, and Chris Hansen, from Alameda’s Lincoln Middle School.

They learned of the distinction last night, at an awards night organized by the Alameda County Office of Education. Now, they go on to compete for California Teacher of the Year.

In this video of Warfield, she talks about the conversations and debates that take place in her classroom. “I really, really believe in my students,” she said. “Their intellectual capacity is so great.”

Stephen Davis, a kindergarten teacher at Global Family Elementary School, was Oakland Unified’s other nominee for 2012-13. At a school board meeting last week, he said he had three rules for his students: 1) Be kind. 2) Be kind. 3) Be kind.


Here’s a list of all of the teachers in Alameda County who were honored this year: Continue Reading


Report: School turnarounds are based on faulty evidence

A policy brief on school turnarounds published this week — authored by Tina Trujillo of UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Education and Michelle Renée of the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University — sharply criticizes a federal approach to improving public education that’s based on principles of competition and accountability.

It notes that School Improvement Grants, a program designed to “turn around” 5,000 of the nation’s lowest-scoring schools, including a number in the Bay Area, offers only short-term financial support.

I’d love to hear from employees and families at Oakland’s four School Improvement Grant participants — Roots International, United for Success, Alliance, and Elmhurst Community Prep — about the report, and the SIG program, itself.

Here’s one excerpt: Continue Reading


Gov. Brown signs, vetoes, student discipline bills

Public Counsel, a non-profit law firm that has promoted an overhaul of school discipline policy, released this summary of bills signed and vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown.

Note: The descriptions of each bill are theirs, not mine.

Bills Brown has signed:

  • AB 1729 by Assemblymember Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) changes existing law to strengthen the alternatives to suspension or expulsion and clarify that school removals should only happen after other means of correction fail to bring about proper conduct.
  • AB 1909 by Assemblymember Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) ensures that school districts provide notification to foster parents or other county child welfare designees and the court-appointed attorney for the foster youth when a foster youth is pending expulsion.
  • AB 2537 by Assemblymember V. Manuel Perez (D-Coachella) provides additional discretion to school administrators to use alternative means of correction in lieu of expulsion and further clarifies that possessing an imitation firearm, over-the-counter medicine or student’s prescription medicines are not “zero tolerance” offenses that automatically require expulsion. It also eliminates an existing $500 fine imposed on a principal who fail to notify law enforcement of certain crimes allegedly committed by students.
  • AB 2616 by Assemblymember Wilmer Carter (D-Rialto) will focus truancy reduction efforts on solutions with schools, students and parents that are shown to work, so that law enforcement and courts are used only as a last resort.
  • SB 1088 by Senator Curren Price (D-Los Angeles) helps ensure that children who have had contact with the juvenile justice system are not barred from re-enrollment and are immediately reenrolled in school.

He vetoed: Continue Reading