Five Oakland schools win Title I achievement awards

Some good news for your spring break (or when you return to reality):

The California Department of Education has announced the winners of the Title I Academic Achievement Award, a distinction for schools with rising test scores that receive funding for low-income children.

All five Alameda County winners were public schools in Oakland: American Indian Public Charter School II (which will remain open, after all), Burckhalter Elementary, Cleveland Elementary, Lighthouse Community Charter High and Lincoln Elementary. Two Contra Costa County schools also won — Highland Elementary in West Contra Costa Unified and Los Medanos Elementary in Pittsburg Unified.

Tom Torlakson, the state superintendent of public instruction, had this to say about the 117 winners: “The progress being made at these schools, which serve our neediest students, should serve as a beacon of hope for California. At a time of fiscal crisis and economic uncertainty, they continue to improve, building a brighter future for their students.”

Eligibility criteria (from CDE): The school must demonstrate that all students are making significant progress toward proficiency on California’s academic content standards. Additionally, the school’s socioeconomically disadvantaged students must have doubled the achievement targets set for them for two consecutive years.

You can find more information about the award here.



This year’s California Distinguished Schools

Staff Photojournalist
file photo of ACORN Woodland by Laura Oda/Bay Area News Group

Congratulations to ACORN Woodland and Henry J. Kaiser Jr. elementary schools. They were among 22 in Alameda County and 387 statewide to be named 2012 California Distinguished Elementary Schools, an award given by Tom Torlakson, California superintendent of public instruction.

Other nearby winners were Malcolm X in Berkeley; Amelia Earhart and Donald D. Lum in Alameda and Hanna Ranch and Olinda in West Contra Costa.

The awards went to schools that showed academic excellence for all students and which have narrowed the achievement gap. You can find the full list here.

“The schools we are recognizing today demonstrate the incredible commitment of California’s teachers, administrators, and school employees to provide a world-class education to every student, in spite of the financial hardships facing our state and our schools,” Torlakson said. “Their dedication is inspiring, and I applaud and admire their passion and persistence.”


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?

View Larger Map


In Oakland: A charter school for black boys, charter conversions and other proposals

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.

You can find the schedule here, and I’ve pasted it below. All of the petitions are posted online, if you want to take a look.

Staff Photojournalist

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. Continue Reading


The end of NCLB?

Wonk alert! Here is a look at the (major) changes a bipartisan group of lawmakers have proposed for the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, otherwise known as No Child Left Behind.

The law was up for renewal in 2007, but the process has moved so slowly that President Barack Obama announced last month his administration would circumvent Congress’s halting progress by letting states apply for waivers in exchange for agreeing to certain education reforms.

Education Week blogger Alyson Klein has a nice summary of the proposal, which is a dramatic departure from the current federal law in that it leaves much up to the states’ discretion. It was introduced by by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), who chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee.

Here’s what our nation’s education secretary, Arne Duncan, had to say:

“A bipartisan bill will not have everything that everyone wants, but it must build on our common interests: high standards; flexibility for states, school districts and schools; and a more focused federal role that promotes equity, accountability and reform. This bill is a very positive step toward a reauthorization that will provide our students and teachers with the support they need, and I salute Senators Harkin and Enzi for their good work and their bipartisan approach.”



Should Oakland track student suspensions by teacher?

A new report calls for school districts to publish student disciplinary statistics by school, race and gender, to help teachers learn how to keep order in their classrooms without kicking kids out, and to create a disciplinary system that doesn’t result in out-of-school suspensions of large numbers of students — particularly black students.

The policy brief, by the University of Colorado’s National Education Policy Center and UCLA’s Civil Rights Project, reminded me to check in with what’s happening in Oakland Unified on the discipline-and-race front.

A plan proposed by the Oakland school district’s African American Male Achievement Task Force would do some of the things suggested in the report — and even go beyond.

One of the task force’s recommendations, listed on page 14, is to identify teachers who refer a certain number of black students for suspension based on “defiance” — the vast majority of cases, according to spokesman Troy Flint — as well as principals at schools high expulsion rates for black males: Continue Reading


An Oakland classroom, on national TV

Think College Now teacher Kristen Casaretto
photo of Kristen Casaretto by Hasain Rasheed Photography

Did anyone watch Education Nation on NBC last week? It highlighted the work of three teachers, including Teach for America alum Kristen Casaretto, who teaches fourth grade at Think College Now in East Oakland.

Talk about courage — the segment includes a live video feed from Casaretto’s classroom during a math lesson. (The above link takes you right to the Oakland part; to see the whole “Classrooms in Action” segment, go here.)

At one point, `Today’ show host Ann Curry says to Wendy Kopp, founder and CEO of Teach For America: “In this particular school, the numbers — I’ve gotta be honest with you — are not great … but these numbers are going up dramatically every single year.”

Kopp responds by saying she saw “a whole different set of data,” particularly for math — numbers that put the school on par with schools in Palo Alto, a district often used to illustrate the top half of the achievement gap. She went on to praise the teaching staff at Think College Now and its turnaround.

Continue Reading


New dropout formula, same problem

California’s new dropout and graduate estimates are out for the Class of 2010. They are supposed to be more accurate than ever before, as this is the fourth year the state education department has used unique student IDs to track students’ progress through the system.

With four years of data, it didn’t have to make all kinds of crazy projections and extrapolations to guess how many kids were quitting school. It’s basic division — a calculation simple enough for a fifth-grader (or a journalist with a firm grasp on order of operations) to understand!

Oakland’s graduation and dropout rates were among the lowest in the state. There might well be districts out there with worse rates, but I didn’t come across any. Based on these estimates, Latino students in Oakland fare worse than their peers elsewhere in the state, with a four-year graduation rate of 47 percent, compared to 68 percent statewide.

How confident are you that OUSD’s strategic plan will turn this around?


Former Oakland teacher a lead organizer for Save Our Schools March

Anthony Cody (courtesy photo)

Anthony Cody, an Education Week blogger and former math and science teacher and coach in OUSD, is one of the organizers of Saturday’s Save Our Schools March in Washington, D.C. March participants don’t like the direction in which education reform is headed; among other demands, they are calling for an end to the practice of using student test scores as the basis for decisions about school closures, layoffs and pay.

I reached Cody on Tuesday for this story about the movement. I also talked to Molly Servatius, from San Francisco’s Paul Revere Elementary, who is about to begin her third year in the classroom.

Servatius said she joined the Save Our Schools movement online on the day she saw the Waiting for Superman documentary about the failings of the nation’s public schools — a film that many teachers criticized as skewed and simplistic. She said she looked around and saw people crying during one of the film’s poignant scenes.

She was crying too, she said — but for a different reason. Continue Reading