What it takes to help kids succeed: an Oakland teacher’s view

Randall Bustamante teaches 11th- and 12th-grade English at Mandela Law and Public Service Academy on the Fremont Federation Campus in East Oakland. The sixth-year teacher tells us about the power of listening to students, giving them hope, and not being afraid to “deal with the life that students face in and out of the classroom.” — Katy

Randall Bustamante in front of his portable classroom in East Oakland. Courtesy photo.

What does it take to help an Oakland youth succeed?

My answer to the question is rooted in the lives and struggles of my East Oakland students. First, we need adults who are willing to listen.

I listened my first year when one of my students said she wanted to graduate high school even though she had gotten pregnant at 15 and no one in her family cared whether she finished school or not. She graduated anyway. Continue Reading


New data on attendance, suspension rates and scores of Oakland’s African American males

The Oakland school district has released some new data on the achievement of its black male students as part of its African American male achievement initiative, led by Chris Chatmon. (Note: The California Department of Education reports test scores by race and by gender, but not race and gender.)

  • About 27 percent of Oakland’s black males showed proficiency in English language arts in 2010, compared to 31 percent of all black students, 80 percent of white males and the districtwide average of 41 percent.
  • About 30 percent tested proficient in math, about the same as the overall proficiency rate for all African American students, but lower than the average for white males (77 percent) and the district average (44 percent).
  • One in every five of the district’s black male students missed more than 18 days of school last year, making them chronically truant. Continue Reading

Oakland school honored for closing the achievement gap

Manzanita SEED Elementary School. Photo by Laura A. Oda/Bay Area News Group

Only two schools in California and 250 in the United States won the 2010 National Title I Distinguished School Award for closing the achievement gap, and one of them is right here in Oakland: Manzanita SEED.

I wrote about the Spanish-English immersion elementary school in September. Its API has risen by 190 points in the last two years, and now it’s 842 out of a possible 1,000.

About 85 percent of the students at the diverse school come from low-income homes, and about half enter kindergarten as English learners; their reading and math proficiency scores are at or above the school’s average.

At Manzanita SEED, which opened in 2005 and shares a campus with Manzanita Community School, half of the school day is taught in English, and half is taught in Spanish. Unlike a traditional bilingual program, in which English learners are sometimes in class with other English learners, the classrooms are integrated. And children with special needs learn side by side with general education students.

Continue Reading


GO Public Schools’ wish list for 2011

Great Oakland Public Schools, a local advocacy group that started with funding from the Rogers Family Foundation, wants to see some new blood on the Oakland teachers union’s executive board and representative council next year. It wants district leaders to emphasize high quality instruction as well as service hubs, and a “new and better response” to an unnamed principal who has complained about the required retention of mediocre teachers.

Below is a letter from GO’s director (and former OUSD administrator) Jonathan Klein, followed by the 10-item wish list. Which of the points do you agree or disagree with? Continue Reading


Oakland’s middle school “brain drain”

Students at an Oakland middle school. File photo by Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group

The Chronicle had an interesting story in yesterday’s paper (print-only until tomorrow) about the brain drain in the Oakland school district after the fifth grade.

According to this analysis by the Oakland school district, 28 percent of all fifth-graders — and 40 percent of those who scored “advanced” on this year’s reading test — dispersed to non-OUSD middle schools this year.

At Lincoln Elementary School in Chinatown, the city’s first public, non-charter school to win a National Blue Ribbon Award from the U.S. Department of Education, a staggering 77 percent of last year’s fifth-graders left the district, up from 57 percent a few years ago.

Superintendent Tony Smith told Chronicle reporter Jill Tucker, whose son goes to Peralta Elementary in Rockridge (a school with the fifth-highest “leaving rate” in OUSD – 44 percent), that the loss of top students was one explanation for the drop-off in district test scores at the middle and high school level.

I’m sure that’s true at some middle schools, such as Westlake, Claremont and Montera, which are located near strong feeder schools with high OUSD defection rates. But it’s not just high-achievers who leave. If you look at districtwide numbers, the student make-up — categorized by STAR test score tier — changes only slightly after the so-called brain drain.

Continue Reading


One district, different worlds

Oakland Technical High School. Photo by Jane Tyska/Bay Area News GroupThe timing was pure coincidence: a story about the popularity of Oakland Technical High School and its humanities program and a report that 40 percent of Oakland’s public high school students drop out. The juxtaposition illustrates the wide range of experiences and opportunities in the city’s public schools.

At Tech, for instance, the estimated dropout rate (based on 2008-09 data) is 28 percent. That’s about the same percentage of 10th- through 12th-graders who are enrolled in Paideia, the school’s rigorous, college prep humanities program.

Here’s a video I took during a visit to the program this fall:

Oh, and if you’re looking for a copy of the print version, you might want to wait. There was a production error; we’ll be running the story again, in its entirety, tomorrow.


Would you put your child in this school?

Long Beach, CA. Bay Area News Group file photo, from MCT.

That’s the mantra in the Long Beach school district, according to a new McKinsey report that named the school district — and the Oakland-based charter management organization, Aspire Public Schools — among the 20 most-improved school systems in the world.

Long Beach is an ethnically diverse, high-poverty school district in a California port city, just like Oakland. Unlike Oakland, it’s had stable leadership for years, under a superintendent — in his ninth year — who once attended school in the district and later returned to be a teacher, principal and administrator.

If you have a chance to read McKinsey’s two-page case study on the Long Beach school district’s teacher preparation, training and coaching strategies, I’d love to hear how they compare to your experience in Oakland. It’s on pages 48-50 (link here).

Two things that caught my attention: Continue Reading


A staged scene in`Superman’

Francisco and his mom in "Waiting for Superman." (Courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

For those of you who’ve seen the “Waiting for Superman” documentary: Remember when Maria is touring Harlem Success Academy, ostensibly hoping her son, Francisco, will one day be in one of those classrooms she’s observing? When she says she’ll wake up at 5 a.m., if necessary, to get him there?

(Spoiler alert) That scene was actually shot after the dramatic lottery drawing shown at the end of the film, the New York Times reported. Davis Guggenheim, the film’s director, said he asked Maria to tour the school, with the cameras, after she learned her son wouldn’t be going there.

Guggenheim defends the decision to Times blogger Sharon Otterman, saying it captured the mother’s genuine emotions.

You might have heard about this already — the Times report did come out a couple of weeks ago — but I just came across it. When the reporter asked if other scenes were out of chronological order, Guggenheim said, “None that I can think of.”

Does it alter your view of the film in any way?

From the Times blog: Continue Reading


Four big goals for black males in Oakland

Chris Chatmon at Frick Middle School. By Kristopher Skinner/Bay Area News Group

I blogged in September about the appointment of Chris Chatmon as director of the Oakland school district’s African American male achievement office, which is privately funded.

A story about the initiative ran in today’s Tribune. You can read it here.

What do you think (and/or hope) it will accomplish?

If you’d like to volunteer your time, talents or ideas, you can reach Chatmon directly at christopher.chatmon@ousd.k12.ca.us.