White privilege, black children

Oakland Unified’s new African American male student achievement office is co-sponsoring a free workshop next week led by Shawn Ginwright, a professor of Africana Studies at San Francisco State University. It’s called Putting Racism Aside: Working Past Hidden Bias.

It’s billed on the district’s Thriving Students blog as “NOT another diversity training.” The topic is “how white privilege shows up in working with urban children and youth.” I presume “urban” means children who aren’t white.

In what ways do you observe or experience white privilege at your school, or your child’s school? Do you think this kind of training can be eye-opening for school staff? How? Do you plan to go?

Event details, from OUSD’s blog: Continue Reading


Close the achievement gap and graduate college. Then what?

Zeus Yiamouyiannis is an Oakland-based learning consultant and former professor of education at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and Carroll College. He gives us his take on education reform in general and “Waiting for Superman” in particular — and the film-maker’s assertion that 120 million new high-paying jobs await us in 2020.

Zeus Yiamouyiannis (courtesy photo)American Education has a reality problem and a vision problem. If you listen to policy leaders, rescuing U.S. education simply requires closing the ethnic/social class academic achievement gap and becoming first in the world in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). This ostensibly will allow millions of young people to be channeled into the 120+ million future “high skill, high pay jobs” according to the controversial new education reform documentary, Waiting for Superman.

Anticipating this, the Obama administration is funding a “Race to the Top” focusing heavily on STEM education. KIPP charter schools spend three times as much classroom time as average schools on math and science. The more comprehensive charter schools are likewise working to ensure their students both get into college and graduate. All this is laudable on some level, but whose purposes does this serve, and does it reflect lasting actual (or even desirable) trends in the job market?

The Reality Problem
So all you need as a ticket to the good life is a four-year college degree? Tell this rosy myth to all the current, rightfully skeptical twenty-something graduates, saddled with tens, even hundreds, of thousands of dollars of college debt.   Continue Reading


`Superman’ comes to Oakland

Superman image from aka Kath's photostream at flickr.com/creativecommonsI saw “Waiting for Superman” tonight at Oakland’s Piedmont Theater, an invitation-only screening hosted by the California Capital & Investment Group and the Oakland Schools Foundation.

The first thing I saw when I approached the theater was a small and orderly demonstration by a group of teachers. The film comes down pretty hard on unions, so I wasn’t surprised. One of the signs read: “We are not waiting for anyone! We teach because we care!”

I stood in line behind a San Francisco public schoolteacher named Vanessa Nelson, who was not sure what she’d make of the documentary. She and her colleagues wanted to see and discuss it, she said, but they were concerned that the only schools held up as models of success and hope were privately run, publicly funded charter schools. Why should they support such a film?

Behind me was Mieko Scott, her 12-year-old daughter, Kamari, and one of Kamari’s friends. Scott’s family recently moved from Oakland to the East Bay suburb of Dublin, where they thought the public schools would be good. Continue Reading


Who’s attending CA’s elite public schools?

I finally got around to sorting state-level test score data, something I’ve been meaning to do since the Academic Performance Index release last month. (Boy, is it harder than it should be. Those mismatched column headers…)

Hillcrest Elementary/Tribune file photoFive of Oakland’s schools are up in the top 100 — roughly 1 percent of all public schools in California — when sorted by API: the three American Indian Model charter schools, Montclair and Hillcrest.

The American Indian Public Charter School in East Oakland’s Laurel District was the highest-performing middle school in the state, with an API of 988. (Not including schools with K-8 or 6-12 grade configurations, whose middle school scores aren’t broken out here.)

Here are some more data points:

  • Only nine schools in the top 100 educate a “significant” number of low-income students, as defined by NCLB (which means they need to report the scores of that group of kids); three of those nine are the American Indian Model schools.
  • None of the top 100 schools had aggregate scores for black students or special needs students, meaning their numbers are too small. And while Latino children make up nearly half of California’s public school population, their scores are included at just eight of the 100 schools. Continue Reading

Meet Oakland’s new director for African American male achievement

Chris ChatmonLast night, Superintendent Tony Smith announced he had chosen Chris Chatmon, of 100 Black Men, for a new role in the Oakland public school system: executive director for African American male achievement, a position funded by private donors.

It will be Chatmon’s task to change the trajectory of the city’s black boys.

Let’s take the Class of 2008, the most recent data available from the California Department of Education. Continue Reading


No Promise Neighborhood grant for Oakland

The U.S Department of Education today released a list of 21 communities that won planning grants to design a system of educational, social and health support services for children in poor neighborhoods.

Los Angeles and Hayward are the only two cities in California that received those Promise Neighborhood planning grants of up to $500,000. Cal State East Bay will be the lead organization in the South Hayward project, which will involve people from the city, school district, university and nonprofit sectors.

I wrote a story about Hayward’s news, which will be in tomorrow’s paper.

It doesn’t mean, for sure, that Oakland won’t have a Promise Neighborhood akin to the one created in Harlem; Superintendent Tony Smith said today, via Spokesman Troy Flint, that the city will definitely apply for the much larger implementation grants next year. But it’s probably safe to say that the districts that won the planning grants will have an edge in the second round.

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Oprah, Aspire and Waiting for Superman

At 4 p.m. (Pacific Time) today, James Willcox, CEO of the Oakland-based Aspire Public Schools, appears on the Oprah Winfrey Show along with Bill Gates and Director Davis Guggenheim to promote the much-hyped “Waiting for Superman” documentary by Guggenheim, who directed “An Inconvenient Truth.”

Oprah is giving $1 million awards to six organizations, including Aspire, which operates about 30 publicly funded, privately run charter schools in California, including seven in Oakland and Berkeley. Kids and teachers at Lionel Wilson College Prep, a middle and high school in East Oakland run by the charter management organization (API 797), are watching the pre-taped show at the school this afternoon. Here’s a quote from an Aspire news release:

“It’s an honor to be recognized by Oprah’s Angel Network as part of her call to the country to make sure every student has a chance to attend a high-quality public school,” said Aspire Public Schools CEO James Willcox. “The upcoming movie “Waiting for ‘Superman’” will challenge our country to do just that. Our success with the nearly 10,000 students Aspire serves across California is a tribute to our teachers and our team—and a reason to be incredibly optimistic about what we can achieve in every public school across the state and across the country.”

“Waiting for Superman” is about the failures of America’s public education system and why it should matter to the average American. Guggenheim makes the argument that those failures perpetuate societal ills, from national security and crime to poverty, and that it’s essential to “change the odds” for families who can’t afford a private education. He said the idea for the film stemmed from the guilt he felt while driving by his neighborhood school in Los Angeles while dropping his kids off to private schools.

It comes out on Friday.

From the clips I saw at the Education Writers Association conference in May, it promises to be compelling, provocative and heart-wrenching, if a bit simplistic. Continue Reading


U.S. education secretary comes to Oakland, says he’s “a big fan” of superintendent

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan visited Oakland’s Merritt College and Berkeley’s Longfellow Middle School today. The news media were not invited to a roundtable discussion at the community college this morning (boo!), so all I have for you is a snippet from a press conference afterward.

I asked Duncan what he thought about Tony Smith’s vision for Oakland’s public schools. Here’s what he said, after praising U.S. Representative Barbara Lee:

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Oakland school wins National Blue Ribbon

Lincoln Elementary School. Tribune file photo by Jane TyskaLincoln Elementary School is the first public, non-charter school in Oakland to receive a National Blue Ribbon Award from the United States Department of Education. It was one of just 21 public or private schools in California to be honored this year for academic excellence, and among 304 nationwide.

More than 75 percent of Lincoln’s students come from low-income families, and about 90 percent enter kindergarten with limited knowledge of English, Principal John Melvin said.

But get this: 84 percent tested proficient or higher this year on the state’s reading test, and 96 percent showed proficiency in math. Every one of its fourth-grade students met the state’s targets in math, and 93 percent tested at the “advanced,” or the highest, level.

The 600-student school Continue Reading


College prep for all: Chicago’s hard lessons

Next fall, Oakland’s ninth-graders will automatically enroll in a course sequence that closely matches state university entrance requirements. The Oakland school board passed this policy, known as “A to G For All,” in 2009, a change that student leaders and local advocacy groups such as Ed Trust-West pushed for — and one embraced by other California school districts.

As the district ramps up for the shift, it might draw a lesson or two from Chicago Public Schools, which which in 1997 eliminated remedial courses and required its students to take college-prep coursework. New findings by the Consortium on Chicago School Research at the University of Chicago and reported by Catalyst Chicago found that the policy did reduce “tracking,” or the segregation of students by skill level, since all students were taking similar course sequences.

Here’s the catch: Researchers found “no evidence” that the policy change otherwise helped the students achieve academically. Their test scores didn’t go up. Grades of weaker students went down, as did graduation rates. College enrollment and retention didn’t improve. And higher-skilled students started skipping school more often.

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