Common state standards in math and English — a step forward?

By now, all but five states (Alaska, Texas, Minnesota, Nebraska and Virginia) have adopted what’s known as Common Core State Standards for math and English, a common agreement of what students in the United States should know and be able to do in those subjects.

A Learning Matters blog post features differing views of what this major development might mean for the U.S. educational system — and whether the current system (each state having its own separate set of standards) really does lack focus. I thought you might find it interesting, and I’m curious to know what you’ve heard about this initiative and what questions you have about how it will work, in practice.

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


Oakland makes national news – in a good way

When friends and relatives from other parts of the country see Oakland in the news, it’s almost always because something tragic or bizarre has happened here. I’m sure many of you can relate.

Now I hate to speak too soon — I wasn’t near a TV at 3:20 this afternoon — but I believe BET aired a piece about Amir Ealy and 22 other African-American boys in Oakland who earned perfect scores on their 2010 math or reading tests. The network used some of our footage (with permission) in this one-minute news brief, which is now posted on its website.

Here it is:


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


Let me tell you something about decimals…

Two of the elementary school principals I’ve talked to in the last week — John Melvin at Lincoln in Chinatown and Monica Thomas at Greenleaf (formerly Whittier) in East Oakland — told me about a skill their staff are helping students build, one that can’t be measured on a bubble test: oral presentation.

Here’s a short clip of Erika Brown’s fifth-grade math class at Greenleaf yesterday. Her students are adding decimals, but they’re also learning how to talk about them. Is this something your school emphasizes as well?


At two-way immersion school, math class is in Spanish

You might have noticed, when glancing through Oakland schools’ latest test scores, that one made a 106-point jump on the API. That was Manzanita SEED, a two-way language immersion elementary school that opened in 2005 on the old Manzanita campus (East 27th Street between 23rd Avenue and Fruitvale Avenue).

Two years ago, its API was 652. Now it’s 842. In a single year, the school went from 44 percent proficiency in math to 73 percent proficiency. You can find a story about SEED’s trajectory here, and in the paper tomorrow.

When I called the school to see if I could visit a math class, Principal Katherine Carter suggested I visit one that’s taught in Spanish. From kindergarten through third grade, SEED students learn math in Spanish; about half of its students are native Spanish speakers, and the other half speak English or another language at home.

Here’s a glimpse into the third-grade classroom of Ana Ferrus-Garcia:


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.

Continue Reading


Serious math

Over the years, I feel like I’ve come to know you — your political leanings and life experiences, your writing style, sense of humor and average snark level. But what about your math skills?

For example: Can you (or any high school student you know) do this?

Show that there are only finitely many triples (x, y, z) of positive integers satisfying the equation abc = 2009(a + b + c).

Or this?

Continue Reading


Summer school in OUSD: still here

At tonight’s Oakland school board meeting, a staffer handed me a colorful guide almost the size of a newspaper on summer resources for kids. Despite the cutbacks, the district is still offering:

  • Algebra Academies for middle and high school students
  • Oakland Fine Arts Summer School (at International Community School/Think College Now this year)
  • Bridges Program, to help kids make the transition to the sixth and ninth grades
  • Early Childhood Education programs
  • Migrant/refugee summer program
  • Pre-Collegiate Academy, summer enrichment (co-sponsored by the East Bay Consortium and Merritt College)
  • an extended school year for disabled students
  • Summer Intervention Program focused on math and reading and/or high school exit exam prep
  • Pre-K camp (with First 5 California)

The guide also includes pages and pages of other local programs and classes. You can find it online here. Any recommendations?


Kids: Want a crash course in astrophysics? Juggling?

photo courtesy of Shuai Chen, co-founder of Splash

If you know a middle or high school student who has a free day this weekend and might be interested in, say, neuroscience, dancing, artificial intelligence, juggling, or painting, keep reading!

More than 100 Stanford University students are playing teacher for the weekend in a marathon learning session on the Palo Alto campus. It’s called Splash, and it runs Saturday and Sunday. The full price is $40 for both days (and $20 for siblings), but the event organizers say that participants who can’t afford the fee can just say so and they don’t have to pay anything.

You can learn more about Splash, and its (literally) 209 course offerings, here. This is the third time students have organized the event, and they expect up to 1,000 kids to participate. Those who haven’t registered online can just show up on Saturday or Sunday.

Can’t make it this weekend? They’re planning another one in April.