An old news recap: charter school decisions, mutual matching, blue ribbon nomination

UPDATE: The school board later approved the amended petitions of ASCEND and Learning Without Limits.

Education news kept right on happening in the last two weeks. Here are some of the developments I missed while I was visiting old temples and dodging motorbikes:

THE OAKLAND SCHOOL BOARD REJECTED the charter school conversion petitions submitted by the faculties of ASCEND and Learning Without Limits, elementary schools in the Fruitvale area. While the district’s charter schools office recommended approval, Superintendent Tony Smith took a different stance, saying that allowing schools to break away from the district would undermine the district’s strategic plan. Both schools have since appealed the decision to the Alameda County Board of Education.

This whereas seems to sum up the superintendent’s position:

“WHEREAS, the District can not succeed at its strategic plan to create a Full Service Community School District that serves the whole child, provides each child with a caring environment that accelerates academic achievement and supports student success if after millions of dollars in investment, individual schools that have achieved because of the District’s investment can separate and opt out of the District, with the consequence that the District loses its collective identity as a school system serving children in all neighborhoods in Oakland.”

The board on Jan. 11 also voted against the charter school office’s recommendation for ARISE High School — this time, by approving the charter school’s renewal with some conditions. In this case, the office deemed ARISE an unsound educational program, but the board disagreed. (More info here.)

The board also approved the petition for the 100 Black Men of the Bay Area Community School to open in July. (More info here.)

IN NEWER CHARTER NEWS: This Wednesday, Education for Change — a charter management group that is working with ASCEND and Learning Without Limits — plans to submit a third charter conversion petition, this time for Lazear Elementary, which is slated for closure in June.

Parents at that Fruitvale-area school submitted a petition last fall, but the document was not up to the standards of the OUSD charter schools office, and the parents withdrew it. Now they’ll turn in another draft, prepared with the assistance of Education for Change. Hae-Sin Kim Thomas, a former OUSD administrator who is now the Education for Change CEO, said Lazear parents have had a difficult time finding another school in walking distance that has space for their children, and that some have received a cool reception at some of the schools they’ve visited.

GOOD NEWS: Fred T. Korematsu Discovery Academy, a small elementary school in East Oakland that has made huge test score gains, has been nominated for a National Blue Ribbon award — one of 35 in California to receive a nomination for being among the state’s highest performing or most improved schools. Whether it wins the award this fall will depend on the next round of tests. (No pressure.)

THE FEELING ISN’T MUTUAL for a OUSD staff proposal that would change the way open teaching positions are filled. It’s called “mutual matching,” and teachers union leaders aren’t as keen on it as Superintendent Tony Smith, who had this opinion piece published in the Tribune the other week. A blog post on the union’s website, advertising a 4:30 p.m. Thursday forum on the topic, has this to say about the idea:

Don’t be fooled – scratch the surface and it’s an attempt to get rid of seniority in our contractual transfer rights, under the guise of “abandon(ing) our nostalgia for practices unsuited to the current challenge” (Tribune editorial). In doing so, the district is following the national education “deform” line that it’s “bad teachers” to blame for the problems in public education — not lack of funding, resources, institutional racism, or respect for our profession – and that this can be resolved through letting teachers compete in the marketplace for their assignments.

Here is a link to a letter and chart posted on the union’s website about how the process would work, according to OUSD staff. The district has devoted a section of its site to the issue, which you can find here.

I have an interview scheduled with district staffers tomorrow afternoon about this proposal and will write about it in greater depth. What questions do you have about it?

What other news should I be catching up on?


Charter school accountability debate

Yesterday, the California Charter Schools Association caused a stir. The pro-charter group came out with a list of 10 independently-run schools it deemed underperforming — and encouraged their respective school districts to close them when their 5-year contracts expire!

That list included West County Community High in Richmond, as my colleague Hannah Dreier reported in today’s paper. Leadership High in San Francisco was also on it.

The complete list included 31 schools, but the association only published the names of those that are nearing the end of their 5-year terms and seeking a charter renewal.

Here’s the reasoning behind the mov, from the news release:

“We cannot have an honest discussion about education reform and increasing accountability without closing the charters that have demonstrated an inability to meet the challenge of excellence–granted to us by law–and chronically underperform. Our accountability framework has been pressure tested, analyzed and deliberated thoroughly. The time to act on persistently low-performing schools is now, because our children’s education cannot be put on the back-burner,” said Myrna Castrejón, senior vice president, Achievement and Performance Management, CCSA.

The “call for non-renewal” was criticized by another state charter group, the Charter Schools Development Center. The center put out a statement today, noting flaws in California’s testing system and arguing that renewal decisions should not be purely based on test scores.

What do you make of all this?

To meet the association’s minimum standard, a school needs to have one of these three things (copied directly from the news release):

  • Academic Performance Index (API) score of at least 700 in most recent year
  • 3-year cumulative API growth of at least 50 points (2010-11 growth + 2009-10 growth + 2008-09 growth)
  • Within range of or exceeding predicted performance based on similar student populations statewide, for at least two out of the last three years, based on CCSA’s metric, the Similar Students Measure.

Oakland teacher speaks at the White House

Laura Kretschmar, a newly National Board-certified teacher who teaches math and science at Lighthouse Community Charter School in East Oakland, spoke at a White House forum about the teaching profession this week with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Also there is Dan Brown, whose book (“The Great Expectations School”) I just finished reading.

Check out the video here. Laura’s the second person in from the left. She starts speaking around 39 minutes.

Here’s a note she wrote to her colleagues about the experience and forwarded to me to post: Continue Reading


OUSD’s rosy enrollment projections

The Oakland school district is closing five elementary schools next year. Two of its other schools might be converted into independently run charters, taking 800 children with them. And at least one — quite possibly, two — brand new charter schools open next fall, with plans to admit more than 600 students, combined.

But OUSD’s leaders aren’t bracing for a big enrollment drop. They predict the school system’s enrollment will hold firm in September — and even grow slightly (by 125 students, to 38,166).

Will the numbers bear out? They didn’t this fall. Enrollment in the city’s district-run schools, though flat, came in 300 students shy of projections, creating a $1.6 million budget gap that needed to be closed immediately.

2012 projections, explained: Continue Reading


Oakland teachers push for changes beyond charter school conversion

Staff Photojournalist
photo by Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group

Teachers from two East Oakland elementary schools are on a mission to shake up the status quo in the Oakland school district.

This fall, they voted to turn their schools — ASCEND and Learning Without Limits — into independently run charters so that they could have more control over staffing, curriculum, budgeting and other things, such as the school calendar. Hearings on those charter conversion petitions and others begin at 6 p.m. Monday evening in the district office at 1025 Second Avenue.

But the teachers at these two schools have goals beyond charter conversion. They want to organize like-minded educators around some of their ideas, such as changing the way teachers are evaluated. They also want to do away with a layoff system driven almost entirely by credential and years of service in a district (though they’re not against including seniority as a factor). They, like the union’s current leaders, think teachers should have more say in what materials they use to teach children.

At the Oakland Education Association’s membership meeting last week the teachers circulated a flier that said: Continue Reading


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


Rumors (and denials) of a rogue charter school opening next week

American Indian Public Charter School

Sometimes when I write about the American Indian Public Charter School I feel like I’ve entered an alternative reality. This is one of those times.

For that reason, I can’t tell you definitively whether an unauthorized elementary charter school will open on American Indian’s downtown campus on Halloween, as rumored — though it’s looking unlikely. I’ll just share the information I’ve collected so far.

Evidence that suggests a school affiliated with American Indian is (or at least was) slated to open two months into the school year:

– I called the receptionist at the school last week, told her I was a news reporter, and asked if American Indian was opening a new elementary school in October, as I had heard. She said, “Yes it is.”

– An OUSD mother who attended a recent informational meeting at American Indian said parents were told that a new elementary school would indeed open on Oct. 31. Continue Reading


Two Oakland schools to split from OUSD


On Wednesday night at Oakland Technical High School, the Oakland school board votes on a staff resolution to close five elementary schools, Lakeview, Lazear, Marshall, Maxwell Park and Santa Fe. But the board is expected to be presented with another downsizing proposal, too: The faculties at two other schools, ASCEND and Learning Without Limits, have voted to secede from OUSD and operate those schools as independently run charters.

You can read more about it here. That story will be in Tuesday’s Tribune. (And here is a link to a Sunday story about school closures.)

Continue Reading


Montessori charter school to open in Oakland

Although its petition was rejected by the Oakland school board, a charter school named Urban Montessori will open in Oakland next year, after all.

The Alameda County Board of Education approved the group’s appeal this week, according to the group’s blog.

Urban Montessori will begin its first year with grades k-2 and grow into a k-8. It doesn’t have a location yet, but its founders are looking for a place in downtown Oakland, close to public transit, said Hae-Sin Kim Thomas, a member of the founding team — and a former OUSD teacher, principal and administrator.

Some Oakland school board members, including Jody London, had hoped to convince Urban Montessori to open as a district school, rather than as an independently-run charter.

Continue Reading


Lazear parents: Close our school, and we’ll open a charter

Staff PhotojournalistThe families at East Oakland’s Lazear Elementary School have come to a decision, says parent leader Olga Galaviz Gonzalez: If the Oakland school board votes to close it next year, as Superintendent Tony Smith has recommended, they will try to reopen it as a public, independently-run charter school.

“We’ve been working on it,” Gonzalez said about the charter school petition.

Lazear’s school board representative, Noel Gallo, says he opposes the closure and that he is no longer interested in selling the property. He says that if the board votes to close the school on Oct. 26, he would support the charter petition.

I wrote about Lazear in the spring of 2010, when the parents went out on strike, unhappy with the principal and one teacher in particular. I revisited the school a year later — in April –and found a much happier, academically-focused place.

Now, Lazear is on a list of five elementary schools slated for closure, along with Lakeview, Marshall, Maxwell Park and Santa Fe. Its state test scores, though lower than neighboring schools, rose 27 points to 714.

“That school has turned around, and now we want to close it,” Gallo said.

Continue Reading