Parent Trigger: Coming to a school near you?

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Staff Photojournalist

People who follow education news in California probably have heard of the new law known as the “Parent Trigger.” It allows parents to unionize — and to petition to convert eligible low-performing schools into charters or force major staffing shake-ups, among other interventions.

It was enacted in January 2010, but it wasn’t until this summer that the California Board of Education approved regulations to clarify how it will work.

Parent Revolution, the L.A.-based group behind the law, stopped in Oakland this week on a bus tour through California. Nearly all who came to the information session at Brookfield Elementary School were either part of the bus tour or members of the Oakland chapter of the NAACP, invited by Oakland school board member Alice Spearman. I noticed that only a handful of current OUSD parents (maybe just two or three) were in the room to learn about a movement described by organizer Shirley Ford as “grassroots in every sense of the word.”

That appears to have been by design. Spearman told the small group that she wanted to start with “all the key players in Oakland” to decide whether to form a parent union chapter here. If so, she said, they could bring other groups and “the grassroots parents” into the discussion.

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Notes from a long and eventful board meeting

Tonight’s — or should I say, last night’s —  5 p.m. Oakland school board meeting went till midnight. I observed so much from my ergonomically incorrect wooden seat:

The NAACP‘s Oakland branch showed up in force to register their concerns about complaints they’d heard from students and alumni about problem teachers, institutional racism and African American students’ opportunities for success at Skyline High (where a transcript review last fall revealed a whole bunch of students who weren’t on track to graduate), McClymonds and Castlemont high schools.

Teachers showed up to voice their support for retired teachers whom the district hired to coach them when they were first starting out. The retired teachers said they were told their services would no longer be needed. Superintendent Tony Smith said he had known nothing about this — and that he wished he had been informed of this development by his staff, rather than at a school board meeting. (Sounded to me like the program would be restored.)

Nikita Mitchell, one of the school board’s student directors, gave a rousing, seemingly extemporaneous end-of-term speech about education in Oakland, the “two Oaklands,” and how she and other students had been saying for years what members of the NAACP reported on Wednesday.

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Oakland school board rejects Aspire charter

Aspire Public Schools

Aspire Public Schools did not get the go-ahead tonight to open a seventh charter school in Oakland; it fell one vote short.

(Jumoke Hinton-Hodge, who is probably the biggest charter school supporter on the board, was out of town at a Great City Schools conference. David Kakishiba and Jody London voted against the Aspire petition, and Alice Spearman — who was out of the room during the vote — said she was against it, too. Gary Yee, Chris Dobbins and Noel Gallo voted `yes,’ but Yee was on the fence; he told me he tended to support staff recommendations, but that he might have voted `no’ if Hinton-Hodge were there.)

Gail Greely, who heads the charter office, recommended the board approve the East Oakland elementary school. She said Aspire’s application met the legal standard — “even though an additional k-5 school is not needed to serve students and families in Oakland.” She also said the office determined it wouldn’t provide a “unique” or “innovative” program, but that those concerns weren’t grounds for denial under current charter school law.

I wrote about Aspire several months ago in a story about the growing influence and prevalence of charter school chains, as opposed to standalone charters. (I found this copy online, though our link expired.) Aspire, which is headquartered in Oakland, has received national attention and millions of dollars in federal and philanthropic support for its expansion. Oprah awarded the network $1 million last fall during a promotion for the “Waiting for Superman” documentary.

The network received no such appreciation tonight at the board hearing. Some board members seemed to take the application as an affront to the district.

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Notes from the Oakland education forum


Today was the Tribune forum on education, held in the Oakland Public Library’s beautiful new branch on 81st Avenue. I’ll admit, I was unsure about how the day would shape up, or how the discussion on charter schools would go. (I’m way more comfortable in front of a computer screen, even under the tightest deadline pressure, than behind a podium.)

But now that it’s all over, I’m looking forward to the next one — in the late afternoon/evening, when teachers and students can come.

OAKLAND SCHOOLS FORUMI moderated a discussion about charter schools, with panelists Betty Olson-Jones, Oakland teachers union president; James Willcox, Aspire Public Schools CEO; Gary Yee, OUSD school board president; Gail Greely, OUSD’s new charter schools coordinator; and Stephen Sexton, co-founder of Lighthouse Community Charter School. Continue Reading


Tribune forum on public education in Oakland

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Oakland is exciting place to be an education reporter, and — for a number of reasons — I’m glad my boss feels the same way about the importance of schools coverage.

In fact, Tribune Editor Martin Reynolds has organized a forum on some of the issues facing the city’s public schools. It’ll be from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday at the new, 81st Avenue branch of the Oakland Public Library (1021 81st Avenue — next to ACORN Woodland and EnCOMPASS schools). You can see the flier here.

The free public event — which, admittedly, is not at the most convenient time for people who work in schools — is co-sponsored by the Bay Area Business Roundtable, the Prescott-Joseph Center and the Oakland Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce.

It will include four panel discussions: Continue Reading


Aviation charter school does not impress OUSD

Based on a report I just read, I’d be mighty surprised if the Oakland school board renewed the charter of Oakland Aviation High School. The district’s charter school office came up with 32 reasons for (what amounts to) shutting it down, a decision the board makes on Wednesday.

The high school is not posting stellar test scores, that’s for sure. But take a look at reason #10:

The school API score (557) is equal to the median performance of Oakland district schools in 2009 serving similar grades.

Of course, if the Oakland school board rejects the renewal, Oakland Aviation can appeal to the Alameda County Board of Education. It worked for Cox Academy last year.


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


Fact check: Jerry Brown and charter schools

The below television ad promises “more money in the classroom, more charter schools, a chance for change” if Meg Whitman is elected governor of California.

The ad suggests that Whitman’s Democratic opponent, Jerry Brown, wouldn’t support the expansion of independently run charter schools — or school reform, in general — because his campaign has been backed by the California Teachers Association.

What it doesn’t mention is that Brown opened two charter schools while he was Oakland’s mayor — the Oakland Military Institute and the Oakland School for the Arts — a fact he has often touted in his campaign.

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`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


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