Oakland student director tells it like it is

Cecilia Lopez, an Oakland High School senior who served as a student director on the school board this year, finished her term with a bang tonight during a discussion about stiffer graduation requirements and access to courses required for admission to state universities (known as A-G classes).

Lopez piped up after Jim Mordecai, a retired teacher and school board meeting regular, told the board that such a change would backfire — and that huge numbers of students, unable or unwilling to handle these new district requirements, would defect to independently run charter schools.

“Keep dreaming,” Mordecai said.

Lopez had this to say to the naysayers (“I have heard rumors of teachers not being for this,” she said): Continue Reading


Do states need common education standards?

Lately, there’s been a big push to put all 50 states on the same page with regard to what’s taught — and tested — in schools.

On Wednesday, the U.S. House Education and Labor Committee holds a hearing on the subject. The hearing is described, in a press advisory, as an opportunity to “examine how states can better prepare their students to compete in a global economy by using internationally benchmarked common standards.”

What do you make of this movement? What potential advantages do you see, and what pitfalls?

The witnesses for next week’s hearing, listed below, include the co-founder of KIPP and the AFT President:

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A film about gender, featuring Oakland kids

The documentary film Straightlaced: How Gender’s Got Us All Tied Up features eight former Metwest High School students and other Bay Area youth. It’s being shown at film festivals around the country, but its East Bay premiere is at 7 p.m. Thursday evening at Oakland’s Grand Lake Theater, 3200 Grand Ave.

photos courtesy of GroundSpark

The hour-long documentary, which is part of an educational campaign about such issues as gender bias and health, delves into deeply ingrained gender expectations, and the lengths to which some will go to avoid being labeled as gay (and why). Continue Reading


Report follows the grass-roots organizers who brought small schools to Oakland

Tribune file photo of Acorn Woodland Elementary School by Alex Molloy

The Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University has spent six years studying a major initiative of the Oakland Community Organizations: to radically change public education in the city’s flatlands neighborhoods by creating small schools. Tonight at Castlemont’s East Oakland School of the Arts (EOSA), researchers discussed the findings. Continue Reading


Should Johnny repeat a grade? No, says OUSD.

Last month, I stumbled upon a memo addressed to all elementary school principals, strongly advising them not to retain kids in the same grade for a second year — particularly kindergartners, English learners and special education students (unless that is part of their education plan).

“First off, the research is clear; retention does not work,” it says.

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Oakland’s newest California Distinguished School

It’s been a good year for everyone at the Oakland School for the Arts, the charter school that Jerry Brown built. First, they move out of a parking lot and into a fancy new building. Now, the California Department of Education is honoring their school as “distinguished.”

photo by Laura A. Oda/Oakland Tribune

In all, the state education department bestowed this award upon 261 middle and high schools (about 11 percent of the 2,400 in California). OSA was the only Oakland winner this year. Continue Reading


A primer on performance pay

Don’t call it merit pay. If you’re ever at a social gathering with a bunch of policy wonks, you can show you’re really in the know by offhandedly referring to “P4P,” a cute acronym I learned today at a conference about “pay for performance.”

New approaches to teacher compensation, which have come in and out of style, are definitely on their way back in. In fact, they are on the table right now in Oakland, as labor leaders and district administrators try to find common ground on a possible new parcel tax initiative for teachers.

Roberta Mayor, Oakland’s interim superintendent, and Laura Moran, the district’s chief operating officer, came to today’s conference to gain insight into the controversial compensation strategy that Obama has recently endorsed. Betty Olson-Jones, the Oakland teachers union president, and a couple of other local union leaders (who were skeptical, at best, of some of these proposals), also came. Continue Reading


Should Oakland stiffen its grad requirements?

Education Trust-West thinks so, and so does Brad Stam, OUSD’s chief academic officer.

Right now, less than 40 percent of Oakland’s high school seniors graduate with the requirements needed to attend a state university. At some local schools, Ed Trust reports, barely more than half of the classes offered count toward those 15 course requirements, known in the education world as “A to G.”

photo by Alison Yin

There seems to be a movement afoot to adopt those college requirements — a `C’ grade or better on all 15 “A to G” courses — as the new standard for graduating high school in Oakland. Continue Reading


Time to act

Brian Blaisch, a pediatrician and the parent of an autistic 6-year-old, writes about the challenges he has faced advocating for his child in the Oakland public schools. — Katy

photo of Dr. Brian Blaisch and his son, Jackson, courtesy of Blaisch

I’m used to writing as a physician, not as a parent. I’m a pediatrician in Oakland who has devoted my career to working with the underserved children of our community. But as I come to realize that I’ve done a better job of helping and advocating for my patients and families than my own child, I find myself at a crossroad.

Although I specialize in caring for children with developmental, learning, and behavior issues, I was caught completely off guard when my now 6½ year-old son, Jackson, started developing classic symptoms of autism at around 1 ½ years of age.  What was surprising and disappointing was that when we finally got past our denial and asked for help with diagnosis and treatment, help was and continues to be difficult to find. Continue Reading