Blogs for teachers

Kafi Payne taught Spanish at EXCEL High School at McClymonds before taking a job in the Oakland school district’s new teacher support department. Payne posts the latest workshops, free supplies and Web resources, as well as discussion topics, on a new blog called, “So you want to be a teacher in Oakland?”

For national perspectives, there’s Ed Week’s Teacher Beat, which today has a post about proposed teacher tenure reforms in Ohio, Florida and D.C.

And if you’re in the mood for something mindless and silly, check out education blogger Alexander Russo’s post today of the “20 hottest education folks of 2009.” It’s titled Hot…for Education 2009. I didn’t nominate anyone, I swear, but Russlynn Ali did make the top 20, and there’s a San Francisco school board member in there, too.

photo of Kafi Payne from her teachers blog


Metamorphosis. Ophthalmologist. Surveillance.

One of my good friends studies ophthalmology, and I learned just the other week that I was at least two letters away from spelling her field correctly in my mind. The first `h’ and the first `l’ really threw me for a loop. 

Those two consonants didn’t faze Trinh Huynh, of Westlake Middle School. Trinh took first place in the middle school division of the OUSD Spelling Bee with that very word. Linnea Gullikson, of Joaquin Miller, won the elementary division with “metamorphosis.” (Hopefully I’m spelling these words right. Writing about a spelling bee can really set you up for public humiliation…)

Anyone take photos at the event? Just send them to kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

Here is a list of the winners of the 2009 OUSD Spelling Bee, and their schools. The top five will advance to the county bee: Continue Reading


Innovation in OUSD, despite OUSD

photo by Ray Chavez/Tribune staff

Joaquin Alvarado, one of the Claremont Middle School parents who managed to convert a run-of-the-mill computer room into a high-tech media lab — and a basic word processing class into a 3-D animation elective — doesn’t have much love for the school district’s central office.

In an interview this week, Alvarado said Second Avenue had been more of a hindrance than a help. For one thing, because of a new board policy introduced in the middle of the semester, the people contracted to teach Claremont’s animation class (and many other contractors, for that matter) weren’t getting paid. The PTA had to cut these teachers a check so that they wouldn’t up and leave, as others did. It’s supposedly been fixed.

OK, so central office bureaucracy is hardly a new story line. But what about that staff presentation about turning Claremont into a “school of choice for North Oakland families?” Wouldn’t this new media focus potentially further that goal? Continue Reading


New budget cut details

A central office hiring freeze, closure of the OTAP truancy center, cuts to special education and to schools, and fewer academic coaches are among the ways OUSD’s staff proposes to shrink the district’s general purpose spending by about $29 million in 2009-10.

To put that in perspective, the district’s general purpose budget — also known as “unrestricted” money, meaning it can be spent on any school program — is currently $230 million. You can read the 29-page presentation here.

Continue Reading


Math raps: the next edu-fad?

Who says music is disappearing from public schools? Well maybe it is, but at least Alex Kajitani’s middle school kids in Escondido, Calif. are learning to bust a rhyme in math class.

Kajitani, who developed “The Rappin’-Mathematician” curriculum, is in the running for National Teacher of the Year.

Here’s the inner-city-school-turnaround story behind it, as told on his Web site:

Alex Kajitani was a struggling new teacher at a tough, inner-city school in San Diego. As the students came in each day unable to remember simple math concepts from the day before, yet singing every word to the new rap song on the radio, he realized he needed a new approach. Fed up with the students coming in rapping lyrics about violence, drug use, and mistreating women, he began to perform rap songs about the math he was teaching. Continue Reading


Adult illiteracy

Nearly one in five adult Alameda County residents can’t understand simple, written English, according to a new estimate released by the National Center for Education Statistics.

But the state’s adult English literacy rate is even worse. California ranks 51st — last in the nation, behind the other 49 states and the District of Columbia — with 23 percent of the adult population unable to glean information from brochures, newspapers or other sources of information.

In 1992, it ranked 33rd. The recent study is based on data collected in 2003.

Neil Gonzales, a fellow education reporter who writes for the San Mateo County Times,  wrote this story about the report. He notes the obvious immigration factor:

In general, states with large immigrant populations had the most residents who were unable to read and understand information from such sources as newspapers and brochures or could grasp only short, commonplace language, the study indicates.

Well, at least the test scores of Oakland’s English learners improved this year. A program at one elementary school even brings in parents and teaches them to read. In Oakland Adult & Career Education, “mobile ESL,” an adult education teacher goes to the homes of OUSD parents.

One teacher recently wrote me about Oakland’s adult literacy programs, saying that in some cases, the older students need to learn how to hold a pencil: Continue Reading


`No Child’ turns seven

It’s Elvis’s birthday, too, judging from the plastic bust that appeared in the middle of the newsroom today. But I digress.

With the presidential election behind us, efforts to reauthorize and re-shape the landmark education law might start up again in earnest.

Many of you have watched public education transform because of NCLB. What’s different, and what has stayed the same? What in the act, if anything, would you keep in place, and what would you pitch? 

If nothing else, hasn’t NCLB focused more attention on children who have historically been failed by the system? I guess the real question is whether that attention has helped those kids and the schools they attend, and how progress should be measured.

Here’s what American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten had to say: Continue Reading


Last call for inauguration lessons!

A couple of you informed me, ever so gently, that my previous call for examples of pre-inauguration lessons was slightly premature, because much of the planning happens over the teachers’ two-week “break.”

But if you send me a note, along with your contact info, by the end of the week or Monday, your class — or school — project might still be featured in the story.

Feel free to post your plans on the blog, as well.

image by ajagendorf25 on flickr.com/creativecommons


Real world experience in high school

photo of Sofia Garcia (left) and Oliveto chef Paul Canales (right) by Jane Tyska/Tribune staff

For some Oakland high school students, a classroom doesn’t always mean rows of desks and a chalkboard. Last week we ran a story about Sofia Garcia, a senior at the internship-based MetWest High School, who has spent two days a week for the last two-plus years in the kitchen of Oliveto Restaurant in Rockridge.

How have other schools incorporated `real world’ experience into the curriculum, and how has it worked?


A school library, brought to you by the PTA

courtesy photo
When Russom Mesfun first laid eyes on Montera Middle School last year, he could not believe what he didn’t see.

“I was horrified to know that the school does not have a library,” said Mesfun, Montera’s principal. “I just could not conceive of it.”

Now it does, thanks to an $80,000 check from the school’s parent-teacher group  — which is technically a PFSC, not a PTA — that helped pay for a librarian. Continue Reading