Paying for college: looking for stories

Recently, my colleague Matt Krupnick wrote a story about the ever-rising cost of tuition at California’s state universities. It’s cheaper for a student from a middle-income family to go to Harvard (or other top private colleges) than to CSU East Bay, he found.

Now that many of the acceptance letters have arrived in the mail, another fellow reporter, Sharon Noguchi, is writing about families of high school seniors who are figuring out what they can afford and how to pay for it. She wants to talk to people from Oakland and elsewhere in the East Bay about the choices they’re making to finance a higher education.

TELL US: How you’re preparing for this massive expense?

If you’re in this situation — or know an East Bay family with a college-bound high school senior — I hope you’ll consider sharing your perspective with Sharon. You can reach her at snoguchi@mercurynews.com.


Saturday: Conference for Oakland’s African-American families

Parents can learn about transitional kindergarten, how to advocate for their children, how to help them at home, and what it will take for them to graduate high school and be ready for college at a free Saturday event for African-American families.

The African American Spring Parent Conference, from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, is at Bret Harte Middle School, 3700 Coolidge Ave, in the Laurel District.

OUSD’s Office of African-American Male Achievement is hosting the event, which includes breakfast and lunch. You can register here.

In February, OUSD held a similar day of workshops for Latino families, a conference co-sponsored by Educational Coalition for Hispanics in Oakland, and there have been others, as well.

Have you attended a parent workshop recently? Did you find it useful — and in what way?


The Oakland school district might be finished downsizing

Staff Photojournalist
photo by Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group

I meant to post this story sooner: OUSD’s school closure process — which was supposed to last for two to three years and shrink the district by 20-30 schools — will likely stop after the first round, when the district is a dozen schools smaller than it was last fall.

District officials say the target changed because they are projecting a balanced budget for 2012-13, one without a structural deficit for the first time in more than a decade. You can find the story through the above link and read up on the district’s latest budget report here. The financial report will be presented at tomorrow night’s 5 p.m. board meeting.

P.S. Some have asked whether, in light of this development, OUSD will once again use adult education funding for adult education. California school districts are now — at least, for the time being — allowed to use the once-protected funding stream for any purpose, and many have spent it on k-12 programs. OUSD eliminated its large high school diploma program and its adult ESL classes, with the exception of Family Literacy, among others. I’ve submitted your queries; so far, however, I’ve heard no talk about rebuilding adult ed.

Two related school closure issues:

On March 28, the school board discusses what to do with the closed school buildings. OUSD spokesman Troy Flint said the district is considering moving the offices (including the Family and Community Office) now located on 2111 International to Lakeview Elementary, one of the five elementary schools slated to close in June.

UPDATE: Flint initially thought the future use of Lakeview and other closed school buildings was on the March 28 agenda, but it’s not. I’ll let you know when I find out more.

– Flint also confirmed what some have posted here on this blog: oversubscription of the high-performing Crocker Highlands Elementary School. Continue Reading


OUSD’s strategic plan — and your place in it

On Tuesday evening, I’ll be speaking on a panel convened by the League of Women Voters about the strategic plan the Oakland school board adopted last year. The event, from 6-8 p.m. at Oakland City Hall, is titled “The Promise and the Challenge.”

I’ve been invited to talk about the role the community should — or needs to — play in meeting the plan’s goals. It’s a good thing I have a few days to do my homework first (and that I have this blog!), as the answer isn’t clear to me.

What about you? As a parent, neighbor, volunteer, or OUSD employee, do you feel you have a sense of your place in the work outlined in the strategic plan? If so, I’d love to hear what it is — and how you learned about it.

If you aren’t really sure about what the plan is or how you might fit into it, do you have suggestions for the district’s leaders about how to spread the word and call to action more widely?


OUSD board might give local schools more control

Remember the Oakland school board’s Special Committee on School-Based Management and Budgeting? It’s meeting now, and teachers, parents and administrators are at the table to discuss the issues. Oakland Community Organizations — which believes schools need more control over curriculum, budget, staffing and scheduling — held a news conference before the session.

You can watch the meeting live, here. And you’ll find relevant documents here.

Below, from a draft document, is an excerpt of the board’s statement of intent:

The Board of Education believes that those closest to students at a school — principals, teachers, classified employees, parents, and students — are generally in the best position to know and to effectively address the specific academic, social and emotional needs of the students.



Shifting demographics and a shrinking school-age population

photo by Laura A. Oda/staff photographer

We ran a story Sunday about shifting demographics in inner-city neighborhoods such as West Oakland — changes which have resulted in fewer school-age children in the area and declining public school enrollment.

Oakland, as a whole, lost 20 percent of its 5- to 17-year-olds between 2000 and 2010, according to the U.S. census; in West Oakland, it was 31 percent. (You can find a spreadsheet of West Oakland school enrollment trends here.)

I spent months looking for explanations and stories behind the census data, and we plan to continue following some of those threads in future pieces. One issue I want to explore, for example, is the school district’s school choice policy, put in place in 2005, which allows families to enroll their kids at schools with available space outside their local attendance boundaries.

What do you see happening in the area 10 years from now?

A CALL FOR INTERVIEWS: I’d love to talk to West Oakland residents with children 17 and younger about the educational options in their neighborhood and beyond. I’d also like to hear from African Americans who left West Oakland about why they left and what their lives are like now, wherever they are.

You can reach me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.


Transitional kindergarten, California confusion


A transitional kindergarten class at Oakland’s Greenleaf Elementary. — Laura A. Oda/ Bay Area News Group

The parents of 4-year-olds with fall birthdays — not yet in the public school system — have already come face to face with the topsy-turvy ways of Sacramento.

Take the parents of kids born in November 2007. Since 2010, they’ve been told their children will be too young for kindergarten in 2012 under the new cutoff date, but that they will be entitled to a spot in a new grade-level, transitional kindergarten.

Now, about seven months before the first day of school, they learn that the governor is proposing to cut the program to save $223 million.

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A Promise Neighborhood in Hayward

Today, in its first round of five-year Promise Neighborhoods grants, the U.S. Department of Education handed out just five awards.

One of the recipients was a project focused on the Jackson Triangle neighborhood in Hayward, down the hill from Cal State East Bay.

Last year, I wrote about Hayward’s $500,000 Promise Neighborhoods planning grant. Out of 330 applicants, it was one of 21 winners. The Cal State East Bay-led project beat the odds again this year, winning the full implementation grant — up to $25 million in the next five years.

You’ll find my story about it here.

Several applications were filed this year for different Oakland neighborhoods, but none won. But OUSD seems to be pushing forward with the Promise neighborhoods strategy anyway — the cornerstone of the strategic plan is “full-service community schools,” after all — seeking funding from other sources.

And my colleague Sharon Noguchi tells me that John Porter, superintendent of the Franklin-McKinley School District in San Jose, launched a similar initiative — named, at least originally, the Franklin-McKinley Children’s Zone, after the original children’s zone in Harlem.

In addition to the infusion of resources into these neighborhoods and schools (the Hayward project will focus on six schools), this approach relies on the cooperation of dozens of agencies and organizations. Arguably, that type of collaboration doesn’t take all that much extra funding and could lead to improved services for children and families.

Have you heard of other places trying the same thing? Do you think it will lead to significantly different outcomes for children living in those neighborhoods?

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Race to Nowhere showing at Oakland’s Grand Lake

Race to Nowhere documentary

I have yet to watch the “Race to Nowhere” education documentary, but I hope to catch it this week, when it plays at the Grand Lake Theater, 3200 Grand Ave.

You can see it today through Sunday at 4 p.m., 6 p.m., 8 p.m. or 10 p.m. From Monday through Thursday it screens at 6 p.m., 8 p.m., and 10 p.m.

The filmmaker’s description:

Featuring the heartbreaking stories of young people across the country who have been pushed to the brink, educators who are burned out and worried that students aren’t developing the skills they need, and parents who are trying to do what’s best for their kids, Race to Nowhere points to the silent epidemic in our schools: cheating has become commonplace, students have become disengaged, stress-related illness, depression and burnout are rampant, and young people arrive at college and the workplace unprepared and uninspired.

Race to Nowhere is a call to mobilize families, educators, and policy makers to challenge current assumptions on how to best prepare the youth of America to become healthy, bright, contributing and leading citizens.

I wonder how widespread this phenomenon is in Oakland. A 2011 YouthTruth survey by the Center for Effective Philanthropy found that students at the typical Oakland high school (13 schools participated; Oakland Tech did not) perceived their academic work to be less rigorous, on average, than did students surveyed at the other 150 high schools nationwide.

If you’ve seen “Race to Nowhere,” I’d love to hear your take on it (no spoilers, please!). Do you think kids are assigned way too much homework and live in an overly competitive achievement culture?


Sobering statistics on child poverty

The number of school-age children living in poverty soared by 30 percent(!) in California between 2007 and 2010, according to new estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau.

In the United States, nearly 2 million more children between the ages of 5 and 17 fell into poverty during that time.

I wrote about that depressing trend today, in this story. My colleague Danny Willis created a database that lets you search the numbers by school district boundary and county. You’ll find it at the end of the piece.

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