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Common state standards in math and English — a step forward?

By now, all but five states (Alaska, Texas, Minnesota, Nebraska and Virginia) have adopted what’s known as Common Core State Standards for math and English, a common agreement of what students in the United States should know and be able to do in those subjects.

A Learning Matters blog post features differing views of what this major development might mean for the U.S. educational system — and whether the current system (each state having its own separate set of standards) really does lack focus. I thought you might find it interesting, and I’m curious to know what you’ve heard about this initiative and what questions you have about how it will work, in practice.

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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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Health centers and “full-service community schools”

Skyline High School's new health center
photos by Roy Manzanares, courtesy of Oakland Unified

Oakland Superintendent Tony Smith’s vision of full-service community schools is taking shape on some campuses, thanks to a school-based health center initiative that has picked up steam (and millions of dollars in funding) since 2008.

Oakland Unified’s 12th health center opened this week, at the 1,900-student Skyline High School. The Native American Health Center (NAHC) will operate services at the clinic. The renovated portable building includes two medical exam rooms, a laboratory and three confidential consultation rooms.

new Skyline High School health center

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Former Oakland teacher a lead organizer for Save Our Schools March

Anthony Cody (courtesy photo)

Anthony Cody, an Education Week blogger and former math and science teacher and coach in OUSD, is one of the organizers of Saturday’s Save Our Schools March in Washington, D.C. March participants don’t like the direction in which education reform is headed; among other demands, they are calling for an end to the practice of using student test scores as the basis for decisions about school closures, layoffs and pay.

I reached Cody on Tuesday for this story about the movement. I also talked to Molly Servatius, from San Francisco’s Paul Revere Elementary, who is about to begin her third year in the classroom.

Servatius said she joined the Save Our Schools movement online on the day she saw the Waiting for Superman documentary about the failings of the nation’s public schools — a film that many teachers criticized as skewed and simplistic. She said she looked around and saw people crying during one of the film’s poignant scenes.

She was crying too, she said — but for a different reason. Continue Reading

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Oakland’s “Santa Claus of computer land”

Bruce BuckelewI thought you might enjoy today’s column by Dave Newhouse about Bruce Buckelew. The Piedmont resident and IBM retiree founded Oakland Technology Exchange West, a nonprofit based in West Oakland that distributes free, refurbished computers to schools and homes and training to children and their parents.

According to the OTX West website, the organization has distributed more than 20,000 computers since 1999 — and diverted more than 700 tons of electronic waste from landfills.

Buckelew thinks schools should use computers more than they do now to tailor instruction to each student, based on the child’s skill level.

“Not one size fits all,” he added. “There are schools that are going to 30 to 40 percent online individuated instruction, and 60 to 70 percent traditional interactive teacher-led, and they’re successful. We don’t have that model yet in Oakland.”

Do you agree? How does your school use computers in an innovative way?

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Plan for Oakland schools up for approval Saturday

On Saturday, the Oakland school board is scheduled to vote on the superintendent’s five-year strategic plan — the product of 14 task forces and, according to the document, some 350 task force and community meetings.

The meeting begins at 9 a.m. in the board room at 1025 Second Ave. It’s supposed to run about two hours.

How did you take part in the process? Does this document reflect your ideas for improving OUSD? What will it take for this plan to materialize?

In case you missed it:


OUSD’s strategic plan

The Bay Area Parent Leadership Action Network sent out a news release saying it expected all four of its recommendations to make it into the final plan. They are:

  • Adopt and follow standards for family engagement to make meetings and events more accessible and parent-friendly
  • Improve training for parents who serve on school site governance councils
  • Establish a Family Engagement Advisory Council to give regular feedback to the district on ways to better involve the community
  • Hold monthly meetings with parents and youth in each of OUSD’s three regions to improve communication.
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Oakland elementary school explores gender norms, teaches acceptance

A lesson about gender

Redwood Heights Elementary School in Oakland is teaching kids this week that boys and girls don’t all fit into neat gender norms, and that they shouldn’t laugh at or tease someone if they do (or wear) something different or unusual.

Two parent leaders whom I interviewed for a story about the issue said they knew of no controversy about the training — until today.

A few weeks ago, Redwood Heights invited parents to a staff training by Gender Spectrum and held an information session afterward, said Michelle Hatchell, the school’s PTA president. Principal Sara Stone included the information in several editions of a weekly memo to parents. (The training is about gender identity, not sexual orientation or attraction; it was funded by a grant from the California Teachers Association.)

But the chief counsel of the Pacific Justice Institute, a conservative legal organization, said he learned of seven families who didn’t know until recently that the lessons were about to happen.

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Chronic absenteeism in Oakland schools

Last school year, 14.3 percent of Oakland’s public schoolchildren were chronically absent, meaning they missed at least 18 days of school — excused or unexcused. As you can see from this map, created by (and posted with the permission of) the Oakland-based Urban Strategies Council, the most serious attendance problems are concentrated in West Oakland.

The Oakland school district recently began collecting data of all of its students who were absent — not just those with unexcused absences. Now, principals regularly get lists of those students (those who have missed 10 percent of the school year) in an effort to get to the root causes of their absence and curb the problem.

Superintendent Tony Smith is scheduled to speak in Sacramento tomorrow at a forum on the subject hosted by State Superintendent Tom Torlakson. So is Hedy Chang, of Attendance Works, who did the attendance analysis for the Oakland school district with technical support from Urban Strategies Council.

As we discussed last summer on this blog, the problem of chronic absenteeism is not just prevalent in high schools, but in elementary schools as well. Continue Reading

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An OUSD survey on working conditions

Staff meeting. File photo by John Green/Bay Area News Group

Oakland teachers, counselors, principals and other credentialed school-based staff: Friday is the deadline for completing an anonymous online survey about what it’s like to work at each school in the district.

How much time do you spend on various tasks during the school day? Outside of the regular school day? Are efforts made at your school to minimize interruptions, or routine paperwork? How much time do you have to collaborate with other teachers?

The results will be published online, by school, in June — that is, as long as the response rate is at least 50 percent for a given school. If not, those schools will be omitted from the results. Continue Reading

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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