Career derailed amid allegations of racism

I returned to civilization last night from a five-day, blissfully unplugged vacation to hear what you may well know by now: Pete Sarna, the chief of the Oakland school district’s police force, has retired at 41 following accusations that he made shocking racist statements to an African-American sergeant in his force while under the influence of alcohol.

The two police officers were riding home — with a designated driver and another sergeant, who filed the complaint — after drinking at a charity golf event.

Sarna’s attorney said her client had an alcohol problem. It’s not the first time it’s blown up publicly, damaging his career. In 2007, he stepped down from his post with the Department of Justice after a car crash and DUI citation in Walnut Creek.

Less than two weeks before the incident, I met with Sarna to go over some statistics he had gathered about homicides in Oakland. He gave me a tour of the school district’s police headquarters at the old Cole Middle School, with its new fitness room and command center, complete with a wall of flat screen monitors, showing security camera shots from around the city. Continue Reading


ETS finds cheating took place on AP tests at Skyline

Education Testing Service investigators believe some Skyline High School students cheated on their advanced placement tests, Principal Troy Johnston told families in a letter he sent out this week that details some of the findings (see below).

The Skyline Oracle published a story in June about the ETS’s investigation into possible procedural breaches. In its report, Assistant Principal Marisol Arkin, the school’s testing coordinator, and other school staff downplayed the potential consequences of the inquiry.

“The worst-case scenario is that one or two tests may have to be retaken,” said Ms. Arkin.

Or 30.

Troy Flint, a spokesman for the Oakland school district, said ETS canceled 30 scores on various tests it deemed suspicious; the exams in question were in various subjects administered during a two-week period this spring. Flint said the rest of the results — which were withheld for weeks, pending the investigation — have been or will be released soon.

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Investigators allege systemic, decade-long cheating in Atlanta schools

Have you been following the cheating scandal in Atlanta? Beverly Hall, the superintendent implicated in the recent state investigation, was named national superintendent of the year in 2009 by the American Association of School Administrators — in part, for her students’ rising test scores.

As the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports today, the Georgia governor’s special investigators believe this behavior went on for as long as a decade:

Teachers and principals erased and corrected mistakes on students’ answer sheets.

Area superintendents silenced whistle-blowers and rewarded subordinates who met academic goals by any means possible.

Superintendent Beverly Hall and her top aides ignored, buried, destroyed or altered complaints about misconduct, claimed ignorance of wrongdoing and accused naysayers of failing to believe in poor children’s ability to learn.

For years — as long as a decade — this was how the Atlanta school district produced gains on state curriculum tests. The scores soared so dramatically they brought national acclaim to Hall and the district, according to an investigative report released Tuesday by Gov. Nathan Deal.

What do you think we, as a nation, should take away from this news? That it’s a mistake to reward or punish educators based on their students’ test scores? That it’s easier than you might think to game the system?

Are you surprised at the lengths to which top administrators went, according to the report, to meet their goals (and cover up their actions)?


An inspiring story, with lots of holes

As I watched the 60 Minutes report about the possible fabrications made by Greg Mortenson, the author of “Three Cups of Tea,” and the questionable expenditures of his charity, Central Asia Institute, I thought of all of the kids who donated pennies for the girls in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Have you seen the 60 Minutes investigation (embedded below)? Did your students or kids read “Three Cups of Tea” or raise money for the Central Asia Institute? If so, do you plan to broach the subject with the children? How?


A disturbing report at an elementary school

Oakland school district officials are investigating a report that two second-graders engaged in oral sex in their classroom while the teacher was present. They’re also looking into a complaint that, in the same classroom and in front of the teacher, some students were taking off their clothes and clowning around.

The teacher, who has been placed on administrative leave, apparently told school officials he was unaware of either incident — both of which reportedly happened last week. The principal got the report on Wednesday, immediately after a child told a staff member about it, said OUSD Spokesman Troy Flint.

After conducting multiple interviews, Flint said, “We believe the substance of the story is true.”

Here is a copy of the letter that went home to Markham families today.

Ug. Any Markham parents or teachers out there?


Beyond `pay for play': Some schools charge for P.E. uniforms, electives

A mother in San Lorenzo who saw the `pay to play‘ blog post wrote to tell me that her daughter’s new middle school was charging a $20 fee for electives.

Another mom sent me a letter from an Oakland middle school that listed prices for P.E. uniforms and clothing that matched the school’s dress code.

Jory Steele, managing attorney for the ACLU of Northern California, said the organization has received numerous complaints about schools that may be violating the 1984 Supreme Court ruling that public schools — and related activities and curriculum — must be free for all students.

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Kakishiba to stay on Oakland school board

David KakishibaDavid Kakishiba will remain on the Oakland school board for the rest of his term — which ends in December 2010 —  rather than step down, as he had initially announced, he told me today.

“I believe my obligation, my responsibility, is to serve out my term,” he said.

Kakishiba’s original announcement, that he would resign from the board at the end of October, came in response to a conflict-of-interest opinion by Oakland’s general counsel, Jackie Minor. Kakishiba is also executive director of the East Bay Asian Youth Center, which does lots of work in Oakland schools.

But Kakishiba said most of his board colleagues — who rejected the legal department’s recommendation in a 5-1 vote last week Continue Reading


Peralta board wants an investigation

Last night, the Peralta Community College District board called for an investigation into a no-bid contract given to one of Chancellor Elihu Harris’s business partners (whose relationship to the chancellor was not disclosed beforehand). The board might also ban the use of credit cards for personal expenses.

The Alameda County community college district, however, has so far kept secret the details of the $4,000-plus in personal expenses charged to Trustee Marcie Hodge’s district credit card.

These issues, and others, were uncovered by reporters Matt Krupnick and Thomas Peele. In case you missed the stories, you can find them here.


Deep cuts, lavish spending

Taxpayers spent $3,740 for Peralta Community College District Chancellor (and former Oakland mayor) Elihu Harris and his wife to attend Barack Obama’s inauguration. They also covered over $4,000 in personal expenses that Trustee Marcie Hodge racked up on a district credit card before she was asked to repay the money.

Through public records requests, my colleagues Matt Krupnick and Thomas Peele uncovered these spending practices at the local, four-college district — a destination for many Oakland public high school grads. Those findings and others were reported in Sunday’s Tribune and Contra Costa Times. Continue Reading