Obama taps Russlynn Ali for civil rights post

President Obama announced today that he would nominate Russlynn Ali to be the assistant secretary for civil rights at the United States Department of Education.

Ali is vice president of Education Trust, a civil rights and education advocacy group. She also directs its Oakland-based partner, Education Trust-West, so she’s endured a number of interviews with me.

In case you were wondering, Ed Trust supports the “results-based accountability” of No Child Left Behind as a way to narrow the racial and socioeconomic achievement gaps. 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


The school “phase-out” tack

You don’t need to have served on a board of education to know this: Closing schools is a political nightmare. Imagine hundreds of impassioned teenagers marching eight miles from their school in East Oakland’s King Estates neighborhood to protest its fate. I don’t need to describe the indignation, the tears, the news trucks and cameras everywhere.

But phasing schools out, one grade at a time? Allowing them to die a slow death, without forcing out any existing students? Families and kids who don’t yet attend a school are much less likely to rally around it.

I have a feeling that’s the wave of the future here in Oakland.

Tonight, the state administrator is set to approve plans to phase out BEST High School, one of two small schools remaining at West Oakland’s McClymonds campus, by 2011, and to close the nearly phased-out only Peralta Creek Middle School (Calvin Simmons) after its last group of eighth-graders is promoted to high school.

Fremont Federation’s Paul Robeson School of Visual and Performing Arts has suddenly Continue Reading


Our new Secretary of Education

Arne Duncan, the CEO of Chicago Public Schools, will be our nation’s next education secretary.

The New York Times says Duncan “represents a compromise choice in the debate that has divided Democrats in recent months over the proper course for public-school policy after the Bush years.”

Catalyst Chicago, which covers education reform in the Windy City, says improvements in the city’s public schools have been modest under Duncan’s leadership. A story published yesterday about Obama’s education pick reports:

Duncan’s oft-stated goal was to create the “best urban school district in the nation.” Yet here, as elsewhere, high schools have made little progress. Continue Reading


Four Oakland schools win Title I awards

Around this time each year, the state education department gives props to schools whose low-income students cleaned up on high stakes tests.  These are high-performing schools with “socioeconomically disadvantaged” populations of at least 40 percent. 


This year’s Oakland winners are: Continue Reading


Charter schools and children in poverty

The high test scores of the Oakland Charter Academy and American Indian Public Charter schools have surfaced again, this time in a brief released today by the California Charter Schools Association.

The charter schools advocacy group performed a simple analysis that compared the composite test scores — the API — of high-poverty public schools in California (those in which 70 percent or more of the students qualify for a free or reduced-price lunch). Guess what it found?

Twelve of the 15 schools on that list are publicly funded (tuition-free), privately run charters. Six of the top 15 are located in Oakland, and Continue Reading


Lessons from a “small school from the ‘hood”

photo of Oakland Charter Academy student by D. Ross Cameron/Oakland Tribune

The racial and economic achievement gap comes up, in some form or another, at almost every Oakland school board meeting. Yet there are a handful of schools here in this city that have made that gap invisible, at least on their campuses, and I sometimes wonder who is paying attention.

Take the Oakland Charter Academy, a charter middle school in Fruitvale with a Latino population of about 93 percent. Last year those students — the vast majority of whom qualify for free or reduced-price lunches — scored a 902 this year on the state’s Academic Performance Index out of a possible 1,000 points.

The average Latino middle schooler in California scores in the 600s.

I wrote a story in today’s Trib about the loads of work that these kids (and those at the American Indian charter schools, which use a similar model) are putting in every day — and about the general skepticism surrounding their success. You can read it here.

Continue Reading


Documentary explores California’s science deficit

Many consider California to be a cutting-edge state, brimming with innovation. So why do its schools rank among the last in the nation on standardized science tests?

KQED explored these questions in a 25-minute documentary, “Under the Microscope: Science Struggles in Schools.” I meant to post this on Tuesday, the night it aired, but you can watch the 25-minute show here:


Phasing out, moving schools

The Oakland school board put a halt to talk about large-scale closures this month, but they never said school closures were out of the question. Some of these tough decisions will surface in less than two months, while others are slated to determined a year from now.

In December, the Oakland school board will decide whether to continue to phase out BEST High School at McClymonds (which is now grades 10-12) and Peralta Creek Middle School at Calvin Simmons (now just eighth grade).

They’ll also discuss the possible relocation of Life Academy and Tilden Elementary School.

In the fall of 2009, the board is slated to decide what to do with the following list of “focus schools” — those with academic and/or enrollment concerns: Continue Reading


Franklin, Grass Valley score huge science grant

I have some good news to report this morning: Franklin and Grass Valley elementary schools have received almost $1 million in NCLB funding to improve their science teaching over the course of the next four school years (including this one). Teachers will be working with each other, and with science and education faculty at UC Berkeley and the Lawrence Hall of Science, to bring science to life for the kids.

I know I’ve already posted this video about the quality (and quantity) of science teaching in Bay Area elementary schools. But that was almost a year ago, and I think it shows why such an effort is so important:

Teachers: If you teach science (alone or along with other subjects), what kind of support would help you the most?