GO Public Schools’ wish list for 2011

Great Oakland Public Schools, a local advocacy group that started with funding from the Rogers Family Foundation, wants to see some new blood on the Oakland teachers union’s executive board and representative council next year. It wants district leaders to emphasize high quality instruction as well as service hubs, and a “new and better response” to an unnamed principal who has complained about the required retention of mediocre teachers.

Below is a letter from GO’s director (and former OUSD administrator) Jonathan Klein, followed by the 10-item wish list. Which of the points do you agree or disagree with? Continue Reading


Oakland’s Eastside high redesign (#2)

East Oakland School of the Arts, a small Castlemont school. Tribune file photo by D. Ross Cameron.

Five years ago, the three high schools on East Oakland’s Castlemont campus had almost 1,300 students. That number has dwindled to 700 — a 45 percent drop.

The Fremont campus, also in East Oakland, has seen a similar slide. A decade ago, more than 2,000 students went to school there. Now, there are just 940.

Both campuses were divided into small, themed schools — each, with its own principals and administrative staffs — as part of an improvement strategy that received millions of dollars from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

But since then, there’s been an exodus from Fremont and Castlemont. Many families from the East Oakland flatlands have used the district’s school choice policy to send their children to schools with better reputations across the city. Others have opted for one of the charter schools that have opened in their neighborhoods.

As a result of the dwindling numbers, the great high school  “redesign” of 2003 and 2004 is — yes — being redesigned.

Troy Flint, a district spokesman, has confirmed that a team of administrators and other staff is drafting a proposal for the future of both high school campuses. Youth Empowerment School, in the East Oakland hills, will be part of the Fremont Castlemont plan, he said.

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A staged scene in`Superman’

Francisco and his mom in "Waiting for Superman." (Courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

For those of you who’ve seen the “Waiting for Superman” documentary: Remember when Maria is touring Harlem Success Academy, ostensibly hoping her son, Francisco, will one day be in one of those classrooms she’s observing? When she says she’ll wake up at 5 a.m., if necessary, to get him there?

(Spoiler alert) That scene was actually shot after the dramatic lottery drawing shown at the end of the film, the New York Times reported. Davis Guggenheim, the film’s director, said he asked Maria to tour the school, with the cameras, after she learned her son wouldn’t be going there.

Guggenheim defends the decision to Times blogger Sharon Otterman, saying it captured the mother’s genuine emotions.

You might have heard about this already — the Times report did come out a couple of weeks ago — but I just came across it. When the reporter asked if other scenes were out of chronological order, Guggenheim said, “None that I can think of.”

Does it alter your view of the film in any way?

From the Times blog: Continue Reading


Baltimore teachers pass groundbreaking contract

The Baltimore teachers union approved a contract today that does away with seniority-based “step” raises, and instead creates four “career pathways” — one of which is for highly effective teachers. The contract also allows for teachers and principals of individual schools to lengthen the school day or make other changes. (This September Baltimore Sun editorial provides more detail on the contract, itself.)

The union rejected the same contract earlier this fall. According to the Baltimore Sun and AFT President Randi Weingarten, who issued a statement tonight, teachers felt they needed more time to study these changes.

Here’s part of Weingarten’s statement:
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He’s not waiting for Superman. He’s waiting to exhale.

Jamal Cooks, a San Francisco State University professor of education and former Oakland teacher, has mixed feelings about “Waiting for Superman.” He says people know what makes a great school; he wants to see less talk and more action.

Jamal CooksOn Monday, I went to a matinee to watch “Waiting for Superman.” Though I had heard that the movie bashed public schools and promoted charter schools as the answer to the problem, I went into the show with an open mind. When I walked out, I had mixed emotions about the film.

As a former teacher, director of after school programs, coordinator of mentoring programs, and a professor of teacher education, I watched the movie intently and hung on every word. I am a public school educator, a public school product, and a public school advocate. I have spent 20 years working for and with students who have challenging home lives, come from rough neighborhoods, and lack some resources, but who want the same education as the next person.

In fact, my daughter will be starting kindergarten soon, and with the local public school’s API scores under 800, I want public schools to work. However, there are some real facts that must be acknowledged before moving forward for equitable education for all students.

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Government as venture capitalist?

Charles Lindberg. Image from Stinkie Pinkie's site on flickr.com/creativecommons

On the Marketplace radio program this evening, “Freakonomics” co-author Steve Dubner compared the Obama administration’s Race to the Top grant competition to innovations and competitive prizes in the private sector.

After talking about the X Prize (slogan: Revolution Through Competition) and Google’s practice of giving engineers a day each week to try out their own ideas — even though most of them flop — Dubner played a tape of the following statement and asked the host, Kai Ryssdal, to guess who the speaker was:

Well we’re fundamentally trying to change the business we’re in and we’re trying to drive innovation rather than being in this compliance-driven bureaucracy. And the idea of crowdsourcing that you’re seeing in other industries, we think is absolutely applicable here. The only way you challenge the status quo is to give people rewards for success.

For Ryssdal, it was a no-brainer: Arne Duncan, the Secretary of Education. You can listen — or read — the full Marketplace segment here. Below is an excerpt of the conversation that followed: Continue Reading


Close the achievement gap and graduate college. Then what?

Zeus Yiamouyiannis is an Oakland-based learning consultant and former professor of education at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and Carroll College. He gives us his take on education reform in general and “Waiting for Superman” in particular — and the film-maker’s assertion that 120 million new high-paying jobs await us in 2020.

Zeus Yiamouyiannis (courtesy photo)American Education has a reality problem and a vision problem. If you listen to policy leaders, rescuing U.S. education simply requires closing the ethnic/social class academic achievement gap and becoming first in the world in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). This ostensibly will allow millions of young people to be channeled into the 120+ million future “high skill, high pay jobs” according to the controversial new education reform documentary, Waiting for Superman.

Anticipating this, the Obama administration is funding a “Race to the Top” focusing heavily on STEM education. KIPP charter schools spend three times as much classroom time as average schools on math and science. The more comprehensive charter schools are likewise working to ensure their students both get into college and graduate. All this is laudable on some level, but whose purposes does this serve, and does it reflect lasting actual (or even desirable) trends in the job market?

The Reality Problem
So all you need as a ticket to the good life is a four-year college degree? Tell this rosy myth to all the current, rightfully skeptical twenty-something graduates, saddled with tens, even hundreds, of thousands of dollars of college debt.   Continue Reading


U.S. education secretary comes to Oakland, says he’s “a big fan” of superintendent

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan visited Oakland’s Merritt College and Berkeley’s Longfellow Middle School today. The news media were not invited to a roundtable discussion at the community college this morning (boo!), so all I have for you is a snippet from a press conference afterward.

I asked Duncan what he thought about Tony Smith’s vision for Oakland’s public schools. Here’s what he said, after praising U.S. Representative Barbara Lee:

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Tired of acronyms, some Oaklanders “want Mack back”

Mack remained the name of the high school sports teams. File photo by Anda ChuOakland saw a flurry of new and redesigned schools in the last decade. Along with the more substantive changes came a slew of inventive names — many with acronyms for aspirational adjectives, nouns, verbs and phrases: BEST, EXCEL, ASCEND, EnCompass, Reach, United for Success, and EXPLORE, to name a few.

McClymonds High School, or Mack as it’s also known, was officially closed in 2005. The names of the two small high schools that opened on its campus were a mouthful: Business Entrepreneurial School of Technology (BEST) and Experience, eXcellence, Community, Empowerment and Leadership (EXCEL).  

BEST closed in June, though, and now that McClymonds will be a one-school campus again, a group of people — possibly, alumni — want to undo the name change. They’ve circulated a petition titled “Change the name back to McClymonds High.” Continue Reading


Hearing tonight on Oakland’s “persistently lowest-achieving schools”

Should Oakland Unified apply for a federal grant — money with strings attached — for its schools that made the state’s lowest-performing list? At 6 p.m. tonight, the school board is holding the first of two hearings on the subject. It’ll be held at United For Success Academy on the Calvin Simmons campus, 2101 35th Ave.

Explore Middle School, United for Success, ROOTS International, Alliance Academy and Elmhurst Community Prep are the five Oakland schools eligible for the money (an amount still undetermined). To get it, they have to do one of four things: shut down and send their students to other schools; close and reopen as a charter school; fire the principal and half the teaching staff; or fire the principal, extend the school day and make other changes. Principals who have been in place for less than two years are allowed to stay.

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