Good News, Mostly, in the Latest Survey of CA Teachers, but Belief Gap Persists

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The latest survey shows that 75% California teachers are satisfied with their jobs, 78% saw developing critical thinking as  a priority, roughly 80% support the Common core standards, though nearly half of teachers had reservations (quite reasonably) about them, and almost all teachers consider themselves knowledgeable about what should be done for college and career readiness.  That’s the good news—an engaged and seemingly prepared workforce that is aligned around raising the bar and the discourse.

The bad news is that only 30% of teachers said that the districts had clearly defined standards, 51% say that Common Core and career readiness have not been sufficiently linked in professional development, and, there are troubling differences in teacher expectations, based on family incomes.

To quote Edsource, “About 58 percent of teachers in schools where fewer than 1 in 4 of their students are eligible for free or reduced-priced meals believe that college and career readiness is a “very realistic” goal. But 20 percent of teachers in schools where more than 3 in 4 students qualify for federally subsidized meals have similar attitudes.”

We know too well about the belief gap (read, here if you want to understand more) and the effects that low expectations have on students.  So we have two big gaps here to bridge.  The first is the implementation gap—while teachers are aligned on raising the bar—districts in many cases have not defined, at specific grade levels, what that bar should be in an actionable way or provided aligned training around it.

Second, and perhaps more troubling is the belief gap, where 80% of teachers in predominantly low income schools, don’t believe that higher standards is a “very realistic” goal for students.

There is a lot to unpack there I am sure.  But none of us make it on our own, and if our teachers don’t believe in us, and think we will make it, many of us wont.  And changing those attitudes, will take more than clearly defined standards and aligned professional development, it will take changing hearts and minds.  A topic for another day.

Thoughtful integration of special education students is the right thing to do

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What we have done for special education students in Oakland has not been working.  Look at the numbers, a mere 8.6% completed the A-G requirements, the courses required to apply to UC or CSU, 4.6% are reading on grade level in 9th grade, and the high school exit exam pass rate was 10.1%.  It does not need to be like this, and we need to change the quality of services and how they are delivered in Oakland.  Doing more of the same is worse than insane in this case, it is immoral.

So as OUSD prepares to overhaul its approach to special education, and mainstream more students, placing them in general education classrooms with additional supports, it’s painful to hear teachers who should be advocates for students, pushing for more of the same for something that has definitely failed.  And it’s some serious double speak to call integrating students “the new Jim Crow” as one speaker at the Board meeting did.

I have sat in those special education meetings where parents, and particularly African American parents resist with their last breath having their child labeled as special education.  They may not have a master’s degree but they know the label can be a one way ticket to nowhere.  And I saw this first hand as my little brother, was labeled, taken out of regular classes and basically lumped in with a range of other students with a range of disabilities, which had less academic content than the regular classes.

I particularly remember a back to school night where I visited his 9th grade math class and his teacher showed me a hand drawn picture of the globe with a caption “math makes the world go round” that’s what my brother was working on in 9th grade math, drawing and coloring.  It’s not always like that—he had a great teacher in his first self-contained class, who did push and inspire him, but mostly it seemed like the placement was more to get him away from the other kids and teachers rather than supporting his needs.

There is much more to write about the supports needed for teachers to make mainstreaming successful, the stereotypes underlying some of the critiques, the benefits that some specialized programs can have, and some of the underlying issues with special education in CA and Oakland.  But anyone who is favoring the status quo needs to really check themselves, look at the numbers and question whether they are going to condemn another generation of students to the same old system with the same old results.

Community Solutions for an Oakland Family; Housing, Schools and the Crisis for Oakland Families- Part 2- please help

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Last week I covered the plight of a family at Community School for Creative Education Charter School.  Harassed and menaced by their landlord in an effort to get them out of the unit.  He allegedly tore up rent checks, forced his way into the unit, and slammed the door on the head of the family’s three year old child.  I could go on about the traumatized kids, threats of deportation, and the eventual (wrongful in my humble opinion) eviction (you can see the news story here).  But I would rather not.

Instead let’s talk about a family empowered and supported by the community to find another local apartment, getting free legal consultation (thank you Bob Salinas of Sundeen, Salinas and Pyle), and starting to practically make the move.  And that’s what we have, supported by the school, Oakland Community Organizations, and a volunteer team we (really they) created a GoFundMe campaign to help the get the moving costs and initial move in money, and we have already started to collect donations for them.  Please pass on and contribute.

So the good news is that the family stays in the neighborhood and school, they get out from under the thumb of an abusive landlord, and hopefully the landlord will get his in court.  And while I realize this action isn’t the systematic solution to landlords from hell, who see dollar signs in the lucrative Oakland real estate market, and the system that rewards such greed, while low income renters and their families pay the cost.

I do see it as people, many of whom have never met, seeing something wrong and doing something about it.  Ultimately, this about people caring about their neighbors in a tangible way, which maybe is a systematic solution, and one that doesn’t rely on “the system”, only us, to confront injustice, and each do our little part to address it.

The Good the Bad and the The Ugly in the Oakland Achieves Report- How Are our Kids Doing?

7530012032_c2c65215a2_zschool busNo huge surprises in Urban Strategies Council’s annual report on the indicators of youth well-being and achievement in Oakland found here.  Overall we are seeing some indicators of progress, while still tied down by huge achievement gaps and significant challenges in preparing our most challenged students for college and career readiness.

The Good

  • Chronic absences and those at risk of it are down 1% and 5% respectively- this is a crucial measure of engagement our most at risk students
  • Satisfactory attendance increased significantly by 5%- again if kids aren’t in school they are probably not learning
  • Preschool is having a significant effect on school readiness, though disparities exist- OUSD has expanded transitional kindergarten significantly which should keep this trend going
  • English language learners were particularly helped by preschool, with 87% of pre school attendees being judge school-ready
  • More students are attending public school in Oakland for the 5th straight year of increase, a 5 year total of 2,813 more students
  • Suspensions are down 29% since 2011, with continuing declines in the rates for African American students
  • White (82% proficiency), Native American (67%) and African American (52%) were all at or above the District Average (52%) for early literacy
  • Low income students had roughly the same pass rates for the high school exit exam as the district, 1 % lower in math and 2% lower in English.

The Bad

  • English learners (30% proficiency), Latinos (33%), Pacific Islanders (37%) and low income students (39%) were well below the district average (52%) for early literacy
  • Cohort Graduation rates showed large disparities; 57% of English learners, 64% of African Americans and 91% of Whites respectively graduated in their cohorts, and the overall rate decreased from 72% to 69%
  • The percentage of students completing the A-G coursework required to apply to UC or CSU decreased from 52% to 50%

The Ugly

  • African American male students were 13 times more likely to be suspended than White males
  • Foster students had the highest suspension rate in the district at 16% more than 3 times the overall rate of 5%
  • Only 9% of special education students complete the A-G coursework, compared to 50% of OUSD, with enormous gaps in all areas of proficiency
  • Only 29% of African American students and 32% of English Learners completed A-G coursework
  • Middle school math scores showed yawning achievement gaps, with 70% of Whites being proficient, 23% of Pacific Islanders and African Americans, and only 21% of native Americans, even lower rates were found for foster students (17%) and English Learners (15%)
  • Our most vulnerable groups had the highest rates of chronic absence in elementary with Native Americans at 20%, African Americans at 18% and Pacific Islanders at 17%.

So while we have some signs of hope in early literacy and the presumed effects that expanding preschool and also targeting attendance and increasing it will have.  We are still left with the tragic and painful achievement and opportunity gaps.  The good news is we have honest data to act on, the bad news is that data shows us just how much work there is left to do.

Housing, Schools, and the Crisis for Oakland Families

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Life can be hard in Oakland, harder even, if you have children, live in the Flatlands and don’t own a home.  One of our families is learning this lesson in spades.  You can see the news report here.  It ain’t pretty, new homeowner/landlord wants old tenants out—for no “good” reason but greed.  This leads to an alleged physical assault on a three year old child, threats of deportations, forcing entry into the home, and continual harassment that verges on menacing.   And the family needs to find new housing in a market they can’t afford.

As a school person, you are constantly slapped in the face by the out of school problems that interfere with learning.  Here you have a family afraid to leave their house, kids traumatized, being evicted for no good reason, and soon to be homeless.  They have found an apartment in Modesto (maybe), but that means leaving behind their support systems, changing schools, and uprooting their kids.  And literally every time a child changes schools, their learning is disrupted.

This is happening more and more in Oakland, as owners seek to cash in at the expense of renters.  And as you run through the chain of events you see just how disadvantaged in the process families are.  They often resist “official” contact and don’t proactively enforce their rights, and when they do engage they are mostly disappointed by a foreign “justice” system that seems stacked against them.

Police that don’t write up reports of alleged crimes, a judicial system around evictions that favors landlords, who know and can manipulate the process, and really nobody to stand up for, or with,  the underdog.   All of this sludge flows downhill onto families and eventually accumulates at schools, where we are left trying to address the scars of a thousand wrongs, and really have to address some of them if we are ever to get to the nitty gritty of teaching and learning.

And while inequity reigns, I love Oakland for those who push back.  In this case, as in many, Oakland Community Organizations (OCO) (thanks Emma), and the Community School for Creative Education Charter School (thanks Ida), have led this charge.  The charge needs more bodies though and if you want to be part of the mobilization against the eviction, or if you have resources to help our family out, please join us.  The scales are tilted against us now, but if enough of us line up on the right side, I know we can shift the balance.