Good News for Oakland; Facilities Lawsuit May Settle

Veering away from a dangerous cliff, Oakland Unified and the State Charter School Association agreed to “stay” or pause the lawsuit over access to facilities.  We covered this issue earlier, but the short of the matter is that OUSD was likely going to lose a multi million dollar lawsuit over access to facilities, and this agreement to stay the suit, may avoid both an ongoing fight and save the district a stack of cash.

Proposition 39 and “reasonably equivalent” facilities for charters

When the voters approved proposition 39, part of that law, recognized that charter school students are public school students and it created a right for charter schools to “reasonably equivalent” facilities in the district.  Basically districts have to offer charter schools equal types of space in public buildings.

Oakland has historically not done this.  In the last round of offers one school’s “reasonably equivalent” offer was actually spread out across 7 different sites.  That is no way to run a school, and likely would not survive a court’s scrutiny.  And LAUSD learned the hard way that the courts are watching, losing a $7 million lawsuit recently.

Getting to Yes on Buildings

I am heartened that the State Charter Association and the District are negotiating this, and pausing the litigation.  I really do think that most of these issues can be solved through negotiation.  Many district buildings are underutilized, and the district also has other properties that charters might develop under long term leases.  And other charters are happy in their own private buildings—which the District should encourage, and support.

Sharing buildings is not necessarily easy but it really can be beneficial for the district.  Half empty buildings have a financial cost to the district, when charters help fill them, they often pay the union custodial and grounds staff, and also contribute a maintenance cost for the space.  So financially, having more full buildings helps the district financially.

Let’s keep talking, negotiating longer term deals before the Prop 39 deadlines even kick in—so its not this annual struggle to site dozens of schools, and really working with schools to understand their needs and help meet them.

The kids and families at charters are basically the same kids and families in OUSD, and there is a lot of overlap.  It does not make sense that charters sometimes spend over $1000 per child annually for private rents while district buildings sit half full.  That rent money could go to teachers or services, but instead goes to landlords.

Getting to yes on facilities is good for children, families, the district, and taxpayers.  Let’s keep the progress moving.

If you want to read the press release you can see it here

A Parent Rejects the Divisions and Argues for Solutions Now in Oakland

I am an Oakland public school parent. So I have joined this (oaklandpublicschoolparents) listserve believing it is all about improving our public schools for the students.

And time to read is precious, I work , and evenings are spent supporting my daughter’s public school as PTSA parent leader and getting my athlete back and forth to practice. But I listen hoping that there will be something said that can help me, which will help the schools of OUSD.


Please tell me what a national conversation about the success of charter schools — in other locales– has anything to do with Oakland?

Be honest. Be specific.

And please disclose in what school your children are being taught.

And please disclose which under-financed school in East or West Oakland you are volunteering in.

Then I will listen and say you have the cred to muddy our waters.

For my money OUSD has pulled it out of the deep water …with the help of charters who took on children of color. And without the help of the white families who ran away to private (with their money and time and skill.)

Today, after YEARS of hard work by the community who cared to attend the meetings and sit on the committees to increase public money and elect the right people–the good news is a 50% suspension rate decrease, increase in literacy and math scores, and more money for teachers.

Why are we still talking about other places and their charter mess?

Today, All Our Oakland Children need ALL our help by showing up to deal with Oakland’s real problems.

What I would like to hear on this listserve is call for help for one of our schools, a specific ask to improve and support our kids.

Not the latest article about the evils of charters elswhere.

For instance.

Come up to Skyline next weekend and be a part of beautifying the campus.

Help paint and renew and be a part of the community supporting Skyline with their new International Baccalaureate Program ? Such exciting news !

My African American daughter is in the first cohort. She will graduate with superior standings as a result of the amazingly hard work of OUSD teachers and administration.

This is Good News and I urge you to come and be a part of the goodness that has begun to flow from the spring of our Oakland school system– public and charter.

I have read the charter for the Black Lives Matter and it is a gorgeously well written and thought out document.

But, in other cities where  progressive and middle of the road Democrats didn’t join school boards and participate in local politics — that allowed bad charters, and bad local governance to flourish.

That has not happened in Oakland.  Instead we have a healthy ecosystem of different kinds of schools for all the different kinds of kids.

You all need to stop reading about the terrible news in other locales and come out for our kids with your energy.

Help rebuild and staff a library, bring food to high school teachers who give away their lunch, get on the playground be an anchor for safety, partner with an ESL parent accessing resources. There is so much to do.


Kind Regards,
Allison Rodman

This open letter was forwarded to me from oaklandpublicschoolparents listserve and printed with permissions from the author

Invisible Girls in Oakland

Schools are tough places for most African American girls in Oakland.  While much attention and rightful praise has gone to the African American Male Achievement Initiative, a recent report by the Alliance for Girls, Valuing Girls’ Voices, Lived Experiences of Girls of Color in Oakland Unified School District, looked at data and asked young women in Oakland about their experiences.

And while some general issues emerged for all girls, the most challenging data and narratives came around the experiences of our young Black women.

Some of the key findings

There was consensus that the experiences of girls within the district is somewhat invisible and that there is a need to more intentionally create opportunities for decision makers to learn about the experiences of girls, particularly African American girls…

African American girls do not experience OUSD schools as caring environments, citing numerous examples of unconscious and conscious bias, low expectations and abusive language coming from adults and peers. African American girls were the only ethnic group that consistently perceived and experienced schools as “not seeing us for who we are” and treating them unfairly. African American girls shared experiences of exclusion from the classroom and the disparate application of disciplinary action on the basis of race.

While only one out of three girls is African American, they represent two out of every three girls who are suspended. African American girls are the only population of girls at OUSD who experience this disproportionality when it comes to suspensions.

There are a range of other statistical disparities.  African American girls have roughly a double rate of chronic absence at 20%.   And while there are lower reading rates for Latinas at 3rd grade 24% proficiency versus 31% proficiency for African Americans.  When it comes to graduating high school and completing the A-G requirements 61% of Latinas were eligible for UC and Cal State while only 36% of African American girls were.

Something is going on there.

One of the things I appreciated, was that they actually asked girls, in focus groups and interviews, giving us a deeper look behind the statistics.  We learned that schools really matter- LIFE Academy was singled out positively, as providing an engaging caring environment for girls.

And schools that were facing turnaround or instability usually had the worst environments.  School environments really matter and are widely divergent.

A few of the nuggets from the interviews and focus groups,

(G)irls at two schools experienced their schools as a safe place staffed by caring adults who were looking out for their well-being. Girls at four different schools, on the other hand, did not report feeling physically or emotionally safe at school. In particular, girls at two schools felt that coming to school contributed to anxieties about their personal and physical safety. In these instances, girls reported that it was their responsibility to protect themselves.

girls at four schools shared that they felt that teachers did not respect them or their peers. This was an issue for African American girls in particular…many girls at these campuses described interactions with teachers and principals that made them feel as if they were destined to fail.

African American girls were far more likely to report feeling that their teachers were uncaring and that schools were uncaring spaces for them. African American girls shared many instances of verbal abuse from their teachers, principals and peers.

Across all focus groups and ethnicities, girls reported that girls and boys receive differential treatment at school… Girls said that they feel that adults are not strong allies in addressing demeaning language or sexual micro-aggressions and advances from boys. Many girls reported getting in trouble when they were defending themselves or their friends against these type of advances.

And it seems that adults in some cases did not police harassment, with some disturbing stories including

Girls at several schools said that boys regularly call them “bitches,” “sluts” or “hos” in the presence of teachers and adults, without teachers punishing the boys or showing care for the girls’ feelings. At one school, girls reported that boys had branded Fridays as “Slap-Ass Fridays” and walked up and touched girls’ behinds. Girls reported that this tradition was well known by teachers at the school but that their responses focused on the girls’ reactions instead of addressing the boys’ behavior.

During the focus group at one school, several girls reported being sexually harassed by a staff member.

So alongside the broader implicit bias training we also need to do some gender specific training.

Safety— whether physical, sexual, or emotional has got to be the bedrock of schools.  It is the base of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, where if students don’t feel safe they will not learn.  And at least in a couple of schools these really are baseline safety issues.  If nothing else happens, “Slap Ass Fridays” has got to end.

Next steps

This is a great start in creating great schools for every student, looking at data and listening to students.  We obviously have a long way to go though, in terms of racial and gender equity.  This report helps point us in some of the right directions, and we do have at least one exemplar to look at, LIFE Academy.

One quote struck me.  A girl said that African American girls had a reputation for “being loud, because no one wants to listen to us.”

We are listening. I just hope like so many alarms, that this too does not fade into the symphony of challenges, indistinct in the background.



A Parent’s View on Oakland Public School Funding Inequality

Great look at the disparities in funding for public charter schools and traditional district schools in Oakland.  We all pay parcel tax money, but right now the roughly $500 per child that comes from measure G, doesn’t flow equally to public charter school students.

Take a look at the piece here


I Don’t Understand Why My Child’s Oakland Public School Receives Less Funding

The Importance of “Fit” and the Costs of Student Mobility

One of the schools I volunteer with is a “maker” school.  It is built around empowering students to create their experience and even the physical environment.  This starts day 1 of school where they literally construct, using tools and timber, the stool they will sit on.

For some families and kids this is fun and exciting work.  For at least one family—they turned around and took their child somewhere else.  While they probably didn’t realize it, both their initial decision to enroll and the one to leave, likely both significantly, negatively affected their child’s education.

Mobility matters

The more students change schools the worse they do.  I have written before about the benefits of increasing the traditional grade spans—creating 6-12s, Tk-8s, or Tk-12s.  There is a solid body of research that says children and particularly high needs children do better with fewer transitions.  And now, even more compelling data has emerged around the negative effects that any movement between schools by students has.

Edweek recently highlighted these issues, and pointed out the disturbing outcomes, not only affecting students who move, but the schools themselves and the students who remain.

In a report on student mobility by the National Academy of Sciences, Chester Hartman, the research director for the Poverty and Race Research Action Council in Washington, noted that high-poverty urban schools can have more than half of their students turn over within a single school year.

“It’s chaos,” he said in the 2010 report. “It makes all the reforms—smaller classes, better-trained teachers, better facilities—irrelevant.”

In fact, in a study of 13,000 Chicago students, University of Chicago researcher David Kerbow found those who had changed schools four or more times by 6th grade were about a year behind their classmates—but students in schools with high churn were a year behind those in more stable schools by 5th grade.

“It is unclear how school-based educational programs, no matter how innovative, could successfully develop and show long-term impact” in a high-churn school, Kerbow concluded.

So basically, if kids are mobile between schools—it doesn’t matter what schools are doing.  All those fancy powerpoints and process maps on reform, aren’t worth the toilet paper they are printed on.  A priority investment needs to be on student stability.

Why kids move?

Sometimes it is fit, the kid at the military school who might be better served at the arts school.   But often its circumstances beyond the student’s control

Again from Edweek,

The most common causes of student mobility are residential moves related to parents’ jobs or other financial instability. A 2010 Government Accountability Office study followed students who entered kindergarten in 1998 through 2007. It found 13 percent of students changed schools four or more times by the end of 8th grade, and highly mobile students were disproportionately more likely to be poor or black than students who changed schools twice or fewer times. The same study found families who did not own their own homes made up 39 percent of the most highly mobile students.

Similarly, a 2015 state policy report in Colorado, which tracks student mobility in its districts, found mobility rates in 2014-15 ranged from more than 17 percent for students in poverty to more than a third of migrant and homeless students, and more than half of all students in the foster care system.

So our most vulnerable students are most mobile, and it matters for student learning

Student mobility undercuts learning

Students, particularly high needs students, need stability in school; stable relationships, predictable routines, a sense of knowing kids and adults and being known, and any move can have huge consequences.  Again from Edweek,

Various studies have found student mobility—and particularly multiple moves—associated with a lower school engagement, poorer grades in reading (particularly in math), and a higher risk of dropping out of high school.

While research has found students generally lose about three months of reading and math learning each time they switch schools, voluntary transfers, which are more likely to happen during the summer, cause less academic disruption and may be associated with academic improvement if they lead to better services for the student.

Why this matters for Oakland

This matters for Oakland’s enrollment debate for two reasons.  First, we need to work to get the right fits for students from the outset.  To help families understand the options they have and to help them to enroll in the best school for their child.  There is something wrong where has a better system to match lovelorn White folks, than most families can find to match schools.

Secondly, we need to emphasize stability as a policy preference.  So even where families may move, we need a system where children, and particularly high needs children, can practically stay in the same schools, which may mean transportation.

Our enrollment rules and processes really are up to us.  And no reforms will root, where children are constantly churning.  With so many variables beyond our control, and many complex reforms with unproven results—giving high needs students stable learning environments is something we definitely can do, that we know will matter.

It would have mattered to the family that dis-enrolled from our maker school, who now will be pounding the pavement in Oakland for rare high quality seats, even rarer after the school year has started, and their child is likely stumbling further behind.