Copy successful programs and plant them in struggling schools

Note- this is an updated version of the Paideia piece, the Tribune wanted to publish it but I needed to add 100 plus words, you can find it in the Trib at

A weird thing happened recently at the Oakland Unified school board meeting. A real, substantive, solution-oriented question was asked by the Oakland Education Association: Why don’t we have more Paideias?

Paideia is the wildly popular and academically successful Oakland Tech program that actually draws students from private middle schools back into the district (shocking, I know).

It’s not new; its success is not new. So why haven’t we worked to develop something similar at Fremont or McClymonds, or as a stand-alone somewhere in the Deep East or Deep West?

Coming back to Oakland after a decade away, it’s the same nonsense, same large high schools that are struggling, same types of turnaround strategies and it seems like the same outcomes, more or less.

At the same time, we have some very popular and successful district schools and programs that are oversubscribed, deliver strong outcomes, but basically don’t grow or replicate.

And when you look at the more popular schools in Oakland (that aren’t necessarily in the hills), most of them are survivors of the New Small Autonomous Schools movement — Life Academy, MetWest, Urban Promise, Think College Now, Ascend, among others.

These were schools that were seeded in the community and with Oakland educators. Resources were invested into leadership development, and teams had more than a year of planning and studying high-achieving models, and in many cases they had partners.

Turnarounds tend to mean that the existing overworked staff at the struggling school now take on the task of re-imagining it — while they still do their day jobs. And the cycle of turnaround means that every few years we are going back to the same schools, asking for a new plan. Ask folks at Castlemont how many turnarounds they have been through.

So instead of these endless, dizzying turnarounds — which haven’t seemed to work — how about a deliberate partnership and replication strategy?

Why don’t we grow another Paideia in Fremont, or a Life 2 at Castlemont, or a Met Deep West at Mack? Why don’t we borrow best practices, and develop staff in the initial school who can carry the vision to the new one, with an ongoing partnership to support quality?

There are often assistant principals at these schools with skills and the yearning to grow. Let’s support them in starting a sister school. It’s not easy, but it’s not magic.

Returning to Oakland, it’s depressing to see the same mess, hear the same talk over and over, while we see basically the same dismal results for our most deserving students. So we keep redesigning our failing high schools when we have designs that work.

Replication happens all the time in private and charter schools and tends to be an effective strategy — why not with the district?

And while recent OUSD meetings have been spectacles of the absurd, with OEA BAMN caucus members ranting and rambling about “Jim Crow,” this meeting was a welcome return to sanity. Thank you OEA for asking that question.

I think I am still waiting for a good answer.

What do you think?

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