The Oakland Ed Week in Review 2/24/24-3/1/24 

It’s time for the Oakland Ed Week in Review!  

We’re back with an of our roundup of education news from around The Town, the Bay Area, state, and nation for your weekend reading. This is a Dirk favorite and one of the last blogs he published for Great School Voices. 

Here’s what’s been going on: 

Here in Oakland:  Oakland’s education scene reflects a dynamic tapestry this week, featuring push back on OUSD censorship, student/teacher walkouts, initiatives to combat literacy challenges through community involvement, stories of resilience like Dr. Victor Rios’s journey from gang life to academic success, and investigations into the financial crisis of longstanding institutions like the Marcus Foster Education Institute, alongside celebrations of academic achievements, athletic triumphs, and initiatives empowering youth for the future.

In the Greater Bay Area:  California Teacher of the Year, Joseph Alvarico, leads the robotics program at Concord’s Ygnacio Valley High School, navigating a limited budget to provide innovative opportunities for students in a Title I school, as reported by Tony Hicks for Fox2 KTVU Bad City News.

Throughout the State of California:  Educators nationwide struggle with students’ rampant smartphone use in classrooms, while California legislators consider removing the CalTPA test to address teacher shortages, Cal State student workers vote to unionize for better benefits, and State Superintendent Tony Thurmond celebrates California’s 2024 Distinguished Schools, among other developments in education highlighted by various publications.

Across the Nation:  Rural schools in New York, like Franklin Central School, face uncertainty and potential devastating cuts to state aid, with Governor Kathy Hochul’s budget plan threatening a reduction of nearly $1.3 million, as outlined by Erin Nolan for the New York Times.

What did we miss?  Hit us up in the comments below: 


Students, teachers walk out of Oakland school to call for Gaza cease-fire | Aside from the call for solidarity with the plight of Palestinians in the war between Israel and Hamas, the group said it was protesting the decision by the Oakland Unified School District to cancel a Feb. 25 meeting of Bay Area labor unions at the school to discuss responses to the conflict. 

Get the skinny in this article by Carlos Castaneda for CBS News KPIX.

 In other coverage by Oaklandside’s Ashley McBride entitled “Oakland middle school students hold walkout and rally for Palestine,” Ashley looks at how Student and teacher activists accused the district of ‘suppressing’ discussions about the Israel-Palestine conflict after a weekend event was canceled. Westlake students were joined by representatives from Bay Area Labor for Palestine—a coalition that includes the Oakland and San Francisco teachers unions, Arab Resource and Organizing Center, ILWU Local 10, Jewish Voice for Peace Bay Area, and others—who viewed the district’s action as censorship. 

Teachers alone can’t address the literacy crisis | Between 2019 and 2022, state legislatures passed more than 200 bills that sought to push and pull public schools to embrace the “science of reading.” Thanks to the work of organizations like The Oakland REACH and the Oakland NAACP, the OUSD started quietly overhauling its approach to literacy instruction two years ago. That work involved familiar investments in new curriculum & professional development. But the real stars of the strategy were early literacy tutors, community members — including parents and grandparents — who were trained and paid to support small groups of students working to develop foundational literacy skills. 

For more details, check out this story by Ashley Jochim in EdSource

From Oakland gang-member to renowned California academic, Dr. Victor Rios opens up about childhood | From Oakland gang-member to renowned California academic, Dr. Victor Rios opens up about childhood Some of Dr. Rios childhood friends died before reaching adulthood. Many ended up in prison, or lost themselves to drug addiction. Few graduated high school.  Dr. Rios, meanwhile, graduated with a PhD in Comparative Ethnic Studies in 2005 from UC Berkeley, and now serves as a MacArthur Foundation Chair and Professor of Sociology at UC Santa Barbara. 

Check out this Q&A by Scooty Nickerson for East Bay Times

What happened to Oakland’s Marcus Foster Education Institute? The financial meltdown of a major Oakland foundation has groups asking where the money went

The Marcus Foster Education Institute is one of the oldest and most well-regarded education nonprofits in Oakland. For decades, the institute has distributed millions of dollars to support thousands of students. It has also acted as a financial steward for educational and arts organizations, including city and school district programs funded with public money. But a mysterious financial crisis has plunged the institute into chaos and raised questions about its future.

 For details check out this article By Eli Wolfe for Oaklandside

Oakland Schools Scripps Regional Spelling Bee 2024 contestants | Meet the 2024 contestants for the Oakland Schools Scripps Regional Spelling Bee. These students were winners of spelling bees at their individual schools. They will compete in the regional bee, Saturday, March 2. The winner will go on to represent Oakland County at the Scripps National Spelling Bee. By Kathy Blake for The Oakland Press

6 of 7 Oakland high school basketball teams advance in NorCal tournament | The Town’s own version of the final four, the California Interscholastic Federation’s Oakland Section tournament championships, took place on Saturday, February 24, with Oakland Tech sweeping the Oakland High boys and girls. History might repeat itself with a final pitting Oakland High against Oakland Tech. 

For the details and analysis, see this story by Tony Daquipa for Oaklandside

Nonprofit leader Amber Blackwell-Lee’s after-school program develops youth from the ground up | Higher Ground… is an Oakland-based community program that provides safe after-school programs to over 300 elementary-aged children each year. As students grow older, Higher Ground incorporates career readiness into their programming, including career exploration activities and innovative entrepreneurship lessons. “My parents gave me a well-rounded life,” Blackwell-Lee explained. “I felt that children in Oakland at the time I started this, 20 years ago, were not experiencing that.” 

For more, read Julian Glover for ABC7

Oakland Unified Graduate Lends His Jewelry Making Creativity to Madonna’s Celebration Tour | Born and raised in Oakland, Matanda Keyes is a multitalented visual and musical artist who moved to New York six years ago to attend the Manhattan School of Music on a full scholarship.  “My father and mother are both artists – poet, singer, musicians. This, along with the gumbo of Oakland’s arts community, always encouraged me to spread into different disciplines… I had been exposed to too much to be satisfied traveling in one lane.” An Oakland Unified graduate and star musician, Matanda Keyes, is also now a jewelry maker who has a deal to make pieces for Madonna’s Celebration Tour.  

For more info & background, see the OUSD Newsroom alert

The Bay Area

California teacher of the year teaches robotics in Concord | One of five teachers named California Teacher of the Year… and the only one in Northern California – Joseph Alvarico – teaches engineering and oversees the robotics program at Concord’s Ygnacio Valley High School. “We are a Title I school, which means a lot of our students come from low-income families,” Alvarico said. “But I don’t touch any of that because it’s not enough for the rest of the school. So we try to be self-sustaining by going through different sourcing. The program runs on a $60,000 to $70,000 annual budget, which is why most similar programs are at private schools.  

Tony Hicks for KTVU Fox 2 has more

Mountain View High students sue school, principal for censorship of student paper | Students from Mountain View High School have filed a statewide lawsuit against their school on Thursday alleging censorship. “It’s a lousy sort of message to send… That if you don’t like the story that your student journalists published, you can just target their teacher who they really respect and admire,” said Mike Hiestand, senior legal counsel for the Student Press Law Center, a nonprofit group that works with student journalists across the country. 

For details check out this piece by Hamza Fahmy for KRON4

New school for teen parents opens in San Leandro | The Alameda County Office of Education (ACOE) held a ribbon-cutting grand opening ceremony on Thursday for a new school called “Carolyn Hobbs Academy” in San Leandro. The academy will house its Parenting Teen Program. It will provide on-site child care to support young parents as they work to get their high school diplomas. 

For more information check out this piece by Grace Cho for NBC

S.F. schools abandon disastrous payroll system after spending $34 million

The EMPower payroll system has caused chaos since it was launched in January 2022, resulting in error-filled paychecks — if teachers and other staff were paid at all. The problems filtered into health and retirement benefits, leaving some employees temporarily without medical coverage and others without payments into pensions.“Maybe declaring a state of emergency on this will speed up the process toward resolution,” said Chris Clauss, a special education teacher at George Washington High School, at the time. “I, however, am not holding my breath for a fast resolution.”  She wasn’t wrong.  

Dig deeper in this story by Jill Tucker for SF Chronicle

These Bay Area colleges admit the most legacy kids. That could change soon.

On Wednesday, Assemblymember Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, announced Assembly Bill 1780, a bill intended to limit the practice of legacy admissions at private colleges like Stanford and USC. The bill would ban private colleges from receiving funding through the Cal Grant program if they favor certain applicants. “We’re told that opportunities are available to anyone who works hard and gets good grades. But that’s simply not true,” Ting said in a press release. “There’s a side door for students who come from wealth or have connections.” 

For more details, click on this article by Sam Mauhay-Moore for SF Gate

The State of California 

Teachers, Legislators Struggle to Ban ‘Out of Control’ Phone Use in Schools | Around the country, educators say students routinely send Snapchat messages in class, listen to music and shop online, among countless other examples of how smartphones distract from teaching and learning. “Students used to have an understanding that you aren’t supposed to be on your phone in class. Those days are gone,” said James Granger, who requires students in his science classes at a Los Angeles-area high school to place their phones in “a cell phone cubby” with numbered slots. “The only solution that works is to physically remove the cellphone from the student.”  

For more, see the story by Jocelyn Gecker for KQED

CTA-sponsored legislation would remove one of state’s last required tests for teachers

Senate Bill 1263, authored by state Sen. Josh Newman… would do away with the California Teaching Performance Assessment, known as the CalTPA, through which teachers demonstrate their competence via video clips of instruction and written reflections on their practice. Eliminating the assessment will increase the number of effective teachers in classrooms, as the state continues to contend with a teacher shortage, said Newman, chairman of the Senate Education Committee. “One key to improving the educator pipeline is removing barriers that may be dissuading otherwise talented and qualified prospective people from pursuing a career as an educator,” Newman said in a statement to EdSource. 

For more, check out the article by Diana Lambert for Edsource

Cal State student workers voted to form a union. Here’s what students want.

Among the 20,000 student assistants working in the system, 7,750 cast a ballot, with 7,050 voting yes to a union, according to results released by the CSU Employees Union Feb. 23.  Now that undergraduate student workers in the California State University system have voted to join the staff union, their next step is to negotiate a contract. Students say they’ll be asking for sick time, fair pay and increased hours. 

Haydee Barahone, Christina Chkarboul, Jaqueline Munis & Helena San Roque have more in Cal Matters

State Superintendent Tony Thurmond Announces 2024 California Distinguished Schools

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond today announced that 293 middle schools and high schools have been selected for the prestigious 2024 California Distinguished Schools Program, California’s school recognition program that recognizes two categories of exceptional schools: those closing the achievement gap and those demonstrating exceptional student performance. “It is my pleasure to honor and recognize these 293 secondary schools for their efforts to provide exemplary public education to all students. Excellent middle schools and high schools play a critical role in the life outcomes of our young people,” Thurmond said. 

Check out the news release here by California Department of Education Communications

Turning around a high-needs Los Angeles school with the arts

Marcos Hernandez lived in a garage for years when he first came to this country from El Salvador as a refugee at age 11. He left his small pueblo of San Gerardo alone, fleeing a country ravaged by war, seeking a better life. That’s why he’s devoted his career to lifting the lives of children in Cudahy, a tiny, densely populated, and tightly knit city near the Los Angeles River and the 710 freeway, where roughly a third of the population lives below the poverty line. Hernandez went on to become the principal of a school, the Ellen Ochoa Learning Center, just a few blocks from the garage he once called home. 

Catch the story here by Karen D,Souza for Edsource

California faces high vacancy rates in school nutrition staffing

Some 12% of California school nutrition jobs stood vacant at the end of the 2022-23 school year…  Of the 190 California food service directors surveyed, 62% expressed concerns that they wouldn’t have enough staff to meet growing student participation in school meals…  and Compensation is another common hardship for California school food service directors. 

For more on this issue, check out Anna Merod for K-12 Dive

Across The Nation

Anticipating Cuts, Rural Schools Look to Upcoming N.Y. Budget With Dread

Though it has just 215 students, in kindergarten through 12th grade, Franklin Central School is the heart of its northern Catskills community. But the future of the school is uncertain, its superintendent, Bryan Ayres, said in an interview. A new budget plan announced by Gov. Kathy Hochul earlier this year could slash Franklin’s state aid by nearly $1.3 million. 

Check out the skinny here in an article by Erin Nolan for the New York Times

How teaching Black history in schools became a national controversy

How should students learn about Black history? That question is the source of controversy and tension across the country, including in St. Louis, where a school board will soon vote on new curricula. The board faced criticism last year for rejecting the Black History and Literature classes taught at the district’s high schools. The board now says African American studies courses in the upcoming school year should be what it calls politically neutral.

Check this Q&A with Zoe Abraham by Chad Davis for All Things Considered | NPR

Under Pilot Program in Texas & Florida, Tutoring Fees Depend on Student Progress

Schools spend billions of dollars annually on contracts for everything from HVAC maintenance to technology services and tutoring. Almost all agree to pay vendors for goods or services rendered, not for the student outcomes they produce. Following the example of organizations in health care, social services and both early and higher education, some districts are experimenting with outcomes-based contracting, paying vendors, at least in part, for improvements in student learning. That’s the closest one can get to a money-back guarantee in education.  

For more insights, Liz Cohen has more in The 74 Million

Data science under fire: What math do high schoolers really need?

California has been at the center of a heated debate over what math knowledge students really need to succeed in college and careers. With math scores falling nationwide, some educators have argued that the standard algebra-intensive math pathway needs a revamp, both to engage more students and to help them develop relevant skills in a world increasingly reliant on data. But other math educators have decried a move away from algebra II, which they argue remains core to math instruction and necessary for students to succeed in STEM careers and beyond. 

Javeria Salman in The Washington Post has more

Thanks to a $1 billion gift, tuition will be free at a New York City medical school

Students at Albert Einstein College of Medicine won’t have to pay tuition after the school received a $1 billion gift. Ruth Gottesman made the donation using money left to her by her late husband. 

Check out the article by Ayana Archie for NPR

Tennessee GOP leaders optimistic about universal school voucher prospects after first week of debate

Republican leaders sounded optimistic about the prospect of passing some kind of expanded school voucher program, even as they stared at three markedly different proposals during the first week of public debate in Tennessee’s legislature. All three pieces of legislation — one from Gov. Bill Lee, one from the Senate, and one from the House — have two things in common. 

To find out what, click on this piece by Marta W. Aldrich for Chalkbeat

Philadelphia teachers protest punishments for taking non-consecutive sick days

About 50 district employees rallied outside the Philadelphia school district headquarters ahead of the school board meeting on Thursday, demanding the district withdraw its policy that disciplines teachers for accumulating non-consecutive sick days, even though the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers’ contract with the district includes 10 sick days. Charlie Hudgins, an algebra teacher at Lincoln High School who attended the rally, said the policy just “doesn’t make sense.” Hudgins is one of a number of teachers who have expressed showing up to school unwell to avoid discipline. 

Click here for more from Emily Rizzo for Chalkbeat News

How 2 schools are tackling chronic absenteeism

Rewarding good attendance, analyzing data and individualizing interventions are strategies being used to improve attendance, say administrators. Victoria Simon, principal of Aberdeen Academy, a pre-K-8 school in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Ryan Broderick, assistant principal of Bristol Central High School in Bristol, Connecticut, said there have been notable improvements despite their schools’ attendance rates still being in pandemic recovery mode. 

See more by Kara Arundel for K-12 Dive

Staff cuts, absenteeism and more D.C. school issues to watch this spring

On Friday, officials from D.C. Public Schools and the offices of the state superintendent of education and deputy mayor for education will respond to concerns and field questions from lawmakers to some of the most pressing issues raised by students, teachers, parents, community leaders and advocates: Budgets, Teacher Contracts, Absenteeism, After School Programs & Early Educator Pay. 

For more, see this piece in The Washington Post By Lauren Lumpkin

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