Education in Oakland

Archive for April, 2007

The Mayor versus the Media

Posted by novometro on April 27, 2007

Mayor Ron Dellums said Thursday that he will soon announce a new public safety director attached to his office, and that the Alameda County District Attorney has agreed to deputize two city attorneys with the aim of going after “quality of life” crimes like graffiti and troublesome liquor stores.

The news came not at an official press conference, but at a town hall meeting at Frick Middle School. City Councilperson Desley Brooks’ hosting of the mayor in her district represented one of Mr. Dellums’ few public appearances since he took office in January. He used the occasion to briefly mock the news media for obsessing on artificial timetables like the “First 100 Days.”

Mr. Dellums is admirably willing to listen to every voice, every group, every minority population as he turns Oakland into a model city. He said Thursday night that he would sit down with the city’s most significant criminals and listen to what they needed to live honest lives, if they would in turn give the city relief from nightly gunfire.

The mere mention of prejudice in Mr. Dellums’ presence provokes a tap on the sternum with a clenched fist, a narrowing of the eyes, and a repetition of his vow to be a sworn enemy of bigotry. Yes. Everyone has a place at the table – everyone except local reporters. They are the one group it’s still OK to ridicule. When Mr. Dellums speaks of reporters, it’s either as a risible bunch of nudniks, who just don’t get it, or as a malicious force working against the interest of good people. The pastor who swore Mr. Dellums into office asked God to protect the new mayor from reporters.

A column in Friday’s Berkeley Daily Planet outlines a tussle between local media and Mr. Dellums over the names of the task forces the mayor established following his victory at the polls last summer. Reporters wanted the names of the task forces. The mayor didn’t want to release them. The East Bay Express obtained the names this week.

The Daily Planet column works hard to claim that Mr. Dellums was not being secretive by keeping the names of the task forces out of the public eye. The author even suggests that the task forces were not “hush-hush” because better metro reporters, or metro reporters with more time, would have been able to ferret out the names from Oakland’s always gossipy citizens. Thankfully there are sunshine laws that prevent the public from having to rely on the chattiness of officials to learn about the workings of their government.

The author does not say if the Daily Planet asked the mayor’s office for the names of the task forces, and if not, then why not.

The Daily Planet column began like Mr. Dellums’ public address at Frick Middle School Thursday night, with a jab at the previous administration of Jerry Brown. Mr. Dellums told the audience that much of his time has been spent sorting out the sloppy record keeping of his predecessor. The Daily Planet column opens with the claim that Mr. Brown’s administration was among the “most secretive in our lifetime.”

But if it’s true that Mr. Brown was bad with files and secretive, he’s not the only one. The City Clerk’s office said Friday that Mr. Dellums’ host Thursday night, Desley Brooks, is three months late filing her most recent campaign contribution report. Sloppiness or secrecy? Who knows? But at least we don’t have to rely on gossip to find out about it.


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OUSD on the Exit Exam

Posted by novometro on April 25, 2007

The Oakland Unified School District just issued a press release announcing that the district is aiming for 100 percent pass rate on this year’s high school exit exam. It hadn’t occurred to me that OUSD would have made anything less than 100 percent a goal, but I suppose a noble ambition is worth repeating.

The press release says that 79 percent, or 1,538, of OUSD’s seniors have already passed the test. A remaining 404 still have to clear the hurdle to graduate. Almost 80 percent sounds pretty good. But what the press release does not mention is that when today’s seniors first took the test two years ago as sophomores, OUSD counted 3,523 10th graders. What happened to those 1,600 students? Not all of them moved.

Two years ago, 54 percent of 10th graders passed the English Language Arts portion of the test, and 57 percent passed the math section. If OUSD wants to write press releases announcing targets that we all should be taking for granted, they might want to consider a 100 percent pass rate on the exit exam for 10th graders. Then they could shoot for a zero percent drop out rate.

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Better Than All Bad News

Posted by novometro on April 12, 2007

There was some mildly heartening news Thursday from two Oakland beats that can usually be counted on to generate depressing headlines: The murder rate and Oakland schools.

The Oakland Tribune reports that a Washington D.C. education policy center found that Oakland students along with their counterparts in other large, urban school districts are making impressive gains in academic achievement.

And the San Francisco Chronicle writes that the city’s homicide rate is down by a third compared to this time last year.

The Trib story fails to mention that a growing debate about the effectiveness of No Child Left Behind underpins the cited study from the Council of the Great City Schools, which was the only “national mainstream organization” to endorse NCLB in 2001.

The Chron article also contains a spot of bleak news marring what would otherwise be a hopeful story. While murders are down, the number of shots fired in the city is up. The maiming and the terror caused by gunfire might be a more accurate yardstick than death tolls to measure how safe we feel in our city.

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Dellums and The Cato Complex

Posted by novometro on April 10, 2007

While he was campaigning last spring and summer, Ron Dellums loved to play the role of the reluctant statesman. It’s a routine as old as Democracy. After conducting the people’s business for many years, the great legislator wants nothing more than to tend to his crops (Or in Dellums’ case the clients of his lobbying firm). If only the people didn’t need him so much. But 100 days into his term as Oakland’s mayor, and one begins to wonder if it wasn’t just an act. Maybe Dellums really would rather be back on the farm.

Both the San Francisco Chronicle and the Oakland Tribune take a look at the mayor’s first 100 days, and they arrive at fairly similar conclusions: The People are underwhelmed. A woman caught by the Chron’s “man on the street” feature said it best when she was asked to rate the mayor’s first 100 days: “”Who? I haven’t seen hide nor hair of the man.”

The Trib story had some startling revelations from Dellums’ press secretary. Chief among them was the news that Dellums was caught off guard by the complexity of City Hall. This was a man who wrangled with the Pentagon when he was chair of the House Armed Services Committee. It’s hard to know what to make of that confession.

The press secretary also admitted to the Trib that Dellums needs to get out more often. Let’s hope her boss agrees. My problem with Dellums so far is one of style over substance. When confronted so frequently by their many bad qualities (vanity, mendacity, greed, and arrogance), it’s easy to overlook a more positive character trait common to politicians. They are an energetic breed. Go visit the state capitol some early morning hour in June when the Legislator is hammering out a budget. You will see overweight, sleep-deprived, middle-aged lawmakers cavorting like cub scouts at a sleepover. While the cynical press corps is falling asleep, there is nowhere else these pols would rather be. They love it.

Oakland doesn’t need a mayor who pretends he didn’t really want the post, it needs a mayor who can at least pretend to love the job.

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You Go First

Posted by novometro on April 9, 2007

The San Francisco Chronicle reports from Taipei Monday on the surprising failure of municipal wireless Internet to take hold in that city. It was only 15 months ago that Taiwan’s capital city was touted as a pioneer in municipal wifi. Now we learn that there are only 30,000 regular users of the service. That means there are 7 customers for every antenna the city erected.

This makes Oakland’s wait-and-watch approach to building its own wireless network look pretty smart. The last time I spoke to Bob Glaze, the city’s IT director, he said his office was still waiting for proposals from companies that would prepare the muni wifi study. Meantime, he would be watching how muni wifi rolled out in San Francisco and other big cities that jumped in first.

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The Old Boy’s Club

Posted by novometro on April 2, 2007

Two people, who claimed they were backing “sensible development” in Temescal, were distributing literature near the DMV farmer’s market Sunday morning. I heard one of them say that they were raising money for legal fees, which presumably would be used to slow down a number of condo projects proposed for Telegraph Avenue between 40th and 51st Streets.

I asked one of the people what their objections to the condos were? I was told that the five-story buildings were “out of scale” with the neighborhood. Traffic is also an issue.  I suspect the latter is the real problem for these people. It would be insane to hinder development along a transportation corridor near a BART station because of aesthetics.

Unlike the Temescal  Farmer’s Market crowd, which is mainly composed of white couples in their 20’s and 30’s with toddlers,  the  people campaigning for “sensible development” (they said they were with some organization called STAND), were a good deal older.

What’s eating these seniors? (The majority of the money used to fund the anti-Oak to Ninth referendum comes from retired people.) Are they afraid that their golden years will be squandered waiting for left turns, and searching fruitlessly for parking in the Walgreen’s parking lot? If so, it’s a short-sighted perspective, and one that leaves an awful legacy for future Oaklanders.

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