Education in Oakland

The Nashville Solution

Posted by novometro on November 15, 2007

Earlier this month, Oakland police brass told the City Council that no one has a clue how long it will take for the police department to reach the mandated force level of 803 sworn officers. As anyone who has been paying even casual attention to the city’s rising crime rate knows, OPD is about 70 cops shy of that goal. OPD’s research predicts that in 2009 Oakland will still not have the police department voters asked for when they approved Measure Y in 2004. To paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, we are in Oakland with the police force we have, not the police force we want.

It’s time to recognize that, at least for the next two years, Oakland will have to fight crime with an undermanned, and demoralized police force. It’s pointless to squeal incessantly that Oakland needs 1,100 cops, or attack a youth center that youth actually like going to.
Instead, the Oakland Police Department, City Hall, and citizens determined to feel safer in their city, should set goals that have a prayer of being reached. As a model, there’s Nashville.

V Smoothe at A Better Oakland crunched the numbers this week, and showed that Oakland is the fourth most violent big city in the country. It also has the smallest police force of the 10 most violent big cities. Only Nashville is in that unfortunate list with a comparable number of sworn officers. We have 18 sworn officers for every 10,000 residents. Nashville has 21.

But there’s a difference. Nashville also recorded fewer violent crimes in 2006, according to numbers V Smoothe got from the United States Department of Justice. In Nashville, there were 153 violent crimes for every 10,000 residents. Oakland had 191.

Somehow, Nashville, a less eduacated and less wealthy city than Oakland, is doing more with less. If Oakland were able to bring its violent crime rate to Nashville levels, it would represent a drop of nearly 18 percent. Over the course of a year, that’s 1,600 fewer armed robberies, rapes, and murders.

The mayor and the police chief say that putting the police department on a 12-hour shift, and reorganizing command to a geographic division will improve policing in Oakland. City Hall and police brass should put a number to this promise. Committing to cut violent crime by 18 percent in two years is a fair place to start.


Posted in Oakland | 1 Comment »

Oakland Students Forced to Study and Eat with Rats

Posted by novometro on October 9, 2007

Alameda County Office of Education inspections conducted in the spring, found that “dozens of OUSD schools have dangerous and unhealthy conditions,” according to a letter civil rights lawyers mailed to Oakland Unified officials last week.

An OUSD spokesman said they don’t have a complete copy of the letter, but the 11 out of 29 pages he faxed over to me reveal that the ACLU of Southern California, Public Advocates Inc., and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights uncovered some dirt. Literally.

For example, at Life Academy, a high school with nearly 300 students on International Boulevard, the inspectors discovered a “filthy” staff restroom, an unflushable toilet on the fourth floor girl’s restroom, and a rodent infestation. You can almost hear the inspector gagging as he or she writes, “site conditions appear that the facility and restrooms are not maintained or cleaned on a consistent basis…”

There were more rats. Students at Oakland Technical High School should know that the inspectors discovered a rodent infestation in the cafeteria and kitchen. Roosevelt Middle School also suffers from a plague of rodents.

The lawyers who wrote to Vince Matthews, OUSD’s new state administrator, are co-counsel for the plaintiffs in Williams v. California, a lawsuit which claimed that state agencies failed to provide “public school students with equal access to instructional materials, safe and decent school facilities, and qualified teachers.”

In 2004, the case was settled with extra state money earmarked for some schools. But as the lawyers write, there has been a continuing lack of compliance on the part of OUSD. Just ask the students in the nine classrooms at Santa Fe Elementary who had no heat last winter. Or the students at Skyline High School, who go to a school where 60 percent of the lights are dead.

If I can get an electronic copy of the whole 29-page letter, I’ll post it here.

Update: Here’s the whole letter: Civil Rights Letter

Posted in Oakland | 7 Comments »


Posted by novometro on October 1, 2007

Aimee Allison, the former candidate for Oakland City Council and the coauthor of the recently published anti-military recruiting manual Army of None is the new host of KPFA’s Morning Show. Talk radio is a good venue for her. And I’m not saying that because she invited me on Monday morning to talk with her and the Berkeley Daily Planet’s Jesse Douglas Allen Taylor about Mayor Ron Dellums. If you want to listen to the 30-minute show, the download is here.

Posted in Oakland | 2 Comments »

Should OUSD Volunteers Be Fingerprinted

Posted by novometro on September 24, 2007

The school year is only a few weeks old, but the parents at Crocker Highlands Elementary have already collectively spent $8,400 to help out at the school. The money will pay for fingerprinting 110 parental volunteers. According to Ray McFadden, a parent at Crocker Highlands, who has refused to give his fingerprints, the school’s principal is enforcing a vague and ill-defined three-year-old directive from Oakland Unified School District.

Mr. McFadden is resisting for privacy reasons. He doesn’t want to give his fingerprints to a government agency without knowing where they will go, and what they will be used for. While a parent’s first reaction might be to say, “Better no volunteers at my kid’s school, than one pedophile,” the questions raised by Mr. McFadden’s dissidence betray the Bushian dodge in that response.

Sending fingerprints to the Department of Justice (if that is where they are going) doesn’t guarantee that child molesters will be weeded from the ranks of volunteers. And, as Mr. McFadden says, doesn’t the state attorney general already maintain a free, public database of convicted sex offenders? If the fingerprints reveal that Emma’s mommy served time for a string of Kansas bank robberies in the 80’s before marrying a lawyer and moving to Trestle Glen, would she barred from field trips?

While the $75 charge for fingerprinting is hard on some parents at Crocker Highlands, it’s not a burden for the majority. That’s not the case at every school in Oakland. Santa Fe Elementary School in North Oakland, for example, raised only around $3,000 from parents last year.

And the rule being applied at Crocker this year is not in force everywhere in OUSD. That could be because no one seems to know exactly what the state education code and OUSD policy require in terms of background checks for volunteers. If the school district does get around to clarifying its position, it should exempt parents from having to give fingerprints before volunteering at their child’s school.

Posted in Oakland | Leave a Comment »

Small School Report

Posted by novometro on September 24, 2007

Oakland Unified School District has opened 48 small schools since 2003. Based on models pioneered in New York and Chicago, the small schools were designed to reform Oakland’s overcrowded failing schools in the flatlands. The first major evaluation of Oakland’s small school experiment is on the school board agenda for Wednesday.

The outside evaluators present a generally positive report as well as some interesting demographics. Small schools serve a student population that is 53 percent Latino, 38 percent English language learners, and so poor that 78 percent are eligible for a free or reduced price lunch.

Posted in Oakland | 1 Comment »

Flattery Will Get You Everywhere

Posted by novometro on September 21, 2007

I wonder what took Mayor Ron Dellums so long. After months of bad press from the San Francisco Chronicle’s Chip Johnson, the mayor finally sat down with the columnist in a man-to-man interview and won him over. All it took to unlock Mr. Johnson’s vanity it seems was some tough guy theater. According to Mr. Johnson the mayor flattered him with some hard stares, and snapped, “I’m no punk,” in reference to the columnist’s earlier coverage. Mr. Johnson fired back that he also was not a punk.

With it established that there were no cream puffs at this meeting, the mayor was free to convince the newspaperman that while it may look like he has not been doing much since he took office, he is just not the sort of guy who goes around publicizing his hard work and accomplishments.

This is a conclusion that Mr. Johnson could have reached without meeting the mayor in person. The mayor and his backers have been saying the same thing all summer.

And for all we know, it’s true. But the ease with which the mayor curbed his most consistent and prominent media watchdog is a reminder that Oakland residents need to demand the transparency in City Hall that the mayor promised and the law requires. Let’s get that official calendar online.

Posted in Oakland | 8 Comments »

Meeting for Space School Students

Posted by novometro on September 19, 2007

Andi McDaniel writes in NovoMetro Wednesday that the two space academies have run out of options. On Tuesday, the state board of education opted to uphold OUSD’s decision to revoke the charters. OUSD is holding a meeting Wednesday night to help parents and students find new schools. The meeting starts at 5 pm at OUSD headquarters, 1025 Second Avenue.

Posted in Oakland | 1 Comment »

Kimberly Statham Resigns, Vincent Matthews Appointed interim State Administrator

Posted by novometro on September 14, 2007

Update: Jack O’Connell, the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, appointed Vincent Mathews interim State Administrator. He has spent the past five months serving as Ms. Statham’s chief-of-staff.

She never looked comfortable in the job. And she had lost the confidence of the school board. It was obvious over the last few weeks that the governing board would never hire her once they have their powers restored. Ms. Statham did not want to be the last Viceroy, so she announced her resignation Friday. Here is her letter.
To the People of Oakland:

I joined the Oakland Unified School District 28 months ago with a great hopefulness accompanied by the mixture of anxiety and anticipation typical of anyone who endeavors to take on great challenges. At the time I was not, as you know me now, head of OUSD, but rather its Chief Academic Officer. Yet, even in this supporting role, I was aware of the awesome responsibility before me, one that has grown exponentially since my own appointment as State Administrator almost exactly one year ago today.

In the intervening months, my experience at OUSD has been constantly challenging, occasionally thrilling, at times a bit daunting, but always rewarding and indisputably worthwhile. The people of Oakland are bursting with a spirit and energy that is wonderful to behold and the promise of their children is as rich and diverse as the community itself.

It has been a tremendous privilege to serve this remarkable city and every day I awoke to my position as State Administrator I thanked the parents of Oakland for entrusting me with the education of their children. That is a sacred trust and one I was honored to uphold.

So, it is with both sadness and regret that I announce my resignation as State Administrator of the Oakland Unified School District, effective today. This is not a decision I reached easily, but one which I was compelled to make due to personal circumstances which can no longer exist in conflict with my professional duties.

During my time as State Administrator, I have emphasized the active role that a nurturing family can play in ensuring high levels of student achievement. Now, I must attend to my own family. I can do so knowing that the children of Oakland are in a better position to not only expect, but attain success as a result of the academic initiatives we have implemented at Oakland Unified.

The countless good works carried out by the men and women of OUSD are too numerous to list here, but as I reflect upon our accomplishments one fact in particular brings me special satisfaction. Since 2003, OUSD has nearly doubled the percentage of students qualified to attend University of California and California State University schools. For our African-American and Latino students, that percentage more than doubled. We can achieve, and we have achieved.

This is a tremendous testament to Oakland Unified’s invaluable staff, its principals and teachers who have devoted their lives to bettering those of their students, and the students themselves who have embraced the challenge put before them. I thank all of you for your heroic efforts and for allowing me to play a role in them. The battle is not won by any means, but we have claimed an important fight. More Oakland students are prepared for success in college and career today than on that morning 28 months ago when I first arrived at OUSD. For that, we can all be grateful.

It is now my fondest hope that whomever follows me will be able to accelerate the progress we have made in Oakland and speed the city closer toward that day when all its students graduate prepared to thrive in college, the workplace and in life.


Dr. Kimberly Statham, State Administrator, Oakland Unified School District

Posted in Oakland | 3 Comments »

Oakland Space Academies: Mission Scrubbed?

Posted by novometro on September 12, 2007

Nearly a year ago, the Junior Space Exploration Academy and the Space Exploration Academy opened their doors in West Oakland with a plan to pioneer space-themed education in one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods.

The schools broke new ground, but it was not the sort of trailblazing they had hoped for when they launched with more than $1 million in startup money from the state. In February, their charters became the first to be revoked by Kimberley Statham, OUSD’s chief. Using a new law that had gone into effect only one month before, the charter schools became the first to stay open while appealing the revoked charters to the Alameda County Board of Education and the State Board of Education.

If the state board follows the advice of the California Department of Education next week, and votes to uphold OUSD’s revocation, the two charter schools will lose funding from the state and almost certainly close.

Greg Geeting, the interim director of charter schools for the California Department of Education, says that because this is the first time a charter school has appealed to the State Board of Education, the vote can’t be predicted.

When Ms. Statham yanked the charters only a few months after the schools opened, the schools’ backers argued that OUSD should at least wait until the students had taken standardized tests and the results could show if the program was working. The scores are out and they won’t help the schools stay open.

For example, of the 15 students in the Space Exploration Academy who took standardized tests in the spring, only one was deemed proficient in math. The State Board of Education meeting is September 18. The report from the CDE is here.

Posted in Oakland | Leave a Comment »

OUSD Test Score Slide Show

Posted by novometro on September 11, 2007

On Wednesday, OUSD will present this slide show detailing the district’s sorry performance on standardized tests in 2007. Nearly half of all students in the district are “below basic” or “far below basic” in math, and 41 percent of OUSD students fall into the same categories in reading and writing. Looking for some scrap of good news, two schools (Parker Elementary and Bella Vista) managed to test their way out of what’s known as Program Improvement. That’s a No Child Left Behind designation that leads to the school being shut down after too many years of being in the dreaded “PI.” Two schools (Rise Community and Far West High) on the brink of “PI” avoided the fate.

Posted in Oakland | Leave a Comment »