Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Oakland school officials scramble to turn heat on

Thousands of students in Oakland are suffering through another chilly day of unheated classrooms. It's been going on for a week and a half now and the rain is leaving them wet and cold. The big chill problem started after the school district's plan to save energy backfired. At least 20 schools are still having trouble of one kind or another with its heating system.
Moravia Thomas is all bundled up for her day at Kaiser Elementary School, where the temperature inside the classroom is pretty much what it is outside the classroom.
The school district turned the heat off over the Thanksgiving break to save money, and when it tried to turn it back on there was no heat at 72 school sites. Thomas' dad Devon Thomas is waiting to see what happens next. "I'm not really cool with it, but if there is an upside to it, they can put something up in the classroom. I hope the district addresses it sooner than later," he said Rebecca Weber is mother of four students at Kaiser and she is not cool with the cold classrooms. "The kids should be warm, there should be heat especially in the winter, and it's getting cold," she said. The principal at Kaiser, Mel Stenger, says most of the technicians trained to work on steam heating systems have been laid off. "The boiler is telling the central buildings and grounds feedback that it is on, and it is indeed on, but it's not heating the school," he had. "We have a lot of older equipment which doesn't take well to being shut down and re-started. It doesn't always come back to full capacity and in other cases parts break, they have to be re-ordered and installed and it created a huge delay," Oakland Unified School District Spokesman Troy Flint said. The district apologizes for going dark and not being able to snap out of it. This money saving experiment is over. "It was a well-intentioned plan, but it was a very flawed policy for this specific context and we won't do it again," Flint said. The school district administration building was hit by this heating problem. It was one of the first buildings to go back on line because it did not require any new parts, as so many of the old heating systems did. Kaiser may have its heat back by late Wednesday afternoon.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Wedding bells ring in school for Oakland teacher couple

The last day of school is often chaos with cupcakes. But in June the students at Oakland's Hillcrest Elementary School got a big surprise. There were cupcakes, but something else, too.
It was the final school day of the year and Hillcrest's 300 children were assembled at "morning meeting" when wedding music started to blare from a boom box. Miss Chang, the school's beloved first-grade teacher, appeared in a wedding dress. Slowly, she descended the stairs to the schoolyard. Waiting for her there was Mr. Inclan, the school's popular physical education teacher. And more magically, he was wearing a suit and tie.
It was the first time anyone had seen the gym teacher in long pants.
The kids went wild. Principal Beverly Rothenberg led a six-minute ceremony that was both legal and moving. And by the time the bell rang, Candace Chang Inclan, 35, and Jesse Inclan, 50, were back in Miss Chang's - ahem, Ms. Inclan's - classroom. The rest of the day was spent celebrating with games and - of course, cupcakes.
"A perfect wedding day," remembers Candace, who says the moment of the wedding kiss was most amusing. With students ranging from kindergarten to eighth grade, there were both "oooooooohs" and "eeewwwwws."
The path to this crazy wedding day was nearly as unusual as the wedding itself. In 2002, Candace's best friend was house-sitting at Jesse's Orinda home while he was on vacation with his then-wife. Though Candace had even done laundry at his home, the two didn't meet for another year. Their paths crossed at Hillcrest, where Candace had just started teaching and where Jesse worked half time. With both in long-term relationships, it took until 2006 for them to become friends. By then Candace had broken a decadelong entanglement and Jesse was swamped with a divorce.
A friendship was born of a shared love of hiking and an ear to help each other through rough life transitions. In 2007, however, Jesse felt something shift, but he had hesitations about blowing the friendship. Taking a direct approach, before school on a Friday he asked his co-worker straight out if she had feelings for him.
"Jesse is never early to work," Candace says coyly, "so I knew it was important when he asked to talk." She admitted that she, too, wanted to see where things between them might lead.
At work, the romance was kept under wraps, despite rumors. A year later, after Candace had proposed and Jesse accepted, their colleagues were free to settle the bets that had speculated on their relationship.
Jesse, who was born in Mexico City, wonders what might have happened if they'd met earlier in life. Candace was born in Korea.
"It's a miracle we found each other," he says. Candace, smiling, obviously agrees.

What would you tell your students about love?
Candace: "Don't settle - I was (spinning) my wheels in my other relationship; this one works."
Jesse: "You never know where you will find it."

Sunday, December 5, 2010

How Many of Our Students Live in Poverty?

The number we often hear for the proportion of our students who live in poverty is in the range of 20% to 23%. But Susan Ohanian has flagged some frightening data from the Department of Education's Data Express. The number of students receiving free or reduced price lunches has grown significantly, and in 2008-2009 44% of our nation's students were eligible. In the state of California, 52% are eligible. In Mississippi, 68% are eligible, and the prize for the lowest proportion goes to New Hampshire, with 20% eligible. In the city of Oakland, where I have worked for the past 24 years, more than 68% of the students were eligible.
What does this mean in terms of income? Each state sets an income level that makes one eligible. In California, a family of four with an annual gross income of less than $28,665 qualifies for a free lunch, while reduced price lunches are available for students with a family income less than $40,793.

Is this a reflection of true poverty?
Think about your own family's income. I know my California household would have a very hard time getting along on this amount, and there would be no margin of safety if someone lost a job or had hours cut back. We are seeing elements of our societal safety net eroded every week. Several million Americans are about to lose unemployment benefits after having lost their jobs in the recession, and we are being told these jobs may not return. Many of these millions are parents. How are their children going to be affected by seeing their parents financially ruined?
College degrees do not offer much protection from the insecurity that has become the norm, especially for those just out of college. Andrew Sum reports

Young college educated workers, particularly those 25 and under, however, have not fared very well over the past three years. They have experienced rising joblessness, underemployment, and malemployment problems (i.e. working in jobs that do not require a college degree). During the January-August period of 2010, we estimate that fewer than 50 of every 100 young B.A.-holders held a job requiring a college degree.
In films like Waiting for Superman, student achievement in the US is compared unfavorably to outcomes in countries such as Finland. However, Finland has less than 5% of its children being raised in poverty. And the country has a strong social safety net, so that children are not in danger of eviction and deprivation.
As Stephen Krashen has pointed out, poverty is closely correlated to school achievement. Those of us who have worked in these schools know firsthand why this is so. Poverty is associated with poor health, poor nutrition, lousy day-care and pre-schools, dangerous and violent neighborhoods, family instability and even violence, poor access to dental and vision care, and so on.

Our education secretary styles himself a civil rights leader.
But Arne Duncan last week gave a speech that called on us to accept that the "new normal" in education will be budget cuts and "doing more with less." This speech before the American Enterprise Institute, was lauded by National Review columnists Frederick Hess and Michael Petrilli, who wrote:

In one speech, this (Democratic) secretary of education came out swinging against "last hired, first fired," seniority-based pay raises, smaller class sizes, seat time, pay bonuses for master's degrees, and bloated special-education budgets. Which means he just declared war on the teachers' unions, parents' groups, education schools, and the special-education lobby. Not bad for a day's work.
When the unions start busing in kids, parents, and teachers to rally against increases in class size or pay freezes, expect a lot of Republican governors to start quoting their good friend Arne Duncan.
Our schools ought to be places of refuge for children in poverty. Often the free or reduced price lunch is their only solid meal of the day. Smaller class sizes allow teachers the chance to give more attention to individual students, who need it all the more when their families are financially stressed. Sadly, Secretary Duncan appears to be doing his best to clear the way for cuts to the schools and attacks on teachers and students. It looks like we are going to need to start handling this ourselves. The group I started just over a year ago, Teachers' Letters to Obama, has decided to join others in organizing a non-partisan conference and march in Washington, DC, next July 28 to 31.
What do you think? How many of your students are eligible for free or reduced price lunches? Does this equate with poverty? Are you ready to get active yourself around these issues?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

We Should Be Careful With Our Words

by Steve Neat
Communications Chair and OEA Secretary 

Charter schools have a track record of inconsistency at best. A Stanford University (2009) study—the most comprehensive done yet—found that only 17% of charter schools outperformed public schools according to the tests that receive the most attention as the only evidence of effectiveness. 37% did not perform as well as traditional public schools. Charter schools, however, represent a critical step away from traditional public schools, where public money goes to a public entity run by democratically elected officials, and towards yet another privatization scam. Charter schools are private entities funded by public money. They are semi-private. Look up charter in the dictionary. It's defined as "an official document in which certain rights are given by the government to a business." "Public charter" is an oxymoron. Certainly there are some charters that are wonderful neighborhood schools, but schools of this kind could be—and have been—replicated under the traditional public school model. Charter schools have been agents of destruction in New Orleans in the wake of Katrina. A parent there put it best when she said, "They stole our public schools, and they stole our democracy while we were out of town." Here in Oakland they are stealing our public education and our democracy and we don't even have the excuse of being out of town. It's not only particular charters here and there that are failing. The entire charter movement has failed, whether you call them public or not.

Time and again in the past 20 years experiment after experiment has used our students--particularly our students of color--as guinea pigs in attempts to close the "achievement gap." We do not have an achievement gap. We have a poverty gap and we have a funding gap. Of course poverty is not such an easy problem to solve, nor is the problem of adequate school funding, so we have to invent problems that have a simpler solution. The latest idea is that the problem is ineffective teachers protected by unions. So now the solution is to use test score pay to prod teachers into finally educating the children (I'm not sure what they think we've been doing). They used to call it merit pay. But since "merit" really just means "worth" or "goodness," perhaps the term was too vague. Its new name is the value-added model because however extensive is the damage done to our society by the corporate world, the business of America is business. The corporate world sets the agenda and the corporate world decides our vocabulary list. Money is made from public schools. More money could be made if schools were completely privatized and unions were eviscerated.

Just as is the case with charter schools, all evidence indicates that the value-added model (latest study coming from Vanderbilt, September this year) is not effective in raising students' test scores. So even if we start with the loaded assumption that higher scores on bubble-in, high-stakes, once-a-year tests somehow equates with education, test score pay does not improve the education of our children. Yet test score pay continues to be pushed. Even within the text of Measure L the adjective "effective" was inserted before "teachers." Why? I consult my dictionary again and I find that "effective" is defined as "bringing about the result wanted." Now isn't that interesting? What is the result wanted? That was never explained by the people who—at the very last minute inserted the word "effective" in the ballot language of Measure L. Did that word lead to the loss of the measure? It was certainly a factor, and when a vote is so close, any factor could have been the difference. The fact of the matter is the value-added model has no merit, whatever new name for it you come up with. In addition, people in positions of power in education shouldn’t throw around terms like “effective” without clearly defining what they mean.

I'm not a billionaire TV personality. I'm not a failed Chicago schools chief turned Education Tsar. I'm not a millionaire motion picture director. I'm not even an OUSD director. But I have been a classroom teacher for nearly a decade now and I'm getting very tired of buzzwords and schemes like public charter, merit pay, value-added, effective, and rigor (which I bet you didn't know actually means "great scrictness or harshness"). My brother was in the Air Force for 6 years. We've had lots of conversations about euphamisms (“blue-on-blue mishap,” “insurgent,” etc.). I find it particularly offensive that some people who purport to have the best interests of our children at heart use words in the same deceitful way as people who are in the business of killing. If they want to use words in the same way as those who wage war, then I declare a war of words on them. Every time I hear "public charter" I will say "you mean semi-private school." Every time I hear "achievement gap" I will say "you mean poverty gap, or funding gap." Every time I hear "merit pay" I will say "you mean test score pay." Every time I hear "value-added model" I will say "you mean business model." Every time I hear "rigor" and every time I hear "effective" I will ask "What do you mean?" and when they give me their answer, then I will say, "I think you need to pick a more accurate word."

I urge all of you to do the same.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

2010/2011 Issue 2: OEA Advocate

2010/2011 Issue 1: Parent Teacher Connection

Read Betty Olson-Jones' Blog: Not Waiting for Superman

Blog By Betty Olson-Jones on Oakland Seen | Published October 13, 2010
With all the recent buzz about the new film “Waiting for Superman,” it’s no wonder many people continue to think that public education in America is in desperate shape and if we don’t do something we will not be able to compete economically around the world. That “something” called “school reform” usually consists of relying heavily on promoting publicly-financed but privately-run charters schools, judging teachers by student test scores, and bashing unions for a whole slew of wrongs including protecting “bad teachers” and refusing to budge on seniority. The fallacies in this approach have been refuted again and again, but they keep popping up.
Hmmm… could it have something to do with the fact that the self-proclaimed “reformers” have the ear of the Obama Administration, and are heavily financed by the “Billionaire Boys’ Club” (as described in Diane Ravitch’s excellent book The Death and Life of the Great American School System)? As an example, Schools Matter blog reported this week that Bill Gates has sunk $2 million over seven months into media publicity for the movie (“Bill Gates, the West Coast Promo Man”).
Before you’re tempted to jump on that bandwagon, be sure to check out the growing list of critiques popping up all over the country – from teachers and educators who are tired of being vilified and blamed for the very real problems that do plague public education. Rather than repeat what’s already being said eloquently, I want to use my space to share with you some of what’s out there:
1) Check out Rethinking Schools’ Not Waiting for Superman website
2) Sign up on Facebook to the Not Waiting For Superman page
3) Former Berkeley High Journalism teacher and current Adjunct Professor at USF Rick Ayers wrote a piece, “What ‘Superman’ Got Wrong, point by point”
4) By LouAnne Johnson, assistant professor of teacher education at Santa Fe Community College, a piece called “How to Save Schools Right Now: Let Teachers Teach
A sampling of the article: We don’t have to wait for Superman to save our public schools. We can save our schools ourselves. Right now. Without firing the teachers or disbanding their unions. Without creating more standardized tests. Without pitting schools against each other in a race for dollars which should rightfully be divided equally among the school-age children of this country. As with many complex problems, the answer is a simple one — so simple that it is overlooked. The answer can be stated in seven words that even a child could understand: Train teachers well — then let them teach.
I could go on, but this will give you plenty to think about. While you’re at it, ask yourselves why another film on education isn’t getting half the hype – “Race to Nowhere” presents a chilling portrayal of the damage being done to students by the excessive focus on testing, the pressure to get into the “best” colleges, and being so stressed and overscheduled that some students are resorting to suicide. I guess Bill Gates and his pals in the Billioinaire Boys’ Club aren’t interested in spending money to publicize that kind of truth. Be sure to check out this excellent film:

Why Michelle Rhee's Education 'Brand' Failed in D.C.

Natalie Hopkinson
Natalie Hopkinson - Natalie Hopkinson is a Washington writer and author of the forth
 coming Go-Go Live: The Musical Life and Death of a Chocolate City. Follow her on Twitter

The urban education reform movement just got a much-needed reality check as D.C. Democratic primary voters fired Mayor Adrian Fenty, and effectively along with him one of the movement's biggest superstars, District schools chief Michelle Rhee. Chancellor Rhee was as a key, polarizing figure in Fenty's reelection campaign, which ended when he was defeated in the Tuesday primary by his challenger, D.C. Council Chairman Vincent Gray.

Rhee brazenly politicized her job as Schools Chancellor in a way that may be unprecedented for education bureaucrats. Back in the spring, the charitable arm of Wal-Mart and other corporate foundations threatened to yank millions they had donated to break the teacher's union if Rhee was not retained. Then Rhee not so subtly hinted to a reporter that she would not work for Gray. Finally, the weekend before the election, Rhee hit the campaign trail along with Fenty to round up votes in the wealthiest ward in Washington.

D.C. voters responded with a resounding rejection of her, her boss and their education policies. (Gray, who has no Republican challenger in this overwhelmingly Democratic city, has not said if he would retain Rhee.)

Some are already blaming racial identity politics and the ghosts of Marion Barry for the resounding defeat of education's Great Hope at the polls. But if education reformers think the election is the problem, they are missing some major lessons in an often racially charged battle for urban school reform. A majority of black voters cited Rhee as a reason to fire her boss, while a majority of white voters cited Rhee as a reason to vote for Fenty. But the stink swirling around education reform in D.C. goes beyond race. The hundreds of millions of corporate dollars used to break the D.C. teachers' union have dangerous strings attached.

There is pushback against the movement to treat public institutions and the precious people in them like factories. And when the impacted public is treated as an obstacle and not a partner to urban reform, it gives the whole effort colonial and paternalistic smell.

Since Fenty appointed Rhee as schools chancellor in 2007, reformers have been closely watching the once-obscure Teach For America alumna's quick rise from educational entrepreneur to Time magazine covergirl and the adored subject of squabbling by Barack Obama and John McCain during the 2008 presidential debates.

This Spring, Rhee negotiated among the most revolutionary teacher's contracts in the country, which essentially broke the union, loosening tenure protections in exchange for the potential for teachers to make more money and earn performance bonuses. D.C. is being hailed as a model in urban education reform, and there are plans to replicate this model; The Obama Administration is putting more than a billion dollars behind a "performance-based" rewards system similar to the one being tested in D.C.

D.C.'s high-profile status as nation's capital means that for decades, our kids have been the subjects of virtually every passing education fad and experiment--like lab rats. But usually the meddling comes from Congress.  D.C. is the only city where Congress pays private school tuition. About 40 percent of public school kids go to charter schools, also thanks to Congress. All of this "experimentation" and "competition" has destabilized the system so badly that the most competent D.C. school administrators rarely know how many kids are enrolled in public or charter schools on a given day.

It is common for D.C. teachers to be fired in the middle of the school year to reflect shifting enrollment as families toggle across the D.C., suburban Maryland and Virginia borders "shopping" for the best educational deal. Public, private or charter schools are marketed like gym memberships. D.C. parents scout new educational opportunities with more angst than a pre-Miami LeBron James.

As a former DCPS PTA mom, I am among the many DC voters who had grown weary of the endless churning in the system. The D.C. public school my child won an out-of boundary "lottery" to attend in the early 2000s had passionate teachers and dedicated families, but inept administration and a dangerously neglected building forced us to leave after three years. We enrolled in a private school just as Rhee came into office in 2007 when the school board was abolished and the mayor was given control of the schools. But we've been shopping for a reason to come back into the system ever since.

So I'd backed Rhee--even when she shut down our neighborhood school. I supported her when she broke the local teacher's union that seemed to care more about saving jobs than saving kids. I balked, but ultimately swallowed and accepted it even when we learned that the private donations raised to fund the teacher's contract could be taken away if kids don't improve their test scores or Rhee left the job.

As many were still reeling from the multimillion dollar stakes of the testing kids and the people who teach them, Rhee infuriated the D.C. electorate by piling on to threats by the Walton Family Foundation (of Wal-Mart), the Robertson Foundation, the Laura and John Arnold Foundation and the Broad Foundation, who vowed to snatch funding if she doesn't stay on the job. While Gray has not said if he would retain Rhee, Rhee has already made that decision for him by telling a Post reporter she would not work for Gray.

Days after tethering her fate to that of Adrian Fenty, Rhee gave a speech to the Aspen Ideas Festival donors that raised a lot of eyebrows among people I spoke to when I arrived there for the festival. In the video of the July 3 speech, Rhee notes that DC Mayor Adrian Fenty unflinchingly supported everything she did without exception. Then she explained her strategy for raising the money to approve the teacher's contract.

"These people are lined up to support this contract, but only if it is the most revolutionary contract in the country," she told the crowd. "If I only did what they did in Chicago or in New York, these people are not gonna pay for that...

"So if you look where the philanthropic dollars are going in this contract, you are looking at the pay-for-performance system."

Later, she explained how she planned to spend that money by applying business principles to the classroom, citing a study by an economist named Eric Hanushek. She said if the U.S. fired 6-10 percent of the worst teachers in the country and replaced them "not even with the best, but with average teachers," U.S. schools would move from 21, 25 and 26th in math to the top 5.

"Now let me just say, to all of you business people..." Rhee continued.

"Wait wait wait," the moderator, Harvard University's David Gergen, interrupted. "...Do you believe this?"

Rhee replied: "Yes, I actually do. If someone told you as a business, that if you removed the bottom 6 percent of your performers, that you would move from 25th in the market to top-5, you would do it in a heartbeat. You would not even think twice about it. But we have an incredibly hard time in this in this country. We like teachers. It is an incredibly noble position in this country.  But we have to look at the reality...

"That seems like an incredibly easy thing for us to begin to tackle," she said.

Right, easy--if you are selling computer operating systems! But can the teaching of human beings be reduced to 1s and 0s? Like in any other profession, more experience helps you get better at it, although the smartest academics studying the issue don't agree on how much.  But not three weeks after Rhee's Aspen speech, that is exactly what she did. She wrapped up testing of a controversial teaching assessment her office created, and fired 4 percent of the work force, and put another 737 of her 4,000 teachers on notice that their performance was "minimally effective."

Rhee's makeover of the D.C. teaching force is also racially fraught. Many of the young teachers Rhee is hiring, drawn from the ranks of Teach for America in many cases, bring a new energy and life into the schools. But TFA teachers and alumni tend to be mostly white, recruited from around the country, and rarely stay longer than three years. They get a now-trendy notch on their resume and move on. A recent study by a researcher at the University of Texas-Austin and California State University shows a mixed impact on vulnerable kids, many of whom have abandonment issues.

On the other hand, more of the veteran DC teachers are black. Many of them are dedicated educators who have held things together under unimaginable circumstances, earning them cultural capital in the communities they've served for generations. But other of the DC teaching vets, made cynical about the crushing challenges facing some DC communities, treat their jobs like babysitters punching a clock.

So at worst you have clock-punchers versus cultural tourists. Rhee is exchanging one mixed-bag for another mixed-bag, giving benefit of the doubt to inexperienced white teachers. This may be one reason why parental support for Rhee and Fenty falls along racial lines. Among white Democrats, 68 percent said Rhee is a reason to support Fenty. Fifty-four percent of black Democrats cite her as a reason to vote against the mayor, according to a Washington Post poll. In an earlier August poll by Clarus Research, Rhee got her most unfavorable ratings from black women, only 15 percent of whom viewed her favorably.

In a city whose large black middle class was built on a legacy of generations of black women public school educators reaching back to Anna J. Cooper at the turn of the 20th century, the perceived disrespect toward veteran teachers is not going over well. For many D.C. voters, if the choice is between the black veteran teachers with roots in the community and the Teach for America cultural tourists, they are going with the vets.

As the Obama administration moves forward with plans to replicate this corporate education model, it should take note. If you can't be bothered to include the indigenous public in your plans, you are essentially swooping into town to "fix" the "Other" like the Peace Corps, to which Teach for America has frequently compared itself.

Rhee's reforms are a gamble like all previous gambles in urban education reform. But the level of influence from "philanthrocapitalist" sources in her gamble--that may be new. As state, local and federal governments become increasingly strapped for cash (as D.C. is) this has serious consequences. How "public" is it when Wal-Mart can blackmail D.C. voters?

The real battle for urban education reform has never been about what happens in the classroom. Since the days when desegregation and the rise of the suburb led to a white, then black middle class abandonment of urban schools, it has mostly been about perception. So Rhee's MBA slogans that went over so well with the Aspen crowd are also good PR for parents of all races. As gentrification brings in more middle class families and bumps up the D.C. tax base, many parents see Rhee as a dramatic and compelling narrative to justify their reverse migration back into urban public schools. 

She's good for the D.C. Public School "brand." So far, D.C. voters just aren't buying it.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Education Week: The Problems With Value-Added Assessment

Education Week's blogs > Bridging Difference

October 05, 2010

The Problems With Value-Added Assessment *

Dear Deborah,
You asked what keeps me running, which I assume means how I find the energy to stay on the road week after week, speaking to teachers, parents, school board members, and concerned citizens. These days, I am running because of an inner rage at the attacks on teachers and public education. I see one of our most important public institutions under siege by people who want to privatize it, turn it into profit centers, and treat children as data points on a chart. This is wrong, and it will end badly. Critics say I defend the status quo, but nothing could be further from the truth. The status quo is awful, but the demonizing of teachers and the vilification of public education are even worse.
Last week, I was in Los Angeles. I spoke to L.A. teachers, who were shamed by the Los Angeles Times' disgraceful release of test-score data and ratings of 6,000 elementary teachers as more or less effective. I had previously believed that such ratings (value-added assessment) might be used cautiously by supervisors as one of multiple measures to evaluate teacher performance. The L.A. Times persuaded me that the numerical scores—with all their caveats and flaws—would drown out every other measure. And, in fact, the L.A. Times database contained only one measure, based on test scores.
And so I concluded that value-added assessment should not be used at all. Never. It has a wide margin of error. It is unstable. A teacher who is highly effective one year may get a different rating the next year depending on which students are assigned to his or her class. Ratings may differ if the tests differ. To the extent it is used, it will narrow the curriculum and promote teaching to tests. Teachers will be mislabeled and stigmatized. Many factors that influence student scores will not be counted at all.
The latest review of value-added assessment was written by New York University economist Sean Corcoran. He examines value-added assessment in Houston and New York City. He describes a margin of error so large that a teacher at the 43rd percentile (average) might actually be at the 15th percentile (below average) or the 71st percentile (above average). What is the value of such a measure? Why should it be used at all? Please read this important and well-written study.
While I was in Los Angeles, a teacher committed suicide. Rigoberto Ruelas, 39, had taught 5th graders for 14 years. He was known as unusually dedicated and caring; he worked in a gang-ridden, impoverished neighborhood. Most students in his school were English-language learners. Friends and family said he was depressed by the poor rating he received in the L.A. Times. No one will ever know what caused him to despair and take his own life. Colleagues and former students wrote beautiful tributes to him. They thought he was a wonderful teacher.
It's worth noting, however, that Los Angeles Deputy Schools Superintendent John Deasy said that Mr. Ruelas had a "great performance review" from his supervisors, but Mr. Deasy couldn't release the personnel records because they are confidential. So only the test scores were released to the media, not the laudatory reviews by professionals who observed his work.
Now I hear that more districts, prodded on by U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Race to the Top principles, want to release value-added rankings. More teachers will learn that they are subpar or superior when judged by flawed, dubious, inaccurate measures.
How many other ways can we discover to ruin teachers' reputations and encourage teachers to abandon their profession? Why isn't there a public outcry that such tactics undermine professionalism and the quality of education? When will we learn that we have turned education into a numbers racket, and we may lose the best teachers along with the worst?
In this week after NBC's one-sided slam against teachers, unions, and public education, I am furious. And it keeps me running.
*Editor's note: The headline on this blog has been changed at Diane Ravitch's request. Diane did not write the original headline.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

NOT Waiting for Superman

by David A. Sanchez
CTA President
I’m sure most of you have heard about the latest film attacking the teachers unions—Waiting for Superman—which opens in L.A. this Friday, and the rest of the state October 3. This is one of three movies out right now talking about teachers and public education. Like many of Arne Duncan’s education reform ideas, this movie is half-baked.
Unfortunately, traditional public schools— along with their students and their teachers— are strangely absent from this documentary. Director Davis Guggenheim attributes this partly to the fact that “a lot of schools don’t want you to shoot film in them, no matter who you are” – so instead of getting the story of what’s really going on, we get the story that Guggenheim could tell more easily. If you want to make a documentary about improving education, and if you want to make a documentary about daily feats of heroism, you shouldn’t ignore public schools.
Waiting for Superman will stir up the national discussion about public schools – following Newsweek’s shoddy report, and the L.A. Times recent attack – and it does so at the expense of public school teachers, our union and the students we serve. We can talk about what doesn’t work – slashed budgets, overcrowded classrooms, a lack of time for training and mentoring – but who would go see Waiting for a Fair and Balanced Conversation That Supports Our Students and Teachers, and Improves Learning?
We will be covering this issue in the upcoming October issue of the California Educator magazine. Until then,
And be sure to tell your own stories about public education to all who will listen. When your friends ask you about this movie, or even your day, tell them! You don’t have to see this movie to let your friends and neighbors know about the challenges, the rewards and the realities you encounter every day that you go to work in a California school. We can’t wait for Guggenheim or the L.A. Times to tell the complete story. We must speak up. We must speak out. We must stand together.
Join us on the CTA Facebook page where we are discussing this and much more.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Welcome Back OEA Members

- by Steve Neat
Communications Chair and OEA Secretary

Hi OEA Members,

Welcome back to the new school year. And welcome to the OEA Advocate blog. After over two years of negotiating we still don't have a contract. It looks likely to be another year of hard work and struggle. However, let's keep in mind the fantastic success of our one-day strike on April 29, which demonstrated extraordinary unity among OEA members and fabulous support from parents and the community. Let's keep it going.

2010/2011 Issue 1: OEA Advocate

Monday, September 13, 2010

Defending Public Education Resolution

Defending Public Education

UE Convention
Public Education:
Stop the Attacks and Fund Quality Education for All

One of the first demands of early labor organizations was universal quality education. At a time when only the rich could attend decent schools, labor leaders saw that access to publicly-funded schools was the only way that the working class and the poor could achieve basic literacy skills. Labor leaders knew that education was tied to the ability to organize and exercise political power.

We find ourselves in an ongoing battle to prevent not just the erosion, but the outright destruction of public education. That many public schools are inadequately funded means poor equipment, crumbling buildings, and larger numbers of students in each classroom. Rather than fund public education adequately, conservatives push for privatization and subcontracting, practices which reduce jobs, and turns janitors, cooks, maintenance workers, educators, and many others into low-wage contract workers who receive few or low benefits.

The Obama administration has announced its intent to reform the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), the current incarnation of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act put into effect during Lyndon Johnson’s administration. While the stated goals of NCLB are laudable, namely improving student achievement and closing skills gaps between students of different backgrounds, the Act is flawed. Schools that already face challenges because of poor funding or the demographics of the area they are in are forced to conform to a "one-size-fits-all" standard based on high-stakes testing, and then punished by having funding withdrawn. Vouchers redirect taxpayer money away from public schools to private institutions, which are not accountable to the public or to elected officials. The Obama administration has requested a $1 billion increase in funding, yet no details of Obama's intended reforms have been given.

Barack Obama has also expressed support for merit-based teacher salaries. Excellent teachers deserve to be rewarded, and the potential for higher earnings as a result of hard work would help to recruit and retain talented individuals who would otherwise choose a career in the private sector. However, a system of merit pay is not the answer to poor teacher salaries and poor student performance. Administration of a merit-based teacher pay system would be a bureaucratic nightmare, prone to corruption and dishonesty, and would undermine cooperation and collaboration between teachers. The No Child Left Behind Act has already shown that universal standards don't work when applied to real-world education, in which students come from different economic, cultural and linguistic backgrounds. The way to attract superior teachers is to pay teachers what they are worth.

Private commerce has no place in public education. Schools that are starved for funding turn to corporate sponsors for help or contract services out to private companies. Corporate sponsors flood the schools with commercial messages, and undermine teachers' attempts to have students to think critically. Private companies are not responsible to the public for the quality of service they provide. This same commercialism is rampant in public colleges and universities, leaving many vulnerable to intellectual and moral corruption. At the same time, the cost of public education at the undergraduate and graduate levels is becoming more and more prohibitive, putting working and middle class families deeper into debt for services tax dollars are supposed to provide.

Higher education workers are also facing a crisis as their employers replace full-time positions with "contingent" faculty. Adjunct instructors are paid a fraction of the wage a full-time professor would receive, and these contracts have no benefits. Job security is nonexistent for these workers. Along with vouchers and standardized tests, growing dependence on part-time workers is a further indication of corporate and profit-driven motives in education. This trend inevitably leads to a decrease in the quality of public education.

Public schools, funded adequately and fairly, with certified teachers and full-time faculty, who have long-range educational plans that teach basic skills and critical thinking to all students is the only way to resolve this problem. We support public education because it promotes the best interests of everyone when all members of our society are well educated and able to think independently.


1. Calls upon all levels of the union to demand and promote:
Federal funding that achieves an excellent public education at all levels, including early childhood and adult learning programs;

  • 1. Restructuring of federal, state, and local taxation and funding systems so that all public schools are funded fairly, without regard to income levels of local school district residents;
  • 2. A reduction of class sizes to a manageable student-to-teacher ratio at the primary, secondary, and college/university levels;
  • 3. An increase in the salaries of all public elementary and secondary education teachers which reflects the value of their role in educating future members of society;
  • 4. Barring the use of taxpayer-funded voucher programs that siphon off much-needed funds from public schools and route them to private schools;
  • 5. Elimination of high-stakes testing, which pressures teachers and administrators to "teach to the test" or risk financial ruin, and therefore puts tremendous emotional and psychological pressure on children who are forced to endure such high-stakes tests;
  • 6. Removal of commercial/corporate sponsorship that tends to interfere with the academic freedom of students and teachers and the decision-making freedom of elected school boards and other publicly-employed professionals;
  • 7. Preservation and enhancement of the arts, foreign language and multilingual education programs, whose elimination most often hurts poor and working-class children's education;
  • 8. Preservation and enhancement of vocational education programs for adolescents and adults;
  • 9. Full and appropriate services and accommodations for students with disabilities;
  • 10. Full funding of Head Start;
  • 11. Passage of conflict-of-interest legislation that prevents individuals with ties to for-profit schools and to for-profit corporations with school contracts from serving on school boards or boards of regents;
  • 12. Elimination of privatization and contracting out of school services;
  • 13. The teaching of labor history and other aspects of history which present a full view of the economic, social, and political history of the U.S. in public schools, colleges and universities; and support of local labor education centers;

2. Calls on the union to work with other unions and push for a change in the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) in order to ensure that all employees have the right to unionization;
3. Supports all campaigns which advocate universal access to free public higher education.

* "UE" is the abbreviation for United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America, a democratic national union representing some 35,000 workers in a wide variety of manufacturing, public sector and private non-profit sector jobs. UE is an independent union (not affiliated with the AFL-CIO) proud of its democratic structure and progressive policies.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Early Childhood Education Update

Thanks to the efforts of parents, teachers, students and community members working with Oakland Parents Together and OEA, On Friday, August 27, the district found $2.4 million to keep 5 of 7 Child Development Centers slated for closure open through December. 

With state cuts to pre-school education, it is vitally important for all of us to continue to advocate for our youngest and most vulnerable students.

Friday, August 20, 2010

What's missing for back-to-school? 135,000 teachers

 By Tami Luhby, senior writer
August 20, 2010:

NEW YORK ( -- More children are crowding into classrooms in Modesto, Calif. Parents are paying extra to send their kids to full-day kindergarten in Queen Creek, Ariz. And the school buses stopped rolling in one St. Louis area school district. These are but a few of the unwelcome changes greeting children as they start the school year. Tight fiscal times are forcing school districts to lay off teachers, enlarge class sizes, cut programs and charge for services that were once free.

"School districts are going to be stripped down from what there were a few years ago," said Jack Jennings, head of the Center on Education Policy, an advocacy group. "They are really feeling the economic squeeze." The national economic downturn has sucked state coffers dry, forcing cuts to school districts and municipalities. The Obama administration's stimulus package softened the impact, but many districts still found themselves having to downsize.

"Every student is being affected in some way or another," said Dan Domenech, executive director of the America Association of School Administrators.

Teachers are experiencing the brunt of the budget cuts this year, even though Congress last week gave states an additional $10 billion to keep an estimated 140,000 educators and support staff employed. Still, the number of teachers who won't have a job this school year could be as high as 135,000, experts said.

Read the rest of the story

Thursday, August 19, 2010

CA to Receive $213 Million to Stabilize Local Schools

California Department of Education News Release

State Schools Chief Jack O'Connell Announces California to
Receive $213 Million in Federal Funding to Stabilize Local Schools

SACRAMENTO — State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell today announced California's kindergarten through grade twelve public schools will receive $213 million in State Fiscal Stabilization Fund (SFSF) Phase II federal stimulus funding from the U.S. Department of Education. This is the last portion of SFSF funds California was eligible to receive.

"I applaud President Barack Obama and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan for getting critically needed funds to states in order to help schools in these dire economic times," said O'Connell. "School districts are struggling against massive state budget cuts, teacher layoffs, and program cutbacks. This funding comes at a critical time, and I have directed California Department of Education staff to disburse the funds to schools as quickly as possible."

SFSF is part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The federal funding is designed to help schools avert layoffs and advance reform in the areas of teacher quality, standards and assessments, data to improve instruction, and support of struggling schools. SFSF funding came in two phases. In the first phase, California received a grant of $2.6 billion in the spring of 2009, and an additional $355 million in the fall of 2009 for kindergarten through grade twelve public education. This week's announcement of the remaining $213 million in additional funding is the second and last phase of SFSF funding.

Legislative approval is still needed in order for CDE to have statutory authority to distribute the funds to local educational agencies. Similar authority is needed before CDE can disburse new funds coming to California through the federal Education Jobs Fund bill.
"I urge the Governor and Legislature to approve the state budget or pass stand alone-legislation immediately so CDE can distribute these funds to schools that desperately need them," O'Connell said.

"With this application, California provided us with basic information on what is working in their classrooms," said Duncan in a statement on the SFSF funding. "This data is a critical tool in helping us work together—with students, parents, teachers, administrators, community leaders and elected officials at every level—to improve education for California's students."
California's application included information on how the state will lay the foundation for reform including:

    •    How teachers and principals are evaluated and how this information is used to support, retain, promote, or remove staff;
    •    How the state will implement its California Longitudinal Pupil Achievement Data System;
    •    How the state provides student academic growth data on reading/language arts and mathematics in a way that improves instructional programs; and
    •    A list of Title I schools in improvement, corrective action, or restructuring that are identified as persistently lowest-achieving schools.
For information on SFSF, please visit State Fiscal Stabilization Fund (SFSF) - American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

L.A. Times ranks teachers based on student scores

To comment on the article below go to The Education Report


By Katy Murphy
Sunday, August 15th, 2010

Los Angeles Unified didn’t use its wealth of student test score data to try to evaluate the effectiveness of its teachers, but the L.A. Times did.

The newspaper collected seven years worth of California Standards Test data for more than 600,000 students in grades 3 through 5. Using a method called “value added,” which is designed to estimate each student’s academic progress from one year to the next, the reporters rated 6,000 teachers in the system, from “least effective” to “most effective,” based on whether their students made more (or less) progress, on average, than others in their grade throughout the district.
Later this month, the paper plans to publish the database — with the teachers’ names and how they stack up, by this measure, against their colleagues. You can read more about the project here, and the first story in the series here.

The reporters — with the help of a consultant from RAND Corp., who conducted the statistical analysis — found that some teachers seemed to consistently raise their students’ scores higher than others. They also found that the highest-ranked teachers were scattered throughout the city, not concentrated in the wealthier areas; that the teacher matters more than the school; and that education, experience and training didn’t seem to have much to do with whether a teacher was able to bring up her students’ test scores.

The cover photo is of a teacher who fell in the bottom 10 percent of the rankings. A reporter visited his classroom and found a marked difference between his teaching style and student interest than that of a teacher next door, who scored highly on their analysis.

Granted, student progress on test scores can only tell you so much about a teacher. Is this sort of “value-added” analysis something school districts should do more of, if only to help people get better at what they do (and do you think it would)? How should such data be used? How would you use it, as a parent, a teacher or a principal? Do you agree with the Times’ decision to publish the names and ratings of each teacher?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

New Teachers

New teachers we would love to hear from you!  

Let us know how your first (second, or third, etc  year is going). 

Email the OEA Advocate at:
Please include your name, grade (for students), school site, email, and a photo related to your article with your post.

Education Jobs Bill Passed!


On August 10, the House passed the education jobs/FMAP bill by a vote of 247-161.  See how your Representative voted on this critical vote and how your Senators voted last week.   Reports indicate the President could sign the bill as early as this evening! New figures from the U.S.Department of Education estimate that some 161,000 educators who had received pink slips will be heading back to school this fall as a result of this win.

Thank your Representative and Senators who supported the bill and express your disappointment to those who did not. See how many jobs will be saved in your state. This victory could not have been achieved without the help of activists around the country.  Together, you sent over 300,000 e-mails and made over 100,000 phone calls to Congress.
Thank you!!

NEA Government Relations
1201 16th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20036

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

State of California Adopts New State Standards

August 03, 2010

SFGate: State school board adopts Common Core standards
This from SFGate:

California will toss out its current curriculum and require students to read the same textbooks and learn the same arithmetic as children in most other states, the Board of Education decided Monday.
The board unanimously adopted national academic standards to be in sync with schools across the country. So far, about 30 other states have also adopted the so-called Common Core State Standards.
The new content means discarding the standards California officials adopted about 13 years ago - standards widely considered among the best in the country.

Yet despite initial concerns that the new national academic standards would dumb down California's curriculum, state education officials said Monday that with just a few tweaks and some additional content, the new standards will give kids a stronger, more organized approach to math and English.
"The Common Core standards build upon the best of California's rigorous standards with the best of what other states and high-performing countries offer their students," said state Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell. "They are designed to be relevant to the real world, and reflect the knowledge and skills that students need for success in college and work."

"The Common Core standards build upon the best of California's rigorous standards with the best of what other states and high-performing countries offer their students," said state Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell. "They are designed to be relevant to the real world, and reflect the knowledge and skills that students need for success in college and work."

The state board adopted the national standards while including additional topics at some grade levels to beef up areas officials felt were lacking, including penmanship and presentation skills as well as an earlier introduction to algebra in eighth grade.

The new standards will give California a better shot at a federal Race to the Top education reform grant, which would help fund the implementation.

The state is a finalist for the federal stimulus funding and is eligible for up to $700 million. The adoption of the Common Core standards was a prominent part of the state's Race to the Top application, dependent on the approval by the State Board of Education.

The new standards will provide a more logical sequence of learning, especially through arithmetic and into algebra, state Secretary of Education Bonnie Reiss said.

The aim of common standards is to raise the academic bar nationwide and allow for an apples-to-apples comparison in standardized tests. In addition, the standards would make it easier to share successful teaching techniques, curriculum and standardized tests and make transitions smoother for students who move to another state.

The new standards are expected to be in place by the 2013-14 school year, Reiss said.
That's a tight timeline to create and adopt new textbooks, train teachers and find the money to buy the books for each of the state's 6.3 million students, especially given budget cuts hitting districts across the state.

"The success or failure of this venture will depend to a great extent on the substance and the adequacy of the implementation plan," said Greg Geeting, chairman of the state's Academic Standards Commission, during public comment at the Monday board meeting. "If you leave this meeting today thinking that you have done a great thing, you will be sadly mistaken if the implementation plan is skimpy or underfunded."

E-mail the writers at and
(C) San Francisco Chronicle 2010