Thursday, November 10, 2011


Oakland Education Association
November 10, 2011

Are you being asked to bubble in Scantron forms? Read this!

OEA filed a class action grievance with OUSD in April, 2008 around the issue of K-3 bubbling in test scores on Scantron forms. We're hearing reports from many of you that administrators seem to have forgotten the resolution of that grievance, so here it is. In short - come up with a plan so you aren't wasting precious time on this exercise! Be sure to show it to your administrator if you are asked to spend your very limited time bubbling in student answers on forms:

Resolution of grievance:

1) Develop in consultation with the site administrator, Building Rep and/or Faculty Council Member (per Article a specific plan for each school whereby classroom teachers are not required to complete all of the transferring of answers to Scantron forms.

2) Where teachers may still be required to complete some of the Scantron forms, ensure in writing that teacher time allocated to this task and others required by the site administrator are within the five hours per month indicated in Article 10.2.8, or otherwise compensated per that same Article. Specifically, although Article 10.2.8 provides for five hours per month of additional professional duties, two of those five hours are to be set aside by the Employer "for use throughout the school year as appropriate for parent-student-teacher contact."

Betty Olson-Jones
Oakland Education Association

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

CANCELLED!! A Children's View of Gaza

September 21, 2011 Hilmon Sorey Chair, Board of Directors Museum of Children’s Art 538 Ninth Street, Suite 210 Oakland, CA 94607

Dear Mr. Sorey, I am writing on behalf of the Executive Board of the Oakland Education Association to express our deep disappointment over your decision to cancel “A Child’s View from Gaza” and deny the children of Gaza the right to share their experiences through artwork. As a long-time elementary teacher and current President of the OEA, I am well aware of the positive impact MOCHA has had in fostering creativity and artistic expression through children’s art. I have attended MOCHA trainings for teachers, worked with MOCHA in my own classroom, and observed your work in many other classrooms. Teachers have always been highly appreciative of the work that you do, especially in an era where test scores have unfortunately become a substitute for genuine learning and the creative arts are too often absent from our neediest students’ school experience. Especially in an urban district such as Oakland, it is critical that art continue to play a central role in allowing students to express their deepest fears, joys, and hopes for a different future. MOCHA has always been a place where all subjects are open to artistic expression. That is why it was logical that MOCHA would serve as the venue for the exhibition from Gaza. As past artwork has included many examples of the violence in children’s lives, the only conclusion we can draw to explain your decision to engage in such obvious censorship is the pressure being exerted by powerful organizations and individuals seeking to silence the voices of the Palestinian people. We are well aware of such pressure, having received our share of it when we condemned the murderous Israeli assault on Gaza several years ago. But we refused to allow that pressure to force a change in our core values, which include unreserved support for education around the issues facing children throughout the world. MOCHA has long been a place where the art of all children is valued and shared, not a place where some is censored. We urge you to abide by your own core values and mission. As stated in your Open Letter to the MOCHA Community of September 12, 2011, “The Museum of Children’s Art (MOCHA) was founded as a place where children from all backgrounds could come together to make and celebrate art. MOCHA provides a safe place for children to express themselves through art, and produces programs that are intended to foster insight and understanding.” That you have chosen not to allow a safe place for the often-ignored children of Gaza to share their art is a decision that will unfortunately scar your reputation and remain a deep disappointment to the many teachers who have supported you throughout your existence.

Sincerely and with deep regret,
Betty Olson-Jones President,
Oakland Education Association

Cc: Middle East Children’s Alliance
Mayor Jean Quan
Dean Vogel, CTA President
OEA Executive Board

Education News Roundup: A bet on No Child Left Behind

A bet on No Child Left Behind
Guest blog by Richard Rothstein/Washington Post

Diane Ravitch is a glass half-empty kind of gal, while I suffer from excessive Panglossian tendencies. In the spring of 2007, we made a bet. The payoff is dinner at the River Café, at the foot of Brooklyn Heights, overlooking New York harbor and the Manhattan skyline, tucked neatly under the lights of the Brooklyn Bridge. Four and a half years ago, we surveyed the damage being done to American education by NCLB, the No Child Left Behind iteration of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act: * conversion of struggling elementary schools into test-prep factories; * narrowing of curriculum so that disadvantaged children who most need enrichment would be denied lessons in social studies, the sciences, the arts and music, even recess and exercise, so that every available minute of the school day could be devoted to drill for tests of basic skills in math and reading; (more...)

Circular reasoning at the Gates: Education Nation off to a confusing start
Blog by Anthony Cody/Education Week

Last September NBC brought us the first Education Nation, developed in coordination with the release of the pro-charter documentary, Waiting For Superman. The network ran into a few bumps in the road, catching flak when it was pointed out that panels were loaded with "superheroes" like Michelle Rhee, and critical voices like Diane Ravitch, and those of classroom teachers, were largely absent. This year, NBC has made an effort to be a bit more balanced and inclusive of teachers voices, and the Teacher Town Hall yesterday made a start in that direction. On a stage dominated by the largest golden hood ornament I have ever seen, Brian Williams interviewed mostly teachers, while Tamron Hall roamed about the audience taking comments from the crowd. The comments from the teachers present are worth a listen, but my mind kept dwelling on the interview with Melinda Gates. (more...)

The California Education News Roundup is produced by the Just Schools California project at UCLA’s Institute for Democracy, Education, and Access (IDEA). For the latest research, background and an array of resources on educational justice issues, visit If you wish to contact us, please e-mail
Subscribe to the Roundup | Forward this email to a friend | Unsubscribe from the Roundup
Become our fan on Facebook | Follow us on Twitter

Monday, September 19, 2011

Ten New Teaching Activities to Engage Students

Dear Rethinking Schools friends,

Several new developments for the Zinn Education Project, the online social justice teaching site that is a collaboration between Rethinking Schools and Teaching for Change. First, we're delighted that we just passed 13,000 registrations. Over 13,000 educators are using resources at to "teach outside the textbook." This is very encouraging news as we enter the new school year, and as corporate-produced text materials more and more dominate the curriculum.

Not registered? It's free and gives you access to dozens of great teaching activities.

And we've just added ten new articles that describe numerous ways to engage students in rethinking history and society. All of these originally appeared in Rethinking Schools magazine or other Rethinking Schools publications. We've re-edited the pieces for the Zinn Education Project site, and they've been attractively laid out.

The new articles are described at and include:

-- Five Years After the Levees Broke: Bearing Witness Through Poetry
A teacher's reflection on the power of poetry to spark critical reflection on current issues of inequality surrounding disaster response in the United States.

-- Learning About the Unfairgrounds: A 4th-Grade Teacher Introduces Her Students to Executive Order 9066
Students hold a "tea party" and a mock trial to connect with a challenging novel.

-- Lewis Hine's Photographs
Students use photographs to spark creative writing and critical thinking about child labor issues and social justice.

-- Stenciling Dissent: A Student Project Draws on the Language of the Streets
Students connect protest art and history.

-- The Other Internment: Teaching the Hidden Story of Japanese Latin Americans During WW II
A unit combines poetry, photography, and role play to teach about the untold history of Japanese Latin American internment during WW II.

-- "Don't Take Our Voices Away": A Role Play on the Indigenous Peoples' Global Summit on Climate Change
A role play on the Indigenous Peoples' Global Summit on Climate Change asks students to develop a list of demands to present to the rest of the world.

-- The Coming of Pink Cheeks
A personal story of what happened to the Kikuyu people of Kenya when Europeans took control of their land.

-- Remembering Mahmoud Darwish
A teaching idea uses the famous Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish's work to inspire students.

-- Unleashing Sorrow and Joy: Writing Poetry from History and Literature
How to effectively incorporate poetry into history or literature classes.

-- "If There Is No Struggle...": Teaching a People's History of the Abolition Movement
A role play puts students in the position of abolitionists confronting difficult choices about how to end slavery.

Check these out at

Finally, if you will be in the Washington, DC area on September 21, join us for the dedication of the "Howard Zinn Room" at Busboys and Poets in Hyattsville, MD. It's a benefit for the Zinn Education Project. The illustrious guests include Bernice Johnson Reagon, Amy Goodman, Dave Zirin, Laura Flanders, Medea Benjamin, Barbara Ehrenreich, Craig and Cindy Corrie (Rachel Corrie's parents), and Howard Zinn's son, Jeff Zinn. Details at

I hope to see you there.

As always, thanks for your support of Rethinking Schools.

Bill Bigelow
Curriculum Editor
Rethinking Schools
The Zinn Education Project

Monday, September 5, 2011

Why the need to resist testing?

Taken from NEA Public blog.

Richard Cottingham
Aug 30, 2011 04:38PM Actions ▼

This thread has been running now for over two years. There has been a scarcity
of answers to the question asked in the topic "How can the federal government
really help schools close achievement gaps and improve achievement?" I believe
that this is because most of us see little or no connection between NCLB (now
RTTT) and closing the achievement gap.

For this reason I am posting the following. It is taken almost verbatim from
work by Marion Barry. I hope many teachers will read it, think about it,
comment on it and check out more of Marion Barry's work.

Hey, Teacher! Listen up!

This you can know for sure: The future won't be the same as the past. And this
you can also know for sure: The future will be more complicated, unpredictable,
and dangerous than the present or the past. So the answers and solutions
you're teaching in school won't do the job. The students will have to be
prepared to come up with their own.

This means they will have to think - infer, make value judgments, relate,
generalize analyze - and so on, because these thought processes are the
CREATORS of new knowledge.

Fortunately, complex, "higher-order" thought processes can be taught, learned,
and improved.

Unfortunately, higher-order thought processes aren't going to be taught,
learned or improved as long as politicians set education policy and demand
standardized tests... standardized tests that force educators to emphasize just
one thought process: REMEMBERING.

Why do standardized tests mostly measure short-term memory instead of higher
-order thinking processes?

Because nobody has yet figured out how to test higher-order thought processes.

To do that a test would have to:

(a) trigger higher-order thoughts in students' brains; then
(b) a computer or stranger would have to be able to judge the quality of those
thoughts and assign them meaningful numbers.
Neither (a) nor (b) is possible.


Test-taker differences in background, interests, ability, language, attitude,
ethnicity, experience, situation, and so on, make it impossible to write a
test-item that will cause every test-taker to think predictably.

Even if test-item writers knew how to make students think predictably ... their
thoughts would be far too complex and abstract for a computer or stranger to
judge their quality and assign numbers that meant something

Einstein summarized the problem simply and clearly:

"Not everything that can be counted counts and not everything that counts can
be counted."

Evaluating higher-order thought processes requires higher-order thought.
Teachers do it all the time, but it's a subjective process that requires a lot
of dialog between teacher and learner.

(Note a standardized test item may SEEM to be testing students' higher-order
thought processes when it is just:

asking them to remember someone else's thought they read or heard about; or
asking them to guess what the test-item writer was thinking.)

What the students will most need in the years ahead, what America will need
most, is creativity, intuition, ingenuity, insight, imagination,
perceptiveness, discernment, judgment, vision. These are products of
higher-order thought processes and their quality can't be measured by tests of
how much textbook-type information students can remember.

The wrong idea: "Education is just learning facts" is THE problem messing up
teaching and learning in classrooms today. There's no middle ground on this

If Einstein was wrong, then education is mostly just learning lots of facts and
standardized tests to find out what students remember are all that's needed to
show how well students are educated. But if Einstein is right, American
education is headed in the wrong direction. You, your children, and their
children will suffer the consequences.

Personally, I'm with Einstein. I believe the standardized testing fad is a
misguided, simplistic, abusive, de-humanizing, expensive mistake.

So, for yourself and future generations, resist standardized testing. Start a

Edited: August 30, 2011 04:50PM

Why Are Finland's Schools Successful?

It was the end of term at Kirkkojarvi Comprehensive School in Espoo, a sprawling suburb west of Helsinki, when Kari Louhivuori, a veteran teacher and the school’s principal, decided to try something extreme—by Finnish standards. One of his sixth-grade students, a Kosovo-Albanian boy, had drifted far off the learning grid, resisting his teacher’s best efforts. The school’s team of special educators—including a social worker, a nurse and a psychologist—convinced Louhivuori that laziness was not to blame. So he decided to hold the boy back a year, a measure so rare in Finland it’s practically obsolete.

Finland has vastly improved in reading, math and science literacy over the past decade in large part because its teachers are trusted to do whatever it takes to turn young lives around. This 13-year-old, Besart Kabashi, received something akin to royal tutoring.

“I took Besart on that year as my private student,” Louhivuori told me in his office, which boasted a Beatles “Yellow Submarine” poster on the wall and an electric guitar in the closet. When Besart was not studying science, geography and math, he was parked next to Louhivuori’s desk at the front of his class of 9- and 10-year- olds, cracking open books from a tall stack, slowly reading one, then another, then devouring them by the dozens. By the end of the year, the son of Kosovo war refugees had conquered his adopted country’s vowel-rich language and arrived at the realization that he could, in fact, learn.

Years later, a 20-year-old Besart showed up at Kirkkojarvi’s Christmas party with a bottle of Cognac and a big grin. “You helped me,” he told his former teacher. Besart had opened his own car repair firm and a cleaning company. “No big fuss,” Louhivuori told me. “This is what we do every day, prepare kids for life.”

This tale of a single rescued child hints at some of the reasons for the tiny Nordic nation’s staggering record of education success, a phenomenon that has inspired, baffled and even irked many of America’s parents and educators. Finnish schooling became an unlikely hot topic after the 2010 documentary film Waiting for “Superman” contrasted it with America’s troubled public schools.

“Whatever it takes” is an attitude that drives not just Kirkkojarvi’s 30 teachers, but most of Finland’s 62,000 educators in 3,500 schools from Lapland to Turku—professionals selected from the top 10 percent of the nation’s graduates to earn a required master’s degree in education. Many schools are small enough so that teachers know every student. If one method fails, teachers consult with colleagues to try something else. They seem to relish the challenges. Nearly 30 percent of Finland’s children receive some kind of special help during their first nine years of school. The school where Louhivuori teaches served 240 first through ninth graders last year; and in contrast with Finland’s reputation for ethnic homogeneity, more than half of its 150 elementary-level students are immigrants—from Somalia, Iraq, Russia, Bangladesh, Estonia and Ethiopia, among other nations. “Children from wealthy families with lots of education can be taught by stupid teachers,” Louhivuori said, smiling. “We try to catch the weak students. It’s deep in our thinking.”

The transformation of the Finns’ education system began some 40 years ago as the key propellent of the country’s economic recovery plan. Educators had little idea it was so successful until 2000, when the first results from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), a standardized test given to 15-year-olds in more than 40 global venues, revealed Finnish youth to be the best young readers in the world. Three years later, they led in math. By 2006, Finland was first out of 57 countries (and a few cities) in science. In the 2009 PISA scores released last year, the nation came in second in science, third in reading and sixth in math among nearly half a million students worldwide. “I’m still surprised,” said Arjariita Heikkinen, principal of a Helsinki comprehensive school. “I didn’t realize we were that good.”

In the United States, which has muddled along in the middle for the past decade, government officials have attempted to introduce marketplace competition into public schools. In recent years, a group of Wall Street financiers and philanthropists such as Bill Gates have put money behind private-sector ideas, such as vouchers, data-driven curriculum and charter schools, which have doubled in number in the past decade. President Obama, too, has apparently bet on compe­tition. His Race to the Top initiative invites states to compete for federal dollars using tests and other methods to measure teachers, a philosophy that would not fly in Finland. “I think, in fact, teachers would tear off their shirts,” said Timo Heikkinen, a Helsinki principal with 24 years of teaching experience. “If you only measure the statistics, you miss the human aspect.”

Read more:

What OEA can do to stop the violence?

Dear Betty and OEA Colleagues,

OEA can be an organization that encourages its members to view and treat Oakland's communities with respect.
There are many avenues to help these families and our greater community through contributions and political work.  As educators we can attempt to ameliorate this unacceptable, violent environment by keeping our core as educators for social justice.  We can and should offer a positive, safe, nurturing learning environment for all.  We can establish caring and trusting relationships with students and families, and advocate for educational, health, and social services that they need.  We can encourage students by being role models of civility, empathy, and respect for our diverse communities because children learn from what we do rather than from what we say. Our charge is to teach, so we have to offer well crafted and thoughtful learning opportunities.  These should cover the full range of subjects (including health and safety) so that our students can see that learning is both a mirror of their own worth and a window to the greater society.  A well rounded education can give children tools to forge productive lives that benefit themselves, their families, their communities and their world.  We should always ask ourselves what have we done each day to develop informed citizens of the world, not what skill or test taking trick was presented.  Young people with knowledge, skills, self-respect, goals, and hopes often make good choices.

OEA can continue to move the conversation back to learning and away from the relentless violence against children due to constant testing and silly programs.
Currently, schools are being turned into places of ignorance because there are some who want to produce, for the most part, young people who know nothing about science, civics, politics, languages, writing, health, current affairs, history, economics, geography, mathematics, or the arts so that they remain ignorant and powerless regarding the profound issues they will face as adults.  In our classrooms, among colleagues, across schools, and throughout the district teachers hold the key to pushing back against these forces that aim to make schools part of the cradle-to-prison pipeline.  The constant prodding, assessing and sorting of our children - while denying them knowledge, resources, healthy activities, and the arts - are pervasive, daily forms of violence against their humanity.  Only a few of Oakland's children, those who have managed to "prove" themselves worthy of education, have access to the base program which children in privileged communities receive just because they are children.

OEA can keep teaching and learning a high priority issue in the midst of all the mayhem.
When I began my career in the seventies there was a saying that "Teaching is a subversive activity" and that still remains the case. Those who interfere with schools attempt to keep educators distracted with structural issues as if form should not follow function - this year it's school closures.  Closures, class size, salaries, working conditions, and benefits are all of great importance.  However, addressing those issues should not mask the importance of our professional responsibilities toward students.  Perhaps OEA could be one of the organizations that would provide supportive fora for teachers to collaborate on restoring the pervasiveness of learning, not testing, to students in Oakland's classrooms.  That might be one contribution toward reducing the traumatic violence in Oakland.

I miss you all,

Muriel Hall Ayanaba, Retired

How we can counter the violence in our communities?

Dear OEA Member,

As we start a new school year, we have been reminded in tragic and painful ways about the violence in our community, a reflection of joblessness, racism, alienation, and loss of hope.

Ironically, the Oakland school named Hope (Esperanza) has been hardest hit recently. José Esparza, the man shot to death last Sunday in front of his six year old son, was a parent at Esperanza. His older son was with Site Rep Chaz Garcia for 4th and 5th grade. She wrote me last night: "He was set to begin middle school Monday, but because of this horrible event he's at home. As you can imagine we are all devastated. Jose was a great father, very positive and active. He lit up the room with his smile when he walked in the room. They had a great relationship. His dad was the sole provider. We do have an account for people to help; it'd be great if you could pass it on." Please donate what you can, and while you're at it, reach out to your colleagues at Esperanza. They need to know that we are all behind them.

Donations can be sent to:
Wells Fargo, any branch
José Manuel Esparza
# 1329796690

But it doesn't end there for Esperanza. It turns out that the 3 year old shot and killed over on 65th earlier this month (Carlos Nava) was from one of their families too. They had just moved there and planned to commute. As Chaz said, "It has been a rough start, but I'm more determined than ever to make this a better place for our students. I don't want any more to be victims of senseless violence."

On top of that, three East Oakland schools were locked down in the first two days of school - demonstrating again that schools are not safe islands in a violent society. This year, let's all come together in a myriad of ways to expose the hypocrisy of a society that values bank bailouts and saving corporations more than it does the health and safety of our young people. Enough is enough!

What are your thoughts and ideas on how we can counter the violence in our communities?

In hope,

Betty Olson-Jones
Oakland Education Association

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Elect Benjie Achtenberg

Benjie Achtenberg

For Executive Board Seat #4
of the OEA Executive Board

**I want to do what’s good for teachers,
so teachers can do what’s good for kids. **

Benjie, a Bay Area native, teaches 8th grade Humanities at Melrose Leadership Academy. He has been his school site’s Representative to the OEA Rep Council for three years and has been active in organizing his site for all OEA actions.

Benjie’s goals:

--> Improve communication with and engagement of all OEA members
  • Build on the success of the Effective Teacher Task Force meetings in April to create more opportunities for constructive dialogue between all members about the real conditions necessary for our success
  • Build member engagement in our union through better email communication regarding meeting agendas, motions being considered, and decisions made by OEA leadership
--> Strategic collaboration to bring more resources into Oakland schools
  • Form strategic relationships with local community groups to support local revenue source
  • Bring the fight to the State level, and organize to reform the State tax code
--> Renew contract bargaining efforts, centered on improving our practices as professionals by calling for…

  • Increased teacher compensation
  • Built-in PLC (Professional Learning Communities) time at sites, sharing best practices
  • Built-in peer observation/ release days for newer teachers to observe more veteran/ master teachers
  • Built-in on-going mentor teacher relationships for all teachers at all school sites/ across school sites if necessary

I want to also encourage everyone to support and vote for
Toni Morozumi for Executive Board Seat #1,
Isabel Toscano for Executive Board Seat #3, 

and Kei Swensen for 2nd Vice President

We share a similar vision for positive change in the union, in the district and in our schools. I am in full support of their candidacies.

If you have any questions for me please do not hesitate to send me an email.

Thank you all for your support, time, effort, passion and devotion to teaching in Oakland. 


Benjie Achtenberg
8th Grade Humanities Teacher
Melrose Leadership Academy

Vote May 3rd through May 13th! 
Look for your ballots at your site starting May 3rd. 
Your rep should pick them up at Rep Council, Monday May 2nd.

Elect Mark Rendon

Mark Rendon for  
OEA Second Vice President
I am a Music Teacher at ASCEND & East Oakland Pride

  1. More members serving on OEA committees
  2. Cancel the debt!
  3. Tax the rich!

Elect Kei Swensen

Vote Kei Swensen OEA 2nd Vice President
13 years teaching in Oakland

  • OEA Executive Board member
  • OEA delegate to the NEA RA
  • CTA State Council Rep.

I have heard many stories about what drives OEA members to do the work that they do; what moves them to become active in union work.  Listening to others, sharing our stories:  building relationships...this is what makes our union stronger.
This my story...

I started my teaching career 13 years ago as an intern through the OUSD Cal State Hayward credential program. Experiencing the pressures of No Child Left Behind, years of program improvement, and the threat of school closure, I optimistically and naively opted to take a leave of absence from OUSD to work in a charter school on my site.

"They" said charter schools were not anti-union; to organize if need be. Promises made were not kept; contract language was interpreted as they saw fit; and if we didn't go with the flow, we were at-will employees- no due process, we could would find ourselves jobless if we didn't play by their arbitrary rules.

To make a long story short, our efforts to unionize were undermined.  I attempted a return to OUSD where I would actually have protected rights. It wasn’t until OEA stepped in however, to ensure my contractual rights to return were honored, that the District acted to find me a placement.

I was in my own safe bubble for so long, it wasn't until that bubble was burst that I realized what I had taken for granted:  the need for collective bargaining rights, protection through fair representation, and the power of a strong union.

This experience has propelled me into become active in our association.

Elect Mark Airgood, Tania Kappner, and Vincent Tolliver

Vote in the OEA Elections at your site May 9-13:

Defend Public Education as a Right and Not A Privilege for Every Young Person!

Mark Airgood
for OEA Treasurer
I am a special education teacher at Edna Brewer Middle School and a 13 year OEA Site-Rep. I am the current OEA Treasurer and have maintained fiscal stability for this organization throughout the last two years.

Tania Kappner
for Executive Board, Seat #1
I am a current OEA Executive Board member. I have taught at Oakland Tech for the past 11 years and am a fifteen- year OEA Site Rep. I am a long-time civil rights organizer, a long-time fighter against the expansion of charter schools and state takeover of the Oakland schools.

Vincent Tolliver
for Executive Board Seat #5

I am the Instrumental Music Teacher (Orchestra, Marching/Concert Band, Guitar Class, and Jazz Bands) at Skyline High School. I’m proud of Oakland and of the struggles that won free breakfast programs for children across the city and one of the largest instrument libraries in the country for youth music programs. I believe that all of these gains were secured because of the readiness of the people of Oakland to stand-up and fight together with and for the young people. In my 18 years as an educator I have always been active in student and parent empowerment individually and through group organizations. I have been a founder and co-founder of several groups specifically targeted at increasing the academic success of African-American males and have been an advocate and mentor of educators throughout my teaching career.


Elect Mark Airgood and Tania Kappner 
to CTA State Council!

Vote for Mark Rendon for OEA Vice-President & Craig Gordon for OEA Executive Board!

·   Preserve all Arts, Music, and Counseling Programs! No Increase in Class Sizes! Stop the Cuts in Early Childhood Education! Oakland Youth Won’t Go to the Back of the Bus!
·   No Teacher Layoffs, Program Cuts, and School Closings in Oakland! No Increase in Class Sizes!
·   Restore Dr. Martin Luther King’s Dream for America!
·   Stop the Resegregation of Higher Education!
·   Pass the DREAM Act Now!
·   Unite with the New Youth Civil Rights Movement to Keep Public Education at All Levels a Right and Not a Privilege!

The Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration, and Immigrant Rights and Fight for Equality By Any Means Necessary (BAMN) / Equal Opportunity Now (EON) Slate 510-717-6365


We Stand on the Side of Young People and the
Right of All to Public Education

This OEA election is critical for the defense of public education in Oakland. The election of an OEA leadership committed to building the independent power of our union allied with the youth and community of Oakland is key to determining if we are successful in saving public education in this city, or see it destroyed through school closings, layoffs and program cuts, charterization, and anti-teacher/anti-student attacks. A vote for the Mark Airgood, Tania Kappner, and Vincent Tolliver is a vote for independent leadership that makes the defense of public education for every young person the guiding principle of our actions. The EON/BAMN slate members stand-up for OEA members’ rights, but understand that if schools are closed or charterized – that even if teachers’ are able to transfer, even if they are unionized in the charters – the students have nowhere else to go.
There are already areas in West and East Oakland in which there is no public school within the neighborhood. And even more to the point, if we allow the right to every young person to public education to be taken-away, we will have suffered a historic setback to a central gain of the civil rights movement and in opportunity for the whole next generation of youth. Our union cannot let this be the outcome of the next period of struggle. We can win this fight. We must rely on the strength, boldness, and passion of the youth and their families as our true ally. There is no better place than Oakland to stop the attack on public education. The students and families of Oakland have proven time and time again that they will act in defense our public education and school programs. In the fights against school closings and program cuts, in defense of early childhood education centers, in defense of adult education – student and families – especially Latino and immigrant families, have mobilized hundreds to the OUSD Board meetings to demand the preservation of schools and programs. The OEA can be a powerful force in building these actions and the mass, independent civil rights movement that can save public education and defend the future of the young people of this nation. We will get the full support of our students if we act.
We must find the courage and dignity to act as an independent force in the society capable of defending our interests and the interests of our students. We do not believe that California, Oakland or this nation is “too poor" to support public education. The rich and powerful have viewed the economic crisis as an opportunity to lower the living standards and expectations of the vast majority of the population. From Arne Duncan to Jerry Brown, every Republican and Democratic politician says the opposite of what they mean on public education. The politicians who decry the achievement gap between Latina/o and black students and their white counterparts or America’s declining capacity to provide a first-class education for our youth, are promoting policies that can only accelerate the problems they profess to solve. The politicians cannot speak the truth. They know that almost no American believes that public education should be a privilege and not a right.
Our opponents in this election rely on the Democratic Party politicians and the good graces of Superintendent Smith and the OUSD administration. They seek to narrow our struggle to strictly trade-unionist boundaries. But the $14 billion of cuts to education and social services that the California Legislature just passed, were proposed by Jerry Brown and passed by a Democratic Party dominated legislature with barely a whisper of protest by the California Teachers Association (CTA), the California Federation of Teachers (CFT) or virtually any other union in California.  Unless we build the strength of the independent civil rights movement and force the politicians to abandon their attacks, they are totally prepared to destroy public education and the future of Oakland’s youth. Superintendent Smith and the Board are already discussing mass school closings for the upcoming year, commissioning a study that claims the District has up to “40 campuses” of excess space. We owe it to ourselves and the students we teach to fight for our shared interests and needs. We cannot have the OEA end-up as just another organization that says one thing but does another – that is in-bed with those who are closing public schools and converting them to charters. We must stand on principle.
We are proud to stand-up with our students and to build the power of the oppressed to hold onto public education and to advance progress and renew prosperity. In 2006, the massive immigrant rights demonstrations that repeatedly shut down Los Angeles and other major cities gave birth to a new movement that stands squarely for increased democracy and reviving the struggle to make America a more equal less segregated and divided society. EON/BAMN candidates were leaders in building the mass immigrants’ rights marches in Oakland. It’s clear that the Latina/o and immigrant communities that led the massive actions in 2006 are staunch supporters and defenders of public education. A call to action by our union to defend our early childhood, K-12 schools, adult education, and community colleges and universities would be met with enthusiasm and massive support in action. We know that victory is possible. We call on anyone who refuses to condemn California’s Latina/o, black, immigrant and poor youth to a future devoid of educational opportunity, hope and dignity to join us in building a movement with the political perspective and social power to win.

Elect Ben Visnick

Statement of 
Ben Visnick
Candidate for OEA Treasurer 

Monday, April 4, 2011

(The following is an edited version of the candidate’s statement to Rep Council)

I’m Ben Visnick, a history and driver education teacher at Oakland High and the parent of an OUSD student at Montera Middle School. 

I started my career in Oakland Public as a substitute teacher at Frick Junior High in 1977.
There was a 9-day strike that year which reduced secondary class size from 35 to 32 students per class.  In the late 70’s, I became directly involved in CTA as an organizer of substitute teachers in both Richmond and Oakland where the bargaining units were legally expanded to include per diem employees.

I received my first Oakland contract in 1982 and taught for 10 years at both Calvin Simmons and Madison middle schools.  During that time, I successfully advocated to include temporary teachers in the District health plans and to force OUSD to issue more probationary contracts.  OEA struck again in 1986 for 19 days and won a 20% raise.

In 1992, I was elected OEA President and the union initiated the 3 R’s campaign.
The OEA took the lead in demanding that OPS Reduce class size, Raise teacher salaries, and Reallocate resources to the classroom.  

Oakland was successful in sparking the state-wide K-3 class size reduction program, but it took a 26-day strike in 1995-96 to help accomplish it two years later.

I returned to the classroom in 1996 and watched the energy that OEA helped develop in the community dissipate by the turn of the century.  So I became First Vice President (again) in 2002 and opposed the 4% furlough/pay cut negotiated with State Administrator Randolph Ward by an OEA President who went on to become a principal in Vallejo.

In 2004, the OEA membership returned me to the presidency.  Our main goal was to restore the 4% pay cut, maintain a real choice of Kaiser and Health Net, guarantee at least one staffed elementary specialty period, and secure an actual raise for both contracted and substitute teachers.

Little did we know, as we conclude the 2010-11 school year, that the small 2007 salary increase would be the last raise Oakland educators would receive in four (4) years!

As I move closer to retirement and look back on our successes and failures within OEA, why would a 58 year-old teacher with a 12 year-old son want to become an elected OEA leader once again?

Why I’m Running

1) Since 2002, OEA has lost over 500 members.  This decrease is due to both demographic changes in the city, subcontracting of bargaining unit work, and the growth of non-union charter schools.

To better organize in the community against lay-offs and cutbacks to our Early Childhood, Elementary, Middle, High School, Adult Ed and Special Education programs, we need to be on stronger financial ground.  OEA Reps will receive shortly (as part of my campaign) a detailed plan to begin organizing the charters, stopping subcontracting, and collecting the appropriate dues from every possible unit member.

2) While our local OEA dues have remained constant, CTA and NEA dues continue to rise to the point where we are paying $1,019 per year to our unified local, state, and national organizations.  This amount would not be unreasonable if we were receiving the necessary support from CTA and NEA.  Instead, much of our Oakland dues are being used to operate a duplicate CTA office on the estuary at a cost of $120,000 per year!  This money could fund two OEA/CTA organizers to visit schools and form alliances in the neighborhoods of Oakland.  This redundant office must be closed and we must return to a full-service and one-stop center on East 12th Street and 3rd Avenue.  Soon, I will provide a detailed plan to make the OEA Center an efficient office housing both OEA employees and the CTA staff assigned to serve the OEA/CTA/NEA members working in the Oakland Unified School District.

3) As Chair of both the OEA Scholarship and Hardship/Solidarity committees, I have the proven fiduciary skills necessary to be your next treasurer.  Not only will I provide monthly updates to Rep Council on our union’s finances, but will function (as one of five (5) OEA officers) as a team player to help our union transition to a younger generation of leaders.  Even my detractors recognize the wealth of knowledge I possess as a veteran of over 30 years of struggle to make OEA the most dynamic urban teachers’ union local in California and across the USA.

So please vote for Ben Visnick during the week of May 9-13 and look for the above plans to make OEA a stronger union for the future battles ahead. Together we will defend what we have achieved since the advent of collective bargaining in the 1970s and move forward in the current decade to enhance teaching and learning conditions in Oakland for our students and the dedicated educators who are the members of OEA.

labor donated/4-18-11

What Has Ben Visnick Done for OEA Lately?
May 2, 2011

1)      Ben reminds you to enroll any dependents under 26 years old into your negotiated Kaiser or Health Net medical plan.  Your young adult does not have to be a college student to receive this coverage!  The deadline is May 31 to change plans and/or add dependents.

2)      Ben, as Chair, has expanded the annual OEA Scholarship Program to support 7 deserving OUSD graduates who desire to become future public educators.

3)      Ben, as Chair, has written the amendment to allow the OEA Hardship Fund to support “solidarity” cases such as our $500 grants to Wisconsin teachers and the locked-out (for over a year) Castlewood Country Club workers in Pleasanton.

4)      Ben has encouraged the adoption of the Special Education Community Advisory Committee (CAC) Letter to require OUSD to hire more career Exceptional Educators for our Exceptional Children (over 10% of our students in OUSD).

5)      Ben hosted the meeting for our March 15 RIF recipients at Oakland High for over 538 OEA members receiving those needless/wasteful certified letters.
He continues to urge you to wear your buttons demanding “No Cutbacks, No               Layoffs” to Save Quality Public Education in Oakland.

6)      Ben advocates for the remaining laid-off/consolidated members whether they are Adult Ed, Counselors, Early Childhood, Foreign/World Language, Psychologists, Core, or Vocational Ed/ROP colleagues.

7)      Ben favors the rehiring of qualified temporary teachers from 2010-11 for 2011-12 positions in OUSD before any new employees are hired through outside agencies that are not designed to recruit and retain career educators.

8)      Ben is both a teacher and parent within OUSD.  Therefore, he knows what families and educators want in our public schools.  He strongly believes that best practices currently exist in all of our schools which must be replicated district-wide without the use of consultants or charter management organizations.

9)      As OEA Treasurer, Ben will provide Reps with monthly updates on the status of:

          a) Wells Fargo General Account; 
          b) Provident Membership Assistance/Solidarity Fund; 
          c) Loan “owed” to CTA;  and 
          d) Executive Board expenditures over $500.

10)   Finally, as Treasurer, Ben will continue to advocate that OEA prioritize opposition to the sub-contracting of our positions and organize the current charter schools to stop the attrition of our OEA bargaining unit which has lost over 500 members in the past decade.    

 (labor donated)

Elect Craig Gordon

Re-Elect Craig Gordon 

for OEA Board Seat #4 

OEA members face a stark choice: Continue to hope that collaboration with administration and Democratic “allies” enable us to save public schools in Oakland or begin to fight hard for the resources students and teachers need for quality education for all.

I began teaching in Oakland in 1990. For five years I focused exclusively on developing as a classroom teacher and didn’t get involved in OEA. So I understand why union activity is a low priority for many of our members, especially new teachers. Nevertheless, we must now engage many more members if public education is to survive in Oakland. But even if we get more members involved, the question remains: What must OEA do to defend and improve public schools?

Some in OEA, including my opponent in this election, emphasize OEA collaboration with the district.  This approach suggests that OEA should convey our views and rely on district administration and promises to make needed changes. I strongly disagree.  I greatly respect OEA’s participants in the recent Quality Teaching task forces and convention (and I have participated in other OUSD task forces), but we should have no illusions that such meetings will bring concrete change. 

Reliance on collaboration has left OEA unprepared to fight cuts that have worsened conditions in our schools for years.  Has collaboration brought a raise, restored counselors, nurses, librarians, or assured current class size limits for next year? Only last year's one-day strike slowed the district’s plans to increase class size. Even with the recent withdrawal of most pink slips, 95 layoffs remain, more than 350 certificated positions are slated for elimination, and Adult Education, serving 25,000 people—parents of our pre-K through 12 students—has been destroyed.

It’s particularly important now to have leaders who clearly understand that—despite sincere-sounding claims to the contrary—District administration is not on our side. The privatizers in GO Public Schools are cultivating members to lead our union into more collaboration with those decimating our union, our schools, and our students’ futures. Our members have a clear choice in this election: 

Ø      Either collaborate with the privatizers or fight ongoing cuts, increasing class size, and violations of the OEA contract.  

Ø      Either accept excuses that “the money isn’t there” or join efforts to build a campaign for a bailout of public schools and services instead of banks and corporations.

Throughout history, each movement for social justice has been derided as crazy. Then the tide turns: some people fight back, a critical mass grows, and suddenly abolition, women’s suffrage, desegregation, and stopping of a war are accepted as common sense. Today we are told that to demand what students and teachers need is “unrealistic,” and that we must accept the “new normal” of worsening educational conditions. But growing numbers of people around the U.S. and the world are fighting back, saying, “no, we won’t pay for the banks crisis.” The choice is ours.  

Also endorsing :  Mark Rendon for 2nd VP / Mark Airgood for Treasurer
Tania Kappner for E-Board Seat 1 / Vincent Tolliver for E-Board Seat 5

A few accomplishments as an OEA leader and activist, E-Board member and Site Rep:
Co-founded the oaklandteachers listserve in 2006/ Initiated and supported efforts to maximize bargaining transparency / Led OEA’s effort to protect rights and educational conditions in new small schools / Co-authored OEA’s Create Success Vision/ Have helped lead the Schools-Not-Banks campaign and actions and the campaign to make large Oakland-based corporations pay for public education / Led fight to save Paul Robeson High School / Have vigorously and effectively represented many members at my site and others/ Pushed for legal challenge to Results Based Budgeting /Led fight to defend seniority and rights of consolidated teachers

I welcome your ideas and questions about how OEA can move forward. Please email me at