Sunday, March 4, 2012

Acceleration TSAs: Another Ill-Conceived Experiment to Be Performed Upon Oakland’s Youth

After significant questions and concerns were raised by members of the Oakland Education Association (OEA) and OEA leadership about “Mutual Matching,” OUSD administration dropped this ill-conceived plan and adopted the OEA blueprint for transfers and consolidations from closed schools. Now OUSD has initiated an even more poorly designed plan. Castlemont, Fremont, and McClymonds are all scheduled to be “transformed.” If Superintendent Tony Smith and the District have their way, the entire teaching staff will have to apply for new positions as “Acceleration Teachers-on-Special-Assignment (TSAs),” 11-month jobs for which teachers would have to reapply on a yearly basis. There was no consultation with most of the current teachers at these sites or with the OEA, no effort to bargain the effects of these changes in working conditions.

Tony Smith and Matt Duffy, from the OUSD “Office of Transformation,” have postponed their visit to meet with Castlemont teachers on Monday, March 5. Why? Well, they heard that teachers from across Oakland were coming to listen to what they had to say about their thus far poorly defined “Acceleration TSA” position. Oakland teachers understand that no school is an island. We understand that we are the OEA, we are the union, and that we are all in this together. We agree that reforms could be a positive force in the education of Oakland’s children. However, reforms should be implemented in collaboration and cooperation with the entire OUSD community: parents, students, teachers, and administrators. Reforms should be put in place considerately and thoughtfully, with what’s best for students always guiding our plans. OUSD decided that Castlemont, Fremont, and McClymonds would need to be reconstituted before the school year began, and they have had months to initiate and implement such collaboration and cooperation.

Instead, Superintendent Tony Smith, Matt Duffy, head of Labor Relations Troy Christmas, Human Resources consultant Brigitte Marshall, and other OUSD administration have made minimal efforts to work with teachers or parents at the affected schools. At Castlemont, for example, OUSD has frittered away two-thirds of the school year that could have been spent consulting with teachers and the community about the details of the restructuring plan for the school. Instead, OUSD meets with some small groups of teachers and not others. Instead, OUSD works behind closed doors with corporate-funded groups like Great Oakland Public Schools. Instead, once again, OUSD decides to perform an unproven experiment upon children of color in the flatlands of Oakland. The OUSD plan to staff high schools with year-to-year employees—hired and fired at the whim of a principal—will result in even more instability for Fremont, Castlemont, & McClymonds. Of course, whether or not the experiment succeeds, its designers will move on to six-figure jobs in other school districts, or for corporate contractors, like so many in OUSD administration before them. Meanwhile, Oakland’s students, parents, and teachers will be stuck with the mess they’ve left behind.

OEA leadership has given the District numerous opportunities to work with teachers on restructuring the flatlands high schools. In fact, twice this year at OEA Executive Board Meetings, Superintendent Smith has been a guest. At both these meetings, the first on September 21, Castlemont teacher and Executive Board member Rodney Brown brought it to Smith’s attention that the principal selection process for Castlemont was not being followed according to OUSD policy. Brown also pointed out that teachers and parents had—so far—been minimally involved in the high school reconstitution process, at least at the Castlemont Business & Information Technology (CBIT) campus. On both occasions Superintendent Tony Smith expressed his concern and promised to take action. Nothing was done.

Oakland teachers and the OEA are not against reform. We believe we should look at real solutions, at real reform. Let’s talk about class size reduction. Let’s talk about split reading for grades K-3, where half of a class is taught reading for an hour in the morning and the other half for an hour in the afternoon with smaller teacher:student ratios, because it’s one-on-one and small-group instructional time that will improve student achievement in Oakland. Let’s talk about expanding programs like Teach Tomorrow in Oakland that bring local candidates and people of color to teach in our city, so that students can be taught by young role models who look like them and are from their community, because the personal connection between student and teacher matters far more than whether the school year is 180 or 190 days long. Let’s talk about addressing truancy, because however long the school year is, students won’t learn if they’re not in the classroom. Let’s talk about funding and staffing academic counselors at all Oakland high schools, because if we really want Oakland students to go to college that’s what it will take. The OEA is fighting for real reform, not the latest corporate-inspired flavor of the month. The OEA is fighting for our students.