Thursday, February 26, 2009

Hey Oakland, you’re being duped!

I’ve been studying this for the past several years and here’s the story.

In the 1990’s businessmen started to imagine the profit potential if businesses could take over the public education system. They hatched a plan that would maximize the flow of tax dollars into the hands of a few. They weren’t alone with such an idea; the same era also saw the privatization of prisons and military companies.

In order to acquire the public schools, they needed to be destabilized first. A national campaign was launched to discredit and undermine them as rapidly as possible. The primary strategy was to direct the nation’s focus onto a single measure of student success – test scores. Clever and consistent use of the media would help accomplish their goal, as testing failures make great headlines. Businesses immediately began to profit as public school systems started pouring money formerly destined for students into increased testing, test prep products, “consultants,” and other opportunists. Simultaneously, the need for decent levels of public education funding was continuously minimized and brushed aside.

To force a rapid loss of confidence in the public schools, a law was implemented which ensured that all of the public schools would eventually be labeled as “failing.” You must understand how NCLB works to understand that this is true. Even Piedmont Unified is considered by the Federal government to have “failed” for the past three years.¹ No one with a brain ever really believed that schools alone would be able to raise the achievement of our nation’s most-disadvantaged kids to that of the most-advantaged within the short time span of 12 years, but this is the fantasy they wanted us to believe.

These business people manufactured the crisis of confidence in the public schools (and the teachers working in them) in order to produce an exodus of those schools by the most anxious families. Voucher programs and charter schools were created which stood by with open arms to capture them. Vouchers ultimately proved problematic because of church vs. state issues, so the focus was turned on expanding charter schools.

Charter schools permit individuals and businesses to receive public money, but to exclude members of the public at the same time. From one school to the next, these schools obtain, or reject, students from particular types of families, both passively (self-selection and indirect pressure) and actively (targeted recruitment and elimination, as with “maybe this school’s not a good fit for you”). The regular public schools must accept and serve all students, even the most-difficult-to-educate ones, but charter schools are not held to that same standard.

If charter organizations could market their schools and make them seem better than the regular public schools (like selling soap by calling it “new and improved”), and if enough new charter schools could be sprung up every year, perhaps momentum would build which would make the regular public schools extinct, which is of course the ultimate goal. No more unions, fewer regulations, less transparency, etc. all sound good from the business point of view.

Enter Eli Broad, courtesy of Jack O’Connell (California’s State Superintendent of Public Instruction).

Billionaire Eli Broad is one of those eduphilathropreneurs who thinks schools should be operated like businesses. Not coincidentally, he also loves charter schools. In 2001, he started training really smart people to run school districts according to his grand plan. He needed a destination for his first graduating classes (The Broad Academy and Residency) so they could implement his ideas. The timing of OUSD’s financial troubles was perfect for him.

What happened next is revealed in a Tribune article of 8/03 which stated, “Brown [Jerry] and Broad are longtime allies, and O'Connell is a major recipient of Broad campaign contributions.” Take a guess at who owed whom a favor?

The rest is history. Since the state takeover, there has been a string of Broad graduates operating our district through a pet project called “Expect Success!” Instead of meaning to help steady OUSD, they wanted to create more disarray. Broad's henchmen did his bidding by undermining our established traditional public schools, all the while greasing the way for more and more of the charters they favored. Now OUSD has one of the highest levels of charter school enrollment in the country (at over 16%). Most of those schools popped up during this time.

It is not clear to me that charters need any more money. They are already supplemented by pro-charter philanthropic organizations and sympathizers, either directly (with donations), or indirectly (as in the case of providing website support, marketing, and who knows what else). Their principals and boards of directors have time to actively pursue these extras.

In 2007, the Walton Family Foundation donated $230,000 EACH to four charter schools in Oakland. Who knows how it was spent, but if it was spent on students for American Indian Public High School it meant an additional $2300/pupil, and for Oakland Charter High it meant an additional $7667/pupil. A county approved charter located in Oakland (Envision) also received $230,000 for 113 kids, and a start-up called the Oakland Health Science Academy received $230,000, too. Undoubtedly there is more to discover, but I’m just one very annoyed person doing the best I can.

And remember that pro-charter report recently released by the California Charter Schools Association? The Walmart family (Jim, Robson, Alice & Christy with a total net worth of 93.1 billion dollars) gave that organization $1,200,000 in 2007, and probably other hefty sums each year. Think how public opinion about OUSD could be swayed if it had funding like that to pay for propaganda of its own!

Oakland has been Eli Broad’s play thing for the past several years. His toy, our public school district, was handed to him by Jack O’Connell. For a person who supposedly cares about public education in Oakland and other urban areas, it’s funny that Broad has never been seen in our town. He hasn’t tried to connect with us as human beings and never will. This man has unimaginable wealth and must enjoy an extraordinary amount of power. Broad is so rich that $1,340,000 to him is like $10 to someone who makes $50,000!² Why does this person get to be the decider for what our city needs?

It’s a funny thing about the timing of O’Connell’s demand.³ As total control of OUSD is about to be turned over to our elected-by-the-people school board, can you think of anyone (especially someone who might be interested in a higher political office) who might still be thinking it would be wise to do favors for someone else?

In conclusion:

1. Oakland’s charter schools don’t need anymore money!

2. The OUSD school board needs to put a cap on them today!

3. We need to get the foul Broad stench out of Oakland, NOW!


¹ The City of Piedmont is an extremely wealthy separate city within the borders of Oakland. It’s students, not surprisingly, are very high achieving.

² Eli Broad’s wealth is listed at $6.7 billion. A salary of $50,000 is to $6,700,000,000, what $1 is to $134,000. His oh-so-generous $2,000,000 Broad Prize which he gives to urban school districts he approves of is like a person who earns $50,000 giving $15 to an organization they like. Whoop-dee-doo. Of course, everything is relative!

³ State Superintendent Jack O’Connell placed a parcel tax proposal on Oakland’s recent November ballot which would have boosted teacher salaries and provided about 15 percent of the tax revenue to our city’s charters. It failed. Yesterday, O’Connell sent a letter to Vince Matthews, his Broad-trained Oakland appointee who is in charge of the district’s finances. He directs Matthews to give the city’s charter schools $60 per student — about $480,000. O’Connell couldn’t tax our city, so he thought he’d get the money directly out of the district’s coffers.

ADDENDUM: Oakland is not alone; this billionaire-driven take-over-education-of-America's-children campaign is happening in other places, too. In New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg (another billionaire) has acquired total control of the school district, appointed Joel Klein to be his chancellor, and is using his gilded lubricant to ram charter schools down the public’s mouth. One of the recent local stories about this is here.

If we had been smarter – and if we had cared – we would have realized the 2003 Tribune article was the writing on the wall when it said: “I think we’re going to see more and more of what we call non-traditional superintendents,”’ Broad said, citing New York City and Chicago as examples of major cities where non-educators were put in charge of public schools.” And, “Broad played a key role in former U.S. Assistant Attorney General Joel Klein’s appointment as New York schools chancellor.”

But of course, who else?

Something is really wrong with this picture. If the billionaires had our (the People's) best interest at heart, they could have oh-so-easily found ways to improve the schools within the context of our democracy. If the billionaires had our best interest at heart, they wouldn't have felt it was necessary to completely obstruct public input while they revised our public education system. If the billionaires had our best interest at heart, they wouldn't have felt the need to grab democratic power away from American citizens in order to take absolute control of the education of our children.

What is going on is NOT how a democracy works. An especially worrisome thing is that Obama and Duncan are likely to have been duped by them, too. Oh America, sleeping soundly and oh-so-trusting, please WAKE UP!

In the meantime, I think it will be a good idea for me to read up on ancient feudalism and the more modern concept of self-determination.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Seeking Your Perspective Re: K-12 Education Reform + Update

Dear Dr. Anderson,

I hope this note finds you well and staying warm enough!

Perhaps you remember our few exchanges by email last April. Since that time I have continued to spread the word about your work because of its extraordinary value.

Today I am writing to you to seek your opinion. I have been trying to process an idea, and I hope that you will give me your perspective.

For the past several years, I have become increasingly involved with trying to understand inner-city issues as they relate to the current education reform movement, as well as to the situation at my local public schools. From the research and thinking I have done, I have come to believe that the most recent reform approach, one of NCLB penalties and the installation of charter schools, will never be enough to get to the root of the problem for the young people in those communities.

In discussions about “what is wrong,” the profound impact of decades of underemployment, as well as the extent of the damage and suffering which it has caused to families, are nearly always ignored. The focus of the current crop of education “reformers” has been narrowed exclusively on the supposed inadequacies of inner-city public schools and their teachers, and this is where the blame is most often assigned. I have come to believe that teachers and schools are being made the scapegoats to avoid discussion or correction of the true, enormous underlying issues.

One reason "Code of the Street" was so fascinating to me was because of your insights about "decent" and "street" families. I recognized the two types immediately. Here in
Oakland, I suspect the charter schools are being sought out by decent-oriented families in part in an attempt to provide their children an escape from street-oriented school mates and the havoc at school which they often cause. The resulting effect is the increasing stratification of students, school by school.

My notion is that the low-income Black parents who seek out charter schools for their children are a specific type, the type who is more likely to stress the importance of education to their children and to support the mission of the school in their homes (= “decent”). I believe that their children are more likely to end up with greater academic achievement than the children who happen to have been born to parents who lack enough of that focus.

To enroll a child in a charter school requires more forethought, effort, research and consideration on the part of the parent. This makes the population of charter school families a self-selected one. Charter schools prefer to deny this, but I know for certain it must be the case. I have learned from personal experience that some parents, through no fault of their own, have very extreme limitations in regard to supporting their children’s educations and complying with the mission of their children's schools.

Once the parents who are willing to invest the energy in seeking out a charter school are separated from those who won’t, there are additional features about charter schools which separate the nature of their families even more. Many charter schools are permitted to have stricter policies which require minimum levels of parental involvement and compliant student behavior. Families must sign contracts and their obligations are monitored.

Also, some of the schools are known to place pressure on students with low-performance or problems with behavior, sometimes just before state testing. Sometimes this pressure is so great that students will leave the charter school, in which case it is justified as not being “a good fit.” Then those students arrive at the regular local public school to enroll. Those schools are required, by law, to accept every child despite any poor academic and/or behavior records.

There is no reciprocity between charter and regular public schools. The regular public schools must accept and serve all students, even the most-difficult-to-educate ones, but charter schools are not required to do the same. In addition, regular public schools cannot require parent involvement, and have no teeth for enforcing it either.

So, I am beginning to envision an inner-city school landscape where charter schools appear more and more successful simply because they collect and concentrate the children of “decent” families. Additionally, they become the recipients of large donations from philanthropists because they appear to be educating inner-city minority children more effectively than the regular public schools. It is rarely admitted that the charter schools and the regular schools have an increasingly different population of families.

While all this is happening, the regular public schools end up becoming less and less successful, because the concentration of the more challenging “street-oriented” kids is getting higher and higher. And as the percentage of challenging students grows, these schools appear to become worse and worse. Discipline problems and truancy percentages increase, and any remaining “decent” families who use the school begin to reject them. Community support for these schools languishes.

So, Dr. Anderson, these are my concerns. I greatly hope you will have time to respond to me, and confirm, rebut, or expand upon them from your point of view. Feel free to reach me by email or by phone.

Gratefully yours,
S. H.

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Within two hours I had received a call from Dr. Anderson. We talked on the phone for nearly an hour.

From his perspective as a sociologist who has spent a lifetime studying the inner-city Black community, he confirmed my notion on this post.

According to Anderson, it is the more enterprising parents who will move their kids out of the public schools and into charters because they think the charters provide more opportunity. They are parents who monitor their kids closely. Of course, one of the main opportunities charter schools also offer is the ability for each group to self-segregate, the impetus of which, he explains, seems to be human nature.

This is bound to create a situation where the kids who don't have anyone to advocate for them – and who have weaker educationally-minded parents – will indeed all be stuck together in the regular inner-city public schools, without peers from any other groups to associate with. I described a potential situation caused by the current mode where the public schools will become filled with “untouchables” that nobody wants to be around or really cares about. We discussed how this scenario has parallels to the incarceration situation for Blacks that currently exists.

So it is obvious that one day, the question will be, “What is this nation going to do with all those children next?”

Anderson is so wise about these issues. He sees layers and layers of racial dynamics. By that I don’t mean just the usual ones that people generally talk about (black vs. white), but the many ranges of black group vs. black group dynamics in between.

He does see great hope with Obama being president, but also sees how everything Obama does is totally loaded with complex, and potentially politically-deadly racial booby traps. Obama has to proceed so very carefully.

I urged him to consider writing some of his thoughts about the way that racial and educational reform issues tie together, and if he does so, to please let me know.

(E.A.: If you read this, I hope it is okay. It is important to me to keep extending the conversation for everyone, so I wanted to reveal a few of the things we talked about.)

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

National Model or Temporary Opportunity?

My letter submitted today to members of the OUSD School Board and members of the Oakland Public School Parents Yahoo group.

Dear Community and Board Members,

I’ve recently discovered an unusually revealing document about the massive overhauling of
Oakland's school district during its occupation by the State. Its title is “National Model or Temporary Opportunity: The Oakland Education Reform Story.” It can be found at

The report was issued in September 2007 by The Center for Education Reform, a national organization with the mission to drive “… the creation of better educational opportunities for all children by leading parents, policymakers and the media in boldly advocating for school choice, advancing the charter school movement, and challenging the education establishment.”

As OUSD moves forward under local control once again, it is extremely important for
Oakland citizens to be aware of the information in this 13-page report. It is a document about our recent history which explains, from the viewpoint of those who were in power during the state takeover, their premeditated intent upon arrival, and the pre-planned strategies which they immediately deployed. OUSD was definitely targeted to become an experiment.

Both Randy Ward (an early graduate from the
Broad Superintendents Academy) and Kevin Hall (Chief Operating Officer of the Broad Foundation who oversees the foundation’s development of innovative education initiatives and investments) were interviewed for the CER report.

The document reveals that, “A group of Oakland small school creators, activists, technocrats, and philanthropists decided that the conditions were indeed ripe to try something big.” They had been waiting for a “politics free zone” to push their agenda; it was created once the state obtained control of the district. The speed at which they worked is evident today, as our district is, quite frankly, in a state of disarray. The morale of parents and OUSD staff has been deeply affected. In combination with the demands of NCLB, relief from the stress is desperately needed.

The report states: “Speed was important,” said Hall, who noted that all of the conditions that were in place in
Oakland convinced the foundation [Broad’s] it was a good investment. “We felt that if this happened slowly, you would give the forces of opposition too many opportunities to stop it in its tracks.”

It is bluntly revealed in this document that OUSD was a test case for the pro-charter movement, so much so, that OUSD worked with the New Schools Venture Fund to create a charter management organization which specialized in converting schools in need of Program Improvement to charter schools. Today this organization is Education for Change ( located on
Hegenberger Road. EFC was founded in 2005 by Kevin Wooldridge (also current CEO) who had been an elementary school Executive Director [or officer as in NExO?] in OUSD. This organization immediately obtained approval from OUSD as the manager for Cox Academy, Education for Change World Academy, and Education for Change Achieve Academy.

The CDE lists 79 schools for OUSD during the 1998-99 school year when the enrollment was 54,256. Several of the elementary schools were enormous and had to operate on year-round schedules. Our local small schools movement was created 1. to remedy that situation, and 2. because it was felt that even older kids would benefit from a smaller school community. With the support of then Superintendent Chaconas, additional OUSD schools were opened to relieve the overcrowding. By 2003-04 (the school year immediately before Randy Ward’s first) OUSD had 117 schools. At that time, none of the original schools had yet been closed.

The 79 schools for 54,256 students in 1998-99 contrasts with 2007-08 school year, when the CDE lists 145 OUSD schools for 46,431 students. Of those 145 schools, 32 are charter schools which enroll 16% of OUSD's students (= 7,845). This is far more than most any other community. A June 2007 demographic report stated, “…between 2000 and 2004, 37 percent of the District’s enrollment loss was due to the growth of charter enrollments, and between 2004 and 2006, the percentage grew to 58.” (

Since the state takeover, approximately forty OUSD schools have been closed. Most have been reopened as new, different schools. On the campuses of six original comprehensive middle and high schools are now 15 small schools. On the campuses of seventeen [closed] original elementary schools are nearly as many new elementary schools, including charter schools. Approximately 12 of the “new” schools that had opened since 1999 have now been closed.

This is the legacy of the Broad-originated operation in OUSD. The CER report concludes that there are lessons the charter school movement could learn from what was done in
Oakland. It admits that the “reform” attempt here was less than successful, mostly because it was too aggressive and fast, and that the academic “outputs” (test scores) never measured up to the program’s “inputs” (the money that was spent). However, the reform movement hopes the root of their project here has extended deep enough into our community so it can continue to live. They aren't particularly confident that it has.

Undeterred, the pro-charter forces have recently deployed a piece of propaganda to keep pushing their agenda and this is what the article in the Oakland Tribune today is all about. Of course, there is no reason to trust a pro-charter report issued by the California Charter Schools Association.

After being subjected to years of turmoil at the hands of the State Administrators, I urge members of the school board to declare a moratorium on granting new charters and proceed to determine a tolerable and fair charter school cap. I urge the district to focus on restoring stability, and to channel the energy into improving the schools we now have, rather than subjecting the community to the emotional pain and expense of closing and reopening more schools.

Sharon Higgins
OUSD Parent (Skyline HS)

Even if you plant them slowly, if you keep planting petunia after petunia in your garden you’ll end up with a garden full of petunias. Are you sure that's the only flower you’ll ever want?

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

My new hero

Here's an article about my new hero. I just learned about him today.

“Ethnic achievement gap in education can't be closed, Palo Alto superintendent says,” San Jose Mercury News, February 2, 2009.

When it comes to closing the achievement gap, Palo Alto schools Superintendent Kevin Skelly says educators are deluding themselves. And he dares to say what's become almost unspeakable publicly:

"It's just not possible for the average kid who comes to this country in seventh or eighth grade, or even third grade, without a word of English and parents with little formal education, to match the achievement levels of kids whose mom has a Ph.D. in English from Stanford and can afford to stay home and spend time supplementing the education of her kids.''

Closing the gap that is separating higher-scoring white and Asian students on one hand and lower-scoring black and Latinos on the other has become a key mission of California educators. Today, state schools Superintendent Jack O'Connell, who's made eliminating the achievement gap the centerpiece of his administration, is expected to pledge to continue those efforts, even as school budgets are axed.

"We know all students can learn to a high level,'' said O'Connell, who hasn't wavered in his mission. "We have a moral, social and economic imperative.''

Yet totally eliminating the gap would be "the triumph of hope over experience,'' said Skelly, who came from San Diego 19 months ago to take the helm of Palo Alto's 17 schools. When educators set that lofty goal, "We're not being honest, and it's to our detriment.''

Here in the shadow of Stanford University, those socioeconomic and educational differences are arguably magnified. While many professors, high-tech workers and other professionals have paid a premium to live in the city to send their children to highly regarded schools, other parents come from working-class backgrounds, some busing their children from East Palo Alto and eastern Menlo Park.

Make no mistake, Skelly said, his schools should — and do — try to bring up the achievement of Latino and African-American students. But idealistic rhetoric creates high public expectations for schools, while letting families, politicians and society in general off the hook, Skelly believes. By themselves, schools can't overcome the influence of parents, friends and communities, he said.

He believes preschool deserves more funding to better prepare more students to learn, and schools should ensure all students are prepared for college — so they don't end up taking remedial classes at community colleges.

In California, white students outscore blacks by 157 points and Latinos by 133 points on the state's academic achievement index. It's a gap that yawns in both math and language and at all grade levels, across income levels and school districts. And studies have shown a strong link between mothers' educational levels and their children's achievement.

In Palo Alto, where students as a whole outscore the state by a considerable margin, the gap is even wider: : On the state's academic performance index for 2008, the district's Asians scored 972, whites scored 934, Latinos 746 and African Americans 700. That's a 234-point gap between white and black students, up one-third from 2003 and nearly 50 percent higher than statewide figures.

The white-Latino gap also is greater in Palo Alto — 188 points — than it is statewide. But the school district has narrowed that gap by 7 percent over five years.

Skelly said he doesn't know why African-American achievement has fallen in the district. But he insists that schools are educating kids better than they did before. Bill Garrison, the district's testing guru, notes that a higher proportion of blacks and Latinos in Palo Alto suffer from poverty, learning disabilities and English deficiencies, all factors that pull down scores, than do whites and Asians.

Members of the Parent Network for Students of Color say even children who excel in elementary school falter so badly in middle and high school many barely graduate. "There's a huge problem here,'' said Melissa Kirven-Brooks, mother of a senior and twin freshmen in the district and a member of the group.

Kirven-Brooks wants Palo Alto to emulate successful staff training and parental involvement programs that have helped narrow the achievement gap elsewhere.
Skelly said the district is working hard on several fronts to bring up lagging students. At Barron Park Elementary School, some fifth graders have longer school days three days a week and start school two weeks early in the summer. Districtwide, struggling students attend an academic summer school.

While Skelly's colleagues may agree with his realpolitik talk that California must give schools the means to educate the immigrant and poor students, they take issue with his words. "Teaching is more powerful than what kids bring to school with them as background,'' said Charles Weis, superintendent of Santa Clara County schools. "We can close the achievement gap; we just need to create the environment where it can happen.''

Don Iglesias, superintendent of the San Jose Unified School District, is unequivocal: "I absolutely do believe that it is possible for kids from poverty and with high mobility to succeed.''

Skelly doesn't disagree with any of that, and he believes that his staff every day works to educate all kids: "If you stop believing you can make a difference in a kid's life, you ought to get out of education,'' he said. He just has an issue with setting unrealistic goals — similar to the state board of education mandating that all eighth graders, regardless of readiness, take algebra. He calls that "a nutty idea.''

Schools already know what does help students: longer school days, a longer school year and especially, an excellent classroom teacher for each child.

Yet those seem elusive this year, with massive budget cuts on the horizon. Even in that dark cloud, Skelly finds a possible silver lining. In a bad economy, he believes, "People will take education more seriously.''