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?


Anonymous said...

I just read Naomi Klein's "The Shock Doctrine" and as I read it, what happened in Oakland seems to be a small scale model of what the neocons did in Argentina, Bolivia, Sri Lanka, New Orleans and Iraq, which is to take advantage of crises, or to actually create disasters, in order to rush through radical free market changes that would never be possible if the so-called reformers had to obtain democratic consensus. In two of the examples from the book, Argentina and New Orleans public schools were replaced by charters. Similarities in Oakland to the various scenarios from the Shock Doctrine are:
1) Creation of a crisis mentality in the mind of the public
2) A rush to make radical changes in which government systems that serve large segments of the population are privatized. The new private services are inferior to the previous systems, when they work at all, and in the process high ranking government officials and CEO's make a lot of money while the working class subsidizes their own victimization.
3) General lack of accountability in the new privatized economy. Although taxes are support the education of 7845 students in Oakland charters, a number larger than the enrollment some entire districts, the taxpayers have little say in how their money is spent.

Anonymous said...

Nice dig on the reports Primate, thanks.

I'm not sure if I agree with lumping charter schools and the small school movement into the same category. I'll read the report and see if it changes my mind.

owlhouse said...

I'm so sorry to hear what has happened happened in Oakland, and hope that finding this document helps put you on the path to reclaiming your schools. It is really helpful to hear some of the process that was used in your district as we in Seattle prepare to fight the creeping privatization that seems to be headed our way.

Broad folks head our district- superintendent, chief academic officer, chief financial officer... Our school board voted 2 weeks ago to close schools and move and or merge programs. It's a "capacity management" problem combined with a budget crisis. The solution targets small, lower income, minority and alternative programs.

No surprise, the numbers don't add up and our district's administration costs are 39% higher than our state average.

This is a national trend and I'm hoping communities nationwide can start to coordinate in defense of public schools.

The Perimeter Primate said...

Here's a teacher's response on the listserve. Results-Based Budgeting was supposed to have been on of the "successes" of the state administrator's team.

"As a teacher, I am all in support of schools managing their own monies. However Results-Based Budgeting is a sham. Firstly, there are economies of scale that work better than "atomizing" the budget. If the district can get a better deal for buying paper in bulk, why should schools have to go to the local office supply store to pay top dollar?

Secondly, teacher salaries are figured into the budget of each school. Salaries increase every year for most teachers as they get another year of seniority. This means that the cost of salaries to a school increases every year. Thus what's left over for the classroom is cut each year. This is conscious policy and downright dirty. The alternative is that salary costs should be carried by the district and NOT factored into a school's budget.

The result is that experienced teachers leave Oakland. This works fine for the district because they want teachers with little experience who know nothing else except for the corporate-driven testing regime that is imposed on our schools. It is not good for kids.

Edmonton, Canada, first tried this scheme. The result, predictably, was that veteran teachers left the district. Every other place that tried a form of RBB carried the teacher salaries across the district. So why are the Eli Broad-inspired administrators here trying something that has been proven to fail? Is it an accident? Could it be that they are ignorant of the results?

The answers are clearly "No". They are using this ploy to drive down the quality of our schools, and thus the success. This justifies more charters, more privatization and and the current dis-integration of the public schools. It is a page right out of Naomi Klein's book about the destructive politics of neo-liberalism, The Shock Doctrine."

The Perimeter Primate said...

I just learned from Diane Ravitch that Joe Williams, the author of the CER report, is executive director of a group called "Democrats for Education Reform," which strongly supports charter schools, and which also recommended Duncan for Secretary of Education.