Great Oakland Public Schools: 2010 School Board Elections – Oakland’s Big Opportunity

Every two years, we elect people to the Oakland Board of Education – a group of seven adults who arguably hold the most power in our community to improve Oakland’s public schools. This November, Oakland voters will elect school board Directors in Districts 2, 4, and 6.

As Board Member David Kakishiba recently told GO Public Schools, “If you care about kids, you should run for school board.” Given Oakland’s affinity for democracy and activism, voters should be choosing from an amazing array of school board candidates. Oakland has no shortage of passionate leaders, well-qualified to be effective board members. Teachers, volunteers, nonprofit leaders, coaches, principals, after-school providers, neighborhood activists, and parents (only one sitting board member has children in OUSD schools) can all be candidates.

Compared to a city council race, running for school board in Oakland can be an inexpensive endeavor. If there are fundamental reasons that the position of School Board Director does not attract candidates, it is our responsibility as Oaklanders to change the job description and public perceptions of the board. To create a great system of public schools, we must elect a great school board.

Of the seven sitting Oakland School Board Directors, three ran unopposed. That doesn’t necessarily mean they are not good Directors. It just means there’s a lack of competition. Competition in school board races generates important ideas and critical conversations about our public schools. Voters are better able to hold school board members accountable. Board members better engage with their schools, parents, and students. Conflicts of interest are revealed. We spend public money conducting elections — competition helps ensure real engagement in return.

School Board Director is a very powerful position: the board directs hundreds of millions of dollars for Oakland’s 45,000 public school students, 95 campuses, 3,000 teachers, and 476 acres of land. The Board’s areas of influence are wide-ranging: teaching and teacher effectiveness, school facilities, parent engagement, collective bargaining, technology use, college and career readiness, budgeting and taxes, health, safety, and more.

Oakland Public Schools are the most improved in the State of California over the past five years. After five years of state receivership, we have local control back, the school board hired a promising new Superintendent Dr. Tony Smith, the Mayor hired Police Chief Dr. Tony Batts, and Oakland will likely have a new Mayor next year. The 2010 Board of Education election comes at a crucial time for our public schools.

If school board elections and OUSD decision-making got just a fraction of the attention the City Council gets from the media, advocacy groups and aspiring elected officials, our schools would make dramatic progress.

Our schools are our city. Oakland’s children are Oakland’s future. Great Oakland Public Schools believes that Oakland’s adults need to dramatically increase engagement with our Board of Education.

Decide how you will be a part of the Board of Education elections this year:

  • RUN for the Board of Education. GO explains the basics of running for school board and about the Oakland Board of Education.
  • CHALLENGE candidates about schools and education – including City Council and Mayoral candidates. GO has prepared a list of questions for Board of Education candidates.
  • VOLUNTEER your time for a candidate you support.
  • GIVE money to a candidate you support.
  • VOTE — October 18th is the last day to register to vote, and vote-by-mail begins October 4th.
  • ATTEND candidate forums and debates.
  • SIGN UP and BE INFORMED via GO Public Schools’ regular election and education updates.

Great Oakland Public School Information Center is a 501c3 nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing the education reforms that have made the Oakland Unified School District the most successful large, urban district in the State of California for five years in a row. GO Public Schools Information Center provides the much needed avenue to increase your understanding of public school issues, facilitates participation in decision-making about our schools, and provides ways to volunteer to improve our schools. We invite you to be a part of our coalition. Visit us at today!

55 thoughts on “Great Oakland Public Schools: 2010 School Board Elections – Oakland’s Big Opportunity

  1. Mary Hollis


    Well, you could argue that having no child in the system makes for more objectivity.

    Who would vote to cut resources from an under-performing school that one’s own kid was at?

    Could we really trust the allocation of resources to someone with a very personal stake in the result?

    I’m playing devil’s advocate here, partly. And partly not.

  2. ComeOnNow


    Some of our worst school board members have children or grandchildren in the OUSD. What bearing does it have?

    We should all be invested in a quality education system for Oakland’s youth.

  3. Max Allstadt

    In the upcoming races, I’d be less concerned about which candidates have kids in OUSD and more concerned about which candidate got caught dating a kid who was in OUSD.

  4. Pondoora

    Don’t get sidetracked by claims about the test score benefits of the reforms. You’ll find that the claims are based on a selected set of partial information, and exclude other important things. For instance, despite the improvement which was cited in the posting above (the link to a discussion about the rise in API scores), the Achievement Gap is alive and well in OUSD.

    OUSD API Scores (2002 to 2009)
    White: 806, 829, 847, 859, 884, 882, 891, 902
    Asian: 684, 708, 718, 749, 768, 778, 802, 807
    Latino: 494, 542, 559, 592, 609, 616, 642, 660
    African American: 539, 559, 562, 587, 604, 602, 609, 630

    Black/White achievement gap in 2002 = 267
    Black/White achievement gap in 2005 = 272
    Black/White achievement gap in 2009 = 272

    Enuf said. Wasn’t closing the achievement gap the primary motive of the testing and reform ventures?

    This same phenomenon is occurring at the state level, but when he’s out in front of the public, Jack O’Connell glosses right over it.

    State of California API Scores (2006 to 2009)
    White: 801, 805, 816, 828
    Asian: 844, 852, 866, 878
    Latino: 654, 665, 683, 698
    African American: 637, 643, 659, 674

    Black/White achievement gap in 2006 = 164
    Black/White achievement gap in 2009 = 154 (definitely some improvement)
    Latino/White achievement gap in 2006 = 147
    Latino/White achievement gap in 2009 = 130 (even a little better)

    The California Department of Education did not calculate State level API scores for the subgroups prior to 2006, as it did for districts and schools. This means that there is no way to know about the progress of the state’s achievement gaps of the prior accountability years. Isn’t that odd?

    As for the climb, Oakland’s kids may or may not be becoming more educated as a whole. I know the teachers are working their behinds off to bring the scores up, but also that instruction in other areas has been sacrificed. Improvements may also have occurred because of relentless test prep and drilling in the two narrow subject areas.

  5. oakie

    I already voted–with my feet. I finagled getting my child in a nearby, but non-dysfunctional district. She’s no genius, but doing just fine, thank you. We spend every afternoon in the Rockridge library (when they bother to open) where she does her homework and I read. We get to observe what are called “students” in the OUSD from Claremont Middle School just outside the windows, making lots of noise and trouble. Apparently they don’t need to spend much time studying to maintain the level of academic performance evidently acceptable to their parents. You can put an Albert Einstein or a Bozo the Clown on the school board and I’ll bet you the “student” academic performance won’t move one bit. Just a hunch, mind you.

    The best thing people can do is to not participate in a dysfunctional system. What is needed is for this beast to die so people can start over. We are well on our way, with a decline in student population from 55,000 to 40,000–so far. Besides, you can bet the teacher’s union makes sure they get their people in office so they can make sure they get the sweetheart deals they want (just like the municipal unions gave us Mayor Sleepy and the Sever Drawfs). They’re going on strike some day next month to ensure we are all aware how underpaid they are. No mention of improving academic achievement, however, and in particular no demand that their compensation be based on student achievement. It’s no wonder Oakland opted out of competing for Obama’s Race to the Top. Apparently we’re not interested in that idea. I’m not surprised.

  6. Robert

    Pondoora, I would hope that the purpose of reform is to improve the education of all, not to worry about the achievement gap. California and Oakland have floundered in the education of everybody, and that is what needs to change.

  7. Max Allstadt


    Some of the ways in which OUSD operates are direct contributors to the education gap.

    The way our school choice system works, children of low income parents are at a disadvantage.

    The way our special ed system works, we have a much higher tendency to label minority kids as needing special ed than we do white kids. That’s not because of objective differences in the population. It’s because cultural norms of behavior in certain minority groups are misinterpreted by teachers as “rebellious” or “non-compliant” when they’re really just more expressive about their feelings than white kids tend to be socialized to be.

    And last year, two Oakland schools that deal with emotionally disturbed kids were sanctioned for violating rules about restraint. They may lose their certification for educating emotionally disturbed children. As it happens, a majority of these kids are also non-white. The snafu that will likely happen as a result of this will essentially force OUSD to pay non-public schools to educate these kids.

    Not worrying about the achievement gap is simply unacceptable. It exists. The institutions we’ve created over the past 100 years are responsible in many ways for creating the achievement gap. As we reshape these institutions, we set them up to fix what they broke in the first place.

  8. Ralph

    How does the school choice system work against children of low income parents?

    “More expressive about their feelings,” sounds like white speak for giving an unruly undisciplined misbehaving black child a pass for acting a fool.

  9. ComeOnNow

    True That, Max.
    Run for the School Board!
    Why is that an invitation that somehow attracts more pedophiles and loons than the average smart, caring Oaklander?

  10. livegreen

    Max, I second Ralph’s question. Please explain what “cultural norms” are different, and how they’re misinterpreted by teachers (many of them minorities themselves) based on the race of their students?

    I’m not asking to find disagreement but to understand your point. I actually think there are different experiences here, rather than generalizing about all teachers & all schools. For example:

    –The OUSD principals and teachers I’ve seen are multiracial themselves, believe in discipline to a reasonable degree so that they can teach their classes (but not so much that they are harming or disenfranchising the student), and willing to educate kids no matter their racial and cultural backgrounds.

    –On the other hand I’ve heard from some minority AND white parents with special needs or active children that one OUSD Elementary school in particular discourages these or out of district students from coming to their school. & if the parents decide to enroll the child anyway, the parents will be called for any slight that a child makes (no small misdeed slips by).

    By deterring “active” or “special needs” students (pushing them to other schools), it makes it easier for said school to pump up their grades. A charter school mentality without being a charter school…

  11. Max Allstadt

    Livegreen, Ralph,

    White kids are culturally taught to be more restrained with their emotions. White teachers who grew up in the same context are more likely to diagnose non-white kids as emotionally disturbed.

    This isn’t just conjecture. It’s backed up by stats. Non-whites, particularly black students, are more likely to end up in special ed. Test scores and other objective data to not confirm that non-whites are actually more prone to learning disabilities or emotional problems. There is a perception problem. There is a cultural understanding problem.

    I’ve been dating a high school special ed teacher for two years. I’ve made the same counterarguments you both made, and I’ve been presented with data that showed me that I was wrong. I’ll ask my girlfriend to dig it up, and I’ll get some links, but I know what I saw.

    It’s also important to add that the cultural norms of self expression that I’m talking about are not just racial, but also class based. Teachers, having been through college and often grad school, have been trained accept the same cold discourse that they experienced in college.

    In a college class room, someone who raises their voice in an argument is often seen to be either an asshole, primitive, or both. Outside of college classrooms and Unitarian churches, putting emotional content in your voice and raising your voice is often seen as a good way of telling people you really mean what you’re saying.

    Anyway, the point is that there are plenty of statistics out there to illustrate that non-whites are over-placed in special ed. Again, I’ll go digging for links, and pass them on.

  12. Ralph

    I am going to put this is as nicely as I can, I do not doubt that some kids are railroaded in special ed, but the rest of that is the biggest piece of crap I have ever read. Are you honestly saying that black kids are not taught to be restrained with their emotions? Children who are disciplined and taught to respect authority tend to do so in class. Children who aren’t, don’t. No great mystery. These children don’t need special ed. They need someone to do what their parents won’t knock some sense into them.

    This cultural understanding crap is a free pass to allow people to act a fool. And any person white, black, or star-bellied who perpetuates this as a cultural norm is doing their best to limit the opportunities of these young people.

  13. Max Allstadt

    Ralph, I am saying that there is a widely accepted body of research that indicates that children raised in minority cultures are more likely to get placed in special ed, both in Learning Disabled and Emotionally Disturbed programs.

    I am saying that there is a large body of data that shows that this discrepancy is most pronounced among black boys.

    I am saying that there is strong data that shows that much of this discrepancy may come from cultural differences. I’m talking about subtle differences, not misbehavior.

    There are other factors: a poor kid, or a kid who’s parents are uneducated about parenting is more likely to miss vital developmental and educational milestones. When that happens students can end up playing catch up for the rest of their lives.

    Minority kids, statistically, are less likely to come from families with multiple generations of accrued ancestral wealth, or from families with traditions of valuing formal education over pure labor. This increases the likelihood of missing educational milestones.

    And in every kid, the set of circumstances is different. We are, after all, talking about humans here. But they’re kids, so the cultural norm they know isn’t their fault. Knocking them around won’t give them sense. It’ll desensitize them, alienate them, and teach them that violence is a valid means of expression.

  14. Naomi Schiff

    Max, in general I think you are correct. Anecdote: a young man at Tech got stuck in special ed from early elementary school all the way to 10th and 11th grade, despite quite fine intelligence and charm. He turned out to be pretty good at math, and a teacher finally helped him escape. However, it took superhuman effort and he barely had enough time left to take classes that would actually teach him something. He was always popular, and managed to conceal that he was in special ed by the expedient of going to his classes late, so no one would notice where he was going. It was heartbreaking! His parents had been told early on that he needed to be in special ed, and they believed that the school staff was trying to be helpful, so didn’t question it. A tragic way to mess up someone’s formative years.

  15. Naomi Schiff

    Re: school choice. In general the better Oakland schools don’t have room for a lot of kids to transfer in. Thus, school choice works best if you want to send your child to a school that is less attractive and scoring lower than the one in your neighborhood. School choice can only work if the better schools have slots for anyone who wants them. We need to rework Proposition 13 and make more funds available for education. It is a scandal that California is now at the bottom of the US in per-student expenditure. We are going to pay the price in inability to compete for economic development, and in social problems caused by lack of opportunity and jobs. Creating a fairer property tax structure is critical. Close the loophole!

  16. Ralph

    I can not figure out if either you have offered valid evidence that white people do not understand black people or your are just twisting words to suit your needs. Any self respecting black person knows that “knocking some sense into them” is not the same “knocking them around.” And most reasonably intelligent white people would also understand the meaning.

    White people like to lay black failure on a host of reasons; yet, they never cite accountability. i’ve read the books. I’ve seen the data. Up through the 70s there were a number of poor black families that made progress. These families valued education, and they disciplined their children. But when the family unit starting breaking down, all hell broke lose. What you fail to acknowledge that these same poor black boys when put in a classroom with teachers who hold them accountable do remarkably well.

    So, I repeat, the biggest impediment to success is white people who don’t discipline the unruly children and don’t hold them accountable for their actions. The way the black teachers explain it to me is the white teachers neither hold the black and brown students to the same standards nor discipline them as they would the white students. The white teachers cite studies that indicate that minority children are different.

    I think what pisses me off is you or anyone describing misbehaving blacks as some type of cultural norm. I can understand if one says that some minority families may not place the same value on education, but there is no way I am going to sit here quietly and read some bull about minorities have some cultural norm that predisposes them to acting like a_holes.

  17. Naomi Schiff

    Ralph I think you are correct that people’s preconceptions can easily cause them to lower their expectations of students, and that this has a devastating effect. Not just the teachers, either: the administrators, the surrounding community too. It is certainly not a kindness to students to expect less, and in my experience the most successful teachers were indeed the ones who demanded that kids measure up.

    But it’s also true that the resources need to be there to support the effort. Like, the students need to get their textbooks issued promptly, and deserve to be in a physical space that is not a mess. And the teachers need to feel they will be rewarded with respect from their community, and not constantly threatened with school closure and other forms of disregard.

  18. Ralph

    Naomi, since Max did not answer my question, I will ask you about school choice. If I understand you correctly, school choice doesn’t work because students are assigned to the neighborhood school first. But if the neighborhood school is failing, there are limited number of slots at performing schools for students who want to switch schools.

    I haven’t attended a public school since second grade or right before they started busing in my district. I have no horses in school and have no idea of how students are assigned to a school as it seems to vary by school district.

    Naomi, is there a point to your second paragraph. I think we all believe that schools need to have resources. I don’t think that was ever in dispute.

  19. Ralph

    Naomi, ok, i think i see your resources connection…i have always hated prop 13. heck i started hating it back in the 70s and I didn’t even live in CA. i also hate ballot box budget which eliminates our elected officials to allocate what would otherwise be discretionay resources to where they are needed.

  20. Naomi Schiff

    Ralph, the school choice program as it currently operates allows parents to enroll their kids in out-of-neighborhood schools IF they have room. It works particularly if you want your child to go to a worse rather than a better school than otherwise assigned! If one is a pushy parent, it may be possible to manipulate the situation somewhat, but it is exactly those who feel uneasy and not well-versed in working the angles whose kids need those good “options.” Basically, it doesn’t work so well.

    And things have gotten quite confusing since the small schools idea hit a few years ago. OUSD renamed many schools and broke up larger ones into co-existing small schools on a single site, each with different names. How is a parent to negotiate this, even if a native English speaker? I’m pretty savvy, have a college degree, and still I was frequently mystified by communications and arrangements with OUSD.

    My point in the second paragraph was that some of the problems we are having with California schools stem from our consistent reduction in per-pupil spending, over a period of many years, gradually destroying what had been a fairly decent school system.

    The recent small-schools idea (which I don’t think was necessarily bad) caused duplications and increases in administrative costs, which might have seemed trivial when Bill Gates was sending OUSD tens of millions of dollars, but which is a real problem now that a) he has changed his mind about small schools structure and gone on to other things, and b) the economy tanked.

    It proves once again that sweeping single-idea “reform” waves often destabilize the schools, and in seeking a perfect solution, cause disruption and harm. I think we have to learn that jumping onto each successive fad is not the route to school improvement. That is why I am also very very dubious about this idea of firing everyone when a school doesn’t meet some test goal. Is it really a wonderful approach to reform to go all the way back to square one when you hit a rough patch?

  21. Naomi Schiff

    Ralph, I agree with your point above. The problem with California’s initiative-crazy constitution is that we legislate so much of the budget, and some things it becomes impossible to support when the economy goes downhill. We have really devastated some key government functions, including education and transportation. Prop 13 really has to go, or be rewritten.

  22. Ralph

    One of the big problems I see with public schools besides testing is this strange desire to replicate a private school in a public school. It never works. In one district, the people in charge thought it would be a good idea to do a K-12 at a lg public high school. They did not take into account the differences in student sizes and needs. Small schools strikes me as yet another of those boneheaded ideas. I don’t think I ever had a class with more than 22 students until I got to college. But my parents paid the freight. Unless taxpayers are willing to pay the freight, this is probably not feasible in a public school. Don’t get me wrong, I think teachers are way underpaid, and I think we as a society value the wrong things. But with some changes, such as the elimination of teacher DB plans, it may be possible to make changes that have real impact. I need sleep.

  23. len raphael

    a couple of months ago had a long conversation w a close friend re nyc school reforms under bloomberg. my friend has worked as a teacher trainer for about 10 years, after teaching at various schools and levels all over nyc for about 6 years. he has no particular stake in the game since he’s not covered by union contract or seniority.

    he is unimpressed with the quality of data in nyc’s data driven envoirment. countless times he’s taken calls from young teachers who ask him how to respond when their principal tells them to change test scores on exams they’ve graded. other times he’s seen high level planning designed to show student exam improvement by intentionally depressing them in the early phases of the program. usually the exams are graded by the same teachers who are themselves graded by how well their students do.

    while he doesn’t work with teachers at charter schools, he knows quite a few teachers who teach at some of the most successful ones. he says the good ones really do a fantastic job. the problem he sees is that they achieve those results by devoting 6+ days per week of the teachers lives to working closely with the students. you can’t work at one of those really good charter schools and expect to have a life of your own, no matter how well some of them pay.

    his take on Teach for America is that spending the same money on improving the teaching of young career teachers will improve a lot more students in the long term
    than providing an experience and a resume builder for an ivy leaguer who will probably go on to law school in three years. (my friend was ivy league grad :) .

    -len raphael

  24. Max Allstadt


    Thank you for your anecdotes. And thanks for helping to explain the situation to Ralph.

    Ralph, I want to reiterate that I’m not supporting misbehavior or labeling it as a cultural norm. The issue is that teachers may misinterpret cultural norms of “standing up for one’s self” as pathology, when in fact, all that’s needed to correct it is some swift and firm discipline.

    Instead, some of kids who talk back, and a disproportionate number of black boys, receive a diagnosis. Things like “Oppositional Defiant Disorder” get pulled out of the DSM IV, and kids end up being sent to special ed. Once they’re in, the mounds of paperwork required to get them out are staggering.

    Ad to that that over-diagnosing special ed needs is very costly to our school district, and will get more expensive. Federal law mandates a “free appropriate public education”, but there’s a catch, if no local public school can provide appropriate special ed services, the law mandates that the district pay a private school who can. We may lose one or two schools for ED kids next year, which means a lot of private school tuition being payed out by the district.

    As for school choice, Naomi is absolutely right: the kids who most need the chance to go to better schools are often the ones who’s parents aren’t engaged enough to work the system or even work within the system to get their kids placed. Blame it on bad parenting all you want. That’s not the kid’s fault, and they’re the ones who lose out.

  25. Dax

    A poster above states the following.

    “We need to rework Proposition 13 and make more funds available for education. It is a scandal that California is now at the bottom of the US in per-student expenditure.”

    The point that California is “at the bottom” of the USA in per-student expenditure is a myth.

    A myth that is perpetuated by the California Teachers Association as well as by local teacher groups.
    The true facts are found on the National Education Association web site.
    There you will see that California is just about in the middle of all the states in per pupil expenditures. It normally ranges from 24th to 26th over the past few years.

    Other facts you will find there, are that California teachers have the highest average salaries in the nation. Normally #1, California may have fallen to #2 behind New York this past year.
    That average salary is not the $40,000 we hear about in the news, but is in fact around $68,000 per year currently.

    As to Proposition 13, the actual education expenditures when adjusted for inflation are no lower than they were in 1978, the last year before Prop 13 took effect. However loads of new programs have been added such that even if you stay at the same 1978 revenues, you appear to have a shortfall.

    The truth is that over the past two years, if it were not for Prop 13, the impact of this recession and housing collapse, would have been much more severe for property tax income.
    You see, most of the homes out there are still paying more each year in property taxes because of the 2% proviso in Prop 13.
    But for that, you’d have 100% of all homes being re-accessed and property tax revenues falling by 20% to 30%.

    Thus, during this downturn, Prop 13 is holding up tax revenues.

    Beware of commonly held views that are often based on information distributed by those organizations with vested interests.
    If you only listened to the CTA you’d think that California Education has suffered loses in funds for each of the last 6 years. In some of those years, those were only theoretical cuts, based on the arcane formula in Prop 98.

  26. livegreen

    Max, Using the word “cultural” is a double edge sword. It might be a safer alternative than “race” but it sure sounds more race-based than many of the economic reasons you actually gave.

    Also, I find it interesting that you’ve said white teachers put black students in a special ed track, while Ralph has said that black teachers complain white teachers fail to discipline black students like they do white students. These two perspectives might not be mutually exclusive but they do speak to not making stereotypes about either students OR teachers, and then saying this or that about the wrong things white teachers do (the common thing in both your equations).

    I don’t doubt that some of either of what you are saying is true. But a lot of the reasons you gave for students would equally apply to poor whites and therefore be economic, not cultural. & I’ve personally witnessed a number of teachers of a multitude of races willing to use moderate discipline on students of a multitude of different races. Likewise they’re not afraid of calling the Principal or calling the parents if additional assistance is needed.

    Also there are no schools in Oakland that are run solely by white teachers. Therefore either of the problems you’ve both mentioned (special ed tracking or lack of discipline) are not created by white teachers alone. It’s teachers AND administration of multiple backgrounds, & only in the schools it pertains to.

    Let’s lose the cultural and racial generalizations about students, teachers and schools in Oakland. All the problems and solutions we can discuss cross these lines and have other causes/solutions than race and culture.

  27. livegreen

    As to school choice, or “Options” as I believe OUSD calls it, I don’t understand Naomi’s point against it. Of course better schools are harder to get into. That’s because they’re better schools & more parents (of all backgrounds) want to send their kids there!

    It’s kind of like having “school choice” light with only public schools in the process.

  28. Andy K

    Man, step away for a while, and miss all the comments.

    Back to board members not having students in the system, I think that board members with students in OUSD do have significantly more of a stake. I would not want AC Transit Board members that did not ride the buses, EBRPD Board Members that did not go to the parks, EBMUD Board Members that did not rely on EBMUD, etc.

    Of course, I would expect the board members also need to be objective and qualified as well.

  29. Ralph

    LG, Naomi is slick with a point. At midnight, I had to read it twice, but then again there are lot of things I need to read twice at midnight.

    School choice has been used to describe a number of programs and I am not quite sure I have a full understanding of how it works in Oakland. At its core it seems like parent can opt to send their kidlet to a better school but are there conditions which must be met first.

    I had planned to do some research into school choice today but I only got as far as it varies from district to district and results are mixed.

  30. Max Allstadt


    I use cultural because it’s the most accurate. Cultural is a smaller category than racial, but it can include multiple races.

    I’m not theorizing here. I’m talking about a specific problem that I’ve learned about from some very smart special ed teachers. They’re not theorizing or providing anecdotal evidence as they’re sole support either. There is data. There are studies in which teachers born outside a minority community identify the same behaviors as problematic vs. normal when those behaviors come from kids of different cultures and/or races.

    And there are programs in place in multiple teacher training programs attempting to address this problem.

    And no, the data suggests that the problem isn’t just about the economic situation of the kids. It’s about race and culture of the kids being misunderstood by teachers from outside that race or culture.

    Lastly, Naomi’s point against school choice, and mine, is that it puts kids at a disadvantage or advantage based on who their parents are. Parents in poor communities with fewer resources tend to chose to keep their kids in schools near home, and the schools near home tend to be lower performing.

  31. Ralph

    Andy, I assume you mean people who have school age children. In theory, I think if you are on the OUSD board and have school-age children you might want to send them to an OUSD school. I mean, afterall, you don’t see Phil Knight wearing Reeboks. But as a parent responsible for our most treasured possessions, don’t you have an obligation to do what is best for your child?

  32. Robert

    Dax, shame on you for trying to confuse people with facts.

    Andy, I think the school board is a lot like the governing board for any other institution. You want a mixture of people who have a real stake in the outcome, and others who have specific knowledge or skills, but who do not have a stake so the they can maintain some level of objectivity.

  33. Born in Oakland

    Wow! School board politics, school choice, Prop 13, cultural norms, race, special ed, CTA, etc. I had not realized teaching the 3 ‘Rs had become so complex. It’s a wonder children learn anything at all.

  34. livegreen

    Max, You say it’s cultural but the more detailed description of challenges you gave sure sounds economic. So it might also be coincidental. eg. There are more poor african americans on a % basis than whites, therefor it looks racial. (without getting into economic causation). So I would like to know a) the data; b) how it compares similar economics across racial lines; c) whether it takes into account the break-down of the family structure in many black families (that Ralph mentioned before). Or at least compares it between similar family structures across racial lines.

    Re. your point about teachers, all I’m pointing out is in Oakland there are many teachers and principals who are not white. Do your statistics break-down white OUSD teachers as being the reason black students are tracked into special-ed?
    In other words, does it compare the amount of black students placed into special-ed by white teachers vs. teachers of other ethnicities?

    Does it then track their oversight by principals of white vs. other ethnicities?

    Finally, what does this tell us about how teachers are managing students & their classes & what should they be doing both to transcend their “cultures” and teach effectively?

  35. Max Allstadt


    The studies I’ve seen are nation wide, not from OUSD. Broadly, what they suggest is that all teachers, black, white, whatever, are more prone to explain misbehavior by black boys as pathology, where similar misbehavior by any other kids is more likely to be treated as a disciplinary issue.

    Nation wide, the placement of black boys into special ed is wildly out of proportion. Nation wide, I believe that it’s even out of proportion for black boys who don’t come from economically disadvantaged households, though not as far out of whack as it is for black boys as a whole.

    As with anything, there isn’t one magic factor that’s making this happen, but it certainly supports the conclusion that there is still disadvantage and an unconscious bias in our education system against black boys.

    There are other contributing factors: IQ tests still exist which have not been normed to a cross section of the racial makeup of the country, and these tests are still unfavorable to non-whites. In california, this has led to a law which forbids public schools from administering IQ tests to black students.

    All I was really setting out to say in the first place is that there absolutely is an achievement gap, and that educators, academics and everyday people haven’t yet been able to adequately address it. Simply dismissing it is unacceptable. It is a giant complicated problem that we should expect to wrestle with for decades to come.

  36. Born in Oakland

    I don’t believe dumbing down the curriculum or social promotion, for whatever group of kids is an acceptable way to go…it cheats them of a life. Unfortunately, if you catch the school board battles of the past and watch the discussions of the present, one gets the feeling this primrose path continues. Putting Frida Kahlo and her fashionable peers on the murals at Oakland High does not seem to vastly improve the graduation rate, nor the upgraded sports field, or the new under- construction computer and science building. While the latter are certainly noteworthy, it belies the fact that what is happening in the classroom does not measure up to other high schools. And yet the kids are as well behaved and just as smart looking and bright eyed and age appropriate as their peers at Mt. Tamalpais High in Mill Valley (“A Distinguished School”.) But of course,, people in Marin are rich, every single one of them. And people in Oakland and their kids are poor, every single one of them. Talk about stereotyping! Someone is failing these kids and OUSD is good place to start looking for why.

  37. livegreen

    When you make such claims without specifying that they are nationwide (which you did earlier), it makes it sound like it applies locally and it makes it sound like the statistics show white teachers are prejudice. I’m sure they are in some parts of the U.S., and maybe even in Oakland. But my bet is that the number is less here in OUSD, because why would a prejudice teacher even want to come and teach here?

    –I’m not suggesting we dismiss it, but I will suggest that nationwide stats about how white teachers treat black boys might not apply equally to OUSD & some other school districts which have a long and continuing history of racial prejudice.

    So they might apply, but (for example) on a more limited basis. There’s no way of knowing without our own testing/experiences. And any such test should also account for coincidental causation (like economic).

    –You answered my question about economic causation comparing poor whites to poor blacks by talking about non-poor blacks. That doesn’t answer the question.

    –As mentioned earlier I know of one school that actively discourages high needs or active students from applying. I guess they might say that’s not racist, since these actively work to discourage students across racial lines. On the other hand I don’t know internally (behind the scenes) how they actually define these students…

  38. Ralph

    LG, I would not label the teachers as prejudiced. It is more of a bias. There was and continues to be a huge disconnect between classroom teaching for teaching and the actual experience. As Max noted above these issues are being addressed in the curriculum for education/teaching majors.

    The old model assumes each child comes from a 2 parent family does all the typical stuff to ready a child for school. The reality, as you know, is much more complex. You have students who have to act for their parents because their parents don’t know the language; students caring for an ailing elderly family member, some working all hours of the night to earn rent and or grocery money, others are just trying to dodge bullets in the park….what you end up with are bunch of kids who are attending school tired, hungry, stressed, etc. At best the kids are labelled as slow at worst hyperactive, developmentally challenged take your pick. But in reality what they are is hungry and stressed. Sadly no one expects a 10 year old to be stressed, so no one is looking for it.

    Putting this discussion in terms of white teachers / black students is pointless. It has a lot more to do with the teacher’s reference point. A middle class black who spent their entire life suburbia attending private school may not do any better identifying the signs either. You really need to be aware but if you have 40 students in a class that may not always possible.

    I once had a student in section who was accused of cheating on an exam. Since I was not proctoring that room, I did not see it, but the teacher asked me about him and as I put it together it crossed my mind that he might have a legitimate learning disability. He was tested and sure enough he did have a disability. Once addressed all his grades increased. I had maybe 20 students in a section, and we were a third of the way through the semester before this even occurred to me.

  39. Dax

    No one should propose “transformations” in the Oakland Public Schools until they have spent considerable time studying the Kansas City School District’s history of the past 20 years.

    See what happens when you spend your way to better performance.
    Besides, the OUSD doesn’t seem to have an extra 2 billion dollars anyway.

    Google ( “Kansas City” , Schools, billion”) and look at a couple dozen sites.
    Amazing how much money can be spent with good intentions, yet leading to awful results.
    Billions, not millions, Billions.

  40. Max Allstadt


    I think we may be coming into agreement.

    When we take all the teachers with disconnected points of reference, and we add all the kids and all their many stressors, we get all sorts of misunderstandings. As it happens, at the moment, data suggests that the group that is most adversely impacted is black boys.

  41. Livegreen

    Ralph, I agree with your summary of challenges. Including many outside the classroom that then impacts what happens in the classroom.

    While the school and teacher cannot dramatically affect what happens outside the classroom, they can at least try by calling or reaching out to parents whose kids might not b doing homework or falling behind (in between homework or before it’s too late).

    In the classroom they can learn to find solutions. For example, sending a kid whose not getting proper breakfast to get one at break helps them study better.

    But it can’t all b on the teachers, who are absorbing bigger class sizes, often have to pay for materials themselves, and often don’t have peer support or mentoring. Volunteerism (like both Ralph and I do) is sooo important.

    Schools also need to improve their support for teachers. This seems to b one of the biggest differences in Middle School between a failing school like Claremont that gives OUSD a bad reputation and a good school like Edna Brewer.

    Proof that generalizations about OUSD should not b based on any one school alone.

    Claremont’s bad rep keeps coming up on ABO as a reason not to send kids to any school in OUSD. I wish OUSD would just do something about this school and b done with it.

  42. Mike McMahon

    Oakland Unified School District has hired a Superintendent committed to educating all of Oakland children. Moving forward individuals who run for school board need to work as a team to support and hold the Superintendent accountable for the work that needs to be done.

    Over the years I have gathered information from various sources of what it takes to be a school board member. Here is a link to the summary:

  43. len raphael

    there’s a strange lack of specificity in the info each side publicizes re the (in)ability of the ousd to cover its 100mill deficit. OUSD thus rules out paying for any of the teachers’ demands that cost money until the deficit is eliminated and more funding comes.

    the oea talks about fixing the ousd deficit plus paying for raises by cutting independent contractors/consultants, and central HQ administrators.

    the ousd replies that most of the money spent on independent contractors is mandated by state laws requiring special services for special learning need kids or bilingual, or to pay for essentially cheap non benefited outsourced tasks that teachers once performed eg. playground monitors. ousd quitely admits that it’s admin costs are excessive, and vows to cut more deeply at HQ without specifics.

    but just when the public information releases from the union and management should be getting into the nuts and bolts of the cost situaton, the information flow slows down.

    Both sides agree some of the problem are the debt repayments to the state for the bailout of 10 years ago, but no one blames that and the takeover for most of the problems. (does JQ?)

    if the oakland teachers really have dropped to second worst compensated (including benefits) inthe bay area, (City of Alameda is a bit lower) the unions and ousd must both be leaving out some big factors because Oakland’s revenues shouldn’t have dropped that much compared to other bay area cities due to student and prop value drops? nor is anyone on the oea side saying there was a big growth of HQ compensation or costs was primary cause.of our money problems.

    Might it be that ousd has support staff who are much higher compensated than other bay area school districts, and at higher ratios to number of students. the whole living wage movement that pushes our average compensation for regular City .employees is maybe worse in ousd?

    wouldn’t oea and the ousd both scrupulously avoid suggesting big layoffs of support people for the oea because of union solidarity; for the ousd because laying off support people or trying to force major compensation cuts on blue collar and clerical staff would make it politically impossible to get those unions to work to pass a bigger parcel tax. or is both the oea and the ousd concerned about creating hostility between teachers and support staff?

    the proof of the support staff costs, won’t come soon. ousd will propose shuttering half the schools before it tries to improve support staff productivity or reduce their compensation.

    What are the compensation stats and staffing ratios for OUSD compared to other cities?

    katie murphy’s columns are great, the only Tribune government reporting worth reading. if only she asked some of those questions of union and ousd people, instead of relying on her blog participants.

    -len raphael

  44. Robert

    A major part of Oakland’s financial problems may well be from the declining enrollment. Other districts in the area have not seen the radical drop in enrollment that Oakland has seen. This has been compounded by the district (teachers, staff and especially parents) having fought school closings over the years in spite of the drastically reduced enrollment.

    It should give pause for thought that that Alameda teachers have lower compensation than Oakland but the average Alameda school is much higher performing than Oakland.

  45. Dax

    You know, one can make it all very complicated, but before one does that, one needs to begin with the figure of $616,600,000.

    Then take the figure of just under 37,000 students.

    That gives you $16,648 per student.

    Oh, I know, its all so very complicated. Money here and money there. Money from here and money from there. Programs for this and programs for that.
    Rules for these funds and rules for those funds.

    But the bottom line is that $616,600,000 is going to be funneled through that entity.
    Anyone here think they could some how, some way, create more education with that same amount of money?

    $16,648 dollars divided by about 166 average days attendance each year.

    Imagine you had $100 a day to spend on each kid. $500 per week.
    Heck, you could use $100 a week just for each of those with perfect attendance & completed work…..inducements, prizes, awards.

    But lets not think this way, lets complicate it with charts, slogans, PhD’s, and such. Lets get a room full of professionals and spend 4 hours with PowerPoint presentations.

    BTW, I keep hearing about Oakland having the lowest teacher salaries in the Bay Area.
    Does anyone here know the true “average” teacher salary in Oakland?

    All I keep hearing on the news is the “starting teacher salary”.
    BTW, I certainly don’t think teachers are overpaid.
    The “average” teacher salary in California for 209/2010 is $70,400

  46. Ralph

    Dax, I certainly do not follow all the districts, but that $70K figure would seem to be for teachers who top out with multiple degrees and 25+ years of service. So, if $70K is the average, then I see a crisis coming.

  47. len raphael

    NS, another poster to Kate Murphy’s site, explained that Oakland contributes 14k for family health coverage, but Alameda contributes a much smaller amount for family plans. Its that difference in health insur premimum coverage that raises Oakland’s average total comp above Alameda. Same old problems comparing citys pay schedules, crime rates, etc.

  48. Dax

    From the National Education Association

    Page 92 of the report (page 110 of the pdf)

    It says the average teacher salary for California in 2009/2010 is $70,458

    That is the average of all teachers, with all the different number of years on the job, and from the minimum degree to the most degrees.

    While I don’t doubt the Ed-Data’s info on this point, I do not always accept Ed-Data’s data.
    If you look at those listed next to Ed Data you find they have a stake in data that promotes what they are involved in.
    In particular, the often understate the true dollars per pupil, failing to indicate and include all sources of revenues.
    For example they might say the average dollars per student are $8,800 when the more accurate figure for that district might be $12,800 or even $15,000.

    As I said, if you take Oakland and divide by the number of students, you come up with something over $15,000 instead of under $10,000.

    Anyway, for 2008-2009 Oakland’s highest is said to be $70,934 which is more accurately stated as $71,000 rather than $70,000.

    Now, the average at $54,157 is rather low, but one must also look at the average number of years on the job compared to other districts.
    Also at the typical education level of each teacher.
    Having said all of that, I have no doubt that Oakland’s average will still be low.

    I would like to see the mean salary to see where it falls compared to the average.
    Still, Oakland’s salaries are still going to be low.

    The district has about $250,000 to $300,000 for each teacher.
    If $54,000 is the average, and we add $26,000 to that for benefits, giving us $80,000 per teacher, then where is all the money going between $80,000 and say $280,000…. where is that other $170,000 to $220,000?

    I know, I know, you can’ t discuss things in such a manner, but that is the kind of money pouring through the district.

    If you had a son or daughter and you were given $16,000 to spend on their education, would you spend it with the OUSD? How about $12,000?

    Bishop O’Dowd is about $15,000 to $16,000 per year.
    Elementary schools are half of that.

    I wish we had salary data on the OUSD like we do for the City of Oakland
    There doesn’t seem to be any data base for the Bay Area school districts like we see for the cities and counties.

    I really don’t know the answer to the problems of education in Oakland.
    Double the money would not make the graduation rate go up more than a few percent. I doubt the entrenched interests are going to find the most effective path. The current system doesn’t seem to please anyone.

  49. len raphael

    if we had school by school, or even grade by grade financial info it would help. how about writing to local ousd members and asking them to open up their books online to the residents if they want higher parcel taxes.

    but the comparison to O’Dowd is useful because unlike some of the other private high shools, it would have paid for it’s physical plant a long time ago (unless they refi’d). Wouldn’t have the fancy labs and fields of HR or CPS. Last i checked, average teacher compensation at catholic parochial schools was much lower than that at public schools. Somehow i don’t think their clerks and custodians are paid “living wages”.

    O’Dowd entry is competetive. It won’t take special ed kids, disruptive students, or ESL kids that oakland high schools absorb.

    we probably can find out, but assume for now that OD doesn’t get any subsidies from the Church. Assume it is breaking even or current revenues vs operating expenditures.

    so there is no way that OUSD high schools could approach delivering service equivalent to OD without it costing substantially more the maybe 16k/student OUSD might collect. And that’s before looking at OUSD’s controllable excess overhead/excess schools etc.


  50. Ralph

    Len, what are you going to do with school by school and grade by grade information? I could be wrong but the only real value is figuring out if the better paid teacher, which are presumably the most experienced are going to the “better/preferred” schools.

    On O’Dowd, I suspect like all better independent /private / parochial schools it is constantly updating the plant and requesting huge sums from alumni to fund such updates. Trust me when I say the the cost of tuition at O’Dowd is subsidized. I suspect that the tuition covers about 2/3s of the cost to attend with the rest covered by endowment income.

    Teacher pay scale for OUSD is available online. I am sure with some estimates regarding teacher education and years of service you guys can figure out the average OUSD teacher salary.

    Independent / private / parochial pay tends to be below public school compensation but the package typically includes reduced (and possibly) free tuition to your dependents.

  51. Ralph

    Len, to your compensation / salary issue…I think it is easy to make across the board salary comaparison. Where things get messy is when people start talking total compensation.

    If you are a teacher making $50K a year and someone says that the average is $70K, you frame of reference tells you that is not possible. Someone must be including the healthcare benefit in that number. If I turn around and tell you that the average teacher is BA+30 and 25 years, then $70K makes sense.

    You and I may know the difference but I don’t think everyone collecting a check knows the difference.

    Crap — meant to say pay not compensation for I/P/P in stmt above

  52. Dax

    First a point about the NEA average California teacher salary of $70,438. That is salary and does not include benefits and pension. Just salary.
    Benefit and pension package would be probably an extra 40% or more above that. Typical Bay Area cities benefit/pension costs normally come in at 50% or more of salary. The Golden Gate Bridge Dist. benefit’pension package is about 66% of its listed salary. ( I just happened to know that one).

    What is your definition of “living wage”… Is that what you think OUSD clerks and custodians are paid?
    Should O’Dowd pay more than the going market rate for the area?
    Should OUSD pay more than the going market rate for the area?

    “It won’t take…–disruptive students–…. that Oakland high schools absorb.”
    Imagine that. O’Dowd won’t keep students in the classroom who disrupt the other students. What a novel idea?

    “so there is no way that OUSD high schools could approach delivering service equivalent to OD without it costing substantially more the maybe 16k/student OUSD might collect.”

    Oh my, on the other hand, I’d bet if O’Dowd was delivering the service the OUSD was giving us, they could do it for under $8,000.
    I think you are looking at the problem from the wrong direction.

    The truth is that the OUSD could not deliver the service that O’Dowd does even if you gave them $36,000 a year for each student, and paid teachers an average of $75,000 salary.
    There is a myth about more money giving you better education.
    You are aware of the American Indian Public Charter School and its results.
    I don’ t believe its budget is much higher than OUSD norms.

    As I said in a earlier post, go look at what they did back in the 90′s in Kansas City. Back in the mid 80′s Kansas City spent about $70,000 per student (in todays 2010 dollars) and built wonderful buildings that were like a new college campus. Huge, brand new buildings, fully equipped with the latest.
    All the staff and assistants were brought to bear on the subject.

    The results were abysmal and the district continued to lose enrollment.
    Now it is down to 17,000 from about 77,000 and in bankruptcy.
    The infusion of billions did nothing to improve the schools.

    Google “Kansas City”, schools, billions. etc.
    Read about the experiment.

    Like I said, I don’t know the answer to the problems of the OUSD. Each new superintendent comes in with bold new plans. They leave a few years later, after minimal improvement, but with a fantastic “highest years pay” for their pension calculation.

    Put it this way, OUSD will never get a large enough increase in funding such that they can make a significant improvement using their current methods, rules and regulations.
    Increase teachers salaries by 25%, and other funding by 20% and I doubt you achieve more than a 1% increase in student performance.
    A example of this was the minuscule increase in performance attributive to the large increase in spending done to achieve lower class size.
    It amounted to a very poor investment.
    But the CTA liked the concept because it brought in more teachers and for the public the concept “made sense”…. To bad it didn’t deliver.
    Yet to this day, you keep hearing the mantra about keeping class size low during budget cutting.

    Oakland teachers are probably under paid. Too bad so much money is spent on all the other stuff and on students who really don’t want to be in school.
    Not only don’t they get a education but they prevent the others from learning.
    Keeping them in class to get the ADA money is a losing proposition.