People describe Antwan Wilson, the assistant superintendent of Denver Public Schools who has been nominated to lead Oakland Unified School District, as having lots of energy and a track record of improving equity in education. Those attributes will be important if he becomes superintendent in Oakland because this district is moving on a dizzying array of initiatives, more than half of which are aimed at repairing inequities in opportunities for students.

The school board’s vote on Wilson’s nomination is scheduled for April 30 at 5 p.m.

Almost simultaneously, OUSD is:

  • adopting major curriculum changes for math and English instruction, to align with the national Common Core standards
  • overhauling K-12 discipline to end use of suspensions for defiance and erase racial bias in punishment
  • remaking the budget process to bring more equity in how schools get resources and spend more money and attention on needy students who are English learners, low income or foster kids, as required by the state’s new Local Control Funding Formula
  • figuring out how to comply with the Local Control Funding Formula and bring parents into decision making
  • changing its teacher evaluation system towards helping teachers improve
  • beginning turnaround intervention at five schools that are troubled by low achievement or chaos.
  • revamping special education

That makes seven initiatives. But they’re not all that will be on the new superintendent’s plate. OUSD also faces several steep challenges the new superintendent will have to address.

1. Closing the achievement gap

The most urgent is closing a wide achievement gap that persists between low-income students of color and wealthier white and Asian students. It is an opportunity gap in many respects, with entire schools in high-poverty areas floundering. Using the state’s Academic Performance Index as one measure of academic achievement — albeit a faulty and incomplete one — there was 200-point gap between scores achieved by white students and by African-American and Latino students last year. The gap is also 200 points wide when looked at through the lens of income. Oakland’s API scores were 896 for white students, 644 for African-American students and 687 for its Latino/a students. Low-income students of all races achieved only a 687 API. At two high schools in Oakland’s poorest neighborhoods, the school API is in the 500s.

Although graduation rates have improved in Oakland, particularly among African-American students, about 47 percent of boys who are African-American or Latino are still not graduating in four years, based on 2012 numbers, even though that’s a four percent improvement from the year earlier. OUSD graduation rate improved for all students in district-operated high schools by two points that year to 62.5 percent. When continuation schools, independent study and charter schools are included, the graduation rate for at 59 percent.

“The biggest challenge for Oakland is to address teaching and learning and really figure out how to close achievement and opportunity gaps in the district – you know for a large percentage of students of color who are low income,” said Arun Ramanathan, executive director of Education Truest-West, a national think tank, and a parent of OUSD students. “That is front and center for Oakland.”

In Denver, Wilson is credited with closing the achievement gap as measured by graduation rates and scores by increasing opportunity for high schoolers. As the assistant superintendent in charge of high schools and college and career readiness, Wilson added rigor to the high school curriculum and increased the availability of Advanced Placement courses, which helped more kids get into college. He told National Public Radio that setting high standards and expecting a work ethic were the recipe.

“We have a program called Zeros Aren’t Permitted, which means that if you do not get your work done on your own time, then we will use some of your lunch time to provide you with time — where you’re actually expected to get that work done in there,” he said in an NPR interview from 2006 when he was principal of Montbello High School in Denver.

Later as assistant superintendent n Denver, Wilson ended the use of suspensions for all but the most serious offenses, replacing suspensions with in-school expulsions. That meant if a student was removed from a classroom for disruptive or harmful behavior, he or she still stayed in the school and still did the subject work, just in another place where they would not disrupt other students from learning. Many in Oakland also want suspensions to be eliminated from discipline because many education theorists say suspensions feed a school-to-prison pipeline by taking kids out of school and thus causing them to fall behind and eventually drop out.

Denver Public Schools’ high school graduation rate is about the same as Oakland’s. Last year, 61.3 percent of Denver Public School seniors graduated after having started high school four years earlier. Here of seniors attending Oakland public schools, 62.5 percent graduated last spring, although when students in continuation schools, charter schools and independent study are included, 59 percent graduated.  But Denver’s graduation number represented a 22 percent increase over six years, according to Colorado figures.

2. Declining enrollment

A second big challenge facing OUSD is a continual loss of enrollment in its schools as more families move out of Oakland or enroll their children in charter schools, which OUSD funds, but which are independently managed. Currently, 10,000 students attend charter schools among the 46,000 students OUSD must budget for, while 36,180 students are in district-operated schools. With funds perennially short, the district often seems to be in an adversarial relationship with charter schools, competing with them for students and funds.

3. A shortage of Latino/a teachers

Thirdly, OUSD has been challenged to recruit Latino and Latina teachers, with parents, students and community members pleading for this. Its student population is 41 percent Latino, according to federal and state Education Department data, but that same data from the 2011-2012 school year shows that only 2.3 percent of OUSD teachers were Latino. That percentage has grown since then, the district says, but is still less than 10 percent. Students say it is important to have teachers that they believe will understand them and relate to them. Castlemont High School student Jacibe Gameros told Oakland Local that students sometimes have to translate for other students because not enough teachers speak Spanish.

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Antwan Wilson comes from a district, Denver, that is 58 percent Latino, according to U.S. Department of Education figures, and about 17 percent of its teachers are Latino or Latina. That’s still a significant gap, but not as big as Oakland’s.

“I spent time in Denver. He is a team player, leader, folks trust and depend on him,” said OUSD board member Jumoke Hinton Hodge, one of three board members leading the search for a new superintendent. “He can build strong community partnerships. He has worked in a district with a large Latino population.”

Hope in a new leader who faced similar challenges

Very similar to Oakland’s school population, about 72 percent of Denver Public School students are low-income, as defined by eligibility for free or reduced lunch.

David Kakishiba, another OUSD board member leading the search, said Wilson has lots of traits that make him attractive candidate, “But we were most impressed by his work in reinvigorating troubled schools, eliminating inequity and producing results for all students,” he said. He added that Wilson works through setting high expectations of his students, and created “a strong college-going culture everywhere he’s worked.”  Wilson is credited with helping to infuse a college-going culture in Denver high schools, adding rigor to the curriculum and inspiring greater numbers to attend college, particularly low-income students of color.

In Denver, like Oakland, many students have not gained proficiency in math and English for their grade levels. But under Wilson, Denver high school students proficiency rose in all areas. According to state figures, the percentage of Denver high school students deemed proficient in reading grew 6 percent in four years, from 51 percent to 57 percent of tenth graders by 2013.  In math, proficiency grew 10 percentage points from a very low 15 percent of 10th graders proficient in 2009 in math to 25 percent proficient in 2013.  Still only a quarter of students proficient in math is not a very high score. Statewide in Colorado, 34 percent of 10th graders were proficient in math last year. Writing proficiency among 10th graders in Denver grew from 32 percent to 36 percent in those years that Wilson was assistant superintendent in charge of high schools.

Denver Public Schools have been cited by the U.S. Department of Education and others for success in improving student outcomes. In the words of the U.S. Department of Education, a key innovation towards that end was starting a new teacher compensation system that raised teacher pay and built in a reward system for teachers who demonstrate effectiveness in raising student outcomes or are willing to take teaching positions in troubled, low-income or hard-to-staff schools.

The teachers’ union joined the school district in developing the plan, and Denver voters funded it with a $25 million tax measure.

“Denver has a legacy of improving student outcomes through collaboration between the Denver Public Schools (DPS) and the Denver Classroom Teachers Association (DCTA). Their work dates back over a decade to a pilot project in reforming teacher compensation,” said the U.S. Department of Education. The plan in place “includes incentives to reward student growth, working in hard-to-serve schools and hard-to-staff assignments, acquiring and demonstrating skills and knowledge, and earning advanced degrees.”

In Oakland, the teachers union, the Oakland Education Association, and the district represented by the Board of Education, continue to be in contract talks that are marked by distrust and some animosity, based on teachers’ comments at board of education meetings. Aside from this year’s one year retroactive contract, the teachers have not won a negotiated pay raise in 10 years, that is beyond raises for experience and cost of living.

Oakland teachers earn less than the average pay for California teachers, particularly among experienced teachers. That pay system has largely backfired in that Oakland has a disproportionate number of new teachers who leave after a year or two, causing schools to deal with continual turnover as OaklandLocal has reported here, here and here in an Education Voices series.

Several teachers at this week’s board of education meeting said they hope that teachers will have a chance to interview the superintendent nominee before a final decision is made.

15 Responses

  1. Seamus

    From what my teacher friends tell me, the challenges for teachers involve low student attendance (how to get students to go to school), students who don’t respond well to instruction, & student violence against staff & other students. (I’ve been advised NOT to take a sub teaching position in Oakland due to student…behavior.) In short, it’s the kids and their parents.

    Other stuff, teachers need more SDAIE training for ESL language students. The ban on bi-lingual education has made things difficult. I read the ban may be repealed, which will make everyone happy, except for the conservative folk who voted for it.

  2. Oakie

    So OUSD and the Union are eagerly ready to do an investigation into how to improve academic achievement. How earnest! How honorable! How encouraging!

    Hooey, to quote my Russian friends.

    In the real world: Congratulations to AIM High School, delivering top flight academic achievement again, and ranking Number 6 among all California high schools.

    That outranked Lowell High in SF, ranked #7, but where the African American share of the student body is 2% (vs 23% at AIM), Hispanic is 9% (vs 22% at AIM) and the socioeconomically disadvantaged is a mere 40% (vs 97% at AIM).
    I would love to see Lowell deliver their ranking if their student demographic matched what AIM works with.

    Also of note, KIPP San Jose ranked #4 statewide, and KIPP San Lorenzo ranked #11. Do you see a pattern?

    George Orwell famously said “To see what is in front of one’s nose is a constant struggle.” In this particular case, for the senior management of OUSD to claim it’s a difficult task to figure out how to provide top notch academic achievement in a school setting can’t see what is in front of their collective noses. And they earn how many $100,000’s to claim that, as “education experts?”

    We in Oakland are not alone. Check out this PBS News Hour segment last night on the struggle in New York City to ALLOW charter schools to exist and compete for students:

    I will note the following from that news story:
    1. While NYC Public Schools is miserable at delivering academic achievement, their charter schools score top notch. Exactly like in Oakland.

    2. Critics of the charter schools argue points that are flimsy at best (“but they aren’t paying rent to us!, the private funders want to privatize so they can profit!”) but AT NO POINT do they talk about ACADEMIC ACHIEVEMENT and acknowledge how the public schools are failing at that and how the charters are delivering on that, and in particular with the socioeconomically disadvantaged demographic. Exactly like in Oakland.

    “Everyone’s trying to make an excuse [for why public schools fail] and do a gothcha [criticising charters] instead of looking at the teaching.”

    Here’s one of those gotchas: the public school principal in the story claims that the charters kick out all the difficult to educate. And yet the demographic shows, like AIM, that almost all are socioeconomically disadvantaged. Would that be the way you would skim the cream to score better?

    And most telling, no non anecdotal evidence is ever presented to show that it is the case. Exactly like in Oakland.

    3. If the critics of charters truly had the students interest as their number one priority, the facts in #2 would be a basis for OUSD to examine what the charters are doing right and how they could deliver it. Exactly like in Oakland.

    4. The new NYC mayor, opponent of charters, campaigned with strong union support with lots of money and manpower contributing to his successful election. The union’s participation in the corrupting of the election process (the mayor must negotiate union contracts and represent the people, not the adversary across the table) is a double edged sword: it taints everything they touch. Exactly like in Oakland.

    I see a pattern. And the question is, will Mr. Wilson be any different?

  3. LibbyCali

    Concise! Thank you. I see a good trajectory in OUSD right now and have for the past few years. Though the major bump in the road was the school “closure” debacle. “Closure” because every single one of those sites is now a charter school. But there’s a definite upward moving energy.

    I like in school suspensions. In our neighborhood, I see kids on the street and they say they’re out of school because they’re suspended for two days. With a big smile. What???

    I like hiring more teachers of color. 30 years ago, it was a profession many people of color chose. But paths to more monied careers have opened as teachers salaries have stagnated and respect has diminished. Come back!

    Two things:

    more adults on campus. Teachers need more support staff. That is key. Every teacher in training should have to commit to a semester or a school year in a needy public school district.

    The students that are not struggling and their families. Be they middles class, poor, in tact or single parent households. Be it an entire school of successful students or one single student. Seek them out and keep them supported. Retaining these families is the key to support for the entire district. They move or go private. High achieving low income students also leave the district just as often as middle class families do because the district turns it’s back, “You’re fine, we don’t need to serve you.” Tech is on a turnaround because it’s academies are attracting kids from the hills. And, as the way this district does, there is talk of striking the successful academies because they’re not “equitable”.

  4. ann

    Great piece! Two key issues not touched on.

    The math portion of the Common Core is poorly designed and relies heavily on language skills to decode math problems which will increase the achievement gap for ESL learners in this subject. OUSD should be collecting data and advocating for change and improvement to make the Math Core Curriculum less biased against English Language Learners. Many other states and districts are evaluating this program and fighting for change and improvements for their populations, we should too.

    One should also mention OUSD’s incredible shrinking school year and endless minimum days (one per week, numerous district scheduled days and 8 discretionary days per school). This is a huge tax on families.

    Charter schools are out performing OUSD because they have enough class time. More hours per day and more days per year and free or more reasonable homework programs.

    More affluent families have the resources to provide educational opportunities more days a year, many of Oakland’s working families don’t. OUSD needs to stop shifting the work of educating children back onto working families with limited resources and come to work and do the job.

  5. azephan

    As long as we allow students to be –socially promoted– through their time in middle school in (OUSD), we will continue to see the graduation rates for young Black and Latino boys suffer. Its a simple as that. You cannot thrive, or compete in the high schools when you have not learned the necessary skills, to produce the required school-work. Social promotion is the #1 reason these young boys act out in (OUSD) high schools. Its a predictable outcome. The system has failed them. The intervention needs to happen earlier. The high schools are trying, but the problem is too big, for “regular” comprehensive high schools. OUSD does a decent job in the elementary schools. Check out Parker Elementary in deep East Oakland. We can serve all of the demographics in Oakland when we have qualified staffing and Teachers.

    End social promotion now! We can’t waste anymore time.

    I will judge this new Superintendent, specifically on this issue. Wake up OUSD … fix the middle schools NOW!!

  6. Len Raphael

    A friend of mine who trains NYC public school teachers to teach writing, has several friends who teach in the most successful NYC charter schools with mostly low income kids. His conclusion is that the biggest factor in the genuine success of those charter schools is the extraordinarily high number of hours and days the students are in school either in classes or other school connected activities. Some of these are 6 days/week.

    In effect these are high quality boarding schools that take the kids away from their home environments. Makes me wonder how well those kids will do after they go on to college etc. eg. how well they’ve internalized learning habits.

    It’s burnout for the teachers who can’t keep that pace up and want to have a life regardless of the high salaries those charters pay.

    But the kids are benefiting.

  7. Oakie

    There is no doubt that longer hours, maybe a 6th day are critical and necessary to educate a demographic that are clearly not Lake Wobegon kids that have all the advantages affluence can provide. Even the hills parents do get exasperated at all the minimum days, as ann points out. That’s true in Piedmont, and maybe that explains why AIM outperforms Piedmont in academic achievement.

    And, of course, OUSD management, OUSD School Board, and the plethora of unions eating at the trough do not want to talk about it. Will Mr. Wilson? Or is it more of the same old same old?

    I suspect there is more to it, though. My indirect experience as a mere consumer of public eduction is that principals are the key ingredient in a successful school. Where I’ve seen exceptional and talented principals, schools have been fantastic environments for the kids to learn. Where it’s not, it’s awful hell holes.

    What I see in OUSD is a great deal of bureaucratic limitations from the top and restrictions from the teacher’s union so that principals simply cannot possibly operate according to what they believe they need to create a successful school environment. It would be great to interview the principals here and get their war stories about what prevents them from creating a great school. Will Mr. Wilson? Or will it be the same old same old?

    The union voices here demonstrate a dark, sinister and distrustful tone to what the principals can do to them. They operate from fear. If you assume that the principals are the bad guys, you can’t possibly expect the school to be a model learning environment. I suspect the good charter schools have outstanding principals who leverage the freedom they have to manage the staff to the benefit of the students, and the results of charters like AIM prove it. Will Mr. Wilson empower the principals to be able to unleash their talents to build good schools? Or will it be the same old same old?

  8. Len Raphael

    Oakie, For sure competent principals/asst principals backed up by competent central admin and working within reasonable protections of teachers is the single most important no additional cost way to improve a school.

    My educated guess is that downtown OUSD admin politics and parent organizational strength has a bigger effect on the selection and support of principals than teacher union work rules/power.

    Claremont Middle School on College Ave for example had a couple of great principals interspersed with real losers. Don’t think that had anything to do with the teachers’ union.

    Any anecdotal or otherwise info on this?

  9. Oakie

    I don’t have insight into CMS. I know we have a few activists in the neighborhood who work hard volunteering there and promoting the school (I doubt it has many kids from the Rockridge/Upper Rockridge demographic so those pleas seem mostly wistful to me).

    But you’re probably right that OUSD “Downtown” is doing the bulk of the damage in any particular school. Anything they touch seems to turn to sh$t.

    The union contract and the damage it does is district-wide and therefore nonspecific to any particular school principal. The lawsuit in LA by minority disadvantaged students, represented by the ACLU, charge that those sweetheart union contracts violate the student’s civil rights to a good education (apparently that’s in the CA constitution).

    Overall, I have to keep asking what is Mr. Wilson going to do about all this dysfunction? I don’t see any of the special interest players interested in solutions to the problem, even though they have examples of extraordinary performance within sneezing distance of their head offices. Hell, our School Board President would rather go to jail than allow new charters, apparently because she just doesn’t want to see more examples of successful teaching of Oakland students that show how miserable a job OUSD is doing.

  10. mike hutchinson

    Charters do not out perform public schools, in either Oakland or nationally. Charters don’t have to take all students, are exempt from many parts of the Ed code, have been mostly started by application in Oakland, can be run for profit, etc. The problem with Wilson’s hiring is two-fold. First there has been no community or stakeholder involvement in the search and interview process. The first time he is going to be introduced is when he’s hired? That is not how its been done in the past and it sure doesn’t set up the new Sup to have an honest relationship with the community he is going to work for. Second he is coming from Denver, another city feeling the effects of school privatization, and thus will likely continue the pattern of giving our public schools away to charters, which will further shrink and weaken the district. We already have the highest rate of charters in all of California and they are all located below 580. If charters are so great why aren’t the families in the hills asking for them?

  11. Oakie

    Hi Mike,
    Welcome to the discussion. I hope you don’t mind being challenged for your absolutist positions.

    “Charters do not out perform public schools, in either Oakland or nationally.”

    Well, I guess you might be able to claim this because there are poorly performing charters, just as OUSD run schools are poorly performing.

    The opposite is definitely true: Charters do outperform public schools, and I can prove it.

    AIM HS is ranked #6 statewide (including all public and charter schools) with API of 964 and Proficiency/College Ready at 92%. Here is the comparison AIM versus all OUSD run high schools:

    School API % Proficient %Tested
    APM High 964 92 100
    Oakland Tech 706 28 35
    Skyline 661 30 45
    Oakland High 650 21 45
    McClymonds 485 39

    Now these results are so clear cut, from the API to the Proficiency to even what % of the students are tested that I would love to hear how you would claim that this charter does not outperform OUSD run school, and in a dramatic way.

    And, btw, AIM is certainly not the only charter well outperforming OUSD. And I observe such a dismissive attitude toward the charters (given the facts about their actual, you know, student academic achievement) that you don’t seem to have any interest in understanding their “secret sauce” as to how they have accomplished that. You just want to rid us of them. And that is a “tell.”

    As to the “fact” that nationally there are no charter outperforming public schools?
    Success Academy in New York City ranked in the top 1% statewide in math, 7% in English (32% higher than public NYC schools), 100% proficiency in Science. KIPP schools operate across the nation with comparable results. In the Bay Area, along with AIM, there are two KIPPS that took 3 of the top 11 spots of all schools statewide. How can you claim that charters do not outperform public non-charter schools? Charter student population is less than 10% of the California population yet 3 of the top 11 are charters. That does not compute.

    “Charters don’t have to take all students, are exempt from many parts of the Ed code, have been mostly started by application in Oakland, can be run for profit, etc.”

    Well, this “charters don’t have to take all students” is a standard trope thrown out there. And never with evidence to my knowledge in Oakland (and I’ve searched). Care to offer any proof of this claim to help me understand?

    Furthermore, I will point out that AIM’s student body is 97% disadvantaged, with less than 2% Caucasians (in a city with 26% Caucasian population), and 23% AA and 22% Hispanic students. That doesn’t address your claim directly, but it sure does if you claim that AIM is skimming cream off the top to cook their numbers. That is simply not true based on, you know, facts. I know, facts are a bitch.

    Charters are indeed exempt from parts of the Ed. Code.

    You know what public schools in California are not exempt from but in fact violate?

    Equal opportunity for all students, including minorities and the disadvantaged, to a quality eduction. Which is why the ACLU is suing the LA School District for violation of the students’ rights. They could just as easily have sued OUSD for exactly the same violation. Why are you bothered by the former but not the latter? Again, it is a “tell.”

    Charters can be for profit: Well, maybe they could, but they aren’t. Furthermore, I would make the claim that there are many persons slurping up from the OUSD’s trough who are profiteering. How many 6 figure “experts” work at their central offices? “Experts” who have no interest in understanding how the high performing charters are accomplishing miracles with disadvantaged students when OUSD can’t? And will Mr. Wilson simply be one more at the trough?

    “… Denver, another city feeling the effects of school privatization, and thus will likely continue the pattern of giving our public schools away to charters, which will further shrink and weaken the district.”

    Gosh, this is breath taking. The concept of parent choice seems anathema and monopoly control by OUSD is the only “right way” to go.

    And it is clear that parents are, indeed, voting with their school choices for their own kids.

    You correctly point out how the non-charter student population in OUSD is shrinking. When I arrived in Oakland in the early 1980’s the OUSD student population was about 54,000. Today, the student population is about 46,000 of which a little over 10,000 are in charters. So the comparison really is 54,000 then, 36,000 now.

    But wait, according to Jill Tucker in the Chron there are 2,500 students on waiting lists to get into charters.

    I would suspect that the true number of OUSD non-charter school students whose parents would choose a charter are probably at least double that (given the fact that there’s no chance to get in, they just abandon the hassle of getting on a wait list). If true, then the actual number of students who are VOLUNTARILY in non-charter OUSD schools is closer to 30,000. If so, that’s quite a drop from the 54,000 30 years ago.

    The bottom line: even fewer students would be subject to what you prefer: non-charter OUSD schools. But the parents disagree, when they have a choice.

    I agree, this is weakening OUSD’s central control. I am assuming you want students to have better academic achievement. And, if so, then the charters are not weakening what our tax money is paying for, but strengthening it.

  12. LibbyCali


    AIM has 192 students compared to Lowells over 2500.

    AIM takes no special ed students.

    AIM accepts no students with records of disciplinary action.

    It is one extremely small example fraught in controversy with accusations of cheating and proven embellishment. Why don’t you switch to NOCCS?

    The critics of charters don’t ignore the academic success of the ones that have it. There’s a very logical line of reasoning as to why some charters, through hand picking of student bodies and parents who demonstrate far more know how then their peers, succeed. “Even though” the student body is from a low income demographic, it takes a lot of where with all on the part of parents to play the lotteries of charters. You ignore that.

    Much like you ignore the fact that students from college educated families at Tech are also doing quite well and continue to climb.

    It will be interesting to see how schools like KIPP and AIM that rely on rout test prep do when common core is implemented.

    Again, at 192 students it’s smaller than the smallest elementary school in Oakland. Too empirical.

  13. Oakie

    Thank you for that feedback. Everything is far more complex than any one of us can see.

    It is very true that AIM is small:

    AIM 192
    Oakland Tech 1858
    Skyline 1793
    Oakland High 1730
    McClymonds 247

    Not sure why McClymonds is so small, I recall the campus was pretty big.

    “AIM takes no special ed students.”
    That may be true (do you know that for a fact?), and their funding is 50% of OUSD public schools. Furthermore, isn’t it correct that all the academic achievement scores exclude special ed? So if that is so, it has no bearing on the comparison of academic achievement. It may be more about the funding and facilities.

    “AIM accepts no students with records of disciplinary action.”

    Isn’t a students records considered confidential? Does a charter have a right to see that information?

    Are you speaking about the level of discipline enforced? If so, that is a really really interesting comparison and topic of conversation I would wish to engage in. AIM makes no effort in hiding the extreme enforcement of discipline in their school, no doubt about it. Shall we compare that to what a student in a OUSD public school experiences when acting out? I’d be happy to explore that topic.

    “It is one extremely small example fraught in controversy with accusations of cheating and proven embellishment. Why don’t you switch to NOCCS?”

    I didn’t include NOCCS because it is K-8, has a student population that is 52% Caucasian and only 18% Disadvantaged. Funny thing is that AIM outperforms that, but only by a small amount…. but it does outperform and with entirely disadvantaged kids. And, btw, the student population there is 215, so it is a small school also. I’m not using NOCCS because I am interested in understanding how to successfully deliver a quality education to the least well served. You know, there’s that damn California Constitution which guarantees a quality education to each and every student. And OUSD violates it, day in day out.

    That “fraught with controversy,” “accusations of cheating” and “proven embellishment” thing (you didn’t include the ominous “whistle blower” coming forward) is all about who is attacking this successful school catering to the demographic that OUSD is failing. It is THEIR motivations that are suspect. And that is why I claim that those special interests engorging themselves at the OUSD taxpayer funded trough do not have the students as their number one priority. When they say it, they are lying by their deeds. And it is their students that pay the price for their malfeasance.

    “The critics of charters don’t ignore the academic success of…through hand picking of student bodies and parents who demonstrate far more know how then their peers, succeed…” etc.
    But they do ignore the academic success because they spend all their time trumping up charges and making a valiant effort to close AIM even though a judge evaluating their claim says he believes their charges fail on the merits. I don’t see an iota of effort being put into adopting any of AIM’s methods and structures to take advantage of their Secret Sauce. And if Mr. Wilson doesn’t he’s just another brick in the wall.

    Yes, I haven’t focused much on the lottery and how that affects the selection process as desperate parents attempt to get their kids into the charters because they believe/know OUSD would be a death sentence to their kid’s future prospects.

    But I haven’t ignored it in some nefarious way because I want to avoid it. It’s just that you’re focusing on the wrong end of that transaction: the problem is that there are far too few class seats in the charters. According to Jill Tucker, there are 2,500 students languishing on waiting lists to get into a charter. I suspect the real number of students wanting to get in to charters is at least double that. So the real issue is that OUSD has 36,000 students (down from 54,000 in the 1980’s) and perhaps 5,000 or more of them want out but can’t.

    Would you like to explore exactly why this is so? Do you think all those special interests at the trough fear the shrinkage of the head count in their schools, regardless of the academic achievement they deliver them? Is this related to School Board President Jody London proclaiming a willingness to break the law to prevent any more charters? Does it have anything to do with the diminishing opportunity of the union to collect dues and the power associated with that?

    Or is it because all those enemies of charters are doing it because the students are their number one priority? Hm.

    “Much like you ignore the fact that students from college educated families at Tech are also doing quite well and continue to climb.”

    I hardly ignore the Lake Wobegon kids because it’s contrary to my arguments. I ignore them because the parents are all college educated themselves and have the affluence and desire to ensure their kids are taken care of. It’s the minority and disadvantaged kids that concern me. Apparently having that distinction is disturbing to you, again couching it in tones of suspicion? I really don’t understand this line of reasoning at all.

    “It will be interesting to see how schools like KIPP and AIM that rely on rote test prep do when common core is implemented.”

    I say bring it on. I’m willing to bet on this one, even odds, that AIM and KIPP outperform OUSD public schools on any academic achievement metric you choose. I see no basis to conclude that increasing the standards in any way will diminish their advantages over what goes on at OUSD. I understand the “rote learning” argument. I just think it is founded in fear, not facts, from those quarters who simply cannot fathom the success of their educational philosophy, and all that it implies.

    I think you are just plain wrong. But if it proves out to be otherwise, I am quite prepared to back down from my stand. Are you? And that’s another “tell.”

    In a few years that academic achievement comparison will be available. And what will the enemies of charters do when, yet again, even under common core, charters outperform OUSD? The unions? The OUSD bloated management with or without Mr. Wilson? The School Board? The Alameda County BofE? I suspect they will continue to try to shut down charters and constrict the opportunity for disadvantaged Oakland kids to CHOOSE a better alternative to what OUSD offers.

    “Too empirical.”

    Empiricism is all we have. All the rest won’t get your car washed or a kid educated.

  14. LibbyCali


    Yes, I do know for a fact that AIPHS does not serve special ed students. AIPHS is listed with 1% of its population as Special Ed. The district is 29% and growing (simultaneously as the number of charter schools rise and the population in district schools falls). By comparison, I’m using Hillcrest k-8 by far and away the most affluent of schools in Oakland, also with a tiny, select (by geographic location) population. It serves 11% of its body with special ed. Yes, special ed students are included in scores. That’s why, when selecting schools, savvy parents go straight to the breakdown, look for their demographic or as close to it as they can get, and check those scores.

    And the funding follows the student, at least it is supposed to. Where do you get that AIPCS only receives 50% of OUSD funding? Sure would be nice if their landlord (Ben Chavis) wasn’t charging well above market value in rent to the school he founded. Charters are supposed to receive 70% of funding (and a free site, but then he wouldn’t get the rent if they moved to an empty district school like they’ve been offered).

    Further investigation: apparently 192 is also not accurate. Total enrollment is 106. And where does the 22% AA come from? AIPHS is 65% Asian, 23% Hispanic, 8% African American. At 106, AIPHS serves maybe 2 special ed students.

    Jill Tucker (not a fan) reported 2500 students are on waiting lists for Charters. I see this number comes straight from National Alliance of Charter Schools (it’s actually 2,261. Apparently Ms. Tucker cannot round down, only up). Searching away, I cannot find the methodology of the report that also claims it accounts for duplicates. I’m not saying I don’t believe it, but this is an organization with a clear agenda and that is to privatize the public school system because the political forces behind it do not believe education is best managed by local government, that private corporations function better (like Enron!). Obviously, there’s history and ample evidence of failure in the public sector. But the private sector has been attacking non-stop for decades. I see the failure of an unsupported system. There’s weight in the case for longer learning days, though there’s mounting evidence that children are over-taxed for time and not doing as well in higher education as their peers of 25 years ago. There’s many, many studies showing that students who have more free, unstructured time but are supported by family and schools perform the best. iE Finland and Germany. For students who have families unable to support them academically, perhaps more time in an institutional learning environment is better? That’s a big perhaps. You should know the history or the minimum days and professional days. Oakland teachers have had to give concession after concession and are among the lowest paid in the Bay Area. In spite of their reputation, I have never seen evidence of teachers leaving campus at the bell (I have been responsible for 5 Ousd students in my lifetime, do the math on the number of teachers). When at the bargaining table the district refuses pay raises, refuses to renew contract negotiations but offers minimum days so staff can collaborate and professional training days not on the weekends or evenings, the teachers are forced to accept this. They already work evening and weekends. If you do not believe this, go to a campus and tour on a Wednesday at 2:00 pm. All schools across the district offer after school care, free to those who qualify and all after school,programs offer homework clubs and study groups. I can’t speak to the quality for each individual program as they vary, but it is not as if parents are left hanging every Wednesday or every professional day as you imply. They must choose to take advantage and outreach to the families has been abysmal (but getting better). The picture you paint of district teachers simply getting that time off is false. They are required to be in attendance on campus until 3pm everyday and they are required to attend all professional training days.

    How many students are on waiting lists for high performing OUSD schools? I know you’re not focused on K-8 (for some reason), but all the hills schools, Peralta (Tucker’s school) Crocker Highlands, Seqouia, Edna Brewer and Montera turn away more incoming Kindergartners or 6th graders than they accept. All, every single one, has waiting lists. The academies and specialized programs at the high schools also cannot accept all who qualify. One (of the many)differences is that OUSD schools only accept Oakland residents while charters give priority to siblings, then Oakland students, but accept families from any city in California.

    Again, with your opinion on the rote test prep and memorization model, I realize you have little experience with actual students in school. You ask if “it’s because students are their number one priority?”. Students or test scores? They are not one of the same. AIPHShas an extremely high rate of transfers, especially for a high performing school. It also has exceptionally high rates of staff turnover.

    I am not against free, publicly supported alternatives to traditional public schools. I find it mortifying that OSA was forced to go charter because the powers that be claimed a specialized arts based education was inequitable to other schools and therefore did not take it on and fought it (a huge mistake). I am not against charters in theory, but I am against what’s happening in Oakland. Eventually this will hit the high performing schools and destroy those district schools that have been gaining grounds and making progress. The public choices will be not between a district or charter, but a charter and a charter. Since most charters in Oakland don’t last more than 3-5 years and are tied to the whims of private finance, this is a disaster in the works. But again, I am for some variation in public education and OUSD did itself no favors by shuttering alternatives (The public performing arts high school in SF is the 2nd best high school). I’m picking on you on this primarily because you continue to use AIPHS as your holy grail against many eye rolls of oaklanders who have watched this saga play out the last few years. In spite of what one judge slid of his desk, Chavis is a swindler and a crook.

    “I hardly ignore the Lake Wobegon kids because it’s contrary to my arguments. I ignore them because the parents are all college educated themselves and have the affluence and desire to ensure their kids are taken care of. It’s the minority and disadvantaged kids that concern me. Apparently having that distinction is disturbing to you, again couching it in tones of suspicion? I really don’t understand this line of reasoning at all.” Because I truly believe that public education in this country suffers from lack of participation by educated families. In this area, I know for a fact that if proactive families saw more success (and safety) at their local public schools, they would send their children there. They’d rather not pay private, gamble on an experimental charter or move. Your more concerned about disadvantaged kids but their salvation in public education is directly tied to the public that is dropping public education for themselves. These students require the least amount of resources and the dirty little secret no one talks about is that the “good” schools in OUSD receive the lowest funding per pupil. In some case, when you add Title 1 and special education funding, it’s 1.5 times less than the only students you care about. This district completely ignores it’s academically sound schools. When the Finnnish Minister of Education is asked what the biggest distinction is between American lower education and Finlands success story, he answers this : private schools are illegal.

  15. Oakie

    “Yes, special ed students are included in scores.”

    I didn’t know that. So as an exercise I took Oakland Tech (the highest scoring public high school) and tried to back out the Special Ed test takers to make a fair comparison. If the scoring is linear (unlike, say SAT, where the scores are adjusted to a standard curve) this should be valid:

    API score was 737 with 1467 total test takers including Special Ed
    API score was 474 for 168 special ed test takers “students with disability” (if their “students with disability” is synonymous with Special Ed)

    API score for non-Special Ed=771.01 [Wouldn’t want to round, I might get smacked with a ruler!)

    To my mind, it looks a skooch less bad, but it doesn’t really change the fundamental picture, does it?

    “Where do you get that AIPCS only receives 50% of OUSD funding?”

    “… AIMS accomplishes all that while spending roughly half the amount of money per pupil that the district does.”

    “Sure would be nice if their landlord (Ben Chavis) wasn’t charging well above market value in rent to the school he founded.”

    I’ve repeatedly heard this, but no one seems to put any evidence on the table to prove it. I have searched online and found nothing. That tells me something about this claim (or it shows I have poor searching skills, which is possible).

    Furthermore, if it were true that Chavis gouged rent based on a not-at-arms-length transaction, wouldn’t the judge have considered the OUSD revocation order to at least have merit? And, I believe, the Alameda County DA would have charged fraud (I know this was brought to their attention and that no charges were forthcoming).

    Beyond the rent charge and the charge for construction work by Chavis as a licensed California General Contractor, the case against AIM which forms the basis of the revocation is essentially bubkis. The State of California also would have certainly taken Chavis to court if he charged unreasonably for licensed construction work. They did not.

    So what I see are three specific jurisdictions which did not make any charge against Chavis for these alleged crimes. I think that is glaring to any fair minded person who assumes people are innocent until….even charged!!

    Not only that, but the $3.7 Million number, flinged around like in a monkey exhibit, represents the TOTAL amount of rent and remodeling fees, not the overcharge. So, unless the fair market value of the rent plus remodeling cost is essentially zero, that claim is entirely false. And the fact that his opponents stick with that $3.7 Million number furthers shows the animus and the lack of validity of the charge. Where is the amount of the overcharge that he is accused of committing? No one says what it is. Is that because there is no there there?

    “Further investigation: apparently 192 is also not accurate. Total enrollment is 106. And where does the 22% AA come from?”

    192 students, 928 API, 89% College Ready, 21% Hispanic. I did make a mistake on AA, it shows 12%.

    “…do not believe education is best managed by local government, that private corporations function better (like Enron!)”

    Well, I would say Obamacare V1.0 (“it’s ready”) or anything operated by OUSD or City of Oakland versus Google, Apple, Tesla, SpaceX. But to each his/her own view on that.

    ” there’s mounting evidence that children are over-taxed for time and not doing as well in higher education as their peers of 25 years ago.”

    I would agree for Lake Wobegon kids, but as you admit later, I feel strongly that is not true for the kind of kids who have shown to benefit from AIM and KIPP: these kids are clearly experiencing PTSD (thanks to the failure of the City of Oakland to provide them safe streets) and tons of dysfunction surrounding them (thanks to the failure of society to provide them anything resembling what affluent people take for granted). A competent school environment is a safe haven these kids do not get otherwise. And that is, specifically, the most clear failure of OUSD for not providing it, and maybe for the poorly performing charters. It may be the most significant ingredient of the Secret Sauce.

    “The picture you paint of district teachers simply getting that time off is false.” etc.

    Ok, I can admit it’s wrong to paint an awful a picture of the teachers (I will not budge an inch when it comes to the union, though). There are some awful teachers, but most are good, some are absolutely great and there are saints among them. And they deserve credit (and compensation) accordingly.

    I’ll ask one metric that might prove to some that there are actually some bad apples there: On the days before and after 3 day weekends or minimum days with in-service mandatory activity, is there a bump up on the number of teacher absences? I would say that each school’s metric in this regard is a good starting indicator to identify schools with too many bad apples.

    ” I am not against charters in theory, but I am against what’s happening in Oakland.” etc.

    Non-charter OUSD schools are in steep decline. I can see valid reasons why you are opposed to that. Parents vote with their feet. The collectivist notion won’t turn that tide, we have too much power for others to shoehorn us. OUSD does have some areas, like the Academies at Oakland Tech which do attract parents. Why are they not allowed to expand or replicate to serve the demands of the parents?

    But you also have a terrible problem when your legacy bloated central services don’t have the capacity to adjust properly to a district no longer serving 54,000 non-charter students. The overhead load is killing OUSD. They’re lucky to be able to skim $30 Million out of what should be charter school budgets (OUSD has $400 Million, 25% of the student population is in charters and they only get $70 Million, not the $100 Million they should get).

    The charter population in Oakland, now in excess of 10,000, has just about doubled in 6 years. It may double again in another 6 years, and the non-charter population will likely dip below 30,000 by then. I’m cheering this on. I think the end result will be better the day the OUSD central offices close up for good, when schools compete fairly for students, where principals are fully in charge, able to operate their enterprise to deliver to the students. And may the best methodology win.

    “Because I truly believe that public education in this country suffers from lack of participation by educated families.” etc.

    OUSD is the poster child demonstrating why monopolies do not work. Here’s a nugget:
    After being sued for refusing to do so,[6] the Oakland Unified School District mandates that every school publish a public record of their standing on a variety of standardized tests and other quantitative analyses.

    I also know from personal experience that OUSD would not allow me to move my kid to a different district without providing an “approved” reason (even if I have a district that is willing to take the kid), until they were sued for this. Naturally this was a barrier only to those without the wherewithal to figure out the “correct” answer to put on the form–yet another despicable trick to harm the disadvantaged.

    OUSD did nothing to alter the blindingly poor performance they were delivering to the kids in their care until public outrage and the flight of so many kids forced them to belatedly change their ways, albeit inadequately. They deserve no benefit of the doubt now. It’s too late, the train has left the platform.

    Finnish schools are a great guide for what is best……for Finnish people. This is not a homogenous country like Finland (if you even have brown hair you stick out like a sore thumb there). Our strength lies in the diversity and chaos that ensues from the mixing of so many cultures. We can learn from what Finland has done (for example, have very high standards for those who wish to enter Ed School and far more rigorous curricula than we have here) but we cannot in any way duplicate their way and expect the same results.

    Private schools illegal? We value our freedom of choice much more than they do, apparently. Let’s not forget that the Finnish were quite willing to get on their knees sequentially for the Nazis and then the Soviet Union.


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