Written by an anonymous retired Oakland teacher
For years, the Oakland Unified School District has been a laboratory for the corporate education reformers’ assault on public education. This trend accelerated in 2003, when OUSD was taken over by the state of California, which promptly turned the district over to the nation’s leading advocate of the “business model for education”, Los Angeles billionaire Eli Broad.
OUSD was allegedly taken over by the state because of a $37 million deficit. All power was put in the hands of a state-appointed administrator, Randolph Ward, then an intern in Broad’s Urban Superintendents Academy. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell, whose election campaign had been financed by Eli Broad, asked Broad to name the state administrator. Ward brought in Broad residents to run human resources, labor relations, finance, and the small school incubator. When Ward left in 2006, another Broad Academy graduate, Kimberley Statham replaced him. She left after a year, and her successor was yet another Broad Academy graduate, Vincent Matthews.
Ward and his successors laid off school custodians, security guards, clerks, and food service workers, and outsourced their work to private companies. They closed school libraries, “reconstituted” or shut down nearly half of all public schools, and cut electives. They imposed scripted learning geared to high stakes tests. They drove out veteran teachers, replacing them with Teach for America and New Teacher Project interns.
By 2009, when the state returned governance to the school board, enrollment was down to 38,000 (from 55,000 in 2002), while charter school enrollment quadrupled (from 2,000 to more than 8,000). About 18% of Oakland students are in charter schools – the highest percentage in the state. The cuts and downsizing notwithstanding, the district’s debt tripled under the state takeover. That money went to contractors, consultants, and excess administrators. Oakland spends double the California school district average on contracts and double the average on administrators.
Although local control was returned, the battering has continued. OEA has been without a contract for more than three years. Teachers work under terms imposed by the school district. The district has increased class size and enforced low pay: the OEA contract included class size limits which were eliminated when the district imposed terms, and Oakland teacher salaries are the lowest in the county and 20% below the averages for California public school teachers. This brings us to the current juncture.