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Does the OUSD Want To Privatize 5 Schools This Year?

6 Jan

People have been whispering about it since the week before the December break.  Word got out that during the first week of January there would be 5 meetings happening – one at each of the following schools: Castlemont, Fremont, McClymonds, Frick and Brookfield. What was the purpose?  Antwan Wilson sent an email out to the staff at each school and made clear: schools would not be “closed” nor would schools go through “takeovers.”

phontoWhat is going to happen, according to the wishes of high ranking OUSD Administrators, is “intensive school support.”  What does this mean?  Based on the little information that’s been publicly released, it basically means that the 5 schools will be put on the market.  That is, the management of the schools is being offered up to whoever proposes the best “proposal.”  How is the district doing this?  Through what’s called an RFP – Request for Proposals.

What happens is that the district releases an RFP and then anyone can submit a proposal to shape how each of the 5 schools can be run.  Anyone, including people who are professionally trained to submit RFP submissions, like charter school organizations and others with business backgrounds.  Of course, the educators at the schools can submit proposals too. It will be one big competition for control of the schools, and of course the students and staff are the ones who will be most heavily impacted by the decision.

It’s basically the same thing they did a few months ago when they put Dewey and the old Admin building on the market for privatization.  They put out a call for investors, developers, and architects to submit qualifications and proposals so that they could choose the best one to “develop” the land on 2nd Ave. by the lake.

This process was opposed by students, educators and community members from Dewey; while the process did not end, it was slowed down and the OUSD administrators pushing for the privatization of the land were forced to address the concerns (though their answers were disappointing).  That battle is not yet over, but it’s a recent example of the processes and objectives that many OUSD administrators envision for public education in Oakland.

Problems with OUSD’s Process

One of the main problems with this “community engagement” process is that it’s not really about school communities having power to make decisions over their schools.  What we’ve seen with the Dewey situation, and what appears to be happening now, is a process where OUSD administrators rush through public meetings where the real goal is to get a stamp of approval for their already-developed proposals.  This is different than creating and resourcing spaces where staff, students, and community members can develop our own proposals based on our own needs and hopes.

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Antwan Wilson wants 5 schools to turn around, and around, and around . . .

6 Jan

Starting this week, the first week of the new year, Fremont, McClymonds, Castlemont, Frick and Brookfield are all having “community meetings” to discuss “improving” the schools.  The reality is that the management of the schools is being put up on the market for people to compete over who can best run them.  Charter school management companies will compete against the existing school staff to put out the antwanwilsonousd (1)most compelling “plan” for the schools.  And all of the staff of each school will have to work on their school plans in a rushed way, in the middle of the school year when the focus should be on students.  

Almost 100% of the people we’ve spoken to who work at the schools are incredibly upset about the process.  People are angry at the top-down way in which these meetings are being railroaded through in such a fast paced manner.  We’ve seen the same process happen with the attempt to privatize the land that Dewey Academy and the old OUSD admin building rest on; the mobilization of students, parents, community members, and school workers during the summer of 2014 slowed down the process, and we should take notes from that example.  

What follows is a quick sketch about Antwan Wilson and Allen Smith’s history of “school turnarounds”  written by Jack Gerson, a retired OUSD teacher.  We’re posting it here because it provides some very useful links and controversial analysis about the process that the people from Denver (Wilson, Smith and others) are unleashing here in Oakland.  Please post your thoughts in the comments section.  We welcome disagreement, questions, and other thoughts.  

We will be posting more on this process of privatization, as well as its connections to gentrification in Oakland, as it unfolds. 


Antwan Wilson, Allen Smith et al are bringing their Denver turnaround schemes to Oakland. Let’s ask Wilson and the OUSD board to come clean with the facts: Wilson did not turn around Montebello High during his 2004 – 2007 stint as principal. Why did the OUSD board cite that as a — if not the — major factor in his hiring. Even superficially, couldn’t they see that only three years later, the school was being “turned around” again. These aren’t turnaround schools: they’re turnaround and around and around schools. Or maybe merrygoround schools. And we’ve seen this all in Oakland, where Castlemont, Fremont and McClymonds were broken up a decade ago, put back together amidst great fanfare three years ago, and now are being reorganized again. Turn around and around and around and …

On January 4, 2006, NPR featured a story about a committed young man who just over a year earlier had moved his family from Kansas to Denver to “take the helm of Denver’s troubled Montebello high school.” (See:  ).  Yes, the corporate kingmakers had already identified Wilson as a rising star, and had passed the word on to the media they fund and influence to make it so.  [This was the hour of the “get tough” administrators — at the time, we in OUSD were blessed with one Randolph Ward.]

Indeed, Wilson only spent three years at Montebello High, promoted to Denver central administration in 2007 based on his (alleged) success in “turning around” Montebello. Said “success” is still the foundation of Wilson’s reputation. Thus, last April, when the OUSD board was ready to name Wilson superintendent, their friends at reported:

“OUSD said that Wilson gained acclaim for his work as principal of Denver’s formerly troubled Montebello High School, where he turned around achievement such that the percentage of students accepted into two and four-year colleges soared from 35 percent in 2005 to 95 percent in 2008.”

There’s at least one minor problem here. Wilson did not “turn around” Montebello High. He may have increased college admissions, but we’ve seen similar dramatic increases right here in OUSD which weren’t terribly meaningful; among other things, students were admitted into remedial college programs and college dropout rates remained sky-high. And it appears that something similar went on — and continues to go on — in Denver.

So on the Denver Public Schools website, there’s a report titled “School Turnaround in Denver Public Schools” ( It’s a 12-page case study whose purpose seemed to have been to promote the turnaround proposals for a group of schools in Northeast Denver, centered on — you guessed it — Montebello High. By 2012 Antawn Wilson was assistant superintendent of Denver Public Schools, and was overall in charge of the turnaround strategy. The executive director of the eleven northeast Denver turnaround schools was Allen Smith — that’s right, the same Allen Smith that Antwan Wilson brought to OUSD and installed as “Chief of Schools”. On page 7 of the report, the situation at Montebello is discussed:

“Sitting in a high-poverty, high-minority area, Montbello High School has a history of inconsistent leadership having experienced 27 principals in the last thirty years. Its image is one of toughness, perceived as a last stop before prison for many students, noted DSSN Director, Allen Smith. Despite three years of hard work between 2004 and 2007 by former principal Antwan Wilson, attempts to change expectations and improve performance could not overcome the entrenched negativity.”

OOPS!! It appears that Antwan Wilson didn’t really turn Montebello around after all. Indeed, this “School Turnaround in Denver Public Schools” notes (also on page 7) that “only 9% of the students in the Montebello Region scored proficient in math before the 2011 – 2012 school year”. Some miracle!!

Of course, the report goes on to claim that things picked up in 2011 – 2012, thanks to the latest “turnaround” magic dust sprinkled by Allen Smith and Antwan Wilson. If anyone thinks that such “achievement” will prove any less illusory than Wilson’s 2004 – 2007 turnaround job when he was principal of Montebello, I have a selection of bridges I’d like to offer at a remarkable discount.

I suggest that folks read “School Turnaround in Denver Public Schools” carefully, and with a critical eye.  Also, take a look at “Background — Turning Around Low Achieving Schools in Colorado”, which at least raises a few caution flags:

What’s needed is not this kind of flimflam. What’s needed are the real reforms that can make a difference: cut class size to 15 and reduce caseload; pay teachers and all other school employees adequately; provide ample resources and wraparound services, including counselors, nurses, libraries, vocational programs, etc.  Involve students, parents, and the community in the school decision-making process. That’s a start.

8 Myths of Corporate Deform

28 Dec

Many myths exist that perpetuate the inequalities we deal with in education on a daily basis.  This article and the relatively new book it reviews helps to uncover some of them.  Some of these will likely sound familiar while some might sound new.  But backed up with evidence from two leading and long-time education researchers, David Berliner and Gene Glass, and this information will be useful for anyone trying to upend corporate deform.

The 3 myths below gives you a taste of the 8 myths featured in the article.  The full book explores 50 in total.  It’s titled 50 Myths & Lies That Threaten America’s Public Schools: The Real Crisis in Education.  Be sure to check it out!

The full article with the other 5 myths is from Edutopia. Link is here.

Myth #1: Teachers Are the Most Important Influence on a Child’s Education

Of course teachers are extremely important. Good teachers make a significant difference in achievement. But research indicates that less than 30 percent of a student’s academic success is attributable to schools and teachers. The most significant variable is socioeconomic status, followed by the neighborhood, the psychological quality of the home environment, and the support of physical health provided. There are others, but the bottom line is that teachers have far less power to improve student achievement than do varied outside factors.

Myth #2: Homework Boosts Achievement

There is no evidence that this is true. In Finland, students have higher achievement with little or no homework and shorter school hours. The more important factor is what students experience during the school day. Project-based learning, as one example, places the emphasis on what is done during the day. If students choose to do more after hours, that’s their choice. There also may sometimes be other good reasons to assign homework, butthere should be no illusion that homework will help increase student achievement.

Myth #3: Class Size Does Not Matter

In an average high school, one teacher is responsible for 100-150 students on any given day. Students inevitably get lost in the shuffle. Research evidence strongly indicates that a decrease in the number of students has a qualitative pedagogical impact. When reductions occur in elementary classrooms, evidence has shown that the extra individualized attention and instruction appear to make it more likely for these students to graduate at higher rates from high school. Affluent families more frequently opt for districts or for private schools with smaller classes. It should come as no surprise that larger class sizes may disproportionally impact the children of the poor. Therefore, reducing class sizes will in fact result in more learning.

Lessons from SF: UESF Teachers Push for Strike Vote in Contract Negotiations

28 Sep
We repost an article below which comes to us from two members of the leftist teacher’s caucus in UESF, EDU (Educators for a Democratic Union).  They and other EDU and UESF members have been fighting for a strike authorization vote throughout the summer with quite a bit of success.
On Aug. 14, UESF members voted strongly in favor of a strike authorization vote.  99.3% of the 2251 members who voted were in favor of the strike vote.  Here in Oakland we should learn from the struggles of UESF and be prepared to support them when needed.
UESF Teachers
Like us, they are faced with an intransigent district that drags out contract processes and demobilizes union members while proposing unacceptable contract offers.
Teachers in UESF are seeking a reasonable wage increase even though they are living in a gentrifying Bay Area with skyrocketing housing prices.
A few days ago UESF released an update on negotiations writing, “we can unequivocally say that the district’s salary offer was an insult to the men and women who actually do the work of educating our students. In fact, there was so little movement by the district that it is becoming likely that the district will force us into fact-finding and potentially a labor dispute.”
Besides needing to fight SFUSD to sign a reasonable contract, UESF members must also struggle to push a union leadership that is waffling on standing up to the district.  The union leadership is, in fact, actively blocking the democratic decision making of the union members who are pushing for a strike vote.
The authors write, “We are unfortunately all too used to so-called organizing that uses members as negotiating leverage rather than genuinely allowing members to weigh in on how our union should run. And President Kelly is determined to reserve the right to decide when, and if, we have a second strike vote for himself.”
We, in OEA, should be equally vigilant that our contract negotiations do not become top-down affairs with no input and struggle from us rank and file teachers.  Not only would that be undemocratic but it is also a recipe for a weak contract.

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Dewey Academy in Danger of Displacement: Gentrification and the Oakland Unified School District

21 Jun

Dewey Academy in Danger of Displacement:

Gentrification and the Oakland Unified School District

By Aram Mendoza and N. Finch in collaboration with Dewey teachers


Displacement of long-time, low-income residents due to gentrification has been an all too common story in the Bay Area recently.  Now the same insidious process is targeting some of the most “at-risk” students in Oakland.  Over the past two weeks, in the end of school rush, the Oakland Unified School District’s administration revealed they have been in close discussions with gentrifying developers that puts Dewey Academy, one of the public continuation high schools in the OUSD, in the cross-hairs of real estate agents and developers.  The developers are already planning a 24 story luxury condo building overshadowing Dewey and now want to add Dewey and the old OUSD headquarters to the project.  What follows is an overview of the situation, why it’s problematic, how it’s situated in the context of gentrification in the Bay Area, and what those of us opposed to the displacement of Dewey and the gentrification of Oakland can do about it.


Dewey gone.  In it's place condos.

Dewey gone. In it’s place condos.


“Surplus Property” and “Surplus Populations”


On Monday, June 10th, an OUSD-initiated group named the “7-11 Committee” (the name stems from the requirement that the committee have at least 7, and not more than 11, people on it) met for the second time.  The Committee was composed of various real estate attorneys, members of charter school boards of directors, and a couple community members.  Not a single active OUSD teacher or student was on the committee – the only current educator on the committee was the current principal of Dewey Academy.  They were charged with “advising” the school board as to the status of the OUSD property located on 2nd Avenue, east of the lake between E. 10th and E. 12th streets.  This property currently houses the former OUSD administration building, which was mysteriously flooded last year, as well as Dewey Academy.  The question set before the Committee was to determine whether or not the parcel of land housing both the former OUSD admin building and Dewey Academy was “surplus property.”

Surplus property is defined as property that is retained by the school district but is not currently being used.  How can anyone imagine that an actual school – Dewey Academy – that has just graduated about 130 students in the past weeks, and that houses a GED program for community members could ever be considered “surplus”?  During the first 7-11 committee, one of the OUSD’s attorneys referred to the “surplussing” of Dewey – that is, using the word “surplus” as a verb – and described the way that the OUSD and developers could actively convert Dewey into “surplus property” in order to make it open for development. (1)

The surplus property category is being used as a means to displace Dewey students and treat them as a surplus population.  It has nothing to do with Dewey actually being property that’s considered “surplus.”  This mirrors the treatment of Oakland’s youth in the broader society.  Seen as an expendable, incarcerable, and unemployable “surplus population,” Oakland’s youth are those who should be pushed to the margins in order to make way for more desirable occupants of land – those that can afford the lakeside view from the window of their 10th floor condominium.  This is the opposite of how they are treated at Dewey Academy where educators and community members work hard to support students who are missing credits needed to graduate, impacted by gangs and who might otherwise slip through the cracks of other OUSD schools.


Dewey Academy students and staff. Surplus property?


Against the Displacement of Dewey Academy


“The safest place for Dewey to be [for the students] is right where it is . . . “ - Dewey High School alum


There are at least three central reasons that highlight how problematic and oppressive the move to displace Dewey and the OUSD Administration building are.

First of all, Dewey’s current location is next to the Youth Heart Health Center, a student centered free health clinic that Dewey students helped design, in collaboration with OUSD employees and MetWest High School students.  What sense does it make to take our highest risk, highest need students away from a health center that they helped design?  While the OUSD has committed in rhetoric to prioritizing the social/emotional needs of Oakland youth, this move by the administration directly goes against the social/emotional needs of Dewey students and, by extension, all youth who access the health center. These students helped shape the YHHC with the understanding that they would be able to access the medical services there.  Since its opening, Dewey students have made up the highest percentage of youth who have accessed the clinic.  Without these young people being in close proximity to the YHHC, the center’s numbers may decline and put them at risk of budget cuts and layoffs, causing further harm to all students who access the center – including those from MetWest and La Escuelita.

Additionally, many students at Dewey are gang-impacted, and the location of Dewey in an accessible and relatively neutral territory by the lake means that students can come to school and be in a safer space than they would be if they had to attend another school in another neighborhood. The informally discussed alternative locations of Fremont High School in East Oakland, Santa Fe elementary in North Oakland and Lakeview campus north of the lake are all either unsafe for gang impacted students or inappropriately far, especially for youth who are already struggling with truancy.  This proposed displacement will only further the alienation and marginalization that these young people face by destabilizing what is perhaps one of the most stable institutions in their lives.  If Dewey did not exist and function as it is, and where it is, many of these students would not have the opportunity to recover credits in a safer space and eventually graduate with a high school diploma.

Lastly, the decision making process behind Dewey’s forced displacement has been incredibly undemocratic and marginalizing of youth, educator and community voices.  The committee that is advising the school board on whether or not Dewey is “surplus property” includes real estate lawyers that represent condominium developers and charter school board members.  This is unacceptable and disrespectful – nobody should decide the fate of a school but the students, educators and staff who make the school run on a daily basis.  The fact that this committee was appointed by the superintendent without any meaningful engagement with the school community is a slap in the face to a community of students and educators who have worked hard to make Dewey one of the safest campuses for struggling students in Oakland.

All of these problematics surrounding the seemingly forced displacement of Dewey lead us to the question: why is this displacement being pushed forward in such a rushed way?

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Confused about LCFF? Oakland students break it down, why the upcoming LCAP meetings are so important and what democratic school budgeting would look like

27 Feb

This is a repost of an article from a new Oakland student blog. Check out the original here:

Students Want Their Voices Heard in New School Budget Making

By , February 26, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-02-26 at 10.46.31 AM

By Nelzy, Katie and Ana

After a lot of effort by students in California, a new budget plan was passed by the state legislature to offer equity vs. equality. The Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) determines the amount of money schools will receive for each California student, creating a new base line amount and providing additional money for students who are in need of more resources because they are low income, english learners or foster kids. The LCFF also offers students, teachers and parents a chance to work with school districts to have a say on how the money should be spent.

Under the LCFF, each student in California brings his or her school $6,342. On top of that a school receives $2,220 more for each student who is low income, or a foster kid, or an English Learner. But that’s not all! The schools in which more than 50% of students fall into those categories get another $2,220 per student.

Each district according to the LCFF law should have a Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP) which is similar to a group of people that decides how the money should be spent. In Oakland, there is a conflict because the Oakland Unified School District wants to choose the group for the people, but youth believe that students, teachers, and parents should choose the group.

Oakland Unified School District this year will be receiving $12.5 million more than last year because of the formula. Students say that the money should be spent wisely; they want the money to be spent on additional teachers which will cause classes to be smaller and give students more elective choices.

We asked Katie, a student at MetWest High School, to share her thoughts on where the money should go.“I think the money should be spent on the reduction of class sizes because when teachers are teaching thirty plus students per class, they tend to ‘favor’ certain students and only focus on them. Whereas in smaller classes of ten plus students, the teacher has the opportunity to thoroughly assist every student in the class as needed.”

Another student Chris says, “We should get new computers because we have dinosaurs, more art supplies and more electives like cooking class. Students, parents, teachers should decide where the money gets spent.”

Adan Feliciano, an OUSD teacher, said “This and the $25 million (at least) coming in next year should be spent directly on the needs of students and the educators/staff who serve them. Caseloads for teachers, nurses, and counselors should be lowered so that students can get more one on one attention from all the adults who serve them and support their development.” Another issue to be considered is who should decide how the money will be spent.

According to EdSource. “Schools must get input from parents as to how additional state funds intended for low-income students, English learners and foster children are spent,” organization said, explaining the Local Control Funding Formula and the importance of parent involvement in the decision making.

Adan Feliciano, an OUSD teacher, said “The Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP) is super vague as it is – and from what I’ve heard, the school board will appoint the members. This is undemocratic.” In his opinion, “The best way to decide how funds will be spent is for a popular assembly of staff, educators, students, and parents to decide together how the money should be spent.”

In general, students think there should be participatory budgeting where people who are directly affected by the budget decisions get to decide how the money is spent. It is very important that students, family and community are involved because they fought for the money and should decide where the money goes. Get involved by going to to public meetings where students and parents can attend:

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You Don’t “Hella Love” Oakland Teachers OR Students with Research Like This

13 Apr
iwanttocommodify hella love oakland teachers

the true agenda of the NCTQ report? if it’s not, can you clarify why?

You Don’t “Hella Love” Oakland Teachers OR Students with Research Like This.

A Critique of the NCTQ’s “Teacher Quality Roadmap” Report

Table of Contents:

  1. Intro – A Racist/Classist Report for Oakland’s Schools

  2. The NCTQ’s Four Main “Reforms”

  3. No Social Context – No Race/Class Analysis – No Neutral On Moving Trains

  4. No Mention of Budget Cuts and the Impact on the Community – Continued Ignorance of Race/Class Oppression

  5. But . . . Schools Are in Crisis.  What is to be done?

Intro – A Racist/Classist Report for Oakland’s Schools:

On Wednesday, March 20th, I went to a rally organized by Youth Together that was in support of the Local Control Funding Formula.  At the rally, groups of Oakland and Richmond youth were yelling chants about “education not incarceration” and making demands for smaller class sizes, and better paid teachers.

Afterwards, I went to the GO Public Schools event that publicly released the findings of a report titled the “Teacher Quality Roadmap,” written by the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ).This report by the NCTQ, presented by two white women, completely contradicts the demands that students of color were putting forward on the same day.

The entire presentation was centered on the role of teachers as the most determining factor in student achievement.  Huge emphasis was placed on the role of “great teachers” as opposed to “average” or “ineffective” teachers.  No explanation was given for how these categories of “great,” “average,” or “ineffective” were determined, but I have an idea of how: standardized test scores.  No mention was made of what this study’s actual political viewpoint on standardized testing is.  No mention was made of how teachers should be supported in improving their practice.  No mention was made of out-of-school factors like police brutality, immigration raids, or unemployment play in shaping students’ lives.

The entire thing was shrouded in triggering statistics, flashy graphs, and seemingly convincing rhetoric about the problems of public education in Oakland.  The purpose of this quick response is to challenge the report that GOPS is promoting in its utility for addressing the real problems in Oakland schools.  Rather than supporting the efforts that teachers, parents, and students are putting into keeping quality programming alive in Oakland, and improving the programming that needs improvement, this effort is a veiled attack on the entire community of Oakland.  It represents a neoliberal political program that seeks to address the challenges facing communities of color in Oakland, while in reality being a veiled version of white supremacy and classism that will only further the degradation and destruction of Oakland students’ lives.

What we provide below is a critique of the 4 main recommendations that the NCTQ make for the Oakland Unified School District.  Secondly, we offer a critique of what the report leaves out, and the racialized and class based implications of these omissions.  Finally, we offer thoughts on how to transform the OUSD to actually make schools places where students can learn in healthy ways, teachers can work under the conditions needed to make the student experience profound, and where community members can be integrated into the day to day operation of the school.

Anyone supporting this program should reconsider, immediately, if we have a real interest in improving our lives and the lives of other oppressed people in our community. Continue reading


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