Classroom Struggle: Vision – Platform – Strategy

5 Apr




We are Oakland parents, students, teachers and school workers who are organizing for the defense and transformation of our public schools. We are fighting for the public schools that students and communities deserve. These are public schools that are fully-funded, safe, democratically controlled, and committed to supporting every student to develop their full potential as creative, intelligent and caring human beings.  

  • We need schools that are fully-funded in order to support the full development and potential of each student, teacher, and our communities.  Instead of budget cuts, bare bones funding and concentration of resources at the top, we need to fight for new sources of school funding and democratic control of resources.  

  • We believe curriculum should be deeply meaningful to students’ lives through a holistic approach to education that supports the self-actualization of young people, and gives us the skills we need to both to survive within capitalism and to overthrow it.  We vigorously oppose “reforms” that track students, standardize our education and turn us into data points.  

  • We understand that in order for students to learn they need to feel safe. We foster safe schools through the development of the social and emotional supports students need to forge a path outside of the violence that surrounds us, as well as through struggle against the violence waged by the state and owning class against working class, oppressed groups and political dissidents and struggle to shift the violence internalized in our communities.

  • We need democratically controlled schools where decisions are made by the people who use and run them: teachers, parents, school workers, students.


We believe the following changes could move us toward this vision:

  1. Decision-Making – Parent, teacher, student and school worker representatives have real decision-making power at school site level; School decision making informed by bi-annual community wide assemblies to discuss all changes and budgeting.

  2. Class-size and caseloads – Sharply reduce class size and special education caseloads across K-12.

  3. Curriculum – Shift away from standardized testing towards meaningful assessments and critical thinking based curriculum; Integrate ethnic studies and community based learning (i.e. participatory research and internships) throughout the curriculum; Fully fund athletic/music/art programs.

  4. Full Service Community Schools – Actualize the district’s slogan of “full service community schools” by ensuring that the social, emotional and health of each student is supported by school-based health services, schools counselors and speech therapists with manageable caseloads, and healthy food.  

  5. Transportation – Provide free AC Transit and BART cards for students and parents so that no one misses school or goes without other basic needs because of the strain of paying for public transportation to school

  6. Safety – Replace school police with restorative justice facilitators and conflict mediators (train SSOs to play these roles); Moratorium on suspensions and expulsions except when there are serious threats to safety.  

  7. Early Childhood and Adult Education – Broaden the reach of our schools to the full community – reopen early childhood and adult education programs in every neighborhood.

  8. Staff Retention – Invest in school workers and retain them through 1) raising wages/benefits of classified staff (office, support, custodial and security workers); 2) unionizing afterschool teachers and other un-unionized school workers; and 3) a fair contract for Oakland teachers that increases planning time and decreases caseload.

  9. Teacher Training – Institute fully-funded projects of team teaching where new teachers can team-teach with veteran teachers;  Fight burnout and incompetency by keeping the veteran teachers active and on their toes while the newer teachers gain the wisdom and experience their more senior co-workers embody.

  10. School Closures and Charters – Moratorium on school closures and shift in policy towards supporting students through increasing stability of the school and surrounding community not further destabilizing them – Moratorium on new charter schools as charter schools selectively recruit OUSD students and increase the segregation of our school system.  Convert current charter schools back to public schools. Reform top-down curriculum controls that incentive some public schools to go charter.  

We need to fight for the money to implement these changes:

  • Shift priorities as a society – raise taxes on the wealthy, demand banks pay back the bailout money, stop building prisons, cut military spending

  • Reform Proposition 13 so that California’s per pupil spending is no longer among the lowest in the U.S.

  • Renegotiate the state debt – Oakland students should not be held accountable for money wasted by state trustee

  • Demand influx of Local Control Funding Formula funds go to the students who need it most (low-income, English language learners, special education and foster youth)

  • Tax the Port of Oakland – Use this money to fund Oakland schools

  • Shift priorities for how we use funding the district already has – Lower admin salaries, cut consultants and move central office student support positions to school sites.  


We need to organize collectively to get there.

  • We need to organize ourselves as parents, teachers, school workers and students.  We need to develop a democratic district-wide student union, parent union, teacher and school worker unions that are using to use their power through strikes and other militant actions to demand what our schools need.

  • We need to come together through the development of school site committees of parents, teachers, students and school workers, as well as a city-wide organization through which we can learn, teach and support each other’s struggles.

  • We need to ensure that the bases of power we build in schools and the community-at-large are independent from politicians, corporations and the administrators that work under their control.

  • We need to learn how to build an alliance of all oppressed sectors, races, genders, sexualities, abilities, religions that can unite through our different strengths without ignoring our deep divisions. 

  • We need to envision what it would look like for us to organize across all workplaces, communities, and sectors that are under attack by the same forces in capitalism and to grow a common movement that reaches across Oakland and out towards the Bay Area, California, the U.S., and the world.


Our Contract = a Social Justice Document

5 Apr


What is the future of collective bargaining? According to the Saint Paul Federation of Teachers, “our contract…[is] the most important legal document – and social justice document – for ensuring a quality education for our students.” To push back against “management prerogatives”, SPFT has been explicit in placing teachers’ compensation as the last issue they address. Instead, they are working closely with parents and community members to fight in 7 key areas outside of “conventional” bargaining: 1) Educating the whole child, 2) Family Engagement, 3) Smaller classes, 4) Teaching, not testing, 5) Culturally relevant education, 6) High-quality professional development, and 7) Access to preschool. In so doing, SPFT is moving collective bargaining forward as a space both to fight for teachers’ working conditions and advance the interests of students, parents, and the community. Our struggles are tied.  

What can we learn from Saint Paul? For more information, read here!

New Report Highlights Increased Use of School Spending on Police: 20,000 CA Students Arrested in 2009-2010

24 Mar


This new report by the Black Organizing Project / Labor Community Strategy Center is a must-read, as it presents data on the role of police officers in schools and shows how this statewide problem can be addressed by the Local Control Funding Formula. In one school year, over 30,000 California students were referred to police, with at least 20,000 students being arrested, and over 90% of them being youth of color. The report shows how this increase in the criminalization of youth is directly tied to school spending. School budgets across the state have been increasingly devoted to school police and security at the expense of vital support and educational services. For example, Oakland Unified School District spent over $6.5 million on its school police department in 2012-2013, but less than $1 million for counselors. in Los Angeles Unified School District, the police/security budget was substantially more than the combined budgets for their arts program, psychologists, the Office of Civil Rights, instructional aides, psychiatric social workers, parent involvement, and career technical education.

The report also offers a series of recommendations for how the Local Control Funding Formula could be used to shift funding away from police and towards proven alternatives for increasing academic achievement and school safety (pp. 12-13). Such measures include smaller class sizes, well-rounded curricula, the expansion of ethnic and cultural studies, improved teacher support, more afterschool programs, and enhanced student/staff relationship building.

For the full report, read here:


Uniting Our Struggles

12 Mar


In San Francisco, many classified staff are in the same union as teachers. This article makes the argument that the union, which is numerically dominated by teachers, should stand strong in demanding a living wage for its lowest paid members – classified staff like classroom aides.  In Oakland, where credential and classified staff are divided, we must still ask this question: What can we do as teachers, the highest paid non-managerial workers, to promote better conditions and wages for all school workers, many of whom do not make a living wage? As we fight for a significant raise and better conditions for teachers in Oakland during our current contract campaign, how can we also be advancing the demands of our co-workers who are in other unions and make much less than we do?

What can we learn from UESF’s contract campaign?

10 Mar


There are a lot of good lessons for Oakland in this article about San Francisco teachers’ contract campaign. Unlike recent years in California in which cuts were the norm, increased taxes on the rich and a new school funding formula have given teachers the opportunity to fight for more in our contract campaigns. In particular, Portland and St.Paul were able to wage successful campaigns by building strong alliances among teachers, parents, students and community members. In this article, San Francisco public school teacher Matt Bello describes the kinds of demands that can help strengthen educators’ campaign for a fair union contract.

St. Paul Federation of Teachers Settles Landmark Contract!

6 Mar


Through joint parent, student, and teacher organizing, the Saint Paul Federation of Teachers just settled a landmark contract, limiting class sizes and standardized testing, and emphasizing culturally relevant education and access to pre-school, while creating a path for teacher aides to become credentialed. For more information, check out this article: 

Part of the reason why the union in St. Paul was so successful is because of their policy of open bargaining. Over the last four years,  St. Paul has pushed for rank-and-file teachers, parents, and community members to be present for and participate during bargaining, putting management on their best behavior: 

Here is a summary of some of their key wins, as written by a teacher-activist in St. Paul:

Smaller Classes

  • The district agreed to calculate elementary class size limits within each school at each grade level. This is an improvement over previous limits in which averages were calculated for each district attendance zone. Lower limits were set for high poverty schools. Secondary limits will be calculated for each teacher rather than school-wide. Starting in the 2015-16 school year, all secondary classes (except bands, orchestras and choirs, which benefit from larger numbers of students) will be required to comply with the negotiated limits. This is an improvement from existing language which applied in secondary schools only to English, math, science and social studies classes.

Education for the Whole Child

  • The district committed to hiring at least 42.0 new FTEs including more licensed media specialists, elementary counselors, school social workers and nurses. These are staff in addition to any hiring the district will need to do in order to be in compliance with the negotiated class size limits. The district also committed to ensuring access to art, music and physical education for all students.

Access to Preschool

  • The district committed to spending at least $6 million per school year to maintain and expand St. Paul Public Schools’ high-quality Pre-K program for 4 year-olds. These dollars will help reduce waiting lists for the program. This commitment ensures that the district will assign referendum funds to the Pre-K program now that the state is picking up the cost of all-day kindergarten.

Teaching, Not Testing

  • The district committed to a 25% reduction in lost learning time due to testing and test preparation activities by the start of the 2015-16 school year. In addition, the district committed to review existing assessments for cultural relevance. SPFT and the district agreed to work together to lobby state and federal authorities to reduce mandates for unnecessary testing.

Family Engagement

  • The parties agreed to an expansion of the Parent Teacher Home Visit Project, to pilot Academic Parent-Teacher teams (an improved way to do parent-teacher conferences), and to allow for more flexibility in the design of parent-teacher conferences at individual schools. In addition, parents will serve on school committees that make decisions about class size exceptions at their school and will have seats on school committees designated to address school safety concerns.

Culturally Relevant Education

  • In addition to our agreement to review existing assessments for cultural relevance, the parties made a significant agreement related to Educational Assistants that will increase the number of teachers of color. Educational Assistants—educators who already know St. Paul and have a strong track record of meeting our students’ needs—will have a career pathway created that will allow them to go back to school and get the coursework completed for a teaching license. This agreement will provide paid time off for EAs doing student teaching in the St. Paul Public Schools and stipends to help pay for education leading to teacher licensure. Educational Assistants will also be encouraged to participate on building equity teams.

High Quality Professional Development for Teachers

  • The parties agreed to increase support for new teachers coming into the district through the Peer Assistance and Review program. In addition, the parties agreed to increase the recognition stipend for teachers who are successful in receiving their National Board Certification (NBCT) and to provide time and financial assistance for those going through the certification process. The agreement preserves parity for school nurses, school psychologists, certified nurse practitioners, speech clinicians (CCC) and school social workers (LICSW) in addition to covering all of the different license areas currently part of the NBCT program. Seeking a National Board Certification is one of the most rigorous professional development paths a teacher can take during her/his career.
  • The parties reached agreements on a variety of other issues: Improvements to Payroll, an additional month of paid health insurance for parents on the unpaid portion of their parental/maternity leave, paid time off for religious observance, teacher-initiated school redesign, improved procedures for addressing school safety and discipline concerns, reduced usage of teachers on carts, language on staffing at Bridge View School and in the Birth to Three program, an employee sick leave bank, an ELL Professional Issues Committee, and increased protection from stranding.

Wages and Benefits

  • Under the agreement, teachers will receive their normal steps and lanes and maintain the district’s current level of contributions toward health insurance. In addition, teachers will receive an average schedule improvement of 2.5% retroactive to July 1, 2013 and a further 2% effective on July 1, 2014. Experienced teachers (steps 15-19 and step 20) will receive an additional 1% increase on top of their schedule improvement in each of the two years of the contract.

Portland students stand in solidarity with teachers’ strike

1 Mar

Check out this video of students speaking out in solidarity with the teachers’ union in Portland. What would it take to build this type of solidarity between teachers and students in Oakland?


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