Strategy and Analysis to Defend and Transform Public Education
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.”
What 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.
Rather than supporting the 5 schools in developing and growing from the strengths that they already have, OUSD administrators have decided to impose a process. They’ve decided that the right move is to put the existing school’s staffs in competition with charter management organizations and other business minded organizations. These organizations have all the resources necessary for developing slick presentations and plans for schools, while the current staff of each of these 5 schools is in the middle of the school year and parents and students are busy taking care of their lives. Who has the advantage in this situation?
This is the same tried and failed methods of the days of No Child Left Behind when turnarounds, restarts, and closings were the methods of the moment. It rests on the argument that the culture of the school is flawed and beyond repair, taking a deficit model perspective towards the school. The only logical solution to this conclusion is a scorched-earth model.
This viewpoint misses the true roots of the challenges at these schools: they have already faced too many restarts and a deep lack of resources in historically disinvested communities.
Not all changes are bad, but when they happen repeatedly and externally – that is, as a result of “silver bullet” plans coming from outside of the school community itself – they simply add to the instability that is already too present in these communities. Do things need to be improved? Absolutely. And shouldn’t we do whatever is best for the students? Of course.
But this doesn’t include taking away the energy of educators at the 5 schools and forcing them to rush to come up with proposals for how to run their schools. This time spent in rushed meetings, panicking at the lack of public accountability on the part of the OUSD administrators, will take away time that educators and staff can be spending best serving the students their currently working with.
Moreover, the process of putting school staff members in competition with charter management organizations and other business minded groups is treating the planning and management of public schools as a product to be auctioned off to the most polished (and resourced) bidder. This doesn’t realistically understand systemic change nor the systemic oppression these schools face.
This is not the way to improve schools. Ironically, it’s a way of continuing business as usual, something that Wilson and other highly paid OUSD administrators claim to be against.
What should be done instead?
Rather than carrying out this process – top down, OUSD staff members signing confidentiality agreements and no meaningful financial support for parent, student, and staff engagement – the OUSD should immediately put it to a halt. Instead of a competitive RFP business oriented process, there should be a fully resourced assessment done by the schools themselves to determine how they’ve progressed.
It’s key that OUSD delegate resources for staff to have paid time off and students and parents to receive stipends to develop a plan for continual improvement of their schools. Only with real financial support will working class people from these communities and schools be able to spare the time to truly engage the process. Only then will we have meaningful community power led by the students, staff and parents on the ground.