Karen Fiss 
Member since Apr 30, 2010


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Re: “Oakland Unified Has Too Many Schools

Bob,
I am aware that the School Board and OUSD can’t close charters. However, new school charters can be denied and others not renewed (for example, the recent rejection of extensions for the high-profile charter schools run by Stanford University’s School of Education.) Don’t you think that charter school enrollment should be part of your analysis concerning the decreasing numbers in Oakland public schools? You didn’t even mention it as a factor! What I’m not clear about, however, and would be appreciative to learn more about, are schools associated with OSF. How will they fair in OUSD closures?

Shall we look at the enrollment of some of Oakland’s charter schools, each with their own set of resource-draining administrators?

Arise High School: 95 students
Civicorps Elementary 188 students
Envision Academy 160 students
North Oakland Community Charter (the highly desired NOCCS 129 students)
Oakland Aviation High School 112 students
Oakland Charter Academy 152 students
Oakland Charter High School 30 students (?)

I don’t think we should roll over and assume charter schools are our destiny. In fact, to do so, is highly irresponsible and defeatist. I don’t mean to demonize the families who attend charter schools. I share their desire to see significant change in our public education system. There is no doubt that the public education system has been failing many communities in our country. The problem is that charter schools are not a simple matter – they are not more successful at educating our children, and most importantly, do not have sufficient public oversight – you said yourself that the district can’t even close a charter school. There is real potential then for abuse – for charter organizations to take advantage of disenfranchised students and families while further contributing to the disintegration of the public education system. The reality is that a tremendous amount of public funds goes into education, and those who believe free market capitalism is the cure-all for all societal issues are controlling more and more of our local and national educational policy. Many recent New York Times articles have focused on the abuse of the system by charter schools and the lack of oversight in terms of admissions procedures, academic standards, and financial management. Of the $2 billion spent by the federal government on charter schools, it has spent one-tenth of 1 percent on oversight. Also see the recent article by Stephanie Strom from 4/24/2010 on the truly outrageous financial abuse at Imagine, the largest commercial manager of charter schools in the US (“For Charter School Company, Issues of Spending and Control”).

I think you should be spending more of your research time offering real critical analysis of these complex and disturbing developments within our local context of Oakland. Your article on Jerry Brown’s schools or the Indian Charter school were not sufficiently informative from my vantage point because they didn’t place the schools in a larger political picture. They ended focusing more on the men – rather than the issues.

I appreciated much more your earlier reporting – for example , “Eli’s Experiment” from October 10, 2007.

Finally, your response to me that your article doesn’t “blame teachers” is a not an honest answer.

Read again your paragraph from your article:
“But don't expect the teachers union to rally publicly to lay off its own members. The union also will likely not advocate for school closures either, even though it knows Oakland needs to do so. During last week's one-day strike, the majority of Oakland parents appeared to side with teachers when they kept their kids home and refused to cross the picket lines. And teachers would be loathe to ruin that relationship — an almost sure thing should parents realize that their neighborhood school is being shut down so that teachers can get a raise.”

What a bizarre and distorted way to frame the issues. It makes teachers sound conniving and insincere about their real concerns -- for their livelihoods and the welfare of our children. You are basically insinuating that Smith and the BOE are going to close down schools so that greedy teachers can finally get a raise. And even worse – that teachers have somehow brainwashed or intimidated all us parents into supporting their demand for a wage commensurate with teachers in neighboring districts.

OUSD will close schools (that aren’t protected by private foundations and rich people meddling in education policy) so that it can “balance its budget.” What you should really be reminding your readers is that the California State Government is starving our public education system because it doesn’t have the balls to raise taxes on the wealthy, or impose taxes on oil companies, etc etc. Again, I would like to remind anyone reading this post that California is the 8TH LARGEST ECONOMY IN THE WORLD. Where the heck is all that money?

I am currently collaborating with other parents to organize a “field trip” in the fall to Sacramento for parents, students, teachers, and hopefully the district leadership to demand more funding for education. I invite you to join this effort – it would be a lot more productive than encouraging your readers to passively accept larger class sizes, more charters, and further cuts to everything but standardized testing.

Respectfully,

Karen Fiss

2 likes, 0 dislikes
Posted by Karen Fiss on 05/08/2010 at 10:39 AM

Re: “Oakland Unified Has Too Many Schools

Bob, are you vying for Troy Flint's job at OUSD as District Spokesperson? Do you honestly consider what you do to be "reporting"? How about getting information from more than one source? That's Journalism 101. I'm not saying that Oakland will not have to close schools. It will. But again, the problem is how simpleminded you are about how you frame the issues. Do you really think your readers have such low IQs? That we can't handle more than one streamlined message at a time?
I see NO MENTION of the impact of the dozens of charter schools that have been established in Oakland, or the impact of such foundations as the Oakland Schools Foundation. Are you going to tell me that these topics aren't at the core of the issues you attest to be reporting on? Why don't you tell us if charter schools and the schools associated with OSF are going to be considered for closures as well? Could it be that they have their own independent revenue streams? How about interviewing Jonathan Klein? How about providing some analysis of the complexities of the situation as opposed to misleading Oakland readers that the situation is so "simple" and that once again, it's the teachers who have created the problem and are resisting obvious solutions. How about comparing academic studies and sources about the impact of small schools and smaller classroom size on student achievement?

If your only claim to journalistic integrity is the fact that you got your information from Tony Smith "face-to-face" instead of from a downloaded PDF off the District website, then you need to rethink your research and writing process.

Posted by Karen Fiss on 05/06/2010 at 8:06 AM

Re: “Why I’m Sending My Kid to School During the Teachers’ Strike

WHY I’M SENDING BOB GAMMON A LETTER ABOUT IRRESPONSIBLE JOURNALISM

Bob – I would like to ask: Did you do ANY research on this topic before writing this irresponsible editorial piece?

I am an Oakland public school parent. I’m also a college professor. I have become increasingly upset about the crisis in California’s educational system. California is the 8th largest economy in the world. So why should it have an educational system that ranks at the very bottom in the nation? Of course, I do a lot of reading on the subject, but I decided I needed a more in-depth research experience. So, I organized one of my graduate student classes around the issue of California governance, with a focus on the funding of K-12 and higher education. I had leaders of non-partisan political groups, political scientists from local institutions such as Stanford, and representatives from the California legislature come and speak (and be interrogated) by my students. We also took advantage of lectures and conferences offered at the Commonwealth Club, UCBerkeley, and in Sacramento.

Your piece is representative of the level of ignorance operating among Californians today about how their government works – or doesn’t work – and why. Understanding cause-and-effect, accountability, and historical context are important when analyzing such complex issues as the failure of our public education system.

It’s very easy to make teachers the enemy. But OUSD and its BOE have offered incompetent leadership for years – it has funded “silver-bullet” consultants and curricula packages that have squandered our resources and offered mind-numbing lesson plans, rather than investing in the classroom to keep good, creative teachers. I don’t see mention in your piece of the 55% that OUSD has not fulfilled – or the percentage of its budget that it has spent on such non-teacher services in comparison to other districts.

Tony Smith and our BOE are still beholden to state administrators – their jobs depend on whether they are making the state happy or not. Therefore they are not politically in a position to put their necks on the line where their necks should be.

My experience at the strike at my local elementary school had no relationship to the scenario you painted in your article. Parents dropped their kids off at the front of the school per usual and sped off to their next destination. There were no administrators or district subs there to help the students know where to go or what to do. You know who did? The striking teachers. They escorted the kids one by one as they arrived, taking them to the auditorium where children who were attending school on strike day were supposed to go. The teachers left the picket line, put their arms around their kids, and escorted them in. There was music playing, kids who had accompanied their parents to support the strike playing, lots of honking from supporters in cars, taxi cabs, and trucks (the kids’ favorite – loud horns), a lot of donuts, fresh baked goodies, free coffee, and good will. I was proud to participate in such a display of solidarity between the people who care about our children the most – the parents and the teachers.

Finally, per your facile remarks on the parcel tax, have you done any research on the history and impact of charter schools in Oakland and in the nation at large? Have you visited any of these schools in Oakland? Have you examined how they survive as “small schools”? Have you noticed that they don’t have to provide special education programs and can choose not to deal with more “challenging” students? Have you noticed that due to their special arrangements, they can guarantee smaller class sizes – the precise issue that the OEA, the Teachers Union, is fighting for? Have you noticed the administrative complex that is forming around charter schools, the salaries of the people who run these non-profits, and how they are funded? How many charter schools enjoy significantly higher budgets than regular public schools and why? Have you thought about the fact that almost half of the CA budget goes to education and what a financial opportunity that might represent to an entrepreneurial-minded business community? (think of the private industry that has formed around other public service sectors, like the prison system). Have you thought about what will happen if the public school system becomes more and more fragmented, more and more “privatized,” more and more determined by niche markets? What that means for “out-of-date” concepts like democracy and the commons, civic discourse, and equal opportunity?

Finally, I need to ask if you were present at the meeting last Wednesday night when the BOE voted to impose the contract? I was. If you missed it, consult the videotape. I watched how, after the BOE voted unanimously to impose the contract, they began to ask which contract they had just imposed, and what was going to happen now? They seemed surprised when Tony Smith began to talk about returning to the bargaining table. Tony Smith asked the General Counsel for OUSD to explain it. She didn’t do a great job, so he called in Troy Christmas to clarify. Generally, it is a good idea to know what one is voting on and what the outcomes will be before one votes, agreed? It was embarrassing, but really, more frightening than anything.

If you are going to do some more investigative reporting on education, here are some things I’d like to learn more about and I think would be important for the residents of Oakland to learn more about:
1) The connection between state governance issues (particularly the 2/3 rule) and education funding.
2) The impact of increased class sizes on learning at all age levels, not just K-12.
3) The political influence on education policy of the work of foundations (Broad, Rogers, etc).
4) charter school/public school issues
4) And if you’re looking for a more immediate and local topic, how about asking OUSD what its immediate actionable plan is? There was little vision expressed by the BOE at the meeting about what their plan was other than getting “fiscally responsible.” What else is going on, or about to happen, besides imposing the teachers’ contract? I’ve heard Tony Smith needs to close schools – small or underenrolled schools are not seen as being economically feasible now. What does this mean for charters and the small schools run by Oakland Schools Foundation? That is largely how they define themselves – as small. Are they exempt?

As a journalist, you have access to people and information that common citizens don’t. Make the most of it.

Dr. Karen Fiss
Oakland Elementary School parent

1 like, 0 dislikes
Posted by Karen Fiss on 04/30/2010 at 10:05 AM

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