Educators: How Will Wilson’s 5-Year Plan Affect Teaching Policy in Oakland Schools?

Superintendent Wilson released his updated plan, “A Pathway to Excellence, 2015-2020”, at the last OUSD School Board meeting. The plan focuses on three primary areas: Effective Talent Programs, an Accountable School District, and Quality Community Schools.

Wilson writes, “Someday, somewhere in America, a school district and a city will fulfill its obligation to its children. Why not now? Why not Oakland?”

To watch the video of Wilson unveiling his plan at the school board meeting, click here.

To read Wilson’s gripping reflections on the recent events in Ferguson, Cleveland, and New York, and their implications for our work here in Oakland, click here.

What are your reactions to the plan and what implications do you think Wilson’s plan might have on teaching policy and practice in Oakland schools? Is this the plan that will move Oakland from a community with great potential to one that has exceeded it?

We’d love to hear from you!


What Happens When We Look At What IS Working?

cartoon6393The coolest thing about teaching is that there is no one right way to do it. There are some essential components of the craft that we know work, but the innovative strategies teachers use to incorporate those essentials can vary in beautiful, creative, stylistic ways. When teachers have the opportunities to learn from each other what works for them, teacher expertise expands and student learning improves.

The same can be argued for school improvement and district policies. The GO Teacher Policy Fellows had the opportunity recently to sit down with Superintendent Antwan Wilson to discuss the state and future of Oakland schools. While we had many questions for him, he had only one for us: What is working at your school site? I appreciated the focus on our successes and decided to document some of the responses.

Here is what some of our teacher policy fellows have to say about what is working at their district and charter schools:

“The most impressive efforts at my school include daily collaboration time for teachers that is built into the schedule and expected by the administration, peer observations and evaluations, student evaluations of teachers twice a year, a professional development plan informed by teacher input, college and career pathways, full time college and career counselors (who also teach classes), a flexible and accessible administrative team, block scheduling, active student leadership, and a commitment to relevant and engaging curriculum that is all open-sourced…just to name a few!” Rachel Friedman, Instructional Lead, Civicorps

“The freedom to hire people who fit the school culture and agree with the school’s approach is one major policy that works at my school site. In conjunction with this, the school leadership has established a culture of kindness where teachers are given the benefit of the doubt. For example, if a student pushes a desk over, the school leadership helps the teacher respond appropriately and doesn’t blame the teacher for the incident. In general, if I make a mistake (which inevitably I will), I don’t feel worried that I’m going to be yelled at or punished. I know I will receive help and support instead. Teachers are also supported in several specific ways: with release time for planning and collaboration; with professional development time that allows for structured work time that aligns with the school’s goals; with administrators who offer help and ask, “What do you need?”; and with good curriculum resources paired with professional development that helps me use the resources more effectively.” –Jennie Herriot-Hatfield, Think College Now Elementary School

“This year my site has a new, first year principal. She has a clear vision – that all students can learn and that our school will make sure all learners are successful academically and socially/emotionally. In terms of making this happen, teachers have been given one 50 min. a week collaboration prep. All teachers are eager to collaborate and work well with their grade level team. There are 5 special education classes that serve students with autism, so I suggested that we form a PLC that meets once a month to modify/measure the school goals for our students. The principal is very open to building teacher leadership capacity, which has been great in terms of making sure that all teachers are using their strengths.” –Caitlin Healey, Emerson Elementary

“We created a ‘Pillar’ system, with five pillars.  Each pillar ran one portion of the PD for the month.  Every teacher was required to be on a Pillar and we had built in time in the school month to plan the upcoming PD.  The pillars were: accountability and systems, curriculum and instruction, building school capacity, intervention and culture and climate.” –Lacy Lefkowitz, Formerly at Claremont Middle School

 “Our staff is intentional in working together. While much of the staff has experience, the majority are new hires to our site this year. We seem to have started the year with a mindset of collegiality and camaraderie which has served us well to communicate openly and often.” -Cori Belew, North Oakland Community Charter School

 “The administration and support staff are incredibly strong. It is so clear that everyone on campus cares about our students, teachers, and families. Our principal and other staff members put in an incredible amount of work to make teachers’ jobs more manageable (by providing planning time, reducing paperwork, and supporting class needs) while continuously working to ensure students and families feel connected to the school. Our administration also collects and reviews feedback forms after every PD or school-wide event in an effort to encourage teacher and staff voice and to continuously grow and improve as a school.” –Emma Coufal, Think College Now Elementary School

We’d love to hear from you! What is working at your school site? What strategies from those listed here might you bring back to your school leadership and why?

Spend Your Money Wisely: Different Compensation Strategies

A Leap of Faith: Redesigning Teacher Compensation

This report on teacher compensation from the School Finance Redesign Project at Center on Reinventing Public Education, published in June 2008 by Michael DeArmond and Dan Goldhaber, analyzes three teacher compensation studies that strive to answer the question “Are there good ideas about better ways to spend money to attract and reward quality educators?”. The study considers combat pay, pay reform, and private sector v. teacher salary markets.

“To explore how high incentives have to be to attract people with technical degrees and strong academic backgrounds to teaching and to attract teachers to work in high-needs schools, we compared the structure of compensation in the teacher labor market to the structure of compensation in other labor markets…We also found that regardless of college major or college selectivity, the longer a person teaches, the more his or her wages fall behind.” (6)

Thinking Beyond Bad Teachers

Bad teachers are having their moment in the sun this summer. The message from the mainstream media right now is that teachers are the problem.

Whoopie Goldberg is a talk show host and opinionator on teacher tenure, also known as due process, who wants bad teachers fired.

Vergara v. California declares that students’ rights to an equitable education are being violated by “teacher tenure” guarantees. It is being appealed by the California Teachers Association.

Students from Fremont and Castlemont High Schools in deep East Oakland have filed a suit in Alameda County Superior Court saying that “students have been denied equal access to teaching time compared with students who attend schools in more well-to-do neighborhoods.” These students have suffered through round after round of ineffective substitutes.

We are a society that is obsessed with bad teachers. Even Cameron Diaz has staked her claim in the discourse, playing a drunk and horny teacher who wants to quit the profession to marry rich.

A more accurate, if not way more boring, version of the movie would be called Good Teacher. It would star me, the opening shot focused on my hand whacking my alarm at 6:00am, suiting up with a sensible pair of clogs so I can facilitate play during recess. All day, I am transitioning kindergarteners with autism from one 20 minute academic session to another, literally singing and dancing as I go. Then the camera would pan to me laminating individualized folder activities for 12 students, cutting out the materials that I bought myself while sitting on my sofa. I’d be wearing a fetching sweater set and an increasingly strong eye glass prescription as I finish writing an IEP late into the night – late being 9:00pm. My bedtime, like a young child’s, is 9:30. And Justin Timberlake never kisses me good night or pays my bills.

While this makes for bad cinema, it makes for good teaching. And there is a lot more good teaching going on than the media presents. Making good teachers feel eclipsed by bad-teacher-hysteria isn’t going to close the achievement gap.

Cartoon - Good T

There is no doubt that students in high-need school districts are being denied access to excellent educations. But bad teachers aren’t the root cause. Racism and classism are.

Segregation along the lines of race and class is thriving the the American public education system. Sixty years after Brown v. Board of Education, schools across the country, and in the Bay Area, are desegregated in legislation only. Segregation widens the achievement gap.

If we are serious about closing the achievement gap, then we need to shift our priorities from firing bad teachers, to hiring and retaining talented teachers and desegregating schools.

We need to learn a lesson from Finland, the going gold standard of education: we need to make the standards for admittance to schools of education very high, train teachers incredibly well, support teachers in the beginning of their careers, pay teachers like professionals, accept teachers’ assessments like we would a prescription from a doctor, and make teaching a job to brag about at a cocktail party.

We need to remember Brown v. Board: “Segregation of white and colored children in public schools has a detrimental effect upon the colored children… A sense of inferiority affects the motivation of a child to learn.

This is not an excuse, this is the truth: we are a nation that enslaved African-Americans 245 years. It is not a coincidence that African-American males continue to suffer the most in the public education system. The bad teacher discourse is a distraction from the reality that our political and social systems are hurting, not just our education system.

There are optimistic examples of revolutionary work to close the achievement gap that transcends the bad teacher discourse and includes acknowledging teachers who serve students tirelessly. The Harlem Children’s Zone commits to not only to academic excellence, but also to wrap around services that break patterns of poverty. Oakland Unified School District’s Office of African-American Male Achievement is doing work to coach young men outside of the classroom and is getting positive national attention.

We need to turn our attention to both cultivating and retaining a robust teaching force as we fight poverty and segregation. We need to spend time and money on preventative efforts like pre-natal care, public pre-school, and health care to close the achievement gap. We need to stop mythologizing the bad teacher and start supporting all teachers to be the best they can for their students.


Ten Reasons to Stay Teaching in Oakland


Summer is coming to an end, and the teacher nightmares are beginning. You know, the terrifying dreams where you have nothing planned or prepared for class and you’ve forgotten everything you know about being with students?

With the endless Sturm und Drang that comes with the start of a new year, it’s a great time to remind ourselves of all the reasons we stay teaching in Oakland.

I posed the question to my teacher friends around Oakland: With all the challenges and frustrations, why do YOU stay teaching in Oakland? Here’s what they said.

I appreciate the community I teach in. I’ve built strong bonds with many families and feel loyal and committed to the community. I know that I could teach somewhere else, but I truly feel passionate about giving students stability and consistency (like so many suburban schools have) by returning to the same school.     -Candice F. (15 years teaching)

It is one of those places…where the powers invest little because they expect little. My hope is to teach people skills they can use to create their own solutions to meet their needs.     -Ron M. (16 years teaching)

I stay teaching in Oakland for many reasons. I think my social conscience and my need to support the community and those in need is the main reason. I feel anger at the way society treats our children and feel I can help them navigate a really [screwed] up system.    -Stan L. (31 years teaching)

I have an opportunity to teach students one of the most important skills in life: reading.                -Devon M. (5 years teaching)

Like all Oakland teachers, I stay for the role I have the privilege to play in the lives of Oakland students – young people who are too often born into a reality they don’t deserve and who want to create a new reality of their own choosing. I stay for the privilege of working with incredibly talented, passionate, and supportive educators who inspire me to push through the challenges of this work. I stay for the excellent professional development I have received through programs like EDDA and the Teacher Leader Collaborative. I stay because Oakland kids are “hella” funny! I stay because in Oakland, there is no limit to how much I can grow and learn as a professional in this field.     -Lisa R. (5 years teaching)

The youth I serve are incredibly powerful, yet in a system that is inequitable, one that does not fully see them. I stay because I have a commitment to be an educator who uses my knowledge of the system to teach my students to know and access the tools they need, and to create a classroom that teaches the relevance of those tools while my students also experience the power of their stories and voices. The goal is that they experience their value, are self-empowered and equipped to use their voices for change.     -Maha N. (5 years teaching)

The kids are magical, and I get to create ambitious curriculum on their behalf. It’s not always easy, but it is always rewarding.     -Carlos C. (25 years teaching)

I stay teaching in Oakland for purely selfish reasons: I love my job! Working with Oakland students is both thoroughly fulfilling AND completely fun. It is a pleasure to take kids on a thrilling learning journey to a magical place of new knowledge.     -Christi C. (13 years teaching)

I love my co-workers and students. It never occurred to me to look for a new school or district because I feel at home in my position.     -Shelley G. (1 year teaching)

I stay teaching in Oakland because it it where good teachers are needed most. I never have to wonder if there’s someplace I would be helping out more. I’m from Oakland, so I’m not just “giving back”, I’m relating. Their issues are my issues.     -Marva M. (21 years teaching)

For these reasons, and so many more, we stay teaching in Oakland.

Why do YOU stay?

All Children Can Learn…and All Teachers Can Lead

Teacher Leader (Pages 9-36)

Oakland Teacher

This essay by Roland Barth, published in February 2001, argues for the need for greater teacher leadership opportunities and greater teacher autonomy within a school system. He also considers the barriers to teacher leadership and the ways in which those barriers can be overcome.

“In the 1970s, Ron Edmonds introduced us to the ringing phrase “All children can learn.” Our profession has begun to take these words seriously, even believe them and act upon them. I would like to suggest an equally revolutionary idea: “All teachers can lead.”

Can Teacher-run Schools Deliver?

A recent blog post on Education Week’s Teaching Ahead site highlighted the efforts by educators around the country, in at least 15 states now, to launch teacher-led, or teacher-run schools. In these schools there may or may not be administrators, and all decisions are made collectively by the teachers themselves. Run like cooperatives, their supporters claim that they offer not only more freedom and space to innovate and collaborate, but also better overall results.

Teacher-powered schools are a new and different way for teachers to emerge as transformative forces for teaching and learning. They are proof that characteristics of high-performing cultures can be created by the teachers who work with the support and partnership from principals, administrators, authorizers, union/association leaders and policymakers.

A new initiative is currently underway to promote and expand this model, and steps are being taken to make sure that it hits all the right chords. There is talk in this movement that can excite folks on all sides of the school redesign debate. Schools can become teacher-run and still operate within their union-district contract, for example. They offer an antidote to the testing craze that many feel has hampered creativity and enrichment no longer found in many classrooms.  Yet the focus still is sharply kept on improvement student achievement. Education Evolving, a Minnesota-based group interested in school redesign options has partnered with the Center for Teacher Quality to promote these new schools with the hope of inspiring the growth of a movement. They call it Teacher Powered Schools, and their site even offers a how-to guide on making the switch. Surely it will take more than following a manual to make those kind of changes around here.  But the question will undoubtedly keep coming back, as it does with everything: Do they actually work?

A recently released white paper (see below) dives deep into this subject, although the data at this point is arguably inconclusive, especially given the fact that measuring effectiveness is in itself an inconclusive endeavor. What does one look for when evaluating the success and impact of these models? What should we look for? The usual data points might hide some of the true success or failure of this model. But if instead the measure focuses teacher retention statistics at those sites, along with staff, student, and community surveys results, they might shed more light whether this is another quick way to save money and outsource admin costs, or  the birth of an authentic and empowered teacher movement.

From the CTQ

Here is a video form the Teacher Powered Schools featuring a union-designed school in Denver, Colorado:

And the White Paper:

Examining Why Teachers Leave

Due to high turnover, teachers today are less experienced than ever and this may be a permanent change that the school system has not addressed. Low pay, while a major issue influencing teacher attrition, is not the most significant factor in teacher decisions to leave the classroom. That’s according to a recent Carnegie report, Beginners in the Classroom.”

As an Oakland teacher, I think teachers and administrators talk about turnover a lot in our schools because every year we experience the struggles associated with it, but the cycle continues. School budgets are often structured as such that if a teacher leaves and needs to be replaced, schools cannot afford to hire the most experienced and qualified teachers. So new teachers are hired and 70 percent of our teachers leave Oakland schools within their first 5 years in the classroom. As a result, we’re saving money in the beginning but increasing turnover in the long run.

My school Skyline High has been slowly progressing over the years to ensure that we are doing a better job at serving kids and to make the working environment more collaborative, positive, and sustainable for teachers and staff. However, that change takes time, and this job never becomes easy, so teacher turnover is still a major issue. I believe teachers are significantly underpaid for the challenging and critical work we do, and I believe that compensation does play a major role in teachers’ decisions to continue in the classroom or to leave. If you ask young lawyers and consultants at major firms if they enjoy the long, grueling hours, (or even if they like their jobs), I doubt many would say yes, but you don’t see the same amount of turnover because in those professions, high compensation keeps them in the professions.

At the same time, I agree that the teaching profession attracts a different breed of professionals who are motivated by much more than money, and with the intense nature of our work, a supportive staff and administration is critical to sustaining experienced and effective teachers in the classroom.

I am fortunate to work with a staff of educators who believe deeply in peer support and provide it on a regular basis. I have worked for the past four years in a small academy team, whose support has carried me through many, many hurdles. I also have the fortune to work for an administrative team that works tirelessly, values teacher input and leadership, and continues to lead our school to be more effective each year. Without this collegial support or the appropriate compensation, I am confident that I would have already left teaching, but because I have the support, I am inspired to continue in this important work.

-Lisa Rothbard Manager of Teacher Leadership

P.S. We want to hear from you! The study concluded that low pay is not the most significant factor in teacher decisions to leave positions. In your view, is it a matter of low pay or more a matter of other intangible rewards, job satisfaction, and the like? Click here and let us know what you think!