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The Top Three Things We’ve Yet to Overcome

Our Voice      February, 2020     



Heraclitus, the Greek philosopher said, “Change is the only constant in life.” This is true in a lot of areas, including many aspects of Oakland public education over the last decade, as I shared in my last post. But we’ve seen things that didn’t change, too – unfortunately: continued unacceptable outcomes for many students, recurrent budget crises, and turnover at multiple levels.

1. Unacceptable Outcomes: Even though the state tests changed, and CA changed how it reports on school performance, Oakland continues to have lots of schools that are not doing well. Oakland Achieves (of which we are a member), aptly titled their 2018 report “New Measures, Similar Results” to highlight these stubborn trends. Most of Oakland schools rated highly (mostly blue and green) on the new California School Dashboard are the same as the ones with higher numbers on the old Academic Performance Index (API) system, and we still have way too many schools that are rated poorly. Of course, we’re pleased to see some bright spots, schools in which students who are growing quickly and outperforming the averages, and need to work on making them the norm not the exception.

2. Continued budget crises: We started the decade just having come out of state receivership, and we’re ending the decade with the county and state hovering over the district (with either a red pen or a hammer; I can’t tell). Even with the steady increases in per pupil funding and even if Schools & Communities First is approved by voters this year, OUSD will continue to be financially fragile until we have more quality schools that attract students (because more enrollment = more revenue) and better financial management practices to spend the dollars strategically and efficiently.

3. Turnover: In this decade, we have had 5 superintendents, including two interims. This is par for the course, as my colleague Carrie illuminated in her CRUNCHED blog from 2017. Plus, every year between 15-25 principals leave their roles. We’ve already written a lot about the negative impact of teacher turnover, and our work to reduce it. And of course, the composition (and priorities) of the elected OUSD Board changes every two years. This persistent destabilizing condition undermines every effort to improve schools for students. We need some stick-to-it-iveness, or at least a commitment to see things through even if it wasn’t your idea.

Sorry, that was depressing. But we need to have a clear picture of the situation in order to tackle the problems. As famous prisoner of war veteran Jim Stockdale said, as reported by Jim Collins in Good to Great, “You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”

What do you think it will take to ensure these persistent conditions finally change in the 2020s?

I’ll share my thoughts in the next and last post in this series, coming soon.


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