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Plan Sought for Ailing Schools

Ohanian Comment: Even teachers?

Teachers aren't allowed to choose the reading program they want, but maybe they can apply to run 13 schools that haven't done so well on the mandated reading program.

When will the corporate minds figure out that treating teachers like serfs produces bad results? Of course, this just might be the real goal: the destruction of public schools.

Here is how the Broad Foundation describes Randy Ward:

Oakland's successful small school initiative has proven that small, autonomous schools lead to better student achievement results. State Administrator Randy Ward, a graduate of the Broad Superintendent's Academy, is recreating the district by devolving responsibility and greater budget authority to the schools, creating a leaner central office, and moving to a fee-for-service model to provide services to the schools. The Broad Foundation, in partnership with the Bay Area Coalition for Equitable Schools, the Gates Foundation, and the Full Circle Fund, has hired McKinsey & Company to provide strategic consulting support for this organizational redesign effort.

You can read about the long tentacles of the Broad Foundation in Why Is Corporate America Bashing Our Public Schools.

Maybe reading it will convince a few people to stop calling everybody they disagree with conservative. The Broad Foundation is not conservative. It is corporate. Failing to understand the difference is dangerous to the health of public schools.

Randy Ward, the state-appointed head of the Oakland schools, is looking for someone to do a better job running 13 low-scoring elementary schools than the district has done so far.

Ward will announce today that he is inviting companies, nonprofits -- even teachers -- to submit proposals on how they would run the schools, which have repeatedly failed to meet federal deadlines to raise their test scores, The Chronicle has learned.

The 13 are among 268 California schools -- including 41 in the Bay Area -- that have failed to meet the standards of the No Child Left Behind education act for four years. They are Allendale, Cox, Hawthorne, Highland, Jefferson, Lockwood, Horace Mann, Melrose, Prescott, Sobrante Park, Stonehurst, Webster and Whittier.

Under the law, those schools have exhausted their chances to raise student scores through teacher training and programs designed to help students improve academically, such as tutoring.

Having failed to raise scores high enough, these schools now have four final options: replacing all staff, reopening as an autonomous charter school or being taken over by an outside management company or by the state.

The entire Oakland district is already under state stewardship. The superintendent was ousted last year, and the elected school board became advisory, after the schools went bankrupt on their watch. Now it is up to Ward to choose from the four federally authorized options and have them in place by next fall at the 13 schools.

"The preferred option right now is to put out an RFP (request for proposal) for alternative management for the schools," said Katrina Scott-George, Ward's assistant. "We want to look for an option that makes sense, and we can't know if it's good until we see proposals. It's for anyone who can meet the requirements of our request, which hasn't been written yet."

Proposals by teachers would also be considered, she said.

Under Ward's approach, the schools would be converted to charters, she said. But any new management organization selected by Ward would have to sign a special contract giving the district greater financial say over the 13 schools than it has over other charters.

Scott-George said that Ward will present the idea at today's school board meeting, where he will also outline the possibility of closing King Estates Middle School and two elementary schools, Golden Gate and Washington.

The teachers union opposes the closures and regards the school takeover plan with suspicion. The union and the district are in contract talks, and the teachers' harsh view of the school takeover plan reflects a broader mistrust of Ward across the city.

On the one hand, the state administrator has reduced operating expenditures by more than $17 million and has a track record of restoring another bankrupt district in Los Angeles to fiscal solvency.

But many Oakland teachers dislike his austerity measures, his proposed school closures and his adherence to a phonics program embraced by the state called Open Court.

Union president Ben Visnick said he and other union representatives met with Scott-George and other district officials on Monday to get a preview of the alternative management plan.

"If they turn these 13 schools over to a (charter) company like Edison or Aspire, there would be a big outcry in Oakland," Visnick said, because the companies are not unionized. "This could affect their retirement and health benefits."

And that's just the beginning. If there is one thing that makes teachers uncomfortable, Visnick said, it is the sense that they are not really in charge of their own classrooms -- that some unseen hand is telling them how and what to teach.

So the idea of an outside agency -- particularly a private, for-profit company -- running more than a dozen schools seems anathema to many.

"The community doesn't trust (outside agencies) coming in and slumming and pimping off the poor children," Visnick said. "Some people may call it paranoia, but there's a real feeling that the district is going to create the Oakland Dis-Unified School District."

As a repair measure for the 13 schools, Visnick said the teachers prefer lowering class size from 30 to 20 students in grades 4 and 5, which would entice experienced teachers to work there and could help raise scores. Visnick also recommended adding 15 school days and giving teachers more say over curriculum.

As required under No Child Left Behind, there will be public discussion of the options for schools that fail to meet the test-score thresholds for four years.

Today's meeting is scheduled to begin at 4:30 p.m. in the auditorium of Oakland Technical High School at 4351 Broadway.

A half hour earlier, the teachers' union has scheduled a rally on the steps of the high school to show their dissatisfaction.

— Nanette Asimov
San Francisco Chronicle





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