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NCLB Outrages

Oakland's Plans Anger Teachers
Note that the definition of failure is the NCLB arbitrary definition of success. Progress doesn't count. How is a teacher supposed to give 14 hours a day to her job and then design a new school in her spare time?

Oakland teachers whose underperforming public schools face becoming charters or new schools turned out Wednesday at the school board meeting to vent their frustration with district leaders for marching ahead with a reform plan that they call unnecessary and overzealous.

The district has invited nonprofits, companies and teachers to submit proposals detailing how they would operate 13 low-scoring elementary schools in the fall that have failed to meet the federal No Child Left Behind standards four years in a row.

But many teachers contend the district could solve the problem by providing the schools with additional resources and support. And they worry about what the future holds for them.

More than 250 teachers, parents and community members, some carrying signs that read "Stonehurst says no to union busting" and "End the takeover of our schools! Restore democratic control and full voting rights to Oakland" showed up to protest the district's actions.

"The district is failing the children," Jennifer Formoso, a fifth-grade teacher at Webster Academy, announced through a bullhorn to a crowd before the meeting. "The perpetuation of the cult of failure is a direct result of Oakland Unified's negligence."

The schools slated for overhaul include Allendale, Cox, Hawthorne, Highland, Jefferson, Lockwood, Horace Mann, Melrose, Prescott, Sobrante Park, Stonehurst, Webster and Whittier. Under the law, the district has limited options for fixing their problems: state takeover, replacing the staff, reopening as a charter school, having an outside management company come in, or major restructuring of the school's governance.

The district has asked interested parties to submit letters by Feb. 1. The district will follow up on Feb. 11, and actual applications will be due at a later date.

It's a rocky time for the district. In 2003, Randy Ward assumed control as state administrator after the district's financial mess prompted a $100 million state bailout, forcing the school board into an advisory role.

District leaders argue that teachers need not feel alienated -- they can submit a proposal to overhaul their school.

"We want folks to submit proposals -- we want the community to engage in the process of designing schools that will meet their needs," said Katrina Scott-George, assistant to the state administrator. "The way we're going to protect public education the best is to make sure we get (academic) outcomes for kids."

Of Oakland's 122 schools, 19 are charters and 20 are new small schools. Of California districts with 1,000 or more students, Oakland is second to only San Diego with 5.6 percent of its students attending a charter school, according to the California Charter Schools Association.

Teri Hudson, a third-grade teacher at Sobrante Park, argues that her school is achieving. Its state test scores have improved over the last four years, although not enough to meet federal standards. But proper resources and changes such as an extended day and smaller class sizes could make Sobrante Park do even better, she said.

Now, her 14-hour workdays leave her with no time to take district leaders up on their offer to draft a new school plan.

"Most of my time and energy has to be put into the classroom," she said. "There is no time to design a school. We're not attorneys or business leaders. "

Teachers also worry about how they would fare at the new schools and whether they would be protected by the union contract.

The district argues that if a school doesn't treat its teachers well, it won't be sustainable. But Ben Visnick, head of the Oakland Education Association, says a lot of unanswered questions remain such as the length of the school day and class size.

"What we want to avoid is a revolving-door situation where teachers are not protected by a union contract, where people from above -- whether it's the charter school agency or some district administrator -- are running roughshod over the teachers," Visnick said.

E-mail Carrie Sturrock at csturrock@sfchronicle.com.

— Carriei Sturrock
San Francisco Chronicle


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