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Additional Thoughts on GO's 2011 Wish List

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GO Public Schools would like to offer an appreciation for the lively discussion that Katy Murphy's posting of our 2011 Oakland Education Policy Wish List has prompted. The more of us that are willing to talk openly and honestly about our experiences and perspectives - the stronger the dialogue, the better the decisions, and the greater will be the outcomes for our kids.

GO Public Schools is a pro-student, pro-teacher, and pro-labor organization. Five of seven GO board members are former teachers. Two of three GO staff members have experience teaching in low-income communities and communities of color.

We remain steadfast in our belief that every student - regardless of their demographics or income level - deserves an effective, competent and passionate teacher every day of every year. But the stark reality is that we're not there yet - the evidence is in the data: the graduation rates, the drop out rates, the hated test scores, the college enrollment numbers - and we need to work together to get there.

We offer here a few points of clarification about a couple of our wish list items that have catalyzed the ongoing commentary.

The Oakland Education Association is a powerful voice and an important stakeholder in the Oakland education policy dialogue that influences decisions that extraordinarily impact students, teachers, and other employee groups. GO actively urges teachers and school sites to be sure that their voices are included in OEA's democratic processes.

Last year, there was only minimal to moderate participation from Oakland teachers in the core decision-making bodies and activities of the union.
  • In March 2010, only 34% of dues paying OEA members (940 out of 2,800) voted in the election for the OEA president
  • In January and May 2010, only 28% and 27% of dues paying OEA members (771 and 775 out of 2,800) participated in the two strike authorization votes. This means that 70% of union members were silent on both occasions.
  • In November 2010, only 12% of OEA members (341 out of 2,800) participated in a vote to reaffirm OEA's strike position

In addition, there is evidence of low levels of representation at the monthly OEA Site Representative Council meetings. There are 99 traditional public schools and 22 Child Development Centers in OUSD and each site may send at least 1 OEA Site Representative. Last year, the OEA Representative Council voted 43 to 12 to remain neutral on Measure L - a total of 55 votes were cast.

An example of OEA's power and the resulting consequences for public schools in Oakland can be seen in the recent Measure L ballot initiative. Measure L garnered 66 percent approval from Oakland voters, but failed to pass by about 450 votes against the measure. Despite OEA's official neutrality, members of the OEA leadership actively campaigned against Measure L - discouraging support at staff meetings, posting on blogs, and standing outside schools discouraging parents from supporting the measure.

When Measure L was defeated on November 2, every Oakland teacher (and other site-based employee) lost tens of thousands of additional dollars they would have received in increased compensation over the 10-year life of the tax.

We are grateful for the dedication, participation, and service of those individuals who currently participate in OEA. We know there are site reps chosen because they are great teachers. But serving as a site representative is too often seen as an extra duty that a member of a school team needs to accept - independent of reputation for great instructional practice or results for students.

Our wish list also raised the case of a principal who has a teacher that is not meeting the needs of her students.

Schools serving larger numbers of children who are coming to school behind or coming to school disengaged and unmotivated need very effective teachers - teachers who can close that achievement gap and accelerate their learning, can differentiate for all the levels and learning styles, and build the relationships necessary to motivate and engage some of our "falling through the cracks" youth.

This principal's struggle has to do with her need to have a school of very effective teachers to really address the needs of the student population she serves. A teacher who is perpetually mediocre will not be able to address the needs of the student population at that school. But the current system does not support this principal to remove the perpetually mediocre teacher - and our students lose precious instructional time that cannot be recaptured.

We ask a lot of our teachers, but we have to ask it. There are many wonderfully talented, dedicated, and effective teachers all over Oakland who do this work everyday. But many is not good enough for our students - all is what is required. If we don't demand it, our public education system becomes part of the larger system that perpetuates poverty and disadvantage in the same neighborhoods and in the same communities generation after generation. That is unacceptable.

GO understands that to ask this of teachers, we need to pay them more, we need to more adequately support them, we need to engage them as leaders, and provide opportunities for growth, which is why we worked so hard to get Measure L passed (in collaboration with other labor organizations) and why we push OUSD to push resources to schools and cut central budgets.

We need a clear community understanding of what Oakland means by an "effective" teacher, and tools and processes in place to ensure a great teacher for every child.

Our conversation needs to be about what is best for our children - and we need to be open-minded, listening, and learning from each other about how best to serve them.

We should not tolerate mediocrity in our public schools. Quality is everyone's responsibility and every child's right.

We would be very interested in partnering with the Oakland Education Association to help make Oakland's voice more prominently heard in Sacramento regarding adequately funding our public schools.

Thanks to everyone on the list and in the community for your work on behalf of Oakland children and youth. Here's to a great 2011!

Allison Akhnoukh, James Harris, Jonathan Klein, Sheilagh Polk, and Hae-Sin Thomas, Board of Directors, Great Oakland Public Schools

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