Great Oakland Public Schools is a 501(c)(4) nonprofit social welfare organization that connects and activates an informed community network to advance policies that ensure all Oakland students have the opportunity to attend quality public schools.
At a time when the overwhelming majority of family-wage jobs require post-secondary education, less than two-thirds of Oakland's students graduate from high school. Barely half of our African-American and Latino students finish high school on time, and the average African-American and Latino twelfth grader reads and does math at the level of white eighth graders. This is morally unacceptable and economically untenable.
Great Oakland Public Schools 501(c)(4) also sponsors a political action committee, Families and Educators for Public Education, to empower our network to participate in electoral politics - school board elections in particular - because our elected leaders set the policies, culture, and tone that govern millions of dollars to benefit Oakland children and youth.
We are a coalition of families, educators, and community leaders from the hills and flatlands, East, West, and North Oakland, charter and district public schools who share a vision of an Oakland where all children receive the schooling and support they need to live successful, fulfilling lives. More than 500 individuals have made financial contributions to support our work. Our 2012 network meetings each attracted more than 100 attendees from across the city.
3. How did GO start?
In September 2008, the leadership of the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) presented a plan to close 10-17 small schools with little regard to school performance. Community and school leaders organized parents, teachers, students, and principals to talk to school board members about the positive impact these small schools were having on increasing student achievement in Oakland schools. In response, the board decided not to close schools based only on size, and, instead, to organize citywide community engagement about the future of at-risk school communities.
In January 2009, the Interim Superintendent announced a plan to pass nearly 100 percent of a $17 million midyear budget cut on to schools. Parents, teachers, and community requested copies of the central office budgets and recommended more than $17 million of cuts to the central office that they would make prior to cutting programs and services directly serving children at schools. These recommendations were presented to the school board, who directed the Interim Superintendent to keep cuts as far from classrooms as possible. In the end, 75 percent of the budget cut were made in the central offices.
Based on these experiences, our network of parents, educators, and community members began building Great Oakland Public Schools to ensure that the Oakland community had information and opportunities to shape decisions about our public schools and hold leaders accountable.
4. What are GO's values?
Our GO network is guided by six core values, which drive everything we do in order to be effective advocates for children:
Students First: Every decision should focus on what Oakland students need in order to attain a quality education. For many Oakland students, accessing quality public schools is an issue of life or death. We must work with tremendous urgency. Students cannot wait until tomorrow.
Sense of Possibility: All children can succeed as a result of quality schools and effective teaching. Innovation and inquiry are essential to disrupt the status quo in service of students.
Equity: Students of all backgrounds and in all neighborhoods deserve equitable and excellent outcomes. Resources and opportunities must be prioritized for historically underserved communities and students.
Power of Community: Our Oakland community has high expectations for our students and public schools - and the power to deliver quality education for all students. Together, we are responsible for preparing all students with the skills and knowledge required for success in college, career, and life.
Shared Decision-Making and Accountability: People should have a say in the decisions that shape their lives, and educational decisions should be made transparently, based on evidence, and by those who are closest to students. Those who are responsible for making decisions should be held accountable for those decisions based on student results.
Respectful Communication: We communicate directly and with respect at all times, enabling us to be transparent and pragmatic, foster learning, and create long-lasting, accountable relationships.
5. How is GO funded?
Over 500 individuals have contributed to GO since we formed nonprofit organizations in 2010.
We are intentionally working to build a donor network of families, educators, and community that is socio-economically, racially, culturally, and linguistically inclusive and that shares a positive, solutions- and results-oriented vision for improving Oakland public schools. Dozens of district and charter parents and teachers make monthly contributions as sustaining members of Great Oakland Public Schools.
We welcome the contributions of individuals and organizations that share our values and vision of an Oakland where all children receive the schooling and support they need to live successful, fulfilling lives. Click here to review the campaign finance filings of GO's political action committee - Families and Educators for Public Education.
Great Oakland Public Schools Leadership Center 501(c)(3) is funded primarily by local foundations. Click here for a list of the Leadership Center's foundation support.
6. Who are GO's partners?
Partner organizations are essential to our work.
We have partnered with Youth Together, Education Trust-West, SEIU Local 1021, Youth UpRising, Oakland Community Organizations (OCO), and Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights to produce a study about effective teaching policy in Oakland.
We participated in the "All Kids" campaign with Urban Strategies Council, Oakland Community Organizations, 100 Black Men of the Bay Area, East Bay Asian Youth Center, Youth Uprising, and the Prescott Joseph Center to ensure students are successful by giving all district schools increased autonomy over staffing, budget, curriculum, and schedules. In April 2012, the OUSD school board passed a School Governance Policy in alignment with the values and goals of the "All Kids" campaign.
In 2011, we joined a statewide collaborative of community-based organizations including Families in Schools, Alliance for a Better Community, Reading and Beyond, COPE, and Education Trust-West working to advance effective teaching policy across the state.
In 2011, we helped organize a broad coalition of partners, including the Oakland Education Association (OEA), SEIU Local 1021, Youth UpRising, National Equity Project, California Teachers Association, Urban Strategies Council, Oakland Parents Together, Bay Area Parent Leadership Action Network (PLAN), Oakland Schools Foundation, and Teach for America to support AB 609 to reverse millions of dollars in audit fines to OUSD incurred during the period of state administration.
We have worked with the California Charter School Association and other local charters such as Education for Change, Aspire Public Schools, and Lighthouse Community Charter School to supporting these schools and work toward a vision of closer partnership between OUSD and charters.
We have worked in partnership with OUSD to help access resources to support the district's work, advance the strategic planning process, and to make information more accessible to our community.
1. Why is GO involved in school board elections?
Great leaders are essential to expanding high quality public education and opportunities for Oakland students. Great Oakland Public Schools 501(c)(4) endorsed school board candidates for the first time in the November 2012 elections. School board members have an extraordinary influence on the performance of our schools and the culture of our city. Our school board oversees the Superintendent, sets instructional and school management policies, votes on school closures, approves and denies charter public schools, and makes critical financial decisions about $600+ million annual budget (that's $2.4 billion of budget responsibility in a four-year term).
2. What were GO's activities in the 2012 school board elections?
We are supporting a campaign powered by Oakland parents, educators, and community members. Over 200 people have given donations to this work - some chipped in as little as $5 - for a total of over $20,000 in grassroots contributions. Hundreds of Oaklanders participated as volunteers to phone bank and walk door-to-door to talk with voters. This level of support and activity was unprecedented in recent Oakland school board elections.
Click here for photos from our neighborhood walks and phone banks.
See below for a video from a phone bank.
3. Who are you supporting for the 2014 School Board elections?
GO's endorsement process is similar to political party committees and the League of Women Voters. In addition to alignment with our values and policy agenda, we evaluate candidates on their viability to win and capacity to serve as effective as board members. We ask each known candidate to respond to a questionnaire and then invite them to an in-person interview with our members. We then put these questionnaires and interview videos online to get feedback from our membership. Our board of directors collects the feedback and decides which candidates to endorse. We anticipate announcing candidates in the spring of 2014.
4. What other issues are you engaging with in elections?
As the November 2014 elections approach, check back here for more information. We are looking at other races besides school board and are exploring how we can serve as a resource for voters who care about public education.
2. What is GO's relationship to the teachers' union?
Unions are important. They provide an important voice for teachers and other school employees and serve as an important counter-weight to some of the tendencies, pressures, or incentives that any district might face in a management position. The labor movement has played an essential role in creating and supporting a strong middle class within our democracy.
Many Oakland teachers participate in GO who are also members of the Oakland Education Association. GO is working to increase the leadership of Oakland teachers in decision-making about public education and supports teachers to get involved in the policy-making activities of the union and the district.
We share the perspective that we have heard over and over from OUSD teachers.They want a strong union that advocates for teachers while advancing the profession and craft of teaching and serving the needs of students. Teachers' unions across the country have embraced new research and understandings of the teaching profession and have joined forces with their districts as powerful collaborators. Teachers across Oakland have expressed a desire for and support for this type of positive, constructive relationship -- which moves beyond the 'us v. them' mentality that seems so pervasive in the current relationship.
We look forward to continuing to find ways to partner with OEA and other labor partners such as SEIU Local 1021, AFSCME, UAOS, and the Building Trades to bring more resources to Oakland public schools, support teachers and district employees, and improve educational outcomes for Oakland's children and youth.
3. Does GO want to eliminate seniority rights for teachers?
No. Seniority should play a role in how districts place teachers. We do not, however, believe that it should be the only or most important factor in every staffing decision. Teaching is extraordinarily complex, and effectiveness cannot be reduced to the number of years a teacher has been teaching. Many factors should be considered in hiring, placing, and retaining teachers, such as:
Track record of advancing student learning,
Fit with school culture,
Previous relevant training or experiences,
Feedback from colleagues, supervisors, students, and parents/caregivers,
Willingness to engage in culturally relevant instruction, and/or
Willingness to collaborate and strengthen instructional teams.
The current system does not allow for these factors to be considered. GO supports the district's pilot systems for assessing and developing teacher effectiveness.
4. Where does GO stand on using test scores in teacher evaluations?
First, to be clear, a teacher's evaluation should be one part of a professional growth system whose purpose is to (1) support and develop the teachers who have chosen to serve Oakland's students; and (2) ensure that students are achieving.
As a part of that evaluation, we believe that state test scores are one of multiple measures (including, for example, student portfolios, benchmark assessments, and peer, student, parent, and administrative feedback) that should be included. We believe that student test scores on state assessments are relevant to talking about teacher effectiveness, but not reliable enough to be the sole or even predominate basis for measuring teacher effectiveness. We believe that assessment of student achievement should be focused on student growth over time which allows for more analysis of where a given teacher's students started when they walked into his or her classroom. There are promising models emerging from around the country such as the Peer Assistance and Review (PAR) programs in San Juan and Poway and The College Ready Promise Program.
Additionally, we believe that there are strong models and frameworks for effective teaching that, if adopted by a district, would help establish clear expectations and help align professional development to actual teacher need in a systematic way that is focused on the core skills (and art) of instruction.
5. What is GO's Effective Teaching Campaign?
As a result of a spring/summer 2011 strategic planning process that included input from more than 100 Oakland public education stakeholders and community leaders, GO's board and staff prioritized the development of an Effective Teaching Campaign with a vision of every Oakland student having access to effective teaching and our highest need students having equitable access to our most effective teachers.
Since then we have continued to develop our network of parent and teacher leaders to advance five core policy goals to support effective teaching in Oakland public schools:
Increase compensation to ensure that OUSD attracts and retains highly-skilled educators.
Ensure assignment policies increase student access to effective teaching and allow school communities a strong voice in determining the composition of their staff.
Create a fair evaluation system that includes multiple measures of good teaching and student growth, and emphasizes professional growth and support for teachers.
Ensure principals are given the training and support necessary to provide strong instructional leadership and fair, meaningful evaluations of staff.
Develop teacher career and leadership pathways that ensure that Oakland's best teachers deeply influence policy and decision-making, and lead to greater responsibility, compensation, and mentoring of other teachers.
As we develop and support a cohort of Oakland parents, educators, and community members that can advocate for policies that support effective teaching in Oakland, we will change local and state policies that otherwise serve as barriers to ensuring equitable access to effective teaching for all students.
6. What is your stance on charter schools?
We believe in high quality schools, period. In our experience, most parents do not make distinctions about the governance structure of a school and neither do we. Parents want safe, nurturing, challenging public schools that prepare their children for success in work and life. Our bottom line is that we need more great public schools in Oakland - and we need to put more energy into collaborating and partnering to expand high quality educational opportunities.
7. Is GO trying to replace OUSD with a network of charter public schools?
No. We think that high quality charter schools bring important strengths and values to the Oakland education community. However, charters are not a good in and of themselves. We are only interested in making sure that all Oakland students get a great education. The majority of our network's energy is spent working to support Oakland Unified and its Thriving Students strategic plan.
8. Do you think that charter public schools are better than district public schools?
No. A school is only as good as the extent to which it helps its students achieve. Some district schools do better than some charter schools and some charter schools do better than some district schools. There is nothing about a charter public school that makes it inherently better than a district public school.
Ultimately a charter school and a district school are just two different governance structures for making sure students get a high quality public education. Charters offer some benefit structurally with respect to allowing school sites greater autonomy over budget, staffing, calendar, and curriculum, District structures offer other benefits such as economies of scale. What they both have in common is that they need highly skilled dedicated people to actually make it work for students.
1. Why do you have a "School Board Agenda Watch" and what is it?
GO thinks it is important to help Oaklanders follow the important actions and issues being addressed at the district leadership level. The Board Agenda Watch is an email list and blog that tracks the decisions and happenings of the Oakland school board. For most meetings we review the agenda and highlight issues of particular interest to the GO community based on our values and priorities. We then attend each meeting and provide a summary what happened during the meeting for each item.
Click here to sign up for email updates when we post new information about the Oakland school board.
2. What do you do with your free time?
We sleep at the office. We frequent establishments that serve Linden Street. We hang out with our families, our friends, and our kids. We attend school board meetings for entertainment.