Blogging Bayport Alameda

August 30, 2013

Abandon hope all ye who enter here

Filed under: Alameda, School — Tags: , — Lauren Do @ 6:00 am

Yesterday afternoon I tweeted this:

That’s right, Alameda Unified School District’s Chief Financial Officer (Chief Business Officer?  whatevs…) is now the latest senior staff member to jump ship off the S.S. AUSD.   While I know that some folks were hoping to take out Superintendent Kirsten Vital via a heavily pro-AEA slate last election, the causalities in the conflict between the District and AEA have instead decimated the senior staff ranks of the District office.

While certain School Board Members have talked endlessly about morale of teachers there is clearly something dysfunctional about an organization when the Chief Counsel (top legal person), Assistant Superintendent, Head of the Human Resources Department, and the Chief Financial person all leave within months of one another.   I’ll also add into this list the last Senior Program Manager who also left the District Office and opted to go back into the classroom.  Given that all these people have been fairly closely aligned (and maligned) with the Superintendent, I don’t think that you can place any of the onus of this on the Superintendent’s head.   Well, I mean you can but it would require some pretty crazy logical gymnastics.

But seriously, all you need to know about the working conditions for these senior level staff is to watch last Tuesday’s School Board meeting, it’s toward the end because I kept thinking “this isn’t that bad” until I got to “it.”   I mean, the levels of dysfunction are astounding.    You have a few Board Members who constantly challenge everything that staff presents.   You have a School Board as a whole unable to give any kind of cohesive direction to staff to tell them what they want.   You have a few School Board members who think that their job is to micromanage everything at a school site level and do not understand that the role of a legislative body is to make policy not run the day to day.

With this sort of completely unprofessional working environment is there any wonder people are just leaving left and right.   I mean I can barely watch it let alone live it as my job.   And I’m not sure how consistent turnover is any good for the district as a whole even if a lot of it is largely invisible from the day to day school type stuff.

At this point there is no way, no way, any School Bond is going to get passed because within the School Board itself there is no consensus.   If the School Board itself cannot present a united front, how is the voting populace going to have any faith in the School District and want to give money to it.  It’s literally so bad that it has gotten to the point that the SCHOOL BOARD has to hire a facilitator for itself so that the facilitator can get the five-member School Board to agree on what the steps are to move forward with all AUSD facilities.   It’s ab-fucking-surd.  (And good luck to Jeff Cambra who has the unenviable job of herding these cats)

Okay, I know I rag on Trish Spencer a lot, but after this meeting she really jumped the shark.  So blah blah blah dysfunctional Board, can’t agree on anything, blah blah, need a facilitator to help come to a consensus on next steps to move forward.  Got it?  So Trish Spencer then pushes back after everyone else has agreed to this facilitator idea — after two hours of round and round discussion — and says that she doesn’t want to do this facilitator idea with the five Board members until she has first vetted this whole business through the Historic Alameda High School stakeholder group.


Did you get that?  Trish Spencer doesn’t want to do her job as a School Board member and make a leadership decision on the next steps with regards to school site facilities without first vetting it through a some random stakeholder group.   I mean at this point what is the point of even electing people for “leadership” positions.   Just take a public vote on every single issue and be done with it.   Need to decide on a MOU with a charter school: public vote.   Need to hire some teachers: public vote.   Need to change a roll of toilet paper: public vote.

There is a real leadership vacuum right now on the Board, mainly because Trish Spencer feels extraordinarily empowered from the last election and has been throwing her proverbial weight left and right.   Without something changing drastically this School Board (and District) will be on a complete downward spiral.   The fact that anything gets done at all anymore is a wonderment.


  1. This ad for private school brought to you by the AEA.

    Comment by dave — August 30, 2013 @ 6:11 am

  2. In partnership with Trish.

    Comment by dave — August 30, 2013 @ 6:20 am

  3. Lauren, what you say about the board is true and I’m sure your assumption about the impact on morale of employees has real credence, but how can you make such broad overall assumptions about this exodus and say that the Superintendent has nothing to do with it? Even though as an outside observer I’ve been critical of her style, I am not out to pin anything on her. I just don’t think it makes sense that it’s all Trish’s fault, period. Each individual who has left has their own set of reasons including, work load, greener grass somewhere else, and a string of other possibilities, including dysfunctional board or their bosses management style. Makes sense to me that it could be a confluence of any of them. Unless you have some pretty substantial insider information I don’t see how you can say what you just said. I’ve heard some stuff myself and it cuts both ways, but my information isn’t primary source if you know what I mean. When you don’t have unequivocal statements from people as to their motive there’s nothing like rumors to stir the pot. Double, double, toil and trouble.. Fire burn and caldron bubble.

    Even as somebody who has had criticism of Ms. Vital I am concerned about this much change and worry for her ability to maintain continuity. I don’t want her to leave too because now that teacher contract is settled I don’t want even more disruption or the possibility we end up with somebody like a certain past Superintendent.

    The sands have also been shifting at school sites. Bit I’ve heard really good news about Alameda High administrators so some things are going well as AUSD..

    Comment by M.I. — August 30, 2013 @ 8:33 am

  4. Comment by ohmy — August 30, 2013 @ 8:47 am

  5. MI, it’s not Trish’s fault period. The other Board Members have essentially conceded to her by allowing her minority opinion to dictate policy. It’s a clusterfuck of epic proportions.

    Look, regarding the CFO, Asst Supe, and General Counsel if anyone says that it’s the Supe’s fault that they left then those are some really creative logical stretches, one only need to watch a series of School Board meetings to see how stressed they are by some of the ridiculous requests and if those are what are made in public, who even knows what happens behind the scenes. One or two people leaving in a few month period you can dismiss as general turnover, but the confluence of heavy dysfunction at the Board and this many people leaving, there is something really wrong here.

    Comment by Lauren Do — August 30, 2013 @ 8:48 am

  6. many people say that Trish Spencer asks the hard questions and they like that. Problem is she likes to totally disrupt the board and its functions, she could still ask hard questions and not be such a negative influence. She seems to delight in causing a lot of conflict. For me personally I would like to see her and the superintendent gone. Then maybe the district can get back to business and cut out all of the personal crap.

    Comment by John P. (L) — August 30, 2013 @ 9:18 am

  7. Trish often presents herself as the ally of the Little Guy. She will pay particular & personal attention to just about anyone who has a beef with the district, however unfounded they may be. That wins her a lot of votes, mostly because those folks hear her words & don’t pay further attention to her actions. The union, hyperfocused on fighting ANY steps toward accountability was a natural client of hers, and they supported her despite her significant anti-union history.

    She also gets a lot of votes from people who want a lean & accountable operation and who believe they see probity in the “tough” questions they occasionally see or hear her asking. As above, those people aren’t looking deeply or often enough to see what she’s really up to, which is to turn AUSD into the 24 hr Trish Channel.

    She won a lot of votes from less engaged voters, but people who regularly observe district activity almost universally agree she is not a positive force.

    I’d be interested hearing if anyone who voted for her thinking they were voting for good management has any regrets for that vote.

    Comment by dave — August 30, 2013 @ 9:37 am

  8. Why leaving ? afraid of the hard question ? I do not know Trish spencer , do not care to ever meet Her either , fact is someone need to ask the hard question , everyone agree the. school need to go into survival mode , yet with today’s technology they have plenty of space and go sign a lease for an office building , it is very obvious some changes need to be made , please don’t let the door hit you on the way out .
    For the last 30 years we have been told the school were in good financial standing , I recall Mr Chaconna’s speech “the base closure will have no effect , well he was right no if you raise taxes ” He was also the one that put the Oakland school district in the State hands as they were diving toward the center of mother earth .
    Somewhere we do need to find a balance , at this time the only fact are misleading statement and actions , do not blame the teachers for it they are on the same boat as we are .

    Comment by mijoka — August 30, 2013 @ 9:40 am

  9. Trish is the lone conservative voice on an otherwise strongly liberal school board. It makes perfect sense that she sticks out like a sore thumb. But having a representative for the minority view is necessary to preserve democracy. You may not like what she has to say, but you probably need to hear it.
    “She won a lot of votes from less engaged voters” Not true. Some of the most engaged people in Alameda support her. As well as parents sending their kids to parochial schools, because they get a vote, too.

    Comment by vigi — August 30, 2013 @ 10:10 am

  10. Trish is whatever her supporters want her to be.

    For the fiscally conservative voter, she is a penny pincher by not voting for wasteful contracts.

    For a union supporter she is a strong advocate of workers’ rights by simply waving the AEA flag at every chance.

    For those that mistrust the district, she asks “tough questions”.

    For the socially conservative, she is the lone social conservative on a liberal board.

    Essentially she is what her supporters want her to be which is a reflection of their priorities. Her supporters’ interest — and therefore her own interests — are often in conflict with one another which makes her only consistent position to vote “no” for nearly everything, including things like professional development for Science teachers and against a lease for Girls Inc to provide a great afterschool program for Alameda girls.

    Comment by Lauren Do — August 30, 2013 @ 10:27 am

  11. The sane members of the school board need to step up and put this nonsense to an end. The role of the board is to set policy and give clear instructions to the staff, but then they need to step back and let the staff do their jobs. The board members do need to ask hard questions, but haranguing, micromanaging and demoralizing district staff is not what they should be doing. As a faithful observer of school issues, I’ve seen that ahppen time and time again. Spencer seems to want to be the de facto superintendent and Kahn is showing signs of leaning in that direction too. How can the staff possibly function if they have to spend their time in the weeds with school board members who seem intent on interfering with every minute detail and/or obstructing the effective functioning of the district with symbolic “no” votes on EVERYTHING? Ask the hard questions, set the freaking policy then let the staff do their jobs.

    Moreover, even in the face of completely irresponsible, unwarranted and shameful demonization of AUSD administrators (remember the stocking full of coal for example?). no one on the board has stood up to stop the abuse that has been heaped on district staff. I couldn’t bear what they go through, and I get paid to deal with conflict. They get paid to administer the schools. It’s no wonder to me that staff is fleeing. The Board needs to work cooperatively with the Superintendent towards the effective functioning of our district. They’re not doing that now, and the district is facing an administrative brain drain. If this Superintendent is not properly managing the District or is the source of the dissatisfaction within the district staff (something that I have not observed), then the Board needs to find someone else to take on the job. But given the performance of the board, I can’t imagine anyone competent who would want to take on the job. And the board needs to come together publicly NOW to address critical issues like the facilities plan. Right now,, I see the more rationale members of the board sitting back and allowing the District to be hijacked by Trish Spencer and the lunatic fringe.

    Comment by Oh the Irony! — August 30, 2013 @ 11:08 am

  12. Thank you, Lauren Do speaking out on the issues so truthfully. When will her (Spencer’s) supporters realize the “Emperor(ess) has no Clothes!”

    Comment by formerly silent observer — August 30, 2013 @ 12:19 pm

  13. ” Moreover, even in the face of completely irresponsible, unwarranted and shameful demonization of AUSD administrators (remember the stocking full of coal for example?). ”

    Wasn’t it the Teachers and AEA that acted like Jerry Springer Singers ranting and raving at School Board Meetings……Talk about ab-fucking-surd.

    Don’t worry about the kids and their needs. What a Total frkn mess…..

    Get out your Trish Spencer Voodoooooooo dolls and let the water Boarding begin.

    Comment by interesting times — August 30, 2013 @ 12:50 pm

  14. Comment by interesting times — August 30, 2013 @ 1:22 pm

  15. I feel bad for district staff who seem to be constantly under attack. It is not just senior level either – this sort of environment affects all levels. But it’s our children and our community that are the saddest casualties. It’s our kids – and teachers – who will suffer by having inadequate and crumbling facilities because some board members insist on being the impediment to moving forward. It is our community groups that will suffer because there is no legal counsel to work out shared use agreements because that issue gets pulled (and will surely be another battle).

    Comment by Vicki Sedlack — August 30, 2013 @ 4:16 pm

  16. I think this is what all the players(electeds, administrators, teachers, parents, volunteers, residents) have to remember when they are considering what to do or say about education: There is one district. It’s role is to educate our children to each kid’s potential in the most efficient, inclusive, and competent manner possible. There is no “us” and “them.” There is just “us.”
    No game playing; no power playing; no “one upping”; and no ego-indulging. Just fair dealing, hard work, cooperation, and consideration of the needs of all parties.
    Pipe dream? Naive? Unrealistic? May be so, but for the kid’s sake we have to do much better.

    Comment by Kate Quick,. — August 30, 2013 @ 5:03 pm

  17. I am one person who voted for Trish and am not dissatisfied with her. I have long had the concern that the School Board simply rubber stamps whatever the superintendent wants. Sadly the majority of the board continues to do this which is why we have outrageously expensive district offices, pay bonuses to the superintendent for work done by teachers and staff, etc. While I may not always agree with Trish, I appreciate the questions she asks and believe it is the job of district staff to be able to answer these questions, which at least keeps the public aware of the issues. Why have these people left? I do not believe we will ever really know as these people need a reference from the district.

    Comment by Cturner — August 30, 2013 @ 6:10 pm

  18. I always find the “rubber stamp” argument interesting, on what issues does the School Board “rubber stamp” what the superintendent wants that would be disagreeable to Alameda constituents and has negatively impacted students? Or on what issues has the School Board “rubber stamped” what the superintendent wanted that would also be disagreeable to Alameda voters and have negatively impacted students?

    Comment by Lauren Do — August 30, 2013 @ 6:16 pm

  19. Cough…compensation package…cough…new offices…cough, cough

    Comment by Denise Shelton — August 30, 2013 @ 8:33 pm

    • How have those thing negatively impacted students? I’m sure you could find an equal number of voters for and against those two examples.

      Comment by Lauren Do — August 30, 2013 @ 8:54 pm

  20. I cannot in good conscience find a correlation between mediocre leader and Alameda
    – School district :
    For years we have been brainwashed on it’s quality , and great management , only to learn to be a farce at our expenses .
    -Public Work :
    The Director which removed more 50% of the staff , anyone without his liking got the boot , we might be able to get our traffic report for the base now , they had a nickname for Him Which I cannot print it here . no one will miss Him I am very surprise the City did not get hit by a discrimination , unfair labor practices law suit etc , however anyone that knew Alameda well was let go simply because they did not roll the red carpet when he was getting out of his car , or shelter him from the rain or the sun , some will laugh it is pretty much the truth , these City Employees were our assets.
    I find it troublesome to replace him within days by someone coming from Oakland , one of the worst maintained City in the USA , interestingly enough He has the reputation and the attitude to Go with it, nothing to be proud of , one lousy Director replaced by another one ? The Farce continue .

    Comment by mijoka — August 30, 2013 @ 9:46 pm

  21. the pay package and office situation are perhaps emblematic of some basic attitude problems at HQ, but I can’t see that the fiscal impacts or other aspects have huge negative impact on the district which leads to inevitable dysfunction. 17, your comments are vague.

    Example: I have heard that the Common Core money is being administered but that the administration ( i.e. Vital) has not had any conversation with AEA about this. Further my understanding is that this is one line of inquiry that Spencer has pursued. Sounds like legit beef with administration. Atta-girl Trish. This C.C. is also just enough below the surface of what average interested parent is going to have comprehensive understanding. It’s not even the district’s fault that it’s having this program imposed on it, though from discussions with teachers there doesn’t see to be any strategic program for implementation, just seat of the pants., but pursuing that discussion is tangential.

    I can not bear to watch BOE meetings and my understanding of many of the basics across the board are shallow. My best understanding has always been about the classroom, but my live connections to people working in the district ( including the one’s who have moved) have atrophied with passage of time since my spouse’s resignation from district. I hear one side’s explanation and it makes sense and then hear the other side and it makes sense but I have no real ability to judge. However, I’m betting that many who are willing to weigh in unequivocally for one side or the other aren’t really any better prepared to judge but that doesn’t stop them.

    Based on track record, I have no problem believing that administration continues to be minimally cooperative with regard to inclusion of AEA in Core Curriculum or any other processes, which leaves Spenser in a position to ” ask the hard questions”, but the problem is she goes about it like Michelle Bachman, with similarly distracting results. I think perhaps AEA and BOE have both failed when it comes to bringing clarity over the din of Spencer’s campaign of self indulgent posing as the supposed advocate of the under dog. Her actions are about 20% on target and the rest ineffectual flailing, and not anchored in consistent process of critical thought. BOE doesn’t just need facilitator for bond issue, it needs somebody to tell Trish when she has made her point and then to STFU. Seriously.

    With privacy around personnel issues there is no way to know anything unless a former employee chooses to speak candidly. I have heard that some people working under Vital really liked working with her and also know that some persons previously in administrative positions were taxed by her methods of delegating her authority.

    Also know that the position of principal at school sites, beyond the inherent hard work in basic generic job execution, has a lot of elements of politics when it comes to carrying out marching orders from the boss and keeping teachers feeling they are being listened to. The first line to keeping teachers from being knee jerk about their reaction to the administration is to make sure the principal who is directly above them is a good fit and “effective”. I don’t know how the role of HR personnel works at AUSD, but when it comes to hiring principals it seems to me the buck stops at Vital’s desk. We have had lots of turn over of principals, but it seems a corner has been turned. Viewing this as basic building blocks of function on the day to day process of actually educating, this is where I fear disruption of driving Vital out.

    Comment by MI — August 31, 2013 @ 9:49 am

  22. Just to be clear, the State Legislature passed a budget in late June that included about one BILLION dollars in one time monies for school districts to begin implementation of Common Core. Based on the passage of those dollars, Alameda Unified stands to receive $1.7 million over the next 24 months. One of the 2013/14 goals presented by the Superintendent was to collaboratively worked with the Alameda community to decide how to spend the $1.7 million on curriculum instruction, technology and professional development in the coming months.

    Comment by Mike McMahon (@MikeMcMahonAUSD) — August 31, 2013 @ 1:30 pm

  23. 20. They impacted the students negatively because the voters who were upset by them are that much less likely to support additional funds for the schools. We all want the students to get a good education, in a positive, safe environment, but if we don’t trust the people in charge of making this happen, we won’t give them any more money. The average voter doesn’t look at budget line items and say, “Oh yeah, that money has nothing to do with THIS money.” The average voter says, “Hey! The whole campaign was “It’s for the kids. It doesn’t look like a lot is being done for the kids. All I hear about is the Superintendent’s compensation and expensive office relocation.” Perception is everything.

    Comment by Denise Shelton — August 31, 2013 @ 4:13 pm

  24. good Mike. Keep leading with relevant information so that others may not mislead.

    Comment by M.I. — August 31, 2013 @ 4:38 pm

  25. 23. question: I was told district is already spending money, but the process you allude to sounds like it is ahead of us. Is this at all cart before horse or what?

    Comment by M.I. — August 31, 2013 @ 4:40 pm

  26. If I had a bottle and a genie popped out, one of my wishes would be that everyone had the facts on the district move. 1 – the STATE required the district to move from HAHS and put up the fence, there was no option. 2 – there was not enough available AUSD classroom space to house district employees, files and the entire technological structure supporting AUSD 3- If we had scattered and crammed the district into classroom space there would be no room for ACLC at all and we would have lost that option for our students. 4 – most of those students would have returned to AUSD schools and the result would be overloaded classrooms.

    If board member Spencer really supports Ala Costa, Wood and ACLC – along with all students learning in outdated campuses – she would be spearheading the Facilities Bond instead of putting up imaginary roadblocks at every turn.

    Our only hope of updating our schools and ensuring there’s enough space for our growing student population is for the remaining board members to stand together, working WITH staff, and put forth a plan they can bring to the voters and pass for our community., If Tuesday night’s behavior continues, we do not have a chance and the students, will pay the ultimate price.

    Comment by Anne DeBardeleben — August 31, 2013 @ 5:50 pm

  27. In 2012/13 the school district has begun initial work on Common Core at the school sites. The initial work involved teachers from each site and District staff becoming familiar with Common Core. So yes monies have been spent on Common Core.

    With the State’s decision to allocate one billion dollars (some estimate the implementation much higher) now each school district has to explicitly decide how to spend these one time monies over the next 24 months.

    Comment by Mike McMahon (@MikeMcMahonAUSD) — September 1, 2013 @ 7:53 am

  28. why not simply incorporate the AUSD into the City , one step for accountability , teaching is not a religion therefore there should be no sparation , on the plus side the same city crew would be able to do the maintenance resulting is better fiancial control . if they want to raise taxes to upgrade the donuts and coffee for the administrative office thet will have to do it at a City hearing …by the way teachers buy their own, why the double standard????/

    Comment by mijioka — September 1, 2013 @ 8:00 am

  29. 28. it is only logical that to take any steps to implement C.C. requires expenditure of SOME funds, yet there are claims money is being spent prematurely. My comment above paraphrasing casual sentiment by teachers regarding C.C. implementation as “seat of the pants” has already been misinterpreted as teachers saying there is no plan or implementation. I’ve read some more specific statements regarding the technical specifics of labor law regarding inclusion of AEA in the process claiming it is flawed, but I’m not quoting it because it is SO complicated and I don’t want to in any way to be seen as a mouth piece for factions.

    It’s tangential to this blog topic but the whole C.C. discussion is both interesting and frustrating. Since state doesn’t have well defined plan it’s hard to see how districts are supposed to have one and, procedural labor issues aside, I think it’s premature to start criticizing anybody about how it is or isn’t being implemented. It makes sense that at this point implementation may seem seat of the pants to some teachers because it is transitional phase. While C.C. may be great in long run, it’s stressful to be saddled with more STUFF when we have so many issues at hand, including bond discussion.

    I have two links for C.C. First are some good letters to ed about August 18 issue of Sunday Chron Insight which had several articles. The second is a link to the articles among others, but the link has a subscription fire wall. I’ve provided full text for one of them ( from a non-educator strangely enough)..

    Common Core standards are ‘curriculum upsidedownia’

    George Ball

    August 18, 2013

    Frequently, these days, I’m reminded of Edward Lear’s whimsical illustration, “Manypeeplia Upsidedownia.” The drawing depicts an imagined botanical species, with a half dozen characters suspended upside down from a flower’s bending stem. It is a product of the Victorian golden age of nonsense, but it is fitting today, now that we Americans seem to have landed in our own, darker era of nonsense, one in which we take our follies seriously and act upon them. To see folly in full flower, look no further than the Common Core State Standards.

    Now adopted in 45 states, including California, and the District of Columbia, this federal effort sets uniform standards on how math and English are taught in American schools. A top-down program imposed on states in order to qualify for Race to the Top funds, the curriculum is the fruit of a process tainted with politics, vested interests and a lack of transparency.

    The Common Core Curriculum is being implemented without empirical evidence of its value, and imposed hurriedly without consulting the very people most affected: students, teachers and parents.

    In essence, Common Core is a vast educational experiment – making America’s public school students into pedagogic guinea pigs. The program emphasizes the development of critical thinking over subject matter, yet its development and implementation manifest a conspicuous lack of reflection. Critical thinking calls for a balanced, impartial, methodical process of conceptualization and analysis built upon careful observation and experience. The way the Common Core standards are being implemented is more imperial than empirical. As education reformer Diane Ravitch notes, the standards have been adopted “without any field test … imposed on the children of this nation despite the fact that no one has any idea how they will affect students, teachers, or schools.”

    The test-centric No Child Left Behind federal program resulted in 4 out of 5 of the nation’s schools receiving a failing grade. The Common Core standards up the ante, creating tests that are considerably tougher, longer and more expensive.

    It’s well known that standardized testing reinforces disparities of wealth and resources. As the most accurate predictor of academic performance is family income, we need to address poverty. If leveling the educational playing field is our goal – a laudable one – we should first level spending on schools before we introduce a new curriculum. California will now do just that, funding schools based on student population, and gauged to a district’s number of low-income and English-as-a-second-language students.

    In July, the state of New York announced the results of its first tests based on the Common Core: The region hasn’t been this battered since Superstorm Sandy. Just 26 percent of students in third through eighth grade passed the English exam, and only 30 percent passed the math test. In one Harlem school, just 7 percent of students received passing scores in English, and 10 percent in math. We’ve gone from No Child Left Behind to Well-Just-About-Every-Child-Left-Behind: progress of a kind. If “learned helplessness” is the Common Core’s goal, it’s a stunning success.

    So if the students are the losers, who are the winners? Well, look no further than the 60-person work group that developed the curriculum, a coterie made up largely of education vendors and test developers – and not one practicing teacher. Indeed, David Coleman, chief architect of the Common Core curriculum, now heads the College Board. That’s worrisome, and so is Coleman’s background as a consultant at McKinsey & Co., the firm that so ably advised Kmart, Enron, Swissair and Global Crossing.

    Just as we’re turning our schools into test-driven education factories modeled on schools in Asia, that region’s educators are looking to American schools for inspiration. The Asian system has been wildly successful at producing great test takers, well prepared to morph into dutiful bureaucrats.

    But now, so Asia’s students will be prepared to become innovators and entrepreneurs, better able to thrive in the competitive global economy, those countries’ educators are turning their focus to nourishing students’ curiosity, creativity, originality and social skills – the very qualities Common Core devalues.

    What’s lost in Common Core is the human factor. Teachers, whose performance evaluations and salary are pegged to their students’ test results, are deprived of the freedom and creativity that is the oxygen of learning. In an ever-changing world, common sense would propose a broad range of educational approaches rather than a single one designed to ready all students for college. In education, as in gardens, a monoculture is doomed to decay and eventual failure.

    After genetics, the most advanced psychological research tells us a child’s development is determined by micro-relationships – the ever-present, barely perceptible gestures, expressions and glances – that are the soul of communication, nurture and empathy.

    Common Core sacrifices the magic of teaching and learning on the altar of metrics. Teachers, students and administrators are no longer engaged in an organic process geared to the individual. Largely designed by testing experts, not teachers, the monolithic curriculum is like detailed gardening instructions from someone who has never set foot in a garden. “Grow faster!” is the experts’ motto. Well, children are not cornstalks.

    Rather than embark on this Upsidedownia national educational experiment, let’s begin at the local, really local, level: the individual child. Hire smart, empathic teachers with depth and vision, and watch our children grow into a harvest of creative, thoughtful, articulate intellects and citizens. This is, one might say, the cure for the Common Core.

    George Ball is the past president of the American Horticultural Society and chairman of W. Atlee Burpee & Co., in Bucks County, Pa.

    Comment by MI — September 1, 2013 @ 11:10 am

  30. School District Using Off-Color Baseline

    Written by Jeffrey R. Smith Published: FRIDAY, 30 AUGUST 2013 03:33

    The current ethnocentric system implies that any group that scores higher than whites is over-achieving and any group that scores lower than whites is under-achieving.

    Recently the Alameda Unified School District (AUSD) reported its STAR results for academic year 2012-2013. One of the golden rules of public speaking is “never start out with an apology;” it preconditions your audience to have low expectations and it taints their perceptions of what follows.

    AUSD prefaced its STAR synopsis by reminding taxpayers that the results in general were accomplished “over several years in the midst of extremely difficult budget times.” Really? Is this a variant of the blame game? Is it those tight-fisted taxpayers who are hobbling education in Alameda? Given the recordhigh pay-and-perks package slathered out at AUSD headquarters, the $250,000 spent on the seismic shrapnel fence at Historic Alameda High School and the $30,000 being spent monthly on new administrative digs in Marina Village, I would have thought that money was only a sideshow of a sideshow.

    Budgetary priorities aside, one thing that always remains a nagging mystery is: Why do the test scores of white students serve as a baseline from which to measure minority achievement? According to the 2010 census, whites in Alameda account for just 50 percent of the population; they would be better termed the largest minority in Alameda rather than a clear majority.

    Within Alameda schools, whites accounted for 1,972 of 6,770 of the total STAR test takers; this constitutes 29.1 percent of all STAR test takers. Asians accounted for 2,226 of 6,770 of the STAR test takers; this amounts to 32.9 percent overall.

    Given the demographics of AUSD, it seems incongruous that “district officials noted the overall achievement gap between minority and white students.”

    How did whites become the measure of all things academic? Because whites are the dominant culture? Using whites as the baseline or golden mean could be setting expectations too low and masking some disturbing statistics.

    While high-school whites marginally out-performed Asians in English language arts (75.2 percent for whites compared to 72.4 percent for Asians), it should be remembered that Asians largely come from bilingual homes where English is often a second language. In high school algebra I, 51 percent of Asians scored proficient or better while only 30 percent of whites scored as well. In highschool geometry, Asians nudged out the whites 25.6 percent to 21.7 percent. In algebra II, 46 percent of Asians achieved proficient or better while only 34 percent of whites accomplished the same feat.

    In summative high-school mathematics 62 percent of Asians scored proficient or better while 50 percent of whites did the same. By now you’re thinking, “It’s the Asian math genes!” An easy out; but Asians were nearly neck-and-neck on the world history exam: 68 percent for Asians versus 69 percent for whites.

    In the sciences scores were pretty much a wash, including physics, except the demographics of physics classes does not match the demographics of the schools. Asians and whites combined accounted for 98 of the students tested in physics; yet of this total, only 25 were white.

    Had enrollment in physics matched AUSD demographics, 46 whites should have taken physics instead of the meager 25 that did. Where were they instead? Whites were also significantly underrepresented in algebra II, chemistry and earth science. As an aside, remember that The Economist warns: “Science and math are the strongest predictors of future earnings.”

    A secondary achievement gap involves the demographics of rigorous courses; ethnic groups underrepresented in high-end math, science or Advanced Placement courses are experiencing an achievement gap even if their test scores are equal to the other ethnicities in the same course.

    For example, African Americans accounted for less than 4 percent of the physics classes, yet they account for 10 percent of all test takers; this is evidence of an achievement gap regardless of how high these few African Americans scored on the STAR Physics test.

    If whites do not comprise a majority within AUSD and seem to be side-stepping the more rigorous courses; why are minority groups still compared to them?

    If you measure the achievement gap based on whites, whites will never have an achievement gap. However, if we take the risk and use Asian academic performance as the baseline, we end up adding another achievement gap to contemplate.

    The Asian-white achievement gap ultimately manifests at the top four UC campuses: UC Berkeley 43 percent Asian versus 32 percent white; UC Davis 41 percent Asian versus 36 percent white; UCLA 38 percent Asian versus 34 percent white; UC San Diego 44 percent Asian versus 26 percent white.

    Perhaps most astounding are the demographics at UC Irvine, the fifth-choice, ace-in-the-hole and default position for high school seniors: Asian students at Irvine comprise 56 percent of the undergraduates while whites constitute just 18 percent.

    Maybe the gaps are not too startling until you look at California statewide demographics: whites 39 percent versus Asian 14 percent. Whites are significantly underrepresented at every major UC campus. Is using white STAR test scores as a datum line setting the bar high enough?

    You may ask yourself: “Is this a high bar or a limbo stick?” As statisticians like to say: “If you torture the numbers long enough, you can get them to say anything you want them to say.” You can even make achievement gaps seem to disappear.

    The current ethnocentric system implies that any group that scores higher than whites is overachieving and any group that scores lower than whites is underachieving. Shouldn’t we come up with a fair measuring stick: devoid of ethnic bias, that does not camouflage underachievement or stack the deck by favoring of one ethnic group?

    Jeffrey R Smith teaches mathematics at Encinal High School.

    Comment by interesting times — September 1, 2013 @ 12:30 pm

  31. How to Change Education – from the ground up

    Comment by interesting times — September 1, 2013 @ 1:18 pm

  32. Thank you. Those are both great letters. Particularly the points about spending so much money to implement something which is untested (what happened to piloting as we used to do with text books to have meaningful input?). While teachers may be involved in how we implement, no elementary teachers were involved in the writing of these ‘common standards’. Like NCLB, where you know that by next year ALL students will be proficient, I foresee many years of working out kinks, and then of course a new ‘idea”.

    Comment by Cturner — September 1, 2013 @ 1:40 pm

  33. Common Core State Standards
    Educational standards describe what students should know and be able to do in each subject in each grade. In California, the State Board of Education decides on the standards for all students, from kindergarten through high school.

    Since 2010, 45 states have adopted the same standards for English and math. These standards are called the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Having the same standards helps all students get a good education, even if they change schools or move to a different state. Teachers, parents, and education experts designed the standards to prepare students for success in college and the workplace.

    The California Department of Education helps schools make sure that all students are meeting the standards.

    I Don’t think it’s Trish Spencers Fault that at AUSD in Stars Testing 2013

    40% Chemistry Students are Proficient or Above

    56% Earth Science Students are Proficient or Above

    59% Biology Science Students are Proficient or Above

    60% History Students are Proficient or Above

    54% High School Math are Proficient or Above

    55% of High School Algebra 1 And 2 are Proficient or Above

    32% of High School Geometry are Proficient or Above

    % (of Students Who Scored at Each) Performance Level
    California uses five performance levels to report student achievement on the CSTs:

    Advanced: This level represents a superior performance. Students demonstrate a comprehensive and complex understanding of the knowledge and skills measured by this assessment, at this grade, in this content area.

    Proficient: This level represents a solid performance. Students demonstrate a competent and adequate understanding of the knowledge and skills measured by this assessment, at this grade, in this content area.

    Basic: This level represents a limited performance. Students demonstrate a partial and rudimentary understanding of the knowledge and skills measured by this assessment, at this grade, in this content area.

    Far below / below basic: This level represents a serious lack of performance. Students demonstrate little or a flawed understanding of the knowledge and skills measured by this assessment, at this grade, in this content area.

    Comment by interesting times — September 2, 2013 @ 1:35 pm

  34. In Oakland in the roughest neighborhood American Indian Public Charter School Results

    English over 90% Proficient

    Math Over 90% Proficient

    Algebra 1 99% Proficient

    History 97% Proficient

    Life Science 91 % Proficient

    Comment by interesting times — September 2, 2013 @ 1:59 pm

  35. Reality is, common core is being mandated, there’s no option but to adopt the program and I’m frustrated that the state has “given” districts money to implement the work when the monies are being pulled from general fund dollars we should have received. Our district is actually ahead of the game with the work done with Inquiry by Design, though not intended to be a pilot program for common core it will help serve that purpose. Fortunately many teachers have collaborated in this program and the feedback has been positive.

    Comment by Anne DeBardeleben — September 2, 2013 @ 2:04 pm

  36. is an article about how the test score success of American Indian Charter School was achieved.

    Comment by Kevis Brownson — September 2, 2013 @ 3:33 pm

  37. 97% of American Indian Charter Students live in Poverty…….That article was written in 2009.

    Thomas Sowell: As a nation, are we serious about education?
    Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University.

    We pay lip service to educational excellence. But too many institutions and individuals that have produced good educational results for minority students have not only failed to get support but have even been undermined.

    A recent example on the West Coast is a charter school operation in Oakland called the American Indian Model Schools. The high school part of this operation has been ranked among the best high schools in the nation. Its students’ test scores rank first in its district and fourth in the state of California.

    But the California State Board of Education announced plans to shut down this charter school — immediately. Its students would have had to attend inferior public schools this September, except that a challenge in court stopped this sudden shutdown.

    Why such a hurry to take drastic action? Because of a claim of financial improprieties against the charter schools’ founder and former head, Ben Chavis.

    Chavis has not been found guilty of anything in court. Nor has he even been brought to trial, though that would seem to be the normal thing to do if the charges were serious.

    More important, the children have not been accused of anything. Nor is there any reason for urgency in immediately depriving them of an excellent education they are not likely to get in local public schools.

    What Chavis and the American Indian Model Schools are really guilty of is creating academic excellence that shows up the public school system, both by this school’s achievements and by the methods used to create them, which go against the educational dogmas prevailing in the failing public schools.

    If it seems strange that there would be a vendetta against an educator who has defied the education establishment and thereby improved the education of minority students, the fact is that Chavis is only the latest in a long line of educators who have done just that — and aroused animosity, and even vindictiveness, as a result.

    Washington’s former public school head, Michelle Rhee, raised test scores in that city’s school system and was demonized by the education establishment and politicians. She has left.

    Years ago, high school math teacher Jaime Escalante, whose success in teaching Mexican-American students was celebrated in the movie ”Stand and Deliver,” was eventually hounded out of Garfield High School in Los Angeles. Yet, while he was there, about one-fourth of all Mexican-American students — in the entire country — who passed Advanced Placement calculus came from that one school.

    Marva Collins, who established a very successful private school for black children in Chicago, doing so on a shoestring, was likewise the target of hostility when she was a dedicated teacher in the public schools.

    Other examples could be cited of educators who produced outstanding results for minority students — in New York, Houston and other places — and faced the wrath of the education establishment, which sees schools as places to provide jobs for teachers, rather than education for students.

    Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University.

    Comment by interesting times — September 2, 2013 @ 6:28 pm


    Thomas Sowell: As a nation, are we serious about education?
    By Thomas Sowell Syndicated columnist
    POSTED: 08/15/2013 12:00:00 PM PDT | UPDATED: 18 DAYS AGO

    Click photo to enlarge

    Gui Yu, of Oakland, who has a child attending the American Indian Model Schools, holds a sign as…
    Are we serious about education?

    Recent events on both coasts raise painful questions about whether we are really serious when we say that we want better education for minority children.

    One was an announcement by Dunbar High School in Washington, D.C., that it plans on Aug. 19 to begin “an entire week of activities to celebrate the grand opening of our new $160 million state-of-the-art school building.”

    The painful irony is that the original Dunbar High School building, which opened in 1916, housed a school with a record of high academic achievements for generations of black students, despite the inadequacies of the building and the inadequacies of the financial support that the school received.

    By contrast, today’s Dunbar High School is just another ghetto school with abysmal standards, despite Washington’s record of having some of the country’s highest levels of money spent per pupil — and some of the lowest test score results.

    Housing an educational disaster in an expensive new building is all too typical of what political incentives produce.

    Comment by interesting times — September 2, 2013 @ 6:33 pm

  39. They investigated Chavis and he spent 1/2 of what Oakland spends per pupil…….Hard to figure.

    Comment by interesting times — September 2, 2013 @ 6:39 pm

  40. Comment by interesting times — September 2, 2013 @ 7:10 pm

  41. no clever You Tubes for you John, just well documented evidence that Michelle Rhee’s “fantastic” test scores were smoke and mirrors, i.e. cheating. Even worse cases in other Cities around the country, apparently including under Arne Duncan in Chicago. Rhee terminated because she was a dictator and not a collaborator. Cheating had not surfaced at that time.

    Comment by M.I. — September 3, 2013 @ 9:11 am

  42. The dysfunction at the School Board Level seems to be a mirror image of the dysfunction of the City Council some short years back…

    Comment by Gaby — September 3, 2013 @ 10:21 am

  43. @MI
    Thank you for your post on Rhee , this sadly enhance my point on the state of Education in the USA , several years ago I was Teaching at a private accredited institution ,tuition around $50 K
    these were my guideline to score the students ,
    Give them a B minus ,
    the Student is happy ,
    the Dean is happy ,
    the Counselor is happy ,
    the CEO is happy ,
    the Board is happy,
    the share holders are making money ,
    You get a job
    And your wife is happy,
    Who cares what they do after graduation , it is their business not ours
    In addition the School used the students as cheap labor to generate more revenue , yes they paid up to and over 50 K to work under the pretense of education a win win situation . When I brought up the fact this might compromise our accreditation , I was told we do it with you or without you
    Well I did not follow the guidelines , got canned “some students graduated missing tests , missing school , high on drug or drunk
    Some teachers traded grade for sex …..
    Interestingly my Wife is Happy that I am no longer involved with it , I do have my integrity and self respect.
    What is scary this is an industry wide practice , incompetent , liars , cheaters , drug addicted have graduated
    this is the sad state of Education.
    I refused to be part of it and yes took a drastic pay cut .

    Comment by mijoka — September 3, 2013 @ 11:38 am

  44. You never struck me as a teacher Mijoka…….I always thought you were more the City Manager Type.

    Communications sometimes gets mumbled and jumbled on the internet and you misread people.

    Comment by alameda lampoon — September 3, 2013 @ 1:07 pm

  45. I’ve posted this and others from Frontline documentary before, but I can’t enough of bashing venal people. Not as cute as Red Skelton, but it makes the point.

    Comment by M.I. — September 3, 2013 @ 5:12 pm

  46. John, you want money spent on the students? how about this?

    Comment by M.I. — September 3, 2013 @ 5:25 pm

  47. Hard to know who to trust.

    It would nice seeing more money spent on students directly.

    San Francisco Schools Accused of Using Lunch Money for Other Purposes
    Some California school districts are using school lunch money for other purposes, the state Senate charged in a report on Wednesday.
    The report singled out San Francisco Unified School District among several others who are “illegally dipping into student meal funds, misappropriating millions of dollars intended to feed California’s poorest children.”
    The federal government gives schools money to buy meals for children whose families can’t afford them.
    San Francisco serves about 33,000 free meals to students every day, and about 62 percent of the students qualify for them, said Blythe
    SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — California school districts have misspent tens of millions of dollars intended to provide subsidized meals to low-income students, according to a state Senate report released Wednesday.
    The California Department of Education recently ordered eight districts to repay about $170 million to programs that offer free and reduced-price lunches and breakfasts, according to the investigation by the Senate Office of Oversight and Outcomes.
    In most cases, the cash-strapped districts used the misappropriated funds to pay for other expenses, such as salaries and equipment, according to the report, titled “Food Fight: Small team of state examiners no match for schools that divert student meal funds.”
    The cafeteria fund diversions have led to cost-cutting measures, such as shorter lunch periods, inadequate staffing and serving processed foods instead of fresh fruits and vegetables, the report said.
    The cases mentioned in the report may only represent a fraction of misappropriated meal money in California because the state doesn’t have the resources to monitor how its nearly 3,000 school districts spend their cafeteria funds, the report said. Most of the investigations were prompted by whistleblowers.
    Chief Deputy Superintendent Richard Zeiger said Wednesday that the Department of Education plans to hire and train more staff members to monitor district meal programs and conduct more frequent reviews later this year.
    “Our goal is to be sure every dollar set aside to feed California’s children is spent for that purpose, and that purpose alone,” Zeiger said in a statement. “From my point of view, they are literally taking food out of the mouths of kids.”
    The department ordered the Los Angeles Unified School District to repay $158 million to its cafeteria fund after state officials found misappropriations and unallowable charges, according to the report.
    The Los Angeles district, the nation’s second largest, said in a statement Wednesday that it has been working with state education officials to “ensure full compliance to federal and state guidelines. All disputed costs for the years in question have been adjusted accordingly.”
    The Department of Education also ordered repayments, ranging from $369,000 to $5.6 million, from the Baldwin Park, Centinela Valley, Compton, Oxnard, San Diego, San Francisco and Santa Ana districts. Another six districts were ordered to repay smaller amounts.
    The San Diego and Santa Ana districts are challenging the department’s findings.
    California school districts provide 2.4 million free and reduced-price meals every day. The U.S. Department of Agriculture provides more than $2 billion a year in meal subsidies to California, which provides an additional $145 million.

    Comment by interesting times — September 3, 2013 @ 5:59 pm

  48. Talking to a few parents in Oakland, They feel Ben Chavis and the Indian School has been unjustly targeted and retaliated against for being successful and stepping up for students. Of course they could be wrong.

    I know many parents that live in Alameda that won’t send their kids to our schools…..Some Teachers also……. Things have changed and will keep changing……Hopefully at one point we can start focusing on the needs of the kids first vs. needs of Teachers and Administrators.

    Money Directly Spent on Kids has dropped significantly. Their piece of the Pie is now crumbs.

    Comment by interesting times — September 3, 2013 @ 6:14 pm

  49. Getting back to the point………I don’t think this is all Trish Spencers Fault…….But they want to Target her as the Cause of all the Districts Problems ….Asking Questions should never be a problem…. Might want to look at the other Wax Museum Dinosaurs on Display at the School Board meetings…Losing a few members of the Staff with one choosing to be a consultant doesn’t seem like big loss….Hopefully we can move forward…It’s good to fail and make mistakes…. just move on. Stop the Witch Hunt.

    Comment by interesting times — September 3, 2013 @ 6:53 pm

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