How can we make distance learning better?

Crisis distance learning is nobody's first choice. From single parents struggling to make ends meet while supporting their kids' learning, to teachers unable to connect to new students because of barriers both technological and socio-emotional, everybody desperately wants to return to the classroom as soon as it is safe to do so.

But here we are, and with Alameda County firmly in the purple in the statewide pandemic ratings, we are sure to be distance learning for a while to come. Even once we can go back to limited in-person classes, at least half of instruction for most students will take place virtually, probably until the end of the school year if not longer. So how can we make it better?

The biggest idea I heard was to subsidize parenting. Middle school and high schools students may in most cases be able to work independently during the day, but many parents say that helping elementary students with learning is a part-time job of its own. There are about 24 million elementary-aged students in the US, so giving those parents a $10,000 tax break per child for the work of facilitating crisis learning would cost the federal government about $240 billion - not a small amount, but much smaller than the $669 billion small-business PPP bailout program of last spring for example. Obviously that's not going to happen under this administration, but if the coronavirus crisis drags on and we have a new Congress and President, we should consider how better to advocate for working parents with kids at the elementary level.

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Why you won't see me in the GO candidate interviews

Tonight, GO Public Schools Advocates will hold public interviews of Oakland school board candidates in Districts 1 and 5.

I agreed to participate in the interviews as part of the public exchange of ideas, but said that I had reservations about their endorsement.

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My thoughts on the school year during COVID-19

Every student needs attention and support to succeed during this pandemic. To learn, students need sustained time engaging with learning every day Monday through Friday. How can this happen next school year while the pandemic continues?

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OEA Questionnaire Part X: Making the District More Responsive and Responsible

Tenth question from the teachers' union endorsement questionnaire:

  • A major concern of OUSD families and staff is the dysfunction of OUSD’s systems, services, and central leadership (student assignment center, payroll, HR, etc.)  How would you hold the superintendent accountable for dramatically improving the day to day operations of OUSD and improving the experience for families and staff interacting with OUSD?

 

Accountability starts from the top. Too many school board members have hesitated to put in accountability measures for fear of micromanaging the superintendent.

This is how Antwan Wilson got away with profound mismanagement of our public money. Superintendent Johnson-Trammell is obviously a huge improvement over Antwan. However, it is still the School Board’s job to manage the Superintendent, not the other way around, as it sometimes seems with our current Board.

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OEA Questionnaire Part IX: Special Education

Ninth question from the teachers' union Endorsement Questionnaire

  • With the growing concentration of students in Special Education, what will you do as a board member to ensure equitable funding and support for SPED programs, teachers, and students?

 

My family is very lucky that OUSD has been very supportive of my son’s special needs. As a Deaf child, he got so much help starting in his preschool years after he got his cochlear implant, and he still gets occasional support today from the same itinerant teacher for Deaf children who visited him in preschool - she has been with the District for longer than he has. I wish every child with special needs got as good support as he has been lucky to get, but I know that sadly that is not the case.

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OEA Questionnaire Part VIII

Eighth question from the Teachers' Union Endorsement Interview - this was submitted 5 weeks ago, before it became clear that the nation will be entering a recession due to the coronavirus outbreak.

  • What actions would you take to prevent mismanagement and misguided budget priorities by OUSD? What is your plan to ensure the district’s long term financial stability and how will you hold district administrators accountable to that plan?

I have already mentioned zero-based budgeting for central office. We also need more transparency and accountability in our budgeting process. For example, I have heard it said that OUSD spends too much on consultants and contractors. I have also heard it said that that is not true, that the vast majority of those expenses are for required special education costs. Why isn’t there an easy way for me to find out who is right? As a Board member, I would insist that this information be available online.

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OEA Questionnaire Part VII

Seventh question from the OEA Endorsement Questionnaire

 

  • What actions, if any, will you take to advocate for state-wide reform of prop 39 and local reevaluation of OUSD’s prop 39 utilization formula?

 

Prop 39 is another way that OUSD has offered all carrot and no stick to our charter schools. The law requires the district to offer any empty space in its buildings to charter schools, but the district has gone above and beyond what is required. I would push the Board to take a stronger stand.

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OEA Questionnaire Part VI

Sixth of the questions from the OEA Endorsement questionnaire:

This answer is from a month ago which is why it refers to COVID-19-related budget cuts as a possibility rather than a certainty.

 

  • OUSD’s Blueprint for Quality Schools employs a portfolio model for our district. Educators, students, and families propose the Community Schools model as an alternative vision for Oakland schools. Community Schools require a strong culturally relevant curriculum, high-quality teaching, inclusive/shared leadership, community support services, restorative practices, and family and community engagement.

 

    1.  How would you use the community schools model to invest in our neighborhood public schools and improve learning outcomes?

This week, the spectre of a recession due to the corona virus pandemic is starting to look very likely. When I worked at Manzanita SEED, we were in the middle of the Great Recession and budgets were extremely tight. However, we still managed to draw on so many community services and non-profits, such as the Alameda County Food Bank, the Safety Patrol in cooperation with OPD and the County Dept. of Health, the Farmer’s Market program, OCO, La Clinica, and more.

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The school board should not sign 40-year leases during this crisis

Tomorrow, the Oakland School Board is planning to sign a 40-year lease with the Aspire charter school management organization for the Golden Gate site in my neighborhood. I have serious reservations about this plan.

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OEA Questionnaire Part V

Fifth question with my answer from the OEA school board candidate questionnaire:

Do you support the Black Organizing Project’s demand for Police Free Schools?

Yes, students need to feel safe in our schools. It was heart-wrenching for me to see Student Director Mica Smith-Dahl’s face when the School Board refused to cut police officers at their March 4 meeting. She, like so many students of color, feels unsafe when she sees an officer with a gun on her campus, because of our country’s terrible history of police violence against people of color. I knew Mica when she was an elementary student at Manzanita SEED so it felt personal to me.

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