Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Trump does not represent us

Trump does not represent us because our US elections do not represent the will of the people.

The election of Donald Trump does not represent some kind of change in the basic structure. 

When talking about our elections, it only makes sense to talk about them in the big picture of the legal and social environment they occurs in.  No US election takes place outside of the basic parameters of our system, which includes official and semiofficial practices.

We are a republic of the dollar bill.  The campaign fund raising, lobbyist catering, paid political advertising paradigm is the prevailing practice from Oakland School Board, to The Donald’s manipulation of his ratings to get free air time.  Our new senator will have a dollar per day target, as will every senator you like and every one you hate.  Those “different” views will be crossing the street to dial for dollars every day. 

More than the monopoly of our two semiofficial political parties, this auction of the candidates directly to the affluent classes pre selects who we ever see on the ballot.

Most Americans know this, overtly or just emotionally and hold a low view of politicians partly based on it. Most Americans usually don’t vote.  Abstention got more adherents that Hillary or Donald, as it usually does.  Abstention won every seat in Oakland in 2016. 

And vote for what?  Ask a voter who they will vote for and you will usually get some kind of strategy influenced answer.  The voting public and the non-voting public have both been convinced that certain people CAN NOT WIN and the public voting results bear that out beyond anything a self-fulfilling prophesy could account for.  We do not vote our values.  We do not vote our beliefs. We vote for the person we think can win that will do us some personal good, or maybe some social benefit. 

Or we vote against the bogeyman.  Each election has escalated the bogeyman factor of the opponent for each voting group.  For many of Americans the evil end of the world was back in 2008 and they called him “not their president” and for many of us it ended in November. 

Our elections as a universal suffrage democratic expression of the people’s will never began. It cannot have ended. 

Our elections are a business, run by the professional vote marketing agencies who are not advocates of any ideology, not advocates of democracy, but just advocates of their candidate winning the game of a majority of the limited number of votes cast.  If that means getting the other side to vote less, fine.  If that means being loose with the truth fine.  More than anything that means what it means in the rest of our advertising world: brand image and market share. 

More officially, we have not made many of the reforms of the nineteenth and twentieth century, so we cannot claim that we respect the popular vote.

Much is made about the popular vote, minus abstentions, when discussing the Electoral College by those same Democrats who had nothing to say about this when we got two minority vote presidencies of Bill Clinton.  Would it be so hard to use the popular vote and hold a run off, as many nations do? 

Nothing is said about the popular vote selecting the House of Representatives which is majority Republican because they gerrymandered the Democrats majority of votes into a minority of seats.  Why doesn't the press talk about this?  Is gerrymandering so sacred that it cannot be mentioned?

When the Democrats talk about what they are going to do during Trump 1 do they say much about the moral authority of representing the majority of the people?  Is that throwing too many stones around the glass house that allows both groups to keep their share of the pie and keep the monopoly of the franchise between them? 

This is the same press that is owned by the same media that sells the political class that obscene amount of advertising space every two years.  I don't know a lot of businesses where it is OK to bad mouth clients, especially big, influential clients. 

Certainly nothing is said among our experts about the alternative of proportional representation.  It would not be so hard to elect the House based on percentages of popular votes by party.  But that would break the calculation of who can win.  If you knew that the percentage of your votes for a minority party would elect that same percentage of seats into the house, would you feel so forced to vote for an official party? 

It could even be that if we made all the votes count, more people would vote. 

As upsetting as the election of Donald Trump might be, it is not really accurate to say that he represents us, or even a narrow half of us.  A narrow half of us did not feel that voting mattered enough to do it.  Maybe they are right. 

Donald Trump does not represent the American people because none of our government can legitimately make that claim. 

Post election thank you to the people of Oakland

Hello to All,
Don personally extends his gratitude to the people of North Oakland for their support, positive engagement and their votes.
The job of making the Oakland public schools better continues.  We hope that our campaign is a part of making sure that the discussion includes more options at local schools and more practical and vocational education as part of what all students are offered.

The OUSD elections may be over, but the campaign to improve our city's public schools is never over.  Thus, Don and his campaign coordinators wish to send out to you, especially if you missed his Election Night Party, this brief note telling you how much they are grateful for your support.  THANK YOU!
Bottom-line is that we hit the pavement, and got our message out, and enlarged our base of supporters.  Consequently, many more District One voters are now aware of the unprecedented influx of spending in our school board races by multi-millionaire charter school lobbyists and organizations which have supported the proliferation of unaccountable charter schools in the district, to the detriment of the public schools.

Moreover, new volunteers and new members flocked to Don’s campaign to fight for the re-establishment of whole, healthy, greener, neighborhood schools for all the city’s children.  We will be working hard to help a new generation take up the leadership of our city.  The people who helped our campaign have a lot to offer all of us and we welcome them and their new ideas.

So the fight will go on, and, as soon as we all have caught up on that sleep we have been craving for, we shall collectively begin to reflect on how we can improve, grow our strength and influence, plan for the next election, and put a great school in each and every Oakland neighborhood.

Don will stay involved personally and will look for ways to contribute as a writer, a vocational teacher and as a supporter of candidates to come. 
The don4ousd.org website and email will soon be shut down.  You may contact him at dmacleay@earthlink.net in the future.

              Yours in Solidarity,

                  Don Macleay
                  Vicente Cruz
                  Dale Baum
                  Kyle Hudson
                  Brett Dixon
                  Chris Specker

Friday, August 12, 2016

When the “Criminal” Hides Behind “Not Perfect”

Ask public officials in Oakland what their accomplishments are, and you will get a rapid fire list of Soviet-style awards and merit badges.  The problem issues will be articulated and the buzzwords for the “known to work” solutions will get named.  Something they have done will associate their names to “good work” with little discussion of how ineffective the institutions, programs, and non-profits are when looking at the big picture. 

Point this out and you will get the latest cliché on auto play:
“We can’t let the ‘perfect’ hold up the ‘good.” 
But maybe more often, the “not perfect” is really something “criminal”. 
Crime number one in the Oakland Unified School District is to have so many kids not finishing high school. 
Want to find these kids? You are guaranteed to find at least one of them a day at the courthouse, entering the revolving door of our failed prison and parole system.  Not finishing high school was only part of the trap opening up for them. Prison and becoming a convicted felon is this trap snapping shut. 
“Not perfect”?  Well, I can see why a careerist politician would want to call it this. 
Back in the real world, where we are prying numbers out of a system that does not want to provide them and does not want to count the dropout kids on their books as failures, we find about half of the Oakland youth who should have a high school degree, don’t have one.  This non-graduate half  is overwhelmingly black and brown youth who are overwhelmingly economically disadvantaged and are on track to have trouble finding good work. Our own OUSD Superintendent tells us that most of them will eventually find themselves arrested. 
What I do not see is the urgency, the sense of emergency, the will to do something at the level that might really make a significant difference.  Every year we totally fail hundreds of our young people who will have trouble finding a job and no trouble finding their way to a jail cell. 
And what do we hear?  Oh, the test scores are “most improved” and our graduation rate is, if not counting the dropouts, up a few percentage points.  And what about the school-to-prison pipeline?  The same crowd wants some kind of “perfect” solution with a lot of expensive and complicated planning to do something major.
The OUSD should declare the situation to be an emergency, transfer lots of people to the task of getting these young people back in school, and accept that such an effort will not be perfect.  What more of an emergency do we need?  Some of these kids will die in street violence, most will get involved in crime, and all will enter the job market with a strike against them.  If we had to close all kinds of administration offices for a couple months and go visit every family affected, it would be worth it. 
Seems we are selective about what is called “good enough”.  What is being done now about the failure to stem the dropout rate does not rise to the occasion in my book.  The dropout rate is a crime hiding behind “not perfect” and this crime has some siblings. 
There is, first and foremost, the high crime of making school a boring, if not somewhat oppressive, institution with a drudgery of desk work with a misplaced focus on standardized tests and test taking. When coupled with a neglect of the other aspects of school, public education becomes an irrelevant and negative part of being young. 
Where did we get the idea that school should not be fun?  Where did we get the idea that by making it possible for all kids to have a chance at college, no kid will get a chance at learning technical skills or Spanish, not to mention learning how our government works, how to apply for a job, how to type, how to use a computer, how to fix a computer, how to drive a car, how to fix a car, how to insure a car, how to get an ID, how to file taxes, how to open a bank account, how to rent an apartment, how to check a circuit breaker, what to do in case of an earthquake, and?, and?, and? 
Maybe if school offered more of the things related directly to our real lives, young people might find it useful to study them?  In point of fact, after-school programs that offer projects for the young people to make their own are shown to have improved student participation and lowered dropout rates.  In short, fixing the irrelevant school curriculum problem is part of solving the dropout problem. 
It is a crime to call the death of non “core academic” programming just “too bad” and “not perfect” while we spend so much money on test giving, administrative costs, and doubtful building projects. 
It is also a crime to overcrowd the classrooms.  More than any other aspect of our public schools, classroom oversize and lack of stable, trained, and sufficient support staff makes day-to-day school a lot less than it ought to be for our students and teachers. 
Classroom overcrowding is sluffed off as “well, not perfect” and then we go on as though somehow it is acceptable, or even workable.  Then we start looking at how to judge teachers and whole schools, often using only those test scores, while crippling them with an impossible situation of over twenty-five students per class.  Here is another emergency needing to be declared.  We are in a long-term budget crisis caused by Proposition 13.  Then what is our crisis plan?  Maybe it is the administration that needs to have staff cuts and we should transfer those folks to on-site school jobs?  If we are saddled with a long-term budget crisis, let’s at least choose which crisis to have and where to have it. 
Classroom overcrowding subtracts time and resources from the students who need extra help the most, and often causes students who do not have a crisis to get lost between the cracks. 
The last crime I will work on today is the crime of shutting down adult education before we had a new system to replace it.  This is a the crime of destroying decades of public investment in a system that served thousands of residents.  This crime was committed because "reality" was a short term budget problem that was solved by doing a long term damage to our educational systems.  Where do people do their high school equivalency prep?  Where do they learn English?  Where do they finish up their diplomas if they did not graduate?  Other districts, if at all.  For the most part, not at all.  The OUSD voted to throw those programs and people to the winds and just take the money. 
I don't even see the "good" in trading long term damage for hand to mouth, short term budgeting, but I say a crime was committed against our community when adult ed was killed in 2010. 
What do we do otherwise? 
I’m not sure what the downside of slashing administrative costs to build back up staff at the schools would be, but I am willing to risk the experiment.  To keep on as though “business as usual” is tolerably good, albeit admittedly “not perfect,” is to accept the unacceptable.  

Friday, August 5, 2016

A time for the practical in education

A time for the practical in education
English, History, Math and Science should all be taught with a foot in the real world. Civics, which deals with matters ranging from the entirety of our public lives, should be required. 
Long before the wars between charter and public schools, long before the anti-Mexican "English-Only” propositions, and long before the Christian Right stealth campaigns for school board, another problem had arisen within the U.S. public schools.  Somewhere along the line, teaching things practical or in an applied way was lost and abandoned.
If there is one thing that my fellow parents, school teachers and residents all seem to agree upon, it is that the K-12 schools should do a better job of teaching practical life skills and teaching the curriculum in the context of how it would be used in everyday life outside the classroom.
Yet we still have a focus on the theoretical side of almost every subject and a day-to-day practice of making students spend a horrible amount of time sitting at a desk getting ready for tests in classes that have one, and only one, real goal:  college preparation.  
Ask anyone involved and they will agree that we need to accent the applied, but when it comes to changing the school day, most of what results is an addition of some word problems and maybe an “experiment” or two in lab.
Anyone who has gone to trade school can recall the routine of learning based on doing projects.
Basic electronics?  We started by building a radio.  >From scratch.  The math, the materials, the science, all come into play when one winds a coil and sets the variables to capture a resonant frequency.  (that means tuning in a station)
But project based learning is hardly the only way to be teaching the practical.
All across the curriculum there exists possible links from the subjects we supposedly teach to what is going on in the world around us.  History can be linked to the morning news.  Geography, language, and art can be connected to our international place in the world.  Math can take us to electronics, but it can also take us to filling out a tax return or to calculating the actual dollar amount of the percentage of the gate won by a famous prize fighter.
For the most part, bringing relevancy to content is not a problem that needs loads of money to fix.  It needs teachers and administrators who are willing to open themselves up to a transformation that would keep the standardized tests from driving our kids back to their desks within the confines of the classroom walls. 
Time needs to be taken to modify the curriculum to get students out of their chairs and DOING THINGS and even MAKING THINGS -- activities that will help them grasp the concepts of their core coursework.  The work of curriculum development takes deliberate review of existing projects that have already been designed and learns how to use them effectively.  It is admittedly hard, albeit rewarding, work, and anyone who tells you that there are lots of insurmountable problems is just plain wrong.  Almost any trade or skills training program accomplishes these tasks every day.  There is not much new, just a need for new technology subjects and a sex and race discrimination free environment.  Fortunately, there is already a lot of work being done along these lines.  For a small example see: http://www.ct4me.net/math_resources_3.htm#Math&EverydayLife
Some other resources could be found looking for STEM applications to the “real world” of everyday life.
It will take some leadership to make this change to how we teach K-12 in Oakland.
To be more precise, this is a change back to a past era.  People my age and over remember shop, civics, home economics, and art classes, and much more.  In my child’s charter school we started to reintroduce such things in a small way. The kids benefited from it, and it was a satisfying feeling to see girls using bike repair tools to fix a flat tire and boys using a sewing machine to make a marble bag because we made all students do both.  The kids wanted to add "app coding" and wood shop. 
I would like to have us work our way back slowly, starting with small, but fun and practical, projects that every student could do as part of their current course work RIGHT NOW.  The reason for RIGHT NOW is that we are losing too many students for the simple reason that school work is often too abstract and boring.  Too many students believe that school has not been designed with them in mind.  Just ask them.  
We need to go back to the days when schools grew plants in milk boxes, did art projects with egg cartons, and pulled classroom discussions from current news events.  One of our biggest problems is that students of every age are not engaged, and when they get older a disastrous number of them drop out. School needs to become more fun.  Students need to feel that they are learning something worthwhile.  In short, school work needs to be relevant to the larger world around them.
There was an old word I used among my examples: “civics.”
We need to bring back and expand civics.   There are all kinds of matters relating to ordinary citizens and their everyday concerns that should be a study in and of itself. 
Most of us remember civics as being where we learned that a state has two senators.  Such basic understanding of our government is badly needed.  Our students and their parents need a better understanding of how our local government works.  As a political candidate for school board I get a lot of questions about what precisely are the functions of the school board.  I would like to see students have some form of civics taught throughout their studies, and once in middle and high school with an eye on preparing them to become good citizens and informed voters.  Schools are locations where students and their parents should be able to register to vote and are often where they do vote. 
But participation in civil society entails more than just voting.  We open bank accounts, file taxes, join the military, rent homes, apply for jobs, receive public services, continue our studies, use health care, and insure our homes and cars. Every reader could add something important to this list. No student should leave our schools without a bank account and an ID card.  Civics is where we can make such things happen.  Of all the things I have mentioned here, this one will cost real teacher salaries and the expenditure will be worth it. 
More practical education will help us keep students in school.
Browbeating the students to be interested in a tedious series of pointless exercises, such as regurgitating on standardized tests some facts that they might use “someday” when they compete for a college entrance that most will never see,  is a recipe for failure and poor classroom discipline, which is way too much of what we have now.
Project-based learning, along with electives providing “identifier projects” for the students to work on, have shown themselves to improve overall school results, starting with staying in school.  I promise another blog to talk about this more in depth. 

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Charter schools should not be voucher schools

Are our Oakland charter schools another version of public schools or are they private schools running on public money?

A couple recent news reports show that our charters are less public than they could be and more private than they should be.

A reporter from Los Angeles recently wrote about our Oakland schools and our charters asking if our local charter school movement plans to take over half the local students the same way the sister charter movement in Los Angeles does.  The locals are not talking and the Greater [?] Public Schools in Los Angeles are double talking, at least according to this article.


A brief article in the East Bay Times tells us why our local grand jury declared our oversight of our local charter schools to be insufficient under the scope [?] of the law and also wonders what ratio of public to charter schools is intended and rightly asks if anyone has any plans for determining it. 

In both cases we are bumping into the big question of “Who owns the charter schools?”

If they are special public schools, on a special mission with some local freedom to run themselves differently, then WE OWN THOSE SCHOOLS.  Public ownership would make sense, because we citizen taxpayers do certainly pay for those schools.  Every day teachers take attendance that, in turn, calculates the number of taxpayer dollars that will go to each school.  This calculation works the same for a charter as it does for a normal public school.

The bottom line is that we the public own a bunch of charter schools, serving a quarter of our local enrolled students, and if the grand jury report is to be believed, we have almost no control over these schools.  The little bit of supervision we are supposed to provide, is not happening.

The Alameda County Grand Jury report is well worth reading.  It covers a few vital aspects of public government not being what they should. The section about Oakland Unified School District and Charter Schools starts on page 85.


The report points out that the charter schools were set up to provide space for school districts to try different ideas or provide a special program, but with the passage of time have evolved into schools that are just trying to be better than the district’s non-charter schools.  So how is this different from a voucher?  If these charters are not accountable to anyone except their own owners or nonprofit boards, then in what way are they public schools?  If your student is being treated unfairly by your local charter school, whom do you appeal to for help?

The situation is, of course, not so simply described.  Some charters work closer with the district than others, whereas some are more private than others.  The OUSD has the legal responsibility to watch over the fiscal operations of the schools and should be inspecting them and participating in their board meetings.  The office in the OUSD with this job is half staffed.

Both the article and the report touch on the role of outside organizations with goals of moving a significant number of our students into the charter, semi-private, model.  Moreover, both the LA article and the grand jury report point out that if privatization is going to be the model, or a significant part of it, there are problems with the current management structure and burden sharing.

And there remains the whole business of enrollment.  In theory, charters must accept students who enroll on a choice/lottery basis and not charge them tuition.  In practice this is basically true, but the charters have their own enrollment processes.  The big difference between the OUSD managed schools and the various types of charter schools is that the OUSD must accept every last student who comes to the door. This is historically what being a genuinely free, tax-supported, public school system is all about.

There may be a way to make the existing charter schools more like the charter schools we were initially promised.  Part of that way would be to have both kinds of school be held to the same standards and held accountable in the same way. The other way charter schools could be truly public would be in taking their full part of the community commitment to serve each and every last student.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Uncommon Enrollment: “School Choice” in lieu of “School Improvement”

Uncommon Enrollment: “School Choice” in lieu of “School Improvement”

Because I am now a declared candidate for Oakland Unified School Board member in District 1, I have decided to pay more attention to this blog.

And I start with “a fix in search of a problem” and “a problem begging for a fix.”

The problem is enrollment.

At a recent forum, two current school board members, including the one I am running against, talked to us about a vague proposal called “Common Enrollment.”  This is the “fix in search of a problem.”

Some of us raised our hands and spoke about the confusion that is called the current enrollment system.  More than a couple of us as parents had filled in applications for our children, only to find out that they had been lost and not entered into the “lottery” that passes for school choice in Oakland.

Other simple problems, such as not being able to file enrollment in the schools themselves, were also brought up by a few parents.

So I asked a simple question:  Will the school board hold a hearing on the difficulties with the current setup?

The answer was “good question” and the real answer is "No."

A public consultation about what the current parents, teachers and administrators would like to see in an enrollment system is also apparently not in the works in any real way.  Maybe something happens somewhere, but my son’s school has not sent me any invitation to anything such as this.  Nor has anyone else, unless there was some fine print I missed.

So here is the proverbial cart before the horse called “Common Enrollment.” Do not confuse this with the English words “common” and “enrollment.”  This is more of a Policy and/or a brand name with a whopping price tag.  It also comes with a strange feature that attaches the charter schools to the OUSD-managed schools on an opt-in basis decided by the charter schools.

If this sounds a bit one-way in favor of the charter schools, well, it probably is, and entirely so if they do not have to pay for it.  Some parents and teachers are concerned that Common Enrollment is a way to make it easier for students to leave normal public schools and go to charters.  They are probably right about that.

The idea that we make less of a mess of all this has its merits.  As one teacher pointed out at the public forum, the late-minute changes during the first weeks of school are very destructive to getting the teacher-parent community off to a good start.  The idea that neither the public nor the charter schools should be trapping in any parents or making it hard to prefer a school of either types also has its merits.  These are schools, not consumer speed traps.

Common Enrollment is offering us “school choice” in lieu of “school improvement.”  The idea that we shop for schools the way we pick out a restaurant has been taken too far.

Why would any parent, including myself, want to send their child to anywhere other than the local school?  This is the question and this is the problem to solve.  A better system to use computers to jump from a sinking ship is hardly a progressive solution.

Trying to make sure local schools have what the parents and students are looking elsewhere to find would be a much better problem to begin to fix.

Looking at all the options for running a school district enrollment process should include more than one group trying to make a sale.  There are other software packages out there.  I would like to see if there is not one that also integrates keeping student, parent and volunteer records in a systematic way, maybe that includes a district wide ID card.  (Oakland has a municipal ID card; maybe we could use that?)

But this Wednesday we will not be looking at what the parents and teachers think needs to be done to create an improved enrollment system.

We will not be looking at what other school districts do, nor how they do it integrates with their general computer database systems.

What we will be looking at is basically a sales presentation printout of a slide show.

If there is a business proposal on the table, such as a proposed contract from the Common Enrollment people who will charge us to use their “algorithms,” it was not attached to the “report” on the OUSD board meeting website.

And a discussion about why parents are not finding their neighborhood school good enough, well, I do not think this concern is on the schedule either.  Not yet.