Tuesday, October 12, 2010

My answers to a German-American high school student about Oakland Schools.

On 10/1/2010 9:04 AM, Nicole C-----------i wrote:

Hi Don,

How are you doing? My summer was great. I went to Morocco for two weeks (and actually spoke some French). That was an amazing trip. School started two weeks ago, and everything is getting really busy. The teachers all expect so much from us, because junior and senior year count towards our end grade. Drama started again as well. We just got our lines for the play “The Importance of Being Earnest” by Oscar Wilde today.

Well as I said, school is getting really busy and I have to hold this huge presentation in my English class about the American school system. In this presentation I will tell them how the school system is set up (elementary school, middle school, High school), I will tell them about the differences to the German school system and then I wanted to show them why schools in richer areas often get more money than schools in poorer areas. You explained it to me once, do you remember? That the schools get money depending on how many students attend the classes a day. I thought I would explain this using the example of Burlingame and Oakland. I know you must be really busy, but you would do me a HUGE favor if you could answer some of the questions bellow really briefly (obviously only if you have a moment). If you don't know the statistic stuff, no problem...



Does the schools’ low financial support in Oakland have an effect on the crime rate in the city (especially concerning teenagers)?

I think it does. The degraded schools are not very attractive to young people. There is little outside of rote learning. There is nothing in the way of vocational training. Arts, music and sports are cut back and close to non-existent. After school programs, clubs, excursions and the like are very limited in scope. In this atmosphere we have an extremely high truancy rate. It is said that as many as 50% of our high school students are chronically truant. The funds for programs to reach out to these families whose students do not regularly attend school are cut way back and in many cases truants are treated as a police issue.

Is it then any surprise that a high percentage of students never finish, or if they do, they do not qualify to graduate?

This is much higher among our black and Hispanic students.

The percentage of young people from these communities who end up going to jail is disproportionately high.

And I feel that a big part of the reason is that the schools did not offer much and did not offer any path to employment.

What do you plan on doing to improve Oakland’s public schools?

I want to bring more resources into the schools as civic centers. That means locating public libraries and parks as part of the school infrastructure. That also means getting more City neighborhood projects to be part of the school infrastructure. Note that in our area, there is one government for the city, the City Council and Mayor and another for the schools, the School Board.

What alternatives are there to Oakland’s public schools? Can parents send their kids to schools in other districts?

One alternative is private schools. Private schools are expensive, but a lot of parents, especially white and Asian parents do that. There are school choice programs inside the school district. Some students can apply for a district transfer. Divorced parents can choose which one of the parent's school district the child will go to. Oakland also has some charter schools. Many of the "choice programs" are used as a way to get out of bad schools. The "no child left behind" laws based on standardized, high stakes testing punish the low performing schools and give parents reason to leave them. There is not a real system by which the schools most in need get the most help.

What exactly are the disadvantages of Oakland’s schools?

We described the lack of resources above. Add to that a social situation where crime and violence spill into the schools and you do not have a formula for success.

What are advantages of Oakland’s schools?

This school district is improving despite the bad conditions. There are a lot of dedicated staff and volunteers putting time and money into the system. There is also a wide diversity of programs and cultures making up the district. A parent who pays attention and who puts in volunteer time can still make sure their student receives a quality education, especially at the younger grades.

On an average school day, how many kids cut lessons in Oakland?

I am not sure. The number that the school district gives us is 50% chronically truant. My guess is something high, maybe 5 to 10% for at least some of each day. Note that my local police tell us that home robberies and break-ins increase when our local high school is in session.

What are reasons for kids cutting school in Oakland?

I think that there are a mix of reasons. A lot of youth have trouble at home or in their neighborhoods. Many come to school unprepared for class, without their work done and with no real chance of catching up. A lot of youth cut class to do more fun things, such as have sex or smoke pot. There is a significant number of young people who are involved in harder drugs, more crime and the sex trade. Some of our youth are parents before graduating high school.

Another reason that I think is relevant, is that the reasons for going to school for many youth are not so obvious. It is not very fun, we do not teach much in the way of useful life skills, we do not teach job skills and most of the interesting programs are too small to have much of a chance of getting into them. The US school systems right now make a big deal out of COLLEGE as the main goal. Well, then what happens to the majority who will not go to college? This lack of options and future may not be obvious to many in our government, but it is crystal clear to young people who will not see college and do not stand much of a chance of getting a good job.

When saying this, the German public needs to keep in mind that many Americans have jobs that do not offer health insurance, do not provide vacation time, do not pay well and provide no opportunity for advancement. In the US to say "working for McDonald's" means having a job that provides nothing and goes nowhere. You do in only because you are desperate for money and you are being ruthlessly exploited when you are there. The conditions that many young Americans, especially young Americans of color, work under are illegal in the BRD.

How many kids drop out of high school?

They don't tell us. One of the games that is played is bad management when they do not want the numbers to reveal the bad news. There is no real tracking. School districts do not take any responsibility for tracking students who do not turn up at the beginning of a school year. Looking at the population as a whole, we find that in many of these communities about half of the youth in the 20's have not finished high school. There are a couple of equivalent tests, but they do not mean much unless the student passed out of high school to go to Junior College. Most who pass the test do not go on to adult education.

No comments:

Post a Comment