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Oakland Unified Joins Other School Districts Seeking Waiver from No Child Left Behind Law

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Barbara Grady/Oakland Local

Oakland families enjoy exploring the science fair.

Oakland Unified and eight other California school districts sought a waiver Thursday from the federal "No Child Left Behind" law by submitting their own plan for measuring a school's success that takes into account students' social and emotional well being and school culture along with student test scores.

The goal of the plan submitted by Oakland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Fresno, Sacramento, Long Beach, Sanger, Clovis and Santa Ana is to have "all students college and career ready" at graduation and to eliminate racial disparities in how students are disciplined and in academic expectations, the superintendents said.

"We think having all our young people college or career ready across all schools in our districts is a real shift," Oakland Superintendent Tony Smith said, about the No Child law's emphasis on a school's aggregate test scores. The group's plan "is about serving each and every child well." 

If their plan is approved, this group would join 34 states in getting a waiver from No Child Left Behind - a law reviled by educators because it relies on standardized test scores to determine whether a school is effective or not and metes out steep punishments if schools don't achieve sizable gains in scores year to year.

The focus on social and emotional measures echo what Oakland Unified has been talking about setting up in Oakland. Smith set a strategy of creating "full service community schools" here and oversaw the opening of several school-based health clinics and community centers. The idea behind them is to help students with other needs like health or family crises that might prevent them from learning.

But even as Smith announced support of the waiver plan based on this philosophy, OUSD also voted this week to shut down its family literacy program, through which many parents learn English and learn how to help their children in school and get involved with their schools.

At a Board of Education meeting Wednesday night, the OUSD board voted to issue layoff notices to the Family Literacy, Adult Education and GED instructors, or about 18 people who teach parents, as well as people trying to earn their high school diplomas through GED's.

Don Curtis, one of the Family Literacy teachers, said his work helps parents stay involved because he teaches them how to use computers and follow their child's progress. Others said the program brings parents to the schools.

"There is so much literature that says that parents' literacy and parent involvement in school make a huge difference in a child's academic success," said Ann Colten, a member of the Oakland Education Association teachers union and a former teacher in the family literacy program.  In each of the past two years, about 90 people earned high school diplomas through the district's GED program, Curtis said.

Oakland Unified's spokesman, Troy Flint, said the layoff notices were previsionary and could be reversed in June. Also, he said adult education was chosen because California Gov. Brown's educational budget proposes that community colleges take over adult education.

But the cuts would seem to contrast with the CORE plan to help all students achieve. Oakland has large numbers of students learning English and who are new to this country and to the ways of American education. The state of California sought a waiver from No Child Left Behind last year, but was turned down because its waiver excluded any use of student test scores to measure teacher effectiveness.

Asked if their plan holds teachers accountable to student gains on standardized tests, the superintendents said tests will be just one measure and they will count only scores from the top grade in a school, for instance fifth grade in an elementary school.

"What is fundamentally different is we are not asking teachers only for reading scores and math scores," San Francisco Superintendent Richard Carranza said. "We are asking for multiple measures." 

The group of districts have all agreed to adopt new college-based and career based curriculum, the Common Core standards, by the 2013-14 school year.

Source: Oakland Local [http://m.oaklandlocal.com/article/oakland-unified-joins-other-school-districts-seeking-accountability-students-social-needs-it]

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