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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

School board loses focus on academics

Shanthi Gonzales

Schools aren’t meeting students’ needs” in Oakland, California, writes Shanthi Gonzales, who’s resigning from the school board after more than seven years. She’s moving to northern California.

The Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) board hasn’t focused on school quality, Gonzales writes. “Students aren’t being adequately prepared for their next steps.”

As a result, the district is losing enrollment, forcing budget cuts and (very controversial) school closures.

OUSD is not a jobs program, or a social justice organization, or a small business incubator, or a housing organization, although those things are important. . . . as long as we are struggling to ensure that students can read at grade level, it is a disservice to our students and families to spend so much time on issues that are not central to our core mission.

Despite her background as a labor organizer, Gonzales believes the teachers’ union is lacks “commitment to student success.”

It is not enough to say that there is poverty and that is why students aren’t doing well, or that the state doesn’t provide enough funding. These things are true statewide, and yet other districts with similar levels of poverty and/or funding are achieving much greater results. One reason is that our teachers’ association has consistently resisted efforts to address school quality, and organized others against such efforts as well.

OUSD could have returned to in-person instruction earlier, writes Gonzales. She blames the teachers’ union for working to prevent that, “even though they knew that we weren’t meeting our legal and moral obligations, in particular to our most vulnerable students.”

In addition, the OEA and its allies repeatedly have tried to shut down debate by accusing their opponents of racism and by intimidation and harassment, Gonzales charges.

“Oakland has some of the most generous taxpayers in the state, and we receive more funds per student than most districts,” she writes. The district must use those resources to implement the new strategic plan, which focuses on literacy. Don’t “get distracted by shiny new ideas,” Gonzales concludes. Teach those kids to read.

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