Friday, May 23, 2008

Oakland Schools Busy Committing Suicide

Oakland's school board and state administrator must not be reading East Bay Conservative, because statistics show the district continues to hemorrhage students at a rapid pace. The district has lost 27 percent of its students in the past 8 years.

Rather than trying to figure out what has precipitated the decline, our school district has spent its time trying to deduce how many angels can fit on the head of a pin, among other critical issues. Here's an example:
[Staff] did make a distinction between small and "tiny." Staff defined a "tiny" school as one with less than 300 student....

Well good. Now that we've got that squared away, we can move on to other pressing issues like pandering to the teachers' union and how to keep failing schools "diverse."

Let me be very blunt here:

OUSD, it is time to get your heads out of your asses. The problem with our schools is that the focus is exclusively on warehousing poor-performing students rather than excellence for high achievers.

Like it or not, OUSD has performed so terribly that it is in a race for its life with expensive private alternatives. Parents are pulling their kids out and paying top dollar because there is no opportunity at OUSD schools. The students who remain are the underachievers, causing even more parents to withdraw their kids or move to other school districts.

OUSD must actually begin to compete with private schools. Here's the first step:

  1. Open one or more magnet schools at each level (elementary, middle, high).

  2. Make entrance requirements for the magnet 100% examination-based.

  3. Commit to keep the magnet schools open for a period of no less than 10 years.

  4. Commit not to dilute entrance requirements for the magnet schools at any point.

  5. Set aside a separate pool of money for the magnet schools. Commit to fully fund that amount each year.

  6. Select teachers for the magnet schools based upon merit.

  7. Initiate a public-relations campaign to encourage parents to test their kids into the magnet schools.

My plan will draw students back into OUSD schools. It will create a virtuous circle, permitting the district to create different levels and types of schools which will draw high- and middle-performing students back from private schools.

Edit: Just wanted to note that East Bay Express also had a brief article about this problem.Let's hope this is the start of trend.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

My Thoughts on Improving Oakland

The past couple days I've been considering the question I posed in the previous posting, about what Oakland can do to change the nature of its killing fields.

Incidentally, I'm surprised at the poor response to the question. I have statistics which tell me between 30 and 100 people read each post on my blog. For the most part, those who comment are on my side of the fence on these issues. But I know many of you must disagree with me. I'd like to hear from you!

In any event, I do think the fundamental problem facing Oakland is our leaders' notion that they can somehow "fix" what's wrong with our antisocial populations. Much as with the affordable housing debate, they take the position that these people have "nowhere else to go."

So, the solution is to make Oakland as friendly a spot as possible, offering any number of inducements and encouragements to get people to fly straight. In this regard, Oakland has chosen the "carrot" rather than the "stick."

This is not to suggest that there is no stick involved. I think most liberals would view the inevitable incarceration which awaits our antisocial bretheren as a strong stick, discouraging them from misbehaving. But if we have learned anything in the past 20 years, it is that sticking people in prisons does little. Many have grown to tolerate prison quite well, viewing it as a normal part of life.

I believe Oakland must change both its "carrot" and "stick" approaches to the problem. But first, we must accept that part of the solution is to encourage these people to leave our city. The simple fact that some have nowhere else to go may encourage them to change their ways. If not, perhaps they will go elsewhere, alleviating the depth of Oakland's burden.

On the "carrot" side of things, I have never fully understood why living in the most prosperous land on Earth is not a sufficient carrot for anyone. In many countries, thugs such as those in Oakland would have no food, or perhaps no hands and feet, or they might be dead to a firing squad. They might simply live in a country where there is no opportunity for work or advancement.

We must cut social spending on those who commit crimes. And I would suggest we should cut spending even on those who do not, as those are the people who feed the thugs by buying drugs and offering them shelter.

At the same time, I propose we use the "stick" of indifference and outcasting. We spend altogether too much time worrying about the needs and wants of this narrow set of hoodlums. Instead, we should enact statutes which prohibit even their most basic behaviors -- loitering on street corners, truancy, petty crime, etc. We should make no effort at rehabilitation. Instead, we should simply round them up, isolate them and show them the same indifference they show to society.

In many ways, this mirrors the "broken windows" methodology employed in New York. This strategy is effective because it does not cater to the criminal element. It simply removes those who mean harm and moves on.

Our stick should not be "community policing." It should be nearly the exact opposite.

The goal is to improve our city and to end the killing. Nearly everything we have done to date has only served to exacerbate the problem. I believe this is because, at core, we want to humanize and "help" the offenders.

This must stop. It is time to treat them in the same manner they treat society. It's time to run these people out of town, one way or another.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Some Encouraging Data on Oakland's Black Youth

When I wrote Sunday about the fact that Oakland has black kids thriving at elementary schools such as Thornhill, I was relying on research done some months back. Ironically, today I saw this report (pdf) and this list (pdf) indicating that the news continues to get better.

To me, this is very important news. I don't have too much to say about it, but I wanted to bring it to your attention.

In case you didn't click the PDF, Thornhill showed a black API score of 882, as against a 938 score for the schools as a whole. 882 is a phenomenal score. Other schools in Oakland frequently struggle to cross 600.

Grass Valley Elementary, a school whose population is 92 percent black, has a 795 score, also an excellent API. 46 percent of Grass Valley's students are from low income families.

What this tells me is a growing number of people are overcoming Oakland's crazy racist/racialist policies to make some headway. Common sense tells me these high-performing students are doing so not because they're rich but because they have families who instill in them the value of hard work.

Now, if only we could somehow convince the city to set up magnet middle and high schools for these students. Sadly, our best middle school has an API of 780, and our best high school can't even crack 700.

What's wrong with our government? Can't we set up a school to reward these 800+ API students? Must we scare them into private schools or force them to go to underperforming schools?

Dellums: Oakland's Property Taxes Too Low

Every time someone makes the argument we should lay off Mayor Dellums, he gives us yet another reason to keep our tin-foil hats squarely in place. This time, it's his proposal to raise property taxes yet again to hire more police.

Sounds like a great plan, considering how well Measure Y has worked out to date. It's ironic that I ran across this article today, considering just last night I was perusing the "Taxpayer Action Tools" at the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association site. In particular, I was reading the section about stopping government from illegally spending money it collects and the section about repealing parcel taxes.

In reality, I read these articles just for fun. Several years ago I stopped seriously expecting the voters in Oakland to block any property tax increases. Oakland is the perfect municipality for tax initiatives, because so few of the voters own their own homes. Bolstered by rent control, renters figure the tax increases are irrelevant to them, so they vote yes. Just another argument for Prop 98.

Incidentally, if you support 98 like I do, you can waste some of the "No" campaign's money. Just go to Google and type in the search term "proposition 98 california" (without the quotes). You'll see an ad for the "No" campaign. Click it. This costs them money.

I realize that politicians float tax increases all the time, but I suspect this one may gather steam, considering the bloodbath taking place in the Oakland's killing fields these days.

The only real defense we have against such a measure is to vigorously oppose it in the early stages. Pop the trial balloon, if you will.

Anyway, Dellums came up with a real gem of a quote when discussing a proposal to raise the number of officers to 1075. Here it is:
At the end of the day, what gets cut are the city services that many Oakland residents rely upon.... We have to look at other alternatives that give our residents an opportunity that is obtainable and sustainable...."

What I love about this quote is that it clearly demonstrates that Dellums doesn't consider policing to be a "city service" that we "rely upon." That's a sentiment that should warm the cockles of your heart.

I wonder if Dellums has ever taken a drive through West Oakland as the sun sets. Maybe if he had, he'd pay more attention to policing.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Oakland's Better Half

I know this probably makes me a blog-poseur, but my favorite city in the east bay is Piedmont. Few urban areas in the country boast the sort of exclave relationship shared by Oakland and Piedmont.

Piedmont is great because it puts the lie to pretty much every Leftist preconceptions that people like to throw around. Combine Piedmont and Montclair, and you have the perfect case-in-point.

Let's look at some of the facts. Piedmont schools boast one of the lowest suspension rates in the area. Oakland claims its is 7 percent, which seems relatively low until you look at some of the individual schools. One Oakland charter school suspended 150% of its students this year (however you do that).

And, I have it on good authority from a couple teacher friends that Oakland purposely keeps its suspension rate low by discouraging school administrators from handing out suspensions. They're willing to "live with" a moderate hum of violence, so long as it doesn't get too bad.

Leftists will give you all kinds of justifications for this disparity. Geography obviously isn't to blame, nor are pollution and all the other ills that go along with a person's physical location.

The next target is usually racism. After all, Piedmont is largely white and Asian. Unfortunately for this argument, if you take a look at the state API reports for Thornhill elementary in Oakland, you'll find that the black kids there do very, very well. Their average test scores aren't much lower than those in Piedmont.

That's odd. How can a black student do well in a society riddled by institutional racism?

But I digress. One look at the latest homicide map will tell you there is a great divide running through our area. It goes down along the 580 freeway, and east along the 24 to the county line.

Everyone knows this line exists, but no one likes to talk about it. When I bring it up, people recoil in shock. When I ask why Oakland has no quality high schools while Piedmont High sends laundry lists of students to top colleges each year, they usually dub me evil and move on.

Another possible explanation for this boundary is a wealth gap. One certainly exists, but a look at census data and Zillow will tell you that poverty extends far further to the north and south than do Oakland's killing fields. Berkeley and San Leandro in particular are far safer cities.

This is the mystery of Oakland, brought to light by the shining success story at its center. Why is Oakland so terrible?

I don't pretend to have the solutions. But I suspect the problem is fundamental and systemic. It is probably not a problem that can be solved by adding a few more police to the force.

In my opinion, the fundamental problem in Oakland is it has been overrun with Leftists who view it as a perfect testbed for their theories. Rather than making the city an uncomfortable place for those antisocial people around us, Leftists view them as a constant.

In so doing, they create for themselves the opportunity (they would say "obligation") to save these people. If I'm right about this, this approach has made Oakland a magnet for such people. As such, literally nothing our government does will help.

And, while I appreciate the kudos being bestowed on our leaders for the recent moves toward a fully staffed police department, I suspect it's just more action in the wrong direction.

I'd be interested in others' thoughts on this. It's a serious discussion, and one which is next-to-impossible to have with Leftists. This type of talk is grounds for immediate ostracism.

In the meantime, I remain glad I live in Oakland's "safe zone." Not in Piedmont, but close enough to know what we're missing.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Oakland Fire Prevention + Certified Mail = Money Down Toilet

I received my letter from the City of Oakland today kindly notifying me that I need to trim my weeds and remove any dead branches from my property. Ostensibly this is a great way to stop wildfires. But I have several issues with their approach.

First, a casual inspection of my property reveals that I have already taken care of these issues. I'm sure this is the case for the majority of hills residents, yet the fire department has decided it would be easier to simply send letters to everyone. Makes sense, at a cost of only $0.42 per house.

Fair enough, until you take a look at the letter I received today. Here's a picture of the envelope:

Certified Letter from Oakland FD

For some reason, Oakland FD decided to send me the letter certified, at a cost of $5.32! That's just great. We'll set aside the deadweight loss this causes to the economy (as the government inevitably does) by causing some people to drive to the post office and stand in line to get this letter. I was lucky, in that I was home.

So, call the cost of these letters an even $6, including the cost of paper, envelope, toner, etc., and a bit of time for a person to manage the process. Now, let's assume that the fully-loaded cost for a "fire engineer" is $100/hr. This is probably low, given the absurd benefits packages these people receive, but I'll be optimistic and assume only a $200k annual pay-and-benefits package.

So, if a person could drive by and look at 20 houses per hour, it would be cheaper to pay people to drive around and hand out these fliers. Even better, the person could ignore houses like mine which obviously have no issue, focusing instead on those which are truly problematic.

Now, I'm sure the government would justify their practice by saying that they want to be sure people receive the letters so they won't get any push-back when they fine people who fail to comply.

I'm really sick and tired of this kind of reasoning. Sure, there will be some non-compliant property owners who protest when the fire department pays to have their yards cleared (a policy I support, by the way). I'm sure the cost of dealing with such individuals would not approach the cost of these certified letters.

I voted against the Oakland Fire Prevention District when it was proposed, and this is exactly why. Our city government is terminally inept, and the worst thing we can possibly do is to give it more money. Enough said.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Vote Yes on Prop 98

Two minutes spent reading the SF Chronicle's Friday point-counterpoint on Prop 98 should be enough to convince anyone that it's a good idea. Eliminating rent control is long overdue, and I'm hopeful that a statewide vote will do just that.Though we can expect strong support for the measure from the more conservative parts of the state, it probably won't pass without some assistance from those of us living under the specter of rent control. Oaklanders and San Franciscans need to see the fundamental error of rent control and help make a change.

Take a look at SFGate's article. What you have is a reasoned argument in favor of 98, which goes something like this: Rent control favors people who rent an apartment and never move at the cost of those who either need to move or who are new to the housing market.

The important point about this argument is that rent control is a zero-sum game. It does not benefit renters in any sort of absolute sense. Doing that would require an actual cap on rental rates. Instead, it creates a bifurcated marke, where landlords need to charge above-market rents to new tenants to make up for those who have lived in the building longer.

An egregious example of this kind of situation is an apartment building in New York which recently converted to a single-family house and was put on the market for many millions of dollars. In order to effect this conversion, the owners had to pay off tenants to the tune of millions of dollars to get them to leave. Rent control provided these tenants with an enormous asset, merely because they were willing to sit there and refuse to move.

I'm sure some of you are thinking such situations have some relationship to eminent domain actions, where the government or a developer must buy out owners to take over there land. But no such correlation exists. Renters have no ownership over the property they inhabit, and as such they should have no rights to that property's appreciation.

The counterpoint in the Chronicle's article is as predictible as it is terrible. The author is basically angry because his rent may go up under 98. Nevermind the economic damage being done to the rest of  the city. He wants what he wants, and that's all there is to it.

In fact, his argument is even worse than it appears at first blush. He complains that 98 might make him homeless. Well, did he ever consider that if he were evicted for non-payment in his current apartment -- say because he lost his job and had to find another -- that then he would be completely priced out of the market when he goes to find a new apartment? All because of his precious rent control.

Or consider another case. Let's say he wants to move to another rent-controlled city for a new job opportunity. Rent control ensures that he's unable to do that, as the starting rent in the new city will be far higher than that which he already pays.

Rent control is similar to Prop 13 in this regard. It decreases economic mobility by creating an enormous economic obstacle to moving. What this does is advantage those who are sedentary and less likely to jump at new work opportunities. The harm to the economy is obvious.

So, you might ask, shouldn't I support a direct repeal of 13 in addition to passage of 98? The answer is no, because I do not trust the government. 98 will simply change the contracting situation between landlords and tenants. Repealing 13 would provide the government with a vast new pot of money to steal. This I cannot support. I would, however, support a measure which repealed 13 while simultaneously capping property tax rates at some reasonable level.

Prop 98 is a step toward economic freedom in places like Oakland. We should support it. Its passage will produce better and cheaper housing, and it will encourage people to move to locations where work prospects are brighter.