Local school activists are questioning Mayor Libby Schaaf’s decision to appoint David Silver as a chief policy advisor on education, criticizing her for paying for the position with money donated by non-profits that have a record of working to expand local charters schools at the expense of public education.
A number of people see her approach as setting a dangerous precedent.
“I personally have nothing against David – I do not question his integrity or his passion for Oakland students, “said Oakland Education Association (OEA) President Trish Gorham.
“I do question paying the salary of someone with private money that comes with a very clear agenda, using that money to pay for someone who is going to help shape public policy,” she said.
Mayor Schaaf announced Silver’s appointment on June 11, funded through “a multi-year partnership” with the Oakland Public Education Fund, made up The Rainin Foundation, New Schools Venture Fund, The Rogers Family Foundation and The Packard Foundation.
New Schools Venture Fund is an organization associated with the national movement for corporate-driven school reform of public education, accused by opponents of backing policies that seek untapped investment opportunities and to unleash hidden markets embedded in public schools.
The Rogers Family Foundation, which is closely connected to the nonprofit Great Oakland (GO) Public Schools and helped found the Oakland Public Education Fund, has long been associated with efforts to expand the role of charter schools in the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) and decrease of the influence the teachers’ union and of unionized teachers.
“The Rogers Foundation, New Schools Venture Fund -what see in Oakland and other urban school districts is that foundations may have started out to help a district pay for its projects, but now they come in with money and their own projects and their own agenda, their own point of view and their own expectations of outcomes,” said Gorham.
“I don’t think David Silver is going to forestall a privatizing education agenda,” she said.
In her June 11 media release, Schaaf praised Silver for his ability to create equity and help students succeed in colleges and careers.
“(He) has demonstrated a unique ability to pursue and implement strategies to ensure Oakland students succeed in school — with a special focus on correcting unacceptable disparities for underserved communities,” she said.
“I am committed to ensuring that David has the resources and support to transform my vision of a cradle to career pipeline into reality,” she said.
Despite these powerful words, school activists expressed their misgivings.
“The Rogers foundation continues to use its money to leverage policy. It’s shocking that the Mayor’s Office in our city would allow its policy to be bought and paid for,” said Mike Hutchinson.
Added community activist and longtime educator Pam Drake, “I’ve been writing about this on Facebook and Twitter. The language they are using covers up what is really going on. Rodgers and New Schools Ventures are definitely privatizing organizations.”
Silver spoke earlier this year at a school board meeting in support of OUSD Supt. Antwan Wilson’s policy to allow charter schools to apply to run five Oakland schools, including Castlemont, McClymonds and Fremont High schools. Speaking in opposition were angry groups of students, parents and community members from the schools.
Ultimately, no charters turned in an application to operate the schools.
Silver until recently served as chief executive officer of College Track, a national non-profit that helps students from underserved communities to graduate from college.
He also helped found and lead Think College Now, a public elementary school in Oakland.
“I have worked in education in Oakland since 1997, and I have never been more optimistic than today,” he said. “We have incredible students, dedicated teachers and principals, committed families and community partners, as well as a mayor, superintendent, and School Board with a powerful vision of educational equity, and models of successful schools. This is our time.”
Silver has a degree from UCLA and a master’s degree from Harvard. He lives in the Laurel District with his wife and son.