Parent of Tech Graduate Finds Much to Like in the Tech of Today

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

As my son prepares for college, we mull over the changes in Oakland Technical High School since he started in 2010.

Academically, Tech cemented its position as the premier Oakland comprehensive public high school. Academic Performance Index (API) scores rose dramatically, climbing to a score of 737 in 2013, from 685 in 2010. Other Oakland comprehensive high schools lag behind; Skyline High's 2013 API of 638 and Oakland High's 634 remain virtually unchanged over the same time interval.

Student enrollment soared from roughly 1,700 to over 2,000 in 2013, reflecting Tech's increased popularity. Prospective student tours were at capacity this year, unlike prior years. Demographically, the Tech student body ethnic/racial composition is now 36 percent Black, 17 percent Asian, 19 percent Hispanic, 23 percent Caucasian, and 4 percent other, a truly diverse urban school reflecting the Bay Area's vast range of racial, ethnic, educational, and socio-economic backgrounds.

Advanced Placement (AP) classes constitute another measure of a school's academic rigor and college preparation. In 2013, over 350 Tech students took over 600 AP exams with a pass rate above 69 percent, higher than the California average. And the number of students continues to grow, up 45 percent in four years.

Oakland's AP program began at Oakland Tech. In the mid-1980s, only one Honors English class was offered at Tech and no AP classes within the entire district. Tech's Paideia program, established in 1986, changed everything. Students who enrolled in these integrated history and English classes were first encouraged to take the AP History test, and then the AP Government exam. The high pass rates demonstrated that the Paideia curriculum was robust, and the upper level classes soon obtained an AP designation. Thus began the district's AP program.

Many Advanced Placement offerings have been added since then. Students can now choose from Physics C, Chemistry, Biology, Environmental Science, Spanish Language, Chinese Language, Calculus AB & BC, Statistics, Computer Science, and English Literature, as well as U.S. History and U.S. Government. The latter two classes are offered now both through the Paideia program and as non-Paideia classes, making the subject material available to all students.

As offerings increased, more teachers have signed up to lead these classes. I asked Maryann Wolfe, the Tech AP teacher lead, what motivates these teachers, since the district provides no extra compensation for additional preparation time or the increased work load. She believes teachers offer AP classes because they love their subject areas and enjoy the intellectual challenge inherent in teaching higher-level material. Students eagerly enroll in these classes in increasing numbers, enjoying the ever-expanding courses.

Many more changes, as chronicled in The Rockridge News, have occurred at Tech over the past four years. Whether winning robotics competitions, playing on one of the athletic teams, attending the new Fashion Arts and Design Academy or receiving over $1.8 million in scholarships, Tech students continue to display the drive to excel.

We are proud to have been members of this diverse and exciting school community.