The Good, the Bad, and the ugly in OUSD’s 2015

Hope, change, tragedy, success and rancor marked Oakland Unified’s 2015.   The arc is seeming to bend towards justice, but given the persistence and depth of inequality, nobody can be satisfied with the rate of progress, or that any better outcomes are guaranteed unless we work for them.

The Good

  • The Board Hired a Strong, Visionary Superintendent– After a national search we hired Antwan Wilson, coming from Denver, which is seen as one of the most progressive and successful urban districts, he brought a team and vision with him that could move the district forward, with a relatively aligned board.
  • New contracts for staff– OUSD negotiated peace with unions and approved relatively large raises and instilled some more flexibility. We still need to create better professional conditions and get creative on how we attract and maintain top staff, but thinking about subsidized teacher housing is a good start.
  • New school options- Roses in Concrete and Castlemont Community Transformation Schools (CCTS) opened as true community based charter schools, providing new options to underserved families. Did I mention that the CCTS middle schools is roughly 50% special education…Oh I forgot charters don’t serve those kids…
  • Progress on African-American males– grad rates are up, suspensions are down, Oakland was named as one of the top districts in supporting young Black men. This is the result of years of advocacy and also the deliberate creation of an initiative to address these kids and their specific needs.  It’s good to see more specialized programs going forward for different groups of underserved students that are culturally responsive.
  • Progress on school culture- Good progress on the hard work of implementing restorative justice practices and moving away from the punitive disciplinary practices that failed to serve most students and families. Specific kudos for ending suspensions for willful defiance.
  • More resources for Oakland students-Passage and implementation of bond measures as well as successful pursuit of large grants have brought more resources to Oakland’s students.


The Bad

  • Persistent inequality– Oakland continues to be one of the most unfair cities in terms of giving access to the best schools to low income and underserved students. I just have to repeat these stats.

(1)62% of White students and 57% of non-low income students were enrolled in a top scoring school in reading, however only 10% of low income students, 13% of Black students, and 7% of Hispanic students were enrolled in those schools

Conversely, (2)low income and racial and ethnic minorities are far more likely to be clustered in the lowest performing schools—and Oakland was dead last when it came to ghettoization by income, with low income students being 18 times more likely to be in the lowest scoring schools in reading.

  • Special education outcomes are horrible- In OUSD only 9.6% of special education students complete the A-G requirements, 8.1% passed the CAHSEE (the now defunct high school exit exam), and around 5% met or exceeded standards on the State tests. We need major reforms in the way that services are provided and in hiring and retaining high quality staff (see number 3 below)
  • The OUSD enrollment system sucks—that’s the scientific term for it, everyone from school board members to the average parent finds enrolling their kid confusing and opaque. 73% of the public want a unified enrollment system.  And for those without access to quality neighborhood schools, it’s inequitable.  Parents with the most resources have the best access and those with the least resources are often stuck in schools of default.  Changing this has got to be a priority in the coming year.  See above around access to quality schools by income.
  • Staffing issues persist- For some of our most vulnerable students we do not have staff to support them, OUSD has chronic shortages in its special education staff and also in for English Language Learners, and until we can staff our schools to meet the needs of students, it won’t matter what policy is passed or what model is on paper. We need to get more creative on how to fill these crucial positions.  I offered one solution in hiring “dreamers” but we need real answers now.

The Ugly

  • Breakdown of civility– at times the Board meetings became spectacles of the absurd, with largely non Black “protesters” from the Oakland Education Association, BAMN caucus, shutting meetings down and calling our Supe a “Tom”. This created a toxic environment at meetings that really nobody would want to attend, particularly Oakland families, and that is the real cost—the closing of public dialogue to the public, by the loudest shouters on the block.
  • Children killing and being killed or paralyzed– We just have to stem the violence that has taken too many, and has condemned too many others.
  • Stagnation- For Oakland’s underserved students we have a mountain to climb, and doing a little more of the same, or asking the overworked staff of existing struggling schools to turn them around is unlikely to work.

I don’t have the answers here, but we as a community need to honestly engage in a discussion about what really is best for students and families, not in some hypothetical future when every neighborhood has a great school, and every student gets the resources they deserve, but now, when many Flatlands families (rightly) don’t think that they have quality k-12 options, and they don’t have time to wait for fairy tale futures.


Post’s Op-Ed on charter schools and special education doesn’t serve reality or students

It’s disappointing to continually hear the half-truths and what I will call “misconceptions” around charter schools and special education students in Oakland.  A little fact checking would have helped—but let me do some here.

Many of these were raised in a recent op-ed in the Oakland Post in the op-ed, Charter Schools in Oakland do not Serve All Children—lets go through a couple

The article starts with this

In the 2015-2016 school options guide, Oakland Unified School District published that 40 out of 62 Oakland charter schools do not serve special education students.  Somewhere between half-truth and misconception

Fact– The language in the guide was an error, and that language has been changed.  In fact every charter school in Oakland serves special education students, some at greater rates than neighboring district schools and some with lower rates.  Overall the percentage of special education students in charters is slightly lower than the Districts percentage.  So the article leads with a “misconception”.

(T)here is a difference between providing a service and providing a range of services. OUSD provides a range of services to meet the needs of all students. Oakland charter schools do not… When a student has additional needs, charter schools typically push them out. And that’s because charters usually only provide a very basic level of support. The limited range of programs forces charters to exclude students who need additional support.  Half-truth to “misconception”

Yes and no, every Oakland district school does not serve every student, some students go to specialized programs that are not at their neighborhood school.  The District as a whole has an obligation to serve all students, not every site.  And to take one example and extend it to the range of schools is fallacious reasoning.

Charters are obligated to meet the range of needs of admitted students, and I can personally attest to the efforts that some charters go to meet those needs.  I don’t think it’s true that charters “typically” push out higher needs students.   And indeed charters like the Community School for Creative Education, who embrace more high needs students, become a magnet.  But, as I have written before, I do think the charters have some bad actors and bad acts, and we need to confront those, and authorizers need to hold schools accountable.

This is a complex policy issue though, and I would love to see more real discussion about the facts and solutions.  And we will be speaking with schools and families in the coming months around the real issues in special education.

(C)harters don’t fully contribute to the cost of providing special education services to Oakland students . Currently, only 11 out of the 62 Oakland charter schools have joined OUSD’s Special Education Local Plan Area or SELPA. SELPAs are responsible for developing a local plan on providing special education services to students in their area. Half-truth

Every charter school has to be part of a SELPA and the SELPA is responsible for services, the schools pitch in their special education funding and pay an additional fee per student to cover the overall SELPA deficit.  Yes, not every charter is in the OUSD SELPA, but the SELPA they are in provides those services to students, and is paid by the schools for those costs.

The Oakland SELPA is definitely improving but historically it was not, ahem…, the most responsive and if schools can get better services for students from other SELPAs why wouldn’t they?  I thought it was about serving students, right?

If more charters joined OUSD’s SELPA and helped cover the cost of serving higher needs students, OUSD would save money. Instead, charters choose to join other SELPAs that short change OUSD students.  “misconception”

If more schools joined the OUSD SELPA they would add more special education students to it, increasing costs.  As above, those special education students are already being served and paid for through another SELPA.

I don’t doubt, and I actually expect that there is some gaming going on in student enrollment (argument number 1 for a transparent common enrollment system), for those who don’t have an ethical commitment to equity.  The incentives are aligned for that to make sense, the way funding is allocated and accountability often imposed.

And as a practical matter, a sad recognition I have made, is that every school cannot meet the needs of every student, especially in small schools.   That you need a district of 38,000 students or a SELPA like arrangement where you pool resources and risks, and create supports so that every student can get the services they need.

I welcome a fact based discussion about who is being served, who is not and where.  Alongside some real discussions about how to best deliver services to students, and ideally the funding formulas.

In OUSD only 9.6% of special education students complete the A-G requirements, 8.1% passed the CAHSEE, and around 5% met or exceeded standards on the State tests.  This rests somewhere between travesty and tragedy, and we need to come to some better answers for these students.

Unfortunately the Post op-ed didn’t really deliver this, hopefully someone will pick up the ball and start an honest discussion about our special education struggles and how to overcome them, because our students and families can’t wait.



Parent’s Voice-Let’s Make Our Voices Heard on Improving School Enrollment in Oakland

Part of what makes Oakland great is how our city celebrates equity and diversity.

But there is a major part of public education in our city that does not fit with our values: the way families find and enroll in Oakland’s public schools.

The current process is unfair, disproportionately disadvantaging parents who work multiple jobs, have children with special needs or are new to the country. These parents often lack the time and resources to navigate the complicated system to find their child’s “just right” public school—something every student deserves.

As a parent of two Oakland Unified School District students, one current and the other a graduate, I’ve experienced the difficulty of school enrollment.

Fortunately for me, I have the time, resources and patience to visit schools, learn their unique approaches to learning, and fill out the separate applications for top choice. Yet even for me, the process could have been easier and more informative.

I’ve spoken with many families who are left behind by an outdated and unfair enrollment process. They are puzzled about where to even begin.

How, where and when do I apply?

Why are there so many applications and deadlines?

How can I compare public schools and find the one that offers a focus on science and technology, or a vibrant arts program, or is simply close to home?

And how I can make sure schools are being matched to students in a way that is open, fair and does not allow some families to “game the outcome” at the expense of others?

These are fair questions that many families here in Oakland are asking.

But there’s good news—we now have an opportunity to make the school finding and enrollment experience simpler, accessible and fair, so that it works for allOakland families.

Right now, many conversations are happening around Oakland between parents, public school leaders and community members in an effort to reimagine and improve public school enrollment in our city. In recent months, I attended and contributed to several meetings around the city myself.

I urge you to attend these meetings, too, and raise your voice—it is the only way to make sure the new enrollment process reflects the needs of Oakland parents and families.

Our city and school leaders need to hear from people of all races, religions, income levels and backgrounds about their experiences with school enrollment and thoughts on how we can make it better.

Improvements to finding and enrolling in Oakland public schools will only reflect our city’s values of fairness and diversity if the diverse families who make up our city are willing to speak up.

this was originally published on

Aurora Pedroza


Guest Blogger
Oakland, California

Aurora Pedroza is a single mother of two and active community member in Oakland, who since 2005 has volunteered at her children’s schools for the Latino community.

Model Minority Myths, and Who is Most Left Behind in OUSD

Quick, which ethnic group had the highest dropout rate and lowest A-G course completion in Oakland Unified?  I bet you are wrong…It’s Pacific Islanders according to OUSD’s latest balanced scorecard .

Who had the lowest cohort graduation rates of boys of color?  Wrong again, according to an OFCY report it is Native American boys (38%), followed by Pacific Islanders (39%).

Strangely some of this may come from the success of Oakland’s Office of African American Male Achievement and targeted programs to increase achievement for those students, pushed by an advocacy community and, at times, public and media interest.

I say strangely because no group wants to be in the lead at the oppression olympics, and while just over 1 of 3 Native American boys can expect to graduate, just over half of Black boys will at 52%, and that’s not anything to celebrate.

But the relative success and the improvements in the outcomes for African American boys are something to study and think about replicating.

One size does not fit all students, and, without relying on stereotypes, different students often have different barriers, and need different solutions.  So what about partnering with EBAYC on a Pacific Islander Achievement Initiative, or the Native American Health Center and American Indian Child Resource Center on one for our Native children?

We have a long way to go in Oakland, but we are making progress.  And every long journey begins with a single step.  Now that the data is pointing out problems, what road(s) will we take?

Here is the LCAP Scorecard Summary itself (link provided in case the formatting doesn’t transfer)


Oakland Unified School District




leti p














on i




ens p




District Balanced Scorecard – 2015-16


  Cohort Graduation Cohort Dropout A‐G  

CAHSEE Pass Rate

Pathway Participation SRI

Grade 3


Grade 6


Grade 9


EL Reclassification


LTEL Reclassification

Chronic Absence SBAC ELA

(Standard Met / Standard Exceeded)

SBAC Math (Standard Met / Standard Exceeded)  
White 75.4% 16.6% 76.5% 79.9% 54.2% 78.7% 70.5% 72.4% 13.7% 6.5% 5.5% 30.9% /


28.9% /


Asia 71.5% 16.9% 60.1% 71.0% 57.2% 54.7% 45.4% 56.5% 23.1% 20.2% 4.4% 32.2% /


24.0% /


All 60.8% 23.3% 39.8% 52.0% 49.5% 42.8% 31.5% 38.0% 15.4% 21.0% 12.1% 18.9% /


13.9% /


African American Male  























9.5% /



7.0% /





African American
























13.0% /



7.4% /




Latino 54.5% 26.2% 36.2% 46.2% 54.6% 28.4% 23.8% 29.2% 13.6% 21.5% 11.2% 14.9% /


10.5% /


Pacific Islander  






















10.3% /


11.9% /




Khmer speaking  






















25.2% /


19.7% /




Mien speaking  






















22.9% /


13.6% /





Native American
























19.4% /



4.7% /




Arabic speaking  






















10.5% /


6.9% /




Low Income  






















15.9% /


11.0% /




Foster 33.3% 36.4% 0% 27.8% 40.3% 16.7% 5.6% 8.8% 14.3% 20.0% 22.7% 4.9% /


6.3% /


Student With Disabilities  























3.5% /



3.1% /





English Learners
























2.4% /



4.2% /







All goals appearing in the Balanced Scorecard appear in Oakland’s Local Control Accountability Plan. *Student groups totaling less than 11 in any academic year are excluded from this report to protect student privacy.



Who is a Public School in Oakland, and Are Charters Discriminating?

Charters are private.  They don’t serve special education students or English language learners.  They aren’t public schools and should not be part of the school options guide given to parents or a common enrollment system.  That is the chatter in Oakland among parts of the school community.

There is too much to unpack in one post, but let’s start with the question—what is a public school?  And answer one part of that—do charters provide relatively open access?

Public schools have 4 characteristics, (1) basically open access for local families, much of the costs are paid by (2) public support, they are (3) publicly managed and accountable, and they meet some (4) basic standards of fairness in serving all students.  Today we are looking at open access.

Open access means that schools should be basically free and open to the public, it does not mean that every school is or should be equipped to serve every student.  In some cases it makes sense to have specialized programs, with supports aligned to the needs of particular students, and to house those students together and consolidate the services for them.  But it should mean that within the system every child can have their needs met.  And that these specialized placements really are the exception and not the rule for special needs kids.

So do Oakland charters fit the definition of public schools in terms of open access?

Charter schools, legally, must accept every student that applies, and hold a lottery if more students apply than spots exist.  There may be some preferences for local students, disadvantaged students and a limited number of spots for founders.  I have been critical around whether every charter school, embodies this ethic, in a prior post, Getting Honest on Charter Admissions, but those are the rules, and it’s really up to us and authorizers to hold charters accountable for following rules.

And despite protestations around charters not serving English language learners and special education students, the data I found here, covering enrollment in secondary schools in Oakland, shows somewhat lower special education enrollment in charters overall and roughly equivalent enrollment of ELLs.

chtr enroll

Looking at the numbers (and would love someone to send me numbers for the entire k-12 which I could not find easily) there are some disparities, but nothing that would imply systematic discrimination per se.  And there are wide variations within charters, with some vastly over-representing the District in Sped and/or ELLs and others vastly underrepresenting.

And let’s compare with the District enrollment rules, which assign schools primarily on neighborhood of residence.  This tends to limit the best schools to the neighborhood families.  In a country where residential segregation and economic means largely determine access to quality schools, with the most disadvantaged students generally residing in neighborhoods with the worst schools.  Our current system cements economic and residential segregation as educational destiny.

So do charters provide open access?  I think some do and some don’t.  But we don’t really know because we don’t have the data.

Imagine if we did have a system to track which schools families applied to, whether they were unusual levels of attrition or non-acceptance of underserved students, and schools were held accountable on the basis of this now public information, with charters that were discriminating being closed.

Actually you don’t need to imagine it.  The system is called common enrollment, it’s being considered by OUSD as we speak, and right now 73% of the public want it and most of the anti-charter folks are fighting against it.