Oakland Charter-run and District-run schools by the Numbers

Thank you OUSD for throwing some hard numbers into the charter school debates.  While I missed 2/22/16 Board engagement session (I was in NYC), I did look at the materials.

Big takeaways; students at charter-run schools tend to perform somewhat better on state tests and be more economically disadvantaged.  While district-run schools had somewhat greater percentages of special education students and those learning English.

I have to caution that this data is not an endpoint but a starting point, where we can dig deeper and really understand what is happening, and I hope that is how we use it.

Charter Demographics

Oakland has 44 charters of its 130 school portfolio, with a higher percentage of charters, 78.1%, being significantly low income (75% or higher free/reduced lunch) than district schools, which were at 56.1%.

I consolidated some of the categories and percentages below.

Race/ethnicity/group Charter run schools District run schools
African American 19.2% 29.5%
Asian 10.7% 10.6%
Latino 54.7% 42.9%
White 6.4% 10.5%
Other 8.9% 6.5%
English Learners 24.1% 29.6%
Students with IEPs 7.8% 11.6%


This confirms what many have known both good and bad.  First, charters have some work to do in serving Black children in Oakland. Part of this is geography, and the placement of schools.

The addition of Castlemont Community Transformation Schools and the expansion of KIPP to do elementary school in West Oakland will make some differences, but we need to keep working to meet the needs of these students, who really have been too often left behind in reform.

In a similar vein there were somewhat lower rates of special education students and English learners in charters than district schools.  And I know the numbers of each group vary widely from school to school, with some charters having 20% or more special education students, and others having very low numbers, same with English learners.

We will be looking much harder at these numbers over time to help tease out what really is happening.  And whether students at charters are less likely to be identified for services, or whether there is a more pushing out of higher needs students as critics have suggested.

Student performance on the Smarter Balanced Assessments

Charter-run District-run
Math 33.8% 20.4%
ELA 42.0% 24.5%


Students at charter-run schools outperformed on both math and ELA by between 13-22% respectively.  This is significant, but needs more analysis, and breaking apart by demographics.  We also look at the top performing schools in Oakland and a bit about their location.  With all of the top performing charter schools being Flatlands schools.


Charter run % proficient Hills/


District-run % proficient Hills/


Oakland Charter High (83%) Flatlands Peralta Elementary (81%) Hills, but its debatable by geography
Downtown Charter Academy (76%) Flatlands Chabot Elementary (79%) Hills
American Indian Public High (74%) Flatlands Hillcrest Elementary (79%) Hills


I appreciate getting some facts to start to analyze and move what has been a very hot debate around charters in Oakland that did not have much light.  We need to keep digging as a community to understand the numbers and make the best choices we can, so that every child gets the best chance at a great school, with one eye trained on equity and the other squarely on quality.

This was a good first step in a long journey.

Why I Testified in Vergara and Why It Still Matters

(Guest Blog by Brandon DeBose Jr. is a recent graduate of Oakland public schools and is one of nine plaintiffs in the historic education equality lawsuit, Vergara v. California.)

I distinctly remember the day I stepped into the courtroom for the very first time.

My story made headlines throughout the country—the day a Los Angeles County Superior Court began to hear our lawsuit, Vergara v. California. I am one of the nine student plaintiffs in Vergara who publicly shared their story in hopes of making a difference for public school students throughout California just like us.

I did my best to tell my story, sharing my experiences as a student who was eager to learn, but receiving an education considered “less than.”

And my experiences were confirmed by the overwhelming evidence presented throughout the trial.

The evidence showed that a student assigned to a grossly ineffective math teacher in Los Angeles loses nearly 12 months of learning per year compared to a student assigned to a teacher of average effectiveness. The evidence also revealed that the least effective teachers in the state are disproportionately placed in schools serving predominately low-income students and students of color.

Quality education should be available to all students equally, a notion that inspired not only Vergara but other movements such as #BlackMindsMatter and its effort tolevel the playing field for students of color. And it is also part of the reason why I testified and chose to speak honestly about the harmful effects a few ineffective teachers had on my ability to learn and succeed.

But that’s not all this case is about.


On the stand, many of the other student plaintiffs spoke of the extraordinary impact inspiring teachers had on them—the kind of teachers who ignite curiosity, bring concepts to life and put students on the right track for success.

In reality, these are the teachers who inspired the Vergara lawsuit in the first place—because every child in California should be fortunate enough to have an incredible, effective teacher at the front of their classroom every single year.

In June 2014, a few months following the conclusion of the trial, the court handed down a strong ruling in our favor. It was a resounding victory that gave me, and countless families across California, the hope that having a quality teacher in every classroom is becoming more and more of a possibility.

What I wanted when I first stepped foot in the courtroom two years ago—and still want today—is to see that vision of an awesome teacher in every classroom in California’s public schools become a reality. I want all California kids, regardless of where they live, how much money their parents make, or the color of their skin, to have the quality education they deserve.


Two years later, we’re on the cusp of another court hearing, this time in the appeal of Vergara. While some things have changed since the trial, California’s public education system remains the same. Many students throughout the state, especially low-income students and students of color, are still trapped in classrooms with bad, ineffective teachers who don’t inspire the students and—as the evidence in Vergara showed—actually hold students back.

Year after year, these ineffective teachers are robbing kids of learning, hurting their chances of post-high school opportunities. That is why it’s more important than ever the Vergara decision is upheld.

The reality is, I’m no longer a K-12 public school student like I was when I began this journey as a plaintiff in Vergara. The Vergara case is no longer about me or changing the course of my future, it’s about changing the future of generations of California kids coming up in the public school system behind me—especially the ones who, like me, are eager to learn but are denied the opportunity. I want to make sure kids in Oakland and other communities throughout California have the opportunity to learn from effective teachers who educate and inspire them every single year they are in school.

I hope the court once again does what’s right for California’s kids.

I Saw the Devil- The Need for a Better Abuser List

I saw the Devil.

Twice. The first time, I worked at a group home.  A small voice, without shaking, said the devil visited him while he slept, and slipped a hand under the covers.  That was almost 30 years ago.

Then I saw the devil again.

This time a former resident from the home sent me a facebook picture, the devil was some kind of swimming coach, young boys in Speedos surrounding him in Upstate NY.

I dropped a dime the first time, reported him as mandated.

But it was “unfounded”.

He went back to work there, doing overnights, alone with the kids.  Eventually the bosses found out, maybe they couldn’t prove it, but the bosses knew, and he was let go.

Not criminally charged, that would be embarrassing, but let go.  Let go, to work somewhere else, and do the same things.  Did I mention he was a wrestling coach, something is viscerally repulsive in even typing that.

Shane’s Story

“Shane” was a kid from the home, love him, still see him.  He is grown with kids now.  One time at the home, he came back from a visit to a staff member’s house.  Yeah back then you could take the kids to your house when working.  “Effing (derogatory term for a gay man)” he was muttering with increasing volume.

I knew something was up, didn’t want to punish him, but he wouldn’t say what was going on.  Asked him to just go to his room and he did.

15 years later, I see Shane.  I still remembered that day, and asked him about it.  The staff member had put his hand on Shane’s leg and moved it up.  Shane was one of those kids who really didn’t take shit, he was a fighter.  And it stopped.

This guy too, eventually, was found out, let go, not charged, in the wind, somewhere else.

I really thought they had caught the devil.

I didn’t think he could still be around kids.  With tears of frustration I called the State, and a couple of other numbers.  Unless I had the kid (probably dozens) who were the victims, I couldn’t complain.  He wasn’t on “the list.”

We need a better list

USA Today, ran an article showing how abusive teachers can move state to state after being dismissed for misconduct and often evade suspicion.  But in reality they often don’t even have to move.

You see, it sadly is in everyone’s (except the kids) interest for folks to just move on.  You may not be able to legally prove what you know, you might get sued, and it’s embarrassing (to say the least) for the organization who put the likely pedophile with your kids.  So employer and employee both call it a day, and abusers move on to new hunting grounds.

Similar story in NYC, the Department of Education has an “ineligible list” folks suspected of nefarious activities, or even those caught, where it’s not really a crime.  They were ineligible to work in the district schools.  The list was not shared.

A real example, a teacher had sex with a student who was over 18, the guy was put on this list.  However, back then, not sure of now, the list was not shared with charters or other districts, so this same teacher taught at two other charters, that I know of, probably other districts etc.

These folks just keep shuffling on, so we need a better list.

I personally think that sex offender lists are over inclusive, and potentially overly punitive.  But we need a list, a national list, where folks can lodge official suspicions, and maybe as 3 of those pile up, then your name gets a yellow flag on the background check.  6 or more, red flag.  Making this up as I go.  It’s not that simple, but it’s not unduly complicated either.

Yes this will hurt the employment prospects of some folks unfairly, but I see the costs of our inaction.  And in the tradeoff between some folks can’t work with kids and fewer kids will get hurt.  I weigh in on the latter.

I still see the devil, and right now, short of beating his ass, there is nothing I can do.

He is coaching swimming, adorned by young boys in Speedos.



New York’s Unlegislated Charter Cap

Judging by the numbers, the so-called charter movement is dead in NY.  Seriously, when you count the number of charter schools that are being closed and subtract them from new charter approvals, you are about at zero last year.

This was never legislated, immense needs still exist, and more than anything it shows the triumph of bureaucracy.  It’s not that there aren’t qualified planning teams, or communities desiring more options, it is under-resourced charter authorizers.  In an aside from my usual petulance, I am angry, but almost can’t blame them, almost.

New York has two statewide authorizers, State University of New York, Charter Schools Institute (SUNY) and the State Education Department (SED).  So far, from the 2015 authorizing year (SUNY still has an active round), SED approved 4 schools and SUNY approved 2.  By far the fewest approvals in any non-charter cap year (last 2 years were 26 and 25 approvals respectively).

NYC’s Department of Education still oversees several schools, but can’t approve any new ones (which given the state of the department and its charter office is a blessing).  So it’s 6 on the plus side, with a few more likely.

On the minus side, NYC DoE is trying to close 4 schools (its “process” has been completely arbitrary in the past and prior revocations have not held up in court), SUNY had 3 non-renewals, and I didn’t find any for SED.  So that’s minus 7 potentially.

So what is up?

Quoting SUNY trustee Joseph Belluck, “I will say this now: I am not scheduling a vote on a single charter, a new charter, until there are additional resources allocated to the Charter School Institute,” as reported in a chalkbeat article.

I appreciate SUNY’s honest. They did approve more schools, are a very high quality authorizer (though I have my squabbles around the diversity in their portfolio), and they are right.  You can’t expand the schools and keep the same quality of oversight without more funding.

SED is more opaque, but basically the same thing is happening.  The Charter School Office has had a vacant Director position for months, and I don’t believe it’s listed, creating a key leadership gap.  And even when the job was filled, by generally bright folks, it paid garbage, so they eventually moved on to greener pastures.  Another lack of investment in an office with increasing responsibilities, and approvals have been fewer and further between.

We (the NY charter School Incubator, a program of my non-profit, Great School Choices) worked with teams who applied to SED this year, who would have definitely gotten an interview in prior years, and some would have gotten approved.  They universally got crickets.

Chalkbeat initially reported on the rejection of every charter in the first round noting some strong replications, “Three of the applicants already operated schools and wanted to replicate their models. One of them, Growing Up Green Charter School II, even received an endorsement from Assembly education committee chair Catherine Nolan, whose staunch ally, the teachers union, opposes the growth of charter schools.”  Folks were miffed.

I know the standards, I run a charter incubator that has helped directly start 19 schools and probably read another 30-40 charter applications, and been doing this in NY for almost a decade.  The standard is different now, not necessarily higher or better, but more designed to turn schools down, and more opaque in those rationales.

This has costs, very talented, committed and passionate people who devoted immense time energy and resources into applications, are left stranded.  They reel back in that entrepreneurial energy and go back to teaching, their university job, look at other states to work in, or just leave the education arena.

Communities that organized around schools are left sapped and demoralized, with the same challenges, needs and educational gaps.  And worse still, in a state where only 4.4 percent of all English language learners and 5.7 percent of students with disabilities were proficient in English Language Arts. Where there are yawning racial achievement gaps, and an undeniable need for better options for students, that those families are left waiting.

If we want good charter schools, we have to invest in good charter authorizing.  Sadly I don’t see the first really happening yet, and unless we do, we will see less new schools, less oversight, more scandals and declining educational options for communities, while over 40,000 families sit on waiting lists in NYC alone.

It’s ironic, that for a “movement” that is supposedly so well-funded, that was able to overcome so many objections and very formidable opponents, that we should find our well heeled boots stuck in the bureaucratic mud of Albany.  Let’s not be penny wise and pound foolish.  Our kids and families can’t wait.



Is Success Academy Getting a Raw Deal?

Once again, disturbing practices at NYC’s Success Academy Charter Management Organization have surfaced.  This time it’s a teacher dressing down a first grader, it’s tough to watch, but here’s the video.  Earlier this year the CMO was under scrutiny for its so-called “Got to go“ list.

To some Success is getting undue scrutiny, and to others it’s a matter of chickens coming home to roost, for me its somewhere in between.

I was there when Success was birthed (well during its terrible twos), I visited Success 1 as the newly minted CEO of the NYC Charter Center (a meeting where the CEO, Eva Moskowitz told me within the first 2 minutes that the organization I ran was a “waste of 41 fucking million dollars” and that the money should go straight to schools, to which I laughed genuinely, and said something to the effect that it was my first day).

Who knows, maybe she was right.

The story is not only funny, but important, because Success is inevitably linked to its founder, former city councilwoman, Eva Moskowitz.  And her outsized personality has moved the charter agenda forward (for some schools), but also garnered immense push back.  Some is deserved and some undeserved.

And no, the Borg is not controlling me.  These are my words, no gun is to my head.

I also don’t want to excuse these very real issues.  I have a host of substantive critiques of Success and some real substantive compliments.  But for some reason, there has always been something extra about the vitriol that Eva has encountered.

When I moved to NY, I heard her referred to with some rhyming names (use your imagination it’s not hard) that had a gendered character to them by mostly, if not exclusively, men (Mosko….).  Many of whom worked with or beside Success Academies, so these were her friends.  Can only imagine what her enemies would say.

She did charge hard, but I wonder whether the same type of invectives she got would be hurled at a man in the same position, with the same venom.  Or whether a man would have to charge as hard to be effective.  Dunno.

I have met parents on both sides of the debate—those who love the experiences their kids get at Success, who watched children prosper in ways that seemed unlikely at other non-selective public schools, and those parents whose kids were not a “fit”.

The video in this case was a moment in time, of a very large network of schools, and I would not want to walk this teacher off the plank, or judge and condemn the network based on this.  And unfortunately, a lot of schools, if taped could find similar episodes, which does not make it right.  But we should not be lodged in some Casablanca moment (gambling at the casino—I am shocked, some teachers at some times treat our kids with little concern or respect-unbelievable).  All too commonly, adults in schools do debase students, particularly powerless ones.

So is Success, and Eva, getting a raw deal?  Yeah I actually think so.  Not because they are blameless or that the actions are excusable, but because there are a host of other schools, where kids are treated equally or worse when the door closes, and there is no counterbalancing academic program.  And in the olympics of maltreatment I guess that’s worse.

And that is sad.  That for mostly poor Black and Brown folks, that those are the choices we have, and that is what is tolerated.

And that is on us for not creating better choices to begin with.