What We Didn’t Learn from the Education Cities Report on Oakland and Educational Equality

Last week Education-Cities.org released a report detailing the education equality index, a purported measure of the size of the gap in performance of low income and non-low income students on state exams.  From the beginning something seemed a little off when I looked at the list of the schools in Oakland with the lowest gaps.  And this is not to take anything away from those schools, they are all doing great work.

However, I will bet anyone dollars to donuts that they tend to over-represent Asian students and under-represent Black ones.  I didn’t go through all the stats, but only Conservatory of Vocal/Instrumental Arts (COVA) Charter School and KIPP Bridge Charter School had more than 20% Black students, with each serving 61%.

Note that both of these are charters, and while I do have some issues with the charter sectors serving of African American students, these are some real and substantial bright spots.

I also had an issue with the actual data used, as the report stated– “Disclaimer: Because California Department of Education did not record 2014 test results, 2013 scores were used in place of nonexistent 2014 scores. Learn More”  So this is 2012-2013 data, and it does not reflect the Common Core exam, the SBAC, which is supposed to measure what is really important.

Alexander Russo did a really solid job of looking at the data and other analysts, and there are many issues here, for the data geeks click the links to see some regression graphs etc, but here is the summary of some concerns,

However, concerns began to bubble up on Twitter, including from The Seventy Four’s Matt Barnum, Mathematica’s Stephen Glazerman, and others. Why did states with higher poverty rates do better on the equality index?, asked Barnum and others.  Rutgers’ Bruce Baker Tweeted that the Equality Index “may just be least meaningful/useful/valid ‘equality’ ‘index’ I’ve seen in a long time.”

The result of these concerns was a story from The Seventy Four titled Education Cities and GreatSchools to Admit Flaw in Statewide Rankings of School Inequality: “The index it released last week ranking the school inequality gap in 100 cities and 35 states was faulty in its state comparisons.” Some additional concerns about the study can be found in this Gadfly blog post from Colorado’s Van Schoales.


I applaud the effort by Education Cities, and this is an important and understudied aspect of school performance.  All the data is out there.

We were scratching sticks with burned ends when I was in grad school, but there has to be some smart young man or woman that could actually crunch our data in a more nuanced and valuable way.

We can do statistical analysis to find schools that are serving subgroups exceptionally, we should be able to measure disproportionate discipline, and this data is available for all schools—charter-run and district-run.

While I know this is not as easy as it sounds, there was this dream that we would one day identify effective practices in schools and share them throughout school systems.  To dig beneath the surface of the data to understand what is actually happening.

I can show you high performing schools, that recruit high performing students, and keep them level, and I can show you moderately performing schools that take low performing students and accelerate their learning.  I hope that someone in Oakland will invest some resources (it won’t take much) to really build out a valid and reliable way to analyze our data and present our tentative findings in ways that are actionable for policymakers and families.

We are swimming in data right now, but without the analysis we are choking, rather than drinking it down.


Here were the top 10 schools according to the report

Up to 10 schools in each city with small or nonexistent achievement gaps that serve a student population where the majority are from low-income families were eligible to be recognized in the following list. Learn more

  • American Indian Public Charter School
  • American Indian Public High School
  • Cleveland Elementary School
  • Conservatory of Vocal/Instrumental Arts School
  • KIPP Bridge Charter School
  • Lighthouse Community Charter High School
  • Lincoln Elementary School
  • Oakland Charter Academy
  • Oakland Charter High School
  • Think College Now School


The Numbers We Are All Judged By

Zero and 0%.  The number and percentage of foster children who completed the A-G requirements in OUSD last year.

13.6% suspension rate, the highest of any tracked subgroup.

22.7% the rate of chronic absenteeism

33% cohort graduation, the lowest

These are our children.  They are often technically wards of the State.  They have been burdened by an accident of birth and continued neglect at best, and we need to do better.

Below you can see the OUSD foster youth data from their LCAP.  And over time this blog will increasingly cover the plight of these vulnerable children and look at real solutions and supports for them.  And while we often try to keep things light and funny.  There is not much to say here, except we need to do better.  WE need to do better.

There is no cavalry coming for these children or it would have already arrived.  There is only us, the existing support organizations, the chronic underfunding, and the gaping needs.  So we need to get smarter, better aligned, and listen to the needs of these kids.  I hope that we can drive change, the numbers and the human souls behind them are screaming for it.

OUSD LCAP Engagement - Foster Youth

Common Enrollment is Dead, and That is a Good Thing; for Everyone but Families

I don’t want to call it.  But checking the vital signs and virulent opposition, I think common enrollment is dead in Oakland.  It did not seem like a revolutionary idea.  But may it rest in peace.

It seemed like a good idea.  Rather than families needing to fill out 40 some different charter school applications alongside a cumbersome and opaque district enrollment process, they could view all schools in one system fill out one application for multiple schools and choose their preferred school that they were accepted into.

73% of parents said they wanted a unified system.  And that is what I hear, most parents really don’t care if the school is district-run or charter-run school—they want a quality school that treats their child fairly.

In the end though, anti-charter advocates on one end, and pro-charter advocates on the other are going to squeeze the middle.  And that middle is those underserved families who most need quality choices, families who don’t benefit from zip code enrollment, who can’t move to the clusters of relatively high performing Hills schools, or pay private school tuition.

We covered the range of arguments that the anti-charter folks have raised here and here, and some reasonable arguments against such a system, but we haven’t yet looked at why charters may not want to participate.

It was funny to hear the anti-charter folks talk about how this was some big charter school conspiracy when the charters were ambivalent at best and resistant at worst.  There were no charters pushing for common enrollment.

For most, they feared losing control of their enrollment processes—which is the school’s lifeblood–for others they have long waitlists and don’t need more applicants, and probably for some, a real public, transparent enrollment system might expose bad practices.

And beyond the specific critiques, there is widespread fear of handing anything over to the District, which has shifting personnel, priorities, and varies widely in staff commitment and capacity.  So there is no charter puppet master pulling the superintendent’s strings on this issue- or any other.

So, good news for the advocacy communities on both sides, charter-run schools won’t have the transparency and openness that many crave, and district-run schools won’t sit side by side in the enrollment process.  And parents will have diminished choices and less good data upon which to make decisions.

So, yeah, everyone wins this round, except the people that don’t view this as a game.

It is time we start privileging the voices of these parents as kings and queens, rather than sacrificing them as pawns.

RESPONSE: Former Lafayette Principal Responds to Article Detailing Former Student’s Experience

Guest post by Karen Haynes, originally posted by Charles A. Cole III

A while back, I wrote an article that discussed work happening at a West Oakland elementary school. In that article, I asked the question of who should I blame my pre-ed reform education on if a plurality of people are now blaming charter schools and big money. Former Lafayette Principal, Karen Haynes offered a thoughtful response. Enjoy. 

As a former, four-year principal of Lafayette, I had to get in on your post about the whack education you received there years ago. I have never had the opportunity to “tell my story”. Perhaps this is the forum …

Too bad you weren’t there when I, (and I say this with much humility), was one of the “bold leaders” that you refer to. You would have been one of the privileged students that took part in a “grand vision” to restructure and bring about a “renaissance” of the rich musical and cultural traditions of West Oakland, the city of my heritage. My childhood home was situated where the MLK ES parking lot is now. I remember we had a horse hitching post in front of our house and dirt sidewalks. Yes, I guess you could say, I “remember when”, but I digress.

My vision to redesign Lafayette as a public music and literacy school became a group effort. Lafayette was supported by the families, students, faculty, New England Conservatory of Music in New York, a Music Integrated Learning Education grant, the OUSD music department, Stanford University, Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, Bay Area Links, Oakland Chapter, great Bay Area musicians (Bill Bell, Pete Escovedo, Victoria Theodore, Alison Streich (OUSD Teacher of the Year), & MANY more). We had visits from high school music students that traveled in a bus all the way from Canada, MLB player C.C. Sabathia, Oakland A’s players, Oakland Symphony Ballet, and more! We even won a grant to beatify our campus!! My vision was not however, supported by SOME “higher ups” in the district.

Data from the music program shows incredible student achievement! Several students received music grants from the Young Musicians Program at Cal Berkeley with guaranteed college scholarships, several students matriculated to middle schools for performing arts and are doing exceptionally well, and many students perform all over the Bay Area with the Oakland Spirit Orchestra. No one views this qualitative data as a marker of success.

In its entirety, the 4-year restructuring was a success, not perfect, but excellent!!! Students, families, and staff were clamoring to get in and dismayed when I left. I left a good sampling of what educational reform and drastic change could look like. Too bad you weren’t there then!

Our dream is now, as Langston Hughes coined the phrase, a “dream deferred”. A dream deferred because of a financial attraction to funding by a large corporation for STEM corridor programming. Our efforts to convince the corporation, and SOME OUSD “higher ups” that music, is, was, and always has been, STEM-related (think “Physics of Sound”, for example), was negated. The big bucks won out.

My over-arching point: It doesn’t matter what visions the “bold leader” has if those visions are not aligned to the grander visions of the higher-ups or the restructuring (sometimes large corporate entities). Bold leaders need autonomy and a belief by their employer in their ability to “make a dream come alive” for students, families, and teachers.

Believe me, it would not have mattered if Lafayette had been a charter, private, or magnet school as long as West Oakland children and their families thrived. I make no apology for attempting to maintain high hopes and unlimited potential for Lafayette.

I wish you had been part of the dream I/WE had for Lafayette. I believe your education would have been anything BUT whack!

This originally appeared on Oneoaklandunited.org

Hearing the Silent Screams of Students Before It’s Too Late

It was a short note.  “I am sorry, I am not dropping out but I won’t be coming back to school, thank you for everything, I’m sorry.”

But it activated a red alert at the school, immediate calls to family, and a staff member dispatched to do a home visit.

The student had overdosed on their prescription meds, quaffing the whole bottle.  They were found in time and are recovering.

The signs of distress are easy to miss.  I have missed them myself before.  But this time we got it.

These are the real stories of our schools and children.

Sadness, depression, mental health struggles and hopeful recoveries.  Though they often don’t end so happily.  And these students need help.

The statistics are clear here

  • Suicide is the SECOND leading cause of death for college-age youth and ages 12-18. (2013 CDC WISQARS)
  • More teenagers and young adults die from suicide than from cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia, influenza, and chronic lung disease, COMBINED.
  • Each day in our nation there are an average of over 5,400 attempts by young people grades 7-12.
  • Four out of Five teens who attempt suicide have given clear warning signs

This highlights the need for attuned staff that can read between the lines of a muffled cry for help.  Who take time to understand what this child is trying to say even when they don’t utter the words.

A Missed Cry and Lost Child

One of my most painful and enduring memories is the cry I missed.  It’s hard to even write about it years later.  He was one of my favorite kids, forged in extreme hardship…extreme hardship.  He had been expelled from a District school for pulling a knife on a child who was harassing him about his murdered mother.  And our charter embraced him.

He was one of those kids with a pure heart, you wonder how he maintained it given everything he had been through, but there was an earnestness to this child that is usually suffocated, that breathed large.  But he had learned some bad habits, and after long deliberations we moved him to another building, and another class.

He didn’t do well there, a couple of times, I was called as the resident lawyer to help him negotiate cop problems.  And back then they were just waiting for our kids—they had these unmarked cars and they would just watch the kids and note who they hung with and assume they were gang affiliated.

He took his own life that summer, cut his wrists and hung himself to be sure.

We missed the signs, the muffled cries, that went silent.  The screams that he never released.

I am sad, but I always think of that child, and in his community the beliefs are not so much that people pass from this world, but that the ancestors are with us.

And when I am tired, sick and tired, frustrated, or just want to do something easier, I know this child is sitting over my shoulder and hoping that I do better.  That I listen more, that I am more empathetic.

And I am listening, and while it’s deeply troubling to see the pain that these kids hold, we are doing better.  And at least in this case we heard the cry before it was too late.  I just hope we can all be better listeners going forward.