Oakland was showcased in the recent Times article, “Oakland District at the Heart of Drive to Transform Urban Schools.” And while I appreciate the coverage, the article focused too much on the elite adult arguments and too little on the opinions and needs of actual underserved Oakland parents.
Oakland is increasingly a forum, where a small group of vocal protesters are drowning out the voices of our most challenged parents, the parents who really need quality options. And while protesters’ children attend quality schools, they decry the desire for better schools from others, for those who can’t move to the Hills. And I think the Times missed the real story here which is buried in some of the final paragraphs.
Much of the copy was focused on the contentious battles over “privatization”, or the supposed “corporate oligarchy” that superintendent Antwan Wilson is alleged to represent.
And lost or buried were the voices of everyday parents. Those that struggle to pay their bills, live in sometimes dangerous neighborhoods, and are assigned to sometimes dangerous schools. These parents don’t have the luxury to sit through 4 hour board meetings, or engage in marches or protests. They are taking care of their children, fighting to make rent, holding down difficult jobs, and generally don’t have much slack time or energy.
And let’s be real, for many of us darkies. We don’t look back to some grand era of public education. Most of us aren’t conservative, because what is there to conserve. Every public education system in the U.S. has been rigged against us, and many of us think they still are.
Oakland is still involved in a consent decree around its treatment of African American students, I worked on a decades old case that is probably still active on services to English learners, I guarantee you there are active suits on services to kids with special needs, and as I have outlined before, and the numbers show—Oakland is the most income segregated district in the country with low income students largely being relegated to the worst schools. These facts predate common enrollment, the current Superintendent, and charter schools. And I bet they will all outlast him.
To me this is the key text in the article;
‘Kenetta Jackson, a housing administrator and a mother of two, decided the local school in her East Oakland neighborhood was “not up to my personal standards.” Her daughter, now 16, and son, 13, have attended charter schools in the Aspire Public Schools network since they were in kindergarten. Ms. Jackson said she did not understand the debates about the merits of charter schools. “It’s a lot of politics beyond my reach,” she said. “I’m more concerned about my children’s education. I personally think that Aspire came and saved Oakland public schools because if they didn’t come, I would be paying an arm and a leg for my kids to go to some private school somewhere, and who can afford that?”
For his part, Mr. Wilson says he is neither for nor against charters. “I want effective schools,” he said in an interview in his offices in downtown Oakland.’
And indeed the families in Oakland want the same thing—73% of them, in a survey, said they wanted one common enrollment application for charters and district schools. Which is an astounding majority in a very skeptical city.
So for those who think we need to return to some golden era in Oakland, I don’t see it—at least not for my kids. For those who think we are moving too fast—I don’t think that the average Flatlands parents would agree. And for those screaming about oligarchs and philanthrocaptialists—please take some time to listen to actual underserved families.
For too long poor Black and Brown folks have listened to privileged, largely White folks, lecture us about how we should sacrifice our children on the altar of public education, getting the scraps of schools that they would never send their own children to. It’s time that we start to privilege the voices of the people like Ms. Jackson, those who really need good schools for their children, and the 73% of parents who want common enrollment as a way to find the best school for their child.
So I appreciate the Times covering Oakland, I just hope that coverage looks to the voices of those most affected, rather than just the loudest yellers.