After Common Enrollment, What’s Next for Equity in OUSD

Oakland’s raucous debate around including all public schools—charters and district-run in a single enrollment system—is literally much ado about nothing.  Common enrollment will not happen in the short term in Oakland—the politics are too hot, and the real beneficiaries, Oakland parents stranded without satisfactory neighborhood schools are relegated to the sidelines.  The debate dominated by interest groups narrowly pursuing interests.

I know that some see common enrollment as some stealthy charter conspiracy.  You are wrong, charters don’t want to hand their enrollment to the district, and I think you will be lucky to see more than a handful of charters coming out for the proposal.  Nor would I expect the charter association, the statewide advocacy group, to support common enrollment, as it sacrifices school autonomy.

On the “other side” are supporters of district-run schools, who believe that common enrollment will draw more students away from district schools, undermining the district’s financial stability.  So, yeah looking purely from self- interest of the professionals, common enrollment makes little sense.

It does make sense to parents though, but they will be squeezed by each “side” and likely lose.  The only survey I have seen, which is admittedly unscientific, but is a relatively unbiased statement, is copied below

“Would you prefer to only have to complete one application and enrollment process  for all public schools in Oakland (District and Charter)?”, overwhelmingly showed that families wanted this—Yes (316) 73.3%,  No (115) 26.7%.

And note that the survey overrepresented OUSD district-run school parents.   Roughly a quarter of Oakland families attend a charter, while only 7% of survey respondents did.  Here are the respondents. I have a child/children in an OUSD District school. (368) 83.3% I have a child/children in an OUSD Charter school. (30) 6.8% I have a child/children attending a private school in Oakland. (40) 9% I have a child/children who will be school aged in the future. (72) 16.3% I have a child/children who have graduated/left OUSD. (29) 6.6%

If anyone has better, more representative data, I would love to see it and include it.  If not, I am not sure what the argument is against common enrollment, from a parent’s perspective; that Oakland families don’t understand what they want?

Better Enrollment

Even if common enrollment dies a premature death, OUSD should change and improve the enrollment process.  Moving away from a paper system at one central site at Westlake is a good start.

We need regional, culturally competent, neighborhood centers that work with and through community based organizations.  I can imagine new neighborhood based storefronts as well as a set of pop up enrollment centers on mobile laptop carts, rolling out to preschools, churches and community centers, led by folks from the community.

And as we analyze academic growth, and include a range of school culture indicators in the district balanced scorecard, we should be able to provide better information to parents, to help them get the right fit.  And let’s disaggregate data so families can understand how subgroups are doing and what services are available at what sites.

Technology helps with this in other industries.  Think Eharmony, Farmersonly, and even Yelp.  These are some of the most important decisions for families and they are made on some of the thinnest information, with our most underserved parents tending to exercise the least effective choices.  Resultingly our most highly impacted children are increasingly concentrated in schools of default.

That seems to me the “real” problem.  Common enrollment was a proposed strategy to address it.

What Equity Requires

Common enrollment grew as part of the Equity Pledge.  We need an “equity pledge” because the dynamics of current system work against equity.  The myriad of individual choices that families (quite justifiably in my opinion) make to give their child the best chance can have the effect of reducing opportunities for other families.  And we need to make a pledge because making the system fairer may actually hurt individual actors or schools.

Talking to families, I think there is real support for common enrollment, but I honestly don’t know.  I also think a well-designed common enrollment process could expand opportunity and increase equity.  But again I really don’t know.

But neither does anyone else, and nobody can claim to speak for families until they broadly ask them.  And, if not common enrollment, then what?

Assigning schools largely on segregated housing patterns is sure to reinforce segregation, privilege, and disadvantage.  I really think most folks are honest in this debate and want more equity.  So if not common enrollment how do we increase the access to higher quality schools for underserved families?

If common enrollment is resisted and rejected, then what is next?  The current dynamics are predictable, and to silently allow them to continue is the real atrocity.

Proof Points on Reform- Coliseum College Prep Academy

We hear so much about the real and purported failures in Oakland Unified that the successes get lost.  And a big exclamation of District success is Coliseum College Prep Academy (CCPA), formerly Havenscourt, a school boasting a 91% cohort graduation rate and serving Flatland kids.

It wasn’t always like this.

Havenscourt may have had a golden age, but it had passed by the time I came to Oakland.  I knew Havenscourt by reputation.  Our parents had stories, bad stories, and they were schlepping their children across the City to get away.

In 2006, Havensourt school was divided into Roots International Academy middle school and Coliseum College Prep Academy, which is a 6-12.  I have long argued for the logic of 6-12, k-8, or K-12 schools, and research shows that the less transitions children make between distinct schools, the better they do academically and emotionally.

So we can see one structural change the school made, but what else is going on there, and how can we do more of it at other schools?

Something special is happening  at CCPA, and while nothing is ever easy or finished, we can learn and we can do better.   And as several of our comprehensive high schools look at “transformation” or whatever the particular term is, I hope that they will look at CCPA.

I think there are lessons there for all of us.

“750 destroyers” or 750 families?

It’s hard to keep your eyes open during the 8 hour OUSD board meetings, but sometimes you hear something so peculiar that you are jarred awake.  And when you actually watch the meetings the craziness tends to slap you in the face.

So yeah, the families who attend Lighthouse Charter were called “destroyers” of public education, every one of them, because they chose a charter public school.  At the same time a group of families from one of the District schools came to protest.

The district-run school had a host of issues.  Their 5th graders had a substitute up until December, sometimes no sub would show up and they would break the class in half and send them to kindergarten.  One parent came and talked about how she had to take her child out because they were falling behind.  I wonder if she is a “destroyer” too.

First if you are poor, Black, Brown, Native, Pacific Islander, a foster kid, an English learner, or one of the other groups traditionally underserved, from my perspective there ain’t much to destroy, we have always gotten the short end of the stick, I guarantee you can find multiple lawsuits and multiple findings on the way disadvantaged kids are systematically misserved—I worked on one.

So as I have argued before, there is no golden age for us to look back to (others may view the system differently)—and if you actually look, numerically things are way better than they were 15 years ago for disadvantaged and all kids, and the trends are positive.  Here are some comparisons from 15 years ago to last year.

  • Cohort graduation went from 25% to 60.8%
  • UC/CSU eligibility for all students from 7% to 39.8%
  • UC/CSU eligibility for African American students went from 2.9% to 23.6%

So I guess, if we listen to the destroyer language, the Lighthouse families should enroll their kids in the school with a half year or full year subs.  Don’t think there is any room at Hills schools for our kids, or in Piedmont.

And those that critique Lighthouse aren’t running to help the families who came to protest substandard services, it’s a lot easier to just lob bombs than engage with our families and try to understand the actual choices they are faced with.

And why is it Black and Brown families that are supposed to sacrifice their kids on the altar of “public” education.  I don’t hear attacks on the many families who (can) choose private schools.  And I don’t hear calls for the folks in more elite public schools to desegregate the Flatlands.  No, it’s always on us.

I have a kid, I would never subject him to full year subs if I could help it, so yeah if that’s what we are destroying, call me a “destroyer.”

Better that, than see my child destroyed by the system.

Please follow me on twitter , facebook, or join the blog to the upper right on this page

Good News on OUSD Grad Rates and Finances, Equity Still an Issue

Despite the chorus of moaning, groaning, and bemoaning at OUSD Board meetings, things are going relatively well.  Graduation rates are up among Black and Latino students, and overall, continuing significant trends.  The District is showing a positive fund balance, and approval from the public is at the highest point in decades.

Obviously the job isn’t done, and for our most underserved students there is a marathon to sprint, but looking at the data, things are better.

Here are some of the data highlights, from the District’s press release

  • (the) four-year graduation rate increased by 3.7 percentage points, from 60.9% to 64.6%. Over the past three years, the graduation rate in Oakland’s public schools has climbed steadily, from 59.6% in 2012 to 64.6% in 2015.
  • African American male students showed a major 6.9 percentage point increase, from 52.6% in 2014 to 59.7% in 2015. The rate for all African American students increased by 3.3%, from 57.4% in 2014 to 60.7% in 2015.
  • Latino students also showed an increase of 1.5 percentage points, from 54.4% in 2014 to 55.9% in 2015.
  • English Language Learner students increased by 6.4 percentage points, from 44.5% in 2014 to 50.9% in 2015.
  • Students with Disabilities increased by 9.6 percentage points, from 46.6% in 2014 to 56.2% in 2015.
  • The graduation rate for foster youth showed the biggest gain, an increase of 23.7 percentage points, from 34.4% in 2014 to 58.1% in 2015.


The growth in these underserved student groups is incredibly important and the result of well-planned and hard work, like the African American Male Achievement initiative.   Though there is still immense work to be done.  And we should double down on that work and think about how we cater to other underserved groups.

Not Everyone Is Seeing Progress, and Progress Is not Enough

Even amidst the progress reported, there are huge challenges.  Nobody can be satisfied with a system where 1 in 3 students predictably won’t graduate.  And not every subgroup improved.

Pacific Islander’s graduation rates decreased from 56.5% to 53.7%.  While student numbers were low for Native students, only 16 graduates, the graduation rate was only 43.8%, the lowest of any racial subgroup, and a significant downturn from the prior year.

But overall, Oakland is moving in the right direction, student outcomes and disparities are improving.  We still have yawning achievement gaps, and real issues with segregating underserved children in the lowest achieving schools, but graduation rates are improving.

This academic progress is buttressed by financial stability and relatively high approval rates found in the parcel tax survey, which I summarize below (or GO Public Schools did and I took their language).

OUSD’s financial Status

According to the third interim executive summary:

  • The district is projected to have a positive unrestricted fund balance of $17.6 M, which is an increase of approximately $1.7 million from the second interim report
  • The general fund projected unrestricted revenues are expected to increase by a net of approximately $1.9 million, due to $1 million net adjustments in prior year revenues and $0.9 million of LCFF revenues from an increase in average daily attendance (ADA)
  • Expenditures and uses are expected to increase by approximately $2.1 million, due to an increase of $1.2 million in the contribution to programs for exceptional children (PEC) and $.9 million in one time audit findings

So despite challenges and new initiatives, Oakland is operating on balanced books.  We still need more money for our kids but as opposed to other periods of innovation, we are improving while creating relatively sustainable budgets.

Parcel Tax Survey Results

The public has noticed the progress and is showing the greatest levels of support for the district in decades.  This is all interrelated, because this support can turn into funding, through another parcel tax, as GO stated

“The board will hear the results of a poll commissioned by the district to explore the possibility of a November 2016 parcel tax. The contracted polling firm conducted 601 interviews with likely voters and received the following results:

32% of Oaklanders surveyed believe that OUSD is doing either an excellent or good job, the highest rate since 1994. At only 18%, the rate of Oaklanders who believe OUSD is doing a poor job is also at its lowest rate since 1994.

34% of Oaklanders believe that the quality of education in OUSD has increased in the last 2-3 years, the highest rate since 2001.

Over 70% of Oaklanders surveyed would support a parcel tax measure for OUSD, with this number increasing for a parcel tax with a 10-year sunset.”

I don’t think our work will ever end in Oakland but looking at some of the most important indicators, graduation rates, financial stability, and public support, OUSD is doing pretty well.

Below you can see the chart I created showing disaggregated graduation rates over the last 2 years.

Race/Ethnicity 2014




Cohort Students





Cohort Graduates






Cohort Graduation Rate






cohort Dropouts







Cohort Drop

outs Rate

Hispanic or Latino of Any Race 836 845 455 472 54.4 55.9 221 234 26.4 27.7
American Indian or Alaska Native, Not Hispanic * 16 * * 80.0 43.8 * * 10.0 56.3
Asian, Not Hispanic 430 379 312 300 72.6 79.2 69 52 16.0 13.7
Pacific Islander, Not Hispanic 46 41 26 22 56.5 53.7 13 15 28.3 36.6
Filipino, Not Hispanic 26 18 16 18 61.5 100.0 * * 23.1 0.0
African American, Not Hispanic 848 766 485 465 57.2 60.7 222 203 26.2 26.5
White, Not Hispanic 180 184 134 139 74.4 75.5 34 30 18.9 16.3
Two or More Races, Not Hispanic, Not Hispanic 25 28 16 19 64.0 67.9 * * 24.0 17.9
Not Reported 14 * * * 64.3 77.8 * * 35.7 22.2

When the District Gets it Right- Study Abroad for Flatlands kids

When Thrival Academy’s co founder described their program, a year abroad for 20 Oakland kids, studying and learning about the culture of a faraway land and themselves through academic internships, I thought it was a great idea.  But the District would never approve it.  There are a million reasons to say no and only one reason to say yes—it’s good for kids.

But that is not usually what it’s about.

Sometimes, I am happy to be wrong, and to eat my words, eating crow can taste good.  By all accounts the school is on track to open in the Fall, and just ironing out the final details.  They didn’t even have to go the charter route, but are doing it within the District, which is usually where good ideas go to die.

This is great news for Oakland families.  Many students literally live within their neighborhoods.  Though San Francisco is only a train away, I was always shocked by how many of our students went there for the first time with our schools. This is what the schools should be doing.  Opening worlds and options for students, engaging them in their passions.

You want to engage a kid, take them Thailand.  And no it’s not for everyone, but it will be an amazing an unforgettable experience for some kids.

And Thrival did not cherry pick, it’s Mac, Fremont, Castlemont and MetWest students that will get this opportunity.

Kids and families are excited. I loved the story of kid at Castlemont who had bonded with his father around Muay Thai fighting.  This young man just lit up, shocked and elated that he could do an internship that studied his passion, in Thailand.

Our kids don’t get these opportunities, I could bemoan the “fake classes” all year subs, and all the problems in OUSD.  But this is a win for our kids, and I applaud the district for embracing it.

Right now this crow is tasting like crab.