The meek will not inherit the earth in Oakland’s system of public school choice. Given the likelihood of school closings, they may inherit the dirt of a shuttered school, and the scraps of opportunities left after others have chosen.
Many families don’t know it, but now is the time to apply to all Oakland public schools. Open enrollment is taking place as we speak. And there is an enrollment fair on 1/20 for elementary schools. The window of opportunity to apply is open now, and when it closes, most of the highest quality schools will be full. Families on the sidelines will be on the outside looking in, and if you miss the deadlines, you may miss your chance for a better school.
Oakland is a choice district, both with charters and traditional schools, basically anyone can apply to any public school. There are some sibling and neighborhood preferences, but short of that, if there is space at a school, and you can get there, you can go to basically any school you like. For those who don’t have great neighborhood schools, or great fits for their children, the time to apply is now. And if you don’t choose you will lose.
More Choices but Unequal Choosers
Last year most families did not participate in the open enrollment period, for charters or district schools. Of the over 65,000 school aged children in Oakland less than 14,000 participated. And I will bet dollars to donuts that more privileged families exercised more choice, while many of our families who need the best schools were left in schools of default.
Some neighborhoods have many great choices and some, not so much (check the quality map later in the blog).And if you didn’t get to move to your neighborhood of choice (with the excessive price tags attached), you may need to go outside of it to get your schools of choice.
There are more options that ever in Oakland, from very traditional brick and mortar schools, to those that focus on student internships in the community. We also have bilingual programs in Spanish, French and Mandarin, a Montessori school, A Waldorf school, and highly impactful career academies in health and engineering, just to name a few.
There are also huge ranges in the proficiency and college going rates of students and also their growth at different schools. This is not just about schools, some schools have more advantaged students, but schools do matter, and there is also a lot of research about peer effects. How it affects your child to either be in a school with many high performers or many low performers.
Now more than ever, folks who often have the least neighborhood options need to make choices for their children, or they may find themselves increasingly left behind.
I have put together lists of schools that showed the most growth over the last few weeks, here is one example, but I also broke out other grade levels and subgroups.
Different Strokes for Different Folks
Not every school works for every child. And I will be highlighting over time some of the schools that are showing exemplary progress, particularly with our underserved students. But this is an opportunity for our families to get the best for their children rather than being left with the remainders. But it won’t happen by itself, and knowledge is power.
The time to visit, review and apply to schools is right now. And while I don’t have the statistics I will bet that our Black, Brown, and low income families were less likely to actively choose. We have the most to lose by not choosing, and it’s critical that we actively engage, and that our community organizations help the unengaged get engaged.
The Map of School Quality as a Final Argument
You can see that, based on OUSD’s own tool, the strategic regional analysis, different neighborhoods have very different access to educational opportunity. Lots of “red” schools are in the deep east and west, and it’s tough to find a “blue” one.
I know many of us are used to walking to our neighborhood schools, and that may still be your best answer. But you owe it to your child to really make sure. Please do your homework, and set your child up for success by getting the best possible school for them.
Every week I will be publishing the upcoming school visits in my “What’s Happening in Oakland Education” on the blog, and we will be visiting schools and trying to help answer questions from families, please reach out if I can help or you would like to share with the community. I have compiled lists of schools that showed the greatest gains for different groups on the blog as well.
There is probably no more important choice that you can make for you child, and if you wait too long, even the option of choosing will be gone.