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.

When Good Intentions Go Bad, Opportunity Hoarders and Equity in Oakland

Existing rules and the dynamics of choice tend to increase inequality.  There don’t need to be any bad actors.  As parents we all do try to do the best we can for our children.  But that pattern of choices, and neighborhood assignment, tend to reinforce and increase the distance between children of advantage and those without.

I had some great feedback formal and informal on my last blog, Choosers, Losers, Abusers and “Opportunity Hoarding” in Oakland, and it got hundreds of views a day, Anna a thoughtful reader, noted

I think a main takeaway re: “opportunity hoarding” is that it can occur even when people’s stated intentions are to increase equity–as both those pro and those against common enrollment would describe themselves. See http://neatoday.org/2015/10/21/how-good-schools-and-good-intentions-widen-the-achievement-gap/ andhttps://tressiemc.com/2016/01/28/the-limits-of-education-reform-a-road-paved-with-the-best-intentions/

I wish there had been a more creative and (IMO) progressive solution to revamp enrollment on the table; as I think the writer of the second blog post would say, in a choice-based system like Oakland’s, we can be assured that those with privilege will continue to be “choosers,” regardless of whether charters are part or separate or combined lottery. For instance, what if all schools (district and charter) that would otherwise fill up at the initial lottery phase were required to set aside a certain number of slots for foster and former foster kids?

The articles cited, particularly the second one, are a bit wonky but insightful.  The short of it; the persistence and reproduction of racial inequality, within schools, and between schools won’t be solved by our current policies, and they dynamics of districts, schools, and parental choices only make this inequality worse.

We need to consciously work for equity and think outside the box.  I like Anna’s idea of a set aside for high needs students at the best schools, with transportation and deliberately designed supportive programs.  Every small school will not immediately be able to serve every challenge well, but what if all schools (district and charter), coordinating with the district and looking at needs, agreed to build out specific high needs programs.

So Hillcrest may develop an expertise and deliberate supports for a set of foster students, Montera develops an integrated program for students on the autism spectrum, Aspire develops expertise and an integrated program for dyslexic students, maybe every above average school needs to reserve 10% of spots, or the District invests in expanding seats at those schools where it makes sense.

We can enlist educational advocates that would volunteer to help non-choosing students make better choices with better fits, monitoring and supporting student progress and creating feedback loops for future choices and program improvement. This would take some coordination, cooperation, and policy changes.  We would have to look as one community at our children and what their needs are and try to better plan to meet them.

The system, and our individual choices within it (mine included), conspire against equity.  And anyone watching the train can see it plowing along, who is in front, who is in back, and who isn’t even on it.

We need to conspire together as one community of schools, charters and district, to change this.

I guarantee you it won’t happen on its own.

Choosers, Losers, Abusers and “Opportunity Hoarding” in Oakland

School choice can divide us into winners and losers.  In fact it already has.  I am talking about charters. But not just charters, also those lucky enough to be able to choose where they live, with corresponding quality neighborhood schools, or have the resources to hustle their kid into an-out-of neighborhood or private option, the so-called “opportunity hoarders.”

I don’t blame anyone.  We all have to do what is best for our kids.  But this does segment us into at least choosers and losers, and as I will argue abusers.  Those families with the most resources get the most out of the system and those with less tend to reap the least.  Choosers are in better schools, and losers, increasingly are concentrated in schools of default—schools that choosers didn’t choose.  This matters.

The “peer effects” research would back me up here on this segmenting.  That is, high achieving motivated peers increase achievement and low achieving highly impacted students tend to decrease achievement.  So students can benefit or suffer from the composition of the school they attend.  This has the effect of reinforcing privilege and inequality on each end of this spectrum.

The Abusers

The abusers are folks with exclusive options who want to limit the choices of others.  So let’s look at what it takes to move to the Hillcrest attendance zone.  Zillow puts the 94618 median home value at $1,344,900.  This is a small and exclusive club, with high performing neighborhood schools, and still a huge migration to private schools in middle and high school.  So it does bother me when I hear these families arguing against charters or a dead-on-arrival common enrollment system, that 73% of parents favored.

Granted there are legit critiques of both, but something is off when our most privileged families, who have all the choices, are working to restrict choices for our less privileged ones.  Some families have the time and means to attend marathon board meetings and repeatedly voice their opinion.  Others are taking care of their own or other people’s kids, still at work or sleeping for another early morning.  The  voices that can show up should not be privileged as they are, and allowed to overcome the will of nearly three quarters of families who want common enrollment, but they will.  Privilege usually wins.

When you are in the club with an overflowing plate, and you want to limit the choices of folks starving for opportunities, or tell them not to change tables, to just wait for it to get better, something is wrong there.  It’s crazy.

Are you an “opportunity hoarder”?

A commenter on my blog, was a self-confessed “opportunity hoarder.”  Never heard the term before but love it.  It’s defined in the research,

“When members of a categorically bounded network acquire access to a resource that is valuable, renewable, subject to monopoly, supportive of network activities, & enhanced by the network’s modus operandi, network members regularly hoard their access to the resource, creating beliefs & practices that sustain their control” (Tilly, 91)

The result of this hoarding is durable inequality.  Something ringing a bell here.

This is not to say everyone shouldn’t have a voice.  But if your privilege is undermining opportunities for drastically underserved families, and you are actively working to limit their choices, that to me is a problem.  If you really want to help, give up your kid’s spot and trade it for a Flatlands kid.

Or if we really want to equalize access to high quality schools we should totally do away with neighborhood zones as the first criteria and make need and racial and economic diversity primary factors in school assignment, automatically assigning our highest needs students to the highest performing schools.

Of course some folks at Hillcrest and Chabot, would have to give up their seats.  They could attend a Flatlands school and wait for every neighborhood to have a quality school, as it seems they expect the Flatlands families to.

I don’t think many Rockridge parents will take this deal.

They bought into their privilege.

But what about those that can’t buy in, who struggle to make rent in the Lower Bottoms or the Deep East?

Once common enrollment is officially buried, and the spectre of charters fade, I don’t think we will hear much about how to make Oakland fairer or to support the most challenged families in getting into better schools.

That’s how privilege works, you can pick and choose your house, schools and battles.

While other families fight daily for survival amidst ever narrowing choices.

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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.

Hits and Misses in the NY Times article on Oakland

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.