Parents and Kids Should Not Need to Win a Lottery to Have a Quality School

I am an Oakland parent, and below is the text of my speech at the Oakland REACH kickoff event.

Who here wants the best for your child?

This a question that every parent here is faced with every single day. Although “the best” for us all means different things, we all want them to find success, to do better than we did.

And we at the Oakland REACH believe that success shouldn’t just depend on living in the right neighborhoods or being lucky in the lottery.

We as parents spend so much time trying to find the best options for our child, and then we still have to hold our breath to get picked in a lottery. That creates a lot of anxiety.

Who’s been there before? Who knows what I’m talking about? Hoping and praying your kid gets picked?

I went through this with my daughter. I wanted her to have the best quality education, I was in search for a school that would provide her with that. But my neighborhood options weren’t great.

But I was determined. After applying for schools and trying to transfer my daughter to another district, I did finally find a school in Oakland that could give her the best education. But it was a hassle and struggle to do so—it was hard to find resources—and it shouldn’t have to be.

We as parents should be able to put our children in our neighborhood schools, drop them off, and know that they are getting a quality education that will allow them to go to any universities or be in any industry they chose.

That’s why I’m part of the Oakland REACH because it’s time to make it easier to find good, safe and quality schools in our neighborhoods. Because here at the Oakland REACH we care and want the best not only for our children, but all children in Oakland public schools.

Who doesn’t want to feel powerless anymore?

Good news, there is hope. If we work together, we can be so powerful.

Please join the Oakland REACH, stay connected with our work.

The Oakland REACH is giving you a seat at the table so we can change this for our kids.

Breaking the Cycle in Oakland: A Woke Grandparent’s Story

Connie Williams is a mother and grandmother of Oakland public school children, she also graduated from Oakland public schools. She is one of the lead parents in the Oakland REACH, a new parent driven organization advocating for quality education for ALL of Oakland’s families with a focus on equity.

Making our Voices Heard

We are the Oakland REACH. We are here, we’re excited, and we couldn’t have come at a better time. Why? Because we are parents who are fed up.

We’re fed up with the way the school system has failed us time and time again…first with the way the system has failed us, and now with how we are watching it fail our kids and grandkids.

We are here to make our voices heard. And to break this cycle.

We are fired up, and ready to go!

Are you ready to go?

An Oakland Journey and a Dark Secret

Then let me take you on this journey with me—why I’m standing here today.

This journey began when I graduated from an Oakland public high school and walked across that stage with a deep, dark secret. I was graduating high school with A’s and B’s, and yet, I couldn’t read.

My mom trusted this school, and the school failed us.

This was my reality—and because I couldn’t read—it became my kid’s reality.

And I’m here today because I’m fighting like mad to make sure it’s not my grandkids’ reality.

Not on Our Watch

Standing up and saying I couldn’t read was my wake-up call. And I hope it’s your wake up call, too. This cannot be our reality anymore. Not on our watch.

So there is a problem. Do I have all the answers? No. But TOGETHER, The Oakland REACH have a voice to make the powerless parent powerful.

So far, we, The Oakland REACH, already talked to over 300 parents and grandparents at community meetings we hosted. We learned more more about the district budget, making our voices heard, sharing information, and receiving your feedback.

We’re woke now. And we ain’t going nowhere. We demand change. We’re breaking the cycle.

Woke Parents, the System’s Worst Nightmare

Mama Williams graduated from an Oakland public high school with A’s and B’s, but she couldn’t read.  This week she was organizing with nearly 100 other Oakland parents at DeFremery Park in West Oakland the goal was “breaking the cycle.”  You can see the video here.

They were part of the first class of an ambitious parent empowerment program, The Oakland REACH.  And it was invigorating to see parents, grandparents and great grandparents coming out to stand together for better schools and better access.  It’s an ambitious program, to actually listen to families and build an agenda around their needs.  And while many people talk parent empowerment most are not really living it.

Hopefully they are not “too ambitious”

There are a lot of hard truths to be told in Oakland, across the public education sectors.  Neither the charters nor the district are consistently delivering for our underserved families that really need high quality, responsive schools.  The numbers bear this out, but I don’t need numbers, I know the stories behind the numbers.  So do these parents.  They have lived the numbers.

And I have a sense that they will be unsparing in their attempt to turn over the system.  In this first meeting, I heard about special education, the tyranny of charter lotteries, and quality and responsiveness questions around charters and district schools.

Unlike the professionals, these parents were not focused on the political battles about public education sectors.  They were focused on getting real access to quality schools, and making their voices heard within those schools.

That is their strength but I hope it does not become their weakness.

Everyone says they want parent organizing but they don’t

Interest groups want parents as props.  They really don’t want them as leaders.  It’s a sad truth.  I have been in those meetings when some rich (usually) dude talks about activating parents with talking points and pizza.

But when those organized parents go off script and start voicing THEIR concerns, yeah not so much interest in funding that.  And if they are now organizing against jacked up practices in their own schools, or the charter sector more generally, yeah that’s a definite budget killer.

They make you pick sides in this game.  You can get funded by the unions, or the charter/choice folks, with very little room in between.  That is the tightrope the Oakland REACH is walking, but someone has to.

Honestly, it was more of a dance than a tightrope walk.  The event was a celebration of real stories and calls and response, and not a bent knee begging for change, but a demand.  A demand for those parents who struggle to play a rigged game with unwritten rules, who were dismissed, pushed out, and left feeling defeated by the system.  Where schools don’t believe in your child, coach them out, and cripple their futures.  They were failed by the system.   Though I would argue the system did not fail—it did what it is supposed to do, pick predictable winners and losers.  But they were not sitting quietly through the predictable outrages.

“Fired Up and Ready to Go”

They were together supporting each other, “fired up” and “ready to go,” the energy crackling in the air with each successive call and response.  “Do I have all the answers- no, but we together can make a change…We’re woke now.  And we ain’t going nowhere, we demand change, we are breaking this cycle.”  Mama Williams said.

The crowd erupted.

We have been waiting for change for too long in Oakland’s underserved communities.  Glad to see the waiting is ending, and looking forward to the battles ahead, alongside these authentic, powerful and determined parents.

More to come.

Fewer Students Transfer Out of Oakland’s Charter Schools Mid-Year, Than From District Schools

There is and inconvenient truth in the Oakland public school wars, students at charter public schools are less likely to transfer mid-year than those at district schools.  I know that if you just listened to the so called debate, you would not know that. But that is what the California Department of Education’s data says.  And if we are to address the very real problems in Oakland education we need to start with real facts.

OUSD Board meetings had several anecdotes from speakers and even board members about charter schools discharging students mid-year en masse.  But when I researched that (as best I could) it is fake news.  And with all the problems Oakland has, I would hope we could at least do our homework before we start to make policy decisions on the basis of rumor.

 “Continuous enrollment” data for Oakland’s public school sectors

The Ed Code defines “continuous enrollment” as “student enrollment from Fall Census Day (first Wednesday in October) to the first day of testing without a gap in enrollment of more than 30 consecutive calendar days.”  So basically you are at the school from the Fall until the testing in Spring.

The continuous enrollment rates for public schools located within Oakland are…drumroll please…

Year Charter continuous enrollment Non charter continuous enrollment
2016 94.8% 87.4%
2015 94.6% 84.1%

Those are the facts pulled from CDE, well someone else asked the academic accountability unit, since it wasn’t posted publicly.

If someone has a better data set I would love to see it and be happy to include it.  I also know that this does not answer every question, and as I have argued we need a better research base that actually follows the academic careers of individual students in a more nuanced way.  We don’t know whether these are higher needs students, or why they left.

I also believe that some of the anecdotes are true, for charters and for district schools.  I have written about my own challenges with charter enrollment before and have had my share of crazy questions from school leaders who wanted to get rid of kids.

I have also gotten those former district kids at my charter schools who, “needed a smaller environment.”  These students tend to come with big thick student files, and equally thick academic deficits.  There was a recent article where San Diego Unified admitted to pushing high needs students into charters.  And I have supported district kids in fighting unfair disciplinary proceedings.  This flow goes both ways, and without better data it’s hard to say exactly what the trends are.

But that hasn’t stopped some from spouting off, even though the data contradicts their statements.

The accountability we need

We do need more accountability in school admissions and assuring families are treated fairly.  I have long argued for greater statistical tracking of students, follow ups when families leave schools asking quickly why, and the use of testers to make sure that charters are open admission.

Similarly I have argued for the breaking down of traditional neighborhood boundaries, and district boundaries within the traditional public schools, as well as reduction or elimination of entry tests.

And we need to think hard about how we create level playing fields at schools for all families.  Where sometimes the few Black and Brown families at the Hills schools, are forced to assimilate, check their identity at the door, and experience a first class school like a second class citizen.

I don’t have all the answers.  But in district seemingly on the brink of a state takeover, with immense achievement gaps, a disproportionate number of school facilities, an existential threat to a huge segment of our families from Washington, and 20 other assorted threats, I would just hope that we can at least start with the facts and move from there.  We have real problems to worry about, wasting time on fake ones, does just that, wastes time.

I personally have had enough alternative facts.

I would hope that the OUSD board and the public have too.


Charter School Transparency and Ethics In Oakland-The Facts

After two special meetings this week discussing charter schools by the OUSD board I was more confused than enlightened.  And while there are legitimate, if sometimes overstated, critiques of charters and the effect they can have on the broader system, some of what I heard was just factually wrong, and could have been corrected by just checking with staff.  Not sure why that happened, but let me try to correct the record here.

Public schools need transparency around decision-making, use of the public’s money, and to avoid conflicts of interest.  As a legal matter this means following the “Brown Act” Open Meeting Law, Public Records Act, and also public ethics laws around conflict of interest.  While there is some dispute around whether charters statewide are bound by all these standards, from my understanding, every Oakland charter school agrees in its charter to meet the Brown Act, Public records Act, and also to comply with the same conflict of interest standards governing public officials like the OUSD Board.

Let me repeat, every Oakland charter school agrees in its charter to meet the Brown Act, Public Records Act, and also to comply with the same conflict of interest standards governing public officials like the OUSD Board.

It was particularly strange that the OUSD board members didn’t seem aware of this fact, and wasted precious time bemoaning it.

Every charter in Oakland, as part of its chartering or renewal, agrees to a set of conditions.  There are 28 pages of required language in every charter and also a statement of assurances (which I copied at the end of the piece).  Brown Act- yes, Public records- yes, Conflicts- yes.

I know you may have heard differently, but every charter public school posts its meetings on their website, the meetings are open, and the public can observe and comment.  Check the websites, visit a meeting, please just don’t act like some of y’all do at the OUSD meetings.

And OUSD board members we would love to see you at our meetings, they take less than 6 hours.

Every charter can attest that we follow the Public Records Act.  In fact, right now hundreds of hours are being taken away from children by burdensome records requests from folks who profess to be serving kids.

And, again as far as I can figure out, the same conflict of interest requirement that apply to OUSD have been adopted by every Oakland charter, and from what I have seen we interpret them even more tightly (at least at my schools).  Case and point, I taught a year- long club and also a stipended class, but rather than accepting payment or even reimbursement for materials and then potentially implicating conflict of interest rules—I just charged it to the game.

Does every school follow these perfectly, probably not.  If they are out of compliance they should face the music, face whatever sanction is due and get compliant. But let’s not start throwing stones from glass houses.  In fact I think if you double check the OUSD’s boards meetings this week—not sure they met the Brown Act requirements.  And on conflicts, has the OUSD Board had members who also contracted with the district or whose non profits did?

This stuff is tough, and keeping up with it can be practically hard while getting the business of the schools done.  And in reality, sometimes these contracts, even when there are technical conflicts of interest, are good for schools.

But if you didn’t know what rules govern Oakland charters, now you do.  There are real issues of quality, access, equity, and coordination that we should be discussing.  I hope that we can get to those discussions rather than this ongoing expedition of bigfoot hunting, where we imagine myths and rail against them, while missing real threats and opportunities.

(As a follow up there is some question around the two different conflict of interest laws and specifically the application of government code 1090, we do follow that at EFC schools and our counsel has advised us and other charters to, in a short survey others did as well, but I would need to double check to be sure around every school accepting the requirements–I did reach out to the authorizer but have not heard back)


Statement of Assurances of Every applicant


This form or other similar form must be signed by a duly authorized representative of the petitioner group and submitted with the petition. A petition will be considered incomplete if it is not accompanied by the Statement of Assurances or does not otherwise contain these assurances.


As the authorized representative of the applicant group, I hereby certify under the penalties of perjury that the information submitted in this petition for a charter for (name of school) to be located at___________________________is true to the best of my knowledge and belief; and further, I certify that, if granted a charter, the school:


  1. Will not charge tuition, fees, or other mandatory payments for attendance at the charter school or for participation in programs that are required for students.


  1. Will enroll any eligible student who submits a timely and complete application, unless the school receives a greater number of applications than there are spaces for students, in which case a lottery will take place in accordance with California charter laws and regulations.


  1. Will be non-sectarian in its curriculum, programs, admissions, policies, governance, employment practices, and all other operations.


  1. Will be open to all students, on a space available basis, and shall not discriminate on the basis of the characteristics included in Education Code section 220, including but not limited to race, color, national origin, creed, sex, ethnicity, sexual orientation, mental or physical disability, age, ancestry, athletic performance, special need, proficiency in the English language or a foreign language, or academic achievement.


  1. Will not exclude admission based on the student’s or parent’s/guardian’s place of residence, except that a conversion school shall give admission preference to students who reside within the former attendance area of the public school.


  1. Will meet all statewide standards and conduct the pupil assessments required pursuant to Education Code Sections 60605 and 60851 and any other statewide standards authorized in statute or pupil assessments applicable to pupils in noncharter public schools.


  1. Will comply with all applicable portions of the 2015 reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Act (also known as “Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)”).


  1. Will consult, on a regular basis, with parents, guardians and teachers regarding its educational programs, as required by Education Code section 47605(c)(2).


  1. Will offer at least the minimum amount of instructional time at each grade level as required by law, and comply with Title 5, California Code of Regulations, section 11960(b) with respect to the legally required minimum school days.


  1. Will comply with the conditions of apportionment set forth in Education Code section 47612(b) that average daily attendance not be generated by a pupil who is not a California resident, and that “a pupil over 19 years of age shall be continuously enrolled in public school and make satisfactory progress towards award of a high school diploma,” to remain eligible for generating charter school apportionments.


  1. Will provide to the Office of Charter Schools information regarding the proposed operation and potential effects of the school, including, but not limited to, the facilities to be used by the school, including where the school intends to locate, the manner in which administrative services will be provided, and potential civil liability effects, if any, upon the school and authorizing board.


  1. Will adhere to all applicable provisions of federal law relating to students with disabilities, including the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act; section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1974; and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.


  1. Will comply with the requirement set forth in Education Code section 47605(d)(3) that “[i]f a pupil is expelled or leaves the charter school without graduating or completing the school year for any reason, the charter school shall notify the superintendent of the school district of the pupil’s last known address within 30 days, and shall, upon request, provide that school district with a copy of the cumulative record of the pupil, including a transcript of grades or report card, and health information.”


  1. Will adhere to all applicable provisions of federal law relating to students who are English language learners, including Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974; MGL c. 76, §5; and MGL c. 89, 71 § (f) and (I).


  1. Will comply with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (20 U.S.C. § 1232g; 34 CFR Part 99).


  1. Will comply with all other applicable federal and state laws and regulations, including the California Code of Regulations.


  1. Will submit an annual report and annual independent audits to the OUSD Office of Charter Schools by all required deadlines.


  1. Will maintain written contemporaneous records that document all pupil attendance and make these records available for audit and inspection, as required by Education Code section 47612.5(a)(2).


  1. Will submit required enrollment data to the OUSD Office of Charter Schools by the required deadline.


  1. Will comply with “[a]ll laws establishing minimum age for public school attendance,” as required by Education Code section 47610(c).


  1. Will operate in compliance with generally accepted government accounting principles.


  1. Will maintain separate accountings of all funds received and disbursed by the school.


  1. Will participate in the California State Teachers’ Retirement System and other retirement systems, as applicable.


  1. Will obtain, keep current, and make available for inspection all necessary permits, licenses, and certifications related to fire, health and safety within the building(s) and on school property.


  1. Will obtain, keep current, and make available for inspection all necessary teacher certifications, permits or other documents as required under EC Section 47605(l).


  1. Will at all times maintain all necessary and appropriate insurance coverage.


  1. Will submit to the OUSD Office of Charter Schools the names, mailing addresses, and employment and educational histories of proposed new members of the Board of Trustees prior to their service.


  1. Will, in the event the Board of Trustees intends to procure substantially all educational services for the charter school through a contract with another person or entity, provide for approval of such contract by the Board of Education in advance of the beginning of the contract period.


  1. Will require the Charter School Board to comply with the provisions of the Ralph M. Brown Act (California Government section Code 54950 et seq.)


  1. Will comply with the provisions of the California Public Records Act (California Government Code section 6250 et seq.).


  1. Will provide financial statements that include a proposed first-year operational budget with start-up costs and anticipated revenues and expenditures necessary to operate the school, including special education; and cash-flow and financial projections for the first three years of operation.


  1. Will provide to the Office of Charter Schools a school code of conduct, Board of Trustee bylaws, an enrollment policy, and an approved certificate of building occupancy for each facility in use by the school, according to the schedule set by the Office of Charter Schools but in any event prior to the opening of the school.


  1. Will be located within the geographical boundaries of the District in locating its site, or otherwise comply with the requirements in Education Code section 47605 and 47605.1.


  1. Will annually adopt a School Accountability Report Card. (Education Code section 47612; California Constitution, Article XVI, Section 8.5).


  1. Will promptly respond to all reasonable requests for information from the District, Alameda County Office of Education, or the State Superintendent of Public Instruction. (Education Code section 47604.3)



  1. Will provide students the right to the exercise of free speech and of the press, including but not limited to the use of bulletin boards; the distribution of printed materials or petitions; the wearing of buttons, badges or other insignia; and the right of expression in official publications. (Education Code sections 48907, 48950).


  1. Will comply with the applicable requirement for instructional minutes set forth in Education Code section 47612.5)


  1. Will comply with the requirements of Education Code section 49010 et seq. with respect to the imposition of pupil fees.


  1. If the school provides independent study, will meet the requirements of Education Code sections 51745-51749.3, as well as report to the Superintendent of Public Instruction any portion of its average daily attendance that is generated through non-classroom-based instruction, including, but not limited to, independent study, home study, work study, and distance and computer-based education. (Education Code section 47612.5, 47632.2, 5 CCR section 11963.2)