Middle and High Schools That Black Families Should Consider Based on the Latest Test Scores

Where you send your child to school is one of the most important decisions you can make.  The new school quality data was released by the state this week, and I wanted to highlight some of the schools making progress with Black children, and encourage families to visit.

But before I get to the public schools showing the most progress, let me give a warning.  These numbers may be imperfect since it is the first rollout, and no number can capture a school, or the variation within it.  So please take these lists as starting points and do your homework.

Digging into the new data

Everything I am showing here is publicly available on the OUSD website, though you need to poke around some.  And now is the time to research and apply to schools in open enrollment.  We have never had more options, easier ways to enroll, or more information about schools, so we need make the best choices we can.  And there is an East Oakland Enrollment Fair this weekend and one in the West next weekend.

Middle Schools where Black students made the most gains

West Oakland Middle School is the leader in both math and ELA.  This is the second year they were a leader in growth.  Looks like some powerful work is taking place there.  Bret Harte (I sat on the SSC there years ago) and Montera are showing solid gains on ELA and American Indian is showing significant gains in math.


(note that gray lines mean that less than 30 students were tested, and the other colors relate to how high the average scores were)

K-8 Schools

There are fewer K-8 schools, but Melrose stood out in both ELA and math and American Indian, Community School for Creative Education and Hillcrest stood out for gains, in either math or ELA.


6-12 Schools

Coliseum College Prep and Bay Area Technology Charter showed significant increase in both ELA and math, as did Aspire Golden State College Prep., Madison Park and Life Academy also showed real and consistent gains across subjects.  This was the only grade configuration, where all the schools showed that showed growth showed it in both subjects, which may say something about the power of the 6-12 model to more broadly drive growth.


High Schools

Metwest, while being a small school, showed outstanding growth, followed by Envision, Mack, Ohigh and Tech, with Envision and Tech, showing not only growth, but also having relatively high levels of achievement for Black students.


Knowledge is power

So please, take advantage of your options and the information at your disposal.  There are enrollment fairs coming up from OUSD and Enroll Oakland over the next several weeks.  Your children are counting on you to do the best by them, and that starts with making informed choices.

Let me know if I can help, and I will be doing future posting on middles and high schools, as well as other subgroups.

You have the tools, now use them.

If you want more information like this, please follow me on facebooktwitter or the blog

How Is OUSD Doing Compared to 11,000 Other Districts in 3 Graphs?

The typical student in Oakland Unified is further behind in 8th grade than they were in 3rd grade that’s according to the latest research from Stanford, covered in a recent NY Times article. You heard that right, the typical student in OUSD progresses 4.3 years academically in the 5 years between 3rd and 8th grade, so while they are roughly a year behind in 3rd grade, they are roughly 2 years behind in 8th grade.

The encouraging thing about the data is that there is such wide variation, even within California. Some districts make more than 5 years growth, others less. So some things are working in some places and some things are not working in others.

Despite the dismal outcomes, there is hope. In Fremont, students gained 5.6 years over the 5 year span, and in Chicago it was 6 years.  So poverty is not destiny, but zip codes matter, and so do the decisions of districts.

Let’s look at the study, from the Times

The data, based on some 300 million elementary-school test scores across more than 11,000 school districts, tweaks conventional wisdom in many ways. Some urban and Southern districts are doing better than data typically suggests. Some wealthy ones don’t look that effective. Many poor school systems do.

This picture, and Chicago’s place in it, defy how we typically think about wealth and education in America. It’s true that children in prosperous districts tend to test well, while children in poorer districts on average score lower. But in this analysis, which measures how scores grow as student cohorts move through school, the Stanford researcher Sean Reardon argues that it’s possible to separate some of the advantages of socioeconomics from what’s actually happening in schools.

How is Oakland Doing?

The researchers graphed 11,000 districts based on test score growth and wealth, to give a fairer picture of the district effects.  Here is Oakland Unified in 3rd grade

And Oakland Unified in 8th grade

And the comparison of growth


Click around some and look other districts, while Oakland Unified produced 4.3 years of growth in 5 years, West Contra Costa was at 4.6 years, Fresno and Long Beach were at 4.7 years.

And yes this is based on test scores which is an imperfect measure, but try telling that to mom who is seeing her child’s literacy skills decrease (as measured by test scores) compared to peers in nearby districts.

What is lost in the budget crisis?

The school board meetings are rightly spending significant time on the budget.  But I am hearing a hardly a peep about how our students are doing, what we are doing to accelerate learning, or develop our programs that are showing real progress.

Our students and families can’t have their academic careers put in a back seat, as the district is consumed with its own messes.  We have to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time, which means both addressing our fiscal crisis and our academic crisis, solving either one without the other is a hollow victory.



Latino/a Student Achievement in Oakland: Bringing Equity to My Community

Maria Ramirez is an Oaklander, born and raised. She is currently in community college and is working hard to make a beautiful and dazzling life for not only herself, but family as well. Maria is grateful that she gets to give back to the city that made her, wonderful Oakland.

Last Tuesday I had the honor of attending the “Latino Student Achievement Community Report Out.”  As a Latina from Oakland I felt embarrassed that before attending this meeting I, A)knew very little about the Latino community in Oakland, and B)was not aware that an OUSD Latino/a Achievement Office existed in my city and held meetings 2 blocks away from my house.

As I listened to concerned parents, students, and staff speak, I learned about the struggles my Latino brothers and sisters are facing within my community. Although some discussed topics broke my heart, they also rose a sense of urgency within not only me, but every individual in the room.

How are Latino/a students doing in school?

This is a question that was repeated multiple times and as we went over the report findings for preschool, middle-school, and high-school, I was shocked.  According to the OUSD’s reports only 28.4% of Latino/a 3rd graders were reading on grade level. When students aren’t at grade reading level by third grade, a jail cell is built per student.

The fact that a child’s fate is being predicted based on their third-grade reading level in insane. At third grade, my little sister was reading below grade level, but showed promise through her other great qualities. Although my sister received the help she needed, many students do not have the same opportunities. In fact, less than 23.6% of Latino students in grades 3-8 scored Standard Met or Standard Exceeded on the Spring 2017 state test in English Language Arts/Literacy. This statistic made it clear that equity didn’t entirely exist within the system.

As someone who attended a majority Latino school, I was blind to the fact that equity within schools is hard to spot sometimes. I was aware that the main course of discussion for this event was equity within schools, but did not realize just how necessary these meetings are. What is happening within our schools? Our Latino/a students are suffering academically and this affects not only their grade school academics, but their future.

Changes need to be done in order to ensure Latino students are receiving the education and resources they need to succeed. In 2016-17, 59.5% of OUSD Latinos graduated high-school, 23.4% dropped out, and 15.7% remained enrolled and will take more than 5 years to graduate. Although over the past five years, drop-out rates have decreased by five percentage points, that is not enough.

Whether it’s academic, emotional, or financial support, Latino/a students need more. School can be very challenging and for Latino students in Oakland, it can be very difficult. Many times, parents must work crazy hours to support their families and due to time and limited education, they cannot fully support us as scholars.

Schools and teachers should provide the tools and resources to ensure that my hermanos y hermanas(brothers and sisters) are equipped with the academic and life tools they need because unfortunately, a lot of the times that is not given at home.

Equity is needed within our schools to help our Latino students, but how can we achieve it?

 Achieving Equity

I had the privilege of sitting in on two discussion tables, both which brought me new perspectives. The first table was centered on factors to get youth more involved in their education. I witnessed students, school leaders, and community members come together to brainstorm ways to help our people. A point that stood out is that only 13.8% of OUSD teachers are Latino/a. One of the young people at the table questioned, “If we don’t see people that look like us and go through the same struggle we do, how do we know ­­we can make it too?”

This made me think about the teachers I’ve had in k-8 and I felt a little uncomfortable when I came to the realization that only 2 have been Latino/a. It was an even odder feeling to know that before this meeting, I’d never had a problem with it.

The first table removed the shield from my bubble of comfort, but the second table completely popped it. The second table’s main discussion was on Supporting Central American Families and Students; more specifically, Newcomers. Here I found out that Oakland is home to more than 1,741 Newcomers in which more than 300 of those students are unaccompanied minors from Central America, ranging from 6-12th grade.

The difficult journey for Newcomers

It broke my heart that amongst Newcomers, drug abuse (specifically meth) and gang violence rates have increased alarmingly. The majority of the time Newcomers travel to the U.S not only in hopes of building a better life, but to escape the horrors of their home countries. The journey from Central America to the U.S is also dangerous and traumatic. Unfortunately, many times, when youth arrive in the U.S from Central America, they’ve already been exposed to a significant violence, alcohol, and drugs. This makes Newcomers more susceptible to drug use and violence.

My second table received the least number of visits from attendees, yet when each table discussed their group’s findings, it received the most impactful reaction. As the presenters reported out-loud what our group discussed, shock was evident on the faces of individuals. I’m sure we were all thinking the same thing: This is happening to students in my community? Students and families nodded in agreement when suggestions like mental health services, substance abuse courses, and overall involvement in helping our newcomers was suggested.

In addition to bringing resources to our newcomers, two parents reminded everyone in the room that Special Ed students are Latinos as well. A mother reminded us to not forget about her son who has special needs and is an English Language Learner because he too deserves to learn. Throughout my years in school, I’ve noticed that after elementary school, less resources for students with special needs are offered. Improvement in the Special Education department is crucial because all students deserve a quality education.

Happening in my backyard

 I’ve lived 2 blocks away from Fremont High School for about 12 years now, but I’ve never realized what goes on within the school; or any OUSD school. I attended a majority Latino/a charter public school throughout high school and was never aware of the education Latinos were receiving.

After leaving my bubble of comfort and exploring the education in Oakland, I see there is a lot of work to be done. People that look, live, and struggle like me are not succeeding as they should and as a member of this community, it’s my duty to assure that all students receive an equitable education. I am grateful to be able to help those who need it most.

We must come together as a community to assure our hermanas y hermanos (brothers and sisters) receive the education they deserve.

Together, we can bring equity to our schools and communities.


Latino/a Student Achievement is a targeted initiative of the OUSD’s Office of Equity.   Visit www.ousd.org/equity to learn more about the Office of Equity and other targeted initiatives.

Tinkering Towards a Takeover in Oakland Unified

It was another appropriately emotional school board meeting in Oakland as the youth, community, and staff dressed down the OUSD board.  Budget cuts are hitting schools and it hurts, with a second round of mid-year cuts to come.  Oakland Unified is on the verge of another state takeover and the decisions the district makes will matter not just for our current students but the future ones.

We sit on a precipice.  And we won’t get off of it without some better solutions.

The road to receivership is paved with good intentions

The district is in yet another budget crisis.  Predictable overspending came in categories focused on serving students (nutrition, transportation, special education), and some unpredictable costs in increased administration.  To lay all blame at the feet of the former superintendent misses the structural nature of our problems and won’t help us solve them.  But the rapid (and un-budgeted) growth in administration did contribute.

We love our youth, we want the best for them, we know that many have high needs and need support.  Nobody wants cuts.  But cuts are coming, and anyone looking further down the road knows that more and more of them are coming.   I sympathize with the speakers who wanted “no cuts to school sites” and its truly painful to hear how nurses and mental health services are being cut from students that need them.

Nonetheless cuts will happen.   We have a simple problem without an easy solution—Oakland Unified spends more each year than it gets in revenue, and it has spent its reserve down below acceptable levels.

Death by a thousand cuts

We will not nickel and dime ourselves out of this crisis.  This regular cycle of reducing school budgets, and reducing student services will not make us solvent in the long term, indeed it may do quite the opposite.  As quality declines, some families who can, vote with their feet and leave the district.  Those enrollment declines further reduce revenue, requiring even more cuts, creating a downward spiral.

One teacher described the recurring cuts. From KTVU

“This is my 5th year teaching at East Oakland Pride Elementary School and every year there’s been less resources, there’s been less support,” said Adarene Hoag, a special education teacher.

This is taking place when the economy is strong and school funding has been rapidly increasing, though levelling out, while other costs like pensions are growing quickly.  It’s not going to get better in the short term, and will likely get worse.

New and old solutions

We need some new (or old but undone) solutions here

  1. Right sizing central administration- OUSD central office has grown while the enrollment has declined and we spend about $400 more per student on central office than similar districts. Furhter, in internal ratings of departments some are valued much more by sites, we need structural changes here.  These are not easy, districts are built to grow and struggle with shrinking, but shrink it must.
  2. Right sizing the number of school buildings- OUSD has roughly twice as many school buildings as similarly sized districts, part of this is by design from the small schools movement, but part of this is a result of declining enrollment. OUSD land and building are at historic high values and could be sold.  We have facilities for over 50,000 students but only 38,000 in the district.  We also have undeveloped plots of land and buildings designated for administrative offices.  And, we need to rethink the idea that schools are big buildings, when increasingly learning is and should be taking place in the community.  The East Bay Express had a solid article examining the “too many schools” issue and its depressing effect on wages, noting,

“other districts pay better because they have far fewer schools. In fact, state statistics show that Oakland has far more schools per student than any other district in the county. Oakland’s schools, in short, are just too small, depriving the district of millions it could save through economies of scale…closing schools may be the most difficult thing the school board will ever have to do. But it will enable the district to pay higher teacher salaries and thus compete with other districts for top teaching talent.”  And beyond the cost savings they could generate (one time) revenue, which would allow the district some time to right its ship.  There should be some deal there.”

  1. Getting creative on revenue- Educate 78 provided some simple solutions to raise district revenues by $10-20 million annually by increasing attendance 1%, increasing enrollment by 1% by growing in-demand schools, and improving SELPA services and engaging charter schools.  There have to be others.

It has to all be on the table right now, or we won’t have a table to put it on—or at least we won’t be sitting at the head of the table anymore, and we will be asking an appointed administrator for our meals, or the scraps leftover.

“Cuts are going to be made, we can make them, the county will make them or the state will make them, but cuts will be made”

We need to get real on solutions, and unrealistic ones, only distract from the issues.  I have heard how we should 1) demand the state buy us out (they already did and we still owe $45 million and they won’t again) 2) demand the rich folks in Oakland buy us out (won’t happen, though maybe we tax them) 3) that all cuts come from central office (it’s not big enough and many costs are required from federal or state funding) and a number of other things that won’t happen or wouldn’t really help.  So we need to start in reality to get real solutions.

The last speaker on the budget issue, Marc Taffola, made one of the most important points, noting the hard realities of our fiscal crisis, and the need for cuts.  “Cuts are going to be made” he said, “we can make them, or the county will make them or the state will make them, but cuts will be made.”

The excruciating choices are ours…at least for now.




With Lead in the Water in Oakland Schools, There Are Two New Laws Parents Should Know About

A guest post from our sisters at La Comadre

When you send your child off to school for the day, you expect him/her to be in a safe and healthy environment. The last thing that you want to think about is your student getting poisoned from the drinking faucet.

High Lead Levels in Oakland Schools

Lead contamination levels exceeding four times the federal health standards in water were discovered at Glenview Elementary School in Oakland recently. This was one of the seven public school sites in the Oakland Unified School District, where contamination levels of toxic metal in water were discovered. The amount of lead in Glenview Elementary School kitchen tap totaled 60 parts per billion, making the water at Glenview the most contaminated of the six other public school sites. Besides the temporary Glenview school site, federal standards for lead contamination levels were dangerously surpassed at Thornhill, Brookfield, Fruitvale, Joaquin Miller, and Burckhalter elementary schools, as well as American Indian Charter high school on the former Lakeview Elementary campus.

Even low levels of lead can harm children’s health, possibly affecting and damaging the brain and central nervous system according to the Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Continuous exposure can cause acute encephalopathy and/or irreversible organ damage resulting in extreme cognitive deficits in children and adults. No amount of lead in humans is considered safe.

Although Governor Jerry Brown recently signed legislation requiring all California public schools to test faucets for lead by 2019, the governor and the state legislation must be reminded that these measures for protecting school children from exposure to lead poisoning should have been on the books years ago. Meanwhile in Oakland, officials are continuing to test water taps across the school district. They have also asked the East Bay Municipal Utility District to conduct additional tests at all the schools.

This is not an isolated situation. Tests have shown harmful levels of lead in water in public school districts in Los Angeles and San Diego counties. Fortunately, the majority of those school districts in Los Angeles and San Diego counties reacted by identifying, flushing, fixing and sealing hundreds of contaminated drinking fountains. Nevertheless, a Reuters report revealed that dozens of old home California neighborhoods have tested positive for harmful levels of lead. This news has made numerous California legislators anxious fearing that children exposed to lead may go undiagnosed under the status quo. California based doctors typically refer children for lead testing if the family verifies it is on low-income assistance programs and lives in a home that is over 40 years old with peeling paint.

How AB 1316 and AB 746 Address the Problem

The two bills that recently passed in the state legislature that address lead poisoning are AB 1316 and AB 746.

AB 1316 authored by Bill Quick, a Democrat representing Haywood has the State Public Health Department expanding routine physicians’ questionnaires to include questions assessing the risk of lead exposure. Questions would inquire whether the family lives near a former lead or steel smelter, a major highway, and if a child spends time in a home or building near those suspected environments. Those inquiries would result to having children tested, while providing more accurate data to the California State Health Department.

AB 746, authored by Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, a Democrat representing San Diego, requires all California school districts to test their water for lead and fix or cap any contaminated water source.

How widespread is the problem? The CDC found that 5% of tested children in Flint, Michigan had elevated lead levels. So far in California, the State Department of Public Health has found that 2% of tested children have elevated lead levels. But this data goes back to 2012. Eight California zip codes in Los Angeles, Monterey and Humboldt counties have revealed lead rates higher or equal to Flint, Michigan. In one Fresno zip code, nearly 14% of the children tested had elevated levels of lead poisoning.

Bill Quirk’s bill AB 1316 originally sought to require that all children get tested for lead by their health provider. Since the State of Public Health makes blood lead testing available for any child younger than six on Medi-Cal, or other low-income state benefit programs. However, the insurance industry, the California Medical Association, and the American Academy of Pediatricians lobbied successfully to get that particular requirement removed from AB 1316.