Low income students in Oakland are 18.3 times more likely to be in lowest scoring schools in reading than their more advantaged peers. That was one of the most striking results in the recent CRPE study. And while that was the most jarring stat, putting Oakland in dead last among the 50 cities studies, every city showed disparities, and a fairly direct relationship between disadvantaged students being clustered in low performing schools and White and higher income students clustered in the top performing schools.
If education is supposed to be the great equalizer, these statistics contradict that. The students with the most needs are in the lowest performing schools and the students with relative advantages are in the best ones. Something is seriously wrong here, and it starts with the ways that schools are assigned.
Racial and income segregation are hallmarks of American cities. And while I understand the benefits of neighborhood schools, when you are in a “bad” neighborhood, with corresponding low performing schools, the segregation reduces your opportunities. And polices that assign neighborhood schools as defaults, cement the privilege of the advantaged, and harden the cement shoes of the disadvantaged.
It does not have to be this way. We write the rules of school assignment. And as Oakland moves towards a more robust common enrollment system, these rules can work to more equitably assign schools based not only on current advantage, but also need.
This is not an argument for an unfettered market in enrollment, rather, like all “markets” it would be one that is designed to meet social ends. Right now our current system serves to reinforce privilege at the expense of equity.
Let’s flip this script, and move our most challenged students up in the line for high quality schools. And yes, this may disrupt the status quo, and realign existing privilege, but isn’t that what we say schools are for?