Great content and food for thought in the Center for Reinventing Public Education’s latest report, Measuring Up; Educational Improvement and Opportunity in 50 Cities, which compares 50 cities, including Oakland, across a range of measures of academic growth, achievement, and opportunities.
There are highlights, lowlights, and yawning achievement and opportunity gaps, but the biggest takeaway from the report is range of differing outcomes between cities, which show that achievement and opportunity gaps are not inevitable, and that policy and supports matter in terms of changing outcomes for underserved students. So while some of our own numbers are bleak, the fact that there are successes, and we can see other cities closing these gaps, should point us towards policy solutions that have proven effective, and give us some additional tools here in Oakland.
Here are some key takeaways from Oakland’s data (which does not include the last round of testing, but does include both district and charter schools).
- Oakland slipped significantly in Math compared to the state, ranking 45th of the 50 cities
- We had a relatively high percentage of students at “beat the odds” schools—those that outperformed similar schools statewide
- We were in the middle of the pack in terms of improving schools that were in the lowest 5% statewide—however other districts had much better rates, with some districts having no schools stagnated in the lowest 5% for 3 straight years. Oakland had 44% of the bottom scoring schools in reading stagnated for 3 years and 25% of low math scoring schools stuck in that lowest 5%.
- There are huge issues with access to quality schools with wide disparities by income, race, and ethnicity. Underserved students are far less likely to be enrolled in the top performing schools. For example, 62% of White students and 57% of non-low income students were enrolled in a top scoring school in reading, however only 10% of low income students, 13% of Black students, and 7% of Hispanic students were enrolled in those schools
- Conversely, low income and racial and ethnic minorities are far more likely to be clustered in the lowest performing schools—and Oakland was dead last when it came to ghettoization by income, with low income students being 18 times more likely to be in the lowest scoring schools in reading. Math was a little better but still in the lowest quarter
- We are doing relatively well offering a path to college, beating the averages in enrolling students in advanced courses and having a higher than average four-year graduation rate
Overall the report gave us a more nuanced view of what most of us already know—there is a ton of work to do in Oakland to improve both quality and equity. But the real takeaway here is that none of this is inevitable.
There are districts that have shown significant growth compared to their states, have significantly narrowed achievement and opportunity gaps, and also succeed with persistently low performing schools—basically eliminating any school from being in the lowest 5% in the state for three consecutive years. And these are big districts (New Orleans, Memphis) with similar challenges to Oakland’s but significantly better results in some areas.
So let’s dig beneath the surface into some of these successes and understand the reforms that are working, and implement them here. And similarly we need to take a hard look at how we are doing things now and how the policies and practices of the District contribute to inequality. At the top of that list, are, one, ensuring more equitable enrollment of underserved students in high quality programs and also, two, implementing a robust and sustained strategy around improving our lowest performing schools.
We have one more marker of where we are, and important data about where we could be, now is the time for us to take determined and concerted actions to fix these gaps and improve these outcomes. And while the numbers paint some painful pictures, the successes show us that none of this is inevitable, and ultimately it is up to us to make the informed changes that are needed.