As OUSD debates a proposal to create one unified enrollment system that includes charters and district schools the Contra Costa Times has framed the debate as whether we are creating,
“a streamlined system that allows families to more easily navigate a daunting array of school applications to find the best fit for their child…(or) another Silicon Valley-backed reform tool that would undermine a struggling public school system by promoting charter schools.”
You can read the article, and I think there are real arguments around the best way to enroll students, and some real challenges in common enrollment, but that’s not what we are getting in the debate now.
So let’s look at some facts
Fact #1- Most of the public, 73%, said that they wanted a unified enrollment system
Fact #2- the current enrollment system is opaque and inequitable, everyone from OUSD trustees to the average parent has noted how difficult it is to understand the enrollment system and get schools of choice
Fact#3- Oakland has one of the most income segregated Districts in the country. The numbers here are startling (found in the “Measuring Up” report)– 62% of White students in Oakland 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.
So why not move towards one enrollment system that included all public schools, and facilitated choices for families?
Some of the Arguments Against Common Enrollment
Argument 1-Charters go by different rules and, “charter enrollment policies allow them to “cherry pick” students and deny entry to those who will not further their academic goals.”
I have long railed against charters for “cherry picking” or “creaming”. And doing nothing about the enrollment policies will do nothing about creaming.
While having a unified system that tracked what happened to students when they enrolled in charters would provide great information to single out bad apples and hold them accountable. Common enrollment should increase transparency, while doing nothing leaves us exactly where we are—with a lot of accusations but no hard data.
Argument 2-“Oakland shouldn’t be encouraging an enrollment system that would pave the way for many students to apply to schools that aren’t district-run”
This is a peculiar argument to me. It seems to say that we should limit the options for families or they might choose schools that they prefer and perceive as being a better fit for their child.
And the reality is that right now, roughly a third of students are in charters already and an even greater number are in private schools or out of school. So many parents in Oakland are choosing, it’s just the low income parents that are largely stuck—check the stats if you don’t believe this.
And if you ask the parents they gave an answer, 73% want common enrollment. The role of the District is not to protect “the District” at the expense of families, it should be to get families and students the best education they can. Flatlands parents get this, and really it’s often people who don’t have their kids in the struggling schools that are arguing that the status quo is working.
Argument 3-“I don’t think private money and private agendas should be shaping policy,” she (Director Shanthi Gonzales) said. “If we don’t have the money ourselves, then we wait.”
Philanthropy is doing most of the outreach around common enrollment and funding its initial implementation, but let’s get real. OUSD is broke, California is underfunded, and the District owes a huge stack of racks to the State from our bankruptcy. Anything we do that is innovative (like it or not) is probably coming from outside funding. Small Schools came from Gates money, technology integration is coming from philanthropy, cradle to career, philanthropy. So if we aren’t doing anything until the OUSD pays for it, then we ain’t doing nothin’ new. Same crap different year, same kids getting shafted, same families attending the best schools, same attending the worst. Children handicapped by accidents of birth. For families in the Flatlands, that is not good enough.
The system is broke. Doing nothing won’t fix it. If folks have better ideas for fixes they are welcome, but right now the crickets are chirping, while underserved families wait for action.