Oakland schools were front and center in the national and local debate around, “privatization”, with a front page NY Times article and local stories on a contested visit by Steph Curry to a West Oakland district-run school. The common point shown in both of these events was the division in rhetoric, and in my view the irrelevance to the average Oakland family’s experiences.
The Times Covers the Town
Oakland schools were features in the NY Times, “Oakland District at the Heart of the Drive to Transform Urban Schools” highlighted in the Washington Monthly article, “Attempting to Graft Broad & Oakland Stories Together, NY Times Underplays Deep Race/Class Issues” and provoked a range of local responses that were highlighted by Alexander Russo, excerpted below:
A pro-reform blog post from Great School Voices titled Hits and Misses in the NY Times article says that the piece “focused too much on the elite adult arguments and too little on the opinions and needs of actual underserved Oakland parents.” Lost in the piece were “the voices of everyday parents. Those that struggle to pay their bills, live in sometimes dangerous neighborhoods, and are assigned to sometimes dangerous schools. These parents don’t have the luxury to sit through 4 hour board meetings, or engage in marches or protests.” A consent decree also goes unmentioned, as does the issue of racial segregation.
Trish Gorham, president of the Oakland Educators Associated, put out a press release praising the piece for “a fairly accurate picture of the conflicting visions for a quality public education between educators in the classroom and philanthrocapitalists in the boardroom.” In her statement, Gorham argues against charters, Broad Center graduates, universal enrollment. “In most areas of school improvement, the lines are clearly drawn. Which side are you on?”
According to veteran teacher and blogger Walt Gardner, writing in Education Week, Oakland Schools Are Battleground for Parental Choice, “I understand the anger that teachers in Oakland and in other cities feel. The deck is indeed stacked against them in every way… But I think their anger is misdirected. Parents want to send their own children to the school that they alone believe best meets their needs and interests.”
An OUSD employee Charles Cole III from One Oakland United shared his Thoughts on the NY Times Article Focused on Oakland: “Our district has failed children for a long time and I appreciate bold leadership to shift that. I wish this article would have quoted more poor people of color. Everyone in the city isn’t highly politicized.”’
Is Steph, “selling our children”, or did he give them, “the best day ever”?
Oakland also saw controversy on the visit by Steph Curry to MLK Elementary in West Oakland where he encouraged students to drink water rather than sugary drinks. Depending on who you were listening to it was either seen as, the “best day ever” for some Oakland kids, “Oakland elementary school kids have best day ever, meet Steph Curry” found in the SF Chronicle.
But if you listened to critics, Steph was criticized as “selling our children”, “STEPH CURRY’S BRITA-SPONSORED VISIT TO OAKLAND SCHOOL DRAWS CRITICISM DESPITE POSITIVE MESSAGE” on the ABC 7 News site, even though he never mentioned Brita during his visit. We have dug deeper into these issues on prior posts.
The big takeaway from all of this is the rhetorical divisions in the elite adults in Oakland. And I actually don’t think that most families are that interested in these arguments. They want good safe schools for their children that are hopefully in the neighborhood. They want an easy way to enroll their child in the best available school. They want their children to get deserved services at their school and to be treated fairly. They want their kid to come home from school beaming about how they met Steph Curry.
So contrary to some, I actually don’t think the lines are clear at all. Or if they are clear we certainly haven’t asked families enough to understand them. And that should be our task going forward as we undertake needed reforms in Oakland.
Let’s actually, in a systematic, responsive, and multicultural way ask our families what they want, rather than telling them. Now that would be real reform.