I excerpted this from the OUSD Newsletter, it’s worth the read
Our Focus Remains: Every Student Thrives!
Dear OUSD Community:
The New York Times recently wrote an article about our efforts to improve public education for all in Oakland: Oakland District at Heart of Drive to Transform Urban Schools. It’s generated a lot of important feedback, and I wanted to take this opportunity to share my thoughts.
Motoko Rich, the Times’s lead education reporter, worked hard over several months to understand our work. She spent two days shadowing my weekly school and classroom visits in order to get to know as much as she could about our educators and our priorities, which I very much appreciate; yet it’s not easy to tell a complex story like Oakland’s in one newspaper story, and there were certainly opportunities missed to deepen the conversation.
Many voices have offered critique and commentary: One of the first came from national education writer who is a media critic. He noted that race and class issues in particular were not given the proper context in the NYT article. This journalist recognized the irony of accusing me of implementing “the new Jim Crow” by moving toward greater inclusion programs for our children with special needs, instead of the separate and inherently unequal conditions many Oakland special education students (7 out of 10 being Black and Brown boys) face today.
My only interest is to ensure our special education students, like all Oakland students, receive a great education, and that the educators receive the training and supports they need to educate our children for whom they care so much.
In addition, several local African American education leaders who know our schools inside and out – Dirk Tillotson and Brian Stanley among them – also spoke to the lack of low-income, primarily minority – especially Black and Brown – parent voices that were missing from the article.
These parents and students are bearing the brunt of the inequities and lack of quality schools in Oakland’s education system, and they have been for decades now. That needs to change.
I know we can do better, and to do so we must both strengthen the programs that are working and bring in new schools to drive greater equity and serve our families.
Trish Gorham, the President of the Oakland Education Association, which is the teachers union here in Oakland, also weighed in on the article, concluding: “In most areas of school improvement, the lines are clearly drawn. Which side are you on?”
As I shared in an interview with Maya Pope-Chappell, the head of education publishing with LinkedIn and a female African American leader, I find that the polarization in the arguing is distracting and harmful. What we really need to focus on is quality and getting people access and equity. By moving away from arguing about district versus charter and moving toward giving parents the same opportunities that more affluent parents have to determine where their children go to school, we put parents and families in the driver’s seat.”
Rather than arguing, I’d like to work together to help some of our struggling schools implement the innovations many families have found so attractive in our successful charter schools. While working on a way to pay for extending the school day across Oakland schools, let’s make sure our students who most need more instructional time have a longer school day now. Let’s make sure district-run schools receive the freedoms they need to succeed.
I know firsthand what it’s like to be provided public education equity – rigorous instruction with high standards and quality supports. It helped make me who I am today. I also know what it’s like to be tracked toward failure and expected to arrive there. That made me feel angry and disillusioned at times. It’s this personal experience that led me to enter public education.
This is the unacceptable reality that too many of our children are still not getting a quality public education that drives me forth every day. I understand the frustration about the neglect. I also appreciate the concern some have when we make difficult decisions related to our schools.
I am not asking you to choose sides. I am here to offer more quality schools to our families and our kids. Now. That’s my “agenda.” Nothing more.
And when I hear people say we should wait, slow down, or not move “too fast,” I think about what Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail; “For years now I have heard the word ‘wait’…This ‘wait’ has almost always meant ‘never.”
Our children can’t afford for us to wait to deliver a system that provides each child an equitable education regardless of the public school they attend.
We moved quickly to increase salaries to attract and retain the dedicated educators serving our children. We moved quickly to provide our educators laptops, and increase those for our students. We moved quickly to get cut millions from district-office budgets as well. We have more to do. We must move with urgency to create a system of schools focused on educating all children well.
I have no time for distracting arguments over supposed “agendas” or over whether charters are public schools. The Governor, the state legislature, and the California courts have all agreed that they are. And they are one option worth considering to drive improvements in the schools we offer to families in every Oakland neighborhood.
All children matter. And I remain focused on continuing to work hard every day to make sure that Every Student Thrives in Oakland. I hope that you’ll join me.