Sometimes, working with districts the simple things seem hard. Common sense isn’t as common as it should be, and low hanging fruit falls from the tree and rots on the ground. Oakland Unified has shone a light on its current status with the Strategic Regional Analysis, but it’s really up to us to push for more strategic action, and move beyond the paralysis of regional analysis.
Charters were envisioned as the research and development arm of the school system, when they started, and OUSD should look at its charter successes as well as OUSD small schools successes as it starts to implement broader school quality improvements. One data nugget, 73% of charter-run schools in Oakland are k-8 or 6-12, while only 9% of district-run schools are. And this simple structural change matters.
Two simple lessons emerge when you look at Oakland data and research;(1) traditional, segmented, education of students in distinct elementary, middle and high schools is bad for kids, correspondingly, OUSD should have more TK-8s, 6-12s or Tk-12s. And (2), given the demand for programs, the District should embark on a more deliberate replication and grade expansion strategy.
Fewer Transitions is Better For Students
You can see the research expanding grades in an earlier blog on this issue here, which almost universally shows, that as students move between distinct schools, they tend to suffer academically, socially, and in general wellness.
One literature review summarized this point saying,
“every transitions from one narrowly configured school to another seems to disrupt the social structure in which learning takes place, lowering participation and achievement for many students, predictably this damage will be most sever in the cases of students from impoverished backgrounds. “
So why don’t we have more district-run tk-8 or 6-12 or even tk-12 programs—particularly for students who suffer from insecurity? Having the same school and same environment is an almost unmitigated positive.
Growing High Quality Programs Should be a Priority
As someone who works in school development, improvement, and turnaround, I can attest that replications/expansions are easier. They are certainly not easy, as each school is its own peculiar nightmare, but they are easier. You have a model to build from, you may share and train staff to share best practices, and it also opens pathways to leadership for people at the mother school.
And when you look at top scoring schools in Oakland there are several repeat players from replications. There are several schools from Amethod, several schools from AIMS, and while not replications, many of the highest performing Fruitvale schools are from Education for Change (full disclosure I am a trustee). For these charter school management organizations, when something is working, they double down and do more of it. Not so much for the District.
How does this make sense?
I actually don’t think there are any real replications in OUSD, the closest being LIFE Academy which had a high school and expanded to a middle. But that’s it.
And look at the logic here—you have a school MetWest, that gets 4 to 5 applications for every open spot, turns away 120 students per year who make it their first choice, and is bursting at the seams. 2.5 miles away you have McClymonds which is at 34% of capacity, so it is 2/3rds empty, with relatively few families making it their first choice.
|# 1st Choice On-time Applications||
|Oakland Technical High School||1139||468||243.4%|
|Skyline High School||288||468||61.5%|
|Oakland High School||180||399||45.1%|
|Met West High School||159||34||467.6%|
|# 1st Choice On-time Applications||
|McClymonds High School||27||80||33.8%|
|Fremont High School||64||199||32.2%|
|Castlemont High School||72||156||46.2%|
It makes no sense to me that we are turning kids away from one program and struggling to attract them to another, and these two building are relatively physically close. That doesn’t mean some MetWest takeover of Mac, but it could mean a MetWest West situated in a wing of Mac. That makes Mac more sustainable, will bring in more resources, and given the chronic challenges at Mac, it would serve as a relief valve and another option for families. Or what if a strong middle school program replicated as a feeder at Mac, creating a 6-12 or 5-12?
Moving From Analysis to Action
I applaud the District for peeling back the data and presenting the Strategic Regional Analysis, alongside its fact piece on charter-run and district-run public schools in Oakland.
But as the urban poet Oshe Jackson once quipped, “I can give it to ya but what ya gon do with it.”
For far too many Oakland families, the schools they get are not good enough. I hope that Oakland can make common sense more common, and take some easy steps to make schools better for students and families. This is all very hard work, and we can’t afford to pass low hanging fruit, while families hunger for better options.