When Good Intentions Go Bad, Opportunity Hoarders and Equity in Oakland

Existing rules and the dynamics of choice tend to increase inequality.  There don’t need to be any bad actors.  As parents we all do try to do the best we can for our children.  But that pattern of choices, and neighborhood assignment, tend to reinforce and increase the distance between children of advantage and those without.

I had some great feedback formal and informal on my last blog, Choosers, Losers, Abusers and “Opportunity Hoarding” in Oakland, and it got hundreds of views a day, Anna a thoughtful reader, noted

I think a main takeaway re: “opportunity hoarding” is that it can occur even when people’s stated intentions are to increase equity–as both those pro and those against common enrollment would describe themselves. See http://neatoday.org/2015/10/21/how-good-schools-and-good-intentions-widen-the-achievement-gap/ andhttps://tressiemc.com/2016/01/28/the-limits-of-education-reform-a-road-paved-with-the-best-intentions/

I wish there had been a more creative and (IMO) progressive solution to revamp enrollment on the table; as I think the writer of the second blog post would say, in a choice-based system like Oakland’s, we can be assured that those with privilege will continue to be “choosers,” regardless of whether charters are part or separate or combined lottery. For instance, what if all schools (district and charter) that would otherwise fill up at the initial lottery phase were required to set aside a certain number of slots for foster and former foster kids?

The articles cited, particularly the second one, are a bit wonky but insightful.  The short of it; the persistence and reproduction of racial inequality, within schools, and between schools won’t be solved by our current policies, and they dynamics of districts, schools, and parental choices only make this inequality worse.

We need to consciously work for equity and think outside the box.  I like Anna’s idea of a set aside for high needs students at the best schools, with transportation and deliberately designed supportive programs.  Every small school will not immediately be able to serve every challenge well, but what if all schools (district and charter), coordinating with the district and looking at needs, agreed to build out specific high needs programs.

So Hillcrest may develop an expertise and deliberate supports for a set of foster students, Montera develops an integrated program for students on the autism spectrum, Aspire develops expertise and an integrated program for dyslexic students, maybe every above average school needs to reserve 10% of spots, or the District invests in expanding seats at those schools where it makes sense.

We can enlist educational advocates that would volunteer to help non-choosing students make better choices with better fits, monitoring and supporting student progress and creating feedback loops for future choices and program improvement. This would take some coordination, cooperation, and policy changes.  We would have to look as one community at our children and what their needs are and try to better plan to meet them.

The system, and our individual choices within it (mine included), conspire against equity.  And anyone watching the train can see it plowing along, who is in front, who is in back, and who isn’t even on it.

We need to conspire together as one community of schools, charters and district, to change this.

I guarantee you it won’t happen on its own.

What do you think?

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