Oakland B.C., Why the Blame Game Won’t Help and Will Likely Hurt

The search for scapegoats in OUSD’s budget deficit is in full effect and is distracting from the search for solutions.  This was on full display at the recent OUSD Board meeting, where a lot of blame was laid with few real solutions offered.

The deficit is the business manager’s fault, it’s the old Supe’s fault, it’s the board’s fault, it’s because of charters, it’s FICMAT’s fault on and on.

Let’s be clear, there are many contributing factors, but the deficit is no one person’s fault.  There are structural issues in OUSD and its spending, and until the real issues are addressed folks can blame whomever they want, but without practical solutions, we will just keep digging the hole deeper and we know where that eventually leads.

If you weren’t here during the imperial Randy Ward days you better ask somebody.  State receivership sucked.

“Charter schools are the devil”?

And first among scapegoats is the charter sector.  I heard it at the meeting.

“Charter schools are the devil” from a kid who couldn’t have been in middle school—wonder where they heard that?  Surprising they would have such a strong opinion on a governance model.

Or a call to close or stop approving charters—which will not work, since they can just appeal to the County and get approved, giving the district less authority over them and creating an even more wild wild west.

Or a call to stop honoring the law passed by voters, Proposition 39 which gives charters a legal right to “reasonably equivalent” district facilities.  Which again you can ignore, but LAUSD found out the hard way, that you can provide facilities or pay plaintiffs.

And seriously, let’s look at the charter school as culprit argument.

Which means going back to Oakland B.C.–before charters.

Oakland B.C.

If charters are the root of all evil, then things must have been great before them –right?   I know the logic isn’t perfect there, but there has to be some relationship here.  So I spent some searching the interwebs for data on OUSD’s performance back in the late 90’s and early 2000’s.

The tests have changed markedly, so it’s hard to compare those, but we can look at eligibility for the University of California and CSU systems—which while changing too—provide a somewhat common standard of college readiness and also cohort graduation rates, which while not perfect, are comparable.

The Golden Age of OUSD- a 25% cohort graduation rate

Here is what the Tribune had to say in 2003 around the performance of students in OUSD, during the early charter years, compared to the most recent data found in the current OUSD LCAP or the District Balanced Scorecard

Thousands of Oakland high school students and parents celebrated graduation this month. But 75 percent of the ninth-graders on the books in 1998 had nothing to celebrate on graduation day four years later, according to new school district records released to The Oakland Tribune…

The district’s new records show Oakland almost totally failed to graduate students with the credits they need to get into state universities or University of California schools.  Only 7 percent of the freshmen who started school in 1998 graduated four years later with the classes they need on their transcripts to get into state or UC schools. For African-American students, that percentage shrinks to less than 3 percent… That means fewer than three out of every 100 black freshmen graduated on time from city schools with enough credits to get into college. The numbers are even lower for black male students.

So the cohort graduation rate here was 25% in 2105 it was 60.7%

The overall UC/CSU eligibility was 7% in 2015 it was 45.6%

UC/CSU eligibility was 3% for African American students, and even lower for Black male students now it is 30.1% overall and 18% for Black males.

The Good Old Days-1.7% UC/CSU eligibility for Black males, .5% eligibility for Latino males

And data from report, Failing Grade: Crisis and Reform in the Oakland unified School District

More than one-third of OUSD students are designated as limited-English-proficient, yet only one percent of those students are reclassified English proficient.

English Learners reclassifications rates were13.1% in 2015

African-American students accounted for 745 out of 1,618 graduates from Oakland high schools, or 46 percent.1 However, only 29 male African-American students, or 1.7 percent of total graduates, met the coursework eligibility requirements for entrance into a CSU or UC school.2 The figures are even worse for Latino males. Of the 258 Latino graduates, only 8 male Latino students were eligible for CSU or UC, or .5 percent of total graduates.3 N

So the African American male UC/CSU eligibility here was 1.7% now it’s 18%

The Latino male numbers were .5% UC/CSU eligible, and while I didn’t see males broken out in the district scorecard, the overall Latino eligibility rate was 44.1%.

The takeaways

First, despite the abysmal history of achievement for underserved students in Oakland, we have made huge progress.  Grad rates have more than doubled for all students and UC/CSU eligibility for Black and Latino students have increased ten-fold.  Further the reclassification rates of English learners have increased 13 fold.  So there are some good things happening in OUSD that we need to keep doing.  Budget crisis or not.

Second, as charter schools have increased in number, the districts performance has increased.  This isn’t to assume any cause here, or maybe even any relationship.  But I think it’s tough to argue that somehow, the charters are the cause of Oakland Unified’s problems.

You could take away every charter in Oakland today, and it still wouldn’t fix the district, and when there were almost no charters the district was broke as a bad joke—academically and financially.

So it’s time to get real about our hard problems and harder solutions.  Blaming the boogeyman is easy, and may draw applause from partisans.  But like those who burned witches when plagues struck, the crowd may assemble and cheer  meanwhile the vermin grow and spread, alongside the illness.

What do you think?

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