The Data We Need to Understand Oakland’s Public School Sectors and Why We Don’t Have it

There is some powerful data coming out on school performance and operations in Oakland, often comparing charter public schools and the district schools.  The challenge comes in interpreting it.  Charter school overall outcomes are stronger than the district’s, particularly at the middle and high schools, but is that because charters are actually doing a better job, or is it because they have higher achieving students to start with.

It is an important question, and one I honestly don’t know the answer to.

But I could, we all could.

The study we need

We need a real cross sector study of Oakland students that follows them in their academic careers, and tracks and compares their progress.  A real cohort study.  If a child is in a public school, we know where they went, because eventually that school will collect the per pupil funding from the state.  So charters and district schools should be covered.  But given the 17,572 students that aren’t in either I would try to enlist the private schools as well, and adjoining districts.

Don’t tell me it can’t be done.  We did it in NYC with 1.1 million students, and over a thousand schools.  You could see year to year growth, and compare it to average growth for similar students, and look at real attrition rates.   You can also look at school lotteries, who got in, who didn’t, and then compare the progress of the two groups.   This serves as an imperfect but relatively good randomized trial.

Why don’t we have it

So with 50,000 or so students and less than 200 schools why can’t we do it here?

We have a top university, Cal, a laggard that might be interested, Stanford (Go Bears), on the ground research in Oakland Achieves, and I bet we could get voluntary information sharing, if there wasn’t a way to just do it automatically.

We have big strategic decisions to make in Oakland that will affect the shape and future of the City’s public schools.  And the data we are getting now is in some ways the best it has ever been, but it’s not good enough.   We need to invest in that next step to not only start asking the right questions, but getting the right answers.

There is no good reason this has not been done, except that we haven’t yet done it—and we should.



What do you think?

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