Inconvenient Truths in Oakland’s Charter School Wars

Oakland has more school aged children that don’t attend a district or charter public school (17,572), than attend charters (11,774).  Further OUSD has only lost 55 students since 2013-14, declining from 36,869 students to 36,814.  These facts found in last week’s Board packets, further challenge the narrative that charters are the problem in OUSD and that declining enrollment is driving the fiscal crisis.  And to get to solutions we need to start with facts.

With all the yelling from a small contingent about charters being “the devil” we are missing what is really happening.  And until we face the facts and the real challenges we will never solve them. Charter schools are not the main area where the district is losing students, and in the recent history, OUSD is barely declining.  Further, that decline is within its control. OUSD has a whole set of structural challenges it needs to reckon with, and until it addresses those, no amount of scapegoating will help.

Where are 17,572 Oakland Youth?

More Oakland youth, do not attend an Oakland public school (district or charter) than attend charter schools.  Check the numbers, of the 65,740 school age youth in Oakland, 36,392 went to a district school, 11,774 went to a charter and a whopping 17,572 students went to neither a district school nor charter.

Smartly OUSD’s enrollment office is reaching out to these parents. But why isn’t the status of these children a priority and subject of debate?

Is Declining Enrollment the Root of Fiscal Problems?

OUSD has decreased by only 55 students since 2013-14 according to the FICMAT report. That is fewer than the number of entering students at OUSD’s newly opened Oakland School of Language. And while some of those students likely would have attended other OUSD schools, some of them would not have.  Check the table below.

OUSD is a smaller district than it was 10 years ago, but to blame the current fiscal crisis on declining enrollment is missing other contributing factors. And until we address those structural challenges in the OUSD budget, we will never right the ship.

Why it Matters

Our current charter versus district narrative misses the larger issues taking place, and will not help us solve them.  Yes charters are a convenient scapegoat, and yes charters may contribute to some of the districts woes.  But the issue is really one of quality and access.  Some OUSD schools are under-enrolled and some schools get 5 applications for every seat.  In many cases families are not satisfied with the schools they have and vote with their feet, or pocketbooks.

Truth be told, you could hypothetically eliminate every charter, and the district would still have the same problems and families in Oakland would have even more.  Nobody can make a credible argument that things were better for Black and Brown children in Oakland before charters, check the numbers.

Blaming charters does not help kids, families or the district.  OUSD needs to take a hard look at its portfolio of schools, structure of its budget, and the familiar areas of overrun.  It also needs to find a productive way to engage with the charter community, and coordinate to better and more equitably serve families.

It is time for us to get to facts in Oakland.  And while scapegoats may rally the partisans, they don’t carry us towards solutions.

They stall us while our real problems fester.

What do you think?

2 thoughts on “Inconvenient Truths in Oakland’s Charter School Wars

    1. Its hard to say where they are, some in private schools, some probably go out of district and others are dropout/pushouts, but I wish we actually knew more

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