Accidents of Birth that become Harbingers of Death- A Tale of 4 Schools and 4 Miles and the Different Opportunities they Offer

Babies born less than 4 miles apart here have radically different chances.  You can go to public school A in West Oakland, which is 92% free and reduced lunch, where not a single child scored at or above grade level in reading, and 1% are proficient in math.  Or, not far down the block, less than a 4 mile drive, there is public school B, that is 1% free and reduced, and 89% of kids can read and 88% are proficient in math.

School B is a stone’s throw from School C but a chasm of opportunity divides them.  School C is less than half of a mile away, a 2 minute run in my fitter days.  But School C is 74% free and reduced with 13% of students reading proficiently and 15% proficient in math.  And if we travel up to the Hills from school A we can find another elementary that is 8% free and reduced, with 79% of students reading on grade level and 78% at grade level in math.

Please show me the equal opportunity?   An accident of birth can determine your chances.

School School A School B School C School D
Free/reduced lunch 92% 1% 74% 8%
Reading proficiency 0% 89% 13% 79%
Math Proficiency 1% 88% 15% 78%
Driving Distance form School A in miles N/A 3.7 4.0, less than .5 miles from school B 6.6
% African American 62.7% 1.9% 53.5% 7.4%


These are all “public” schools.  The free education that every child is promised, but they are very different schools, with very different opportunities, and very different results.  Four miles apart there is a school two-thirds Black and almost all low income and another school that is 2% Black with almost no low income students.

Schools are where we are supposed to find equal opportunity, and instead we find another sorting system, that magnifies inequality and rations out opportunity to predictable top dogs and underdogs.  With the most privileged dogs eating first.

These disparities aren’t natural or inevitable, they are the remnants of formal segregation that are perpetuated by current enrollment rules and policies, and we can, and have a duty to change this.

The Geography of Opportunity

Richard Rothstein’s, the Color of Law, details the way that state action, through housing policy, enforcing public and private segregation, redevelopment, and other means, created the segregated, and highly unequal condition we are in.

And as part of our State of Black Education Oakland (SoBEO) series on 5/10 at the West Oakland Senior Center, we will be digging in on how West Oakland got to be West Oakland, how the Hills got to be the Hills and how we can practically change the rules to expand access to opportunity.  It will be an evening with elected officials, activists, school enrollment staff, and community and we hope you can join us.

Privilege, disparate opportunity, and disadvantage will just keep replicating until we interrupt these patterns.  And no matter where you stand on the political spectrum, unless it is in the racist, classist eugenicist camp, you gotta at least admit there is a problem when you look at our 4 public schools and the grave disparities in opportunities they offer.

And we owe it to those children not born lucky enough to attend school B, to at least try to change this rigged system.

What do you think?

More Comments