The State of Black Education in Oakland and What We Can Do

It’s a mistake to say the education system is failing, at least in regards to Black students.  It is not a coincidence that by most measures Black students are being left behind.  And if it were only Oakland that would be one thing, but it is literally the same everywhere, 200 million test scores were reviewed, every district surveyed had a Black-White Achievement gap.

If they tell you that schools are the way to equalize opportunity, but you don’t see any equal opportunity anywhere, you gotta start asking some questions.

Black elementary school children in Oakland have a roughly 1 in 6 chance of reading on grade level, charter or district.  So nobody with skin in the game really cares about your public school wars.  It doesn’t matter if it’s a charter or a district school—nobody is consistently delivering for our children and families.

Some tinkering around the edges or working a little harder is not going to radically change these numbers.  You could double these numbers and it would be too low, even triple them.

That is why the State of Black Education in Oakland (SoBEO) started meeting with and listening to families, students and educators almost a year ago.  We wanted to build community, dialogue together, research solutions, and ultimately move for action.  This led to four concrete policy proposals that will make things better for Black families in Oakland now.

Celebrate Community and Organize for Action

On 10/20 at Geoffrey’s we invite you out to join us as the community will unveil their solutions to the problems facing Black children and families.  This will be an engaging and celebratory event where we come together listen to the stories, and present demands to elected.  And as always, we will share a celebratory drink.

We need to come together because things are actually getting worse.

The statewide testing showed that the achievement gap between White and Black students has gotten bigger.  And when we look at Oakland numbers, while Black reading readiness is ahead of Latinos in kindergarten, by the end of elementary school Black students trail Latinos in reading proficiency.  We are losing ground.

And we are also facing new threats.

Changing demographics mean changing politics

Oakland may have the soul of a chocolate city, but it doesn’t have the population.  Black folks are now the third largest demographic group and in Oakland and if current trends continue, those numbers will continue to dwindle.

Those years when we made up the majority of the school board, or elected successive Black mayors, are becoming increasingly unlikely. And as our political clout declines, so too does the focus on the problems of Black children and families and the will to push for solutions, or even see them.

Black families in Oakland are also relatively poorer than they were a decade ago.  The subprime housing crisis disproportionately affected Black families, many of us lost the most common form of wealth—our homes. And we are worse off now than we were.

So we have less people, less votes, and less money. And unless we increase our organizing we are bound to have even less political power and less opportunity.

New Threats in Dangerous Fiscal Times

Desperate times often call for desperate measures—or maybe I should say disparate measures.  Because the prime beneficiaries of the current system—those who get free, high-quality public schools in the Hills—and the folks who tend to pay the cost are distinct.  Schools will be closed, and we can imagine that they will ALL be in the Flatlands and ALL will be largely low income students of color—and I will bet you dollars to donuts that the most affected group will be Black students.

We need an answer for these families—and we heard a viable one as we were out in community that parents themselves will present.

And as staff are let go under the “last hired, first fired” standards—who do you think was last hired? I have already heard from young Black educators about not being invited back—the so called “non-elect letter.”  So who is likely to pay the disproportionate costs there?  More of the same won’t help us—and we heard answers in the community from educators.

So again, I do not have a superpower—but I can predict with utmost accuracy that Black staff and Black families will bear a disproportionate burden, in the district righting itself—unless we organize.

A Perfect Storm

The Oakland we had, and the one we have now, will be a faint reminder unless we act.  Our children will not have the skills to participate in the opportunities here.  They will be priced out of housing, and without the skills, they will struggle.  Life will be hard.  Harder than it has to be.

That said, we do have strong institutions, as well as smart, committed and dedicated individuals and a rich history to draw on.  And nothing has ever come to us without demand and struggle.  For many of us individually and as a collective, we are defined by struggle.  And there is no reason to imagine why that would change.

To withstand school closings and dislocation, the firing of Black educators, the rising costs, and abysmal educational outcomes, not to mention a system rigged against us, we need to come together, learn together and rethink what we are doing and how we are doing it.

A little more of the same won’t matter, we need revolutionary answers.

The State of Black Education in Oakland

Despite long term systematic underserving and undermining of Black children, we hear very little about them in the current debate.  They and their parents are sometimes trotted out as props for this one’s or that one’s agenda.  But once the cameras go away, so do their concerns.

That is why we organized the State of Black Education in Oakland.

Black children in Oakland need us. Please join us on Saturday, October 20 to move for action.

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