What’s Really Wrong with Closing Schools and How the “Opportunity Ticket” Fixes It

Closing schools balances the district’s budget woes on the backs of the already most underserved parents.  The reality of closings is that it does nothing for those parents who have been dis-served and will be displaced.  Typically, they attend an equally low-performing school that is further away and/or less familiar.  And while the district may move towards balancing its books, it is these most underserved families that pay the price.

But there is another way.

What if we guaranteed families at closing schools that they could get into better schools?

What if we actually walked that equity talk that is chanted so loudly in Oakland, but hardly evident?

What if rather than giving our most disadvantaged one more ticket to nowhere we privileged them, as they should be?

That is the idea behind the “Opportunity Ticket,” which was unveiled by the Oakland REACH and State of Black Education in Oakland (SoBEO) at the recent Black Paper event, and it can be a game changer.

Giving Families the Schools They Deserve

The way things work now, the most disadvantaged families have access to the lowest performing schools, and the most privileged families have access to the highest performing ones.  This is not an earned privilege—it is one that was created by legally segregated housing, and a similar segregation of opportunity.  You can see more on that in our video of our “Conversation on Segregation, Opportunity and the Color of Law in West Oakland.”

But the link between neighborhood and destiny needs to be broken and we can break it.  There are too many schools in Oakland, and schools will close or “merge” or “get married” whatever the terminology of the day is.  And we know who will be at the closing schools.  The students that need and deserve the most, and get the least.

And when their school closes, they will get a neighborhood preference for nearby failing schools, which may be next on the chopping block.  Shuttled from shuttered school building to shuttered school building.  But our enrollment preferences are not natural law—they are remainders of what most would call an unnatural law, that restricted where people could live based on race—and they perpetuate segregation.  We should change them.

The Opportunity Ticket would provide families at closing schools or campuses a priority enrollment preference for any school in Oakland, that is higher than the neighborhood-based enrollment preference.  This would give these families real access to the schools of their choice, and pay forward some of the dividends the district will reap, as well as repaying part of the historical debt.

Who and What Are the Public Schools Really For

The public schools have always been here to sort us, overserving some and underserving others—that was the design.  They still operate that way, and one of the key reasons why is because we have allowed segregated neighborhoods to make segregated schools feel natural.

We can honestly argue about the effects of “integration” but, I know for 100% sure that concentrating very high-needs students who suffer from trauma and a range of other challenges, with newer teachers in under-resourced schools that sit adjacent to dozens of HAZMAT sites, will be bad for their educational opportunity.  So is going to a school where not a single student was proficient in reading, and it was 1% the year before.  I am pretty sure your child will struggle.

We need to break that chain between the neighborhood you were born in or can afford to live in and the schools you can actually attend.  We need charter school boards and the OUSD board to change their enrollment rules and provide real access to the parents that need it most.

We will be bringing out hundreds of community members to the OUSD school board meeting on December 12, 2018, and working to push charter boards for change too.  This is one change our families need and it is completely doable.  It just depends on us—so please join us.

Oakland’s most underserved families need you.

What do you think?

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