In Oakland’s brave new world of open enrollment the most important thing you can do for your child is not joining the PTA and helping on the playground; it’s making sure you find the best school for them.
Every family has a right to apply to basically any school in Oakland, charter or district, and we have schools where 80% of kids are proficient and others where less than 5% are. Some schools where almost all the children are low income and historically underserved and others where very few are. And it’s not a pure numbers game, you need to ask around and visit schools and find the best school for your child, but there are more choices than ever, and the way the system works, if you don’t choose you will probably lose.
Choosers, Losers, Choices and Tools
Enrollment season started November 5th in Oakland and the deadline for school on time or first round applications is February 8th, if you didn’t know that, and you have a school aged child, you need to get on the lists. It used to be you showed up in August at your neighborhood school and you were in.
Not necessarily now, any family that submits their application by February 8th can apply to any school, and while there is a neighborhood preference, your best chance for getting the school of your choice is to apply to several schools and apply before February 8th.
Let’s look at the numbers that came out of a recent Oakland REACH parent meeting around enrollment, that was covered by KQED,
Wilson said 68 percent of parents who apply on time to get outside of their local neighborhood school get their first or second choice. He said typically, parents who apply in the first round are a subgroup of more affluent families. Once the first enrollment application in February passes, Wilson says parents can still apply to get out of a low-performing neighborhood school, but the odds are much lower of finding a space open in the top-performing schools. Wilson adds that each year some 6,000 parents don’t show up at the district until July and August, trying to get their kids enrolled.
(The Wilson referred to is Charles Wilson who leads the enrollment office)
If you miss that deadline, all the spots at your school of choice may be full, even if it is in your neighborhood. And right now, it is predictable choosers and losers, and if you aren’t in the game you are definitely losing.
I have to emphasize that it is not all test scores, you need to find the school that is right for your child. Oakland has a range of choices, we have dual language programs in Spanish, Mandarin and French, Waldorf and Montessori models, schools that emphasize real world learning and internships, and more traditional models. And within any school, parents need to do some research to understand what is actually happening at the school versus what the brochure might say.
Tools and Resources for Families
There are a range of tools for families, but you need to do your homework, check the numbers, ask your friends and family, do school visits, talk to families who attend schools, and then kind of trust your gut. We will be doing a series of blogs looking at the numbers some, and doing it by subgroup, and we will also be asking families what they want to see in school quality reviews, and also their experiences, so please share yours.
Even better, the Oakland REACH will support families through the process of applying to schools, and enrolling your child if they receive a match through the lottery. Their team of parent advocates are parents and grandparents who have also gone through this process.
Once you join the program, you will be matched with a parent advocate, who will work with you personally throughout the year. Oakland REACH’s services are also completely FREE. To learn more, please call our CCSP Program Manager, Keta Brown at (510) 395-7002. You can also email her at [email protected].
Ways to look at “school quality”
OUSD’s School Finder – This site has a map of schools and shows both academic and social indicators in the individual school profiles
The California School Dashboard –You can type in the name of a school and search a number of menus
OUSD’s Performance Dashboards – Here you can see a range of academic and non academic outcomes
Great Schools.org– A school review and ranking site, that has improved over the years, I worry that the reviews are sometimes non representative
The CORE district data- this is the best way to actually look at school impact because it actually tracks and compares students, the other databases all just look at who is at a school at a given time, so if a high number of say, Newcomers, arrive, your school rating may go down, while a school that attracts more high achievers would go up, without really knowing whether the school helped or not.
Currently we don’t have access to the CORE data—but we are working on it.