Charters Don’t “Siphon” Students, Oakland Needs More Journalism and Less Reporter Judgments

I was really hoping that the Oaklandside would add more light and less heat to the circular and counterproductive public school wars in Oakland. We have two under resourced, generally underperforming school sectors, serving roughly the same students, pitted against each other, while Black families struggle to find solace in either. The sectors are united in struggling for crumbs of crumbs, while underserved families are united in swimming against the current searching for the few islands of opportunity.

First off, I have really appreciated some of the education coverage from Oaklandside, the last piece however had such shallow and decontextualized information about charters it strained the meaning of journalism.

It’s not clear whether folks don’t know or don’t care to find out but let me help Oaklandside out here some.  I got a history lesson, and some help on the style guide to boot.

The charter section of the article starts with this

“Last year, the district leased out the Lakeview Elementary School property to AIMS College Prep High School, a charter school—a practice many parents, including Stewart, want to see come to an end with the next school board.”

Left out is the fact that the voters of California approved proposition 39 which guaranteed charter public schools “reasonably equivalent facilities” meaning the District is mandated to offer space to charter public schools.  It has roughly 12,000 empty seats, and several unused buildings. Charter students are public school students, and they should get the use of public school facilities, at least that is what voters decided.  That is the law, it’s not a discretionary give-away. 

OUSD is currently being sued for not complying sufficiently.  LAUSD recently lost a similar suit, with millions in damages.  The issue is framed without any context, where context matters.  And many charter parents would disagree, but their voices are absent.

The OUSD board has authorized 33 charter schools currently operating in Oakland, and 18 of them use district facilities. Several of those schools entered into long-term agreements with the school district, with leases as far out as 2033 or 2036.

Again, totally lacking context.  Left out is the fact that the district applied for over a 100 million dollars with the charters to improve OUSD owned facilities, and those grants – from the state no less—required long term leases, all the money goes to properties that OUSD owns, so it is not some outrageous sweetheart deal, its revenue generation for OUSD that improves their buildings.   The lease term is a condition of the financing.  Mind you district schools don’t pay any rent for use of district facilities, while charter schools do.  And in this case they are paying down long term bonds I believe as part of the grant program, for district buildings.

Charter schools have their own unelected boards, usually overseen by a nonprofit corporation. They receive public funding from the state like public district schools. The first charter school in Oakland opened in 1993, and charters have since exploded in growth, siphoning away students and the funding that comes with them. Because OUSD receives money based on its average daily attendance numbers, fewer and fewer students enrolling each year in district schools means less funding. During the 2019-2020 school year, 27 percent of Oakland public school students attended charter schools.

The use of “siphoning” is curious.  Does the district have a uterus, because unless it does, it doesn’t “have” any children.  When Oakland kids choose to go private or homeschool or the exodus to Emory high—are they “siphoning” students?  For all the children who drop or more accurately are pushed out, of both charter and district schools, are they “siphoned” off by the streets or their job.

Nobody ever says how St. Paul’s or O’Dowd “siphons” students.  I wonder why, it seems like one set of parents have agency and other is being duped and siphoned.

It’s a curious and loaded term, more reminiscent of some dude stealing gas through a hose, than a parent looking for the best they can get in a game that has never served them, and still doesn’t.

Some families and teachers want to see board members take a hardline stance against any new charter schools, while others favor a more moderate approach that would allow charters to continue operating as a major part of Oakland’s education system. 

The initial argument for allowing charter schools was that their existence would create competition with district schools and encourage innovation to keep students enrolled in OUSD schools and better serve students and families.

This is just lazy.  Nobody in the real world of starting the original charters in Oakland said a whit about “competition.”  Oaklandside could talk to folks, they are still around.  Oakland Charter Academy was the first, it was started to serve ELL’s because the district didn’t, I worked on the lawsuit against the district for that disservice.  Civicorps was second (90% sure), it’s designed for overage under credited kids originally it was East Bay Conservation Corps I believe, American Indian was third, it was started by the American Indian Child Resource Center, West Oakland community School was next, again, Black folks from the West.  Then Oakland Community Organizations (now Faith in Action) got involved and supported a slate of charters, alongside moving in the small schools direction. 

These folks are still around still working in these communities.  So, to ascribe an origin story, that aligns with a particular narrative, and against the facts, rather than actually asking, just seems lazy, particularly for an outfit that wants to pride itself in digging deeper.

Nobody cared about competition, it was about communities coming together to serve their own who had been disserved for soooooooo long, and still largely are.

In the 90’s, the cohort of Black students in OUSD had around a 3% A-G completion rate.  That is not a typo.  3%.  So yeah, many families sought options.

And many were similarly failed by the public charter schools, or failed in different ways.  But there are islands of service in both public school sectors, and it just disserves and disrespects families to cover them in this way as “siphoners,” driven or manipulated by forces that they actually weren’t. 

Here are the latest numbers I have, it shows, two public school sectors largely failing Black students.  If you want a story, cover that.

And while I don’t have comparison data, for charters here is the data for OUSD K-8, note that the gap between White and Black students has GROWN over the last 5 years.  18.6% of Black student read on grade level 71% of White students do.  There’s your story, I got thousands of families that can testify. That would better serve the community than the slanted and decontextualized story you presented, one that obscured facts and their underlying causes, rather than illuminated them.

from edsource
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