Clearing up the Distractions

There is a lot of confusion about the process behind the effort to improve school enrollment in Oakland’s public schools.  And unfortunately, those misunderstandings threaten to distract from the real issue at stake: families need a better way to find and enroll in public schools – one that is equitable, transparent and accessible for all Oakland families.

So here is some clarification to help move past the distractions.

Educate78 is providing financial support to improve public school enrollment in Oakland – specifically, to help facilitate community engagement and access the technical and experiential expertise needed for this type of improvement.

We deeply believe this effort will only be successful if it is guided by the views and needs of the Oakland community.

We deeply believe this effort will only be successful if it is guided by the views and needs of the Oakland community. That is why we worked closely with Oakland Unified School District and other community partners to bring together more than 200 parents, teachers and school leaders, in 12 public forums, at locations all over the city.  These forums – which are still ongoing – were widely publicized, open to all and attended by both supporters and skeptics of the initiative to improve public school enrollment.  We also helped OUSD promote a public survey they created to get even more input, in which 77% of 450 respondents from across the city shared their belief that the way Oakland does public school enrollment should be updated or replaced.

We also think Oakland can learn a lot from other cities about planning and designing enrollment improvements.  We asked enrollment experts to share successes and challenges, in the hopes that Oakland can use what works, improve upon what does not, and create an enrollment approach that meets the needs of our unique city and the diverse families our public schools serve.

Educate78 provided financial support for this project because there was a need.  As we all know, OUSD faces tight budget constraints, which limit the district’s ability to conduct the community engagement and learning required to make this effort a winning solution for all Oakland families.  Educate78 is proud to help fill that gap in resources and we are disappointed that our support has contributed to the controversy of a project intended to improve the lives of Oakland families.  While many of our own donors are supportive of public charter schools, some are more excited about our work to support district school redesign efforts and community engagement.  Educate78 – like many Oakland families – is much less concerned with what types of public schools are serving our communities than we are with the results they are getting.

Educate78 – like many Oakland families – is much less concerned with what types of public schools are serving our communities than we are with the results they are getting.

The initiative to improve school enrollment is being driven by families’ needs – especially families who historically have not had any opportunity to share their enrollment experiences with the District.  It is not being driven by public charter schools – both public charters and district-run schools still have outstanding questions about how the new process will work. This initiative is not about moving more students to public charter schools.  Indeed, the highest performing public charter schools in Oakland already have full enrollment and waitlists.  This is about improving equity, transparency and access to public schools for all Oakland families.  Let’s keep that the focus.

Some people may continue to oppose OUSD’s plans to make public school enrollment better for political or ideological reasons, and that’s ok.  We are glad that our democracy allows civic discourse about the best path forward for our city.  We hope the ongoing community engagement sessions will fully air the diverse points of view on this topic, and we will continue to support the District to expand its outreach, so that any enrollment improvements are fully informed by the needs of Oakland’s diverse families.

Top 10 Reasons to be Optimistic about Oakland Public Education

“With such amazing educators and leaders working together on behalf of Oakland’s children, what could stop us from having the best urban public education system in the country?”

‘Tis the season.  Back to School season, that is.  It’s a time of fresh beginnings, energy and optimism.  Students are excited to meet their teachers and catch up with classmates.  Teachers are trying out new ideas.  School leaders are setting a positive tone for the year.  (And parents are relieved!)

Those of us who work in and around schools in Oakland are buzzing with the possibility that this year we will take big steps toward the goal of ensuring every student in Oakland has access to a world-class public education.

Here are the top 10 reasons I am hopeful:

1. Leaders, plural!

Superintendent Antwan Wilson is a man on a mission, and has spent more time in schools, classrooms and community forums than any other Superintendent in recent memory. Mayor Libby Schaaf has declared education a priority.  County Superintendent Karen Monroe is bringing fresh thinking to ACOE.  OUSD’s School Board, led by President James Harris, is using new approaches to hear community input and enable more civil discourse.  And thanks to Governor (and die-hard Oakland cheerleader) Jerry Brown, our public schools actually have more money to work with.  And the list doesn’t stop there.  Given the amount of work that needs to be done, I’m glad to see a strong, aligned cabinet at OUSD, including both district veterans and new executives.  Our Mayor hired a Policy Director on Youth & Education for the first time.  And our principals and teachers have incredible experience as community and instructional leaders, with the potential to do even more.

2. Strong community-based organizations. 

Oakland has a long history of being an incubator – and crucible – for social justice entrepreneurs.  So it’s no surprise that some of the most impactful and nationally well-regarded not-for-profit organizations are headquartered here: National Equity Project, Beyond12, GreatSchools, Seneca Family of Agencies, Aspire Public Schools…to name just a few.  These groups are an incredible resource for Oakland education, nimble enough to identify and fill new gaps as they arise.  And more are being created: I am inspired by working at the Impact Hub, where I am surrounded by social entrepreneurs of every kind.

3. We have a teacher contract! 

[Another round of applause]  This was the first year in many that OUSD teachers started the school year with a contract.  And it’s a ground-breaking one, with well-deserved raises, smaller class sizes, lower counselor to student ratios and the flexibility to give principals, teachers and parents a stronger voice in hiring.  But it’s only the beginning.  There is more work ahead to make Oakland a place where the best teachers want to work and live, and teachers need to be part of crafting those ideas.  We are excited to support a city-wide survey to hear from our teachers how we’re doing and what else we need to do as a city to keep and support our teachers.

4. Restorative justice work… works.

Over the past several years, OUSD has been hard at work instituting new practices for student behavior management and school discipline. With more national attention to the school-to-prison pipeline, Oakland can be a national model.

5. Coming soon: a better way to enroll in schools.

Enrolling students in schools that are good matches for their needs is a basic function of the public school system.  Unfortunately, any parent who has gone through the enrollment process knows that Oakland’s current approach is outdated, unnecessarily complicated and inequitable.  Those parents will be glad to hear that an improved process is in the works, thanks to a diverse group of leaders and families.  (If you’re interested in helping to make this happen, please let us know!)

6. More rigorous and relevant learning.  

Last year’s voter approval of Measure N, combined with implementation of Common Core State Standards, means our high school students are starting to get what they need: mastery of content and skills to be successful in college and career, and the opportunity to use what they know in ways that matter. It’s also a great opportunity for local businesses to be more connected to our schools – a hallmark of a united community.

7. Innovation. 

With our proximity to Silicon Valley, it’s natural for our teachers and schools to try new ideas.  Nearly every school has teachers who are using technology in new ways (kudos to the IT team at OUSD for making that possible by getting all the schools wired!).  Many schools, both charter and district-operated are attempting even more dramatic innovation – using models in which students have personalized learning experiences, rather than just being part of a “grade level batch.” 

8. New and newly revitalized schools.

Some of Oakland’s most successful public schools were started or redesigned within the last fifteen years.  We know that unleashing the creative and collaborative energy of our best school leaders, teachers and families can dramatically transform previously under-performing schools.  This tactic from the Oakland playbook is our best shot at turning around our most challenged schools, and as a city, we need to do everything we can to support efforts at Castlemont, Fremont, McClymonds, Frick, Brookfield, and other schools that are not serving our students as well as they deserve.  To provide more support for those working on re-imagining their schools, expanding successful schools and creating new high quality schools, we are developing a resource center to provide best practices and collaboration opportunities. 

9. Community organizing to amplify voices of diverse families.

Our citizens have for decades joined hands for the cause of equity and justice.

Oakland also has a deep history of community organizing.  From Black Panthers to #BlackLivesMatter, our citizens have for decades joined hands for the cause of equity and justice.  So the ground here is fertile for us to raise up more parent voices.  Our diverse families have a lot to say about the kind of public education they want for their children, and they are understandably a little too busy to come to school board meetings regularly.  We are proud to be working with Oakland Community Organization and others to help parents and guardians exercise their voice to get what their students need.

10. Many people committed to equity.

At every school, I meet hard-working brilliant individuals who are passionate about providing a great education to every child. Many of them have a huge fan base among their students, in their school, or among their colleagues – but are unknown by the rest of us.  I loved the Key & Peele ESPN spoof imagining what it would be like if teachers got the media coverage of sports stars.  In my ideal world, it wouldn’t be a spoof – it would be reality.  It’s the reason I’ll showcase some of these individuals on this blog: the HEROES series will launch soon.   With such amazing educators and leaders working together on behalf of Oakland’s children, what could stop us from having the best urban public education system in the country?