Our New North Star
that Guides our Transformational Schools Work:
All families across Oakland’s 78 square miles
know their children will realize their full brilliance and potential
at every public school in any neighborhood.
Our community continually takes collective responsibility
to reimagine, create, and improve a public education system
where success is not predicted by race and class.
I joined the Educate78 team about two years ago, helping propel forward a deep rethinking of the organization’s mission and how to build on the assets in our community to move toward greater quality and equity for all kids. This has led us to a new North Star and a renewed focus on our core mission – giving more of our community’s children access to quality, transformational schools.
For too long, the success and failure of Oakland’s students has correlated primarily with their race, class, and the zip code where they live. Systemic oppression against Black and Brown students denies them the quality education they deserve. We see it as our responsibility to support any and all efforts to remove the predictability of success or failure, and support school leaders to reimagine and deliver an equitable, thriving community of transformational schools.
A Year in Review: The Progression of Our Transformational Schools Work
For schools to become high quality, transformational schools, they have to be committed to interrupting policies and practices that perpetuate oppression. All of our work at Educate78, including our work with school leaders, is designed through this equity-centered lens. I am humbled and grateful for the opportunity to lead our transformational school’s efforts, working with several incredible OUSD school communities across Oakland’s 78 square miles, east to west.
Now entering its third year, this evolving program partners with Oakland public schools with the goal of moving them from “good to great” through educator-led redesign processes prioritizing academic rigor and a joyful school climate, elements we believe can transform our city’s most underserved schools. The four schools I work with in this fellowship are: Bridges Academy, Hoover Elementary, Melrose Leadership Academy, and Urban Promise Academy.
The earliest version of this fellowship involved engaging with school communities to identify the most pressing issues getting in the way of better outcomes for our most vulnerable students. We helped each school develop certain basic foundational documents, including a mission, vision, values, and a graduate profile. School leaders received ongoing coaching around their design work, as well as gaining access to learning opportunities such as conferences and travel study trips, the UnboundEd Standards Institute, and bi-weekly programming developed and facilitated by members of the Educate78 schools team.
As with many of our efforts, nearly all of which involve working directly with those closest to the problem – teachers, school leaders, students, and families at school sites, we learned along the way and adjusted in response to feedback:
- Less programming, more time implementing and iterating: Although they valued the programming, our leaders requested less time in meetings so they could spend more time applying the learning back at their sites.
- More time reflecting, less time on documents: Similar to the extensive programming, while the foundational documents felt relevant, some of the other artifacts felt too compliance driven rather than moving the work at the sites forward. Leadership is both active and reflective – it has to alternate between participating and observing. Leaders needed a space for deep reflection.
- Site-based decision-making matters: All of our school leaders felt they need greater autonomy to make site-based decisions to best serve their children. This is a concept that we are excited to see OUSD Superintendent Johnson-Trammell embrace as part of the district’s Community of Schools policy.
We evolved the program in response to the feedback from our leaders. Instead of meeting bi-weekly, we invited our fellows to participate in “Quarterly Step-Backs,” where we engage them in guided reflection and long-term planning, as well as provided opportunities for crucial community building and collective ownership of the work. As a result of less programming, I have spent more time at school sites coaching and engaging with school leaders to better understand the work and their specific needs. Through all these changes, one thing has remained consistent: our focus on supporting Oakland school leaders as they seek to implement transformative practices at their sites.
This program will continue to evolve as we listen deeply to our leaders and teachers who, after all, know their schools better than anyone, on how we can better support them in changing outcomes for our most vulnerable students.
Over the coming weeks, we will share the perspectives from the schools on this transformational schools work. We will dive into the recent development of our Transformational Schools Review process and take a look at some of the early results and successes this process has already helped bring about. In the meantime, for more information on the Transformational Schools Fellowship, please contact me.
Image Source: Hoover Elementary School Website
As Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell included in her back-to-school welcome message, attendance is super important. Inspired by her call for building positive attendance habits early in our young learners and since September was Attendance Awareness Month, I decided to dive deeper into the topic, specifically chronic absence, to help give context on why it matters so much – for everyone!
What is Chronic Absence?
Chronic absence is another way of looking at attendance by focusing on proportion of kids who missed a significant amount of school days, those who are chronically absent. For the first time, the state has defined how it will collect and calculate chronic absenteeism (see footnote for definition). This data is one of several indicators in the California School Dashboard that attempts to reflect school culture and climate and build toward a more holistic view of school performance.
In 2016-17 (the first year data was collected), Oakland’s citywide overall chronic absenteeism rate was 15.4% of students – that’s over 1 in 7 children across district and charter schools who miss 10% or more of their school days. For comparison, the statewide average is 10.8% of students in 2016-17 and recent analysis by AttendanceWorks puts the nationwide rate at 15.5% during 2015-16 (though they define chronic absence slightly different).
Why it matters:
- For System Leaders: Because a lot of school funding in California is based on “average daily attendance” (ADA), not enrollment, a school loses approximately $85 per day for every student absent. This can add up quickly! For a district or charter with scarce resources and tight budgets (aka almost every school in Oakland), this feels important. To get an estimate of the potential minimum dollars lost, I did a quick back-of-the-envelope calculation. (Assuming 10% of school year = 18 days, 15.4% of Oakland’s 53089 students were chronically absent during attendance tracking period, and $15,337 per pupil funding annually in CA in 2016-17). That adds up to a potential loss of at least $12.6 million citywide! (Some students were absent a lot more than 18 days a year.)
18 days x(15.4% students chronically absent x 53089 students) x $15337 per pupil/180 days per year = $12.6M
- For Students: Students who are behind and chronically absent are missing valuable instruction time – time that is necessary for closing the proficiency gap. When there are huge differences between subgroups, it becomes equitable access issue. To estimate the impact for socioeconomically disadvantaged students (SED), I made assumptions that: the 41.6K SED students citywide receive 6.5 instructional hours per day, attend school 180 days a year, chronically absent students miss at least 18 days (10%) of year, and used the citywide rate of 17.4%. That’s 849K total instructional hours lost in 2016-17. Every 1% citywide reduction in % of SED students who are chronically absent yields 49K extra instructional hours to work on closing the gap! Imagine all the reading or math that can happen in that time!
Chronic absenteeism rates citywide in Oakland by subgroup (CDE 2016-17)
- For School Leaders: Attendance and chronic absenteeism rates can be leading indicators for a healthy school culture. Chronic absence is an early warning sign of academic distress, including school dropout (Oakland Achieves 2016). Unusual rates are symptomatic of other underlying issues and thus should be monitored carefully, acting as bellwethers for a healthy school culture. Some schools like Frick, MLA, and Hoover have been steadily reducing their chronic absence rates, showing consistent improvement not only in the past three years but also historically. They’re also schools with targeted and sustained climate and culture efforts from the school leaders.
Areas of Caution:
- Focus on chronic absence rates beyond just the numbers. There are so many the factors that contribute to students’ chronic absenteeism, a variety inside and out of a family’s control. Health, transportation, family trauma, reactions to the national political climate – all this and more in Oakland. It’s necessary to understand the “whys” behind high rates and know each school site is different.
- Metric not designed to capture change for individual students: Even if a school helps a student reduce the number of missed school days from 60 days annually down to 20, the student would still be considered chronically absent in both years because they’ve crossed the 10% threshold.
- Differing definitions: The California Department of Education definition for chronic absence differs slightly than the federal definition (10% of school days vs. 15 days per school year). Chronic absence is calculated differently at continuation and alternative schools.
Snapshot of OUSD on the interactive map from The Hamilton Project, which displays federally collected chronic absence rates from 2015-16 on national, state, district, and school levels using the federal definition of 15+ days for chronic absence.
- Reporting errors in first year: Not surprisingly, the first year of data collection for chronic absenteeism rates had its hiccups and inaccuracies as folks acclimated. Sites with flagged inaccuracies will have a banner to note this. See OUSD’s page for chronic absenteeism rates for example. (As a point of comparison: if you look at San Francisco’s, it’s much more wildly inaccurate.) Hopefully, data for 2017-18 will be more robust and accurate now that schools and districts have had time to adjust with first round of collection under their belts.
I’m super excited (not surprisingly) about the possibility of updated 2017-18 chronic absence data in CA School Dashboard refresh (update scheduled late winter/early spring). In theory, chronic absence rates could be leading indicators, a bellwether to making sure students are getting the instructional hours they need, and we would have insight into how Oakland schools are progressing compared to statewide benchmark.
For those interested in learning more about chronic absence and ways to address it, I recommend checking out AttendanceWorks, a nonprofit dedicated to reducing chronic absence to advance student success, or OUSD’s Attendance webpage. Data geeks will appreciate the interactive map recently released by AttendanceWorks and The Hamilton Project at Brookings Institution on 2015-16 federal chronic absence data, allowing users to dig deeper into subgroup trends.
Footnotes: Definition: The California Ed Code defines a student as a chronic absentee if ”a pupil who is absent on 10 percent or more of the school days in the school year when the total number of days a pupil is absent is divided by the total number of days the pupil is enrolled and school was actually taught in the regular day schools of the district, exclusive of Saturdays and Sundays.”