Recent protests call for status quo when radical change is needed

This week’s education news coverage has been dominated by the protests by a small group of Kaiser Elementary parents and OEA organizers against the board’s decision to merge Kaiser Elementary with Sankofa Elementary next school year without sufficient community engagement. Meanwhile, the state has released the 2018-2019 student scores in math and reading revealing the real crisis in Oakland education: a systemwide failure to provide quality school options for black and Latino families. Click here for printable list of the data. 

Oakland public schools – both district and charter – are generally educating white and affluent students quite well, yet, they are failing black, Latino/a, and low-income students at an astonishing rate. Overall, 17% of black and Latino/a students are on grade level in math, down 1% from last year and only 25% are reading on grade level, down 2% from last year. 

Another year of schools underperforming for our kids is unacceptable. We need to take action now and it needs to happen in collaboration. 

“A school closure is not the worst thing that can happen to your kids,” [Lakisha] Young [of The Oakland REACH] said. “The worst thing that can happen to your kids is a bad school.” – via KQED News

When you map these results across Oakland’s neighborhoods, we see a stark contrast between the educational haves and have-nots in this city. The green dots indicate schools where the majority of students (at least 4 out of five) are on grade-level and the red dots indicate schools where fewer than 1 out of five students are on grade-level. The color contrast shows that White and Asian students have access to far more quality educational options compared to black and Latino/a students.

To be sure, standardized test scores are just one measure of quality and they certainly don’t tell the whole story. To get a more holistic picture of school quality, we should consider these scores alongside other measures, such as student growth from one year to the next, access to rigorous instruction, A-G completion rates, parent demand, teaching effectiveness, and more. Unfortunately, at a district level, these other metrics tend to reveal similarly vast racial gaps. 

Click here to view the map in separate window.

According to the data, Kaiser students are more than twice as likely to be white and affluent than students in the rest of Oakland public schools. These students will also be among the first beneficiaries of the new Opportunity Ticket, giving them even more privileged access to enrollment in the city’s top-performing schools. The original intent of this policy was to give displaced families (who have historically been mostly low-income, black, and Latino/a) access to a better performing school. In this case, families from Kaiser will also be granted access to the Opportunity Ticket. The confrontational protests on display at the board meetings are narrow and misdirected, and distract from the larger crisis at hand. 

Let’s shift our energy away from confrontation toward collaboration; away from perpetuating a broken system toward pursuing a new, more equitable future. Yes, this may include merging schools in some places. We must demand deeper community engagement while also knowing that these kinds of changes are not going to be easy. We must find a way to focus finite resources instead of spreading them thinly and unevenly. Oakland’s schools should be about expanding access and privilege, not concentrating it.  

A note from the GO Public Schools team:

We’re deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Oakland native, mom, and fierce community advocate Rachel Willis-Henry. We’re sending deep love and light to Rachel’s family, as well as The Oakland REACH family. Her light and powerful voice in the work of fighting for Oakland students, including her own two children, was and will continue to be inspiring. May she rest in peace. ❤️

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