In a city as diverse as Oakland, we value having a wide range of school types that give parents different options to find the best fit for their child. Parents might choose Life Academy because it offers more than twice as many science courses as are required by the state, and they ensure all their students complete an internship in the health or biomedical field. Or they might choose Urban Montessori for its unique Design Thinking and Arts Integration model. Given this diversity in school models across Oakland, we need a common understanding of what a quality school is to ensure that all of our schools are giving students an equitable opportunity to reach their full potential. Oakland has struggled to define what a quality school is. This lack of shared vision has made it difficult for our community to come together around tough decisions and continuously support the improvement of our schools.
Has Oakland defined a quality school in the past?
In 2013, the OUSD Board of Education passed a policy, BP6005: Quality School Development Policy, that tasked the district with establishing well-rounded school performance standards and student outcome goals, toward which all Oakland public schools (district and charter) are expected to make steady progress. The policy also stated that the district must establish a school quality review process to hold schools accountable for those metrics. Based on those school quality standards, schools with the highest needs would be identified and would be provided with intensive support. This policy led to the creation of a set of multiple tools and iterations that have been inconsistently used over the past several years.
Even though each of these tools has been designed for its own unique purpose, in practice these tools have lacked coherence. It’s unclear how they relate to one another and how they are currently being used to make fair and equitable decisions impacting Oakland students. As a result, we’ve struggled to build a common understanding of what makes a quality school in Oakland.
What do national experts say about school quality measures?
According to a recent study, School Performance Frameworks: Lessons, Cases, and Purposeful Design, a school performance framework (SPF) is a set of action-oriented tools that build a shared understanding of quality and school performance across a variety of measures for system leaders, school leaders, families, educators, and the community at large. These tools provide meaningful, comparable, and understandable information to guide decisions and actions that directly affect students. SPFs are often one part of a broader systemic improvement strategy. Well-designed SPFs are used to hold schools accountable, guide school continuous improvement processes, and provide transparent information for families and communities.
How is OUSD currently defining school quality and for which schools?
Most recently, the OUSD Office of Charters piloted the School Performance Analysis (SPA) (along with a School Quality Review Rubric) to help guide the academic quality analysis of the charter renewal criteria. The OUSD Board’s final renewal decisions for the future of those charter public schools very closely aligned with the SPA results. The SPA tool uses data that is available for both district and charter public schools to set a clear minimum bar for quality. It draws on: academic performance, school culture indicators, and college and career readiness using existing California dashboard data and CORE growth data with a focus on equity for underserved sub-groups.
Although the SPA is an important first step that brings us closer to a more coherent approach to measuring school quality, it is currently only being used as an accountability tool for charter public schools. We hope that the district revises their Quality School Development Policy, expands on this tool, and connects it to other qualitative measures that can help build a common understanding of a quality school that can guide high-stakes decisions about schools and how to best support them. For example, these tools should work together to determine which schools need intensive support, how to best allocate our district’s resources, and serve as a resource for families to better understand how they can best support their children’s education.
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