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Causes of School Segregation in Oakland

In addition to residential segregation, individual school and district policies drive a large part of the segregation between Oakland schools. 

The patterns of student movement between neighborhood and school can highlight which aspects of Oakland's various student assignment policies exacerbate residential segregation. We are continuing to develop new insights around these movements and other demographic shifts.

In Oakland, student assignment is governed by Oakland Unified School District's (OUSD) enrollment policy, although some individual district-run schools - as well as charter schools - apply their own policies. OUSD's use of open enrollment allows families to apply to any school in the district during "enrollment season". Students are placed in a general lottery where various priorities apply. Most district-run schools, for instance, give priority to families applying to their neighborhood school. Charter schools offer a range of priorities, some of which include regional preference.

The structure of these student assignment policies contributes to segregation across all school levels and types in Oakland. For now, our analysis below focuses on elementary-age children.

Whether students attend their neighborhood school may depend on various factors. In Oakland, however, neighborhood attendance is highly correlated with the percentage of low-income students in those neighborhood schools. As a result, neighborhood preference is largely utilized by low-poverty communities.   

Open in Tableau. Schoo's FRL rate compared to the rate of neighborhood students who opt out of their neighborhood school(s). Source: OUSD Public Data Dashboards.

Asymmetry in open enrollment flows also stems from the fact that White neighborhoods receive students with different demographics, but Black and Latino neighborhoods do not.


Non-neighborhood students attending schools in predominantly White neighborhoods are, on average, 16% Latino and 23% Black. In Black and Latino communities, the out-of-neighborhood students are only 5% or 2% White, respectively. 

By and large, the moves that different families make in Oakland's open enrollment system are are either segregative (families attend a school where the makeup of their own racial demographic is 10% higher than that of their neighborhood) or neutral (no difference).

In an open enrollment system that encouraged integration, we might see more families moving to schools where their race and class is in the minority. Instead, the system disproportionately places the burden of travel on low-income students of color and enables patterns of self-segregation.

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