A Brief History of School Integration In Oakland
Below we address key events that have either directly or indirectly contributed to segregated schools in Oakland. Practices and policies that have shaped Oakland school demographics have often been a reaction to national and state-wide trends. What might be less understood is how Oakland is unique and why it looks different than its neighbors.
The summary and accompanying timeline are by no means meant to serve as an official history of school integration in Oakland. We hope to start a conversation around why segregation in both schools and neighborhoods has persisted for so long, why it is harmful, and what policy changes from a historical perspective might reverse it.
Please send comments and suggestions so we can continue to learn about and share this history to inform how to integrate schools now and in the future.
Shifting demographics after World War II
Oakland transformed from a city of 85% White people in 1950 to a multi-racial society post-World War II. Changing demographics, restrictive housing policies, and newly formed school attendance boundaries in the 1950's accelerated Black-White segregation at both the neighborhood and school level. These divisions influenced racial inequities in schooling that persist today.
Open Enrollment post-Brown
As a result of the Brown vs. Board decision, as well as state leadership, many cities in California faced the prospect of desegregation orders throughout the 1960's. Berkeley and San Francisco ultimately implemented desegregation plans while other cities, like LA, San Diego, and Oakland, took little corrective action. Oakland officials cited fears of driving Whites out of the city as well the "infeasability" of transporting students between the hills and flat lands. By the mid-60's Oakland had adopted an "open enrollment" policy that, much like today, allowed students to enroll in any school in which space was available, but offered no busing options. The policy ultimately reinforced neighborhood boundaries and increased school segregation.
"Glaring" segregation in the 1980's
Civil Rights reports in the 1980s chronicled increasing segregation in Oakland schools as well as a failure to properly serve non-English speaking students. A committee sanctioned by Superintendent David Bowick declared, in 1985, that the best way to improve schools in the flatlands would be to redraw attendance boundaries and eliminate open enrollment. This was met with significant pushback and, while Bowick and Joe Coto, his successor, both made attempts to address segregation, nothing developed on a large scale.
Frequent reform but little integration
In the past 30 years, Oakland has seen a series of policy changes that have included small schools, community schools, and charter schools, among other models, all the while perennially grappling with budget issues and school closures. School segregation has not been meaningfully challenged since the 1980's but its consequences are as striking as ever, presenting opportunities for current advocates and policy-makers.