A second discussion on school integration this Wednesday; plus your questions from part 1

Please join us and the State of Black Education on Wednesday at 12:00 PM PST for a continuation of our discussion about school segregation and integration in Oakland schools.

Last time, we had a terrific conversation with Brian Stanley and Gary Yee around the challenge of school (and neighborhood) segregation in Oakland and how the school district has responded in the past. Feel free to view the slides from the webinar here.

On Wednesday, we plan to get more into the topic of school integration as a means to improve equity across the district; we'll also look at potential limitations.

Please join former OUSD Director Jame Harris, journalist Courtney Martin, and OUSD teacher Sydney Dexter on YouTube or Facebook.


In our last discussion, we did not have time to address all the questions that came up so I wanted to take the opportunity to do so here (questions may be paraphrased). I'll also highlight a few email comments we received.

1) How do you define a neighborhood school?

In the discussion, we talked about how OUSD gives students a "neighborhood preference" if the student lives within the school's attendance boundary. Ostensibly, this means we value (1) families traveling short distances to attend school and (2) attending school with other families in your neighborhood (regions are gradually bigger for middle and high school).

However, as a commenter pointed out, many schools with neighborhood boundaries see more than 50% of their neighborhood students leave their neighborhood to go to school elsewhere in the district. And families are willing to travel many miles (Black families often travel the most at the elementary school level) outside their neighborhood to go to school.

One could argue families leave their neighborhood because of low quality but I'd say many schools are more likely fighting perceptions of low quality, one of the reasons perhaps being that so many neighborhood students don't attend them. Since schools without enrollment or demand concerns consistently enroll at least 60% neighborhood kids, maybe we should explore methods that push more kids to their neighborhood schools. We should also expand the idea of "neighborhood" to include larger and more diverse spans of the city.

Overall, the FRL rate of a school is heavily correlated with the rate of students attending in-neighborhood. So does that mean a neighborhood school in Oakland is defined as one that is a high-income school? I would hope not.

2) Who gets to define quality?

If you go by GreatSchools, quality is largely and, in my opinion, unfairly based on academic performance. In OUSD, you can get a pretty comprehensive look on how the district is thinking of quality in its most recent update on the citywide plan.

Sample slide from update on the citywide plan, June 23 2021.

I'd argue that we need to focus more on inputs (teacher and admin experience, program offerings, maximum enrollment) and less on outputs like test scores when we think about quality. As the graph shown during part 1 of the webinar demonstrated, we may never close achievement gaps. If we limit school segregation, however, we can do a better job of reducing that gap. At the end of the day, quality is subjective and, from my point of view, we do not need to answer that question completely before we address the issue of school integration because of the research behind its benefits and its potential to address enrollment challenges.

3) What's the achievement gap after moving to integrated schools?

I'd recommend looking at Rucker Johnson's research on this topic as well as Stanford's.

4) Has anyone researched the academic impact (student growth/achievement measures) that open enrollment has had?

This would be a really interesting research project to look at but I am not aware of one currently.

5) When did open enrollment really start (and then continue) in Oakland?

Some comments stated that open enrollment might not have existed (in name at least) in the 70's and 80's and that, instead, a transfer request policy was in place. This comment may be true but appears to be largely one of semantics, highlighted by this article. By 1990, 20% of students were finding some ways to leave their neighborhood school to go elsewhere. That number has increased to over 60% today. If someone has a more in-depth history of how open enrollment evolved from the 1960's to today, please get in touch!

Lastly, Brian Stanley highlighted how, in 2016, many high schools were not set up to allow students to achieve basic A-G requirements. Check out the presentation here.

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