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The Oakland Board should vote "yes" on the enrollment pilots

The upcoming enrollment pilots at Chabot, Sequoia, and Edna Brewer are promising first steps for Oakland to begin addressing school segregation.

These three schools are some of the most segregated schools in the district when looking at the percentage of low-income students.

In 2019/2020, the district as a whole served approximately 76% Free and Reduced Price Lunch students, English learners, and foster youth, referred to below as “at-risk” students. By comparison,

  • Chabot’s student body was 18% at-risk,

  • Sequoia’s was 26% at-risk, and

  • Edna Brewer was 52% at risk.

Here are other schools that fit a similar profile.

% Difference between school and district average of “at-risk” students (2019/2020)

Some board members have expressed concern that schools which struggle to meet enrollment targets may lose students as a result of these pilots, adding to already precarious financial situations for some schools.

If anything, this concern speaks to the flaws in our current enrollment system and is an implicit acknowledgement that change is needed. A large number of students choose to apply to these pilot schools and, yes, the new policy may encourage more to do so but isn’t that what open enrollment supports?

We could express the same concern for under-enrollment now. Various school lose students in their attendance zones, but we are not advocating to disproportionately favor students off waitlists who come from more “stable” schools. No, because since many of these stable or high-demand schools are already more affluent, this would further increase segregation. These pilots are trying to go in the exact opposite direction, favoring “at-risk” populations from the waitlist, and correcting a problem that the system does very little to mitigate.

I do believe the pilots could have done a better job at limiting the impact of unrestricted neighborhood preference or racially homogenous attendance boundaries on school segregation. Regardless, as long as we have schools that serve 20% fewer at-risk students than the district average, it will be harder to reduce segregation at schools with 90%+ at-risk students, almost 20% above the average.

In fact, using a similar model to one used by the Urban Institute, these three pilot schools offer the biggest potential to reduce socioeconomic school segregation across the district.

Socioeconomic Segregation Contribution Index: How much does each school contribute to system-wide segregation across middle schools?

With everything else equal, if Edna Brewer, as one of the district’s largest middle schools, had enrolled a student population in 2019 that matched the district’s (in terms of low-income students), segregation in middle schools would have decreased by over 15%.

Similarly, in elementary schools, Chabot and Sequoia could potentially reduce segregation across OUSD elementary schools by a combined almost 10%.

Socioeconomic Segregation Contribution Index: How much does each school contribute to system-wide segregation across elementary schools?

Once these pilots pass, I will revisit how their success should be fairly tracked in order to encourage the district to take additional action around school desegregation. In the meantime, the mechanisms of these pilots are a promising incremental step that will hopefully get the district and larger community grappling with the issue of school segregation - much in the way Gary Yee is proposing with resolution 2021-0089 - while bringing about more diverse learning environments for students in the process.

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