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Solutions to achieve school integration in Oakland

A number of districts around the country are tackling the problem of school segregation and Oakland has taken some positive first steps as well:

Solutions to school segregation in Oakland are not necessarily hard to find. In fact, nearby Berkeley Unified's model has been upheld as one that embodies many of the values related to neighborhood preference and school choice while prioritizing school integration.

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Berkeley Unified Diversity Categories (left) and Berkeley Unified Attendance Zones

Based on neighborhood demographics that includes both income and race variables, Berkeley creates diversity categories at the neighborhood level. Attendance boundaries for elementary schools then purposefully cut across different diversity categories (and include multiple school sites) to ensure school demographics represent a cross-section of the city. Berkeley will likely implement a similar model for its middle schools


Learn more from the research.

Another school district that uses a model similar to Berkeley's is Jefferson County in Louisville, Kentucky. 

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Jefferson County Diversity Categories (left) and Jefferson County Attendance Zones

In 2014-2015, about 66% of Jefferson County's students were classified as low-income, not too dissimilar from Oakland's rate.


While Oakland enrolls about 62% of its students in schools that serve at least 75% low-income students, however, the same was true for less than 40% of Jefferson County students. Overall, the plan is thought to be "relatively effective in maintaining racially and economically diverse schools". 


Learn more here.

San Francisco Unified, after working extensively with researchers at Stanford, has even landed on a similar model to Berkeley's to improve their own integration plan and the Board of Education passed initial plans in December 2020.

As an experiment, here's what a similar scenario to Berkeley's attendance zones would look like in Oakland with each dot representing an OUSD district-run elementary school. The zones below are balanced according to underlying census block groups, similar to Berkeley but actually using a model more similar to San Antonio's Unified.

Zones applied to OUSD boundary with underlying census block groups shaded by wealth category. See full app. 

In Oakland overall, about 13% of elementary students live in what we've categorized as "high-wealth" census block groups (yellow), 28% live in "middle-wealth" groups, and 59% live in "low-wealth" groups. 


As we've shown, attendance areas today may only have high-wealth or low-wealth underlying census block groups. Each zone is created to ensure there is a better city-wide representation of wealth groups, mitigating the effects of neighborhood segregation. 

What effects would this have? Assuming that Oakland used a similar model to Berkeley's (students could only apply within their zone and, during the lottery process, the district ensured that schools would be balanced according to these wealth categories) Oakland schools could become much more diverse.

Using the model generated by Across Lines, racial isolation would decrease by about 40%; socioeconomic diversity in schools would more than triple; and the Black-White gap in "low-wealth" exposure in schools would decrease by 25%.

Does Berkeley's model make sense for Oakland? 

Oakland has more schools than Berkeley and a greater charter school presence which may complicate the model. Berkeley's model is also no panacea to closing racial achievement gaps. The district still struggles greatly with serving it's low-income students of color.

However, Berkeley's approach may be the most racially equitable option that a district can consider while still retaining a decent level of school choice. Not only are schools more racially and socioeconomically diverse, Berkeley offers similar resources across all schools; the idea of "good" and "bad" schools is less of a concern; and its enrollment model has even been attributed to stabilizing city-wide demographics.


OUSD should take a seriously look at its neighbors to the north for lessons on school integration. 

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