OUSD’s “Strategic Regional Analysis”
Written by Jack Gerson, retired Oakland teacher and union activist
Before last Wednesday’s school board meeting began, the board was thoughtful enough to leave several hard copies of a 128-page document (likely printed directly from 128 Powerpoint slides) titled “2014-15 Preliminary Strategic Regional Analysis.” I have included the page headed Background below. In my opinion, its content — especially the section labeled “2001 -2007: New small school creation”– provides insight into what the OUSD board and administration considers “outperforming” improvement in their campaign to “turnaround” schools they label “failing”.
In that paragraph beginning 2001 -2007: New small school creation”, the report asserts “Many of the new schools outperformed the schools they replaced.” Read over that section. It’s clear, isn’t it, that they are at least strongly implying that the reorganization of Fremont, Castlemont, and McClymonds into small schools a decade ago resulted in substantial overall improvement. This is reinforced by the statement that they “supported Oakland as the ‘most improved large urban school district in California’”.
But in fact, the reorganization failed, and failed badly. One need look no further than enrollment. Where these three high schools had an enrollment of approximately 5,000 in the 2003-4 school year, their combined enrollment is now barely 1500 — a decline of 70%! Libraries closed, vocational programs shut down, many electives eliminated, custodial, clerical, and food service class reduced. And, as anyone who taught in Oakland a decade ago knows, Result Based Budgeting (RBB), far from putting “maximum resources in the hands of those closest to students”, resulted in starving schools of essential resources and forced teachers to spend even more of their own money for basics like copy paper and even copying.
What sense does it make to seize on a modest increase in standardized test scores and declare “improvement” when comparing a student enrollment of 5,000 with an enrollment, in the same schools, of 1,500? As a statistician, I can say with certainty that there is no statistical significance. But there’s no need to appeal to statistics. Common sense is all that’s needed.
Apparently, the OUSD board’s idea of “improvement” is not aimed at improving outcomes for all students — no matter what snappy mantra they adopt. It can’t be — otherwise, they couldn’t declare and boast of their great improvement while so grossly reducing enrollment.
No, they have something else as their objective. It’s to try to get by while cutting back — austerity. Clamp down on compensation for teachers and all other school workers (so teachers are paid on average more than $10,000 / year less than the average California teacher, despite living in an area with far higher than average cost of living). So the district has fought to increase class size maximums; has increased student to counselor ratios to harmful and unworkable levels (800 to 1); has increased charter school enrollments, so that now 23% of Oakland students are in charter schools (11,000 out of a total of 48,000; prior to the state takeover, charter school enrollment was 2,000 out of a total enrollment of 55,000). What they’re about is privatizing — Oakland has by far the highest proportion of students in charter schools of all California large urban school districts — and squeezing out and casting aside the majority of students. That’s what charter schools like KIPP do, with their cherry-picking and pushouts. That’s what OUSD does, reducing public school enrollment by over 30% (from 55,000 in 2000 to less than 37,000 today), while increasing charter school enrollment (from 2,000 to 11,000 in the same time period.) They try to impose a model that forces schools to compete with schools for dwindling resources, and cutting back central services to make school purchase those services from private vendors — that’s what RBB was all about. They squeeze and squeeze, forcing out teachers, forcing out students, shrinking and “sacrificing” — but it’s students, teachers, staff, and community that suffer. And then they boast that this is “outperforming” improvement.
Their new plans — like their old ones — will not serve the interest of most Oakland students. Public school enrollment will continue to decline, while charter school enrollment grows past the tipping point. Veteran teachers will be underpaid, undersupported and in too many cases harassed and victimized. Teacher turnover will be unacceptably high, leading to more instability. Neighborhood schools will continue to be closed, leading to more instability. All in all, public education will be restricted, shrunk, and strangled. If they succeed.That’s their plan. At least in my opinion, the language in their document makes that clearer than ever.
Here’s that page from their Strategic Regional Analysis:
Declining enrollment of combined OUSD district-run and OUSD charter schools — from 55,000 to 48,000 since 2000.
Demographic shifts have reduced the proportion of African American students from 48% to 28% since 2000, while Latino student enrollment has grown from 29% to 42% over the same period. Many more English Learners (Latino, Asian, Arab) are expanding from Central Oakland into East and West Oakland, and newcomer students have increased.
2001 -2007: New small school creation, mostly in Central and East regions. Small high school conversions at Fremont (2003), Castlemont (2004), and McClymonds (2005). Equity goal to provide quality schools in every neighborhood, and to relieve overcrowding in some Central and East Oakland schools.
— This school transformation strategy for district-run schools was explicitly linked to site-based budgeting (RBB) to keep maximum resources in the hands of those closest to students, and Options/Choice so that families would not be forced to attend low performing neighborhood schools (both policies enacted c. 2005)
–Many of the new schools outperformed the schools that they replaced, and supported Oakland as the “most improved large urban school district in California” from 2005-2013
–With declining enrollment and Options/Choice, some schools have become unsustainably small.