By Brian Rogers, Executive Director of Rogers Family Foundation

Last month, the results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) were released. The NAEP, oftentimes referred to as “The Nation’s Report Card,” is a nationwide standardized assessment that tests children in math and reading in fourth and eighth grades.

The NAEP results for California were extremely distressing—California fourth graders ranked 47th in the nation in math and reading and California 8th graders ranked 45th in math and 42nd in reading.  While these results would seem like a crisis for California public education that demanded immediate change to our public school system, the news has been met with a typical subdued malaise and positive political spin. It seems that California public schools have been ranked at the bottom for so long that we Californians have become numb to the inevitability of this news.

What is even more distressing for the city of Oakland is that over a third of all public schools in Oakland are ranked in the bottom decile of the 2012 California Statewide School Ranks. Looking at these rankings together with the results from the NAEP, one could conclude that Oakland is home to some of the worst performing public schools in the country.

Dig deeper into the numbers and one will find that Oakland also has one of the largest achievement gaps (the difference in achievement between white students and students of color) in the nation. If one were to go back into the data for 10, 20 even 30 years, the analysis would be the same—a large majority of the Oakland public schools that serve a majority of African American, Latino and socioeconomically disadvantaged children have consistently failed to educate our children or provide the constitutionally protected right (in California) of a quality education.

Despite its best efforts, it is obvious that the Oakland Unified School District does not have the capacity to provide a high quality education for all of its students. There is 30 years of evidence that says that it does not. Oakland Unified continues to operate under the belief that it is the sole mechanism by which public school students in Oakland should be educated.

Yet, each year, nearly two thirds of Oakland’s 3rd grade students do not read at grade level by the end of the year (a well known barometer for later academic success). In addition, over 40 percent of Oakland seniors do not graduate from high school each year, and only a small minority of those that do successfully fulfilled the A-G requirements necessary for enrollment into the University of California or California State University system.

It is time for the leadership of Oakland Unified to drastically change the way Oakland Unified School District operates. Cities and districts across the nation are beginning to make progress in increasing quality educational opportunities for their highest need students by embracing change, incubating innovative solutions and partnering with outside providers.

This change will not come easily—there are many in the city that abhor the thought of granting autonomies to principals and partnering with charter schools—but it must come. Otherwise, Oakland Unified School District will continue to be responsible for operating some of the worst performing schools in the nation, and Oakland will continue to struggle with the societal consequences that come with that distinction.

Editor’s Note: This piece reflects an individual opinion and is not a reported story from Oakland Local. Oakland Local invites community residents to share their views about events and issues in Oakland. See our guidelines.

2 Responses

  1. OaklandEdLandscape

    Thank you for posting this. We too frequently hold our schools up, hoping that the new initiatives will turn things around. Focusing on core academics presents a very different, and honest look at our schools. Until we get “real” about our schools, Oakland will “continue to struggle with the societal consequences”.

    If Oakland Unified fails to embrace a new and bold strategy it will be left with half empty schools. If you follow the public discourse, you’d be left to believe that we should be proud of our schools. Elected officials boasting about the new “initiative” of the day. There is a high price to be paid for our collective failure to act with urgency.


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