OUSD’s school choice plan up for discussion

In theory, OUSD’s “School Options” program allows Oakland families to choose a public school anywhere in the city for their children. In practice, those choices are limited by space and demand.

Ask the parent of a 4-year-old who lives near Hillcrest or Redwood Heights elementary schools (More on that later).

Here’s how the Options program has worked in the past: Families submit an application in January which includes their top school choices. The district matches the openings against each list and sends letters to families with the name of a school.

Priority goes to neighborhood children. The remaining spaces are given, in order, to applicants who live in another neighborhood but whose sibling(s) attend the school; those whose neighborhood school has low test scores; and, lastly, to everyone else (by random selection).

Last spring, there was plenty of confusion and discontent around the system — and with the way it was implemented. Now, it looks like the district is poised to make some changes. District staff are holding discussion sessions from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday night at 1098 Second Ave. , Portable 15.

Here’s a letter about the meeting that Options staffer Ruby Goodall posted to the Oakland Public School Parents listserv over the weekend:

Re: Options/Open Enrollment Process Dialogues

Hello all-

I am working with OUSD’s Family and Community Office to plan and
implement the district’s Options/Open Enrollment process.

We are hosting two parent/community discussion groups next week to
examine the Options/Open Enrollment process. OUSD’s Options/Open
Enrollment process is the system used to place students in schools
according to the needs, wants, and locations of both schools and
families. To ensure that the process serves OUSD’s students in the
most effective and equitable way, and in preparation for Options/Open
Enrollment for 2009-10, families and communities are being given the
opportunity to weigh in on how the Options process works for them.

The discussion groups will take place on Nov. 13th and 15th at the
Family and Community Office ( 1098 2nd Ave , Portable 15) from 6:00pm
to 7:30pm. Food will be provided.

Space is limited, so please rsvp promptly. Email Ruby.Goodall@
ousd.k12. ca.us to respond.

Thank you.

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • Judy

    I wonder why OUSD is starting to prepare for 2009-10, rather than the 2008-2009 school year. The problems this past 2007-2008 school year is one good reason not to wait. The district needs to take a stance now, rather than its usual “we will wait and see what happens.” This is not rocket science. OUSD merely needs to look at the surrounding school districts that have successfully implemented enrollment procedures. AND OUSD needs to stop its practices that encourage falsification of addresses.

  • Jennifer

    I hope they retain the “neighborhood kids” first policy. Neighborhood kids attending neighborhood schools is good for both the schools and the community. I can only imagine the discontent and chaos that would follow any decision to de-prioritize neighborhood kids. People who would otherwise been open to Oakland public school will move to another district or flock to private schools. However, there is no question that OUSD needs to clarify procedures in the event that there are too many neighborhood kids. Perhaps they should look at adjusting the boundaries of school impacted schools in addition to ensure that all the kids who apply as “neighborhood kids” actually live within the school boundaries.

    Finally, Katy, I believe your points 2 and 3 should be reversed. I think the priority is as follows:

    1. neighborhood kids
    2. non-neighborhood siblings (those who don’t live in the neighborhood but already have a sibling at the school)
    3. those within the boundaries of “program improvement” schools
    4. open lottery

  • Katy Murphy

    Thanks, Jennifer. You’re right. I’ll post the link to the 2006-07 form on the original post as well.

  • Jennifer

    I’ll be following any changes with great interest. I’ve heard that one of the things that may be considered is setting spaces aside for children in the underperforming schools. I don’t think this should be done at the expense of neighborhoood kids. A couple schools are already overflowing with neighborhood kids and many others are at capacity. Is it fair to deny neighborhood kids, whose families have paid a premium to move to a neighborhood with good schools, the opportunity to atttend their local school? Often time this is a school within walking distance from their house!

    If I didn’t have a reasonable assurance – in fact a virtual guarantee – that my children would be able to attend our local elementary school, then I would not have bought a house in Oakland. Some of my neighbors are already talking about moving because they don’t want to deal with the uncertainty and anxiety over OUSD elementary school assignments.

  • Counselor at large

    Apparently the Options Fair is set to be held in the East Side Club at the Coliseum, because the Downtown Oakland Marriott was unavailable.

    This strikes me as a very bad idea; I’m sure there’s advantages to it, but do we really have to send parents and students to the ball park in January, and ask them to compete for parking with Warriors fans?

    With all the development down town, there must be a corporate conference space someone was willing to loan out. Even Hunter Hall seems like a better choice.

  • peter

    It is only as fair to deny neighborhood kids neighborhood schools as it is to be able to buy a better public school by moving into a certain neighborhood. Who deserves the schools more…. the parents who are willing to go out of their way to drive/catch the bus all over town with a child or the ones who can afford a house in a fancy neighborhood?

  • Brian Marion

    Imagine 100+ schools trying to sell themselves to the public inside Hunter Hall. Sorry, I think the fire marshall would have kittens over that one.

    The good news in a way, is that the process will be earlier this year. Perhaps OUSD will be able to let parents know who are considering private schools if they got into a public schoool.

    The massive hickup looming in the system, though, is the enrollment categrorization process. We can chat all we want on this blog, but until the district has a coherent admissions policy that matches the actual practice then we are a long way off toward being “real” and having “genuine community involvement.”

    The posts above speak of priority for admissions — neighbors, siblings, PI kids, victims of viol
    violence, then open lottery. The problem is the district policy as it is currently tabled reads neighbors, PI kids, victims of violence, THEN Siblings, then open lottery. Thus the published policy does not presently match the practice.

    At some point the district is going to have to stop renting and slapping up portables at over-enrolled sites, i.e., time to shrink some school boundaries. At the same time, the district needs to provide some choice based on quality.

    Finally, the enrollment policies really say what we are as a city about how we view RACE in district.

  • Jennifer

    In responce to Peter, the fact that a family is willing to catch a bus all over town for a good school doesn’t mean they should “trump” neighborhood families who are very committed to their own children’s education. Most families in my hills neighborhood are two-income families who are struggling to pay high mortgages (in the case of those who moved in over the last 5- 6 years). They are the same families who are willing to spend whatever little free time they have volunteering at their child’s school – working in the classroom, driving on field trips, helping the PTA, donating money, etc. It’s clear to me that neighborhood families by and large have more vested in their child’s school, as it is also part of their neighborhood and they want the neighborhood to succeed as well. Not only are these families sacrificing for their child’s education, they are actually big assets to the school too.

    This is not to say that some non-neighborhood families don’t also do “their part” but on the whole, but I have noticed that they tend to contribute less. I was at a function a couple months ago where there were about 15 volunteers – all but one resided within the school boundaries. Where were all the other families? One thought is that if you don’t live near your child’s school, you are less able to help! I know if I lived far from my child’s school, I wouldn’t be able to help out as much as I do. Hills schools succeed because of the commitment that families have to make the school a better place. Hills schools succeed because the families are passionate about education.

    Finally, yes, all students deserve a chance to learn and excel, but flooding the hills schools with non-neighborhood kids is not the answer. One, it can only help a small percentage of students from poorer areas. Two, it will have serious, unintended negative consequences if residents of the hills can’t get their kids into the hills schools (people will bypass Oakland altogether as a place to live and Oakland families will move to other communities or choose to send their kids to private). Three, with schools already at or over capacity, why create new problems? There is no shortage of existing problems to fix – why don’t they start by improving communication or by implementing effective address verification or by doing demographic studies to figure out future demand?

  • Judy

    I agree with Jennifer. I am a two income family that intentionally bought a home in the hills so that my children could have a good school. It is a struggle to make ends meet, but this was our choice when we moved into the neighborhood. The current OUSD practices, however, make it so much easier for folks like myself to make the decision to move out of Oakland and away from a clearly dysfunctional school district.

    Rather than correct the problems that exist in the low-performing schools, as other school districts would do, OUSD decides that ia better option is to place students from low-performing schools into other schools, and consequently driving those displaced students to private schools in Oakland or other communities. It is no wonder that there is declining enrollment in Oakland.

  • Caroline

    I’m reading this because I follow school issues around the state (and nation and world); I’m a parent in San Francisco Unified, which DOES have an all-choice system with just a bump in lottery preference for residents of the neighborhood assignment area, in most cases. So neighbors are not guaranteed their neighborhood school.

    In following education news regularly, I’ve actually never heard of any school district finding a way to “correct the problems that exist in the low-performing schools.” That’s the challenge that dominates education not just in the U.S. but worldwide — there is no easy fix, or even a known difficult fix.

    SFUSD’s system isn’t perfect and it provokes a lot of complaints, but most thoughtful observers agree that it’s fair and just to give children who already have many strikes against them the opportunity to attend higher-functioning schools. And actually, the vast majority of families don’t list their neighborhood school as their first choice on the enrollment application.

    I’m not saying our district’s system is ideal or something OUSD should emulate, but just pointing that out. SFUSD IS a higher-performing district than OUSD — and in fact is the highest-achieving of California’s urban school districts — so obviously the all-choice system isn’t ruining our school system.

    San Francisco parents with the savvy and resources to do this often do a major school search, checking out many schools for their kids before selecting their choices (they may list seven and are encouraged to do so). This has its good and its bad sides. One parent has launched a well-done and popular blog about her kindergarten search, and she posted a poll on whether SFUSD should guarantee admission to the neighborhood school or not. The current votes are 127 no, 45 yes (it may have changed by the time anyone else looks, of course). And this blog is clearly mostly (if not entirely) read by educated middle-class families.

  • Judy

    I purchased my home so that my children could attend their neighborhood schools. The policy in Oakland at that time was supportive of children attending neighborhood schools. Otherwise I would live in San Francisco. Changing this practice would serve to erode the neighborhood concept. What happened to children being able to attend school with those friends with whom they grew up with? Why should you have attend a school miles away when you live blocks away from your neighborhood school?

  • Jennifer

    I also moved into my neighborhood for the school and paid a premium to do so! Comparable houses in neighborhoods with lower performing schools were significantly cheaper. Being able to attend a neighborhood school with those who live nearby is a huge draw for me and I’ve seen first hand what a positive thing a neighborhood school has been for our community. I am strongly against a system like they have in SF or in Berkeley where you have no idea where you’ll be assigned. To me that’s too much risk and uncertainty. Most, if not all, of my SF friends have flocked to private rather than accept the mediocre school to which their child was assigned. I’m not saying that there aren’t some “hidden gems” in places like SF, but what I wanted was for my child to attend a high-peforming neighborhood school where we could built community ties. If Oakland moves away from neighborhood schools, I’ll be moving away from Oakland!

  • Caroline

    The notion of neighborhood schools vs. all-choice is a matter of opinion.

    But I would strongly disagree that S.F. families have to accept “mediocre” schools. Our district has many excellent schools, and every family I know that has worked through the enrollment process (which is far, far easier than the onerous private-school judging/interviewing/screening/essay-writing application process) has gotten a school that they’re happy with. It’s a shame that too many San Francisco families aren’t better informed about our schools.

    In any case, whether the all-choice system vs. the neighborhood assignment system has anything to do with it or not, OUSD’s most recent API was 658 compared with SFUSD’s 763.

  • Jennifer

    I’m not arguing over the fact that overall the quality of Oakland’s schools are pretty bad. There are about 7-10 good or great elementary schools and most of the rest of close to awful. But if they move away from neighborhood schools, today’s higher scoring schools will decline. If neighborhood families can’t get their kids into neighborhood schools, many will leave the OUSD. If neighborhood schools decline in quality, many families will leave the OUSD. They will not accept being assigned, lower-scoring school out of the neighborhood. I know I wouldn’t. Those families will be lost to OUSD forever. Who benefits then?

  • Caroline

    Obviously the two districts are very different. But I just want to clearly reiterate that SFUSD has many excellent schools and that any family assigned to an SFUSD school they don’t want can pursue the post-lottery process and get a school they are happy with. The assignment process is not fun, but it’s not nearly as bad as the private-school enrollment process — which my friends tell me is torture. And in the end you get a free education instead of paying $20,000/year for dubious benefit. So I just have to emphasize, for the sake of getting out accurate information about our school district, that private-school parents who tell you otherwise are misinformed — which I’m well aware is often the case.

  • Judy

    I can get a free education by moving to the burbs, where API scores are over 900. I live in Oakland due to the diveristy. However, as the API scores drop significantly each year and OUSD accepts this trend, rather than making a concerted effort to improve the schools, I will also move. My children’s education will always come first. As a public educator who believes in the public education system, I am ashamed of the situation in Oakland. Having a lottery system in Oakland does not correct a problem. It will only serve to drive out more students either to private schools or force families to move to another community, where the school district recognizes its problems and works to correct them. The band-aid approach in Oakland no longer works. Major surgery is now in order to correct a school district that is terminally ill.

  • Nickole

    We had to sub-lease the home we own and rent in order to get our daughter into a well-performing school. We did this only after we were told by our local school that our 3 1/2 year old daughter was performing at kindergarten level although she would not be attending school for two additional years.

    If we could not get our daughter into a school with high quality education, we would rent a house or apartment in Lafayette or Moraga. We would prefer the diversity, but it comes down to education.

    Is this fair? No, quite frankly it is not. But at my daughter’s school the children, Black, White, Hispanic, and Asian who attend the school through the lottery are quite frankly not performing well at the school even though they are taught the same curriculum.

    Although it is not popular to say, I wish the parents would have to take a class on how to help their child succeed. This would include information that parents “in the neighborhood” do with their children, reading and being read to every day, using the public library at least twice per month, completing and signing homework, speaking proper English, wearing clothes that fit properly, getting them to school before the first bell rings, feeding them breakfast, lunch and dinner, having them get a minimum of 9 hours sleep a night, having them complete their homework, owning and using a dictionary, coming to all school events if the parent is not working, no hitting, spanking or pulling a child, having a dialog conversation (redundant use of words, I know, but this does not include, “finish your homework.”) for at least 20 minutes per day, per child.

    Having been an outsider, I would not have wanted to attend this meeting, but I would have, just to make sure my daughter had an equal education to the other children at the school.

  • Sue

    Both my sons are attending hills schools in Oakland. Older son is at Skyline, which is our neighborhood high school, even though our home is below 580 in the flatlands. Younger son is not in the neighborhood elementary school, Allendale, and that is a long, grievious story. He’s a 5th grader at Carl B Munck, which has mostly flatland kids, and their very active, involved parents. Munck’s test scores aren’t 9’s and 10’s, but the quality of the school is much higher than those scores reflect because Munck has several Special Education programs, which have an effect on their scores.

    Now we’re starting to look at middle schools for younger son next year. We’re in Brett Harte’s area, and they’ve already sent us a letter asking us to consider them – younger son is in the GATE program, and every scool wants those kids because they tend to raise the overall test scores. But Munck students go to Montera, which older son attended, and we liked it.

    It isn’t easy to make these choices, but I think it’s short-sighted when parents make these decisions based solely on test scores. We’ve found that there’s much more to our kids’ education than the numbers on their star reports, or the numbers for a school’s agregate scores. Our family loves our elementary school’s community of families from all over Oakland, and we’ll likely be volunteering again next year at Munck even though we won’t have a child attending there any more.

  • hope4theBest

    “District staff are holding discussion sessions from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday night at 1098 Second Ave. , Portable 15.”

    Many parents are saying there was too little notice of these “discussion sessions.”

  • John

    I find this string of comments to be quite troublesome. To both Jennifer and Judy, I think it is great that you took the time to find a home in a neighborhood with a strong local school. However, you both need to recognize that you are incredibly FORTUNATE to be in a position where you can do that. Many other families in Oakland do not have that luxury, and their children are forced to attend the low performing neighborhood schools – their children are just as entitled to a quality education as yours.

    In addition, did it ever occur to you that perhaps the reason the other parents were not volunteering at the school was because maybe they worked more than one job so they can make ends meet? Or perhaps both parents were working two jobs? The reality is that there are some families in Oakland who are facing challenges that prevent them from participating in their children’s schools…that shouldn’t prevent their children from having access to quality schools.

  • Judy


    You cannot speak for my situation.

    It is a struggle every day to be able to afford to live in my neighborhood. We do not drive new cars, which I cannot say about those who live in the “underperforming school neighborhoods.” I am not able to volunteer in my child’s school since I work long hours just to be able to afford this neighborhood. It is not a “luxury” for me to live in my neighborhood. These are choices that I have made in order for my children to attend a public school of my choice.

    Life is about choices. I have made it my choice to struggle for my children’s education. I feel that this should insure my children a right to attend their neighborhood school. I have friends who drive nicer cars, have more spending money, and have falsified their addresses in order for their children to attend my child’s neighborhood school. That is their choice. However, I refuse to demonstrate to my children that it is okay to lie in order to get what one wants. That sends a message to our children that it is okay to do whatever it takes to get what one wants.

    You speak about families in Oakland facing challenges that prevent them from participating in their children’s schools. Well, I face those challenges.

  • Jennifer

    John: I do work two jobs. I work 10 hours per day at the first job on average. I do have flexibility to make up time and by law the company has to give me some time off for children’s events. In addition, I have a cleaning job on the weekends. Please do not assume ANYTHING about my financial situation or anyone else’s.

    I think there are a couple of points that should be taken into consideration. I have only one child because that’s all I can afford in time, effort and money, only one child. It is a choice that works for my family. I also know that education is the ONLY way out of the two jobs to make ends meet situation. On the weekends I bring my daughter with me and we talk while I work. We do not have expensive toys or many toys that run on batteries. She is not allowed to watch TV. We made a choice between cable TV and internet access. The internet won. We could not afford both.

    We drive 1996 and 1998 model cars. We do not have fancy cell phones, go to movies, or buy lavish gifts for ourselves or our families. We got my daughter’s computer used from a company that was selling their old equipment and we often shop at second hand stores.

    So, John, please be careful. Education is important. Public school is important. My daughter is important. Volunteering is important. Communication with my child is important. Working is important. Everything else is just stuff.

  • hope4theBest

    The letter says in part:

    “To ensure that the process serves OUSD’s students in the
    most effective and equitable way, and in preparation for Options/Open
    Enrollment for 2009-10, families and communities are being given the
    opportunity to weigh in on how the Options process works for them.”

    Given the very limited advance notice and outreach for these two discussion groups, it would probably be of interest to Oaklanders to know the degree to which the OUSD parent community participated in these sessions and what was said.

    Ms. Murphy: Perhaps Mr. Mathews could request Chief of Community Accountability, Vital to post some statistics and information on the District’s website and in this Blog listing the number of people that participated in each session, what school they were from, the types of comments that were made, etc. Then instead of the back and forth of just the few people commenting above, we could begin to increase our collective understanding of the issues, goals and challenges the District faces.

  • Jennifer M.

    There is more than one Jennifer posting on this board, so in the future I will post under a different name. I am the Jennifer than posted the comments at the beginning of this thread.

    Anyway, to John: we’ve made tough decisions and sacrifices to live in this neighborhood. Paying a high mortgage and steep property taxes means that we can’t afford private school fees for our children. It’s just not an option. We knew in moving into this neighborhood that our only option was the good public elementary school.

    We look around and see that nearly all of our neighbors are two-income working families who are making a similar sacrifice to live here. And, by the way, these families are the same ones who still find time or make time to work at the school – even if it means evenings and weekends – because they know that committed families are part of the reason for the school’s success.

    If my children aren’t admitted to our neighborhood school, then we will leave Oakland. And we won’t be the only ones. However, we won’t be leaving without a fight, which is why we are standing up to say neighborhood schools for neighborhood kids (and others are welcome after all legitimate neighborhood residents have been admitted).

  • John Willson

    For many parents a major factor in electing to buy a home is “the neighborhood schools.” Any Realtors can tell you it’s often a major factor in making a home sale. Neighborhood school are often identified (named) in basic home selling information flyers. If buying into a neighborhood no longer guarantees that your child can attend the neighborhood school it needs to be DISCLOSED to potential buyers. Even contemplations of policy denying children home school attendance eligibility should be disclosed to prospective buyers in accordance with Real Estate laws. If prospective home buyers want to make a CONSCIOUS DECISION that being “FORTUNATE” (as John phrases it) is a mitigating factor in denying their child admission to their expensive neighborhood area school that’s fine. However, if they decide otherwise then they might want to buy their home in a different expensive neighborhood in a different town where there’s greater economic equality and where the “FORTUNATE” are not required (or potentially required) to have their child attend a lower performing non-neighborhood school in the name of social consciousness. I worked 25 years in low performing Oakland schools and SELLERS AND REALTORS NEED TO DISCLOSE THE LACK (or contemplated lack) OF NEIGHBORHOOD SCHOOL CHOICE TO PROSPECTIVE “FORTUNATE” HOME BUYERS. AND “FORTUNATE” HOME BUYERS NEED TO BEWARE that Oakland is filled with the likes of John and should NOT be ashamed, or apologetic, for making decisions that put their “FORTUNATE” child’s education FIRST because no one else in Oakland will.