Instability in OUSD: a brief lesson in recent history


The number of students attending Oakland’s district-run public schools shrank by about 30 percent between 2000 and 2010 — a trend that’s partly explained by a decline in the number of children living in the city and partly by the explosion of independently-run, state-funded charter schools during that time.

Despite that striking statistic, the district has even more schools today than it did back then.

If you don’t count the already-closed Youth Empowerment School (which somehow ended up on the list of schools to be phased out next year), there are still 100 schools in OUSD — about 15 more than there were in 2000. As education blogger John Fensterwald pointed out to me, that amounts to an average of 640 students per school in 2000, compared to an average of about 380 per school today.

With numbers like that, you might think this is the first time OUSD has considered reducing the number of neighborhood schools it operates. Not so. Oakland Unified shuttered about a dozen during the 2000s — and that’s not counting the ones that were closed and reopened as a school improvement strategy, or the new schools were shut down soon after they opened.

Most of these schools closed their doors before I started covering OUSD, but not all: Burbank, Carter, Cole, Foster, Golden Gate, John Swett, King Estates, Longfellow, Lowell, Merritt Middle College, Sherman, and Toler Heights. (Am I missing any? Not sure how to classify Cole or Lowell, as West Oakland Middle School opened on the Lowell campus as Cole was closing, but years after Lowell closed. And Hawthorne Elementary was a charter conversion. )

As parts of the city experienced a population boom and grappled with severe school overcrowding (which triggered the small schools movement), enrollment in other schools fell. Many of the closures during those years — whether in North Oakland, West Oakland or in the East Oakland foothills — were in predominately African-American neighborhoods, or serving large numbers of black students.

Painful decisions
Even now, when I think about a 2007 meeting with district staff and parents in the Sherman Elementary School cafeteria, I can almost feel the tension. And how the raw, angry voices gave way to near-silence after the closure news was announced.

That criticism resurfaced last night, as parents from Lakeview, Marshall, Maxwell Park and Santa Fe asked why their largely African-American schools were being targeted. (Lazear, the fifth school facing closure, is majority-Latino.)

Alice Spearman, who represents a mostly black and Latino swath of East Oakland, echoed their sentiments. While she supported closure criteria that placed a heavy emphasis on population density and enrollment, she has been lobbying hard for her African-American constituents in recent meetings.

“I have 21 schools in my district, and the only schools you chose to pick on were the ones that were predominately African American,” Spearman said last night to the superintendent. “You’ve got to look at the other group,” she said.

Schools in flux
As anyone who followed OUSD in the last decade knows, its school closings and openings were often anything but straightforward.

There were the schools that were closed and reopened — like Washington Elementary (replaced by Sankofa, which was first designed to become a K-8 school, then a K-5, now possibly a K-8 again) and McClymonds High School in West Oakland, which is back to being McClymonds after once housing three separate schools.

Some school campuses are now two closures deep: The two high schools that moved into the shuttered King Estates Middle School have since shut down — East Oakland Community High School and Youth Empowerment School. Explore Middle School, which moved into the closed Burbank Elementary School, itself closed in 2010. Burbank is now home to a preschool center for children with special needs, some of whom were relocated from Tilden — after it closed.

Change isn’t always harmful, of course. In some places, the teachers and parents there will say it was badly needed. But the instability of the past decade shouldn’t be forgotten, either — especially as the district embarks on what’s been billed as a “multi-year process” for shrinking itself down a more manageable size.

Katy Murphy

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

  • Makeitgoaway

    But look on the bright side. just think how many more highly- trained and paid administrators we have!

  • J.R.

    OUSD is number one in amount of administrators per capita(student) in Alameda County. Number one!!!!!!


  • Katy Murphy

    A wise blog reader pointed me to a California Department of Education directory that lets you search for all schools that have closed, merged or been renamed, going back at least 30 years. The list for OUSD (non-charter only) turned up 77 schools!

    There were a bunch listed as having opened in 1980 and closed in 1989. Anyone know why?

  • http://close.net close schools now

    why does OUSD give ineffective site administrators jobs in the district office?


  • Hmakesyouthink

    Can you be specific? There seems to be conjecture and accusation in your statement.
    Do you have real numbers?

  • Hmakesyouthink

    Question, close schools now.
    How would you know that ineffective site administrators have jobs in the district office? How are you defining ineffective?

  • Hmakesyouthink

    I take it you were just blowing off steam. Next time, consider doing it without maligning some very capable and hardworking people.

  • J.R.

    Maybe what he really means is that there could be redundant or even unnecessary personnel in the DO. Audits have found such things in other districts as well. Nothing new or surprising, really.

  • J.R.

    Here is a link to some documented cases:


  • Steven Weinberg

    Katy, Many of the schools that are listed as opening in 1980 date back far longer than that, and I didn’t find any school with an earlier opening date, including the schools I worked at in the 1960s. I think 1980 is the year the data base began. Some of the 1989 closing dates also seem wrong to me. Maybe some CDS codes were changed that year or phased out. Burbank Elementary is listed twice with two different CDS numbers, one closing in 1989 and one in 2004, when the school actually closed. Hope this helps.

  • Nextset

    I wonder if the opening and closing of schools isn’t connected to the notion that you can magically change the results of bad schooling by giving everybody thier very own bad school. As these bad schools sprout, closures occur when the experiments don’t pay off (and nothing actually changes).

    I don’t hear of any calls to close Lowell High in SF.

    Were OUSD to operate a single elite High School at say the Skyline Campus – and keep the dull students out by imposing Calculus (ghetto repellant) and other such every semester college prep requirements and handing out F’s to anybody that didn’t keep up, I believe such a school would be viable long term. A single set of feeder schools with similar strong repellants in place open to students district-wide would likely endure. The smaller boutique schools were a feel good thing that cost money and changed nothing in the long run. Fewer larger schools with a night and day difference with self-selecting segregation of the A, B and C track students would be better.

  • Oakland Teacher

    JR – thanks for posting the link to the East Bay Express article. I am going to post a little piece below that clarifies our biggest problem, more than twice as many administrators per pupil as compared to other districts:

    In fact, Oakland has the highest number of administrators per student in the county because it has too many schools. According to Ed-Data, Oakland employs one administrator for every 151.7 pupils. Alameda, by contrast, employs one administrator per every 385 students. And Pleasanton’s ratio is 1 to 319.

    Large urban districts with big schools pay even higher teacher salaries because they employ fewer administrators per student. The average teacher in Long Beach Unified, for example, earns $71,734 annually. And that district employs just one administrator for every 327 students.

  • J.R.

    Oakland teacher,
    There is a video segment on education nation where the state governors give their ideas. One governor said(paraphrasing) our major problem is not specifically education funding, but it is the fact that too much money gets diverted away from the classrooms, and I agree with that.


  • Anon

    Yes, I think Steven’s right on the dates. I know that our neighborhood school, Edison, opened in the 1920s (not 1980 as listed!) but was closed in the 80s (though I thought before 1989?) because the cost of earthquake retrofits required by new state codes was too costly for OUSD. (The building is actually still there, but was sold and converted to condos.) This was well before my time, but is it possible that other closures that decade were related to the same issue?

    In addition to the total number of schools, I’m curious to know how the number of student seats and the number of teachers and administrators has changed over the years—are there numbers on this? (Wondering given the rise in small schools, many sharing campuses, in the 2000s—is it just the number of separate schools that has increased, or has that also been associated with more capacity and more staff?)

  • livegreen

    “Many of the closures during those years…were in predominately African-American neighborhoods, or serving large numbers of black students.” This greatly simplifies the OUSD situation, ignores the criteria used (not race based at all) and is mixing correlation with causation.

  • Katy Murphy

    Very interesting questions. Here is a link to a California Department of Education report that shows the total number of administrators in the Oakland school district. It’s easy to pull up the same report for different years. The number is all over the map from year to year. It fluctuates so wildly one has to wonder how reliable the data entry was to begin with. I recall some confusion in the central office about whether teachers on special assignment should be classified as administrators.

    For 2009-10 — the most recent data available — there were 251 administrators listed for OUSD, 225 (6.7 percent) fewer than there were ten years earlier, in 1999-00. The number of teachers went down by 9.4 percent (274) during that time.

    I posted a link to a facilities study from a couple of years ago which you might find interesting: http://bit.ly/mRzVW4

  • Katy Murphy

    That was simply a factual observation about the closure patterns in the last decade. In the previous sentence, I wrote about uneven population growth — overcrowding in some schools and enrollment declines in others.

    I wouldn’t claim know the reasons behind all of those closures anyway, as most of them happened before I became a regular at OUSD meetings.

  • Katy Murphy

    Also: The statement you quoted was in reference to closures made years ago — not to the current set of schools (which I mention later on) or to the current criteria used by the school board to determine which schools to close.

  • Katy Murphy

    This actually reminded me of an acknowledgement by the state administration in 2007 (when Burckhalter and Sankofa were on the possible closure list) that African-American neighborhoods had been disproportionately affected by closures and the district’s school options policy. That was the main reason those two schools remained open. It’s worth noting that both schools have since made significant test score gains, with Burckhalter’s API going from 686 to 842, and Sankofa’s moving from 535 to 750.

    From the minutes of the Dec. 19, 2007 board meeting: (Kirsten Vital, now the superintendent of Alameda Unified, was then a member of the OUSD cabinet.)

    Ms. Vital said although there is diversity at many schools and although it has increased under the current options policy, the reality is that the ethnic racial socio-economic demographic at most neighborhood schools continue to approximate the demographic of the students living in that neighborhood. This trend is particularly true in schools which are not providing a quality education for neighborhood families. Although many students from the schools are opting out though the options policy, new families are not necessarily opting in from other neighborhoods. We heard the community and we went back to the drawing board. During the course of this year’s school portfolio management process, staff has raised qualitative concerns around the ethnic racial composition of schools being considered for closure. We just recently examined this data in the context of schools which have been closed over the past four years. The data indicates a disproportionate number of school closures taking place in predominantly African American neighborhoods. The decisions regarding Sankofa and Burckhalter were very difficult for staff to make. We have listened carefully to the voices from the community.

    Ms. Vital said the data on historical trends and school closures and which shows a disproportionate impact on African American neighborhoods has been an additional very important factor for our consideration. Staff continues to stand behind the recommendation that Sankofa and Burckhalter should be closed based on current Board policy and on the thorough evaluation of enrollment and academic factors, both qualitative and quantitative. However, staff also recognizes that in the absence of any changes to current Board policy, the reality is that the annual evaluation process will continue to disproportionately target schools and neighborhood where enrollment trends are declining and schools are not demonstrating the capacity to serve students. Historically, these neighborhoods have been predominantly African American. As such, staff recommends that decisions about these school closures be postponed until deeper Board policy work can inform where students are living in Oakland and where they are attending school. Potential factors for consideration regarding the interdistrict enrollment policy may include: Should there be total open enrollment across the District? Should there be a certain percentage of Options seats at each school? Should siblings have the highest priority for seats within a school? Should a certain number of seats at a school be reserved for free and reduced lunch students or for students from P.I. schools? Are there other legally permissible prioritizations that encourage and promote diversity? This is the work we are proposing to do over the coming months.

  • Debora


    I think the default date for opening a school is 7/1/1980. Quite a few of the schools in Fremont show that as their opening date, yet I know they existed when my mother was a child attending the school district.

  • Livegreen

    Ok, but again, that’s both coincidental and historical (to acknowledge your point). What % of schools that have low population and low neighborhood enrollment are of what racial make up? I’m not suggesting we look at that, as the decisions should be made race neutral. I believe staff already did that. But once Ms. Spearman makes a suggestion that they did not, then that is opening a whole can of worms, of accusations based on coincidence and not on fact.

    If we r to go the route of closures based on race then we need to observe what the breakdown is at schools with low #s, low attendance, low neighborhood attendance, and low #s of children in the neighborhood. Staff already did that without race. Is everybody besides Ms. Spearman ready to go that route with race?

  • Katy Murphy

    Yes, that must be true.

    Why do you think so many schools are listed as closing in 1989? Seismic issues after the Loma Prieta?

  • Anon

    The schools listed as closing in 1989 are 06/30/89, which was several months before Loma Prieta. I think it’s just database wonkiness, since in at least a couple of those cases the schools definitely closed well before then. I’m betting this database was created sometime in the mid-80s and for schools that had closed recently or were in the process of closing, they entered in default years for all of them.

    Note that all of the schools that are still open are listed as having opened on July 1, 1980, too. Big year for OUSD apparently! 😉

  • Anon

    (Just took a peek at a different district for comaprison…yep. Alameda and Albany also apparently also opened all of their schools on July 1, 1980 and closed a bunch of them on June 30, 1989 too…)

    I think it’s safe to assume that the opening dates are inaccurate on any pre-1980 school, and the closing dates are only accurate after 1990 or so.

  • Katy Murphy

    Thanks for checking! Well, at least we have 20 years of data to go on.

  • J.R.
  • Debora

    I found something interesting using the link provided by Katy regarding certificated workers in school districts. The school districts in California with diverse populations of students and parents have more highly educated certificated workers.

    Certificated workers are teachers, counselors, administrators and others. We appear to be one of the only districts that have certificated workers who do not have Bachelor’s Degrees. Additionally, a greater percentage of our certificated employees have lower levels of education overall. While I don’t necessarily think that you have to have a Master’s degree to teacher elementary school, I think that if fifth grade students, or sixth-eighth grade core (math-science, English-history) are being taught by a teacher with cursory knowledge of the subject, students who are working substantially above grade level may not be served by teachers without the content knowledge.

    It would be interesting to break out the education levels of the certificated workers in schools that are being closed as compared to certificated workers in schools in other districts that serve similar populations of students (socioeconomically, ethnically, parental age and education) to see if they are better able to meet student academic needs.

  • Gordon Danning


    Re: the education data, something is amiss. You can’t be a certificated employee without a teaching credential, which means “Bachelor’s Degree +30), so the numbers in that column seem way too low.

    Actually, I take that back — Teach for America folks, et al, can be certificated without 30 units past a bachelor’s, but are the numbers that high? Maybe Katy can find out.

    PS: Re: Master’s Degrees — how many of those are Master’s degrees in education, as opposed to in a substantive field. Based on what I have seen, a Master’s in education isn’t worth much.

  • Oakland Teacher

    In order to be a certificated employee in California, you MUST have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree. It has nothing to do with OUSD.

    You cannot get an “emergency credential”, the bare minimum needed to substitute teach without a four-year college degree (although many of our great subs have advanced degrees and/or teaching credentials).

    Wherever you are getting your info from, it is absolutely incorrect.

    Classified staff, which includes aides and Instructional Assistants, is not the same as certificated. Classified employees are not necessarily required to have college degrees (depending on the particular position), and if you are comparing our aides/assistants to other districts: they are paid far less (not a living wage) and are far less educated than districts that pay a living wage.

    Perhaps that is what you meant. I can guarantee you there are no teachers without at least a college degree.

    Gordon, why must you continually degrade teachers in your responses? Don’t we get bashed enough already? Even though my Master’s in Education isn’t worth much to you, it means a lot to me. I worked really hard in my graduate program. It took me two and one-half years, including one year of research/writing my thesis (which was published). I don’t regret one minute of it, and know I am a better teacher for it.

  • J.R.

    It seems as though you are absolutely correct(as the studies in my links below show). More experience and more education do not necessarily equate to more effective teaching.



    I guess what it comes down to is as a question for all teachers, are your students academically better than they were, before they were entrusted to you? Not merely your perception.

  • Gordon Danning

    Oakland Teacher: I wasn’t degrading teachers; I was questioning the value of a master’s degrees in Education, as compared to the value of a master’s degree in a substantive field. Although I’m sure that an MA in Education can be intellectually interesting experience, many Education MA programs are not very rigorous, and even the rigorous ones might have little effect on student achievement.

    In contrast, I spent a year as a college senior writing an honors thesis on revolutionary ideology, and a year in law school writing an article (that was published) on freedom of speech. I KNOW those two endeavors made me a better teacher, because I use the knowledge gained therefrom in the classroom (in World History and Government, respectively). Heck, I use tons of the law school stuff in class, so it makes sense that I get paid more for having acquired that knowledge.

    JR: I think that the links you posted tend to support paying extra for more education in substantive fields. For example, one says: “Evidence suggests, however, that these factors are not consistently related with student performance, with the exception of initial levels of experience and the possible exception of some advanced degrees at the secondary level, particularly subject-specific degrees in mathematics and science.”

    Also, it is hardly surprising that “[t]he bulk of the experience effects occur in the first year, with subsequent experience yielding diminishing increases in teacher productivity.” — That is consistent with the law of declining marginal utility.

    So, it seems that the best course of action would be to give pay increases for the first 5 years, and for some extra education, but not all. Of course, that would ultimately free up money for higher starting salaries.

  • OUSD Parent

    The census figures published in the paper (Trib? Chron? Both? Don’t remember as I read both) said that Oakland was losing African Americans to the suburbs and Southern states with jobs. Presumably, this means African American kids as well. Oakland’s Latino population has grown quite a bit and its Asian population to a lesser extent. Thus, it comes as no surprise to me that the schools in predominantly African American neighborhoods are under-enrolled and are slated for closure; neighborhood families have voted with their feet.

    Lakeview is another issue: The physical health of young children must trump other concerns. It is too close to the freeway. I don’t know West Oakland, but I sure hope schools there are not close to the diesel fumes of the trucks that is poisoning the community.

  • Katy Murphy

    I actually wrote a story that ran with the Census piece you saw. OUSD lost half of its black students between 2000 and 2010. That decline accounted for more than three-fourths of the enrollment drop in the district during that same period.

  • Yazstremski

    Katy, Didn’t I read something like this from you this week? About the African American families leaving Oakland? You or someone else from the trib?

  • Yazstremski

    Maybe a link to that article? Please?

  • Katy Murphy

    I’m not at my computer, but you’ll find links to both stories on my Twitter feed: Twitter.com/katymurphy

  • Katy Murphy
  • Fletch

    I looked at this year’s API test stuff and it looks like the black population in the schools has stabilized. Just FYI.

  • Katy Murphy

    The district’s overall enrollment has stabilized as well.

  • http://www.oaklandgreens.org Donald L Macleay

    This article is missing a few of the points here.

    One is that we have introduced small schools, so there are two types of school on the same campus.

    Two is that it has worked in many ways. Oakland schools are a success story.

    Now that we are out from under the state control scam more parents feel that the schools can be counted on to stay on the course that they have charted. That is if we do not start another round of amateur adventures or financial maneuvers to advance political careers.

    Schools need public support and stability. This is not the kind of institution that thrives on quick change.

  • Danai Lamb

    Is there any word about the possible demolition of any of the school closures in OUSD for 2012? I read once in passing a reference to Lakeview, and another about Lazear becoming a ?bigbox store???

  • livegreen

    I’d be very surprised if they already knew what kind of store it might become. They’d have to have real estate agents & planners already on it, which they certainly wouldn’t do in the middle of the school year. Sounds like somebody’s trying to spread rumors to discredit the closure plans…

  • Katy Murphy

    I think Danai might have been referring to discussions from May 2011 about a big box store moving onto the Lazear campus. I blogged about it: http://www.ibabuzz.com/education/2011/05/31/a-big-box-store-at-lazear/

    Noel Gallo said that wasn’t happening. But then again, I re-read the post and saw that he said Lazear wasn’t going to close (note: Gallo voted against the closures), so who knows what the plan really is.