Shifting demographics and a shrinking school-age population

photo by Laura A. Oda/staff photographer

We ran a story Sunday about shifting demographics in inner-city neighborhoods such as West Oakland — changes which have resulted in fewer school-age children in the area and declining public school enrollment.

Oakland, as a whole, lost 20 percent of its 5- to 17-year-olds between 2000 and 2010, according to the U.S. census; in West Oakland, it was 31 percent. (You can find a spreadsheet of West Oakland school enrollment trends here.)

I spent months looking for explanations and stories behind the census data, and we plan to continue following some of those threads in future pieces. One issue I want to explore, for example, is the school district’s school choice policy, put in place in 2005, which allows families to enroll their kids at schools with available space outside their local attendance boundaries.

What do you see happening in the area 10 years from now?

A CALL FOR INTERVIEWS: I’d love to talk to West Oakland residents with children 17 and younger about the educational options in their neighborhood and beyond. I’d also like to hear from African Americans who left West Oakland about why they left and what their lives are like now, wherever they are.

You can reach me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

Katy Murphy

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

  • J.R.

    Here is a chart of OUSD enrollment from 1992-1999 I don’t know if you will find it helpful or not?


  • livegreen

    I’ve heard that many families in West Oakland don’t feel safe and this is one of the reasons they send their kids to schools in other areas. Well, this problem will not be solved until we have more Police Officers.

    Since the most vocal voters at City Council meetings are OO and Unions representing other City workers, who all either hate OPD or who think they should be cut more, this problem will not go away.

    This includes the OEA, whose beliefs seem to differ from poor parents who are trying to keep their children safe.

  • livegreen

    JR, You mean through 2009…

    Also, in a previous discussion thread on this blog, we discussed a slide on the Facilities Master Plan that showed OUSD’s continued decline in enrollment from 2000 to the 2010-11 school year. (I made the comment how this was the exact opposite of the improvement in OUSD test scores).

    2011-12 school year showed an increase in enrollment.

    Katy said she had some questions about their info source for this. Don’t know if they or Troy ever got back to her to confirm the info…However both sets of info come from MK Think presentations.

  • J.R.

    Yep thanks for catching that goof. Yes I also observed the inverse relationship between those students that left the district and the higher test scores. Could it have been that kids with weaker skills left the district?

  • Pro-choice Oakland parent

    The school choice issue presents very difficult arguments. We do not live in West Oakland, but our neighborhood school is under-performing. I will note that this school, like many (take note anti-choice people), this school was under-performing for years before the options program came in and that even with the options program in place, our neighborhood school has actually steadily improved even though it’s enrollment has declined. The decline is enrollment, as the Trib article attests, is not only due to the options process but also to the changing demographics in our neighborhood. A lot of families moved at the middle school level, a lot are older and a lot are young, childless and living in homes large enough for families with lots of housemates and bicycles. But I see lots of snugglies and strollers.

    The argument is that the options process has taken families out of their neighborhood schools and that has hurt the school. But here’s what’s true for our family and the many families that have taken advantage of the options process: we would have left Oakland all together if not for this choice. We cannot pay the extra $50,000 a year to educate both our children and live in our home here.

    A lot of the young families I see moving in will probably make the decision to move not just for schools but for yards and safer streets. But some cannot fathom not living in an urban area with short commutes, good food, art, music, culture at their finger tips. For them and us (and there are a lot of us, just look how crammed the “good” schools are) the options programs is the only thing enabling us to stay and raise our children in Oakland.

    I want my children to probably proclaim they grew up in Oakland when they become the well-educated adults they are set to be! Keep choice alive.

  • livegreen

    Pro-Choice in #5 is dead-on. More families are trying Oakland schools and staying in Oakland. For families in the districts of under-performing schools (no matter what neighborhood or race) that is in no small part due to the Options process.

    This is mostly at the K-5 and somewhat for 9-12. Middle School is starting with a trickle. Improve Middle Schools, the same will happen there, & it will even help retain more K-5 families.

    Having mixed classrooms that represent Oakland will also help those who are less fortunate: as the school can afford more, it can afford to fund more programs that support the school’s entire population.

  • J.R.

    I Agree, choice is a good thing(except maybe where life and death are concerned). Failure is kind of like a coat that is fully paid for. It gets more comfortable as it ages(even though it looks ratty to others), and there is no incentive to try and do better and go out and get a better one because this one is so comfortable. Change is so inconvenient and such a hassle. People get comfortable at 50% or 75% and why knock yourself out if you don’t have to. You are right that choice is a needed weapon against human nature itself.

  • Nextset

    It’s interesting to be reminded that cities die when they allow (all) their public schools to become wretched. Families flee (to Oringa/Walnut Creek?) leaving elderly and childless residents. Tax base loss and shoppers migrating contribute to collapsed downtown and bare strip malls (and Eastmont – what were they thinking when they built it?). Those that run first are those who are employed with an eye to their own futures.

    The failure to a school district to field segregated schools -(love using that term!) ensures this process. San Francisco of all places kept a segregated academic school – Lowell High – I don’t know what they did about the rest of the schools there.

    You cannot have an “integrated” school on a large scale and still have an acceptable academic program. That seems the lesson of the 20th century. You can have a pretend integrated school such as Piedmont High or Beverly Hills Middle School or whatever. These are schools that are integrated in principle, but segregated in reality. That works when the economic barriers to enrollment are strong enough to keep the lower class out (Piedmont has no apartment complexes, for example, No Ghetto housing, Section 8 or welfare projects.)

    One wonders what would happen to the Oakland Neighborhoods if OUSD announced in 12 months hence there would be a system of schools with strict enforcement of reading/writing levels that would expel any student after annual testing who scores below grade level, or a high school which required UC entrance requirements with expulsion set at having a gpa drop below C for more than a semester – along with a grade curve of even required merely 15% Ds and Fs for every class?

    Those who do not enroll and remain in the upper track would be assigned to the remaining schools at OUSD. Have no affirmative action and no expectation that the policy would ever be race neutral.

    Having such public schools available would (make possible) keep the desired people and their tax base in the city.

    The problem is this maniacal insistence that the schools reflect the racial composition desired by the libs, regardless of the price everyone pays for being PC.

    You are never going to have a algebra, calculus or advanced science class that reflect the same racial makeup of a large CA city. If you are doing classes at a large military base where the parents are pre-screened for you-know-what it’s easier to smooth all this over. We take our population in cities as we get them – so does OUSD.

    For everyone’s sake it’s time to move to race neutral policy and let the chips fall where they may. OUSD is big enough to field a set of academic schools, open only to anybody who can cut the mustard. Doing so would give people a reason to stay in town.

    As far as the “other” students who are not going to college – which is the majority of Oakland students – it’s time we ran schools for them that suited their needs and did not try to cram college prep down their throats.

  • Nextset

    It seem to me the choice to leave OUSD for Charters is a vote to pursue schools that either maintain academic standards OUSD won’t – or to get a program better suited to non college prep than OUSD offers in it’s one size fits all district.

    If public education is to survive as something other than a big continuation school – the large districts such as OUSD and LAUSD must offer ultra-competitive academic schools. SF has done so it appears.

    What will it take for OUSD to try this?

  • makeitgoaway

    Totally agree with the academic high school idea. Parents would be beating down the door to get their child in, and more importantly preparing their child to take the entrance exam years in advance. Parents would put pressure on the Diatrict to improve the middle schools, ramping up instructional content so that students were well prepared. Thus the ripple effect would raise all ships in the harbor.

    This should have happened already to compete with charter schools if OUSD had a business model.

  • J.R.

    In Alameda County there are a few districts that are not wealthy enclaves and yet are examples of rigorous academic standards.


    Take a look at Castro Valley and Fremont as examples of what can be done.

  • Nextset

    No white school district would tolerate the complete lack of academic standards OUSD does.

    White school district understand well the need to have different tracks – even if there is not a significant black population.

    It’s the black districts who are terrified of imposing standards and kicking out any who fail to meet them. This is true whether the administration of the black districts are white, mixed, light blacks or black. At least this is true since the Great Society Movement of the mid 1960s.

    Previously the all black schools tended to be run by blacks who were themselves college educated and more importantly military experienced. The concept of jack booted discipline and making students unhappy was just not a problem. They’d been through it. Also the concept of some people going forward and some being culled was not a problem either. Competition was not an alien concept. Winners and losers. Losers not dragging the winners down. My family was faculty & administration in black schools K to grad school back to the early 1900s. It never occurred to them to be easygoing. It was not easy work. Their students had to be made ready for anything the world would throw at them. A lot was going on. People moved and started in new industries.

    The reason the Black School districts in the USA are so worthless now but not before (Dunbar High School, etc) is this odd notion that we are supposed to keep the kiddies happy and content. No matter what, keep them happy and not protesting. But only in the Black Schools.

    Meanwhile a lot is going on. The next 15 years is going to have greater change than the last 15 years. Where are the black students going to fit in? People are going to move and start in new industries I’ll bet. How are the blacks going to be able to fit into the Brave New World when (as a group) they can’t even speak English, keep a driver’s license or a credit card, and meet basic sanitation/health issues? It takes the discipline learned in the HS years to be a functioning adult. OUSD is not known to be a good teacher of that. Regardless of how screwed up the parents may be, the High Schools used to provide a common level everyone met. The Black Districts, such as OUSD and LAUSD, believe they should not impose any middle class standards on lower class kids. The prefer to “keep them real”.

    Flunking out failures is a big middle class standard.

  • livegreen

    Further to my comment in #5 about how retaining middle class families helps everyone, same has to be done with this City’s tax base.

    In addition to saving lives, this is why improving Safety needs to become part of the equation along with Education…