There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.
– Nelson Mandela
Education is the great equalizer, and great public education is the backbone of American Democracy. Just like a free press and the balance of powers, a vibrant K-12 public education system offers the best chance for people to realize the full blessings of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Public education played a huge role in the lives of every one of our team members. Sometimes it was good, sometimes not. In Oakland, sadly, the norm is not what it should be. We want to default to excellence, but we are not there yet. Here are some of the challenging statistics that we seek to shift every day:
Citywide, roughly 1 out of 3 children can read on grade level (37% were proficient on the 17-18 SBAC ELA tests). With math, it’s worse, with only 30% of students proficient in math citywide. In other words, about 2/3 of Oakland children are not reading or doing math at grade level. If we are preparing our students for the future, they need to be able to do basic math and read. Oakland citywide is behind state levels of proficiency (50% in ELA, 39% in math). While Oakland is slowly closing this gap, at this rate of progress, it will take well into 2040 for 75%+ of students to be proficient. We strongly believe that these basic building blocks are essential to realizing our North Star.
Quality can mean different things to different people, but no matter the framework, Oakland has not done well for decades, especially for low-income Black and Brown kids in the flatlands of the city. New Measures, Similar Results, the latest report by Oakland Achieves, highlights the big picture. The state defines a quality school as a school that has all of its major student subgroups performing well and progressing, not only in academics like SBAC ELA and math, but also in climate/culture areas like suspension and chronic absence. Based on the report’s fall 2017 release, only two schools in Oakland qualify as quality schools. They are not located in East Oakland, where the majority of students live, and they have very low percentages of students who qualify for Free & Reduced Price Lunch (FRPL), the most common measure of student need. To qualify for FRPL, you have to be making less than $36,000 for a family of four in the Bay Area – and over 75% of public school students in Oakland are in families that meet this eligibility requirement (though there are some schools with over 90% and others with less than 30%). Every kid deserves a transformational quality public school, regardless of where they live. But we are not there yet.
At OUSD, the four-year cohort graduation rate for district-run schools was 70.3% for the graduating class of 2017. In other words, of every ten friends you make in freshman year, only 7 of them will graduate on time with you. It’s been getting better, but it’s far from where we need it to be. What’s even more concerning is what percentage of graduates are ready to enter the UC or CSU systems, let alone what percentage persist in college. As employers increasingly require more than just a high school diploma as prerequisites for jobs, a large chunk of Oakland students will face barriers to higher-paying jobs without that diploma.
In district-run schools, the district-wide retention rate for 2016-17 was 79% of teachers returning to the district in any position. However, African American teachers were least likely to return to the classroom, with 72% of them returning in 16-17. Crossed with gender, African American male teachers are the least likely of all gender/race groups to return, with 68% of them returning to the district in 16-17. With a majority white teaching force in Oakland (50.5%) and an increasingly diverse student population, it’s imperative to retain MORE teachers of color in order to close the gap. The trends currently suggest the opposite is happening.
These are just a few of the statistics that we track to evaluate the state of Oakland public education. If you have ideas on these and others, please let us know by contacting us here.