The local teachers’ union and school activists are raising concerns about a proposal, backed by the school district’s administration, to dramatically change how new students are enrolled in Oakland schools, called “Common Enrollment,” a computer-based system that would channel students equally to public and charter schools.
While the new plan is backed by the district administration and some local pro-charter organizations, it has not yet been approved by the Board of Education, though the issue could go to the board as early as December.
The district administration says the plan will increase transparency and efficiency, streamlining a needlessly bureaucratic process – thereby clearing up confusion and helping parents who needlessly run around filling out multiple applications for their children to attend district schools and charter schools.
Overall, the plan is designed to improve equity in the enrollment process, enabling all parents to have an equal chance to send their student to high quality schools of their choice, according to the administration.
At present, parents who want to enroll or transfer schools must go to the Student Assignment Center at Lakeview, located near Lake Merritt. The enrollment options window is open between December and January each year.
Families must apply separately at each charter school, and dates of notifying parents of admission are often sent out at different times.
The district’s public meetings to gather community input on the proposal are frequently run by Great Oakland (GO) Public Schools, a nonprofit that supports candidates in school board elections and is tied to the Rogers Family Foundation, which backs local charter schools.
“Oakland is revising its enrollment system so it’s easier to use, more assessable and transparent, improves interaction with families (and) increases engagement and outreach,” according to the PowerPoint presentation produced by GO.
In talking points produced by the Oakland Education Association (OEA), the teachers’ union challenged the district to focus on providing all students with quality education and equal resources, rather than “an enrollment system that undermines their capacity to improve by directing students and resources away from them.”
OEA agrees that the current system has many flaws but says the proposal does not fix them but “in fact perpetuates many of the problems of the current system and adds new ones.”
Common Enrollment would send more students to charter schools, thereby depriving public schools of students and funding for resources, ultimately forcing more schools to close or be turned over to charter school organizations, according to OEA members.
In the 2014-2015 school year, there were 37,147 OUSD students attending 86 public schools while 11,034 students attended the 32 district-authorized charter schools.
Teachers at charter schools have few rights, say teacher activists, because charter school employees are not protected by a union or union contract. Parents who have complaints cannot go to the Board of Education – their complaints must be directed to the charter’s board of directors, who may not be located in Oakland.
“Common enrollment is dishonest: it presents all schools in its system as public schools even though charter schools are privately run and not publicly accountable,” according to the OEA.
Common enrollment increases inequity, says the union. “It will boost numbers of families applying to charters but won’t require charters to alter discriminatory admissions, discipline or expulsion policies.”
So far, the district has not said how much the new system will cost compared to the existing one. The program would be run by a new “Deputy Chief, Innovation,” who would be paid $157,500.
The district has already hired three consultants to work with a district committee to develop the proposal, including the person who was formerly in charge of Common Enrollment in the Denver schools, as well as two top executives of the firm that created Common Enrollment.
The program is based on a complicated mathematical algorithm that looks at students’ and schools’ six top choices and assigns students to a school.
It is unclear at present what would happen to existing rules that give preference to families that live near a school or already sending other children to that school.