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New York Times Looks at National Significance of Oakland’s Fight Over Billionaire-Backed Charter Schools




A front-page article published recently in the New York Times examines the battle in Oakland over the growing power of corporate-backed charter schools, which the Times says could impact the future of public education across the country.



The March 5 article, “Oakland Is Flashpoint in Billionaire’s Push for Charter Schools,” describes the ongoing “confrontation” between teachers, parents and community members and Oakland Superintendent of Schools Antwan Wilson, who – along with a team of top administrators – was hired to lead the Oakland schools two years ago.



“Mr. Wilson is facing a rebellion by teachers and some parents against his plan (called ‘common enrollment’) to allow families to use a single form to apply to any of the city’s 86 district-run schools or 44 charter campuses, all of which are competing for a shrinking number of students,” according to the Times.



“How he fares may say a great deal not only about Oakland, but also about this moment in the drive to transform urban school districts,” the article continued. “Many of them have become rivalrous amalgams of traditional public schools and charters, which are publicly funded but privately operated and have been promoted by education philanthropists.”



“Mr. Wilson is trying to bring the traditional schools into closer coordination with the charters,” said the Times.



The Times goes on to point out Supt. Wilson’s connections to pro-charter national corporations and corporate foundations.


“He is one of a cadre of superintendents who have been trained in an academy financed by the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation,” said the Times. “Like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, Mr. Broad, a Los Angeles billionaire who made his fortune in real estate and insurance, is one of a group of businessmen with grand ambitions to remake public education.”


The Broad Foundation has donated $144 million to charter schools across the country, and Broad is currently involved in a battle to qualitatively increase the number of charters in Los Angeles.


“Unique among the education philanthropists, his foundation has also contributed more than $60 million over 15 years to a nonprofit that trains superintendents and administrators, convinced that they are key to transforming urban school systems,” the Times said.


Graduates of Broad training include Supt. Wilson, former Oakland State Trustee Randy Ward, and Oakland superintendents Kimberly Statham and Vincent Matthews.


In addition, the foundation has “granted (the Oakland Unified School District) about $6 million for staff development and other programs over the last decade. The Broad Center, which runs the superintendents’ academy, has subsidized the salaries of at least 10 ex-business managers who moved into administrative jobs at the district office,” according to the article.


Supt Wilson’s Broad-appointed mentor is former Los Angeles Schools’ Supt. John Desasy, who stepped down from his position in L.A. in the midst of a scandal over a $1.3 billion plan to give all students iPads.


Supt. Wilson argues that common enrollment will increase equity in Oakland’s school system.


“(He) says that a single application form, (“common enrollment,”) where parents rank their choices among all schools and students are assigned through a computer algorithm, will reduce the ability of well-connected parents to place their children in the most desirable schools and force charters to be more open about how they admit students,” says the Times. “Similar systems have been put in place in Washington and New Orleans and are being considered in Boston (and Detroit).”


Read the full New York Times article at



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