Op-Ed: Hits and Misses in the New York Times Article on Oakland


By Dirk Tillotson


Oakland was showcased in the recent Times article, “Oakland District at the Heart of Drive to Transform Urban Schools.”



And while I appreciate the coverage, the article focused too much on the elite adult arguments and too little on the opinions and needs of actual underserved Oakland parents.


Oakland possesses a small group of vocal protesters who are drowning out the voices of our most challenged parents, the parents who really need quality options.



And while protesters’ children attend quality schools, they decry the desire for better schools for others, for those who can’t move to the hills.



I think the Times missed the real story here, which is buried in some of the final paragraphs.



Much of the copy was focused on the contentious battles over “privatization” that Superintendent Antwan Wilson is alleged to represent and lost were the voices of everyday parents.



Those who struggle to pay their bills, live in sometimes dangerous neighborhoods, and are assigned to sometimes dangerous schools.



These parents don’t have the luxury to sit through 4-hour board meetings, or engage in marches or protests. They are taking care of their children, fighting to make rent, holding down difficult jobs, and generally don’t have much slack time or energy.



Honestly for Black and Brown people, we don’t look back to some grand era of public education. The suffering of black students predate the current Superintendent, and charter schools.



Superintendent Wilson is showing the urgency to improve education now. His policies are ambitious and screaming, “Our children can no longer wait.”



A telling quote from the article came from Kenetta Jackson, a housing administrator and a mother of two, decided the local school in her East Oakland neighborhood was “not up to [her] personal standards.”



Her daughter, now 16, and son, 13, have attended charter schools in the Aspire Public Schools network since they were in kindergarten.



Ms. Jackson said she did not understand the debates about the merits of charter schools. For her, it is not about politics, but for the well-being of her children.



Superintendent Wilson is on record countless times expressing that he is neither pro or anti-charter, but pro quality. Stating that all of the children living within Oakland’s borders deserve high quality.



Frankly, we are trying to build schools that can compete for people like Ms. Jackson’s children.



For too long poor Black and Brown folks have listened to the privileged, lecture us about how we should sacrifice our children on the altar of public education, getting the scraps of schools that they would never send their own children to.



So I appreciate the Times covering Oakland. I just hope that coverage looks to the voices of those most affected, rather than just the loudest yellers. Just my thoughts as an Oaklander that tired of politics and focused on an elevated conversation about quality.



Dirk Tillotson is the founder and executive director of the nonprofit Great Schools Choices, which supports community-based charter school development and increasing access for underserved families. He has worked over 20 years supporting mostly charter community schools in Oakland, New Orleans, New York and the Middle East.



For more information, go to educationpost.org or greatschools.org.



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