Opinion: Choose or Lose in Oakland’s Public Schools


By Dirk Tillotson

The meek will not inherit the earth in Oakland’s system of public school choice. Given the likelihood of school closings, they may inherit the dirt of a shuttered school, and the scraps of opportunities left after others have chosen first.

Many families don’t know it, but now is the time to apply to all Oakland public schools. Open enrollment is taking place as we speak. The window of opportunity to apply is open now, and when it closes, most of the highest quality schools will be full. Families on the sidelines will be on the outside looking in, and if you miss the deadlines, you may miss your chance for a better school.

Oakland is a choice district, both with charters and traditional schools, for anyone to apply. There are some sibling and neighborhood preferences, but short of that, if there is space at a school, and you can get there, you can attend. For those who don’t love their current school option, the time to apply is now. And if you don’t choose you will lose.

Last year, most families did not participate in the open enrollment period. Of the over 65,000 school aged children in Oakland, less than 14,000 participated. And I will bet dollars to donuts that more privileged and white families exercised more choice, than Black families and those from low-income backgrounds.

Some neighborhoods have many great choices and some, not so much, based on Oakland’s strategic regional analysis. There are also huge ranges in the proficiency and college going rates of student growth h at different schools. There are a few stand out schools helping Black students succeed in particular. Joaquin Miller Elementary and Melrose Leadership Academy are helping students meet or exceed proficiency in math and English language arts.

So if you didn’t get to move to your neighborhood of choice (with the excessive price tags attached), you may need to go outside of it to get your schools of choice.

There are more options than ever in Oakland, from very traditional brick and mortar schools, to those focused on student internships in the community. We also have bilingual programs in Spanish, French and Mandarin, a Montessori school, A Waldorf school, and highly impactful career academies in health and engineering, just to name a few.

Not every school works for every child. But this is an opportunity for our families to choose the best for their children rather than being left with the remainders. Traditionally, our Black, Brown, and low income families have been less likely to actively choose, and we have the most to lose by not choosing. It’s critical that we actively engage, and that our community organizations help the unengaged get engaged.

I know many of us are used to walking to our neighborhood schools, and that may still be the best option. But, we owe it to our kids to really make sure.

Caption for Attached Photo
Families at the East Oakland Enrollment Fair working with Enroll Oakland staff to find the best schools. The West Oakland enrollment fair will be held on December 16, 2017 at the DeFremery Recreation Center”.


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