We Need Enrollment Reform, Not Common Enrollment

OUSD is currently considering a proposal to significantly reshape our enrollment process. Most Oakland parents and teachers agree that we need to make our enrollment process accessible, transparent and fair for all Oakland families. There are a lot of good ideas on the table, including adding regional enrollment centers, providing online tools, and conducting greater outreach to families throughout the process. Oakland parents support enrollment reform.

However, Oakland parents are concerned that the Superintendent’s proposal to add privately-operated charter schools to our enrollment system could destabilize our district schools, leading to school closures and teacher layoffs. This is exactly what has happened in some other cities where this proposal has been pushed through.

What Can We Do?

The time for Oakland parents to weigh-in on this issue is limited as the Board currently plans to vote on Common Enrollment on January 27th. Email or call your Board member today and let them know that you want enrollment reform, not common enrollment. 

Oakland parents are hosting a series of house parties over the next month to come together and talk about what a Common Enrollment system would mean for Oakland families, and what we can do to fight for real enrollment reform that will make our schools stronger. Check here for a (growing) list of house parties, and email us for the address. If you are interested in hosting a house party, email us at ousdparentsunited@gmail.com.  


Common Enrollment Will Not Hold Charter Schools Accountable for Selective Enrollment, “Creaming,” or Otherwise Pushing Out Students They Deem Undesirable:

Advocates of this proposal — which is being pushed by, and will be funded by, Wall Street-backed charter school advocates — say that adding charters will allow the District to hold charter schools more accountable to enrollment standards. However, nothing in the proposal will hold charters accountable – their participation is voluntary, they will continue to be allowed to set their own enrollment criteria, and the policy does not have any real enforcement mechanisms. In fact, at a recent school board meeting, Chief of Schools Allen Smith said that charters that don’t follow the new rules will be subject to “real conversations” with District staff. (video here – Smith speaks from 2:27:50 to 2:29:10) 

This is not real accountability. In fact, our OUSD Charter School Office already has data on the push-out patterns at Oakland charter schools – we could have “real conversations” right now without adding charters to our enrollment system.  

Common Enrollment Will Destabilize our District Run Schools for which our School Board is Responsible

Charter schools are not required to participate and, in fact, the Superintendent has previously said that he expects that there will be charters who will elect not to participate. The charter schools that are already content with their enrollment and student population will not participate because there is no reason for them to do so. Charter schools that are under-enrolled need more students to function, so they will participate in order to increase their enrollment – those students will necessarily come from our District Schools, thereby undermining the fiscal integrity of those District Schools.

Members of our School Board, which is charged with maintaining the financial well-being of our District Schools, have raised questions about the impact of Common Enrollment on our school system and rightly so. So far, District staff has not provided satisfactory answers to these questions. Some other Districts where this same Common Enrollment system has been pushed through have seen school closures, teacher and staff layoffs and greater instability of the District as a whole.

Common Enrollment is Not Necessary to Make Public School Enrollment More Stable:

Advocates of this proposal also say it is necessary to provide our public schools with more stability at the beginning of the school year when some parents hold seats in both public schools and charter schools, leading to enrollment uncertainties for some public schools. However, in addition to not being able to provide hard data on how often and at what schools this situation arises, the District has not tried other methods to help alleviate this, including shortening the date by which students must attend school in order to keep their seat or adding temporary staff (or volunteers) to help confirm families before the school year starts by phone or by knocking on doors. Ending waitlists at our public schools will certainly also help this problem – a piece of the current proposal that many parents support.  

Common Enrollment has not Increased Equity in Other Cities:

This very same common enrollment system has not resulted in more equitable schools in other Districts which have already adopted it. In Oakland, the majority of OUSD families don’t use the options process in the first round. In other cities, the switch to common enrollment hasn’t increased the participation rates of lower income parents of color, and in fact has primarily benefitted those who already benefit under our system: white middle class families. In Denver, students of color participate in the Common Enrollment process at rates of up to 20% less than their white counterparts, further widening the equity gap.

The Public Engagement Process Has Been Manipulated to Ensure a Predetermined Outcome:

The process to develop a Common Enrollment process for Oakland was designed by, pushed for and funded with private money from charter school advocates with a predetermined agenda to include charters in our enrollment system. The Steering Committee that created the proposal – composed primarily of charter supporters and the Superintendent’s staff – was created by invitation only, formed in secret and not open to all Oakland parents, teachers and students. “Parent Advisory Groups” were formed secretly, and not open to all OUSD parents. Public feedback sessions were not well-publicized or well-attended, they were stacked with staff from charter-supporting organizations (who often hid that fact from parents in the room) and public feedback collected was manipulated and misrepresented in reports. 

In addition, an online survey that the District and charter supporters claim shows widespread support for this proposal was only filled out by 500 participants, the majority of whom (61.7%) live in the two wealthiest school board districts. In addition, survey questions were designed to elicit responses favorable to adopting a common enrollment process, the survey was not controlled to assure that participants only submitted it one time or even that participants were actual OUSD parents. Finally, some parents (and school board members!) reported that they had trouble even taking the survey and Board members requested that the survey be redesigned and reissued to ensure representative results. 



Community Objects to Privately-Funded OUSD Enrollment Reform,” Post News Group, 12/4/15.

Charter School Advocates Push Enrollment Shift in Oakland,” San Francisco Chronicle, 12/1/15.

School Board Considers Options for Proposed Enrollment Policy,” Oakland North, 12/3/15.

Debate Grows Over OUSD Common Enrollment Proposal,” Post News Group, 11/27/15.

Teachers Say Common Enrollment Would Funnel More Students to Charters,” Post News Group, 11/20/15.

From Boston:Walsh Taking Heat Over School Agenda,” Boston Globe, 12/4/15.

From Boston: Public School Mama on “The Demands of Phantoms,” Blog post on the similarities between Boston and Oakland. 

From Newark: “Cami’s Newark Enrollment Plan Collapses in the Heat,” Blog post on the failures of Common Enrollment in Newark.

From Denver: CRPE Report “An Evaluation of Denver’s School Choice Process 2012-2014

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