It Matters Who (Doesn’t) Get Chosen

There is a lot of discussion in Oakland about Charter schools, we have 42 charter schools in Oakland (approved by both OUSD and the County Office of Education), and charter students represent 30% of all students enrolled district or charter schools, more than any other district in the state.  That heavy concentration comes with a cost – $57 million according to a recent ITPI report. But it’s not just about a dollar amount, it’s also about serving kids, all kids, regardless of what kind of services they might need. That is what a public school does.

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So we wondered, what would it look like if we compared the student populations of two schools that are co-located on one campus? It’s not always easy to find two schools, of the same grade levels, in the same neighborhood, but we have that “apples to apples” comparison in deep East Oakland, in a neighborhood that has suffered from generations of disinvestment and deep trauma. How would the students at these two high schools, one district, one charter, be the same, or different?

The District school is bigger, but not that big for a comprehensive high school – 860 compared to 420 for the Charter school. They both have about the same percentage of students receiving Free or Reduced Price Lunch, about 92%.  The District school serves twice as many Latinx as African-American students, with a sprinkling of other demographic groups, but not many. Why then is the Charter school in this same neighborhood made up of more than 90% Latinx but just 6.6% African-American students?

Oakland has many students that have very specialized needs, including special education, unhoused students, newcomers and English learners. These students need critical, and often more costly, services that a public school must provide, should provide in order to educate the whole child.  And in the case of our co-located schools, the District school has a larger percentage of these students in every single category.


Special education: District school 14%, Charter school 9%; Unhoused students: District school 15.28%, Charter school 2.2%; English Learners: District school 43%, Charter school 28%; Newcomers: District school 32% (estimated from current enrollment information); Charter school 9%


The leader of a local Charter Advocacy group looked at this data and said:

This is who those schools house. Look at the dashboard for performance. I can 100% guarantee you that the charter outperforms across the board. It does. Especially with grad rates. You can make the argument that all of those district kids would be better served in the charter.

The point wasn’t about performance, it was about who is (or is not) being educated in those schools. Instead of acknowledging that, recognizing the impact on OUSD schools of concentrating the highest need students in the District, recognizing that outcomes can be stymied by the under-resourcing of schools this concentration causes, and looking for equitable solutions, this charter advocate, who is pushing for OUSD to share parcel taxes and rent-free facilities with Charter schools that pick and choose who they educate, this advocate says “but what about the test scores?”

What about serving all kids?

Let’s be very clear so there is no question: we believe strongly that OUSD must do better to improve outcomes for kids, and that is especially true for the kids in schools like this District school, who have been underserved for generations.  But we must also acknowledge that, for our district schools and the students in them, it matters who (doesn’t) get chosen by charters.

Data taken from the website, EdSource and the publicly available Charter School Profile 

8 thoughts on “It Matters Who (Doesn’t) Get Chosen

  1. I’m a recent transplant out of the East Bay to Kansas City, MO where the district and charters have a similar landscape but no co-located schools. This comparison is very interesting. Thanks for sharing it. I’m wondering how the charters are able to pick and choose their students. Perhaps it’s common knowledge but would you mind sharing how they’re able to do that?


    1. Rachel, thank you for your question. There are many ways that charter schools are able to “choose” students, starting with how they market themselves (and to whom) and the use of exclusionary admission/enrollment standards as laid out in the ACLU/Public Advocates report “Unequal Access” ( Common barriers for families include requiring volunteer hours, application essays or computer access or by not offering free and reduced price lunches to students. In addition, many charter schools choose not to take/save room for students who seek enrollment mid-year, which often excludes foster youth, unhoused students and newcomers. Finally, charter schools may “counsel out” students or have overly strict suspension policies that result in mid-year/pre-testing transfers out of charter schools (without the funding for those students, which the charter keeps).

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks for explaining all this. I’ve been grappling with how I feel about it and it’s helpful for me to see it all laid out like this. Thanks again.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Thanks for explaining all this. I’ve been grappling with how I feel about it and it’s helpful for me to see it all laid out like this. Thanks again.


    2. In regards to special-education students if a high needs special education student gets into the school through the lottery system they “counsel” the parents out of placing the child at their school even though they are given the same amount of special education money as a school district and by law are required to fully educate any student who is enrolled at the charter school. If they can’t meet the needs of the child they are legally responsible to place the child at a non-public school or hire staff to provide the child with a free and appropriate public education.


  2. As a teacher of traumatized refugee newcomers in high school, I can attest to the high needs that such students have. Smaller class sizes, wellness counselors, experienced teachers, and remedial courses in basic math and primary language literacy are key. Flexible scheduling that allows these students to work while continuing their education is also important. All this takes more money. How do such students gain access to a charter school? They cannot without a stable home life. Charter schools have built a system that makes sure certain students do not have to interact with certain other students like these. It is depressing. Surely the students notice the segregation on their campus. How does it make them all feel? They must have some sharp critiques of this division.


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