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

Board Members and Community Object to Privately Funded Common Enrollment Plan

[School Boardmember Shanthi Gonzales] objected to how the administration is moving ahead on enrollment reform.

“It’s deeply problematic that we didn’t do an open call for anybody (in the community) to participate in this,” she said. “It was privately organized (and) funded by private dollars (that) led the planning process.”

“These are our public schools,” she said. “I don’t think people who potentially have other agendas (should be) shaping our public policy.”



Common Enrollment Not the Solution

From the Oakland Post:
Kim Davis, an Oakland parent and co-founder of OUSD Parents United, says she has attended two community meetings sponsored by the district about common enrollment and is not impressed with the proposal.
“They talk about what is wrong with the current enrollment system, but the system they have designed will not solve most of the problems they identified.”
Charter schools that “cream” off the top students can continue to do so, she said, because they do not have to join the new system. The charter schools that do participate do not have to follow district enrollment priorities, but are free to continue to set their own admission policies.
In addition, Davis objects to OUSD’s community outreach. “This isn’t authentic engagement. It’s more like they have decided what they want, and they want us to want it, too.”


Board Member Gonzales Raises Questions about Common Enrollment

“School Boardmember Shanthi Gonzales said she sympathizes with the superintendent’s goal of correcting the lack of transparency in the system and the inequities in the way charters currently recruit students, but she remains skeptical about the plan.

“‘It is very troubling that the staff have not provided board members any information about how moving toward a common enrollment system could decrease enrollment in OUSD schools. Moving forward without knowing whether such a system may lead to school closures if irresponsible.’

“‘What are trade offs going to be for OUSD families? Is it worth it?’ she asked. ‘Will we lose 2,000 students and end up laying off staff and closing schools?'”


Charter School Advocates push Common Enrollment

“Across the country, the idea of common enrollment is coming from market-driven reform groups, which believe that parental choice and competition for students will force low-performing and under-enrolled schools to innovate and improve.

“That’s a bad idea, said Kim Davis, co-founder of OUSD Parents United, which advocates increased community involvement in city schools.

“‘We need to give our public schools the support, leadership and resources they need to become great, not throw them into competition with well-resourced charters and let them duke it out,’ she said.”



Lessons to learn about Common Enrollment

Wondering how common enrollment has gone in other cities? Here’s a report from Newark, NJ – where the same company that is leading Oakland’s charge, IIPSC, handled the process:

“[Superintendent] Anderson is closing the neighborhood schools. The charters are picking up students with the least problems while those with the greatest need–like special education students–are assigned to what is left of the public school stock.”



Common Enrollment will divert scarce resources from our Public Schools

Big-money special interests, funded by the founders of Wal-Mart (The Walton Foundation), KB Homes (The Broad Foundation), and Dreyers (The Rogers Family Foundation), are pushing an effort to re-vamp our public school enrollment system. These are the same special interests that sunk hundreds of thousands of dollars into our last school board election – leaving us with decisions to hire high-priced executive staff, while underfunded our teachers and classrooms. Now they have decided to add privately-managed charter schools to our school enrollment system – once again directing scarce resources away from Oakland’s public school children. Ken Epstein has the story.



Teachers Say “Common Enrollment” Would Funnel More Students to Charters

By Ken Epstein

The local teachers’ union and school activists are raising concerns about a proposal, backed by the school district’s administration, to dramatically change how new students are enrolled in Oakland schools, called “Common Enrollment,” a computer-based system that would channel students equally to public and charter schools.


While the new plan is backed by the district administration and some local pro-charter organizations, it has not yet been approved by the Board of Education, though the issue could go to the board as early as December.


The district administration says the plan will increase transparency and efficiency, streamlining a needlessly bureaucratic process – thereby clearing up confusion and helping parents who needlessly run around filling out multiple applications for their children to attend district schools and charter schools.


Overall, the plan is designed to improve equity in the enrollment process, enabling all parents to have an equal chance to send their student to high quality schools of their choice, according to the administration.


At present, parents who want to enroll or transfer schools must go to the Student Assignment Center at Lakeview, located near Lake Merritt. The enrollment options window is open between December and January each year.


Families must apply separately at each charter school, and dates of notifying parents of admission are often sent out at different times.


The district’s public meetings to gather community input on the proposal are frequently run by Great Oakland (GO) Public Schools, a nonprofit that supports candidates in school board elections and is tied to the Rogers Family Foundation, which backs local charter schools.


“Oakland is revising its enrollment system so it’s easier to use, more assessable and transparent, improves interaction with families (and) increases engagement and outreach,” according to the PowerPoint presentation produced by GO.


In talking points produced by the Oakland Education Association (OEA), the teachers’ union challenged the district to focus on providing all students with quality education and equal resources, rather than “an enrollment system that undermines their capacity to improve by directing students and resources away from them.”


OEA agrees that the current system has many flaws but says the proposal does not fix them but “in fact perpetuates many of the problems of the current system and adds new ones.”


Common Enrollment would send more students to charter schools, thereby depriving public schools of students and funding for resources, ultimately forcing more schools to close or be turned over to charter school organizations, according to OEA members.


In the 2014-2015 school year, there were 37,147 OUSD students attending 86 public schools while 11,034 students attended the 32 district-authorized charter schools.


Teachers at charter schools have few rights, say teacher activists, because charter school employees are not protected by a union or union contract. Parents who have complaints cannot go to the Board of Education – their complaints must be directed to the charter’s board of directors, who may not be located in Oakland.


“Common enrollment is dishonest: it presents all schools in its system as public schools even though charter schools are privately run and not publicly accountable,” according to the OEA.


Common enrollment increases inequity, says the union. “It will boost numbers of families applying to charters but won’t require charters to alter discriminatory admissions, discipline or expulsion policies.”


So far, the district has not said how much the new system will cost compared to the existing one. The program would be run by a new “Deputy Chief, Innovation,” who would be paid $157,500.


The district has already hired three consultants to work with a district committee to develop the proposal, including the person who was formerly in charge of Common Enrollment in the Denver schools, as well as two top executives of the firm that created Common Enrollment.


The program is based on a complicated mathematical algorithm that looks at students’ and schools’ six top choices and assigns students to a school.


It is unclear at present what would happen to existing rules that give preference to families that live near a school or already sending other children to that school.