In Oakland, there’s a storm brewing around Common/City-wide Enrollment (there are a bunch of different names but for the sake of ease it will be referred to as common enrollment – I’ve already written about it a few times here and here.) Before I go into the debate around Common Enrollment, I want to get clear on this whole ‘equity’ thing. In Oakland’s school district, the conversation as of late has been around equity. We are constantly asking questions like, “How do we become a more equitable school district?” and “What does equity look like for our children?”
I engage with community members around this all the time. There are still many folks that think equity and equal mean the same thing. They do not. As a district, equity means we do things that are necessary so the people that need help the most get it. It means we hold our job fairs in the part of the city that has a massive unemployed population. It means you try to incentivize the best teachers to come to the toughest schools. And in this case, it means that you make school enrollment information much easier for our least-resourced families to access. It means you include all public schools in that system. Yes, that includes charter schools.
There are different arguments against Common Enrollment, but the one that most of the detractors have rallied around is that in this new one-stop shop system of public school enrollment, we should leave off charter schools. There are inherent issues with that statement for me. It is the opposite of equity. I’m not a pro or anti charter person. Not in the least. I just want the best education possible because I didn’t get it. So I’m somewhat agnostic as to whether that comes from a traditional public school or a charter school. Of course, I want to build the strong traditional public schools we can. That’s a school district’s job.
However, when people of privilege start demanding that you actively leave charters out because they are afraid poor parents will leave our schools is criminal and paternalistic. It’s personal for me because my mother would have been one of those folks that would have missed out on the information. Why would any group want to hide purposely information from our poorest families? Why would we allow these groups to do it in the name of ‘equity’? Why are there not more people outraged by the mere suggestion? Stop and think about these questions. Ask a detractor these questions. Make them answer you. When they say one of the buzz words like ‘privatization,’ ask them to describe what they mean in English. When they tell you the lie that charter schools aren’t public schools, call that out. We live in a state that supports charter schools. That’s not an ‘Oakland thing’. It’s a legal thing.
The question should be how do we implement the best possible version of Common Enrollment. The questions should center around how do we take the lessons learned from other places. The questions should center around how can we make it the most equitable system in the country. A colleague of mine recently wrote a great article on some of the questions we need to answer as we improve our enrollment system.
Whatever the questions are, the answer should never be hiding valuable information from the most vulnerable population in our city. For far too long, poor people have been political currency. They are spent and sacrificed. Our most vulnerable citizens are often asked to support policies against their self-interest. My suggestion is we make them our priority. That’s what I wish would’ve happened when I was a student in this same district.