What Equity Isn’t: Addressing the Main Argument Against Oakland’s Common Enrollment Proposal

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.

Oak family

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.

-Cole Out

  5 comments for “What Equity Isn’t: Addressing the Main Argument Against Oakland’s Common Enrollment Proposal

  1. January 25, 2016 at 3:21 pm

    Hi Cole, I’m a Chicana parent with a 3rd grader in OUSD. I also have a high school graduate who went to a charter school (where I worked) in Oakland as well as public schools in different parts of the bay. I have a different way of looking at equity when it comes to charter schools: they truly do have way more resources and funding the our public schools. The thing that makes them very different from public schools is that they run in a private way. They don’t have to worry about being forced to change their practices if parents or teachers try to hold them accountable because parents and the public can’t vote for the board members who sign off on the decisions of the school. That’s not equity as I see it. Charter schools will get to decide if they want to participate in Common Enrollment or not (unlike public schools) – which is also not equity. If we want to fight for equity, we need to insist that charter schools make a legally binding contract with the public where they promise to serve all children regardless of their academic record, their service needs, or their primary language. When charters agree to be legally accountable to the public through a contract with the public then they we should begin talking about whether or not they should outreach for their school with public money. That is what equity is to me. Thank you for taking the time to consider my perspective.

    • Charles Cole, III
      January 25, 2016 at 4:32 pm

      Greetings Ms. Treviño. First, I want to say that I am happy to read your comment. That’s what these platforms are for. Second, ensuring that our charter schools and district offices are on the same page is a huge priority. That is why the vote for common enrollment in Oakland was postponed. We are taking time to build out an equity pledge that does what you were alluding to. The pledge helps us work with our charter partners to have everyone agree on a set of various standards so it is more accessible for families.

      Now, where we disagree is that I want to ensure that all of our families get as much information and access as possible so they can make the right choice for their family. If my mother was enrolling me today, she would have to fumble through a clunky system and chances are, I ‘d end up in a school that wasn’t my mother’s choice.

      Now if what opponents of common enrollment were to get their way and not have charters included in the system, then that would purposefully hide public information from my mom (who was poor and didn’t know how to navigate the system). That’s not right either. If she has all of the information at her disposal then she can make an informed decision.

      Now we do need to flesh out some details, there’s a great article on the site written by Dirk Tillotson titled Valid Critiques of Common Enrollment and i think it raises a lot of those issues.

      Thank you for commenting though and let’s keep the conversation going. I mean that. I would love to even host a small study session with some parents so we can go deeper into the topic.

      -Cole Out

  2. January 26, 2016 at 9:44 am

    I think a study session with parents is an excellent idea! Many of the parents I know want to see more money going to the classrooms and smaller class sizes so that our kids can get the attention they deserve. I am an opponent of Common Enrollment and I don’t want information to be hidden from poor families. I want families to have as few stops as possible and to be able to enroll in their neighborhood school that has all the resources and funding needed to thrive. My mother was poor as was I at different periods with my older son, we spent hours every day on buses to get to school so I know well how it all works.

    I also know that charters have much more money than public neighborhood schools – so much so that they pay their staff to do outreach and spend thousands a year on very nice materials that explain their goals and approach. They should continue this process – a process where they make all their materials available at the district, at public schools, at libraries, and rec centers. They can pay for enrollment fairs on street corners if they want to be even more accessible. And the place where we agree is that they should be accessible – they currently have no real independent protections for students with the greatest needs (I saw it at play with my own eyes for years).

    Where we disagree is where money should come from to make them accessible. Until they are accountable, transparent, & democratically run, public money should not be spent on their enrollment. Lastly, the article you posted written by Dirk Tillotson doesn’t seem to be from an objective perspective as he is someone who has been opening charter schools for the past twenty years. The conclusion I draw is that he will want to see how to better the proposal to have it pass. Thank you again for engaging this through this platform. I believe you can look up my email and perhaps we can coordinate a parent study session for parents.

  3. Maya Woods-Cadiz
    April 17, 2016 at 5:06 pm

    Well said Cole

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