Choosers, Losers, Abusers and “Opportunity Hoarding” in Oakland

School choice can divide us into winners and losers.  In fact it already has.  I am talking about charters. But not just charters, also those lucky enough to be able to choose where they live, with corresponding quality neighborhood schools, or have the resources to hustle their kid into an-out-of neighborhood or private option, the so-called “opportunity hoarders.”

I don’t blame anyone.  We all have to do what is best for our kids.  But this does segment us into at least choosers and losers, and as I will argue abusers.  Those families with the most resources get the most out of the system and those with less tend to reap the least.  Choosers are in better schools, and losers, increasingly are concentrated in schools of default—schools that choosers didn’t choose.  This matters.

The “peer effects” research would back me up here on this segmenting.  That is, high achieving motivated peers increase achievement and low achieving highly impacted students tend to decrease achievement.  So students can benefit or suffer from the composition of the school they attend.  This has the effect of reinforcing privilege and inequality on each end of this spectrum.

The Abusers

The abusers are folks with exclusive options who want to limit the choices of others.  So let’s look at what it takes to move to the Hillcrest attendance zone.  Zillow puts the 94618 median home value at $1,344,900.  This is a small and exclusive club, with high performing neighborhood schools, and still a huge migration to private schools in middle and high school.  So it does bother me when I hear these families arguing against charters or a dead-on-arrival common enrollment system, that 73% of parents favored.

Granted there are legit critiques of both, but something is off when our most privileged families, who have all the choices, are working to restrict choices for our less privileged ones.  Some families have the time and means to attend marathon board meetings and repeatedly voice their opinion.  Others are taking care of their own or other people’s kids, still at work or sleeping for another early morning.  The  voices that can show up should not be privileged as they are, and allowed to overcome the will of nearly three quarters of families who want common enrollment, but they will.  Privilege usually wins.

When you are in the club with an overflowing plate, and you want to limit the choices of folks starving for opportunities, or tell them not to change tables, to just wait for it to get better, something is wrong there.  It’s crazy.

Are you an “opportunity hoarder”?

A commenter on my blog, was a self-confessed “opportunity hoarder.”  Never heard the term before but love it.  It’s defined in the research,

“When members of a categorically bounded network acquire access to a resource that is valuable, renewable, subject to monopoly, supportive of network activities, & enhanced by the network’s modus operandi, network members regularly hoard their access to the resource, creating beliefs & practices that sustain their control” (Tilly, 91)

The result of this hoarding is durable inequality.  Something ringing a bell here.

This is not to say everyone shouldn’t have a voice.  But if your privilege is undermining opportunities for drastically underserved families, and you are actively working to limit their choices, that to me is a problem.  If you really want to help, give up your kid’s spot and trade it for a Flatlands kid.

Or if we really want to equalize access to high quality schools we should totally do away with neighborhood zones as the first criteria and make need and racial and economic diversity primary factors in school assignment, automatically assigning our highest needs students to the highest performing schools.

Of course some folks at Hillcrest and Chabot, would have to give up their seats.  They could attend a Flatlands school and wait for every neighborhood to have a quality school, as it seems they expect the Flatlands families to.

I don’t think many Rockridge parents will take this deal.

They bought into their privilege.

But what about those that can’t buy in, who struggle to make rent in the Lower Bottoms or the Deep East?

Once common enrollment is officially buried, and the spectre of charters fade, I don’t think we will hear much about how to make Oakland fairer or to support the most challenged families in getting into better schools.

That’s how privilege works, you can pick and choose your house, schools and battles.

While other families fight daily for survival amidst ever narrowing choices.

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